{August 23, 2012}   People of the Lie

In People of the Lie, M.Scott Peck’s groundbreaking book on the psychology of evil, Dr. Peck describes characteristics of people he encountered in his practice that he regards as evil as opposed to those having mental illness or emotional disturbances. This book should be considered in the study of child abuse, because children are so often victims of evil.

“The most typical victim of evil is a child. This is to be expected, because children are not only the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society but also because parents wield a power over the lives of their children that is essentially absolute…The child’s immaturity and resulting dependency mandate its parents’ possession of great power, but do not negate the fact that this power, like all power, is subject to abuse of various degrees of malignancy…children are not free from their parents, and it is not easy for parents to escape from their children and the pressures that their children impose.” (Peck, 107)

Why evil seeks power:

“For the evil to so misuse their power, they must have the power to use in the first place. They must have some kind of dominion over their victims. The most common relationship of dominion is that of parent over child. Children are weak, defenseless, and trapped in relation to their parents. It is no wonder, then, that the majority of the victims of evil are children. They are simply not free or powerful enough to escape.” (Peck, 119)

He describes a common identifier for the therapist:

“The feeling that a healthy person often experiences in a relationship with an evil one is revulsion…the feeling may be almost instant if the evil encountered is blatant. If the evil is more subtle, the revulsion may develop gradually as the relationship with the evil one slowly deepens.” (Peck, 65)

Why do we feel confused when we are in the presence of people who are evil?

“A reaction that the evil frequently engenders 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.’ Once again, this reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse (us). The evil are “the people of the lie,” deceiving others as they build layer upon layer of self-deception.” (Peck, 66)

An identifying behavior of evil:

“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 anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection….Evil then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I define as evil are chronic scapegoaters.  I defined evil as ‘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.” (Peck, 74)

Pretension as a lie:

“The words “image”, “appearance” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. 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. This is why they are the “people of the lie”.” (Peck, 75)

On the importance of naming evil:

“To name something correctly gives us a certain amount of power over it. Through its name we identify it. We are powerless over a disease until we can accurately name it. Without such identification, we are at a loss as to how to treat it.” (Peck, 120)

On evil and hatred:

“There really are people and institutions made up of people, who respond with hatred in the presence of goodness and would destroy the good insofar as it is in their power to do so. They do this not with conscious malice but blindly, lacking awareness of their own evil — indeed, seeking to avoid any such awareness. As has been described of the devil in religious literature, they hate the light and instinctively will do anything to avoid it, including attempting to extinguish it. They will destroy the light in their own children and in all other beings subject to their power.

Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves. They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness. They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness. My second conclusion, then, is that evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme. As I have defined it, love is the antithesis of laziness. Ordinary laziness is a passive failure to love. Some ordinarily lazy people may not lift a finger to extend themselves unless they are compelled to do so. Their being is a manifestation of non-love; still, they are not evil.

Truly evil people, on the other hand, actively rather than passively avoid extending themselves. They will take any action in their power to protect their own laziness, to preserve the integrity of their sick self. Rather than nurturing others, they will actually destroy others in this cause. If necessary, they will even kill to escape the pain of their own spiritual growth. As the integrity of their sick self is threatened by the spiritual health of those around them, they will seek by all manner of means to crush and demolish the spiritual health that may exist near them. I define evil, then, as the exercise of political power — that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion — in order to avoid extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing spiritual growth. Ordinary laziness is non-love; evil is anti-love.”

Finally, on the journey to transcend emotional suffering (especially child abuse):

“It is often the most spiritually healthy and advanced among us who are called on to suffer in ways more agonizing than anything experienced by the more ordinary. Great leaders, when wise and well, are likely to endure degrees of anguish unknown to the common man. Conversely, it is the unwillingness to suffer emotional pain that usually lies at the very root of emotional illness…the denial of suffering is, in fact, a better definition of illness than its acceptance.” (Peck, 123)




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