I’m currently addicted to the Discovery Channel show Most Evil where Columbia University forensic scientist Michael Stone plots the most infamous serial killers and so called evil people on a 22 point Scale of Evil. I tried to plot several people I knew, former friends and such, but compared to John Wayne Gacy, the famous clown serial killer, or Jim Jones, the cult leader who ordered mass suicide of hundreds of people they looked far too gentle and meek.
Evil in human nature seems to be one of the more attractive subjects in psychology. We have been enlightened by the studies of Zimbardo, Milgram and Asch, showing for instance how good people can turn evil through pressures of conformity, obedience and other dispositional factors. While Michael Stone rated psychopathic tendencies and engaging in psychopathic behavior, free of remorse as being more evil, Alford’s interviews among several participants showed that the concept of evil was highly privatized. Even Alford was surprised to hear participants associate evil with scary dreams, feelings of fear and doom. Evil was described mostly as a threat or a feeling of obliteration of the self.
Interesting about the study is the use of two groups for participants: free informants and prison inmates. While both groups came to the similar conclusions regarding evil – such as Adolf Eichmann was not evil, the reasoning behind conclusions were dissimilar, at least on the surface. Free informants were likelier to answer that Eichmann was just part of the system, while prison inmates were more likely to use the Hobbesian argument that the world is a war of everyone against everyone else. On a deeper analysis, Alford came to conclude that both reasoning amounted to the same idea – that the idea that someone would be killed for not killing is only an extension of the Hobbesian idea. Alford comes to conclude that a basic understanding of evil needs to address these issues, disturbing as they may be.