The Genesis of Evil

Paper I wrote for my Atlantic University TP5020 Course – November 11, 2019

My friend Tim Hyde is a reformed political operative.  As he neared retirement, he went back to his first love of photography.  After doing so, he was a featured speaker at a luncheon I attended on a recent exhibit he had just completed, which focused on former worn-torn areas.

The first photograph he showed was a stone wall in Poland.  After the Germans invaded the country in the late 1930s, a group of 30 or so Jews were rounded up, many within the same family, and placed up against the wall.  The German soldiers sprayed bullets up and down the line until they were all dead.

The next series of photographs were buildings and structures from what was the Yugoslavian village that served as the central hub for the 1984 Olympics.  The images we all held in our minds of the beautiful Eastern European city from that Olympics were now transformed into abandoned buildings with bullet holes, graffiti, and images of destruction everywhere.  

 As Tim showed one photograph of an open area near a reservoir, which was now abandoned and overgrown, he relayed a story he heard from a Muslim he interviewed during the shoot.  Apparently, in his early 20s, the man and his friends were caught in a crossfire at that spot, and he was wounded but not killed.  As the enemy soldiers came through to make sure everyone was dead, he lay motionless.  He hid under a dead friend’s body for three days before crawling around the reservoir, unable to walk, and ultimately to safety.

   We sat spellbound as Tim presented one human-created disaster after another.  War, violence, and death, over and over again.  People doing unspeakable acts against fellow humans over ethnic, religious, and national differences.  His words were punctuated by one grim photograph after another.  Or, more eerily, photos such as the first one of the wall where the Jews were killed.  The killing zone of a stone was now covered with beautiful flowers and quaffed hedges.  It felt very incongruous.  

 At the end of his presentation, the first question Tim was asked was what lesson he had learned from creating the exhibit.  His answer came quick and straightforward.  Regardless of someone’s ethnicity, upbringing, class within a society, etc., every single person has the capacity of inflicting the most horrific evils on another under the right – or shall I say wrong – circumstances.  In other words, no one is immune from the potential of committing atrocities against a fellow human.

I agree with Tim.  The starting point when examining evil and its role in the human condition is that we are all capable of it and do exhibit it to varying degrees throughout our lives.  It’s is a universal truth of our human condition.  As Michael Daniels puts it, “Evil is a part of the human equation,” and it “exists because we exist” (2005, p. 114).   Carl Jung adds, “We are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals.  In reality, we merely lacked a suitable opportunity to be drawn into the infernal melee.”

But what exactly is evil?  Relying on the work of John Kekes and his 1990 work, Facing Evil, Daniels says, “moral evil may be defined as undeserved harm caused by human beings” (2005, p. 96).  He then includes a list of “absolutely and undeniably evil,” which include: “rape, physical and sexual abuse of children, mutilation and torture, as well as comparatively minor evils such as vandalism and the propagation of computer viruses and worms” (2005, p. 27).  

              This definition of evil provided by Daniels and Kekes is correct, in my opinion.  His list is accurate as well, although I can only guess that he experienced a major breach or data loss since he includes computer viruses on the list.  I can think of a few other minor evils such as gossiping and lying that might better worth adding to the list than these.

If evil is universal and part of being human, where does it stem?  Jung’s insightful work on the shadow goes a long way in answering this question.  He says, “Unfortunately, there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be.”  The tendency for most is to lock away this shadow side in their subconscious to project an image that they believe others will want to see, and it’s in the very act of repressing the shadow where most of the evil occurs.  Scott Peck, in a YouTube video, notes this tendency when included on his list of 10 traits of an evil person is someone who maintains “a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly to do so.”  

And Jung warns, if the shadow is “repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”  People will do whatever they can to avoid facing their shadows.  Jung says that “When repressed, the shadow lurks like an angry dragon locked up in a dungeon.”

A video that examines Jung’s concept of the shadow points out that many self-described sanctimonious people involved in traditional religions, for example, are projecting “their own dark impulses onto others instead of facing the evil within themselves.  This ugly dynamic may result in scapegoating.”  One only needs to look at the Salem Witch Trials to see where this toxic cocktail of sanctimony, fear, and fundamental religion can lead.

At the root of the Witch Trials and countless other examples like it throughout history is fear.  As with the sanctimonious individuals, it’s fear that drives them to criticize others who appear “less holy.”  It’s fear that drives one employee to drag down another for fear of losing out on a promotion.  

Traditional religions themselves have used wholesale fear to control the masses for a millennium.  And one of the ways they accomplish this control is to defines evil as a force or temptation outside of the individual.  The Christians call this personification of evil the Devil, while in Islam, he’s called Iblis or Shaytan, according to an article by James Stuart.  

By defining evil as external and putting the fear of God into their membership, religions indoctrinate individuals to believe that they need a mediator to mitigate this external evil force so they can be reconciled with God.  And that’s the role of the traditional religion of course, which is what’s made it so powerful and controlling for so long.

However, if Jung is correct, which I believe he is, and evil is locked up as our internal shadow and locked away in our subconscious, then we possess the power to free ourselves without the assistance of any formal religion.  Jung believed that not only do we have the power to free ourselves from the bounds of the shadow but that “awe-inspiring creativity was conceived once an individual had formed a union with the shadow.”

While extremely difficult, Jung suggests that we must have the courage to venture into the darkness of our shadows, and the only way to do so is to “summon all the powers of enlightenment that consciousness can offer,” as the video notes.  It adds, “As it is only becoming conscious of and integrating the shadow that one achieves wholeness.”

And unlocking this creativity is where the true genius lies.  We’re all familiar with the “mad scientists” or artists like Vincent Van Gogh.  And this source of hidden power hidden away in our subconscious is available to anyone who dares to venture within.  

There is more push-back from Americans now for the U.S. to go rushing off to war, although we still can’t seem to get out of the ones started nearly twenty years ago in some cases.  Despite this potential slowdown in conflict, however, I’m confident that Tim will continue to find examples of humans committing atrocities against others for any future exhibit he decides to undertake.

References

BanditRants (2017, June 22). Carl Jung’s Philosophy of The Shadow [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/X-y2DddsWQ8

Daniels, M. (2005), shadow, self, spirit: essays in transpersonal psychology, Imprint Academic: Exeter, U.K.

“C.G. Jung: ‘Everyone carries a shadow….’”, Jungcurrents.com, retrieved from http://jungcurrents.com/jung-everyone-carries-a-shadow

“Carl Jung speaks about the projection of evil,” Jungcurrents.com, retrieved from http://jungcurrents.com/jung-collective-shadow-scapegoat-evil

“Tim Hyde Photography,” Retrieved from http://www.timhyde.com

PSIKOLOJI, “the shadow,” retrieved from http://psikoloji.fisek.com.tr/jung/shadow.htm

psychology (2013, July 25). Evil Definition Scott Peck [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=gNG_MMYwOSM

Stuart, J. (2017, Sept. 29), “The Concept of Evil in Islam,” Classroom, retrieved from https://classroom.synonym.com/the-concept-of-evil-in-islam-12085675.html