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By April 10, 2008 30 Comments Read More →

The paradox of psychopathy, non-psychopathy, and evil

The blogger, Sir William, has a post ‘What is evil? which employs what is a very common way of talking about psychopathy and evil.

Psychopaths do exist but they are not fully human: they are animals who lack one of the qualities which defines our species.

This is a very comforting explanation for those who have been on the receiving end of psychopathy. It seems to answer the question how could someone do something like that? Answer, because they’re not really a ‘someone’. They’re actually and animal, not a human being.

How does this line of thinking account for evil committed by non-psychopaths?

When an ordinary person does bad things to another person they must, on some level, believe they are acting for a greater good, because to hurt without that excuse is insane. The greatest source of evil is not therefore crazy people, but sane people driven insane by a belief. Whether that belief turns out to be true or false is immaterial, it is the belief itself that causes us to act without empathy. Any time we cause pain in search of a greater good – for safety, for God, for profit – we have temporarily lost the one quality that defines us, and we cease to be fully human.

So, when a regular person commits an evil act they are actually insane and not fully human. But even our courts excuse crimes committed on grounds of insanity when a person doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. It still leaves the vast majority of crimes and other evil acts are not of that nature. Each one of us knows very well when we do something wrong; we might rationalise it away, but deep down we know that we did it because we preferred doing the bad thing to doing the good thing.

I can’t go along with this animal/insane line of thinking. First, it does not accurately describe either human beings or animals! The fact is that human beings are capable of being evil (and good), animals are not. As Chesterton said: human beings are always the exception – we are always better than or worse than animals, never the same. Second, it is tantamount to saying there is no such thing as evil by full human beings.

The terrifying reality is that psychopaths are human beings and that we all commit evil because we want to and choose to, all of which is not to say that there’s no difference between the regular person and psychopath. It’s mind-bending and paradoxical, I know.



30 Comments on "The paradox of psychopathy, non-psychopathy, and evil"

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  1. Healing Heart says:

    Thanks Elizabeth! I’m learning. The S’s ploys in posts above actually seemed so transparent and pathetic and made me feel tired – so I swatted it away like an annoying gnat. Wasn’t hard at all – which shows progress…hanging out here and soaking up all the wisdom and shared experience has been really helpful. Thank you for the help and cheers!



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  2. pb says:

    HH – yup, I just did the “5 vials of blood, a complete physical, a pap, and a bottle of pee” day, and Boy Howdy! God help all eight of them if I have caught any sort of STD – anything. That’s one phone call none of them will want.



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  3. pb says:

    HH: if you haven’t seen the Drew Peterson interview thread, go look. He says at one point it got so that the joke was, “You had to lie to the girlfriend to go home to the wife” (or something like that). That’s exactly how it was with my N.
    We split up for four months when I found out about the other women (he tried lying but that didn’t fly, so he finally said, “You don’t deserve the truth”).
    I’m actually really happy that I went back as a bed-buddy. It wasn’t my intent to go investigator mode but when he said he still wanted me to not tell anyone, I got curious. Then when I heard he was supposedly afraid of me – well, that was it. I started paying real close attention.
    If I hadn’t gone back, I’d probably be dead. I couldn’t stand not being able to get my normal head around his crazy one.
    Within two weeks of figuring him out, I regained the 20 pounds I’d lost.



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