The Etiology of Evil

Commenting on my recent post on sin as enacted falsehood, Lydia asked a tough question:

Kristor, here’s a question: If sin is always enacted lying, what about people who love to do evil because it is evil? What about a torturer of the innocent, for example? He isn’t saying that torturing is “the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances.” He’s torturing because it _isn’t_ the appropriate thing to do, and because he loves the perversion. Some people love perversion for being perverse–love to read the universe backwards. I take this to be the essence of the demonic, if the demonic can be said to have an essence. Since we can imagine such a thing as a demonic will which truly adheres to evil for evil’s sake, it seems that this must be possible, and indeed (more’s the pity) we do know of monstrously evil human beings who have enacted the demonic will in our mundane world.

This is an especially important question, it has always seemed to me. I’d be a long step closer to being convinced that there is an a priori argument (or nearly a priori argument) for the existence of an omnibenevolent God if I didn’t have a rather vivid sense of the possibility of an extremely powerful (all-powerful?) but truly evil will.

I responded:

Ugh. That’s a really tough question. I mean, it’s about fifteen tough questions. Thanks! I think …

I do have a response. But it’s too long for a comment. So, I’ll post it as a new entry.

This is that post.

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Sin is Enacted Falsehood

I woke up Saturday morning thinking about sin. I know, I know: it sounds sick. But it wasn’t morbid, or anything. I wasn’t regretting my manifold wickednesses. No, I was enjoying the odd, synchronistic confluence in my intellectual life of inputs from several disparate sources, that each illumined the same issue of sin from slightly different perspectives, in such a way as to provide me as I woke with an increase in cerebral economy, otherwise known as an insight: the discovery of a connection between several ideas, that harmonized and integrated them.

In a post the other day at one of his several useful blogs, Bruce Charlton suggested that habitual lying, such as that in which the slaves of political correctness indulge themselves, deforms the circuitry of the brain in such a way as to cripple the ability to think. I have thought something of the sort for decades, ever since I read William Powers’ pellucid, masterful, amiable and penetrating Behavior: the Control of Perception.[1] The basic idea I derived from Powers, as implicit in his explication of the logical structure of the nervous system under the terms of control system theory, is that in lying, superordinate circuits override the truthful output signals arising from subordinate circuits, either damping them, or masking them altogether. In effect, one control system of the brain disagrees with another, and insists that it get its own way. But, therein lies the rub; for, there is never any free lunch.

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