“…the uncanny game of hide and seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.”
Recent direct encounter with evil has led me to republish this post, first published in 2017, with minor changes. The problem of evil and people of the lie is ever present in human societies, and we need to be aware of it. The original post was essentially a short review of psychotherapist M.Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil, published 1983, which I read many years ago now.
Peck’s book is actually about the psychology of evil. He gives a useful definition of evil:
- Evil is that which kills or suppresses life or the life force.
- Goodness is its opposite – that which promotes life and liveliness.
There is an element of such evil in all of us, but what matters is how we respond and evolve. If we invoke the mask of self righteousness, a self-image of perfection, and are not open to the evil that might be within then we deceive ourselves – the biggest lie.
I picked out three major characteristics which give warning signs of evil:
- refusal to face the evil within, denial of one’s own guilt, often means projecting onto others and scapegoating or gaslighting.
- an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.
- a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…
Remind you of anyone?
Interestingly, Peck suggests that the most evil people are not found in prisons – these are mild cases compared to the ‘professionals’ around in society itself.
The most typical victim of evil is a child, thus evil can be conditioned onto the next generation. One task of education should be to raise the level of self awareness to provide a societal counter to this. Another victim would be the relative innocent who is not sufficiently aware of their own intuition and their manipulation by others.
In other terms, evil is driven by the rational ego and lack of empathy, left brain dominating over right brain, masculine over feminine.
Evil is real and anti-life. It can be conquered by confrontation, loving compassion, acceptance and growth. Paradoxically, evil can in some cases be the spur to psychological and even spiritual growth in its victims.
In the case of apparently entirely evil persons, they need to be opposed and confronted by the good – the strong will opposed by the good will, with love at its side.