People of the Lie 2

“…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.”

Martin Buber

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.

Irredeemable?

Kerry McAvoy has written an interesting post on evil What Evil People Have Taught Me, which came to my attention because she referred to my earlier post on People of the Lie. She poses an interesting question, can evil people be ‘saved’ or redeemed, and suggests that this may not be possible.

To recap, my post 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.

an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.

a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…

We tend to think that all people with evil characteristics can be redeemed, a speciality of Christianity. But what if the characteristics are so strongly built in that they are effectively caught in a world of their own, surrounded by the courtiers willing to go along with them? Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Napoleon come to mind.

As Kerry suggests, we can face them with the truth:

Our defense against such people is to stand firm in our convictions. To refuse to bow and tremble in fear. Truth is our best weapon.

Reality is the other corrective. Such as when a UK cabinet minister was sent to prison for his misdeeds and emerged from the experience a changed man, redeemed. Redemption has to be a possibility, but is difficult to envisage in cases such as Hitler and Napoleon. It would seem that there are degrees of evil.

Any thoughts on redemption?

People of the Lie

“…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.”

Martin Buber

Recent events brought to mind 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, or rather seeking towards such a thing.

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.Read More »