As regular readers know, I am not a religious person. But I believe in evil. Not biblical evil. Just evil.

Credit: Salvador Dali and Classic Values

Credit: Salvador Dali and Classic Values

M. Scott Peck (May 22, 1936 – September 25, 2005) was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author. His first book, The Road Less Traveled, published in 1978, was an international best seller. Peck was a doctor who wrote with exceptional beauty, skill and clarity. He is one of my favorite writers.

Peck also wrote about evil in, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (1998). In that terrifying book, Peck brilliantly probed into the essence of human evil by providing vivid accounds of evil drawn from his psychiatric practice. If you want to know why I think some people are utterly beyond redemption, and must be caged, read this extraordinary book.

From the horror story on the front page of the New York Times today (“Law enforcement officials identified Mr. Roof, 21, as the suspect in the mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston on Wednesday night that left nine dead, including the pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney”), let me show you what evil looks like:

Photo credit: New York Times. The photo captures Dylann Storm Roof wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa, top, and Rhodesia, as modern-day Zimbabwe was called during a period of white rule.

Photo credit: New York Times. The photo captures Dylann Storm Roof, the killer, wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa, top, and Rhodesia, as modern-day Zimbabwe was called during a period of white rule.

There is evil all about us. Peck saw plenty of it and it scared him. I see it frequently, and it scares me. Evil is why we need plenty of prisons. We don’t need prisons to exact revenge as much as we need cages to make us safe from evil.

That’s all, there is no more to say.


13 responses

  1. Anonymous,

    That is certainly a major component of evil. But there is more. It is the absence of empathy plus an act against another human or animal that is depraved.

    All the best.


  2. I agree with you on this topic. I have represented some pretty bad pussy cats that should stay behind bars until I die. However, I don’t agree on the need for more jails. As to non-violent offenders, Imprisonment Costs 8 Times More Than Supervision. As you probably already know, community supervision of federal offenders continues to cost significantly less than incarceration, according to FY 2014 data provided by the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Therefore, non violent offenders = go home to supervision. Violent offenders, stay behind bars and learn to knit.

  3. Miguel,

    I concluded that we needed “plenty of prisons.” I did not mean to imply that we “needed more prisons.” All the best.


  4. I am must more interested in your view on the mental element in criminal conduct. Me. Sentencing issue. Juries should be asked if the person did it. Judges and lawyers should argue about the individual’s state of mind.

  5. About two weeks after my first retirement I found myself teaching in two of Nebraska’s prisons. I encountered evil all right. I realized that some of my students were so evil that I recognized them from the extensive media coverage. But I also had lots more students who were not evil, being more accurately described as varying combinations of foolish, greedy, educationally impaired, lazy, unreasonably optimistic, and many other adjectives short of evil. Yes, we need to lock up the evil, but we would have lots of room and save millions were we to find alternative ways of dealing with those who are other than evil.

  6. We’ve all encountered those people whose actions cannot be described in any way besides as evil. Some things no other explanation suffices. And though it is only a handful, I still recall every one of the handful of people I have believed, to my core, needed to be in prison for the rest of their lives (or the functional equivalent thereof).

    I suppose it is unflaggingly optimistic of me, but for this handful of prisoners, I still believe in the power of reformation. If there is a cosmic weighing of a person’s good and evil, I’m not foolish enough to think this handful will be able to tip their individual scales to good. But I do believe even they are not so thoroughly evil as to be incapable of someday doing a small kindness to another person, even as small as sharing some toilet paper.

    I can’t seem to just cast them aside as unfit for the human race, something many people in my community are happy to do based upon the crime committed. Evil humans are still humans. But for their sake, for my sake, and for my community’s sake, sometimes prison is the only option.

    (The thoughts this profession causes me to have; thoughts I believe most people would happily choose to never consider.)

  7. I’m sorry, but I have looked evil in the eye a number of times and have a different opinion.

    Prison is not the only option, some people you can not afford to take a chance on their getting out into the public again. Some people just need for the State to execute them. Kenneth McDuff comes to mind.

    Fix the ones that can be fixed, but recognize that some can’t be fixed.

  8. My exposure to contemplation of evil was “The Anatomy of Evil” By Dr. Micheal Stone. Fascinating stuff… that kinda scared the buhjeezus outta me.

  9. My former boss used to quote his late father (a former state court judge) — “There are two kinds of crimes. Crimes of stupid and crimes of evil.”

    For those who commit crimes of stupid, there are plenty of alternatives to incarceration for those who want to learn from their mistakes. (Some, however, just are unwilling or unable to change their bad habits.)

    However, there are some people who get pleasure out of causing others pain. Other than using a time machine to go back and fix them before they got warped, there really isn’t an alternative to locking up (and keeping locked up) the less dangerous offenders and sending the ones who are dangerous even while incarcerated to meet their maker.

  10. Could proper mental health diagnosis and treatment reduce the number of evil persons, the resulting loss of innocent lives, and the need for more prisons? Or is it better to withold such diagnosis and treatment, let evil thrive, let innocents be killed, lock up the evil defendant, and then, because the state has custody of the evil defendant, provide mental health diagnosis and treatment mandated by the Constitution?

  11. Pingback: Who “Owns” The Charleston Murders? | Simple Justice

%d bloggers like this: