Published March 11, 2017 38 Comments
Peter Watson says
March 11, 2017 at 6:42 am
March 11, 2017 at 6:47 am
Amen. Also, nobody likes to say it anymore but some people are just evil.
Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says
March 11, 2017 at 7:32 am
Here, I’ll say it with you: some people are evil.
Berea Rae says
March 11, 2017 at 10:19 pm
I totally understand why you would label someone as such, but I’m not sure I believe evil is a strong force. Sometimes I think it’s just a word we use to separate ourselves from people who do terrible things. But I still respect your opinion. ♡
March 14, 2017 at 5:49 am
The scary part is that the vast majority of the time when people do something evil, they don’t see it as evil. They find a way to rationalize it.
For example, when Clinton suggested that Trump doesn’t pay any federal income tax, his response was, “That makes me smart”. Tax evasion is both criminal and immoral, but in his mind it’s justified because he believes he’s so much better than everyone else that he’s above both the law and moral judgement.
March 14, 2017 at 5:52 am
Evil is not an absolute, it’s a perspective. Everyone is a hero in their own mind.
March 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm
A system can be unnecessarily harmful to everyone, though. This might be beyond the domain of most people involved to change, but objectively, a lot could be prevented with better leadership or system design. That is, I hope, what humanity will keep transforming society into: a system to prevent evil systems and empower humans to be more kind and compassionate, day by day, year by year, generation by generation.
For an example of a system that hurts everyone: an army goes to war without proper preparation, and the soldier commit war crimes. They lose the war, but consider that everyone lost in that scenario. Every soldier, ever politician, every victim, and humanity in general.
(The “system” I mean there is not the actual army, but the driver of the war action, which is based on a type of “groupthink”, rather than any one individual.)
So, such a society might reform and refuse to go to war every again, and redirect their focus totally towards commercial efforts, forcing creative solutions which keep food cost low, and create opportunities for many types of people to contribute to the new type of “war”: exporting goods and culture for the profit of both customers and the state, and everyone involved in it.
Only competitors are “harmed” in that case, but harmed much less than they are by war, war crimes, and a lack of preparation.
These things have actually happened, so they are possible… some people may be working to create more war-systems, but history has shown, not just in this case, that systems of mutual benefit can succeed, and due to that, I think that “evil” can exist, at the system level, and can be defeated, at the system level. It is not, perhaps sadly, perhaps thankfully, up to any one individual, but takes a whole system to focus on preventing harm by channeling aggression appropriately.
Now, I don’t think that any one person involved was responsible for those scenarios… but I do think that, at least at the system level, it is possible to eradicate evil… maybe not for all of humanity everywhere anytime soon, but maybe, someday, humanity will really reach that stage… as it is, most of humanity is already there, although it doesn’t seem like it if you face the mass media, or the “medium” of the gossip of the masses.
People worry our of proportion to the reality, which might be appropriate if we could alter it, but human minds cannot properly tell the difference between imagination and reality. This can be used for good, but only by activities, not really by entertainment. Entertainment and education can help, but they are no substitute for personal initiative and realistic hope.
So, that is not to condemn anyone.. you can’t “just worry less”, even with great effort, it still takes that effort, and they are many causes for legitimate concern.
I am just saying it to show that, if we can create systems which are evil, then we should also be able to create systems which prevent evil, at least, on the system level, and not everyone who acts within the evil system might see themselves as the hero… a soldier committing war crimes may object, but if he objects too loudly, he will literally be shot dead on the spot, legally, and with the full support of the martial laws. So, he may not view himself as a hero, he may justify it as saving his life, and regret it deeply afterwards… but could I say that I would do differently in his situation? I would like to think I would somehow avoid it, but if pressed, I think most people would follow rather that die… and whatever I did, I would choose to live… hopefully become a shameful deserter… I don’t know, thankfully I haven’t been placed in such a dire situation, but many times I did harm myself rather than disappoint authority figures… it didn’t feel heroic, only, like it was the only option at the time… but it never really was. I just couldn’t see properly at the time.
The sub-system which I created for myself, assumed too much of me… that I had no options, that I couldn’t say “no”, that I was less significant than others… and this is a part of the result of being too well-conformed to society… but by saying “which I created for myself”, I’m saying I can create another one. My past self didn’t create a better system, however, because there is an inertia in systems, they are designed to create certain outcomes, and none of them are the “absurd heroes” that Camus speaks of. So, my past self, did not have this power, this intelligence. Most individuals might never develop it, and if I am hit by a bus tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter that I did, since the majority of my life would the record of someone who struggled, but failed to fully develop an individualistic system fully compatible with aspirations and society.
There is such a thing as mutual evil… where you as an individual, or a group of people as a system, cannot succeed at anything other than destruction… it is a lot easier to prevent this from becoming the norm, than the compensate for it once it becomes a habit or feature of the individual or system. Objectively. Subjectively, some people justify harm, but others really do seek to harm nobody whilst still implementing their will, and to that degree, I think that we really can say that some people are acting evil (because they justify the harm), some systems are evil (because they prevent options that would be harmless), and that a comprehensive understand of such will create better leadership, both for the individual and for the figurehead or “authorized actor” (authority figure).
March 17, 2017 at 12:58 pm
That only works if you believe in a “evil” which I don’t. The concept of evil works in fiction, religious texts and hyperbole. It has no scientific or psychological basis. Evil is a judgement call on a particular act, definitely not anything tangible or with substance.
March 18, 2017 at 1:40 am
The Standford Prison Experiment was a system which produced a lot of those acts, and it was only by external intervention that the “guards” were even able to regain their moral / ethical compass and stop doing those act. So when I speak of “evil systems”, that is what I mean… not that evil exists outside of a system, but that, for example, if you have effective oversight and random inspections, then you can prevent a system from allowing people to be evil, however you might define it. Since you do design systems to either encourage or discourage these acts, to either enable them or restrain/prevent them, that is why I would call as system “evil”. It may be more accurate to say “system which promotes the perpetuation of unethical/immortal acts”, but such precision lacks the emotion necessary to drive designers or reformers to put a high priority on design-for-ethics.
Just as a tennis player who wants to put spin on a ball may visualize a simple, but impossible task: hitting “through the ball”, and his mind then does the complexities to make the “spin” occur, if you want to get people to apply things, that you need to make the term easy to recall, so that it is in the domain of practice, application, rather than pseudo-objective theory.
If someone is, for example, needing to change their lifestyle, then saying “this lifestyle is evil, I’m gonna make it good” is a simple way to effect that change. On the analytical level, there is not tangible evil, it is all in the system, the process, the situation, not the evil itself, but the tendency to make bad choices.
So, I totally agree with you… evil doesn’t exist… but if we are to avoid processes or reform systems that create bad choices, destructive choices, abusive choices, and so forth, then it helps to use emotional language, at least when it comes to the practical aspects.
Perhaps, six are half dozen and we are basically saying the same thing, but the word “evil” has a different loading for others than it does for me. Thanks for making me think of that.
March 11, 2017 at 6:56 am
Or you know…they could actually be sick. Possible example being Charles Whitman whose undiagnosed brain tumor. But the real important thing is that most people who are mentally ill are not violent .
March 11, 2017 at 7:49 am
That’s why I said some people. There are some cases where it is something else, but those are fairly rare situations.
Jose Bello says
Talk about a copout
March 11, 2017 at 7:34 am
An artist’s mission is wrapped up with how to express truth in a way that can be understood by many. You’re doing it, Clay.
Mikael Dahlqvist says
March 11, 2017 at 11:01 am
Having mental issues is like being a modern day Leper.
March 11, 2017 at 11:57 am
Maybe we should task a hacking collective with changing “mental” in all of the news stories to “gastrointestinal”. In my experience, bowel issues are more often the cause of antisocial behavior than mental illness.
March 11, 2017 at 1:38 pm
Evan J Sanders says
March 11, 2017 at 1:08 pm
“Evil” is a choice, not an ailment.
Dana Seilhan says
March 11, 2017 at 2:21 pm
Mentally ill people still make choices.
March 11, 2017 at 2:31 pm
No denying that. But the assertion that “sane” people don’t commit horrible acts is false. You can be “normal” by any accepted measure and still do something atrocious.
“Mental Illness” is NOT the prerequisite for awfulness.
March 12, 2017 at 3:12 pm
I’m reminded of the Milgram experiments and the Stanford prison experiments that showed how a majority of people could do something terrible given a set of circumstances. We are all capable of awful acts, let’s not think that only “mentally ill” or “evil” people are capable of terrible things.
Esmerelda Bohème says
March 11, 2017 at 1:28 pm
Some of the most sanest people commit the most horrible crimes.
Most sane, and no they don’t.
March 12, 2017 at 3:16 pm
Psychological research confirms that “sane” people are capable of horrible things given the correct circumstances.
Once upon a time people believed all mentally ill people were demon-possessed.
You’re suggesting it’s sane to shoot up a school.
March 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm
Once upon a time people thought homosexuals were mentally ill and killed them for it.
Once upon a time people thought it was perfect acceptable to enslave someone who they viewed as different.
Once upon a time people thought women were inherently irrational and drowned, electrocuted, and lobotomized them for it.
The “sane” have committed horrific acts in the name of curing the “insane”.
March 12, 2017 at 10:51 am
Please point me to either the DSM entry for school shootings, or a study showing a correlation between school shootings and before-the-fact mental illness diagnosis.
depression comix says
March 20, 2017 at 6:01 am
You’re suggesting if school shooters are not sane, then they are not responsible for their actions and should be declared not guilty by reason of insanity.
Opus the Poet says
March 11, 2017 at 3:52 pm
Maybe “being evil” is a mental illness. One that’s damned hard to cure.
March 11, 2017 at 5:05 pm
That is precisely what we don’t want to do: define evil as a mental illness. If “A” equals “B,” then “B” equals “A.”
March 14, 2017 at 5:38 am
No one is saying that mental illness and evil are equal. They’re suggesting that evil (or the tendency to do evil) may be a type of mental illness. If converted to symbols, such a relationship would be expressed using the subset operator, which unlike the equality operator is neither symmetric nor commutative.
Does no one study symbolic logic?
March 14, 2017 at 6:04 am
Sadly, I was too wrapped up in studying clumped isotopes, radiometric dating and mass spectrometers. I never got around to symbolic logic during either of my academic careers. Thank you for helping us keep it straight. 😉
March 11, 2017 at 5:17 pm
This sentiment always confuses me because I’m not sure how to feel about it. The last thing we need is mental illness being aligned with horrible acts, but stripping away any kind of nuance from the problem and declaring certain people to just be evil instead of human beings is unhelpful at best, and a really dangerous precedent at worst.
March 11, 2017 at 10:22 pm
I kind of agree with this.
March 13, 2017 at 2:27 am
The worst humans do some good, and the best do bad. Calling people “evil” is just one way to dismiss them as something other, not like us at all. Yet the truly frightening thing about those who do the worst acts is not that they are monsters, but that they are humans just like all of us. The fact that we can simply decide those “evil doers” are fundamentally different from us is exactly the same instinct that allows people to do evil in the first place. Perhaps now mental illness has become a more common excuse for othering certain groups, but whether we blame brain wiring or a moral deficit all we gain is an easier excuse to treat them as less than human. Our brains let us do great good too. The key is empathy. We must try to understand everyone, how fundamentally similar we all are despite some little switches here and there going the other way. We need to make sure everyone gets the help they need, whether they have diagnosable mental illness or are simply so “sane” that they absorb and act on all those cultural biases we try to ignore. Forgiveness and understanding are hard, but possible and necessary. Here’s one of my favorite examples:
March 12, 2017 at 2:28 am
If the person isn’t in distress, then it’s not a mental illness, it’s just the toxic ideas going through society. Even if someone who commits a horrible act also has a mental illness, this is more an issue of correlation rather than causation. It’s like believing that pain killers will fix a broken leg, sure, it might make it easier to deal with, but unless you actually fix the problem, that pain will always be there.
I mean, it wasn’t even a hundred years ago when lynching was almost a pastime. From the pictures I’ve seen, it seemed like mob was having a fun time rather than something they felt compelled to do. Now if someone shoots people with the desire to kill minorities, they have something wrong with them. The only difference here is the number of people committing murder. I think people use mental illness as an excuse is a way to distance themselves from people they don’t agree with rather than having to face the difficult reality that the awfulness already runs through society (through “sane” and “mentally ill” alike) and at best, the mental illness only acts to limit their ability to pretend like they don’t think the “other” deserves to die.
For example, a guy could get drunk and rape his girlfriend. He is still a rapist sober, but the alcohol represses his inhibitions and he acts out the underlying belief system that ACTUALLY drives his actions, which is that women are lesser to men and only exist for the pleasure of men. That doesn’t mean drunks are rapists, only the ones who believe this. You could eliminate alcohol, blaming it entirely, but violent people will still be violent. Just as most people with mental illness aren’t violent, only the ones who believe violent things.
March 14, 2017 at 4:38 am
Thank you! This idea people have makes me so mad.
July 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm
Right on! just because someone is aggressive, immoral, or violent does not mean they are mentally ill, and more importantly the reverse is also true; just because someone is mentally ill does not mean that they are aggressive, immoral, or violent.
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