In M. Scott Peck’s seminal work on evil, People of The Lie, The Hope for Healing Human Evil, he scientifically examines the presence of evil within the individual and society. In the book’s introduction, Dr. Peck explains how judgement is a necessary aspect of defining evil people.
“In labeling certain human beings as evil, I am making an obviously severely critical value judgement. My Lord said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” By this statement–so often quoted out of context–Jesus did not mean we should never judge our neighbor. For he went on to say, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5). What he meant was that we should judge others only with great care, and that such carefulness begins with self-judgement.
We cannot begin to hope to heal human evil until we are able to look it directly. It is not a pleasant sight….It is about our dark side, and in large part about the very darkest members of our human community–those I frankly judge to be evil” (p.10).
Although a professing Christian, Peck’s purpose is not to present a biblical study of evil. Rather, he proposes evil as a diagnosis of pathology for these people. His concept of evil clarifies the nature of malignant narcissism and offers a useful paradigm for understanding George Geftakys and other abusive leaders. Here are quotations from the book, organized under the main characteristics of the people Dr. Peck calls “evil”.
Refusal to acknowledge sin
Self-Image of perfection
Intolerance of criticism
Disguise and pretense
Coercion and control of others
Lack of empathy
Evil in families
The Narcissist: Refusal to acknowledge sin
It is necessary that we first draw the distinction between evil and ordinary sin. It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people…The central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.p 69
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.p 71
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.p 179 Rather than blissfully lacking a sense of morality, like the sociopath, they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness.p 76
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. p 71-72
The Narcissist: Self Image of Perfection
Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, [the evil] 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. Outwardly [they] seem to live lives that are above reproach. The words “image.” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil.p 75
The Narcissist: Excessive intolerance of criticism
In Martin Buber’s words, the malignantly narcissistic insist upon “affirmation independent of all findings.” p 80 Self-criticism is a call to personality change…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. p 74
The Narcissist: Scapegoating
[Evil is] the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves. In short, it is scapegoating. 119 A predominant characteristic…of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at any one who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection. p 73
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…Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters….The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. p 73-74
The Narcissist: Disguise and Pretense
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. That is why they are the “people of the lie”. The wickedness of the evil is not committed directly, but indirectly as a part of this cover-up process.p 76
Those who are evil are masters of disguise; they are not apt to wittingly disclose their true colors–either to others or to themselves.p 104 Because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable p 76….Naturally, since it is designed to hide its opposite, the pretense chosen by the evil is most commonly the pretense of love. p 106
The Narcissist: Intellectual deviousness
[A] reaction that the evil frequently engender in us is confusion. Describing an encounter with an evil person, one woman wrote, it was “as if I’d suddenly lost my ability to think”….This reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse. The evil are “the people of the lie”, deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception.
I know now that one of the characteristics of evil is its desire to confuse. p 179
The Narcissist: Greed
[The evil] are, in my experience, remarkably greedy people. Thus, they are cheap. p 72.
The Narcissist: Unsubmitted will
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….The particular brand of narcissism that characterizes evil people seems to be one that particularly afflicts the will. p 80
Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted 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 believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true.
In 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….They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. p 78 Such people literally live “in a world of their own” in which the self reigns supreme.p 162
The Narcissist: Coercion and control of others
[Evil is] 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…Because their willfulness is so extraordinary–and always accompanied by a lust for power–I suspect that the evil are more likely than most to politically aggrandize themselves…..There is a remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others.p 78
[In describing one of his patients, Peck says] Charlene’s desire to make a conquest of me….to utterly control our relationship, knew no bounds. It seemed to be a desire for power purely for its own sake. p 176 She wanted the reigns in her hands every moment. p 158
The Narcissist: Lack of empathy
Theirs is a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or in part, the capacity for empathy…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 fact that the evil need victims to sacrifice to their narcissism, their narcissism permits them to ignore the humanity of their victims as well….The blindness of the narcissist to others can extend even beyond a lack of empathy; narcissists may not “see” others at all.
There are boundaries to the individual soul. And in our dealings with each other we generally respect these boundaries. It is characteristic of–and prerequisite for–mental health both 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. p 136-137
The Narcissist: Symbiotic relationship
Another form of devastation that narcissistic intrusiveness can create is the symbiotic relationship. “Symbiosis”–as we use the term in psychiatry–is not a mutually beneficial state of interdependence. Instead it refers to a mutually parasitic and destructive coupling. In the symbiotic relationship neither partner will separate from the other even though it would obviously be beneficial to each if they could. p 137
I doubt that it is possible for two utterly evil people to live together in the close quarters of a sustained marriage. They would be too destructive for the necessary cooperation….In every evil couple, if we could examine them closely enough, I image we would find one partner at least slightly in thrall to the other. p 119 For adults to be the victims of evil, they too must be powerless to escape….They may be powerless by virtue of their own failure of courage….bound by chains of laziness and dependency. p 119-120
Evil in families
It is my experience that evil seems to run in families. p 80 If evil were easy to recognize, identify and manage, there would be no need for this book. But the fact of the matter is that it is the most difficult of all things with which to cope.p 130[Evil] will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence.p 65
The evil deny the suffering of their guilt–the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and imperfection–by casting their pain onto the other through projection and scapegoating. They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. The evil cause suffering. The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society. p 123-124
It happens then, that the children of evil parents enter adulthood with very significant psychiatric disturbances. ….It is doubtful that some can be wholly healed of their scars from having had to live in close quarters with evil without correctly naming the source of their problems.
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. p 130