Evil: Nature or Nurture

I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about evil. What is it? Why is it? How does it start? Why is one person with a specific set of life experiences evil, when another, with a similar set of experiences, turns out good? What makes a serial killer? What turns someone into a sadist? How do we get from that clean, unburdened soul of our birth to something so ugly and stained, there’s no hope of it ever being pure again?

Is evil born or created?

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This is a question I’ve yet to find a definitive answer to. I believe there are some people out there who are evil without reason. They have a good life, good parents, and nothing but positive experiences. But maybe they get bored. They’re unhappy with happy. Something triggers a thing inside them and they stop caring about what society says is right or wrong, and just do the bad things they’ve always wanted to do.

I think some people are also made evil, by bad experiences and/or people in their lives. Maybe evil is there in all of us, along with the good. Deep inside, waiting for something or someone to draw it out. This is where a combination of nature and nurture work to determine whether someone will be good or evil.

And is someone evil because they do one bad thing? Or do they have to do many bad things before the tag can be applied. For example, a woman, beaten and berated for years, suddenly snaps and murders her abuser. Is that evil? Is there no hope for her? Or a guy, so fed up with being belittled by an abusive girlfriend, finally snaps and beats her within an inch of her life. He never did a bad thing before, never will again. Should he be painted with the evil brush for reacting to what amounts to the same abuse the woman before him endured? Are either of these people evil because of one act?

It’s an interesting discussion. The guy definitely shouldn’t have raised his hand, because we all know we should use our words, not our fists. Get out. Run far. Leave that bitch in your dust. Same for the woman. Forget that abusive asshole. Killing someone is serious shit. Better to leave the loser and let the law deal with his bullshit.

It’s not that simple, though. Such situations are a bomb waiting to explode. Leaving isn’t always an option, and sometimes taking the high road isn’t either.

But enough about my hypotheticals. They’re just examples. We could ask the same of someone who steals, who lies, who hates babies and kittens and puppies… The question I’m asking is what constitutes evil? For me, evil might have a different definition than you. Maybe you think evil is someone who kills. Or maybe you believe evil is someone so selfish, they’re unable to care about another person. Maybe they don’t kill, but they make those around them suffer. To be evil, do you have to do bad things or is it enough to just think them?

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Maybe it depends on the motivation behind the deeds. Good intentions or bad. We can hypothesize all we want, I suppose. The truth is, we can’t really know what makes someone else tick, because we’re not them. We haven’t lived their life or felt their feelings. We can only assume, based on our own lives and our own reactions to experiences we’ve had, how they might be feeling. We can know what science has determined to be the “norm” in the abnormal psychology of an evil person’s brain. We can’t know the truth.

And this is why I love writing horror. I love that we can’t know. Not definitively anyway. We can only assume and hypothesize. Everything is a giant question with no single answer. It leaves the possibilities for terror so numerous that we have an almost bottomless pit of inspiration to draw from.

What do you all think? Is evil born or made? A combination of both? Is an evil person redeemable or have they pretty much fucked themselves once they cross that line?

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3 thoughts on “Evil: Nature or Nurture

  1. Would you describe someone who has had a good education, upbringing, and family life, and is well loved with good friends but works in an occupation where they sell formula baby milk to mothers in Africa (to choose an example off the top of my head) or tobacco advertising as evil?

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