{July 14, 2013}   The Lucifer Effect







Retelling my childhood stories in “Daughters”has sparked my interest in the study of evil and the psychological and social conditions that allow it to flourish. In his book, People of the LieM. Scott Peck takes a frightening look into the lives of a few of his patients who he determined have been affected by evil. In developing the psychology of evil, Peck determined that patients who are “falling” into evil can be helped by therapy while those who have “fallen” completely into evil will never seek therapy due to their inability to take responsibility for their actions, and thus cannot be helped by traditional therapy.

Peck portrays evil as a type of self-righteousness which results in a projection of evil onto selected specific innocent victims (often children or other people in relatively powerless positions). He considers those he calls evil to be attempting to escape and hide from their own conscience through self-deception. According to Peck, an evil person:

–Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self image of perfection.

–Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception.

–Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets, scapegoating others while appearing normal with everyone else.

–Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others.

–Abuses political (emotional) power by imposing their will upon others by overt or covert coercion.

–Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so.

–Is consistent in his or her actions. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency.

–Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim.

–Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

In relating all types of child abuse with evil, the continuation of the abusive behavior toward the scapegoated child, even into adulthood–in other words, the consistency of the act of evil, differentiates the behavior of those who are “falling” from those who have “fallen”.

In The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo defines evil as “intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others and/or using one’s authority and systematic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf.” Zimbardo, the administrator of the famous Stanford Prison Project, looks deeply into the cultural and psychological environment of evil and how presumably good people can fall into group evil. He begins his book with an historical look at the formation of the belief in “Satan” or “Lucifer” from biblical days to the middle ages. The word Lucifier in Latin means “Light Bearer” and the story goes that Lucifer was a favored angel before he fell into “cupiditas” defined in modern terms as “cupidity” or greed, jealousy, money-grubbing and desire for power over another. Those who fall under the influence of cupiditas desire to take into themselves everything that is not themselves. In other words, they gratify their own desire by using others. For those afflicted by cupidas, people have no value in and of themselves but are “things” used for their own self-gratification.  This was the beginning of evil, in opposition to “caritas” which means envisioning oneself to be within a ring of love where every individual self has worth in itself and relates to every other self.

Dante Alighieri, 14th century author of the Divine Comedy, whose first section describes Hell or the The Inferno, called cupiditas the “sin of the wolf” which is the spiritual condition of having an inner black hole so wide and deep within oneself that no amount of money or power can ever fill it. Those suffering from the sin of the wolf see another’s worth only in how it can be exploited or taken into themselves for their own gratification. For Dante, those who are guilty of the sin of the wolf are sent to the ninth circle of Hell, and frozen lake of ice. Having cared for nothing but self in life, they are encased in their icy self, separate from others, for all of eternity (Zimbardo).

These two books have been invaluable in my attempt to understand the nature and origins of child abuse and I recommend them to anyone who shares this interest.



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