“People of the Lie” – A study of the nature of evil

The following are extracts from the book  ‘People of the lie’  by M.Scott Peck

I wanted to share them with others.

Please feel free to comment at the bottom if you wish.

If you happen to disagree with anything written here…that’s ok…but please…

Fuck off!…and when you get there…Fuck off a bit more!!

This doesn’t sound too harsh does it?

I love you…

Drummerboy xx

June 2011

Understanding human evil 

Evil can be done against others without apparent physical damage. We may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head. Erich Fromm was acutely sensitive to this, when he broadened the definition of necrophilia to include the desire of certain people to control others, to make them controllable, to foster their dependency, to discourage their capacity to think for themselves, to diminish their unpredictability and originality, to keep them in line. Fromm described that there is a “necrophiliac character type,” whose aim it is to avoid the inconvenience of life by transforming others into obedient automatons, robbing them of their humanity. Evil can be primarily defined as that force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, which seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness. As Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” There is another reaction that the evil frequently engenders in us, confusion. Describing an encounter with an evil person, one woman wrote, it was “as if I’d suddenly lost my ability to think.” Once again, this reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse. The evil are “the people of the lie,” deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception. It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people, rather is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin, but the refusal to acknowledge it. They are criminals in that they commit “crimes” against life and liveliness. Their “crimes” are many times so subtle and covert that they often cannot clearly be designated as crime. The theme of hiding and covertness will occur again and again.

Other definitions of evil

Although the evil are certainly not healthy, they are not easily (or credibly) classified for what they are by conventional mental health standards. This is because, scientifically, there has not yet been developed a definition for their disease. If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds (which will often occur at some point in their lives, most often tragically too late for their victims) or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because, those who have “crossed over the line” are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness. The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous, who think they are without sin, because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination. The evil do not serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to themselves. In fact, they don’t bear it at all. And it is out of their failure to put themselves on trial that their evil arises. The varieties of people’s wickedness are manifold. As a result of their refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness, the evil ones become uncorrectable grab bags of sin. 

Scapegoating, a key characteristic

A predominant characteristic of the behavior of the evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them.Definition: Scapegoat – an innocent accused and forced to take blame. And more significant, one who is the object of irrational hostility. Scapegoating works through a mechanism which psychiatrists call projection. Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that while they are in conflict with the world, they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others.

Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people who can be designated as evil are invariably chronic scapegoaters. In other words, the evil will attack others instead of facing their own failures. Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgment of one’s need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgment, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our own imperfection. Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil which they identify as in others. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others, they should be destroying the sickness within themselves. As their life experience and actions are subjected to examination by others, such exposure will often threaten their self-image of perfection, and they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying those person’s lives, usually in the name or righteousness. The fault, however, may not be so much that they hate life as that they do not hate the sinful part of themselves. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, an evil person who “scapegoats” must lash out at anyone who does reproach them.

They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection. Take a simple example of a six-year-old boy who asks his father, “Daddy, why did you call Grandmommy a bitch?” “I told you to stop bothering me,” the father roars. “Now you’re going to get it. I’m going to teach you not to use such filthy language. I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap. Maybe that will teach you to clean up what you say and keep your mouth shut when you’re told.” Dragging the boy upstairs to the soap dish, the father inflicts this punishment on him. In the name of “proper discipline” evil has been committed. The father perceived the profanity and uncleanliness as existing in his son and took action to cleanse his son’s “filthiness.” Yet we know it was the father who was profane and unclean. The father projected his own filth onto his son and then assaulted his son in the name of good parenting. Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and evil people are chronic scapegoaters. In other words, the evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgment of one’s need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgment, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our imperfection.

Dedication to a Self-image of Perfection

The evil are utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, they are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them. They often dress well, go to work on time, pay their taxes, and outwardly seem to live lives that are above reproach. The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the “people of the lie.” Actually, the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves. They cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach. The decorum with which they lead their lives is maintained as a mirror in which they can see themselves reflected righteously. Yet the self-deceit would be unnecessary if the evil had no sense of right and wrong.

We lie only when we are attempting to cover up something we know to be illicit. Some rudimentary form of conscience must precede the act of lying. There is no need to hide unless we first feel that something needs to be hidden. We come now to a sort of paradox. Evil people feel themselves to be perfect. At the same time, however, they have an unacknowledged sense of their own evil nature. Indeed, it is this very sense from which they are frantically trying to flee. The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. At once and the same time, the evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness. Rather than blissfully lacking a sense of morality like the psychopath, they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness (or attempting to redefine their evil as good). The problem is not a defect of conscience, but the effort to deny the conscience its due. We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves. The wickedness of the evil is not committed directly, but indirectly as a part of this cover-up process. Evil originates not in the absence of guilt but in the effort to escape it.

Since they will do almost anything to avoid the particular pain that comes from self-examination, under ordinary circumstances, the evil are the last people who would ever come to psychotherapy. The evil hate the light – the light of goodness that shows them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of the truth that penetrates their deception. Psychotherapy is a light-shedding process par excellence. 

Except for the most twisted motives, an evil person would be more likely to choose any other conceivable route than the psychiatrist’s couch. The submission to the discipline of self-observation, required by psychoanalysis does, in fact, seem to them like suicide. The most significant reason we know so little scientifically about human evil is simply that the evil are so extremely reluctant to be studied. It often happens that the evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can sometimes be perceived before the misdeed that it was designed to hide, the cover-up before the fact. We see the smile that hides the hatred, the smooth and oily manner that masks the fury, the velvet glove that covers the fist. However, because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable. Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one’s evil from oneself, as well as from others, than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture? Evil people tend to gravitate toward piety for the disguise and concealment it can offer them.


The essential psychological problem of human evil is a particular variety of narcissism. Narcissism, or self-absorption, takes many forms. Some are normal. Some are normal in childhood but not in adulthood. Some are more distinctly pathological than others. If the central defect of the evil is not one of conscience, then where does it reside? The essential psychological problem of human evil is a particular variety of narcissism. Definition: Narcissism – A pattern of traits and behaviors which signify infatuation and obsession with one’s self to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition. There is a particular pathologic variant that Erich Fromm called “malignant narcissism.” Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will. All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal. They do what God wants them to do rather than what they would desire. “Thy will, not mine, be done,” the God-submitted person says. They believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true. What their beloved needs, becomes more important to them than their own gratification. In summary, to a greater or lesser degree, all mentally healthy individuals submit themselves to the demands of their own conscience. Not so the evil, however. In the conflict between their guilt and their will, it is the guilt that must go and the will that must win.

Theologians speak of evil being a consequence of free will. When God, creating us in His own image, gave us free will, He had to allow us humans the option of evil. The problem can also be envisioned in the so-called “secular” terms of evolution theory (or the more scientifically acceptable explanation). Such would be explained in terms of the “will” of less evolved creatures seeming to be largely under the control of their instincts. And continuing that line of reasoning, when humans evolved from the apes, they largely evolved out from under such instinctual controls and hence into free will. Following that sequence of logic, this evolution placed humans in the position of being totally willful or having to seek new ways of self-control through submission to higher principles. But this still leaves us with the question of why some human beings are able to achieve such submission while others are not. Indeed, it is almost tempting to think that the problem of evil lies in the will itself. Perhaps the evil are born so inherently strong-willed that it is impossible for them to ever submit their will. Yet, it appears that it is characteristic of most “great” people that they are extremely strong-willed, whether their greatness be for good or for evil. The crucial distinction is between “willingness and wilfulness.”

There is an extraordinary wilfulness of evil people. They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. There is a remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others. The willful failure of submission that characterizes malignant narcissism is depicted in both the stories of Satan and of Cain and Abel.. Satan refused to submit to God’s judgment that Christ was superior to him. For Christ to be preferred meant that Satan was not. Satan was less than Christ in God’s eyes. For Satan to have accepted God’s judgment, he would have to accept his own imperfection. This he could not or would not do. It was unthinkable that he was imperfect. Consequently submission was impossible and both the rebellion and fall inevitable. And for Cain, he, like Satan, decided that he should take the law into his own hands and commit murder. In some similar fashion, although it is usually more subtle, all who are evil also take the law into their own hands, to destroy life or liveliness in defense of their narcissistic self-image.

The Subtlety of Evil

One respect in which it is difficult to explain about evil is its subtlety. Evil sometimes will manifest itself obviously. In Dr. Peck’s book, The People of the Lie, he described parents with two sons, whose oldest boy committed suicide. They subsequently gave the very rifle that boy used to end his life as a birthday gift to his younger brother. There, evil showed itself as quite apparent, but it rarely does so. More commonly, evil’s manifestations are seemingly ordinary, superficially normal, and even apparently rational. Those who are evil are masters of disguise; they are not apt to wittingly disclose their true colors, either to others or to themselves. It is not without reason that the serpent is renowned for his subtlety. It is exceedingly rare, therefore, that we can pass judgment on a person as being evil after observing a single act; instead, our judgment must be made on the basis of a whole pattern of acts as well as their manner and style. There is something basically incomprehensible about evil. But if not incomprehensible, it is characteristically inscrutable . The evil always hide their motives with lies. Wherever there is evil, there’s a lie around. Evil always has something to do with lies. Naturally, since it is designed to hide its opposite, the pretense chosen by the evil is most commonly the pretense of love. The pretense of the evil is designed at least as much to deceive themselves as others. A child can emotionally survive only by virtue of a massive fortification of its psyche. While such fortifications or psychological defenses are essential to its survival through childhood, they inevitably distort or compromise its life as an adult


was the greatest trick the devil ever played – convincing the world he didn’t exist?…


One Response to ““People of the Lie” – A study of the nature of evil”

  1. Painful and provocative reading. I read and recognize behaviours of significant people in my life and feel vindicated… then I begin to recognize my own evil traits, both past and present, and begin to grasp how much I have been forgiven… and the humility that evokes overwhelms me..
    Thank you once again Drummer Boy.

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