Sunday, October 29, 2006

Deciding To Be Evil

The Intellectual Insurgent recently posted on the topic of evil personality disorders. The Insurgent says that evil is the opposite of life, and she maintains that some people are inherently evil. This is an excerpt from her post.

"People Of The Lie", by Christian psychiatrist Scott Peck, is the beginning point for a real discussion about evil. In this thought-provoking work, Peck approached the concept of evil from a psychiatric perspective -- evil is the opposite of life (as evil is live spelled backwards), i.e. it is anything that has its purpose to distort reality.

The symptoms of an evil personality disorder are
consistent destructive scapegoating behavior, which may often be quite subtle.excessive, albeit covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.pronounced concern with one's public image and self-image of respectability, contributing to a a stability of lifestyle but also to a pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives.intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of disturbance of thinking in times of stress. People who suffer from this disorder are people of the lie. Who they are, how they are weaved seamlessly into our society without notice and the destructive nature of their disorder is illuminated through several case studies in the book. They are people who are so narcissistic that they would rather distort reality, kill, lie and cheat than ever admit their own imperfection.

Are they people beyond redemption?

Applying Peck's definition and my own observations in life, I remain of the belief that there are people of the lie who are beyond redemption absent some drastic remedy such as a lobotomy or suffering brain damage.

I would alter the notion that evil is the opposite of life. I think evil is the opposite of love, and when I use the term love, I’m talking about love in the agape sense. (One of the first things you learn when studying the Bible, is that modern versions of the New Testament translate 3 different Greek words with the word “love”: eros- romantic love; philia- familial, pleutonic, or brotherly love; and agape- unconditional or selfless love.) Agape is the love that would provoke a stranger to jump into a lake to save a drowning child.

Any act of agape love is done with out any expectation to receive anything in return. Any one who has ever suffered for another person or put themselves at risk with no expectation to benefit personally, but only to help another person is expressing agape love. It’s why we respect firefighters so much (even though their motivation may not be selfless, but for career advancement or personal glory). When a young lawyer asked Jesus about the commandment to “love thy neighbor”, Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate what agape love looked like (Recall from the parable that a couple of “religious” persons rode by and ignored the traveler who had been ambushed and left for dead by bandits on the side of the Jericho road, but it was the “secular” Samaritan who got off his ass and helped the injured man.) Many of the greatest acts of love in history have been by people like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Gandhi, but most acts of agape love do not earn fame or recognition. Agape is the definition of “good”, and thus in my mind is the antithesis of evil.

An evil act is motivated by selfishness. (Sadistic behavior is evil, because the sadist seeks to serve his desire to see physical suffering, but even the masochist’s behavior is often evil, because he is serving his own desire to suffer pain.) The greatest acts of evil in history can be traced back to rudimentary selfish motivations such as fear, greed, lust, and jealousy. (e.g. the Holocaust, the Middle Passage Slave Trade, and the Rwandan genocide).


The distinction that I would like to make about love and evil is that these words describe behavior or human acts. One has to decide to do something that is an act of love versus and act of evil. Insurgent, you describe some people as having evil personality disorders which makes them inherently evil. I disagree with this notion. I don’t think anyone can be inherently evil. I recognize that people have personality disorders, but a person’s personality is the result of their genetic make-up and their life experiences (mostly their childhood experiences). We do not choose our personalities, but our personalities are simple traits of our person like being tall, short, or handsome.

Therefore the person who has an anti-social narcissistic personality disorder will have a predilection to evil behavior, but they still have to make decisions whether to gratify their desire to behave in an evil manner. Psychiatrists have proposed that these individuals cannot distinguish right from wrong. This is actually untrue. These people will claim to not recognize that their behavior is evil, but it’s their narcissism that does not want to admit fault. In actuality, even disordered persons are capable of distinguishing loving behavior from evil behavior, and can choose to behave lovingly, and some of the most disordered sociopaths have made decisions to no longer gratify their evil desires, but to do good instead. What separates the disordered individual from most people is that for them, a simple act of love such as offering a greeting to a person and wishing them a nice day is contrary to their selfish desires and takes tremendous effort. For most of us, that type of behavior come naturally. I recognize that a person with an antisocial personality disorder is potentially very dangerous, and once diagnosed should probably be monitored more closely in society than the average person, but to say that they are inherently evil is an unfair judgment.

We all have some proclivity for evil behavior. No matter how we are “wired” (personality), our character is determined by how we choose to act. I may have learned to tell lies easily to avoid problems as a child, but I can still decide to be honest despite my prodigious ability to tell mistruths. My honest character or dishonest character is determined by my choices to tell the truth, and not by how easily it is for me to do so. I think a person who has a charitable personality, but chooses to be self-serving is more evil than the person who has an anti-social personality, but decides to do their best to “love his neighbor”. The designation of evil should be assigned to someone’s behavior or their character. I fundamentally think this is how we all will be judged. I have often said that I believe that God “grades on a curve” and recognizes that not everyone is equally equipped to behave in a loving manner versus a evil manner. That is why we are admonished not to judge one another, because it is impossible to know what set of circumstances that any act took place in. You may have caught someone stealing, but perhaps he has a thief’s personality and upbringing, but he has decided only to steal for people who have no food to eat. “Thou shall not steal” is a commandment, but it is relative. This is why Jesus said that the two most important commandments are “to love God and then to love your neighbor as yourself”. These are the only two absolute commandments. All of the other commandments are relative and based on the first two commandments. For instance, “thou shall not kill”, but if homicide is required to protect the innocent and defenseless, then killing might actually be an act of love (i.e waging war against Nazi Germany). The New Covenant established by Jesus is based on love and not on commandments. The commandments were suppose to be guidelines, but they were impossible for anyone to keep. Instead, the Christian commission is to love our neighbors, to grow in faith more and more, that one might be able to love more and more selflessly…true agape love.

So I cannot agree with the notion that anyone is inherently (or hard-wired to be) evil. I think no matter what our personalities predisposes us to do, we still decide whether to follow those predispositions. What makes us human is our ability to choose what we will be.

Your sometimes loving, but sometimes evil brother,

“For, were it not good that evil things should also exist, the omnipotent God would almost certainly not allow evil to be, since beyond doubt it is just as easy for Him not to allow what He does not will, as for Him to do what He will.”
~Saint Augustine


At Sun Oct 29, 12:59:00 PM, Blogger skip sievert said...

Good and Evil is in the mind of man, we make it so.

Mostly this concept has been used to control people in a negative or religious way.

Mostly it was set up to make people feel guilty.

Divide and Conquer. Control the Political/Economic template.

At Sun Oct 29, 01:22:00 PM, Blogger chad said...

Skip, you are correct when you note that people have used the concept of good and evil to control people, and to incite guilt. But good and evil is not an abstraction of man's psyche. Every human behavior/decision can be classified as good (i.e. based in love), evil (i.e. based in selfishness), or the behavior is completely orthagonal to the good-evil dimension (i.e. choosing to wear your red tie instead of your blue tie to work).
The question that comes next is who decides what is good and what is evil. To that question, I can only offer the simple explanation, that I think man is able to discern what is motivatig his decisions (love or selfishness).
PS: I presume that you believe that dividing, conquering, and controlling the political/economic template is a selfish-motivated evil behavior.

At Sun Oct 29, 03:01:00 PM, Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...


Are there not sociopaths, such as Charles Manson, who are evil beyond redemption?

BTW - nice to have you back in the blogosphere. Hope all is well in the residency.

At Sun Oct 29, 03:37:00 PM, Blogger chad said...

There are individuals who are evil beyond redemption, but their status as evil is not based on their personality, but on their decisions to satisfy the base selfish desires of their personalities.
I'm not sure if Charles Manson is one of these people, because it is impossible to judge whether or not he is evil. Does Charles truly have a sociopathic personality (personality disorder) or is he good-old fashioned crazy (schizophrenics have so many delusions, and hallucinations that it would be hard to judge them as evil, since they are responding to an alternate reality from yours and mine). Should someone who has committed mass-murder be incarcerated? Certainly he should, but should we condemn his as evil? I don't know.
What I think is much more interesting is that there are plenty of people who are beyond redemption not because of their personality, but because of their decisions to do what is evil. Some of these people may be considered solid citizens of society, but if a close examination of their lives is performed, they are motivated by lust, fear, power, and greed. I think these evil people are under the greatest condemnation, because many of them are in positions of religious/moral authority, and they abuse power to serve an agenda not based on love or service of their fellow man. I believe God has some exceptional harsh judgment for those who do evil in the name of the church or religion. As I recall, Jesus often kicked it with "sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors", but it was the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders that drew his harshest words.


At Mon Oct 30, 12:05:00 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


said: but a person’s personality is the result of their genetic make-up and their life experiences (mostly their childhood experiences). We do not choose our personalities,

I completely disagree. In fact I think all traits of "Identity" ( those ACTIONS which define you), are not even close to the genetic makeup of being tall, blonde, or blue eyed.

It is all about choice. People choose to do evil because it is what they WANT to do. This old thing that the "devil made me do it because I was born with a disorder" is missing the point about being responsible for our own actions and not blaming our environment or our heredity, (my dad was a killer so I was born that way), is just plain not being logical or wanting to think everyone is good no matter what they do.

At Mon Oct 30, 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


How can God judge us if nothing is our fault...."Well God, you know I had to kill my mother and cut her up in peices, I was born that way, and my environment of living with my gang buddies, gave me no choice."

What Hog wash. God must be able to judge us on our actions, both good and bad, and he cannot do it if our parents were at fault for the way they raised us or the genes they gave us.


At Mon Oct 30, 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Reign of Reason said...

I didn't read Chad's argument as "I was born that way" -- but more, I was pre-disposed to behave a certain way because of my genes -- or the defects in them.

This is clearly demonstrable: most males are sexually attracted to females, most dislike activates that cause physical discomfort, etc. etc.

Certainly some people are born with mental defects which directly cause abnormal and anti-social behavior. It's therefore reasonable to assume similar defects are capable of pre-disposing people to "evil acts".

What society does with these people is the question. In cases where the behavior is determined to be irredeemable we should incarcerate or otherwise separate them from society. Where we believe we can help, we should.

As for the whole "god judging" thing -- it's irrelevant. If he exists, he obviously isn’t concerned with “evil” in our world since it flourishes. So the effect is equivalent to his non-existence.

At Mon Oct 30, 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


I was pre-disposed to behave a certain way because of my genes -- or the defects in them.

As usual you have good points, but ones that do have opposing good points.

While our gender traits are like our physical traits are predetermined, but not our choices and no one is born a murderer because his father was a murderer.

For the most part people do, (Act), like they want to and not because their genes make them.



At Mon Oct 30, 02:39:00 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


If he exists, he obviously isn’t concerned with “evil” in our world since it flourishes. So the effect is equivalent to his non-existence.

God knows that in order for one to know hot he must have cold to compare against, up/down, left/right, good/evil, etc.

That is why he allows evil to exist.


At Tue Oct 31, 08:06:00 AM, Blogger chad said...

I think that we are more-or-less in agreement. If you re-read my original post, you will see that I made a distinction between personality (e.g gentically determined temperment and previous conditioning from experience) and character which is what we choose to be. My point is that evil is determined by the latter...we choose to do evil. We are not forced into evil by our personality. Our personality may predispose us to evil behavior more than the average person, but the decision to be evil is most defintiely a choice.


PS: Even personality is under our control to some degree. Recall that our experiences helps determine our personality. Since we can influence what kind of experience we have in the world, we can shape what our personality will be like in the future. Just like our physique is determined by our genetics and past diet/exercise habits. We can shape our bodies by choosing to change our future habits.

At Tue Oct 31, 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Reign of Reason said...

“There are individuals who are evil beyond redemption, but their status as evil is not based on their personality, but on their decisions to satisfy the base selfish desires of their personalities.”

I completely disagree chad.

You seem to completely disassociate “personality” from “decision making” (vis a vi your statement above). Decisions spring from a personality… if the decisions are completely self-centered at the expense of harming others, we call the decisions evil as well as the person making them. We can simply use such objective, scientific reasoning to apply a label like “evil”.

If you cannot “judge” Manson evil or not, then the concept has no meaning. An individual’s actions earn him the label. Those actions are driven by decisions. Again, if the decisions you make show NO concern for the welfare of other human being (or, more generally, living creature) society applies the label evil.

Whether or not there is an underlying psychoses doesn’t invalidate the label: the personality of “Charles Manson” still committed those acts and therefore the “person” Charles Manson is evil.

It doesn’t matter if Hitler was certifiable or not – he was evil. Lets not use political correctness to protect nut-cases.

At Tue Oct 31, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Reign of Reason said...

“While our gender traits are like our physical traits are predetermined, but not our choices and no one is born a murderer because his father was a murderer.” - FAR

As you likely know, I wasn’t arguing that “murder is hereditary” – but rather certain inherited traits (maybe like aggressiveness, etc.) may predispose someone to violence.

But that is really off topic anyway.

Evil, to me, is simply a label we apply to actions that are self-centered and come at the expense of the welfare of others. Whether or not the behavior is rooted in psychoses or simply a decision doesn’t matter: Society has the right to judge/apply labels to behaviors.

At Tue Oct 31, 08:45:00 PM, Blogger chad said...

You said:
...the personality of “Charles Manson” still committed those acts ...

This is precisley what I disagree with. A disordered personality (at least as it was defined to me in my psychology classes in college and psychiatry training in medical school) does not commit an act, but rather predisposes one to be more likely than the average person to commit an act. Every individual has the the ablity to resist his predispositions, regardless of how strong they are.


PS: Sorry that I implied you had not read my post on the Insurgent's blog...that's what I get for breaking this debate up into two different blogs.

At Mon Nov 06, 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Wilson said...

Chad we debated a similar topic on my blog before...

its right'chere in case you want to remember.

i think we essentially agree although, i think (as i did when i wrote my original blog) that we owe a lot of compassion to everyone who struggles with making the right choices. everyone does not have the self awareness to see that they are caught in a spiral and re-exposing themselves to trauma since that is all they know. some cannot stop reacting to the fear and emotions set off in them with those old traumas are re-awakened. i don't think it gives anyone an excuse, but i try to remind myself and understand...

At Thu Nov 30, 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Breeze said...

Evil personalities have a beginning. I have always believed that we have to look to where we have come from to understand where we currently are. Evil personalities can be the result of so many different factors. A hereditary predispostion, a problem with brain development in the first months in the womb, early trauma, problematic bonding, learned behavior, socio-cultural pressures and beliefs, prejudice, peer/group/gang thinking and belongingness . . . the theories go on and on. Perhaps we need to look at each person individually to determine how and if that person can be helped to overcome the "evil personality" they have come to own.

At Sat Feb 24, 07:49:00 PM, Blogger storm said...

I have seen many "evil" vs mentally ill in my career.

At Sat Mar 10, 01:04:00 PM, Anonymous LuneKeltkar said...

As with all other categories of human conception, evil is as evil does. Evil isn't a disembodied entity with an existence independent of human action; rather, it's a trait that we ascribe to certain actions that we find highly objectionable and usually frightening.

Evil and good are social constructs. That's why one man's evil is another woman's good. And no people entirely manifest only evil actions, any more than some people entirely manifest good actions.

In this regard, two of Dr. Wilson's comments struck me as particularly apposite. He signed his original post as our "sometimes evil brother"; in that original post, he also summarized the story of the good Samaritan who (in Dr. Wilson's words) "got off his ass and helped the injured man."


Puns! Now that's evil, brother.



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