The epidemiology of evil

No one feels called upon to explain, or explain away, his good deeds or qualities, which are taken to arise from his essential being as naturally and irresistibly as a river from its source, but most people feel the necessity when it comes to their bad deeds or moral failings. That is why the problem of evil is so much more compelling than the problem of good, for evil—especially one’s own—is assumed to be against the natural order of things. Ever since Rousseau, man has been born not with original sin, but with original virtue. The question therefore arises as to how beings so inherently good often turn out to be so horribly bad.

Ever since Rousseau, man has been born not with original sin, but with original virtue. One way of solving the problem is by appeal to the phenomenon of doubling. At least once a week, usually more often, a patient in my [psychiatric] clinic describes himself to me as a Jekyll and Hyde. The assumption always is, of course, that the Jekyll is the real him or her, while the Hyde is an intruder, alien, or interloper. . . .

In the mouth of the wrongdoer, the metaphor is, of course, an exculpatory one. Its function is to allow a person to do evil and yet think of himself as essentially good. Intoxication with alcohol or cannabis has another great advantage: when severe enough, it destroys, or rather prevents, memory for events, and it is difficult to feel truly guilty for acts which one does not remember having committed. It allows the miscreant to say, as many have said to me, “It’s not me (Jekyll) who did those things, because they are not the kind of things I (Jekyll) do.” No, it was someone else; in short, Hyde. Ergo, I (Jekyll) am innocent. . . .

Rousseauvian man, who is good by his essential nature, can do evil and yet remain at heart good.

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