By Deepak Chopra, MD
At the turn of the new year it feels as if evil is more present and dangerous than ever. One component of worldwide fear is terrorism, and in the minds of religious fanatics who turn to terror tactics, there’s a black-and-white conception of evil. This mental picture of God battling Satan, or something on the same absolute scale, tempts us to fight again terrorism from the same basis. But is there absolute evil in the first place?
There are many reasons to say no. “Pure evil” is a tag applied in the media for horrifying acts, but this is far from proving that the people who perpetrate these acts have become possessed by cosmic evil. As several research projects akin to the Stanford Prison Experiment have shown, ordinary people can step into immoral territory very quickly if given the right situation. Abu Ghraib was another shocking example. There is a lethal mixture when you have an enemy under your power along with permission to do what you want with him, absent any repercussions or punishment.
Extreme acts of violence do not constitute absolute, pure, or satanic evil. Outside a religious worldview, there are rational explanations for evil acts, and our response should be based on which of the following explanation we adopt. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
ISIS and its atrocious acts have thrown the issue of evil into high relief. Once more we are forced to confront a horrifying aspect of human nature and to ask ourselves what can be done about it. This post isn’t about U.S. policy against ISIS–that’s the business of the President, his advisers, the military, and Congress. But evil itself deserves better, clearer thinking than what it generally gets. If better thinking leads to better policy, all the more reason to find it.
Recorded history contains no time when human evil didn’t exist, although only very recently has it been called a problem. Traditionally, evil was looked upon as something much worse than a problem–the fruit of sin, the work of cosmic satanic forces, a divine punishment, or an animalistic instinct. It has taken thousands of years to get past such thinking, and when atrocities arouse public fear and hatred, the old explanations return. But on the other hand, it has become possible to think of evil in terms of psychology and its insights, which is a mark of progress.
Turning to psychology has made evil our responsibility; it can’t be shuffled off to a supernatural agent, either God or the Devil. Also, by taking responsibility, we can stop blaming “the other” as if a whole class, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion is uniquely evil. There’s enough war, crime, and general violence for everyone to accept the blame, and if we take psychology seriously, blame is clearly not a solution. In times of war, the normal boundaries that keep evil in check are lost, and even the “good” side of the conflict is forced into the fray under extraordinary circumstances. But that’s not my topic here. I’m not forgiving or condoning ISIS; forgiveness has rarely been a practical means of dealing with evil when it shows up on your doorstep.