When we think of evil people, it’s easy to get swept away by the extremes of human behaviour. I’m talking about serial killers or psychopaths.
But evil people are not just prone to extreme behaviour. More to the point, good behaviour doesn’t suddenly stop where bad behaviour starts.
I imagine evil to exist on a kind of spectrum, much like Asperger’s Syndrome. There’s the very worst of society – the Ted Bundys and the Jeffery Dahmers at one end of the spectrum. At the other end are the people that don’t necessarily have body parts piling up in their apartment but are evil nonetheless.
They may not have murder in mind, however, they are certainly not conducive to nurturing a healthy relationship.
The problem is that these types of evil people are walking around in everyday society. In other words, these are people in our lives; people we meet daily; maybe even our closest friends and family.
I also believe that we tend to judge people by our standards. We think that if we are coming from a good place, then so must others. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
I think it is interesting that there has been much written about empathy. We’ve all heard of empathy; how looking at a situation from another persons’ perspective can help forge a better understanding of the person and the situation.
But we never apply this to evil people. We don’t delve into the dark psyches of criminals so that we can see the world from their point of view. Unless you work for the FBI’s criminal behavioural team, you might never get a proper insight into the mind of an evil person.
Traits of Evil People
Now, I’d like you to look at any one of the above traits and see if you can apply one of them to your behaviour at some point in your life. For example, I’ve been narcissistic before. I’ve also acted in my own self-interest. But I’m not an evil person.
There are differences in my behaviour and those of an evil person.
The major difference is intention.
As the emeritus professor and researcher of the Stanford Prison Experiment, 1971, – Philip Zimbardo explains:
“Evil is the exercise of power. And that’s the key: it’s about power. To intentionally harm people psychologically, to hurt people physically, to destroy people mortally, or ideas, and to commit crimes against humanity.”
It’s also about a pattern of behaviour. Evil people continue to live their lives to harm others. It’s usually to benefit themselves, sometimes it’s for the sheer pleasure of it. But because it’s hard to empathise with an evil person, we don’t know about their intentions.
So it’s important, at least, to be able to recognise the signs of evil people.
4 Signs of Evil People
1. Mistreating animals
“Murderers … very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids.” – Robert K. Ressler, FBI Criminal Profiler.
You don’t have to drool over the latest pictures of my dogs. I don’t expect you to love them the same way that I do. But if you have no empathy or feeling towards animals, it makes me wonder what sort of cold-hearted empty person are you?
Animals are living, sentient beings that feel pain and are capable of love. If you mistreat them it is a sign of a severe lack of empathy. It’s the one deal-breaker for me regarding relationships.
When an ex-boyfriend told me that ‘the dog had to go’ I left him after a 10-year relationship rather than give my dog up for adoption.
And I’m not the only one that thinks this is a red flag for highlighting evil people. Studies show that childhood cruelty to animals is a risk for later violent behaviour as an adult.
Many serial killers have confessed to cruelty to animals in their childhood. For instance, Albert de Salvo (the Boston Strangler), Dennis Rader (BTK), David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper, and more.
2. Objectifying people
“How can we expect an individual with such disregard for the life of an animal … to respect human life?” – Ronald Gale, Assistant State’s Attorney, 13th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, speaking in court about Keith Jesperson – the Happy Face Killer
Cruelty to animals is the first step to evil behaviour. If inflicting pain and suffering on defenceless animals has no emotional impact on you, then chances are you will ‘upgrade’ to humans.
It’s all about objectifying or dehumanising. For instance, when we talk about immigrants ‘invading our borders like cockroaches’, or ‘leeching off our healthcare system’. We are treating a group as ‘less than’. They are less evolved than we are. People that dehumanise often rate others on an evolutionary scale, much like the Ascent of Man, with those from the Middle East rated less evolved than white Europeans.
There are many examples of dehumanising behaviour which have lead to global atrocities, for instance, Jews in the Holocaust, the Mỹ Lai massacre and more recently human rights violations during the Iraq War in the Abu Ghraib prison.
These are good examples of what Zimbardo calls the ‘Lucifer Effect’, where good people go bad.
3. They are habitual liars
A little white lie here, a whopping big one there; evil people can’t help but lie. Lying for them is a way of controlling the narrative. By bending the truth, they can make you look at a situation or a person in a different light. And it’s always a bad one.
M. Scott Peck is the author of ‘The Road Less Travelled’ and ‘People of the Lie’. The latter deals with evil people and the tools they use to manipulate and deceive.
Peck states that evil people lie for several reasons:
- To preserve a self-image of perfection
- To avoid guilt or blame
- To scapegoat others
- To maintain an air of respectability
- To appear ‘normal’ to others
Peck argues that we have a choice when it comes to evil. He describes it as a crossroads with good pointing one way and evil the other way. We choose whether we want to participate in evil acts. Although Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram would probably argue, our environment is as important and that we can be influenced by the actions of others.
4. Tolerance of evil
Finally, there have been a lot of uprisings and movements recently, all promoting a clear message. It is not enough to be against antisocial behaviour such as racism, now we must be more proactive.
Being an antiracist is about fighting back against racism.
Racism occurs in all areas of our society. It can be embedded in everyday life, e.g. not choosing to sit next to a black man on a train, and institutionally, e.g. disregarding a CV with an African-sounding name.
The vast majority of us would all say that we are not racist. But being an antiracist is not about who you are, because that’s not enough anymore. It is about what you do to combat racist behaviour.
Examples include calling out people who make racist jokes or standing up for someone who is being racially abused. It also means delving into your behaviour and rooting out some of the unconscious biases you may have but not recognise.
This anti-stance is similar to a tolerance of evil. When we tolerate evil we are implying that it is ok and acceptable.
So what do you think? In this article, I have examined four signs of evil people. What signs have you observed that we should be aware of?
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