Why people become evil

“If life’s tendency to grow, to be lived, is thwarted, the energy thus blocked undergoes a process of change and is transformed into life-destructive energy. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. Those individual and social conditions which make for the blocking of life-furtheriing energy produce destructiveness which in turn is the source from which the various manifestations of evil spring.” (Erich Fromm)

‘EVIL’ AS HUMAN WICKEDNESS Evil is identical with the destruction which results from socially non-adaptive behaviour and derives from the social disorder of disordered societies. Evil is manifest in the forms of human behaviour which are morally wrong such as greed, malice, sadism, cruelty, violence, destructiveness, war and so on. Although evil is real it has no independent existence of its own. So where does evil come from and why does it persist? The ‘problem of evil’ is a question of human wickedness and can only be understood in terms of human psychology. Traditional psychology which emphasizes the pathologies, neuroses and psychoses provides abundant evidence that human acts of wickedness are symptoms of emotional disturbance and suffering resulting from the frustration of the natural development of the human conscience. Wicked acts are willful acts of the immature and irrational conscience.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE RATIONAL CONSCIENCE Development of the conscience is a product of moral or ‘spiritual’ growth. The fully developed conscience or the ‘free will’ impels the organism towards attitudes and behaviours which are beneficial to life. Spiritual growth is a slow process of construction – according to laws of nature – which takes place during continuous concentrated activity in a close relationship with the environment. The development of the conscience and the spiritual values of human goodness requires favorable conditions of emotional security communicated through the affection and trust of unconditional love. Emotional security is the prerequisite for interest in the environment or ‘curiosity’, the natural drive for motivation of spiritual growth through learning. Spiritual growth depends on learning in a social environment of freedom – freedom to learn, freedom to concentrate on work and freedom of self-expression and inquiry. If these conditions are lacking and intrinsic psychological and spiritual needs are denied, then the will of the conscience is broken and development arrested.

IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION Many neurotic conflicts are ultimately determined by educational policy of parenting and schooling within the context of social and cultural conditions. Disordered societies which deny an education providing the conditions which are favorable for spiritual growth create conditions for the neurotic growth of children into disordered adults. They become socially evil as a result of the frustration of their efforts for normal growth. Normal growth is hampered when the basis for the education which is offered is discipline and punishment. Punishment of children develops irrrational emotions of fear and hatred leading to neurotic growth and the prevention of learning from experience and so contributes to the failure of social development. The resulting inability for social adaptation leads to pathological reactions of frustration and destructiveness. Human acts of destruction and evil are the product of continued frustration of the intrinsic human need for spiritual growth. Normal spiritual growth and the avoidance of evil depends on an education which provides for complete human development and the realization of human potential i.e. ‘self-actualisation’


Good people do evil things too

“Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends.” – Isabel Paterson

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” – Blaise Pascal

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