(note: skip halfway down this lengthy entry to “Political Implications” for the application to Obama)
WAS reading the Wikipedia entry on psychiatrist M. Scott Peck the other day and imbibed of this well-written and fascinating exposition of Peck’s writings on the subject of evil:
Peck discusses evil in his book People of The Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil. Peck characterizes evil as a malignant type of self-righteousness in which there is an active rather than passive refusal to tolerate imperfection (sin) and its consequent guilt. This syndrome results in a projection of evil onto selected specific innocent victims (often children), which is the paradoxical mechanism by which the People of the Lie commit their evil. Peck argues that these people are the most difficult of all to deal with and extremely hard to identify, consistent with the characterization of evil in Christian theology as hiding in the light. He describes in some detail several individual cases involving his patients. In one case which Peck considers as the most typical because of it’s subtlety, he describes Roger, a depressed teenage son of respected well off parents. In a series of parental decisions justified by often subtle distortions of the truth they exhibit a consistent disregard for their son’s feelings and a consistent willingness to destroy his growth. With false rationality and normality they aggressively refuse to consider that they are in any way responsible for his resultant depression, eventually suggesting his condition must be incurable and genetic.
Some of his conclusions about the psychiatric condition he designates “evil” are derived from his close study of one patient he names Charlene. Although Charlene is not dangerous, she is ultimately unable to have empathy for others in any way. According to Peck, people like her see others as play things or tools to be manipulated for their uses or entertainment. Peck states that these people are rarely seen by psychiatrists and have never been treated successfully.
He gives some identifying characteristics for evil persons. Discussed below are Peck’s views.
Evil is described by Peck as “militant ignorance”. The original Judeo-Christian concept of “sin” is as a process that leads us to “miss the mark” and fall short of perfection. Peck argues that while most people are conscious of this at least on some level, those that are evil actively and militantly refuse this consciousness.
An evil person:
- Is consistently self deceiving, lying to themselves about their important (non-trivial) faults (eg. performance as a parent) in order to maintain a self image of perfection
- Is willing to psychologically destroy others rather than face their own faults
- Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else (“their insensitivity toward him was selective”)
- Abuses political (emotional) power (“the imposition of one’s 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 sins. 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 (scapegoat)
- Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury
Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, calls a character disorder.
Using the My Lai Massacre as a case study Peck also examines group evil, discussing how human group morality is strikingly less than individual morality. Partly he considers this to be a result of specialization, which allows people to avoid individual responsibility and pass the buck, resulting in a reduction of group conscience. Peck also considers how people in groups generally regress psychologically and are thus more able to generate and maintain group self deception, a risk factor for evil.
Though the topic of evil has historically been the domain of religion, Peck makes great efforts to keep much of his discussion on a scientific basis, explaining the specific psychological mechanisms by which evil operates.
Ultimately Peck says that evil arises out of free choice. He describes it thus: Every person stands at a crossroads, with one path leading to God, and the other path leading to the devil. The path of God is the right path, and accepting this path is akin to submission to a higher power. However, if a person wants to convince himself and others that he has free choice, he would rather take a path which cannot be attributed to its being the right path. Thus, he chooses the path of evil.
Sounds to me he is equating evil in individuals to what is termed today malignant narcissism – in its most extreme form, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Highly interesting, the political implications. Don’t many politicians – and the policies derived – seem highly narcissistic? To wit, some have somewhat compellingly argued Barack Obama may suffer from NPD.
Insofar as our President, apparently quite a few people are wondering as much.
Search on Google for “Obama narcissism” (without quotes). This means that you’re searching for pages that have both the words Obama and narcissism.
1,280,000 pages result! (note: this was the result from a search performed 3/24/2009. When I performed the same search just now, “about 385,000” results. Were 900,000 pages duplicates or false-positives which Google has automatically or manually removed? Or is something else going on here?)
Clinton + narcissism generates 120,000 (3/24/2009 figure. Today that figure has increased to “about 176,000)
Bush + narcissism yields 330,000 (3/24/2009 figure. Today it has increased slightly to “about 335,000”.)
Reagan + narcissism = 78,000 (3/24/2009 figure. It has increased to “about 85,100”.)
Interesting that Bush includes both Bushs, encompassing 20 years of either Presidency or Vice Presidency. Obama has been in office for but 3 months.
Bill Clinton – also talked about at times as a narcissist – was President for 8 years, yet has 1/10th the hits as Obama (3/24/2009 figure. Today it’s still a striking 1/2.)
You can make the argument that the Internet was less highly utilized in Clinton’s era than in Obama’s, but this argument doesn’t hold well in contrasting with Bush, particularly considering the 8 years v. 3 months of service.
Clearly, many people are on to this presumption. I guess the inevitable question is “what to do with this information?” It does help process his intentions.
I am left to wonder if his psychological history is embedded in his school records and the other records (notably medical) which he has not released. Recall McCain released thousands of pages of medical records and Obama released a single page summary, a mere 276 words long.
Dr. Ali Sina (or someone purporting to be the same) has gone so far as to produce a video based off his earlier piece on his perception of Obama as having NPD. “Ali Sina” is a pseudonym for an Iranian ex-muslim living in Canada. His site has a collection of the most well-reasoned essays I have seen regarding Islam in light of empirical truth. I cannot determine in what subject he holds his PhD. He writes quite well.
I am somewhat taken aback by the difference in page hits regarding “Obama narcissim”, 3/24/2009 and today. Can someone please offer a reasonable explanation for that discrepancy, particularly considering the consistency of the other searches?