Throughout this web site I have stated in a dozen different ways and through many leading "experts" who the people of the lie are...Now the author of "The Road Less Traveled"...The Book that has been on the New York Times best pick list longer than any book in history...confirms what I have been stressing page after page.
M. Scott Peck M.D....Author
Evil And Sin
...The evil appear to be most ordinary. They live down the street..on any street. They may be rich or poor, educated or uneducated. There is little that is dramatic about them. They are not designated criminals. More often than not they will be "solid citizens"-Sunday school teachers, policemen, or bankers, and active in the PTA.
How can this be? How can they be evil and not designated as criminals? The key lies in the word "designated." They are criminals in that they commit "crimes" against life and liveliness. But except in rare instances-such as the case of a Hitler-when they might achieve extraordinary degree of political power that remove them from ordinary restraints, their "crimes" are so subtle and covert that they cannot clearly be designated as crimes. The theme of hiding and covertness will occur again and again throughout the rest of the book. It is the basis for the title "The People Of the Lie."
I have spent a good deal of time working in prisons with designate criminals. Almost never have I experienced them as evil people. Obviously they are destructive, and usually repetitively so. But there is a kind of randomness to their destructiveness. Moreover, although to the authorities they generally deny responsibility for their evil deeds, there is still a quality of openness to their wickedness. They themselves are quick to point this out, claiming that they have been caught precisely because they are the "honest criminals." The truly evil, they will tell you, always reside outside of jail. Clearly these proclamations are self-justifying. They are also, I believe, generally accurate.
People in jail can almost always be assigned a standard psychiatric diagnosis of one kind or another. The diagnoses range all over the map and correspond, in layman's terms, to such qualities as craziness or impulsiveness or aggressiveness or lack of conscience. The men and women I shall be talking about such as Bobby's parents have no such obvious defects and do not fall clearly into our routine psychiatric pigeonholes. This is not because the evil are healthy. It is simply because we have not yet developed a definition for their disease.
Since I distinguish between evil people and ordinary criminals, I also obviously make the distinction between evil as a personality characteristic and evil deeds. In other words, evil deeds do not an evil person make. Otherwise we should all be evil, because we all do evil things.
Sinning is most broadly defined as "missing the mark." This means that we sin every time we fail to hit the bull's-eye. Sin is nothing more and nothing less than a failure to be continually perfect. Because it is impossible for us to be continually perfect, we are all sinners. We routinely fail to do the very best of which we are capable, and with each failure we commit a crime of sorts-against God, our neighbors, or ourselves, if not frankly against the law.
Of course there are crimes of greater and lesser magnitude. It is a mistake, however, to think of sin or evil as a matter of degree. It may seem less odious to cheat the rich than the poor, but it is still cheating. There are differences before the law between defrauding a business, claiming a false deduction on your income tax, using a crib sheet in an examination, telling your wife that you have to work late when you are unfaithful, or telling your husband (or yourself) that you didn't have time to pick up his clothes at the cleaner, when you spent an hour on the phone with your neighbor. Surely one is more excusable than the other-and perhaps all the more so under certain circumstances-but the fact remains that they are all lies and betrayals. If you are sufficiently scrupulous not to have done any such thing recently, then ask whether there is any way in which you have lied to yourself. Or have kidded yourself. Or have been less than you could be-which is a self-betrayal. Be perfectly honest with yourself, and you will realize that you sin. If you do not realize it, then you are not perfectly honest with yourself, which is itself a sin. It is inescapable: we are all sinners.*· "Although so frequently and even evilly abused, perhaps the greatest beauty of Christian doctrine is its understanding approach to sin. It is a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, it insists upon our sinful human nature. Any genuine Christian, therefore, will consider himself or herself to be a sinner. The fact that many nominal and overtly devout "Christians" do not in their hearts consider themselves sinners should not be perceived as a failure of the doctrine but only a failure of the individual to begin to live up to it. More will be said later about evil in Christian guise. On the other hand, Christian doctrine also insists that we are forgiven our sins-at least as long as we experience contrition for them. Fully realizing the extent of our sinfulness, we are likely to feel almost overwhelmed by hopelessness if we do not simultaneously believe in the merciful and forgiving nature of the Christian God. Thus the Church, when in its right mind, will also insist that to endlessly dwell on each and every smallest sin one has committed (a process known as "excessive scrupulosity") is itself a sin. Since God forgives us, to fail to forgive ourselves is to hold ourselves higher than God-thereby indulging in the sin of a perverted form of pride."
If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because those who have "crossed over the line" are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness.
I commented that George, blessed by guilt, managed to turn away from becoming evil. Because he was willing-at least to a rudimentary degree-to tolerate the sense of his own sinfulness, he was able to reject his pact with the devil. Had he not borne the pain of "the guilties" he experienced over the pact, his moral deterioration would have continued. More than anything else, it is the sense of our own sinfulness that prevents any of us from undergoing a similar deterioration. As I have written elsewhere: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," Jesus began when the time came for him to address the multitudes. What did he mean by this opener? . . . What is so great about feeling down on yourself-about having this sense of personal sin? If you ask that, it might help to remember the Pharisees. They were the fat cats of Jesus' day. They didn't feel poor in spirit. They felt they had it all together, that they were the ones who knew the score, who deserved to be the culture leaders in Jerusalem and Palestine. And they were the ones who murdered Jesus.
The poor in spirit do not commit evil. Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves. The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination.
Unpleasant though it may be, the sense of personal sin is precisely that which keeps our sin from getting out of hand. It is quite painful at times, but it is a very great blessing because it is our one and only effective safeguard against our own proclivity for evil. Saint Therese of Lisieux put it so nicely in her gentle way: "If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.~~*
The evil do not serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to themselves. In fact, they don't bear it at all. I could not, for instance, detect a hint of self-recrimination in Bobby's parents. And it is out of their failure to put themselves on trial that their evil arises.
The varieties of people's wickedness are manifold. As a result of their refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness, the evil ones become uncorrectable grab bags of sin. They are, for instance, in my experience, remarkably greedy people. Thus they are cheap-so cheap that their "gifts" may be murderous. In The Road Less Traveled, I suggested the most basic sin is laziness. In the next subsection I suggest it may be pride-because all sins are reparable except the sin of believing one is without sin. But perhaps the question of which sin is the greatest is, on a certain level, a moot issue. All sins betray-and isolate us from-both the divine and our fellow creatures. As one deep religious thinker put it, any sin "can harden into hell":
· Marilyn von Waldener and M. Scott Peck, "What Return Can I Make?" (awaiting publication).
· . . There can be a state of soul against which Love itself is powerless because it has hardened itself against Love. Hell is essentially a state of being which we fashion for ourselves: a state of final separateness from God which is the result not of God's repudiation of man, but of man's repudiation of God, and a repudiation which is eternal precisely because it has become, in itself, immovable. There are analogies in human experience: the hate which is so blind, so dark, that Love only makes it the more violent; the pride which is so stony that humility only makes it more scornful; the inertia-last but not least the inertia-which has so taken possession of the personality that no crisis, no appeal, no inducement whatsoever, can stir it into activity, but on the contrary makes it bury itself the more deeply in its immobility. So with the soul and God; pride can become hardened into hell, hatred can become hardened into hell, any of the seven root forms of wrongdoing can harden into hell, and not least that sloth which is boredom with divine things, the inertia that cannot be troubled to repent, even though it sees the abyss into which the soul is falling, because for so long, in little ways perhaps, it has accustomed itself to refuse whatever might cost it an effort. May God in his mercy save us from that.*
A predominant characteristic, however, of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection. Take a simple example of a six-year-old boy who asks his father, "Daddy, why did you call Grand-mommy a bitch?" "I told you to stop bothering me," the father roars. "Now you're going to get it. I'm going to teach you not to use such filthy language, I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap. Maybe that will teach you to clean up what you say and keep your mouth shut when you're told." Dragging the boy upstairs to the soap dish, the father inflicts this punishment on him. In the name of "proper discipline" evil has been committed.
Scapegoating works through a mechanism psychiatrists call projection. Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world's fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others. The father perceived the profanity and un-cleanliness as existing in his son and took action to cleanse his son's "filthiness." Yet we know it was the father who was profane and unclean. The father projected his own filth onto his son and then assaulted his son in the name of good parenting.
Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters. In The Road Less Traveled I defined evil "as the exercise of political power-that is, the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion-in order to avoid . . . spiritual growth" (p. 279). In other words, the evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgment of one's need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgment, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our imperfection. *· Ernest Becker, in his final work, Escape from Evil (Macmillan, 1965), pointed out the essential role of scapegoating in the genesis of human evil. He erred, I believe, in focusing exclusively on the fear of death as the sole motive for such scapegoating. Indeed, I think the fear of self-criticism is the more potent motive. Although Becker did not make the point, he might have equated the fear of self-criticism with the fear of death. Self-criticism is a call to personality change. As soon as I criticize a part of myself I incur an obligation to change that part. But the process of personality change is a painful one. It is like a death. The old personality pattern must die for a new pattern to take its place. The evil are pathologically attached to the status quo of their personalities, which in their narcissism they consciously regard as perfect. I think it is quite possible that the evil may perceive even a small degree of change in their beloved selves as representing total annihilation. In this sense, the threat of self-criticism may feel to one who is evil synonymous with the threat of extinction. How this is so will become clear as we go more deeply into the subject of narcissism.
Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves. As life often threatens their self-image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life-usually in the name of righteousness. The fault, however, may not be so much that they hate life as that they do not hate the sinful part of themselves. I doubt that Bobby's parents deliberately wanted to kill Stuart or him. I suspect if I had gotten to know them well enough, I would have found their murderous behavior totally dictated by an extreme form of self-protectiveness which invariably sacrificed others rather than themselves.
What is the cause of this failure of self-hatred, this failure to be displeasing to oneself, which seems to be the central sin at the root of the scapegoating behavior of those I call evil? The cause is not, I believe, an absent conscience. There are people, both in and out of jail, who seem utterly lacking in conscience or superego. Psychiatrists call them psychopaths or sociopaths. Guiltless, they not only commit crimes but may often do so with a kind of reckless abandon. There is little pattern or meaning to their criminality; it is not particularly characterized by scapegoating. Conscienceless, psychopaths appear to be bothered or worried by very little-including their own criminality. They seem to be about as happy inside a jail as out. They do attempt to hide their crimes, but their efforts to do so are often feeble and careless and poorly planned. They have sometimes been referred to as "moral imbeciles," and there is almost a quality of innocence to their lack of worry and concern.
This is hardly the case with those I call evil. Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, they are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them. Like Bobby's parents, they dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes, and outwardly seem to live lives that are above reproach.
The words "image, appearance, and "outwardly" are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their "goodness" is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the "people of the lie."
Actually, the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves. They cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach. The decorum with which they lead their lives is maintained as a mirror in which they can see themselves reflected righteously. Yet the self-deceit would be unnecessary if the evil had no sense of right and wrong. We lie only when we are attempting to cover up something we know to be illicit. Some rudimentary form of conscience must precede the act of lying. There is no need to hide unless we first feel that something needs to be hidden.
We come now to a sort of paradox. I have said that evil people feel themselves to be perfect. At the same time, however, I think they have an unacknowledged sense of their own evil nature. Indeed, it is this very sense from which they are frantically trying to flee. The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. At one and the same time, the evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness. Rather than blissfully lacking a sense of morality, like the psychopath, they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness. For everything they did, Bobby's parents had a rationalization-a whitewash good enough for themselves even if not for me. The problem is not a defect of conscience but the effort to deny the conscience its due. We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves. The wickedness of the evil is not committed directly, but indirectly as a part of this cover-up process. Evil Originates not in the absence of guilt but in the effort to escape it.
It often happens, then, that the evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can be perceived before the misdeed it is designed to hide-the cover-up before the fact. We see the smile that hides the hatred, the smooth and oily manner that masks the fury, the velvet glove that covers the fist. Because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable. But what we can catch are glimpses of "The uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.*
Since they will do almost anything to avoid the particular pain that comes from self-examination, under ordinary circumstances the evil are the last people who would ever come to psychotherapy. The evil hate the light-the light of goodness that shows them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of truth that penetrates their deception. Psychotherapy is a light-shedding process par excellence. Except for the most twisted motives, an evil person would be more likely to choose any other conceivable route than the psychiatrist's couch. The submission to the discipline of self-observation required by psychoanalysis does, in fact, seem to them like suicide. The most significant reason we know so little scientifically about human evil is simply that the evil are so extremely reluctant to be studied.
If the central defect of the evil is not one of conscience, then where does it reside? The essential psychological problem of human evil, I believe, is a particular variety of narcissism.
NARCISSISM AND WILL
Narcissism, or self-absorption, takes many forms. Some are normal. Some are normal in childhood but not in adulthood. Some are more distinctly pathological than others. The subject is as complex as it is important. It is not the purpose of this book, however, to give a balanced view of the whole topic, so we will proceed immediately to that particular pathologic variant that Erich Fromm called "malignant narcissism.
Malignant narcissism is characterized by an un-submitted will. All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal. They do what God wants them to do rather than what they would desire. "Thy will, not mine, be done," the God-submitted person says. They believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true.
Summary: to a greater or lesser degree, all mentally healthy individuals submit themselves to the demands of their own conscience. Not so the evil, however. In the conflict between their guilt and their will, it is the guilt that must go and the will that must win.
The reader will be struck by the extraordinary willfulness of evil people. They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. There is a remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others.*
* The over-controllingness of evil is well expressed through the Mormon myth in which Christ and Satan were each required to present God with his own plan for dealing with the infant human race. Satan's plan was simple (of the sort that most business and military leaders today would come up with): God had armies of angels at His command; just assign an angel with punitive power to each human, and He would have no trouble keeping them in line. Christ's plan was radically different and more imaginative (and biophilic): "Let them have free will and go their own way," he proposed, "but allow me to live and die as one of them, both as an example of how to live and of how much You care for them." God, of course, chose Christ's plan as the more creative, and Satan rebelled at the choice. The controlling nature of evil is also treated at length by Marguerite Shuster in her unpublished dissertation, "Power, Pathology and Paradox" (Fuller Theological Seminary, 1977).
Theologians speak of evil being a consequence of free will. When God, creating us in His own image, gave us free will, He had to allow us humans the option of evil. The problem can also be envisioned in the secular terms of evolution theory. The "will" of less evolved creatures seems largely under the control of their instincts. When humans evolved from the apes, however, they largely evolved out from under such instinctual controls and hence into free will. This evolution leaves humans in the position of being either totally willful or having to seek new ways of self-control through submission to higher principles. But this still leaves us with the question of why some human beings are able to achieve such submission while others are not.
Indeed, it is almost tempting to think that the problem of evil lies in the will itself. Perhaps the evil are born so inherently strong-willed that it is impossible for them ever to submit their will. Yet I think it is characteristic of all "great" people that they are extremely strong-willed-whether their greatness be for good or for evil. The strong will-the power and authority-of Jesus radiates from the Gospels, just as Hitler's did from Mein Kampf. But Jesus' will was that of his Father, and Hitler's that of his own. The crucial distinction is between "willingness and willfulness.'*
This willful failure of submission that characterizes malignant narcissism is depicted in both the stories of Satan and of Cain and Abel. Satan refused to submit to God's judgment that Christ was superior to him. For Christ to be preferred meant that Satan was not. Satan was less than Christ in God's eyes. For Satan to have accepted God's judgment, he would have had to accept his own imperfection. This he could not or would not do. It was unthinkable that he was imperfect. Consequently submission was impossible and both the rebellion and fall inevitable. So also God's acceptance of Abel's sacrifice implied a criticism of Cain: Cain was less than Abel in God's eyes. Since he refused to acknowledge his imperfection, it was inevitable that Cain, like Satan, should take the law into his own hands and commit murder. In some similar, although usually more subtle fashion, all who are evil also take the law into their own hands, to destroy life or liveliness in defense of their narcissistic self-image.
"Pride goeth before the fall"
"Pride goeth before the fall," it is said, and of course laymen simply call pride what we have labeled with the fancy psychiatric term of "malignant narcissism." Being at the very root of evil, it is no accident that Church authorities have generally considered pride first among the sins. By the sin of pride they do not generally mean the sense of legitimate achievement one might enjoy after a job well done. While such pride, like normal narcissism, may have its pitfalls, it is also part of healthy self-confidence and a realistic sense of self-worth. What is meant is, rather, a kind of pride that unrealistically denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection-a kind of overweening pride or arrogance that prompts people to reject and even attack the judgment implied by the day-to-day evidence of their own inadequacy. Despite its fruits, Bobby's parents saw no fault in their child care. In Buber's words, the malignantly narcissistic insist upon "affirmation independent of all findings.~~*
What is the cause of this overweening pride, this arrogant self-image of perfection, this particularly malignant type of narcissism? Why does it afflict a few when most seem to escape its clutches? We do not know. In the past fifteen years psychiatrists have begun to pay increasing attention to the phenomenon of narcissism, but our understanding of the subject is still in its infancy. We have not yet succeeded, for instance, in distinguishing the different types of excessive self-absorption. There are many who are clearly-even grossly-narcissistic in one way or another but are not evil. All I can say at this point is that the particular brand of narcissism that characterizes evil people seems to be one that particularly afflicts the will. Why a person should be a victim of this type and not another or none at all, I can only vaguely surmise.
It is my experience that evil seems to run in families. The person to be described in Chapter 4 had evil parents. But the familial pattern, if accurate, does nothing to resolve the old "nature versus nurture" controversy. Does evil run in families because it is genetic and inherited? Or because it is learned by the child in imitation of its parents? Or even as a defense against its parents? And how are we to explain the fact that many of the children of evil parents, although usually scarred, are not evil? We do not know, and we will not know until an enormous amount of painstaking scientific work has been accomplished.
Nonetheless, a leading theory of the genesis of pathological narcissism is that it is a defensive phenomenon. Since almost all young children demonstrate a formidable array of narcissistic characteristics, it is assumed that narcissism is something we generally "grow out of" in the course of normal development, through a stable childhood, under the care of loving and understanding parents. If the parents are cruel and unloving, however, or the childhood otherwise traumatic, it is believed that the infantile narcissism will be preserved as a kind of psychological fortress to protect the child against the vicissitudes of its intolerable life. This theory might well apply to the genesis of human evil. The builders of the medieval cathedrals placed upon their buttresses the figures of gargoyles-themselves symbols of evil-in order to ward off the spirits of greater evil. Thus children may become evil in order to defend themselves against the onslaughts of parents who are evil. It is possible, therefore, to think of human evil-or some of it-as a kind of psychological gargoylism.
There are other ways, however, to look at the genesis of human evil. The fact of the matter is that some of us are very good and some of us very evil, and most of us are somewhere in between. We might therefore think of human good and evil as a kind of continuum. As individuals we can move ourselves one way or another along the continuum. Just as there is a tendency for the rich to get richer, however, and the poor to get poorer, so there seems to be a tendency for the good to get better and the bad to get worse. Erich Fromm spoke of these matters at some length:
"Our capacity to choose changes constantly with our practice of life. The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decision, the more our heart softens-or better perhaps, comes alive."
|"What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.
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