The Origin of Evil

Andrew Lobaczewski – Pioneer of Science

Science progresses by discovering new evidence that overturns our previously cherished views of reality. In the history of science, three figures stand out as having revolutionised our view of the world, and of ourselves. Nicolaus Copernicus recognised that the earth was not the centre of the universe, and that the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way around. Charles Darwin showed that all life on earth, including humans, has descended from common ancestors, through the process of natural selection. Rather than being God’s central creation, Darwin showed that humanity is a late comer in life’s enormously complex journey, and emerged more by chance than by design. And Sigmund Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams, described how human consciousness acts alongside, and in deference to, our unconscious mind. Far from being fully rational beings, cognisant of all our thoughts and feelings, Freud showed how our unconscious, acting on highly irrational laws, is the true driver of our thoughts and actions.  Freud famously remarked that all of these great revolutions in the history of science have had one feature in common: they have all knocked us off one pedestal after another regarding our convictions about our own self-importance, and constitute the central narrative in science’s sermon of humility.

Another name is now destined to take its place alongside these great names of science as having revolutionised our view of reality. The name is that of Andrew Lobaczewski.  Lobaczewski was a Polish psychiatrist who observed the changes in Polish society at first hand, as first Hitler’s Nazis, and then Stalin’s Bolsheviks, forced their violent ideologies upon Poland. What emerged from Lobaczewski’s work is a radically new theory of human nature, and a clear description of the origin and spread of evil.

The basic thesis of Lobaczewski’s theory is that humanity is divided into two distinct groups: those who have a normal psychology, who comprise around 95 percent of humanity; and those who have specific types of psychological deviations, who make up the remaining 5 percent. Lobaczewski was writing before the most recent advances in psychiatric science, but the psychological deviations he identified appear in contemporary psychiatric literature as paranoid personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and psychopathy. Core to Lobaczewski’s explanation of the nature of evil is the thesis that the differences between these two groups are of sufficient order to justify the classification of the minority group as a more or less different type of human being.

A Different Type of Human Being

According to Lobaczewski, ‘each society on earth contains a certain percentage of individuals, a relatively small but active minority, who cannot be considered normal…. individuals that are statistically small in number, but whose quality of difference is such that it can affect hundreds, thousands, even millions of other human beings in negative ways.’

The assertion that the minority of people who have these specific types of psychological deviations constitute a separate type of human being rests on a recognition that both the form and the content of their emotion and cognition are radically, and perhaps inalterably, different from people with normal psychology. The difference in form is a rigidity of personality that is not observed among the normal majority. Those with these personality disorders have a fixed, intransigent pattern of thinking and behaviour that does not change across the lifespan. This pattern encompasses their entire system of perception, cognition and response. Unlike those with normal psychology, who can alter their patterns of thinking and behaving in response to their environment, those with these personality disorders are constitutionally incapable of altering their destructive personalities and behaviours.

The content of the thoughts and emotions of the minority also differs radically from those of the normal majority. Their fixed pathological worldviews are ones in which real equality with others is inconceivable; in which normal human relationships based on reciprocity are impossible; and in which normal human compassion is either easily overridden or entirely absent. As a result, when people with these disorders achieve positions of authority in families, in organisations, or in nations, the inevitable result is a culture of pathological control in which all actions are directed away from the common good towards the satisfaction of pathological need.

As Lobaczewski warned, our families, our organisations, and our societies are based on an insufficient psychological cognition of reality. As a result, our civilisation is insufficiently resistant to evil. The discovery that humanity comprises two distinct types of human being, and that one is an existential threat to the other, is a first crucial step in reducing the role of violence, greed and evil in our world. For that knowledge that can change the world, Lobaczewski’s name will take its place, alongside Copernicus, Darwin and Freud, as a giant of science and progress.

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9 thoughts on “The Origin of Evil

  1. Hi Ian,
    I pretty much agree with your thesis and am in total agreement with the idea that you have to think for yourself. Some random thoughts…

    I think this leads many people to pick and choose the aspects of religion they agree with and ignore the rest. For example the term often used is “Cafeteria Catholics” for those Catholics who agree with their Church’s teaching on social justice issues but disagree with and ignore the other teachings on (say) contraception for example. I think this is particularly true in Ireland today. Perhaps this has arisen as people try to rationalize the tenets of the religion in which they have been raised?

    On evil generally, a few questions for you… have you read Rene Girard’s “Violence of the Sacred”, (much better explained I think by James Carroll in his book “Jerusalem”)? This thesis talks about how violence is used in religion and attempts to explain the origin of it. For example the term “scapegoat” used originally to “transfer” your sins to a sacrificial beast. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    Also have you read Steven Pinker’s recent book on the supposed decline of evil in the world? I can’t remember the books name but how does it square with your thesis on the psychopathy of evil?

    • Hi James
      Thanks for your comments James. I’ve read Steven Pinker’s book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ and it’s an excellent read. I think he presents a lot of evidence in favour of the idea that a minority of psychologically disordered individuals are responsible for most of the violence in the world. Unfortunately he doesn’t make the connection though and assumes we are more or less all the same when it comes to our propensity for greed and violence. The documented evidence on psychopaths, narcissism and paranoid personality disorders shows this is definitely not the case. We are definitely not all the same. It would be fascinating to hear what he would make of the arguments on this blog.

  2. I’m hooked! Looking forward to reading more…

    A first thought: given that this high influential minority group of “evil human beings” has been identifed, is there any evidence to suggest that the polar opposite exists? In that, are there humans out there who have demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for good or altruism etc that is above and beyond normal human behaviour? Or is this exactly what normal human behaviour is? With a nod to James’ comment above on religion, could religious figures in history potentially be an example of this?

    • Hi Mind the Baby
      It’s a very good question. I haven’t come across anything in my research that suggests there is a polar opposite to those with dangerous personality disorders. The way I understand the world is mainly in terms of the pathological minority that make up 5% of the population, and the rest of us. There are undoubtedly exceptional people, like Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi, for example. They are incredibly important because they act as a counterpoint to the greed and brutality of the pathological minority – showing what an alternative world might be like and keeping hope alive that such a world is possible. What do others think? Might there be a super-humane minority too?

      • Hi again Ian,
        I like the symmetry of having a super-humane minority also. I could believe this exists in similar proportions to the pathological minority that you have outlined – the problem is that such people (almost by definition?) are “nice”, altruistic, and (most likely) humble people – and will not attract the attention/notoriety that their pathological counterparts will. So it hard to prove the existence of such a group of people – by their definition almost they could be hard to identify. I am sure I have met a few such super-humane people, and I think you probably could think of a few too, but, with a few notable exceptions as you had noted, such people are hard to identify.

        However, with a view to trying to quantify this – could you list the qualities of such people? Could we retrospectively identify some historical figures as such people? Ghandi, MLK, Nelson Mandela come to mind?

      • Hi James
        You raise a number of interesting points. First, you are right that so far science has not identified a super-humane minority. That doesn’t mean that such people don’t exist, but so far such a hypothesis is untested. The existence of people with dangerous personality disorders however has been proven. Psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder are all recognised psychological disorders. The fact that these conditions have been recognised may of course be due to the fact that, until recently, psychology has focussed almost exclusively on disorders and psychological dysfunction. The field of positive psychology, by contrast, is very recent.
        The second question you ask is what qualities would such a super-humane minority. The short answer of course is all the opposite qualities of psychopaths and narcissists. But it isn’t only the qualities themselves that are important. People with dangerous personality disorders are defined as such because of the rigid nature of their personalities. They are unable to act in any way other than in their own selfish interests, and have no compunction against using whatever means it takes, regardless of the consequences for others. If a super-humane minority were to mirror this classification, it would mean they would have an absolute inability to act in any selfish or aggressive way. I’m not sure that most of the heroes I can think of – say Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, or Aung San Suu Kyi – would fit that type of classification. Rather I think what makes them invaluable role models is the fact that they could choose, and they chose to act to face down tyranny for the benefit of us all.

  3. In response to your suggestion that a super-humane individual be unable to act in an aggressive way, I would disagree. As psychopaths are solely concerned with their own welfare and success, lacking a concern for the harm done to others in the process, I would assert that, in order to accurately mirror a psychopath, a super-humane individual should be solely concerned with the welfare of others, even to their own personal detriment.

    Defining the super-humane in this manner, it is easy to find them among us — thankfully, in much larger numbers than that of psychopaths. They rise in defense of the weak and are sometimes aggressive — although only as little as required since they are even concerned with the welfare of the psychopath they must confront — in order to insure the welfare of those unable to help themselves

    • I think the one factor left to consider in imagining the ‘super-humane’ is how exactly their ‘will to power’ is formed. For the disordered, to master the assertion of one’s will within a social system is more endemic to their predilections, though it would be more difficult for such a person to hone their influence before developing an early reputation of alienating others. In other words, as more socially adapt a disordered becomes, I imagine they become increasingly influential, and therefore more destructive.
      In the inverse, the ‘super-humane’ is more likely to shy away from asserting their will at first, as it would take time to develop an awareness of assertion as the less violent parallel to aggression, and to recognize assertion as a necessity to counterbalance destructive personalities. In their path of growth, the super-humane would grow increasingly influential, and therefore more constructive.
      I think the super-humane would be equally rare however, compared to the disordered. It first makes me think of how I make friends — only with those who have as unshakeable a will to do good in the world as I hold myself to. While most people do not want to do harm, they are only moved to understand the potential harm they may do in the world to a certain extent, instead conforming to the system for self-preservation over global benefit. the super-humane are the ones who, regardless of outward appearance, always strive towards the highest amount of benevolence they are aware of producing.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful comment m kiyoshi. Your thoughts bring to my mind the philosopher Bertrand Russell’s observation that the problem with the world is that fools & fanatics are always so certain of themselves but wiser people so full of doubts. I think that people with dangerous personality disorders are always certain of themselves and that this is one of their great advantages. Then I think of people like Aung San Suu Kyi and Desmond Tutu who are just as certain in their beliefs and their missions for the common good. If there are ‘super-humane’ people, this is what I would imagine them to be.

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