Evil has always been a term that is very hard to define, and yet, in most cases, we know it when we see it. Being diabolical, cruel, heartless, and mean encompass aspects of evil without fully defining the whole of it. However, I think that there is a way of examining evil without necessarily focusing on an essential definition and that is to see if there are patterns in how it manifests itself. I am going to go back to my division of societies into traditional and modern, because I think it is particularly relevant to understanding causation in this situation. If it can be shown that evil has manifested itself profoundly differently at different times in history and at different levels of human societal development, then perhaps this could lead to a more effective approach in diminishing its influence in society.
I will start by excluding from this discussion people who appear to have been born evil. There are those who believe that just as some people suffer from endogenous depression, so there are people who suffer from endogenous evil, people who just start doing awful things as a young child and, yet, who came from warm loving families. If such a category of people does indeed exist, perhaps they would be considered to be beyond rehabilitation and could only be dealt with in terms of containment.
For the purposes of this article, I will focus on those people whose evil tendencies are influenced by their living environments. In particular, it is my contention, that living environments can have a profound influence on how evil develops and manifests itself. Evil is going to develop and manifest itself very differently in more traditional natural societies and living environments than it does in modern technological societies and living environments.
It has to do with the configuration of stimuli impacting a person in a given environment. In a more traditional natural environment, there are a lot of flowing blendable continual stimuli that emanate from all the organic phenomena that exist in such an environment. These stimuli are experienced very intensely because they don’t have defined boundaries and they tend to merge into a person. All of which means that in a traditional village, town or city environment or in a natural environment, a person can experience his encounter with these stimuli as overstimulating. Like a more global equivalent of imbibing too much caffeine. Such a person can arrive at a point where he is so overwhelmed that he feels he will explode unless he can find a way to release some of the energy that has welled up inside of him as a response to the overstimulation. And he has to release it in a focused way or else he will emotionally explode apart. To prevent this explosion, he finds human targets in the external world against whom to release this unstable energy, and thus creates emotional explosions at a safe distance from himself. The destructive passion is released, and, for the moment, the person is safe again.
In the past, I have used a more expansive presentation of the term, crime of passion (not to be confused with the traditional use of the term to mean simply an honor killing), to describe some of these responses and actions. Although not all evil passionate actions could be considered crimes. Psychological abuse of children by parents and of one spouse by another can be thought of as evil as can harassment of certain people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexual preference, etc. These are activities that have unfortunately been with the human race for a long time.
The key is understanding that, insofar as they related to situations in traditional natural societies, these activities involved a release of pent-up destructive energy and stimuli to prevent the perpetrator from blowing himself up psychologically. Now with modern technological societies, the problem is completely the opposite. People today, in general, do not have the problem of disposing of a lot of unwanted pent-up passionate energy; rather they have the problem of generating enough passionate energy within themselves in order to pull themselves out of their numbness. Most of the people today who commit horrific crimes like mass murders are not doing it out of an excess of destructive impulses but rather out of a total vacuum of any meaningful motivation or purpose in life. Most horrible crimes committed today are crimes of numbness, which form the foundation of an even more insidious type of evil than the crimes of passion that were previously discussed. At least with crimes of passion, there is an apparent direct connection between a person’s consciousness and the hideous actions he carries out. With crimes of numbness, the crimes are carried out with the perpetrator almost like a zombie, too inert to be fully conscious. And because these crimes are performed in an almost preconscious state, there is very little sense of conscious accountability in the perpetrator. How does one stop a zombie except by physically cutting him off?
Now not all evil manifests itself in the form of crimes. There are different forms of psychological manipulation like gaslighting which cannot always be pinpointed as crimes. But there is definitely a zombie aspect to the master of psychological manipulation: the psychopath. To the extent that he is incapable of really feeling the hurt that he causes the people that he impacts, it is like a large part of his consciousness is dormant and numb. And one form of behavior that a psychopath does very well is psychological harassment and this has a perfect platform today on the Internet. Cyber-bullying can destroy a person’s life.
Getting back to behavior that makes the headlines, evil is a quite appropriate adjective for describing what happened over these last couple of weeks in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado. The mass murders that occurred in these two cities can partly be reduced to issues of prejudice. But even so, prejudice and acting upon it are a tactic numb people use today to pull them out of their numbness. Both the gunmen in these cases seem to have been classic numb loners striving to feel alive with shocking horrendous evil behavior. And as long as people live in modern technological environments with excessive frictionessness and excessive mediation involved in the kinds of experiences these environments give people, numbness will continue to be a major component in leading some people to commit evil psychological and physical actions. And evil people in modern technological society will continue to model themselves after the machines, the computers and the robots that surround them.