Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a managing editor at OpEdNews and a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity and Theories of Psychotherapy.
His research and writing interests focus on conditions associated with changes in social identity and beliefs about race, ethnicity, and nationalism, especially in immigrant and minority populations. He is a regular contributor to edited volumes on popular culture, including Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and House MD, published by BenBella and recently co-authored a book on the Russian-Jewish diaspora: Building a diaspora: Russian Jews in Israel, Germany, and the United States. An autobiographical essay of his interests in race relations and basketball is available here. His Psychology Today blog about race is called Between the Lines.
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Mikhail doesn't like the word and would rather not use it. Evil implies intention to harm. But sometimes people are harmed even when no harm is intended. The intent is not irrelevant, but I want to have a broader discussion that includes all behavior that harms others, regardless of intent. Another reason I don't like the term "evil" is that it's very subjective. Depending on your politics, you might have considered the Bush Admin or... the Obama admin evil. I don't want to have a political debate. I want to talk about behavior that is harmful to others and how society can address or respond to such behavior.
Rob: Evil is such a core part of just about every culture. Can't we define what is really evil, or is the word abused.
In some types of evil, like psychopathy, there IS intention , and people are generally most comfortable talking about Evil in the context of Psychopathy. But just one percent of the population meets criteria for psychopathy, and there is a lot of harmful behavior that is perpetrated by the other 99%.
Not psychosis, psychopathy.
Mikhail provides differentiation between psychosis and psychopathy.
Rob: I recall, from when I worked in emergency psychiatry team-- there's Looseness of association, auditory hallucinations... and inappropriate affect (think hebephrenic or bizarre)
Mikhail: Psychopathy is a personality disorder-- A Psychopath hurts people and doesn't feel bad about, no remorse, no regret, doesn't feel emotionally aroused during that kind of behavior, doesn't even necessarily feels pleasure from inflicting pain (not necessarily sadistic). Antisocial, violent behavior... the Joker, in in the latest version of Batman, is a psychopath.
Rob: that makes about 3 million Americans are Psychopaths.
Mikhail: You can be a psychopath without engaging in really severe behaviors. Some people are psychopaths in their interpersonal relationships but they don't engage in criminal behavior.
Rob: there are at over two million people in US prisons. Where are the rest of them? Oh yeah, Washington.
Mikhail doubts that most politicians are psychopaths. Psychopaths can be charming, in a superficial way, but politics is a long term endeavor that requires empathy...some amount of perspective-taking, in order to close a deal.
- perspective taking
- self centered focus
- don't care
- don't get aroused emotionally
- resistant as kids and adults to punishment. It isn't aversive to them.
If you want to study psychopathy, go to a prison.
Mikhail: I don't know any CEOs and don't know how top-level decisions are made, but I suspect that they are made by committee and that there is a lot of diffusion of responsibility involved in making decisions that have known harmful consequences.
We discuss restorative justice
- don't assign blame
- don't punish
- Restore things to the way they used to be.
Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa, following Apartheid as example
Slavery and racial segregation (Jim Crow) as historical examples of cultural evil. There is cultural evil now, though we may need the benefit of hindsight to see it.
Rob: How does it happen? How is it stopped? How is it healed?
- there were scapegoats,
- ordinary people allowed it to happen,
- ordinary people put into inordinary circumstances,
- Pressure to follow orders,
- Conformity pressures-- you don't want to be the one who sticks out.
- put a uniform on people and the act differently
- poverty, financial need
Rob: So, what's the corresponding justice to this kind of evil?
Mikhail: Agitation for policy change that addresses it. The abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement were two examples of structural justice. The current fight for universal health care can be seen through this lens too.
Mikhail (in conclusion): Imagine a world with two systems of justice, instead of one.The system we have now-- the criminal justice system, and another system, a system of restorative justice, which can be accessed by anyone who wants or needs it to deal with any type of conflict at all, from marital disputes to the TRC in South Africa and Sierra Leone. This is what I'd like to see.
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