Monday, August 08, 2005

Evil Has No boundaries

We have discussed the characteristics of evil people previously. A quick peek back to that post shows that there are three characteristics that must be present in order for a person to meet the criteria for evil as defined by psychiatrist Dr. M. Scott Peck in his book People of the Lie:
  • the absence or destruction of good; evil being inherently against life and creativity
  • the inability to face the consequences of their actions
  • this behavior is systemic, it is the common thread that runs through the person's entire life

    I am going to leave behind Peck here and talk a little bit about my knowledge of evil; a characteristic of it that I have observed that I believe to be an essential component in the behavior of evil people.

    Evil is evangelistic; evil people are active recruiters, always looking for potential new converts. Even the evil people who live and act on the fringe of society look for companions to help them. Charles Manson was more successful than most.

    This is not surprising based on their desire to have a mask of respectability for their actions. After all, numbers add legitimacy. The best example I can think of this is the amazing and exponential growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920's followed by the creation of the Citizens council's of the 1950's. Today we think of the Klan as a fringe group of white trash loons missing teeth and barely able to speak English. That was not true of the Klan of the 1920's. Started in 1915 it grew to four million members by 1923; among them former President Harry Truman, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Hugo Black and current United States Senator Robert Byrd; all of who repudiated both the Klan and its methods before attaining their current positions.

    The evil of the Klan included racism, anti-immigrant activity, anti-Catholicism and promotion of one self-identified group's self interests at the expense of others who did not fit into their mold of what was acceptable. They made no bones about who they were and what they did and it was clear that the wearing of the hoods was designed to cause fear. Nobody doubted that the Klan was behind some of the lynchings of African-Americans that were all too common in those day; during that period of American history an average of 50 to 100 lynchings took place per year. Many times the lynchings would take place in the atmosphere of a public circus; sometimes the press would be notified and the lynchings arranged early in the day so that it could be in the next day's papers. Often law enforcement would attend as spectators or participants. People took photos and made postcards to remember the days "happy" events.

    Evil craves respectability and legitimacy. Often it will work inside respected institutions in order to achieve the invisibility that comes with social acceptance. Churches are frequently perverted in this manner. Currently the rise of extremist Islamic thought is a good example of evil making use of socially and culturally accepted institutions to further its aims. But it need not be churches; I would argue that the behavior in the corporate cultures of Enron, Worldcom and Tyco are excellent examples of how evil can infiltrate and use corporate values and culture.

    This leads to another point about the nature of evil: it is ideologically neutral. Often people make the mistake of saying that a political, economic or religious belief is itself inherently evil. They are simply wrong. Some systems and ideologies are more prone to evil, fascism and communism for example, than others. But evil will adopt and adapt to any system to further its aims. That is why charities can raise money for terrorism, churches conceal pedophiles and governments persecute minorities.

    Today we have added some new characteristics of evil. These are not essential to defining evil, unlike the traits discussed last week. But they are common to evil; you can find them associated with evil in almost every case. They are:
  • Evil seeks respectability and social acceptance.
  • Evil evangelizes to gain new converts.
  • Evil is ideologically neutral and will adapt and adopt in order to fit an existing ideology, faith or economic belief.

    It looks like this will be a series so expect more in coming days as we discuss how good people can become servants of evil, the spiritual nature of evil and finally how to fight evil in our lives.

    Have a good week.
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