February 7, 2005


For the Worst of Us, the Diagnosis May Be 'Evil' (BENEDICT CAREY, 2/08/05, NY Times)

Predatory killers often do far more than commit murder. Some have lured their victims into homemade chambers for prolonged torture. Others have exotic tastes - for vivisection, sexual humiliation, burning. Many perform their grisly rituals as much for pleasure as for any other reason.

Among themselves, a few forensic scientists have taken to thinking of these people as not merely disturbed but evil. Evil in that their deliberate, habitual savagery defies any psychological explanation or attempt at treatment.

Most psychiatrists assiduously avoid the word evil, contending that its use would precipitate a dangerous slide from clinical to moral judgment ...

More like a difficult climb back up to moral judgment, but thankfully it is underway. Interesting to think that the Islamicists have helped in that regard too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2005 11:18 PM

The ability of social scientists to engage in deliberate self-delusion never fails to astonish me. Anyone who was ever a small boy knows that there were always kids who pulled wings off of flies to watch them flop around or who set fire to the neighbor's housecat. These kids were conscious of what they were doing and that it was wrong but did it anyway. When they get away with no punishment or minimal punishment, timeouts and the like, they learn the lesson that they can engage in whatever evil behavior they wish without serious consequences. As they get older they graduate to more serious crimes against more voluble victims. Then, when they are 16 or so and they are holding up liquor stores or raping girls at a party, we are surprised, shocked and saddened?

These aren't people driven by some inner demon who would go away with enough Ritalin and chocolate chip cookies. They make conscious choices to do evil things, because the reward they receive by doing them exceeds the punishment they get when they are caught. Make the punishment exceed the reward and the problem goes away. It's practically Pavlovian.

Posted by: Bart at February 8, 2005 6:38 AM