The meaning of evil in human language

Anna Rautmann (intern)



A few weeks ago I had an adventurous experience that made me thoughtful. As a student at the WSC I had the task to take some meat rewards out of the so called “Freezer” to defrost for my experiment, which took place the following day. The “Freezer” is an ice compartment conserving the carcasses for our wolves. At 11 o'clock in the evening I realized in regret, that I had forgotten to take out the rewards. I thought hard to find a good solution but I came up with only one, which I did not like at all: pick up my flashlight and bravely cover the 20 minute walk to the said freezer to make up for my mistake and then walking  all the way back again. And so I did. Well, not quite. The "brave walk through the dark" part came to an end when my flashlight stopped working without warning. I'm usually not afraid to walk in the dark. You can hardly see anything, and therefore you can’t enjoy the beautiful landscape (for me the most important reason to take a walk), but that’s all the drama. Unfortunately, that night was exceptionally eerie and I had a particularly undesirable destination. Even during the daytime I try to avoid the “freezer” as the rigid animal corpses have an eerie effect on me and as I accidently locked myself in it once (without a mobile phone and without any light!). The moon was veiled with clouds, the stark silhouettes of the gnarled trees were swathed in fog, and the heavy silence was broken only by the unmelodic roar of the deer and the howling of the wolves. And as it often happens in this kind of situation, the most inconvenient information came into my mind. In my case old, traditional wolf fairy tales.

I was terribly afraid, even though I learned a lot about the nature of wolves living here at the WSC. I myself had experienced several times how frightened wolves can react. One is afraid of moving human legs, another one fears a red and white striped cordon, three more tremble in front of buckets and quite a few are afraid of fast, waving movements and loud vocalizations. Even though all wolves were raised by hand and are Canadian gray wolves, which are supposed to be more balanced and less shy than European wolves. What is it that the wolf is represented as such a vicious, greedy and treacherous character in popular folk tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, the seven little goats or the wolf and the three little piglets? These three features have never been detected in animals.

But looking back into the history of man and wolf, it is striking that wolves were dreaded food competitors, as they also hunted wild animals and killed livestock. A merciless extermination followed and people got used to forests without this annoying parasite. It was its own fault: If a competitor becomes too annoying or dangerous, the easiest way is to eradicate it. This attitude seems to extend to our own species considering certain episodes in the past. Just to pick two examples: In the Holocaust or during the witch hunt nothing else has happened. Jews were successful traders and bankers and "witches" knowledgeable healers. Both dramas began with the competitors being singled out and blamed for all evil that happened to the community.  They were hated because they were a threat. It's easier to divide the world into black and white or good and evil. The extermination quickly follows. Usually we notice when it’s already too late that our victim wasn’t so guilty after all and, like us, belongs to this world. I’m not comparing the extermination of wolves from our forests with the Holocaust. I just want to point out that unfortunately we are often inclined to declare something as evil without being properly informed about it. The consequence is too often eradication, as we are quite aware of our strengths and means, without asking ourselves why something scares us and whether this fear is justified. To come back to my experience in that night, I was scared of having little control over my surroundings. I hardly saw anything, and even though I knew all  the animals were in their enclosures, the idea of being surrounded by howling wolves made me shudder. But if I would have thought with my brain instead of following my gut, I would have come to the conclusion that I didn’t need to worry. The wolves are much more timid and shy than I thought possible. We are just one species living on this wonderful planet and we certainly are not the most pragmatic kind in solving our problems. This might be the reason why Darwinism was observed in nature and "social" Darwinism was established in humanity.

For those who are interested in the end of my adventure, I would like to narrate the second part of my story. Standing in front of a locked “freezer” I realized that I had forgotten my keys (including the one for the freezer) at home. I desperately called my roommates and learned that one of them, Klaudia, to my great relief was already on her way with the car (and her keys). She picked me up, helped me get the meat rewards out of the weird morgue, and drove me back to the cozy student house. I really owe her something!