There’s no doubt that evil exists. I’ve seen the results of evil. I’ve had my face rubbed in it. I saw what the Iraqi Army did to Kuwait City in 1990/91. I saw places where entire families had been machine-gunned. I saw the Kuwait City Zoo, where the Republican Guard shot all the zoo animals, for who knows what insane reason. Anyone today can peruse the intarwebs and find a plethora of new examples, brought to us, for example, by the likes of ISIL or any of their Islamist asshat brethren.
But where did this all come from? Here’s a BBC story that explores that issue. Excerpt:
There are many different definitions of the ‘nature of evil’ but we will define it as acts that cause intentional suffering, destruction or damage to B for the benefit of A. To explore further, we can break down those intentional actions into four basic categories: the Dark Tetrad.
A group of psychologists including Del Paulhus at the University of British Columbia and his student, Kevin Williams, first came up with these categories about 15 years ago. Initially they defined a Dark Triad, which included Machiavellianism (manipulative, self-interested, deceptive), Psychopathy (antisocial, remorseless, callous) and Narcissism (grandiose, proud, lacking empathy). Paulhus later extended the Triad to a Tetrad, to include Everyday Sadism (the enjoyment of cruelty). Why do these behaviours exist in humans? And can they be seen in other animals?
Read the entire article, of course, but the gist of it is this: The primary types of evil present in humans is also present in various animals, making the differences not so much one of kind as of degree. Specifically:
Machiavellianism involves using intelligent strategy and cunning to gain power and get one up on a rival. It is a normal part of political life, of course – even if the individuals playing politics aren’t human.
Dario Maestripieri of the University of Chicago has found intriguing, Machiavellian-like behaviours in rhesus monkey societies during his studies over 20 years. Alpha males engaged in threatening behaviour and violent tactics to protect sleeping spaces, females and food.
The primatologist Frans de Waal had a chimp in his Arnhem Zoo colony called Puist who he said was “two faced and mean” and “deceitful or mendacious”. She was the universally disliked by researchers and compared to a witch.
Jane Goodall, meanwhile, studied a mother and daughter pair of chimpanzees – Passion and Pom – who systematically cannibalised eight infants over four years. Goodall called Passion a “cold mother”.
But are these apes psychopaths?
Wilson says he has seen dolphins swimming under the water popping off seagulls that are sitting on the surface. This behaviour could be interpreted as a deliberately annoying one, but “sadism” carries very moralistic overtones that Wilson rejects – particularly since we do not know for sure that the dolphins are aware of the annoyance they are causing to the birds.
“It’s like us popping bubble wrap,” he says. The dolphins might behave this way simply for the personal pleasure it brings without recognising that the behaviour is also cruel to the birds.
The common bottlenosed dolphin, that beloved critter of “Flipper” fame, is actually something of an asshole. And good old Lancelot Link? Chimps conduct tribal warfare, have been observed committing infanticide, and are known by primate trainers as nasty, bad-tempered animals.
They are also our closest genetic relatives.
Some religious folks say that evil is inherent in our nature; that mankind is inherently corrupt. I can’t quite buy that, in spite of the state of the world today. I know too many good, kind people – Mrs. Animal, my own parents, her parents and others among them. I think that there are other things inherent in people, things encoded especially in Western civilization, that temper or bad tendencies – honor, respect, integrity, the rule of law.
Animals don’t have those things We do. That’s the difference.