September 27, 2019

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*This piece was originally published on March 26th, 2019

If you’ve ever had an evil thought - or even a murder fantasy - you’re not alone. Julia Shaw, the author of “Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side” explains that most people have devilish notions sometimes. Shaw, a psychologist and research associate at University College London, says we all have the capacity for cruel deeds. She suggests that acknowledging our darker desires may in fact help us deconstruct and better understand the whole concept of evil. This understanding, Shaw believes, can make us think more broadly about criminality, and lead to a rethinking of our justice system.

Three Takeaways:

  • Evil isn’t black and white - it exists on a spectrum, according to Shaw. She suggests that we all engage in everyday evils or acts of unkindness, including saying mean things to our loved ones. And even if you have never hurt a fly, Shaw says that you, and most everyone, has the capacity to commit malicious deeds. 
  • Sometimes we try to rationalize someone’s mistakes and put them down to mental illness or a bad upbringing. But Shaw says this approach can cause oversimplification, stereotyping and “othering.” Instead, we need to acknowledge the complexities of evil, and understand the events that could lead us down a similar dark pathway. When we realize that evil is part of the human experience, we can work to reduce harm and be more conscious about how we engage with the world around us, Shaw explains.
  • When we think dark thoughts, it is easy to feel ashamed of ourselves. But Shaw explains how murder fantasies can have a purpose - allowing us to run through an evil scenario in our head and prepare for the consequences of such an action. Thinking through such possibilities can help us make alternate decisions in reality.

More Reading:

  • Learn more about the banality of evil and how ordinary people, not villains, are capable of the cruelest crimes. Read author Hannah Arendt’s original article about Nazi Adolf Eichmann, in which she first explains the concept.
  • The Atlantic takes a look into the consequences of murder fantasies.
  • How does nature and nurture affect those of us more disposed towards psychopathic behavior?

Body and Mind, Julia Shaw, morality, Evil, psychology

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