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Monday, September 24, 2007

The Scale of Evil

This originally appeared on another blogsite which has since gone under. I think it makes an excellent fit here:

Years ago, I read a phenomenal book, the title of which escapes me, in which the author focused on several, real cases to determine whether or not Evil actually exists and to define it. A little light reading for a rainy day. Still, I think most of us can agree that there is a huge difference in an evil act and actual Evil; we're all capable of evil acts, but most people are not actually Evil.

A lot of the popular notions regarding such things include intent, premeditation, and covering up the crime, all of which have been used to condemn someone as Evil at one time or another (and remain the primary measuring sticks for such determinations) but these aren't perfect indicators -- good indicators, certainly, but by no means the best. After all, even the best intentions can go awry and these are generally premeditated acts -- yet, their unintentional results are often covered-up.

Not to mention that, sometimes, people believe they have to perform an Evil act for a greater good. This is the case with most abuse victims who kill their abusers. These are sometimes (though not always) premeditated acts in which the immediate intent is Evil (by nature) and are then often covered-up by those who commit them and/or sympathetic supporters.  However, the overall outcome is not at all Evil (abuse is unquestionably Evil so stopping it is not).

Then, there are those who are mentally and/or emotionally ill or unstable. These people simply cannot think correctly; while they may have Evil intentions, plan their evil acts, and consciously obscure them, they truly can't be held directly responsible because they cannot process thoughts and feelings the way normal people do.

So what is Evil?

Well, the forgotten book gave a very good answer by way of an example:

A coal mining company knew they were using faulty equipment in a mine which was known to be poisonous, yet chose to send in a crew of miners -- all of whom died. The company knew they were endangering the miners, knew there was a very real (almost certain) possibility of death, hid this knowledge from the workers, and sent them in regardless because it was financially profitable to the corporation even if the crew was lost. 

After the miners had died, the company played the "pyramid" game -- shifting responsibility from one head of department to the next, which then shifted responsibility to lesser-ranking workers in the department, who were then instructed to shift blame to researchers, and on and on: They covered-up the crime.

That's Evil; that's not an Evil act, that's just pure Evil, from intent to event to cover-up.

But that doesn't mean someone who commits an evil act, knowing the act is Evil, is necessarily an Evil person. Again, there are mitigating factors in some cases; the abuse victim who kills his abuser is a perfect example of this, while the corporation (and all of the individuals which comprised it) provide the example of true Evil. Regardless of what most people want you to believe (regardless of what we all think sometimes), every person is an individual and thinks, feels, and acts differently. This also has nothing to do with the famous "situational" vs. "predatory" Evil.

Either way, Psychology shies away from the word, "Evil," believing it to be indicative of moral judgment, as opposed to clinical assessment -- that is to say, most psychologists shy away from the term.

One Michael Stone has developed an actual scale for Evil and I'm not too sure it holds up -- not because Stone's work is bad, but because the whole concept may be. Or maybe it's because he used bad examples. Susan Smith, for example, has a history of molestation and suicide attempts involving men; it's hard to consider her Evil, given that she is psycho-emotionally damaged. And, while not all of his subjects suffer from such obvious mitigating trauma, Stone appears to have based his research largely on people who committed outrageous crimes.

In fact, I find it impossible to say that anyone who commits Evil acts on a regular basis is actually "healthy." Of course, there has to be a line, but where and how do you draw it? You can't let people get away (literally) with murder just because most of us believe anyone who would commit murder is "sick," but we all know there's some grain of truth to that. And then, if you apply the "situational" caveat, you realize just how preoccupied with revenge this country and its legal system really is.

In effect, isn't it just as Evil to seek vengeance on someone who has done something Evil in order to assuage your sense of injustice? Especially when it inflames your sense of self-righteousness? Is "justice" then mere justification for the Evil you have committed in punishing the evil-doer? Or, is it more in line with the case of the abused who kills his abuser?

There are people who do Evil things -- knowing full-well they are evil, knowing full-well their actions hurt others -- and simply do not care. Their motives vary and their acts sometimes occur situationally --meaning that they are unplanned or even unintentional -- but are they premeditated simply because the person enjoyed them or wanted to do them? This is particularly the case in so many of the Internet "stings" on would-be child predators these days: If no crime was committed, how can they be convicted (even though their intent clearly was to commit a crime)?

Even though I agree that those who cannot be "cured" have to be put to death for at least a thousand reasons, which people are they and why aren't these laws applied unilaterally? A blackmailer or chronic drug-dealer who does not change their ways knowingly commits Evil -- knowingly jeopardizes, harms, and kills others (even if indirectly) -- and knows damn-well what they are doing when they do it. Why aren't they put to death?

Again, it's about the sense of revenge inherent in the judicial system: The laws are applied only to those who commit crimes which enrage the community. The death penalty is a premeditated action, knowingly carried out and justified as being for a greater good, and commonly accepted by those involved. 

Premeditation, action, cover-up; the Death Penalty fits the specific definition of "Evil."

The system is Evil. I told you so.

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