Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side by Julia Shaw

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Without understanding, we risk dehumanizing others, writing off human beings simply because we don’t comprehend them.

That is a loaded sentence and Evil is a strange beast, one we can’t ever contain because it’s slippery. The face of evil changes with time, what is evil today may be the norm tomorrow. One thing this book will do is make you squirm, because when discussing evil we remove ourselves from the equation until someone points out that ignorance is no excuse either. Oh yes, you and me too. Think about consumerism, all those things we just have to have on the backs of the broken. I have such a disgust for child abusers, but the truth is, Shaw raises solid arguments on why dehumanizing anyone actually hurts us all in the end. How can we learn and create a safe environment if we really don’t understand the why of it all? How can we understand the why of anything if we rush to label a person or thing evil? End of story, you’re nothing like me, you’re evil! Nothing else to see here, we’ve decided it’s just evil. I realize that is a huge mistake.

Someone thinks you are evil too, be it for your religious beliefs or lack thereof, maybe even the country you live in, or your sexual preferences. Julia Shaw’s book can start some very interesting conversations and you can bet not everyone is going to agree. This is not for the light reader, the subject is very heavy. You are not meant to feel sorry for people who are attracted to children or animals, to most of us this is beyond vile, repulsive but it doesn’t change that such people exist and struggle with these ‘urges’. Do you see what I mean, this is a tough read! It’s hard to review, because these are subjects we find downright abhorrent and, admittedly, evil. Like a dead rotting thing, we do not want to acknowledge it’s there, bury it, let someone else deal with it. Tell me though, what about people who have evil thoughts but never act on them? Or their forbidden urges? How do we help them, prevent these thoughts from escalating into acts? Can we?  What a slippery slope!

This book will challenge your notions of bad and good, much in the same way age blurs that line. As children, we are reared on stories teaching us morality, many meant to keep us in line or safe, to make sure we become upstanding citizens. As we age, life kicks us, we struggle, we make mistakes because we are human and flawed. We all want to be understood, forgiven our mistakes, and yet if someone’s darkest deed is out in the open, it’s less easy to move on because it’s all we can see, an ever-present stain. Not everything should be forgiven, we have laws for a reason, but we must understand or we gain nothing. In all fairness though, often some criminals do prove that they shouldn’t be trusted and commit the same crimes over and over. What about that?

Regarding our impressions based on looks (someone looks evil, weird, creepy) it is true we are biased. Surely someone who is beautiful, well-kempt, and  eloquent gains the trust of many, and often to our detriment. Our visual perception is deeply flawed, just as much as we trust beauty we are put off by those with unusual deformities, unfairly so. I agree with the idea that people often feel someone must deserve their suffering, we see it every day. This made me wonder… if someone looks ‘creepy’ to everyone they meet, they would certainly be treated suspiciously,  it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to imagine it affects their interactions and sours them socially. Why not, I would certainly be sick and tired of people myself always having an adverse reaction to me based on looks I had no choice in. On the flip side, I thought the same is true for those with stunning looks who do have depth and maybe have a hard time knowing who genuinely likes them as a person, rather than wanting them based on their beauty alone. Between the two though, people often stumble over themselves to help attrractive people. I refuse to touch on mental illness and the disgusting lack of understanding the whole world over, it’s such a mess even in our ‘modern age’. People are downright terrified of mental illness, it’s no wonder with popular culture and films, the mentally ill, if you believe Hollywood, are all serial killers. People are downright uncomfortable the moment they hear whisper of ‘mental illness’, much of that is due to ignorance, poor education as a whole on the subject. See, this book leads to stray thoughts. Back to evil…

Mob mentality is a beast, it certainly seems that cruelty (evil)  is easier for human beings if others are chanting alongside you. We also can be downright disgusting if there is anonymity to hide behind. Is that not evil? I have a hard time reading about the differences in cultures. My beloved uncle was an anthropologist and there were many conversations about the places he traveled, the shocking (to my American sensibilities) social norms he witnessed, many I would and do consider evil and I am adamant in my refusal to change my mind even at the risk of hypocrisy. That’s okay, I am human but I will listen at least, to your side.

Back to looks again, I agree we are biased in our judgements based on looks but I also believe in gut instincts. Personally, when I’ve ignored mine, it was a mistake. I think we have these gut reactions for a reason more often than not. Then again, I have met just as many ‘beautiful people’ that gave me a bad feeling. So there. The fact is, I would be the first to define someone as evil if they victimized my loved ones. It’s a different conversation when you experience it firsthand, I know this book isn’t about the victims, but it’s my personal feeling. I understand what Shaw is saying, and why it’s important but I don’t have to like it.

This is a provocative book. I will say, much as Shaw does, thoughts are one thing acting on them another. I hope we do someday have a way to intervene and help those with ‘unnatural urges’ (please, don’t bombard me with messages about what defines unnatural, we will be here for eternity and I mean murdering people, abuse, molestation, anything that victimizes another). I realize we victimize each other in small ways, but somehow taking someone’s life isn’t as bad as say, snapping at your child. Let’s face it, call it evil or not there are extremes that have to be measured or else society falls apart. We do need to continue studying the nature of evil, because that nature is in us all. Thank God there are others invested in this science, because for me, it would be too hard. I leave it to the experts.

An uneasy read, but I think it will give you a lot to talk about. It was hard for me to review!

Publication Date: February 27, 2019

Abrams Press

 

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