Ayn Rand grew up in Russia, where evil is both acknowledged to exist, and thought to be important and powerful--all as one mixed package of tragic fatalism. And yet she herself had the wisdom to sort morality more finely. She held as a truth a different idea: that evil is unimportant and impotent--that 1) what matters is the good, and the evil should be attended to only as long as it is necessary to fight it; and 2) evil means destruction, not creative power, so its only power is parasitic on constructive creativity. But notice this is very different from believing that evil does not or cannot exist, denying that evil can be real.
This lesson--the American fallacy of disbelief in the reality of evil--has become especially apparent to me in a few recent concretes. First, I recently blogged about the Landmark Forum as an evil cult which destroys people, explaining in detail what is evil and destructive about it. I got a number of responses from readers saying "Can it really be that bad?" or "But I think it works for some people." People wanted to challenge whether I "just had a bad personal experience" which couldn't be generalized to apply to everyone. An undercurrent here is: people read such an analysis of evil not just with skepticism, but with a rigid assumption that something that bad cannot be real, it must be some sort of exaggeration or hot-headed personal vendetta. There is a strange, distinct note of prudish disapproval in an American's typical response to a denunciation of evil--as though it is "oversimplified," inappropriate, even sinful, to use harsh words naming evil for what it is.
Among typical Americans, there is no comprehension of the reality of an actually evil motivation--which is what makes Americans, as I said, so gullibly vulnerable to it.
The second recent example on this topic was people's responses the issue of potential terrorists coming to America (Europe, etc) masquerading as refugees. Many people have a primary concern to protect the innocence of refugees and muslims in general (which is taken as self-evident and axiomatic), and to denounce anyone who might be concerned about terrorist deception. There is again, no comprehension that a person might actually, in reality, be deceptive and malicious. And it is this unwillingness to accept the reality of evil that (again) makes Americans vulnerable to it, unprepared for it, and unconcerned with fighting it.
As a third example, which drives home the lesson in a powerfully emotional way--take the movie "Lone Survivor," which I just watched. It is about American soldiers in Afghanistan, who let 3 prisoners go free on the premise of following the "rules of engagement" and avoiding allegations of military crimes--and on the root premise: these guys must be innocent, realistically they just couldn't be evil, they must have a motivation as wholesome as our own and we just haven't seen it yet.
Americans have a tendency to distort the premise "innocent until proven guilty" to become "innocent, even after proven guilty--innocent regardless of proof."
This bias of "evil can't be real" in addition to being flatly false, is in total disregard of the safety of Americans, and of the actual risks in the real world. It is a fantasy premise that bad guys just need to be persuaded and treated nicely, and they will stop having malicious intent, which they never really wanted to feel anyhow.
"Lone Survivor" is a great dramatization of the consequences of this false and naive assumption.