Evil or evil activities surround ourselves in the world we live today. Due to this there is extensive literature known for analyzing this concept deeply, three of those titles are the Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo, Evil: inside human violence and cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister and The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen. Despite the literature, this is still not a topic openly spoken about throughout the world. This blog will work to explore evil as demonstrated in these novels and in a course called the Psychology of Evil. A major question explored during seminar was what is evil and how can researchers operationalize this concept? The Lucifer effect exceptionally summarizes evil as when someone or an organization intentionally acts in ways that harm, belittle, dehumanize an individual. In my opinion evil can also occur to animals through abuse and to our Earth as well. Ruining the beautiful Earth is unjust and to the eye of the beholder or myself I think ruining it could be considered an evil act. However that is a topic for another day. Also, to me evil is a concept that is subjective in the sense that context and circumstance is crucial to the possibility of evil.
There is not one proper way to operationalize evil. Mainly, this can be done in research by looking at other variables that are related to evil acts being committed. For instance, empathy, impulsivity, past history of violence, and level of remorse are all ways to potentially operationalize evil. The main thing I learned this week was that evil is a highly diverse topic which needs to be explored thoroughly as we need to work to understand evil if there is any hope to achieve a world with less evil acts or at the very least with a diverse understanding of concepts of evil.
Simon Baron-Cohen worked to describe evil with respect to empathy. This week of readings was important for me in advancing my views on evil. Sometimes we wish to have a humanitarian view on evil and that there are two sides, good and evil, however, there is a grey area. It is humbling to know that under certain circumstances good people can commit evil acts. The link below is to an article that examines and entertains the idea of society being split between good and evil, this idea is interesting, and prominent in religion and literature, however, rather unrealistic. Baumeister incorporated the notion of the eye of the beholder where evil is a subjective concept where it is based on the judgement of others. For example, a perpetrator may believe they have been treated wrongly and are the victim making their acts justified and not evil, while the victim considers the wrongdoing evil as it greatly influences them and typically in a negative way.
This article also relates to the eye of the beholder as evil is only communicated in terms of subjectivity and through the judgement of others. Furthermore, this article outlines a key issue where individuals attempt to divide people into good and evil, however the division is actually more grey, rather than black and white as most people think. Webster and Saucier (2015) questioned whether beliefs and judgement influences punishing criminal perpetrators, further investigating the issue of the subjectivity of good and evil. As expected, stereotypically evil perpetrators were punished more due to beliefs in demonization and dehumanization where they believed the criminal was evil and threatening (Webster and Saucier, 2015).
The two forms of media demonstrate that there is importance in knowing all the facts in situations and understanding context to determine which acts deserve more punishment. Furthermore, the media tells us we should eliminate bias when making decisions about what is evil.
Thank you for reading my first blog post on the psychology of evil! Here is the link of the Webster and Saucier article for further readings! https://www-sciencedirect-com.proxy1.lib.trentu.ca/science/article/pii/S0191886914005431
Webster, R. J., & Saucier, D. A. (2015). Demons are everywhere: the effects of belief in pure evil, demonization, and retribution on punishing criminal perpetrators. Personality and Individual Differences, 74, 72-77.