Posted by: aboutalbion | July 24, 2012

Evil (2)

Science is the dominant theoretical framework of thought in my European culture at the moment, and its challenge to organised religions is to relocate their traditional wisdom into this new matrix of thought.

Yesterday, I reviewed traditional Christian understandings of evil in the light of the shocking events at Aurora and Utoeya.  Today, I want to begin a series of (hopefully) three posts that outline my understanding of some explanations that are based on psychology.

 Almost twenty years ago, John Habgood discussed the eruption of moral evil in terms of the “the line between fantasy and reality”.  He acknowledged the difficulty of drawing this line because “everybody lives, at least partially, in an unreal world of their own making”.  And his evidence for this was provided by television soap-opera devotees who send wreaths whenever there is a soap-opera funeral.

 Despite the difficulty of accurately pinpointing “the line between fantasy and reality”, Habgood’s discussion of evil acts was based on the assumption that a perpetrator of ‘unfathomably senseless acts’ crosses that line.

 Habgood’s argument was that liberal democratic societies in the (over)developed world consent to the entertainment industry exploiting and glorifying evil fantasies which involve anti-social choices, criminal behaviour, and acts of revenge.  When “the adult world corrupts its imagination, the children will not be far behind”.

 I find that this line of argument is close to my digest of Erik Erikson’s work on child development in last week’s posts.  Erikson’s model sees the child as learning (in stages) to become rational and responsible as they become aware of “the line between fantasy and reality”.  Habgood’s point is that the social environment in which a young person practises human responsibility is already corrupt and flawed.  It implies that if a young person is unable to choose a socially acceptable identity at the end of the adolescent stage and use their creativity for love, then there may well arise the temptation to choose a socially unacceptable identity and use their creativity for destruction.

 With the events of Aurora and Utoeya in mind, I do think liberal democratic societies need to call the advertising and entertainment industries to account for their apparent freedom to produce products that undermine the best efforts of parents and teachers to advise young people during their adolescent years about “the line between fantasy and reality”.

 [Habgood, J (1993) “In the Face of Frailty” The Times.  London: 25 November.]


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