Is evil a disease?, asks New Scientist

Thoughts spurred by ISIS, apparently. From New Scientist:

What turns an ordinary person into a killer? The idea that a civilised human being might be capable of barbaric acts is so alien that we often blame our animal instincts – the older, “primitive” areas of the brain taking over and subverting their more rational counterparts. But fresh thinking turns this long-standing explanation on its head. It suggests that people perform brutal acts because the “higher”, more evolved, brain overreaches. The set of brain changes involved has been dubbed Syndrome E – with E standing for evil.

Yes, evil is an intelligent choice.

Not a “natural” one. As Aesop’s fable tells it, the scorpion doesn’t sting because he is evil, but just because he is a scorpion. That’s what he does.

But get this:

In a world where ideological killings are rife, new insights into this problem are sorely needed. But reframing evil as a disease is controversial. Some believe it could provide justification for heinous acts or hand extreme organisations a recipe for radicalising more young people. Others argue that it denies the reality that we all have the potential for evil within us. Proponents, however, say that if evil really is a pathology, then society ought to try to diagnose susceptible individuals and reduce contagion. And if we can do that, perhaps we can put radicalisation into reverse, too. More.

All that will really happen, of course, is that people diagnosed as “evil” will receive special privileges. That’s only bad news for those of us who are neither the perp nor the guy making a living off the perp.

See also: How can we believe in naturalism if we have no choice?


An evolutionary challenge: explaining away compassion, philanthropy, and self-sacrifice

Reality check:  A reader writes, at Uncommon Descent, from which this was cross-posted:

Well, some of the people who are thus diagnosed will receive a get-out-of-jail free card. The others will endure an abridgement of their rights so that the Powers That Be may ‘cure’ them. And remember, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the punishments a government may deal out are limited by law, but the ‘cures’ have no limit.

The truly privileged will be those who are empowered to make the diagnosis and apply the ‘cure’.


He’s right, and wish I’d said that.

  • Tokenn

    Interesting, but I’m not inclined to agree. Remember Arendt’s ‘Banality of Evil”?

    I believe the vast majority of human beings have a weak impulse toward empathy and benevolence…morality exists because society [in the best cases] reinforces this impulse. However this impulse is easy to overcome with a little motivation. ISIS is motivated…by greed, power-lust and their eff’ed up phony religion/ideology.

    The ISIS scumbags aren’t doing anything particularly unique or even unusual from any kind of historical perspective. Treating them as if they are ‘different’ or ‘infected’ is a mirage. Hatred and violence feel good, and people can be led to do terrible things given enough social support/peer pressure.

    • Islam is a circular system that brainwashes the majority of Muslims.

      It goes like this. Islam trains a small percentage of the most devout believers that it is OK to kill in the name of Allah. These devout believers cannot be easily identified. So, within the general Muslim population, there is an unseen phantom army ready to kill anyone who disagrees with Islamic dogma.

      Because of these killers, everyone always speaks well of Islam. The fear leads to no one questioning the system. No one questioning the system leads to de-facto acceptance on issues of Islam. Because all accept the system the, system must be right. Because believers vocalize praise for Islam, everyone only hears praise for Islam. No one ever hears anything bad about Islam. No one quits. No one questions. No one criticizes. All children become part of the system.

      Over and over and over, like a stuck phonograph. The system does the same thing again and again. Just like a computer caught in a software endless loop. Islam, as a society, is trapped in a self-replicating cycle of violence and fear.

      You can read my thesis on this particular problem within Islam at:

    • It removes any vestige of personal/moral impetus.

      Indeed, once we remove any moral responsibility from anything, we have slow-moving anarchy and devolution.

  • phuque uguugle

    islam is treason and should be treated as such

  • Brett_McS

    To some extent I think evil is just going with the entropy flow. It takes effort to (locally) reverse entropy and create something. It’s paddling down stream to destroy things.

  • dance…dancetotheradio

    I think the United Way is evil.

  • Jade

    I call BS. Science trying to explain away evil. They don’t understand that it is spiritual.

    • vimy

      It is also an attack on the Old and New Testaments that say God gave mankind free will thus committing evil is a choice not a condition

      • It’s curious that secular humanists et al believe man is the highest being yet reduces everything about him to mere chemical impulses as though he was an animal.

  • CoolTolerance

    It all comes down to the POWER trip.

    In Quebec, Bill 59 will be adopted almost as is. Bill 59 is the prosecution of anyone found guilty of incitement to hate. The target is mostly Islamophobia. The sole decider will be Human Rights Commission which, by the way, will have the power to surf the Web in search of hateful comments – including websites, Facebook…

    ”The truly privileged will be those who are empowered to make the diagnosis and apply the ‘cure’.”

    Also in Quebec: Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated individuals are the chosen ones to work with government as counter-radicalization agents.

    Thus, ”Well, some of the people who are thus diagnosed will receive a get-out-of-jail free card.”
    While, ”The others will endure an abridgement of their rights so that the Powers That Be may ‘cure’ them.”

    Conclusion: Would Human Rights Commission be playing a softer and stealthier version of Jihad?