Tage Rai explores the “myth of pure evil” and uncovers what motivates the majority of people to violence. Let’s look into the abyss with this long(ish) read from Aeon.
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‘When I was 14 years old, this guy beat me down in the streets. And my stepfather took his life right in front of me. And I felt good about it, really.’
— Tio, in the documentary, The Interrupters (2011)
In his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty (1999), the psychologist Roy Baumeister argues that people believe most perpetrators of violence to be sadists who gain pleasure from the suffering of innocent victims. Especially for the most heinous crimes, we can’t help but see the perpetrators as ‘bad’ people: inhuman monsters who lack basic moral feeling. Baumeister called this phenomenon ‘the myth of pure evil’. A myth because it isn’t true.
In spite of widespread beliefs about its existence, sadism is so rare that it is not even an official psychiatric diagnosis.