Hiding in the dark

by Don Hartness

This week’s featured quote is from Morgan Scott Peck, best known for his first book The Road Less Traveled. Although a Christian (a conversion he made in the later part of his life), Peck drew more from his experience as a psychiatrist working for the U.S. Army than from his religious faith. His insights into the origin and nature of evil continue to fascinate the religious and secular alike.

The following quote is drawn from his second book People of the Lie (I actually gathered the quote from this blog post discussing the evil underlying the torture used at Guantanamo Bay).  Although containing religious overtones, one does not need to have a religious faith to see the truth in this quote. Every reader can easily see examples of Peck’s characterization in some of the most notorious evil figures in history, as well as a few personal examples.

I will draw upon this quote in my next post.

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.