This is a term with which I have been familiar for a few years. The term is based on the Greek word πονηρός, an adjective which is also used substantively, meaning pain-ridden, and by extension evil. Those who use the term ponerology invariably mean the study of evil. Demonology is a discipline within the study of theology, and the mystery of evil has been the most profoundly studied by Russians like Dostoyevsky and Berdyaev to name just a couple.
I haven’t time to go into it completely, but I will attempt a brief summary. This topic has been provoked by the reflection of capital punishment, itself related to crime and human depravity. Jesus said plainly in the Gospels that we were to love our enemies, including people like Hitler, the SS guards at Auschwitz and the ghouls who would rape, murder and eat your children. But, what does that love mean? If evil is not stopped or at least resisted, it will become the kingdom of hell on earth. This has been seen in history from Nero, Vlad the Impaler, the Turkish Sultans, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler and so many others. We cannot come to a satisfactory conclusion about the question of killing tyrants and criminals so dangerous and horrible that they cannot be incarcerated in normal prisons. We really need to move on, and ask ourselves where all this evil comes from.
Heinous sin is obvious in genocide, military aggression, colonialism, the destruction of the environment, destroying the economy to make big money, and then on a smaller scale in child abuse, rape, bullying, manipulation, waste, neglect and so many other signs.
How can this be when all the people we know, or nearly all, are decent, hard-working, caring about other people, honest with money, generally virtuous whether or not they believe in God or the principles of a religion? Most of us dream of a better world, care about those we love and those who obviously need our help. Throughout history, good people have been unable to bring about lasting peace, justice and harmony.
Why do we get evil people? What makes them evil? I’m not talking about people who sin by weakness, but those who revel in the misery of others? I have written on Gnostic themes like the Archons, which more or less correspond with the Devil and demons in orthodox Christianity. There are more modern views too, which need to be critically studied.
Some Catholic moralists have ventured onto speculations about “structural sin”, which shows intuition, though such are often incomplete. It would seem that some environments and contexts are more conducive to people turning bad, though not all people from an identical context would turn out to be evil? Is there an intrinsic predisposition, fitting the nation of total depravity as found in Calvin’s interpretation of Saint Augustine’s theology? I personally am more convinced by the more Christian humanist notion that sees more good people than evil people, unlike the pessimism of the Jansenists and Puritans.
There is the old quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984):
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Our complicity with sin is usually one of omission. We tolerate evil, and then become complicit in it. This is what happened to the German people in the 1920’s and 30’s, and it can happen again. It is happening with the refugee crisis in Europe, the rise of the Right, Islamic jihadism and the continuing war in the Middle East. We do tend to deny what doesn’t immediately concern us. To what extent do we become responsible for this kind of evil?
Certain groups of people and institutions are strongly drawn to causing harm, destruction, cruelty and suffering in others.
The biggest and most soul-scouring question is to what extent can and should we prevent and resist evil, above all in the name of Christian love and “turning the other cheek”. This is surely the criterion by which Christianity is judged as too weak to be of any use in the “real” world. Strict Islam would seem to fit the bill better – but unfortunately that religion has shown itself not to be free from evil!
The struggle against evil seems futile and we make little progress in identifying the real issues. A most interesting theory is that of psychopathy, exactly like the ghouls who have usually ended their lives on the gallows or the electric chair. At an individual level some on the most impressive work has been done by the Canadian psychologist Robert D. Hare in his check-list of characteristics that define the psychopath, the sociopath and the malignant narcissist. Dr Hare is specialised in the study of criminals and the possibility of their rehabilitation.
He proceeded by studying factors containing sets of characteristics, the proportions of which would differ from person to person. Such characteristics would be for example: impulsiveness, aggression, Machiavellianism, persistent criminal behaviour, lack of empathy, shallowness, superficial charm, manipulativeness, etc.
Psychiatrists have found that psychopathic personality disorders cannot be cured and the person himself will not have the self-knowledge needed to recognise that there is a problem. When they commit criminal acts, the only way to deal with them is to keep them locked up or kill them (in countries that have capital punishment). Not all psychopaths are criminals and thus do not end up in the courts and prison. They are gifted leaders and are particularly suited to a highly competitive environment. They run businesses, banks and political parties ruthlessly. They are only called to book when they are overthrown, convicted for crimes against humanity, big-time tax fraud or whatever. The successful psychopath takes over a country, and the unsuccessful one goes to prison or quietly lives off the energy of other people, sucking their spiritual life blood like vampires.
Looking at it like this, we would seem to be faced with intrinsically evil people. We are brought to the Augustinian notion of total depravity. Because of original sin, fallen man cannot follow God, refrain from evil or accept salvation unless endowed with grace. There is no free will. In Augustinian and Calvinist teaching, this is the condition of all of us, and only a very small number (identified by their financial success, naturally) are the predestined Elect. God created man in the same way as a turtle lays a thousand eggs to produce three or four viable turtles. Perhaps a few percent are afflicted with total depravity like an equally small percent are mystics and saints, and the rest of us have our lives to work everything out with God’s help. Could this be so?
In practice, when a psychopath commits criminal acts, he is treated as one with moral and legal responsibility and free will. It would appear that the psychopath is not suffering from a mental illness, but is – evil.
Human society has evolved from families and tribes to nations and groups of nations living hierarchically in dense cities. Technology and science have evolved for the best and the worst. All that incites and encourages the competitive “alpha” man. The scope for destruction becomes greater with “mega-societies”. Fortunately, the same technology has strengthened our ability to unmask the shenanigans of the psychopaths by means of alternative news websites and to blow whistles on Big Brother. We might not be able to do much against corrupt businessmen and bankers, politicians who lie through their teeth and would like to start World War III for money – but we can blow their covers of deceit and secrecy, out them if we dare.
I don’t think that psychopathy accounts for everything. If psychopaths are humans, then they are at a disadvantage in terms of knowledge of God and salvation. I have read theories according to which they are not humans, but the offspring of reptilian beings – demons, archons or beings descended from the nephtalim who were beings from before the Flood recorded in the Book of Genesis and the holy books of most of the religions of the world. I find such an explanation à la David Icke difficult to swallow, but it would leave humans as fundamentally good though capable of sin and evil. Apart from evil deeds and the characteristics of a psychopath, how do we tell the difference? Is our intuitive judgement infallible? Another thing to consider is that it suffices to believe that so-and-so is not human – and therefore we don’t have to respect his life or human rights. Is that not how the Nazis got so many people to hate and kill Jews? That would be too easy.
An interesting study is on by the Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski, who wrote Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, (Grande Prairie: Red Pill Press, 2006). I have a copy of it, but it makes heavy and difficult reading.
His main preoccupation was psychopathy in politics, the so-called pathocracy, rule by the sick. He saw history as oscillating between “bad times” like Nazism from 1933 until its defeat in 1945 and “good times” like the 1950’s and 60’s until the energy crisis of the 1970’s. Similarly, there was the Belle Epoque from about 1890 until 1914, then there was World War I, the growth of totalitarianism (Nazism and Communism) and World War II, a period spanning over thirty years. However, the 1920’s were quite jolly, despite the fact that so many families had lost their young men in the trenches.
Perhaps this is what happened with Atlantis, the Roman Empire when they fell, as seems to be happening today with American hegemony in the world. If enough psychopaths and narcissists get into power in a country, that country becomes a totalitarian state and turns against the people by means of surveillance and violence. A kind of ‘anti-morality’ comes in together with a perversion of language and conceptual thought. The Orwellian dystopia illustrates how far things could go, at least in theory. From this comes the cult of the infallible leader who can never be wrong. Eventually, a pathocracy contains the seeds of its own destruction, and it collapses. This happened in the past and is happening now. However, the process is rarely “clean” and many innocent people suffer when the collapse does occur. One cycle closes and a new one begins.
This might serve as an explanation to all the cloak and dagger lying that goes on surrounding issues that touch on American hegemony in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I am particularly horrified by the would-be resurgence of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, the corrupt royal family in Saudi Arabia who are little more than a “successful” Daesh – with just about the same religious ideology and callousness. We are constantly lied to by by our ruling classes and politicians. What are they hiding? Yes, I know that this sounds like conspiracy theory thinking and paranoia. I now hear this way of thinking from my father who has always been a moderate English conservative who eschews all extremes and irrationality. Things are just not the same as years ago!
The fall of a pathocracy is always tragic, violent and destructive. We think of the defeat of the Nazis from June 1944 until the executions of most of the war criminals after the end of the Nuremburg Tribunal in October 1946. Many of the rats escaped to South America and the Communist bloc, but their rule was over. For the drama of their downfall, I recommend Der Untergang, the famous film that shows Hitler raging at the Generals, accusing them of betrayal and how he would drown them in their blood or hang them from meat-hooks with piano wire. People were committing suicide, like a scene from I Claudius and the fall of the Roman Empire. The kingdom divided against itself can but fall.
Pathocracy is like cancer in the human body. The disease goes too far and kills its host. The pathocrats become greedy and turn against each other. This stifles the system they promote and competence becomes subservient to cronyism and corruption. By 1944, it was said that Hitler was fighting for the Allies by making too many strategic errors to the exasperation of professional Army officers and strategists! When we see this, the end is not far away.
Finally the flesh rots away and the bones begin to show. The mask is off and citizens begin to react. The first of the heroes die like martyrs, and the popular movement gains momentum. The downfall and defeat of the Nazis cost countless lives and too many cultural treasures in Europe. Amazingly, the Soviet regime collapsed bloodlessly and without a war in 1989. This may happen with our European Union and the USA, leaving people to reorganise their lives is small communities. We can only pray that we be spared from a nuclear holocaust, now that Saudi Arabia has the Bomb.
We will never be through with evil in this world. It comes and goes, up and down throughout history. The important thing is that we ourselves should recognise the potential for evil within ourselves and “put on the armour of God”, that we may be able to withstand. Evil is a terrifying mystery that none of us will ever fully understand.