The Myth of Evil

Good and EvilI have been keeping bookmarks of the many, many blogs about the torture memos over the last few days meaning to summarize them but, ultimately, I decided the whole thing was too depressing and I let the whole sordid business pass without comment.

The final straw was a comment at The Corner claiming that the difference between Clinton’s crime and Bush’s was that Bush was always motivated by a desire to do good for his country.

As synchronicity would have it, I am currently reading Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good & Evil. The current chapter is about the myth of evil – the idea that evil is something special and different.

Some flavours of the myth:

  1. Evil is always intentional
  2. Evil is motivated by pleasure
  3. The victim of evil is innocent.
  4. Evil is conducted by people different from us.
  5. Evil is in our natures.
  6. Evil is the opposite of good (and order and peace).
  7. Evil people are selfish egotists.

The author of the list, Roy Baumeister, concludes

The myth encourages people to believe that they are good and will remain good no matter what, even if they perpetrate severe harm on their opponents. Thus, the mth of pure evil confers a kind of moral immunity on people who believe in it…Belief in the myth is itself one recipe for evil, because it allows people to justify violent and oppressive actions. It allows evil to masquerade as good.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

2 thoughts on “The Myth of Evil”

  1. Any action in itself is not necessarily evil. When these actions are witnessed by others though, the definition changes. Something that a person fears happening to them becomes “evil”. Laws are created to try and counter that fear with a more fearful consequence such as jail time. You can sometimes see the differences in the cultures or forms of government in the laws they create.

    In the dark ages I believe, stealing carried a higher punishment than murder because the royalty made the laws and royalty in their castles had very little fear of being killed by the peasants but losing their wealth would mean they would lose all of their power. I read that somewhere anyway.

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