Friday, July 5, 2013

What is evil?

People ask me a lot about evil, as if I'm some sort of expert. I tell them that I don't have any special insight into evil, or even a sense of its definition. But I'm curious too, and I like that people are asking the question. What is evil? So asks the co-hosts on this podcast from the "Kitchen Shrinks".  They're a little silly and a lot redundant, but it's an interesting topic. Highlights (largely paraphrased) include:
  • Starts with a discussion of Zimbardo and Stanford prison experiment
  • "You put anybody in the situation where they are to control others -- you give them the role of authoritarian -- and all of us might be influenced to act in an aggressive way towards those prisoners given the same circumstances."
  • The first thing that anyone thinks when they hear about someone doing something terrible is -- that's not like me. They're a bad person, I'm a good person. There's something inherently wrong with them, about them particularly and their lack of a soul that makes them evil or different from me. The whole idea that the role is critical (not that there are just some people that are evil), was new -- that you could put a "good" person in the right circumstances and have them act in evil ways was groundbreaking.
  • If I can say that it's those people and them, not by me. What is disquieting is if I was in the same situation, would I be compelled to do evil as well? It's not as simple as there are some bad people or evil people, it's that all of us can act evilly in the right circumstances.
  • Milgram discussion starts around 11:30. "We could create murderers under the right circumstances." "Milgram was shocked and even quite troubled by the experiment."
  • "If you want to essentially be someone who does not engage in troubling behaviors, watch your environment. Watch for the things that push or pull you to do certain things. Become more aware of what the situation is asking you to do." To do that, you have to humble yourself enough to admit that you are capable of doing something bad to someone else. "Admit that we're all capable of doing evil things."
  • Discussion of how the "exit costs" are high for bucking social norms, even when the social norm is something "bad" like college pranks. One host discussed how the mob mentality can make someone lose track of who they are because "it would have been to expensive socially to say no."
  • "Would you want to be held accountable for every behavior you ever did?"
  • When someone else does something wrong its their disposition, when you did something wrong it's your situation.
  • How to get someone to do something evil? (1) Authority figure (2) Dehumanize the victim by making them a "thing," perhaps by giving them a label like "witch" (Paul Deen?) (3) Diffuse responsibility, e.g. by trying to detach oneself from actions by just fulfilling a role or being anonymous.
  • Zimbardo "Evil begins at 15 volts" when you first start, when you let the camel get its nose under the tent. The tendency to act in an evil way happens in little increments.
  • "These human beings, we're going to call them terrorists, we're going to change the language. They're not people anymore, they're evil." "That's not a human being, that's a threat."
They also have a feature on sociopath vs. psychopath.


  1. I don't feel like being argumentative, so I'll just say that the bullets you've pointed out are consistent with my understanding of the nature of humanity. I will always admit freely that in any given situation that involves the potential to do something 'evil', I do not know what I would do.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I find that if someone stops thinking in terms of 'good' or 'evil', and just consider everything in terms of self interest, you can find the best course of action. Say that you're chosen to participate in the Milgram experiment (and you've never heard of it either), and you've already been paid. Assume that they say you can leave at any time without giving them their money back. What's stopping you from simply thanking them for the opportunity, and just take their money and go?

      Of course, things are hardly that simple sometimes. You do want to be seen as good, generous and kind in society because the masses approve of it. So if you spend a little time to host a charity in order to get more interest in your business, that would be in your best interests even if you are wasting your time and effort on something that won't really gain you anything in the short term.

      Edit: For terrible grammatical mistakes.

    2. I just realized the comment was a little out of context, I must have been reading some other article and responded to that instead. Oh well. As for 'evil' acts, well what is really evil? Say you engineer a situation where you use someone else to hurt someone you dislike, so that you won't get any negative sanctions but still get your way. Is that evil? Or simply being practical and looking out for number one?

      The definition of evil is just so blurry that you could say anyone in the world is evil, and use it as justification to persecute them.

  3. Whenever you act in your own best interest, you're actually being 'evil'.

    We're all evil most of the time.

    I guess the more that you value and love your own life, the more interested you'd be in pursuing your own needs, wants and desires. And the more likely you'd be to put your own interests before the interests of others.

    1. Well then, I suppose I'm very evil. I do find it funny how people will fling around accusations of evil at each other. I can't imagine why anyone would lose any sleep over the thought that they "could be an evil person". You're bad, embrace it and use it to your own advantage as much as possible.

      What about special cases though, say if you had to torture someone repeatedly in order to get information that could be used to protect the few select people you actually care about. In this case, it's partially not motivated by self interest. Would this still be termed evil by the masses? Or would it be justified?

      In the end, the victor writes the history. No matter how 'evil' you get, you can always come up with some justification for your acts so that you end up being 'good', provided you win of course.

  4. I did evil when I had enough anger in me. It is vindictivevand it istoo strong to be sorry for. Because if I did not have control of my anger and did not feel the victim deserved payback then how can I feel 2 things at once. If I gotbcaught I would showvguilt but no I feel goodvthinkingvabiut the evil thing from time to time. The people I did it to annoy mevfrequently and my secret of the damage I facilitated makes me happy. I think that is a little normal and also a little bit not right. Anger is very strong. It is so strong that I think it can have a mind of its own. Yes., I know that soundsccrazy. Because we should all be aware of and take care of anger as if we areresponsiblevfor it. But I think once in place, it can change you.

  5. Evil is organized skulldergery comitted in the name of goodness.
    Evil is the social control system that allows the few to exploit the many.
    It is religion, politics, superstition, drugs, disinformation and bread
    and circuses entertainment to codify the masses. It is the manifold ways
    of social control used to frighten and cojole peoples' behavior.
    The "iron fist, velevt glove approch."Needless to say the profit system
    is also included in this. Play along or be a social outcast.
    Today marks the two year anniversary of the accquital of Casey Anthony.
    Won't some of you nice people on this web site provide suggestions and
    tips on what Casey could do to find some measure of happiness?

  6. "Evil" is the ego. The ego is comprised of all the errorneous ideas
    we accquire about ourselves, the false beliefs.
    We identify with exterior items and believe them necessary to our wellbeing.
    This produces jealously and greed. We look at outside things and say that's
    mine! Claiming ownership over people and things is the cause of much evil.
    We have to depersonalize and discover our essential nature.
    Also, evil is wickid imaginings and unattainable "mental pictures" of what
    "should" or "must" be. A man has a forms a mental picture in his mind
    about having sex slaves at his diposal, surcomes to the vision and kidnaps

    1. Indeed. Pride is like a deep black hole that always wants more, but the more you feed it, the more it takes away from you.

  7. I believe there are very few really "evil" people in the world. No one thinks they are evil. Most people think they are good. Only victims think others are evil. But who knows why that person committed an evil act? Its not black and white. The discussion of evil is just a discussion of opinions.

  8. My evil acts were committed before the age of 25 but I learned that I was the problem - not my upbringing. And I was truly ashamed. After that I fully realized that when I came to the "fork in the road" I chose not to do "evil." It is all about "choice."

  9. I think evil is committed mostly by evil people.
    There is also bad and then there is evil.

    Can "good" people be guided into doing bad or even evil things? Yes it's possible. But without the type of setup involving authority and "setting", most people will not do evil. Do people at times or maybe even regularly go against conscience or selectively shut down their empathy (and have external factors encouraging this) and do bad things and then keep in denial about it? Yes. Do some do this with full awareness? Yes.

    I would define evil as the deliberate and unprovoked (in any rational sense) evoking of suffering and ruin in another for gain and often also for "pleasure" and kicks. Often made possible through layers of deceit. Evil is hateful and cruel in effect.

    1. I like your definition the best because it says that evil does, indeed exist in a vacuum.

    2. What does that mean, that evil exists in a vacuum?

      That you're untouched by it? That you're free of any kind of evil?

    3. No. To be clear, what I get from that definition is that pure evil does not stem from any cause. Like when someone asks why did my ex use me? Why did my ex mistreat me? Why did my ex seduce me? If the answer is " because he/she could" what it , eans is that the victim did not cause anything. I dont think that there is any rhyme or reason to some abusive behaviour. That is what a lot of people cannot get over. They ask why why would someone do that. You want to bring in the facts of the evildoer's past history of abuse, fine. But as some point asking why is not an issue. People who blame themselvesvfor their bf or gf evil behaviour have a notion that they could have prevented stuff had they done x y z. No. The persons motivation exists in a vacuum by itself

  10. And then there's the flip side which is just as interesting...

  11. Evil is whatever and wherever we wish it to be

  12. what I like is how m.e. has totally reinvented himself as a female lawyer etc. Nice...gave me a lol. I was popping my head back wondering what nonsense he would be drivelling on about these days. Well...that much is the same, but at least he's done his book like he said.

  13. Talking about evil seems to be mostly a discourse of power.
    You are called "good" and you've got already under the wheels.
    You are called "evil" and you still have chance to maintain your self-determination.

  14. Looking at a bunch of posts here, I've noticed a couple critical things. As much as my post may seem irrelevant to this topic at first glance, I ask patience, in time I will explain it's relevance.

    My first question:

    Is there any sociopath who believes in God? Not as a cultural idea or out of expedience, but an actual belief in the idea of the Christian God.

    If the answer is no, than I ask a followup: upon which basis is your lack of belief based; emotional or rational? If yes, well... let's say that it would take too long to ask the followups for that unless someone actually says yes.

  15. Is there any sociopath who believes in God?

    Since theists number in the billions, it is reasonable to assume that some of them have to be sociopathic. It might take a great deal of rationalization, but then again rationalization is what humanity does best anyway.

  16. It is survival of the fittest in this world. Manipulation is not wrong. Who can say that the "victims" are not manipulators in their own ways and the idea that they are the "oh so pitiful" is not one of the means to manipulate others too? The role of victim and victor can never be fully determined. The victim may be a manipulator in the same way that the victor may be a manipulator. As such is the game of life.

  17. Evil is human wickedness and therefore a function of arrested human development the result of which is incomplete development of moral consciousness or 'conscience'.
    the problem of evil is an issue of education (upbringing) without the right conditions for normal human development.


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