I went back to my first post to look at what 12-week ago me thought about evil and this is the definition I had for ‘evil’:
- indifference/ no empathy to the act
- harm/ “evil” is the intent
- one chooses to do harm even though it is not the only option – unnecessary and preventable.
I feel that this definition is quite similar to Dr. Burris’ (though not concise at all), which we have all come to use and gravitate towards. Once an evil was operationally defined by someone other than us, someone more credible, we latched on because I guess we were all still struggling with a tangible definition of what we considered ‘evil’. I think it is something that we will never fully understand or be able to define, but we gain insight by looking at separate pieces. And this is what we did in this class. I think looking at evil through a psychological lens entails using a reductionist approach and using limits and levels to make it measurable. Even though it may not be the most ideal way of investigating evil, it does make it practical. As Professor Navara pointed out, it is interesting that virtually all our presentations focused on specific evils and not corporate evil; just like trying to define evil, it is pretty much impossible/ rare to find studies on evil as a whole.
Each of the three books we read throughout this semester provided great insight to what evil is. The greatest message of Baron-Cohen’s book is evidently the idea of “empathy erosion” – the loss or decreased capacity for empathy when carrying out an evil act. This emphasizes the biological side of psychology. Meanwhile Baumeister talks about the four main roots of evil, but what stuck with me was how “evil is in the eye of the beholder”. This statement conveys how evil is subjective, which is an issue that we tackled with all semester. How do we universally label something as evil? How can we put them into classes or levels? Where do we draw the line between something that is evil, less evil, not evil, and how do we categorize them? On a somewhat different note, although obvious evils are exciting to explore, for some reason I was drawn to less obvious evils, everyday evils. I think they are more intriguing on a personal level. Zimbardo’s question “Am I capable of evil?” relates to this thought because it made me question what evil can I do? How does evil affect me? Less obvious evils, rather than more rare occurrences of evil (e.g. genocide, rape, etc.) are more likely to be prevalent around me. So I guess what I am trying to say is that evil that is evident in my immediate surroundings and that “normal” “everyday” people, who I consider to be just like me; when they commit an act that is regarded as evil, albeit grey-area-evil, it fascinates me because that could be me. Zimbardo’s experiment embodies this kind of evil. (Baumeister explores this concept in many ways, although I won’t get into it here; check my previous posts.)
Ultimately, evil is dynamic and exists in more than one form. The reason for the many definitions (and inconclusive ones) is due to its subjectivity. Because of this, exploring the constructs of evil calls for critical thinking and reductionism, to put pieces together, as the topic of evil is so vast. Not only is evil subjective, but it can be affected by both biological and environmental factors. Social factors, especially power, is a huge agent in evil. We are still trying to grasp what evil is, even though it has existed throughout history, but we are making progress to understanding corporate evil and how it fits in with the big picture.
I thoroughly enjoyed this course, and I wish everyone the best in their future endeavors. It’s been a tough semester (honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to get through March) but we’ve made it! Thanks for keeping the class fresh and interesting every Friday 🙂