Psychological Self-Help

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the payoffs involved in taking advantage of others. Even when greed is extreme (like
a corporation executive absconding with all the retirement funds of the employees)
we are likely to see that kind of act as selfish, cruel, or psychopathic, rather than
“evil.” The idea of “evil” is more likely to be used when the crime is brutal, senseless,
and heinous but has no obvious pay off (like huge profits, amassing power or status,
or getting revenge). Using “evil” as an explanation is an attempt to understand
unusually bad behavior without having knowledge about how such behavior actually
develops. The use of “evil” is something like 1000 years ago when people attributed
a severe drought to the Gods being angry. But “evil” provides no valid explanation of
an atrocious act, thus, “evil” can’t accurately explain the forces or conditions that
lead to these behaviors (similarly, science-based weather forecasting today is more
accurate than understanding and predictions were 1000 years ago). The idea that an
atrocity was just “God’s will” doesn’t really explain anything because we are left with
the problem of explaining why God willed such behavior (that would be even more
difficult than predicting behavior). And we are left without any understanding of the
mechanisms of how “evil” exerts its influence on behavior; it is just magic. The
effects of “evil” influences are not predictable because those forces are not based on
any documented cause-and-effect relationships. In contrast we know the causes of
droughts and floods. “Evil” seems to merely proclaim that behaviors might be caused
by spiritual/mystical forces (like the Devil).When we know more about violence and
greed, our explanations will be more specific.
The concept of “evil” only partly satisfies the powerful human needs to understand
why things happen. There are many circumstances where “evil” is used or could
easily be used to explain the intense driving force behind inexplicable violence. If you
have any doubts about the degree of hatred and rage in some people, then read
some of the histories of famous criminals (Fox, J. & Levin, J., 2005) or Hickey,
(2001). You might also read the actual law enforcement profiles of offenders who
have tortured, raped, maimed and killed totally innocent victims (Campbell &
DeNevi, 2004). Warning: these books describe very gory events. Not recommended
to the young or the squeamish. However, these authors discuss the cultural,
historical, and religious factors that influence our myths, including “evil,” and
stereotypes of violent individuals. They then also describe the biological,
psychological, and sociological reasons, based on current science, for serial or mass
murders. In general, these experts deplore the lack of research about such awful
offenses. In general, they claim that serial killers are “losers,” who feel they have
never distinguished themselves, but are obsessed with power and dominance.
Abusers turn to violence to achieve power; they use brutality to look like powerful
men. Often as a child, they were themselves abused and rejected. Like all behavior,
“evil” acts have a history.
Personally, I think “evil” is a vague but quite descriptive literary term which implies
that mysterious, supernatural forces are responsible for abominable thoughts,
intentions, and overt acts. But the concept of “evil” keeps us in the dark ages. Such
thinking obstructs historical investigations for causes, objective measurements, and
scientific study. There is little agreement from person to person what “evil”
influences are, where they come from, how they work, and whether evil forces can
be changed. Since evil can’t be observed (the resulting horrible acts are observed
but the nature of the “evil” influences triggering bad acts can’t be directly observed),
how could we gain knowledge about “evil”? The “evil” concept alone detracts us from
objectively and scientifically studying many topics and acts of great importance, such
as war.
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