Today’s Primary Problem: Commonplace Evil
Bill Cottringer

“The way in which you define something has a lot to do with how much or how little of the thing you have in hand, both quantity and quality.” ~The Author.

Such is the case with the greatly misunderstood term evil. Historically, there have been three different perspectives on evil. First, most, if not all western religions view evil as an inherent, diabolical dark side, external force confronting human existence. On the opposite side of the planet, eastern philosophies generally deny the existence of any evil force in the universe, rather seeing it as simply the other side of the same Yin-Yang coin of good, within the design of the universe.

Fortunately, the above either-or, win-lose perspective has a win-win compromise. Some brave, empathic and thoughtful psychiatrists, like M. Scott Peck back in the early eighties, carefully proposed that evil was a treatable mental disease, just like depression, anxiety or OCD. This last perspective has been gaining momentum during the last decade, at least in the psychiatric and self-help communities.

How you define a term such as evil also enables or disables its understanding and ultimately, curing. Seeing evil as a form of mental illness and more commonplace has practical utility—it seems to have more promise of yielding a better understanding of such an ugly, confusing condition, while also offering more avenues for reducing evil’s massively destructive impact which is often less subtle than it appears at first glance. If you are looking for a current example of commonplace evil through a mental illness lens, consider watching the Netflix mini-series, “Clickbait.” The ending 8th episode paints a sad, pathetic picture of commonplace evil and the path of destruction it usually results in.

Let’s look at a few mental characteristics of evil as a man-made mental illness rather than supernatural force. And this is just a practical exercise not a religious or philosophical debate, which can never be resolved rationally.

• A broad and useful definition of evil as a mental illness is “any way a person maliciously controls or murders the body or spirit of another living thing, without a gun being held to their head, or having any other biological survival need.
• Evil people are not without a soul or conscience, they just don’t give their conscience its due by narcissistically following their own selfish will, rather than even considering the choice to submit or surrender to a higher power’s way.
• People with evil in mind or hand are masters at disguising it, mainly because they absolutely and resolutely deny their human imperfections and sins. They also tenaciously resist the pain of growing, whereas the rest of us spend great time and effort facing our own demons in hopes to learn, grow and improve into the best self we can become.
• People doing evil deeds don’t necessarily lack sensitivity, but their sensitivity is consistently selective in stopping another living being from reaching full potential in life, by controlling, murdering and destroying their body or spirit in thoughtless meanness.
• Evil people will always hide their motives with forceful and almost impervious lies, out of fear of being questioned or exposed. All has to be perceived as normal, responsible and respectable.
• Other notable characteristics of seeing evil as a mental illness include pronounced concern with a public and self-image of respectability; consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior; excessive tolerance for criticism; and intellectual deviousness (from “People of The Lie.”).

Not all sociopaths are evil, but all evil people share common characteristics with them, especially what some call malignant narcissism. Like sociopaths, evil people are very resistive in admitting anything is wrong or that they need help. This is the challenge for psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers being placed in confrontive positions in our criminal justice system, with usually the worst of the bunch, because people engaging in commonplace evil are not easily detectable.

So, what is the course of treatment of evil as a mental illness? And, in proposing such a plan, we will have to be very careful of not acknowledging the potential for the endeavor itself to cause more evil than it cures. The safety measure here, is to take moral judgment out of the equation, just like we don’t categorize an anxious person as morally corrupted, but rather just unhealthy to a degree. But this doesn’t mean leaving out judgment all together, because it takes very good judgment to detect evil behavior as a mental illness.

Here are a few helpful guidelines in understanding and dealing with evil people and their evil behavior, more as a treatable mental illness and them not being possessed by the devil, which always seals the deal:

• It may come easier for a commonplace evil person to accept being judged as having a treatable mental disease, rather than marginalized as an irreparably bad moral degenerate. Words that are used to describe “bad” people are often bad in and by themselves, at least connotatively, and we all need to be aware of this compounding problem.
• Evil people do not ordinarily seek treatment because they firmly believe there is nothing wrong with them. The trick is to educate them on the bell curve that shows some form of mental illness being more prevalent than healthy self-actualization and that most people are wandering around in the zone between evil behavior and good behavior. Stigma is always a powerful underground defense mechanism in fortifying unhealthy behavior.
• Evil people always give more airtime to their so-called psychological conscience because they are restive to allowing their moral conscience its due. Somehow, the reasoning for this needs to be better understood. One clue is that most of people’s problem behavior is because they also give their rationalizing psychological consciences too much airtime.
• The real key to dealing with evil behavior is to stop allowing it to masquerade as sanity and its destructiveness as “normal.” Evil is abnormal and not okay and its growing incidence as commonplace evil, desperately needs mitigation and management before it becomes the norm.
• A notion to consider giving up is the one of which we think we can either destroy or cure evil. Like any other perplexing problem without a single cause, but with many, the best we can hope to do is to manage evil behavior better.
• Managing others always starts with self-management and that is very true in dealing with evil. When we confront the ugliness of our own evil-like thoughts, feelings and behavior, and work to change these commonplace evil sins into beauty, we have taken the first step which may be more than half the journey.

I will end this article with a valuable warning worth serious consideration, written back in the eighties, by the popular psychiatrist and author of “A Road Less Traveled,” Dr. M. Scott Peck.

“The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual - for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.” ~M. Scott Peck.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is retired Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (206) 914-1863 or