Saturday, July 16, 2011

"People of the Lie"

To come to terms with evil in one’s parentage is perhaps the most difficult and painful psychological task a human being can be called on to face. Most fail and so remain its victims. Those who fully succeed in developing the necessary, searing vision are those who are able to name it.

Excerpts from "People of the Lie" by M. Scott Peck

Peck goes on to delineate the face of evil, to show what evil looks like. His contention is that evil does not often look like what we expect; those who are most evil will often appear most “together” or wholesome at first glance. The picture he draws of evil people is all too familiar to the child raised in such a home as he delineates the “evil personality disorder”:

A proposed new scientific definition of evil

In addition to the abrogation of responsibilities characterizing all personality disorders, this one would specifically be distinguished by: (a) consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior, which may often be quite subtle. (b) excessive, albeit usually covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury. c) pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability, contributing to a stability of life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives. d) intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like disturbance of thinking at times of stress. But to get such a classification is probably not realistic. In that regard, it is noteworthy how difficult it is to examine evil people in depth, because it is their nature to avoid the light. Denying their imperfection, the evil flee both self-examination and any situation in which they might be closely examined by others.

Creating a sick society

The denial of their own suffering is, in fact, a better definition of illness than its acceptance. The evil deny the suffering of their guilt, the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and their imperfection by casting their pain onto others through projection and scapegoating. They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. They cause suffering. The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society. Think of the psychic energy required for the continued maintenance of the pretense so characteristic of the evil. They perhaps direct at least as much energy into their devious rationalizations and destructive compensations as the healthiest do into loving behavior. Why? What possesses them, drives them? Basically it is fear. They are terrified that the pretense will break down and they will be exposed to the world and to themselves. They are continually frightened that they will come face-to-face with their own evil. Of all emotions, fear is the most painful. Regardless of how well they attempt to appear calm and collected in their daily dealings, the evil live their lives in fear. It is a terror and a suffering so chronic, so interwoven into the fabric of their being, that they may not even feel it as such. And if they could, their omnipresent narcissism will prohibit them from ever acknowledging it. We can surely pity them for the lives they live of almost unremitting apprehension.

 Pride and Arrogance

Being at the very root of evil, it is no accident that church scholars 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 smug self-righteous pride or arrogance that prompts people to reject and even attack the judgment implied by the day-to-day evidence of their own inadequacy. In Martin Buber's words, the malignantly narcissistic insist upon "affirmation independent of all findings." The failure of the evil to define themselves as disordered is an essential, integral component of their condition. 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 that can be said 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, can only be vaguely surmised. The utter failure to submit oneself to reality is the extreme state of narcissism, narcissism in its ultimate form, oblivious to certain essential dimensions of reality. Such people literally live "in a world of their own" in which the self reigns supreme. For the complete narcissist, others have no more psychologic reality than a piece of furniture. Narcissists have only what Martin Buber calls, "I-I relationships." They exercise a strange sort of political power, that is, the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion, in order to prevent individual spiritual growth.

Evil could have been defined most simply as the use of political power to destroy others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of own' s sick self. Nonetheless, a leading theory of the genesis of pathological narcissism is that it is a defensive phenomenon. Most people fail in the art of living, not because they are inherently bad or because they so much without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide. They are not aware when life asks them a question, and when they still have alternative answers. Then with each step along the wrong road it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they are on the wrong road, often only because they have to admit that they are on the wrong road, often only because they have to admit that they must go back to the first wrong turn, and must accept the fact that they have wasted energy and time. Fromm saw the genesis of human evil as a developmental process, that we are not created evil or forced to be evil, but we become evil slowly ove r time through a long series of choices. As C.S. Lewis puts it, "There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan." Characteristic of the evil is that theirs is a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or in part, the capacity for empathy.We can see, then, that their narcissism makes the evil dangerous, not only because it motivates them to scapegoat others, but also because it deprives them of the restraint that results from empathy and respect for others. In addition to the evil needing victims to sacrifice to their narcissism, their narcissism permits them to ignore the humanity of their victims as well. As it can give them the motive for murder, so it also can render them insensitive to the act of killing. The blindness of the narcissist to others can extend even beyond a lack of empathy; narcissists may not "see" others at all. Each of us is unique. Except in the mystical frame of reference, we are all separate entities. Our uniqueness makes each of us an "I entity," providing each of us with a separate identity. There are boundaries to the individual soul. And in our dealing with each other we generally respect these boundaries. It is characteristic of, and a prerequisite for mental health that our own ego boundaries should be clear and that we should clearly recognize the boundaries of others. We must know where we end and others begin. The evil fail to make those distinctions.

The Subtlety of Evil

One respect in which it is difficult to explain about evil is its subtlety. Evil sometimes will manifest itself obviously. In Dr. Peck's book, The People of the Lie, he described parents with two sons, whose oldest boy committed suicide. They subsequently gave the very rifle that boy used to end his life as a birthday gift to his younger brother. There, evil showed itself as quite apparent, but it rarely does so. More commonly, evil's manifestations are seemingly ordinary, superficially normal, and even apparently rational. Those who are evil are masters of disguise; they are not apt to wittingly disclose their true colors, either to others or to themselves. It is not without reason that the serpent is renowned for his subtlety. It is exceedingly rare, therefore, that we can pass judgment on a person as being evil after observing a single act; instead, our judgment must be made on the basis of a whole pattern of acts as well as their manner and style. There is something basically incomprehensible about evil. But if not incomprehensible, it is characteristically inscrutable . The evil always hide their motives with lies. Wherever there is evil, there's a lie around. Evil always has something to do with lies. Naturally, since it is designed to hide its opposite, the pretense chosen by the evil is most commonly the pretense of love. The pretense of the evil is designed at least as much to deceive themselves as others. A child can emotionally survive only by virtue of a massive fortification of its psyche. While such fortifications or psychological defenses are essential to its survival through childhood, they inevitably distort or compromise its life as an adult

Dedication to a Self-image of Perfection

The evil are 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. They often 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. Evil people feel themselves to be perfect. At the same time, however, 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 once 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 (or attempting to redefine their evil as good). 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. 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 the 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. It often happens that the evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can sometimes be perceived before the misdeed that it was 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. However, because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable. Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one's evil from oneself, as well as from others, than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture? Evil people tend to gravitate toward piety for the disguise and concealment it can offer them.

Scapegoating, a key characteristic

A predominant characteristic of the behavior of the evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. Definition: Scapegoat - an innocent accused and forced to take blame. And more significant, one who is the object of irrational hostility. Scapegoating works through a mechanism which psychiatrists call projection. Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that while 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.

Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people who can be designated as evil are invariably chronic scapegoaters. In other words, the evil will 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 own imperfection. Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil which they identify as in others. The problem is that they misplace the locos of the evil. Instead of destroying others, they should be destroying the sickness within themselves. As their life experience and actions are subjected to examination by others, such exposure will often threaten their self-image of perfection, and they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying those person's lives, usually in the name or righteousness. The fault, however, may not be so much that they hate life as that they do not hate the sinful part of themselves. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, an evil person who "scapegoats" must lash out at anyone who does reproach them.

Familial evil -- the genesis of narcissism

Evil seems to run in families. 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 (such as the enduring the experiences of sexual abuse), 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 onslaught of parents who are evil. It is possible, therefore, to think of human evil -- or some of it -- as a kind of psychological gargoylism.