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Old 05-28-2004, 11:29 AM   #1
masterofNone
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evil doers

the situation at abu ghraib and the war against terror in general has stirred some basic questions about the nature of good and evil. the question i have is... is anyone capable of performing evil acts? i wonder about this after seeing the fresh faced young girls, who look more likely to be attending a pie eating contest, posing with big happy grins and giving the thumbs up while crouching over humiliated or deceased iraqi "detainees." stephen king once gave an interview in which he spoke of his fascination with evil. he noted that the pictures of serial killers who had been apprehended lacked any satisfying proof of their evil nature. the looked, he thought, like farly bland individuals... unremarkable people. he was aware in himself of a need to see the face of evil in their faces but found only, at best, a sort of dull stupidity. he postulated that evil might be like a spirit that inhabits individuals while they are driven to these acts and then passed from them once they had been neutralized. i had a hard time buying that fairly supernatural and expedient explanation. i wondered then if the seeds of evil were planted in all people. we've already discussed elsewhere the work of stanley milgram in 1974 but i recently ran across another study on prisons by philip zimbardo that is also fairly frightening. links to both of their studies are below, but the question i'd like to pose is... are we all capable of evil or is it just a "few bad apples?"

zimbardo's studies
milgram's study
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Old 05-28-2004, 12:42 PM   #2
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Extremely interesting MoN, and I had read Milgram a long time ago. Lots to think about, but first I would like to know even what the word "evil" means? Is evil a spiritual term for bad things, or is it an inherant quantifiable trait? As for potential to do bad things, yes I think any person could, but self control, outside control and behaviours, morals, social mores and other restrictions prevent the action on impulse.

Another side item...all of the infamous serial killers, Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy et al, not one of them carried out an attrocity in front of others, where one might think that a complete breakdown and unleashing of their murderous desires would be so "evil" that nothing would stop them. Even in their extremes something told them to hide, and commit their acts in private. Wouldnt "evil" transend that need and act wherever and whenever, without regard?
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Old 05-28-2004, 02:25 PM   #3
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Great question, MoN. My first response would be - yes. But I guess it depends on what most of society deems as "evil." Evil as in Jeffrey Dahmer or evil as in quietly relishing in the misfortunes of others, no matter how small. I would tend to define evil as the latter. Maybe the most extreme definition of mean. The reason I think just about anyone is capable of evil is because, as an example, look how people reacted in an extreme situations such as the Rodney King inspired riots. That really made me see how horrible/evil people are capable of being.
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Old 05-28-2004, 02:55 PM   #4
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This fellow believes quite strongly that aggression (the means through which evil is usually perpetrated on others) is not a product of life experience, but is just waiting in the back room, doing push-ups. Some people are better at redirecting it than others.

I think the capacity to do good and evil lies there in everyone, often solely at the mercy of what the individual believes can be gotten away with.
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Old 05-28-2004, 03:33 PM   #5
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What about looking at it as a nature vs nurture concept?

There have been studies that suggest that serial killers, at one point or over the course of years and years, had some kind of atrocious abuse done to them as children. Of course this isn't the rule, but it pops up enough -- from being locked in a closet for days to sexual deviations from a parent. Nurture being a very important factor in the killer's adult reactions.

There have also been ties to schitzophrenics and this kind of child abuse -- although I can verify from experience (my best friend's little brother is schitzo) that this is not the rule as well (he was never abused).

However, there has to be a certain nature predisposition, a chemical inbalance for example, for it to push an average person "over the edge" to commit such atrocities.

That said, I have a fascination with serial killers .. for reasons opposite of what King said. Most of them have above-above average IQs (scary smart), so that they almost innately "know" (as Dinz said) not to do these atrocities with an audience. However, some of them, for example, would taunt police with messages, emphasizing their intelligence over everyone (including their victims) else - because they desire an audience, the attention, but cannot do so because they'll get caught -- and the satisfaction they derive from their perversities stopped.

So that said: is it possible for someone to commit evil innately? No, I don't think so. I think abuses in childhood, general life experiences, accepted status quo within a peer group, tend to lead a person down that path. It's the kick the dog syndrome in some cases.

With the prisoner abuse scandal -- I would offer it falls under a very different phenomenon than evil, per se. I would suggest that one person started it, nobody said anything to stop it, and soon many were doing it -- the mob mentality; empowered by a sense of freedom that they wouldn't get called to the carpet on it.

Like riots: one person breaks a store window, soon ten people are doing it, then 100 people are doing it -- the "logic" or defense being "well everyone else was doing it, why shouldn't I?" or "there's too many of us doing it, they'll never catch us all."

Eh, I don't ultimately know. But very interesting question.
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Old 05-28-2004, 03:41 PM   #6
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This topic also made me think of that Shakespeare line in Julius Caesar:

The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred
with their bones.
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Old 05-28-2004, 04:50 PM   #7
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I still think we're taling about "bad things people do" as opposed to "evil". I just happen to think there's a difference.
What makes something evil....intent? heinousness? cosequence?
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Old 05-28-2004, 05:17 PM   #8
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I guess to answer that you'd have to look at our closest-to-universal taboos and see what they have in common. Looking at it quickly, we seem to be most incensed when the factors of betrayal of trust (eg. paedophilic priests), violation of innocence (eg. child abuse of all kinds), irreversibility of outcome (significant trauma or death), and cruelty in the face of submission or helplesssness (eg. prisoner abuse) are at play.
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Old 05-28-2004, 05:21 PM   #9
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hmmm... i was away from the computer for most of the day and was pretty surprised to see such a wealth of responses. i think i need to think on some of these questions... at least until the four bourbon lunch burns off... before i make any further observations. is it evil to have four bourbons at lunch?
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Old 05-28-2004, 05:39 PM   #10
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Only if you put em in mint juleps.
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Old 06-01-2004, 02:07 PM   #11
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'kay. i've sobered up. here's what i think. i think i'd say a working definition of evil is the state under which a person or persons is capable of performing monstrous acts of cruelty to another person or persons without regard for that person's or persons' innocence, that such a state does not affect the wrong-doer's intellect, and that such acts are carried out without sympathy or remorse.


i think, further, that any person is capable of evil acts. I think, however, that a person would have to have come to this state through a trauma of some kind, or an emotional defect, that renders the person able to percieve his victims as having no more life or than a piece of drywall. this trauma might be an emotional event in their lives that so filled them with contempt or hatred that some internal circuit breaker has blown, some circuit shorted, such that another person, or race, or gender, or nationality appears to them to be nothing more than objects that can be dismantled. such a state would allow the "evil" person to commit physical and psychological abuse without a care, allow them to listen to the pleading and screams as one might listen to a soundtrack recording, or allow them to smell the smoke from a crematoria with no more discomfort than smelling a skunk across a country field. so disconnected are they that they can not see their victims as having a soul.

sadly there are a number of illustrations. the first time i heard an interview with one of the acused abu gharaib abusers, i remember they referred to one of the detainees as "it." "i watched coporal so-and-so kick it... um the detainee... in the ribs several times."

IT?

anyway, that's my twenty cents for the day.
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