April 28, 2015

Evil VS.... Something Else. Where do you stand?

Evil is a strange thing. We all have different definitions of it. I think most of us can differentiate between bad deeds and bad people; we all do bad at times, but most of us are fundamentally decent.

I know people who have stolen, people who have cheated on their partners, people who have hit their kids in a moment of anger. I know people who have run red lights or driven whilst over the limit or cheated on their tax returns. You do too. And you probably don't think that makes them 'bad', at least, not if they are mostly kind and honest in the rest of their lives.

But what happens when someone does something so bad, so shocking, that it completely defines them? Something like pretending to have cancer to get money, or murdering their children, or sexual abuse? Can we separate them from the act? Can we say that they did something bad but are not actually evil?

And if the act of evil is so monstrous that we cannot believe a regular person could do it... what then? Because this is where people tend to fall into two camps. Some people - like me - believe there are evil people in the world. I believe Hitler was evil. I believe Martin Bryant was evil. I believe men who kill their families out of revenge are evil. I believe that if you can distinguish right from wrong and perform an act of great horror, then you are evil.

Other people conceptualise it differently. Other people like Lana, for example. It is something we have debated frequently, and do so again here. And we'd love to know your thoughts. So watch and let us know.


  1. I don’t believe people do bad things simply because they are “bad” or “evil”.

    But I also think it’s wrong to assign bad behaviour to mental illness – people with mental illness are neither good or evil – and people without mental illness are neither good or evil…

    However, I don’t believe bad behaviour is normal behaviour – and while it’s wrong to attribute bad behaviour to mental illness, I do believe that people who behave badly do so not simply because they are bad people, but because there is something in their life or upbringing that has gone wrong in some way – but to link that to mental illness by default is wrong..

  2. I think labelling people as evil is very dangerous. Hitler wasn't evil - he was a person who did unthinkably bad things. Another person, someone like Hitler, could come along and do similarly unthinkably bad things. If we believe that only an "evil person" could do these things, we limit our ability to identify them and to intervene early or offer solutions before the terrible things happen.

    I wrote about it on my blog when Peaches Geldof died, if you're interested - http://blog.annaspargoryan.com/2014/07/what-peaches-geldof-did/.

  3. And unfortunately people who are sociopaths (say, Martin Bryant for example) will never respond to intervention because they have no empathy or sense of accountability. Think of 'We need to talk about Kevin'. I know it's only a novel but it explains it very well. Some people are born bad. I do believe that. But drug addicts and people with mental illness do not fall into that category.

  4. I think it applies to everything that might be binary, though. At some point, Martin Bryant was a kid like other kids - maybe a bit strange, a bit different, but still a kid. Labelling him as evil means we choose not to identify it in people we wouldn't think are evil (like our own kids). Sociopathy can be treated. Identifying potential genocidal maniacs (like Hitler) can mean that they never reach a position of power in which they can commit these atrocities.

    I don't believe in good and evil. Just people. People are capable of all kinds of things.

  5. I think that there are people who do disgusting, evil, incomprehensible things, but I don't know that I necessarily believe in a person being inherently evil to the depths of their souls. Are there people who can never be rehabilitated? Yes. Are there people who will never be OK in my book? DEFINITELY. I don't necessarily feel sorry for them or think they should dodge the consequences of their actions, but I do think there are people who, through a whole lot of circumstances, cannot function in a decent way. Are you born evil? I don't think so? Can you be born without the necessary traits that allow you to be good? Maybe? I am not an expert. I always see a person's full story I guess? I ask myself what might have triggered someone in their life to think those evil acts are acceptable. All you need is the perfect storm, for terrible acts to occur sometimes. Bad upbringings, some genetic factors, some mental issues, certain events in a person's life, I think? But then I come to the idea that there can be two people with very very similar circumstances who make different decisions. One person does horrible horrible things and the other decides to rise above and becomes an inspiration to others.
    So in a nutshell, maybe I don't know what to believe! I think we'll be asking these questions forever.

  6. ISIS and Sharia law, define evil for me. Those who seek to subjugate others, and have NO other position are evil.

  7. I can see how people become incensed by the 'bleeding hearts' who want to talk about the perpetrator of the evil act. Some people are born bad and I truly believe that. I do also think that a lot are shaped by their childhood and environment.

    Equally, it does always cross my mind...what on earth happened to that person to make them behave in this way. I guess you can look at it from both sides, but for the most part I am 90% in Kerri's camp here.

    What I hate about the media coverage, and history in general is that it is the names of perpetrators that are immortalized for posterity. We chose to debate them endlessly, to try and understand them, to pore over the gory details...to what end?

    3 years later and the trial of James Holmes reminds me that I still remember the name of the sad mentally ill loner who fatally shot 12 people in a movie theatre but I had to look up the name of his victims. People enjoying a night out at the pictures. I think of the unmade beds they left at home, the half written lists, the unpaid bills - AND THAT is what shits me the most. People are born evil, people end up becoming compelled to do evil things - the end result is the same. Unfinished lives, unfinished business...families left in tatters

    The youngest victim, 6 year old Veronica Moser Sullivan......evil whether born or made is still evil.

  8. Really thoughtful & powerful comment Sharrob. Thank you.

  9. You are so right. And it's such a complex issue.


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