Posted by: aboutalbion | July 25, 2012

Evil (3)

With the recent court appearance of the accused in the Aurora tragedy in mind, and the verdict in the Utoeya calamity due soon in August, I am continuing with posts on non-religious explanations of evil.

I find a second psychological explanation of evil in the work of M Scott Peck.

As Peck sees it, all human beings exhibit unwelcome behaviour patterns on account of their flawed nature.  Sometimes these anti-social behaviours lead to the designation ‘criminal’ being attached to the perpetrator.  But the foundation of Peck’s work is built on the distinction between evil actions (harmful behaviours, some of which attract criminal liability) and evil people (with a distinctive set of personality characteristics).

After working for a significant time in prisons, it is Peck’s professional opinion that evil people never find themselves in prison.  Since evil people are not defined by the criminality of their actions, Peck suggests that a primary characteristic of evil people is their “absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of the own sinfulness”. [1990 p79]  Most human beings are “blessed by guilt” because they can experience the discomfort of self-examination. [1990 p79]  For Peck, evil people absolutely refuse to tolerate any hint of personal moral fault.

Peck believes that his work carries forward the work of the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm who “was the first and only scientist to clearly identify an evil personality type …”. [1990 p51]  Peck believes that that evil people fit into a single psychological mould so that “once you’ve seen one evil person, you’ve essentially seen them all”. [1990 p304]  Peck suggests that psychiatrists have failed to recognize such a distinct, rigid type of personality because evil people wear a mask of sane respectability.

Based on his other extensive clinical experience, Peck proposes that evil people constitute “a specific variant of the narcissistic personality disorder”. [1990 p145]  Peck argues that evil people are diseased, ill people to whom health professionals should respond with sympathy and compassion rather than disgust and revulsion.

Peck suggests that evil people are those that leave a trail emotional devastation and non-criminal damage as they move through a succession of relationship breakdowns in the sure and certain knowledge that they could not possibly be to blame.

I find it significant that the perpetrators of the horrific events at Aurora and Utoeya both allowed themselves to be arrested by the police.  Using Peck’s analysis, the accused in both of these cases have committed evil actions, but are not evil people …

[Peck, M S (1990) People of the Lie.  London: Arrow.]

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