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'Evil' argument wins at 20th annual Think-Off

Submitted photo Adam Bright, left, won the 2012 Think-Off with his argument that humankind is inherently evil. To his right is moderator George Biltz, and to the far right is Ed DeLong, who also argued on the side of 'evil.'

'Evil' conquered 'good' at the 20th annual Great American Think-Off on Saturday.

The contest asked four finalists to debate human nature as either inherently evil or inherently good, and New York man Adam Bright, arguing on the side of 'evil,' took home the top prize.

This was the second time in Think-Off history that this question was asked; the first time, in its inaugural year, the contest resulted in a draw.

Bright won after hammering home the heart of his argument: that "humankind is evil by way of complicity." 

Though most of us think of ourselves  as good people, he said, and we try to do good things, we also happily go on with our daily lives while suffering continues around the globe - and we know it.

"Any inherently good person would not only oppose but actively fight to prevent these injustices," Bright said. "And yet in the face of so much suffering, we do not act. We stay at home, reading the newspaper and watching the evening news... This is a brand of evil marked by apathy and hypocrisy and a lack of meaningful compassion."

Bright's competitor, Marie Anderson of Illinois, argued on the side of good. 

"An inherently evil species," she said, "could not have survived" for the millions of years we have. She argued that it's only by working together, cooperating and caring for one another that we've lasted. 

Anderson said shame, grace and empathy are forces inherent in humans, infusing goodness into humanity. She also argued that a desire to love, protect and nurture children is evidence of inherent goodness.

"We're inherently imperfect, she said, acknowledging that evil deeds are done and mistakes are often made. "But that's not the same as saying we're inherently evil."

 The contest was held in the auditorium of the New York Mills High School, which was nearly full for the event. The audience voted Bright and Anderson into the final round, favoring them over two other finalists: Ed DeLong of Virginia Beach, Virg. (who argued on the side of evil), and  last year's Think-Off winner, Marsh Muirhead, of Bemidji, Minn. (arguing on the side of good). 

The audience was also able to submit questions during the debate, which moderator George Biltz said this year's did - more than any other audience in Think-Off history.

The Think-Off was designed to be a philosophy contest for the 'ordinary' person.

John Davis, a Twin Cities man who was a key force behind both the Think-Off and the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, gave a short address on Saturday in honor of the Think-Off's 20th year.

The event's tractor logo, he explained, is "a symbol for cultivating the arts in rural America." He commended the community for making the event a success over these last two decades.


-In its first year, the event was called the Great Midwestern Think-Off and was open to only nine upper Midwest states.

-The number of essays entered has ranged from 90 to 820.

-Over the years, there have been entrants from all 50 states and several foreign countries.

-In 1998, the contestants and New York Mills community were featured on NBC's Today Show, with the debate winner making a live appearance.

-C-SPAN aired the debates in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

-During the first few years of the competition, the Thinker on the gold medal was cut from 14k gold. Today, the medal is made from a warm-colored bronze. The silver medal is sterling silver, and the bronze medals are actually bronze.

-Finalists have included teachers, a gambler, a fisherman, a surgeon, a priest, a sex therapist, a Zen Buddhist beekeeper, a research biochemist, a stay-at-home dad, a licensed nuclear operator, a high school cheerleader and an Eagle Scout.

-The age range of this year's entrants ran from 11 to 83. Those taking the side of 'good' outnumbered those taking the side of 'evil' by just 17.

-A Google search on Great American Think-Off yields 276 million hits.

*From the 2012 Think-Off program