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.