By Jonathan Timar 25 Comments

Some People Are Evil: Thoughts On M. Scott Peck’s People Of The Lie

People of the Lie

People of the Lie

One of the most powerful and disturbing books I ever read was People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck. While I say powerful and disturbing, I do not want to discourage you from reading it, rather the opposite.

I believe that most people will at some point in their lives encounter a truly evil person, if they have not already. For anyone who doubts the existence of evil, I urge you to read People of the Lie and see if that doubt still exists afterwards.

M. Scott Peck is the author of several books, perhaps the best known being The Road Less Travelled. That book was study of human spirituality and growth, whereas People of the Lie is a study of what could be considered the opposite of human growth: Human Evil.

The idea that human evil exists is difficult for many people to swallow. Most consider evil too archaic a concept to apply in our modern, scientific society. We want to reduce it to a medical diagnosis, or some personality disorder, or something that can be managed with a pill.

Not that this is surprising, we have a pill obsessed culture. We have pills for weight loss, sleep, happiness and even erections. If it isn’t quick fix, then we don’t want it.

But there’s no pill that can cure evil.

As a psychiatrist himself, Scott Peck does not discount the existence of various psychiatric disorders, including those that can cause people to behave in an evil way, but rather views evil as being a distinct problem that straddles the line between a personality disorder, and spiritual disorder, perhaps leaning towards the latter. He describes evil people as being aware of their conscience, but actively choosing to ignore it, as opposed to a sociopathic person who appears to be devoid of conscience altogether. In other words, an evil person knows that they are doing evil, while a sociopath does not, even though their actions may be very similar.

Peck describes evil as “militant ignorance”. Evil people are obsessed with maintaining their self-image of perfection through self-deception. In addition, evil people will be very selective about who they inflict their evil upon, while going to great lengths to maintain an image respectability and normality with everyone else. As a result, evil people are often well liked by the majority, and their victims come across as being overly sensitive, having a persecution complex, or even being crazy.

Evil people, unable to face the painful reality of their character, will often place themselves in positions of power, or moral superiority. A perfect pop culture example of this is the movie Lakeview Terrace.

In the movie, a young couple move into their dream home, only to be terrorized by their next door neighbour, a respected Los Angeles cop played by Samuel L Jackson. Jackson’s character objects to the couple being interracial, and embarks on a hate fuelled mission to ruin their lives. When the couple try to get help, no on believes them due to Jackson’s status in the community. What clearly demonstrates that Jackson’s character is evil and not simply mentally ill, is that not only does Jackson’s character not feel remorseful about his actions, but he is well aware of the fact that he is hurting people, and enjoys it.

My encounters with human evil

Peck considered human evil to be difficult to diagnose, and suggested that falsely labelling others as evil was evil itself. I am not sure if I agree with that. I feel that once one has been a victim of an evil person they are more than qualified to identify it in the future, especially if we accept Peck’s definition.

That is not to say I take such a determination lightly. I don’t. I have met my fair share of objectionable people in life, but only two that I would classify as evil. I am tempted to share the stories of these people in-depth, but after much consideration I have decided that some things are best not shared on the internet. Instead I will share some general facts about both people, who were shockingly similar in their behaviour.

The first was a woman who was heir to a sugar company. She was wealthy and well-respected within the community.

The second was a retired police officer, not unlike the character Samuel L. Jackson plays in Lakeview Terrace, in fact, he was alarmingly similar. He also was well-respected in some circles, due to his rank within the police force. In reality, he had been forced to retire in shame, and had faced eleven internal charges against him, and had made enemies of many people who he has abused over the years, but most people would never know this.

Both derived their enjoyment of life by exercising power over others. So long as you stayed on their good side, which was only possible by doing exactly as they wanted you to do at all times, everything would be okay. But dare you exercise free will, or stand up to them, and you could be assured that you would face the full force of their anger and hatred.

Both preyed on people who were vulnerable and trusting.

Both were well aware of their evil actions, and relished in the helplessness of others to do anything about it. Both enjoyed very much making their victims look like the one’s with the problem, and in the case of the police officer, even turning some of his victims friends against them.

Both could not stand to lose, nor tolerate any injury to their grossly inflated egos, but both tended to win.

We do not live in a black and white world

For many, science and spirituality cannot co-exist. You either believe in science, or you believe in God, you believe in mental illness, or you believe in spiritual disturbances. But the reality is, both exist, and both are intertwined.

Most people believe in mental illness. This is because even a mental illness has physiological symptoms, and can, arguably, be treated with medication. Evil, however, does not have a set of physical characteristics, it is a purely abstract concept. Mental illness is a condition of the brain (part of the body), and easily proven, while evil is a condition of the mind (and abstract description of one of the brains functions).

But the mind is powerful. If it were not, how could one explain the placebo effect? If a person is given no medication, but think they have been, and yet gets better at the same rate as the people who did receive medication, and much faster than those that received nothing, then how can one continue to discount the power of our mind?

Did you know that it is now possible to control video games with your mind?

I share these thoughts with you to show that just because you cannot see something, does not mean it does not exist. Spiritual (mind) concepts can be real, and there is ample evidence that they are.

Opposites

Have you ever considered the importance of opposites in our ability to perceive existence?

Ask yourself: If there was no light in the world, how would you know what darkness is? If there was no warmth, how would you know when you were cold? If there was no death, how would you know you were alive? If there was no sadness, how would you know happiness?

If there was no evil, how would you know good?

For those who have been touched by human evil, reading People of the Lie can be about as healing an experience as you are likely to have.

25 Comments

25 Comments:

  • Albert says:

    Hi buddy – good article. I started the book but never got a chance to finish it, so your summary is perfect. It’s a scary thought to think that a small percentage of people actively choose evil.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Albert,

      Thanks for coming by!

      I highly suggest you finish the book if you find the time, it was a real eye opener for me, and helped me cope with, and understand, some events in my life at the hand of such people.

  • Linny says:

    I find this article very intersting . I have always thought that my brother and mother had a mental issue but now I’m wondering if they’re not just plain evil or both. I’m searching for how to deal with my mother who is old and I live with. God help me.

  • randall says:

    Hi,
    Great article. My mother is one of those people.
    I have to live with her now, for my sake and hers, as she’s 79 and rapidly diminishing in the cognitive and
    memory dept’s.
    Before I was 3 years old I had a badly fractured skull
    (can still feel the dent in the top right of my skull-1950s heavy iron) and still have scars from 3rd degree burns to my hands.
    Had my cheek bone cracked and boiling water thrown on me at 17, with 2nd degree burns.
    Tried to off myself 6 times. Became a drug addict
    at 12, od -ed at 13 w/qualludes and pcp. Heart stopped and shocked back into beating at hospital.
    Spent 15 years in prison for stupid property crimes.

    Dying a slow, sick death from hep c and other stuff.
    What got me is Peck’s definition of Militant Ignorance because it fits my mother to a Tee.
    Sweet and nice for the short periods she has to engage family or neighbors.
    Has 2 book cases full of art books. Had a little talent when young, but wouldn’t do the required study and self criticism to become good.
    I, though, even with all the shit in my life (I was My Dad’s Kid, you see), became a very respected
    guitarist in GR Mich, the “best” in some circles,
    was featured in Guitar Player mag in 1979 as a mention (Mike Varney), taught myself chemistry
    enough that I could make all my own drugs (xstacyy
    and mda), became a cnc tech at 49 (back to school), and she HATES the fact that The designated Bad Guy whom she abused all her life was actually a multi-discipline genius, despite the abuse and neglect.
    My Dad died when I was in prison in ’97.
    I hadn’t seen him for 4 years. He had his problems, but he really loved me, and I him.
    He actually taught me useful things like how to shoot, hunt, and fish, and respect for firearms to the point that I wouldn’t even point a TOY gun at another kid playing.
    “If you aren’t going to kill it to eat, or defend yourself, you don’t EVER point even a cap gun at someone”
    When I learned he had cancer and was going to die, the prison people told me I would be transferred
    down-state so I could see him one last time.
    They were lying, these heartless evil fks.
    They led me on until a sat morn, when they told me, almost smirking, that he was dead.
    Rage. tears. Rage.
    called on good ol’ Mom, who would understand , right?
    In the course of venting and grieving for my just now dead Father, my mother threatened to cut off the little money she sent each month because I
    said “fk”.
    Mr. Peck’s definition is spot on.
    I read TRLT in prison, and now, if I can get the funds, I intend to read POtL.
    The above is just a sampling.
    Idiots who’ve had normal parents don’t have a clue.
    They never do.
    unds

    • Jonathan says:

      Wow, Randall, that really is some story!

      I want to thank you for taking the time to share it, I can see it’s been very difficult for you.

      I am certain that reading People of the Lie would be very healing for you, and I highly suggest you do it!

      Take care, and thanks again.

  • A. Michaels says:

    Do you believe that someone… who on the outside is kind and always talking about helping others,,,can actually be evil?
    I have encountered someone who I believe manipulates and hurts others emotionally on purpose.

  • shelley says:

    I have been reading “People of The Lie”, because I have been at my wits end with my husband. 18 years of subtle critisism. In love with me one day, and rude the next. I believe that these people of the lie, come in various degrees of evil. We go to church and are spirit filled, and my husband can be led by the spirit sometimes, to be very sweet. Then two days later, he is a different person, being led by his own will/Spirit. Very narcissitic and condescending to me. We have gone through marital problems, where he started turning our own children against me, when he felt they liked me more than him. Insecurity is a huge issue, if he thinks the kids are more loyal to me than him. I guess I just wanted to say, that some of these people, depending on their formal upbringings, can really be tamer than and more subtle in the damage they do. It’s like a slow consistant evil that never goes away, even when you think you have gotten through to them, about their bad behavior, through fights or prayer. They can’t help themselves, they are always sabatoging good relationships with distructive perceptions of people, and what they said.

  • bill says:

    well said, clear thoughtful, well written blog thank you. . i read the book 20 some years ago, true then . true today. its a brave book. not for everyone but for those ready to see the truth of life.

  • Ila says:

    I read Scott’s book years ago now, the overall idea has stayed with me as I identified a number of people around me that would seem to have fit the profile. However I have to admit that over the course of time looking at the same people with mature eyes, I see they struggled with mental health issues and brain injury that displayed itself in brutal and very mean spirited manifestations.

    I do however know the true essence of evil and have felt it on a number of occasions. Scott was bang on but it is important that the person reading his work balance the knowledge with mercy and understanding so that they don’t go off half cocked and make rash decisions about their lives based on what they’ve just read.

  • Grandma says:

    Couldn’t agree more with your assessment. Has long been at the top of my list of most practical books along side Hare and Cleckley’s books on psychopathology. For those ready to see reality as it is and not as wished to be, the study of those with dark hearts is invaluable.

  • christine says:

    Thank you, Jonathan! I am so glad I stumbled onto your website! I have read this book years ago…

    when a psycotherapist mentioned it to me that it seems that my mother has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She never hurt me physically, like Randall mom, but she abused me (and still does, it just does not work anymore) emotionally, so, there is no scars to prove anything.

    I have put a website on the internet http://www.scapegoattomountaingoat which is dedicated to all of us.

    I have after many years of having to cope with the
    situation (at times being almost totally crazy) discovered that something usefull came out of the situation. I am a highly sensitive person and understand other people’s true needs.

    Be well Jonathan and everybody else… let our light shine!

  • Jean Lyons says:

    Thank you for your insights. I’ve just ended a long and painful marriage in which I never could grasp that anyone especially someone who professed to love me and doted on me could be undermining me and taking my soul, spirit and sanity at the same time.

    For decades I insisted he just ‘get it’, meaning establish some emotional intimacy with me or express empathy. It was I who didn’t get it…that people like him exist. I’m writing a book about my horrendous life destroying experience.

    I would like to read more Scapegoat to Mountain Goat blog but I am unable as the left bar covers up much of the website content. Would you be able to adjust that, Christine?

    Thank you.

  • Tom says:

    I read TRLT and People of the Lie in my early twenties and learned a lot. After reading Jonathan’s comments and the responses from others I think it’s time to read it again. It’s interesting to learn the ways of evil people. Mostly because this knowledge can help us avoid some harmful encounters from the evil doers.

    Obviously it’s best to avoid these types altogether but quite impossible if they are parents or siblings. My mother tried to break me down from a relatively young age. It wasn’t the obvious form of abuse like a cast iron skillet over the head but in a more deviant form. It started with letting me consume about a half gallon of ice cream every day until I was chunky then it went to trying to undermine me with put downs about me to others including my own friends.

    She went so far as to attempt to break me up with my future wife who was in the U.S. on a fiance visa. Interestingly enough my fiance was able to see through her plan and kind of used it as a way to get to know the evil side of my mom. My mother told my finance that she had expected that I would live with her (my mom) in her elderly years. Fortunately my wife had my back and ended up being the first person to believe in me which had made a HUGE difference. We’ve got 11 years of marriage and 4 children now.

    But back to the evil thing – I used to think of an evil person as a serial killer of someone like that and didn’t realize it was more of a choice[ of the evil person to be that way.

    • I think that the covertly evil people are far more harmful that the overtly evil people.

      Those that cause severe harm to others while maintaining an outward appearance of normalcy, and while being generally liked and respected by others who are not their targets are truly sinister.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Tom.

  • Jake says:

    I disagree with this article and the premise of the book altogether. It perpetuates a simplistic and labelling approach to evil, which no doubt makes the author feel comfortable and superior. If you want to read a much more powerful and insightful take on good and evil, read CS Jung’s writings on evil and his idea of the Shadow. Listen to his “We are the Evil” interview on Youtube: “It is a fact that cannot be denied: the wickedness of others becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts[i] ~C. G. Jung.

    • Hi Jake,

      While I will happily concede that I don’t agree with absolutely *everything* in Peck’s book, I would have a hard time accepting the ideas of Jung (or Freud for that matter) as reasonable alternatives as I believe both were crackpots who created a profession that does a hell of a lot of harm in our world. The latest DMV essentially classifies every possible normal part of human existence as a mental illness that can be medicated. That in and of itself is evil.

      Thanks for your input.

      Jonathan

  • Eric Smith says:

    In my psychological practice, I have studied People of the Lie for many years. I have never met any other psychologist who has even heard of it. What an extraordinary book. It has helped clarify certain aspects of human behavior that had previously never made sense to me. I consider myself to be a genuine pratitioner of the theory of evil, the only one I know. I suspect there are others, but I have no idea who.

    There are only two major things one must remember about evil people. They take no responsibility for anything the do wrong AT ALL, always preferring to blame someone else for their own imperfections. And they believe that everyone else is their enemy. This is an extremely unrealistic way to live, since it is absurd. Not everyone else is one’s enemy, and one’s imperfections are evidently one’s own. It is insane to believe these things as evil people do. They are the most insane people I know of (that is, the most out of touch with reality, and by far the most destructive).

    The only individuals who evil people seem to get along well with are other evil people. Everyone else they appear to hate. Evil knows evil, I suppose. People tend to be drawn to those with whom they have something in common. Like appears to attract like, even among the evil.

    I believe that doctor Scott Peck is correct when he says that the reason that psychologist have not previously recognized evil as a mental disorder is because they have bought the facade of normalcy that the evil show to the world. After all, most disorders are characterized by the deficiencies and problems they cause in people. But evil people appear to believe that they have no problems. They don’t appear to suffer. The don’t SEEM to be ill. And so often they overlooked and ignored by the majority of the psychological community.

    I’m flad to see that SOMEBODY is talking about this theory of evil. I just wish more professionals were, as well. There very good reasons to take evil to be a psychological disorder. These reasons should be more dicussed, rather than not.

    • Thank you Eric!

      I am of course not a psychologist, but it has always seemed to me that “evil” and sociopathy have a lot in common and could be two ways of describing the same condition. What do you think?

      Not to disrespect your profession, but I have also noticed that far too many therapists are only to happy to help their clients off-load responsibility for everything wrong that they do/experience onto someone else. I consider that a great shame.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  • Fran says:

    My therapist suggested I read People of The Lie. This book really helped me face the truth about my mother who is a Person of The Lie. It enabled me to name my experience and see through her lies. I believed I was crazy and evil because of the lies I was told and that were told about me by my mother. She is a Business Owner etc and I was a nervous wreck who was confused and traumatized so everyone around me assumed her lies were true. It’s very painful to face the reality of evil. Eventuality I had the courage to confront my mother and walk away from the relationship. I am thankful for this book, very helpful! I will never have to live a lie and I can recognize evil fairly quickly…a great skill in todays world! God Bless.

  • Lady Nyo says:

    Read POTL around 20 years ago. It was scary but spot on. I think though, there needs to be further study of Narcissism and the spectrum by readers before really understanding what Peck was saying. Not to put his seminal work down, but he does go off the end a bit with the exorism stuff.

    However, that is just my opinion. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell (but like CSLewis’ Screwtape Letters…lol) but I do believe that there are Evil people. Met two in my life. Unfortunately, the lines get blurred because we are hurt by people, especially family members…but it’s a hard call. And evil doesn’t exist off the far end of the specturm of Narcissism. A destructive narcissist can exhibit ‘evil’ as much as a psychopath. I believe it’s the added umpt of sadism that makes the Narcissist fall over the edge into evil. When sadism is constant and becomes something used upon a specific target, it’s conscious, and the intent IS evil. I don’t think that people that are evil are unaware of their behavior. I think they Glory in it. They get power from it.

    Lady Nyo

  • Lady Nyo says:

    Oh, I lost my comment. Oh well.

    I think we are in the early stages of our understanding about Narcissism. Even many therapists don’t ‘get’ it. Some actually think it’s a ‘style’ of behavior (Dr. Johnson…) It’s a mental disease in my opinion….and the public is not well versed in the Spectrum at all.

    When we throw around the word ‘evil’ it is diluted. It isn’t everything or everyone. I do bellieve that we fall into evil when we have a choice and we make the wrong and most hurtful one. Apply sadism to this, and it becomes a rather entrenched evil.

    Peck says that evil people are defined by the constistency of their sins. (I’m not comfortable with the word sins, but that is just me…I’m not religious) While subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistant.

    And there is bleed through on this Narcissism Spectrum. I used to think a person a psychopath, now I understand them more to be Destructive Narcissist. Bad enough!

    Lady Nyo

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