There's more to evil than a horned devil. There's even more to it than Hitler, Idi Amin, Stalin and Pol Pot, agents of genocide, or Ed Gein and Jack the Ripper, infamous serial killers.
There's also the matter of the ordinary woman or man who, under a certain set of circumstances, exhibits behavior that has no regard for human dignity. There's an everyday kind of evil that's far more insidious than the crimes perpetuated by those described above, because it isn't as easy to recognize.
In the pages to follow, we'll cover 10 incidences of everyday evil -- and you're probably guilty of at least one.
10: Internet Malevolence
Everyone who's been on YouTube has had that moment -- when you make the mistake of looking at the comments under a video and see racist, sexist, misanthropic bile and death threats. Often, it's in response to something innocuous, like Internet sensation Rebecca Black's video for her song "Friday."
Who would threaten to kill a 13-year-old girl because of a pop song?
It's anonymity that provides a space for cruelty to flourish. The psychological concept behind bad behavior in an anonymous environment is deindividuation [source: Adams]. In an atmosphere where people can't be held accountable for their actions, whether it's because he or she is part of a mob or an unmoderated forum, they're more likely to let social norms fall by the wayside. A sense of self-awareness grows fuzzy, and behavior they would normally consider shameful is amplified as they get caught up in the moment. The Internet provides both anonymity and a group forum, making it doubly easy for a person to take off the mask of civility.
Next, a sin that's sometimes harder to identify.
9: The Destruction of a Marriage
Till death do us part -- according to most wedding vows, death is the only thing that will tear a married couple asunder. But the causes of a marriage's end are often less final: sexual incompatibility, infidelity, inability to compromise.
Today in the United States, we've come to believe that a marriage of love is the only kind worth having. However, the problem with basing a marriage on love, instead of something like land ownership, is that the boundaries of human emotions can't be outlined so simply.
The destruction of a marriage is messy. Its legal aspect means that a couple's assets are now in jeopardy, from the dog to the mutual bonds. When children are involved, its emotional effects aren't contained to the couple. But it also eats away at the social contract, spreading evil to family and friends who are left wondering whether any marriage can last.
On the next page, an offense that begins with words.
8: Ugly Gossip
The TV show "Gossip Girl" gave us a soap opera of the crimes of the hearts (and wallets) of Upper East Side teenagers -- all observed by, and reported on, by a mysterious Internet entity known only as Gossip Girl. No matter what happened, it never went undetected.
Gossip is like that. Back before our fancy phones, an illicit naked picture would be photocopied and passed around school hallways. Nowadays, you can snap it, upload it and send it to your entire address book in a matter of seconds.
Gossip can be good, too. It can help us get the feel of our social environment, providing information and warnings. It can also serve as a guideline to socially acceptable behavior and bond us with our friends [source: DiFonzo].
But it's also very political, a potent tool to enforce social hierarchy and ostracize those deemed unworthy or different. It can be malicious and cruel, not to mention slanderous, ruining lives and reputations along the way -- whether there's truth to a piece of information or not.
Still to come, a way to get what you want -- at the expense of others.
7: Vile Manipulation
Pickup artists such as Mystery (yes, really) claim to teach men how to get women to sleep with them. Popular techniques include "negging," when a man banks on a woman's desire to please by making her feel insecure and disregarding a woman's refusal to manipulate her body physically.
The basic message is that, in order to have sex, a man must trick a woman into it.
Our reasons for choosing choose a friend or lover aren't always clear to us. Psychology has shown us the many ways in which our relationships can echo our childhood. Relationship patterns are difficult to discern because we can't be objective.
Manipulation is, at its core, dishonest. Emotional manipulation is how victims of abuse are held psychologically captive, how psychopaths con their victims and how cults gain new members. It's a means of control that exploits a person's weaknesses, often to a purpose that's destructive.
Next, a concern that involves your closet.
6: Consumer Wickedness
We live in a consumerist culture that equates possessions with happiness. But where do they all come from?
Bangladesh's garment workers, for one, who produce clothing for companies such as Gap and Levi-Strauss at a rate of 21 cents per hour [source: Richardson]. In March 2010, more than 20 workers in a Bangladeshi factory were killed in a fire due to poor safety standards [source: Hickman].
If workers want more money, they can choose to work at a place such as Jordan's Classic Fashion factory for 61 cents an hour making clothes for Wal-Mart, Hanes, Kohl's, Target and Macy's, but the risks are rampant sexual abuse, rape, torture, beatings and deportation [source: Kernaghan].
We purchase products that we know may have come from places that dehumanize their workers through mechanisms of motivatedmoral disengagement, according to Neeru Paharia and Rohit Deshpande of Harvard Business School [source: Paharia and Deshpande]. In the context of our desire for a product, we rationalize our choices in a way that enables us to keep a positive view of ourselves while engaging in behavior that we would otherwise rationally view as unethical.
On the following page, something that's about the body underneath your clothes.
5: Dangerous Neglect
We know perfectly well that smoking is bad. So are junk food, substance abuse and driving recklessly. The way humans tend to behave, you'd never know that this body is the only one we get. It's easy not to care when you're healthy, but when a debilitating accident lays you low or a serious illness strikes suddenly, the debate about health care costs becomes very personal. When a disease is preventable, the cost is hard to justify.
Neglected mental health is a little different. The societal stigma, as well as self-stigma, prevents some people from pursuing the medical treatment they badly need. One doctor calls schizophrenia "the modern-day equivalent of leprosy." Even depressed medical students, who are more educated than the general population on matters of mental health, report reluctance to disclose their condition [source: Tartakovsky].
The evil in it? Untreated mental illness makes it so much more difficult for a person to be a productive member of society. And in severe cases, we lose people we love to suicide.
4: Lessons of Hate
In August 2010, a couple lost custody of their children Adolf Hitler Campbell, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell. All three children were under the age of 5 [source: Goldberg].
According to social learning theory, children develop prejudice through learning processes such as direct teaching, observational learning and vicarious learning. Based on the testimony of Heath Campbell's ex-wife -- saying that her own son couldn't be around people of color for fear of what he'd say, from what he learned from his father -- we can surmise that direct teaching was at play.
Most children learn racist, sexist and otherwise dehumanizing values in an indirect manner, through the way they see their parent treat a spouse, the tone a neighbor takes when speaking about someone of a different background or the teacher's framing of a historical lesson.
Children internalize these lessons of hatred and make them their own without even realizing it. The kids may not be old enough to have formed opinions of their own, yet their elders have done their best to program their responses far ahead of time.
Click to the next page for a lesson on the courtroom.
3: Obscene Litigiousness
Someone sued production company FilmDistrict for a "misleading" trailer for the movie "Drive." A woman sued Google over their directions after she walked onto a highway and got hit by a car. And in one infamous case, a judge filed legal briefs against a family dry cleaner for losing his pants -- for $54 million.
We can safely say that we are living in a litigious society.
Lawsuits are meant to give us legal recourse when we're victims of crime or injustice. In most cases, the system works. But that doesn't mean it can't be abused. For some people, a lawsuit is an easy payday. For others, it's the perfect forum to settle a personal vendetta.
Every lawsuit takes public resources -- time, space (especially when that space is a jail), and, most of all, money. In fact, due to a fight over budget issues between Shawnee County and the city of Topeka, Kan., in October 2011, the city voted to repeal their domestic violence laws and stop prosecuting domestic violence cases [source: AP].
If a $54 million dollar case over a lost pair of pants takes up weeks of a court's time, when does the survivor of an abusive spouse get his or her day of justice?
2: Villainous Exploitation
Closely tied to manipulation is exploitation, which is often perpetrated by people in a position of power, such as a parent or caregiver.
Elder abuse, for example, can be physical, either aggressive -- burns, bruises, broken bones -- sexual or a matter of neglect, with the victim sitting for hours in soiled undergarments or not medicated properly.
It can also be financial, as was the case with the wealthy Brooke Astor. After the onset of Alzheimer's, her son, Anthony Marshall, was accused of both physical abuse and mishandling of her estate. He was later convicted of first-degree grand larceny for the money he stole from her. Her lawyer was convicted of forgery for altering her will [source: Barron].
Children are also often exploited, especially sexually. The U.S. Department of Justice maintains a page of press releases of people sentenced for child pornography and sex trafficking offenses. The list of convicted offenders dating just from January 2011 takes up multiple pages.
1: Calamitous Apathy
The 2008 election brought out 51 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, which is no small feat [source: CIRCLE]. Still, that's about half the voting population that, rather than casting their ballot for causes they believe in, simply stayed home.
There is no single reason as to why -- bloggers and campus columnists cite lack of politicians engaging with youth, a lack of faith in the political system, the belief that their vote doesn't make a difference and lack of faith in politicians themselves.
The danger of apathy, and it is dangerous, is that those who do care enough will show up and vote -- and those who stay home will just have to deal with the outcome. Whatever that may be.
Lots More Information
- What do you know about the dark side? Take the quiz!
- 30 Faces of Evil
- Crimes of the Century: Do you know the score?
- Adams, Tim. "How the internet created an age of rage." The Guardian. July 23, 2011. (Oct. 18, 2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jul/24/internet-anonymity-trolling-tim-adams
- Associated Press. "DA says he may file some Topeka domestic cases." Fox News. Oct. 12, 2011. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/10/12/da-says-may-file-some-topeka-domestic-cases/
- Center for Democratic Renewal. "Black Church Burnings: Research Report Hate Groups Hate Crimes in Nine Southern States." June 1996. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/121.html
- Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, U.S. Department of Justice. "Press Releases (2011)." (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/pressreleases.html
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- Richardson, Sarah. "Another Jordanian Worker Making U.S. Clothes Alleges Factory Rapes." Ms. Magazine blog. Aug. 12, 2011. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/08/12/another-jordanian-worker-making-u-s-clothes-alleges-factory-rapes/
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