Andy's Daily Headspace: is there such a thing as an evil person?

November 16, 2011

Andy's Daily Headspace: is there such a thing as an evil person?

Today’s blog is really more of a musing than a point of view. Sure, I could write my own view on the subject, but I’m far more interested in hearing yours. It’s a contentious issue for sure, and usually results in some very strong opinions being expressed. But enough of the preamble, the question is this...Is there any such thing as an ‘evil person’?

Currently on trial in the US, is a man accused of what many would describe as unforgivable and indefensible crimes. He has admitted to them all and in doing so has shown no remorse and no sense of guilt. He has been labelled a ‘psychopath’ by clinicians, and a ‘an evil monster’ by the media. But what’s the truth behind his crimes? Do you think he is inherently evil, that he was born that way? Or do you think that his conditioning made him that way? Or do you think he is suffering from a mental illness, deficiency, or imbalance?

One neuroscientist was so keen to find out the answer that he took a mobile MRI scanner into the maximum security unit where the accused is being held, to scan his brain. What he found was that in the areas of the brain associated with behaviour and empathy, there was a notable absence of activity. In fact, he found that even the density of this area was diminished. His conclusion was that far from being ‘evil’, this man is actually mentally ill or deficient.

Whatever the answer, I don’t think anyone is looking to excuse his actions, and certainly not to deny the grieving families their right to see justice and appropriate punishment carried out. However, it does raise an interesting question about how such people are perceived by society, and the type of punishment that is effective for both the individual, and indeed society at large.

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