I’d like to say I don’t believe in evil. I mean true evil. I believe in fear, and weakness, in shame and a lack of empathy, and all the various behavior cocktails into which these ingredients can be mixed.
But evil? True evil? Emperor Palpatine-level evil? I’m not so sure. At a certain level it’s just semantics. Does a person destroy a planet because they have a crippling fear of loss and no sense of connection to anyone or anything? Or because they’re evil? Whatever you label it, Alderaan still ends up space gravel.
Taken out of context, a lot of behavior of your average two-year-old could merit a large shaded area in the Venn Diagram of evil. Unreasonable, irrational demands, frivolous desires, any of which, if not met quickly can ignite violent, indiscriminate rages. And they’ll steal any toy they can pry out a smaller kid’s chubby hands.
There was an episode of This American Life where a psychologist who specializes in young children says, and I paraphrase, that there is no one in the world more frightening than a two year old who never grows up.
Take Vladimir Putin.
No, really, take Vladimir Putin. He’s yours. Don’t bring him back.
He constantly needs affirmation. He reacts violently to any criticism or questioning. He takes things because he can – be they superbowl rings or parts of sovereign nations. I’m not only describing the Czar For Life over there, but also that one kid at the playground nobody can do anything about but everybody’s wishing falls off a slide.
You can pretty much apply this to any dictator. They’re really just toddlers with a secret police force.
You get a slight variation with your religious extremist dictator. They’re more like the older kid who claims that Mom left them in charge and so when they take your dump truck they make like mom didn’t want you to have it in the first place.
My own personal arrested emotional development I peg around Junior High. But that’s like, 12 or 13 – these guys didn’t make it past 3. I’ve got all those evil-doers in emotional maturity by at least a decade.
In your face, Kim Jong Un! In your pillowy, supple face!
It doesn’t help much, practically speaking, to consider the places of need from which the world’s most powerful sociopaths’ misbehavior arises. Ukraine’s still a mess, Venezuela’s in chaos, and Syria is the geographic embodiment of all the misery of which humans are capable. The fact that Bashar Al Assad makes the same emotional choices as my 3 year old when he hasn’t pooped all day doesn’t help any refugees.
But I have to admit, the though of Putin having his screen time limited and being forced to think about his feelings does make the headlines a little easier to stomach.