Does Evil Lurk Inside Us All?

by Kelly on July 29, 2008 · 22 comments

in Film. TV. Books. Music,Life. People. News

heath-as-joker.JPG

Warning: This article discusses THEMES of The Dark Knight, but there are NO actual plot SPOILERS

On the weekend I saw The Dark Knight, the new Batman movie, which is an amazing film and not just because it manages to be an action extravaganza with real plot, clever dialogue and some nail-biting suspense. What I really liked about The Dark Knight was that it was intelligent enough to have Musicman and I still talking and thinking about it hours later.

I don’t want to spoil the film too much for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but essentially The Dark Knight is about the fight for Gotham City’s soul. One one side you have Batman and his White Knight, Harvey Dent, the crusading district attorney Bruce Wayne hopes will make his altar ego obsolete. On the other, you have The Joker, a psychotic killer who wants to see Gotham City fall into chaos.

This might sound all very standard super hero fare, but The Dark Knight really examines the notion of evil and the idea that maybe we can all turn to the Dark Side if we are just given a big enough push.

Now I find this a fascinating discussion because…

I believe human beings are inherently good.

I also believe in the power of redemption and the idea that people can change and try to make amends for their wrong doings, even if they are never forgiven or able to undo them.

Does that mean I am oblivious to the bad things people do?

Not at all. I have had first hand experience with human brutality and am familiar with the long and painful process that victims of crime must go through to move on, and in my case, forgive the perpetrators. I do not believe we forgive for the sake of others; to release them from guilt. That is their cross to bear. We forgive to release ourselves and claim the freedom and peace of mind we all deserve to have.

I have also spent months in Central America, where countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala have histories so horrid that to dwell on them is to sink into a pit of despair.

So yes, I agree humans are capable of great evil. It’s like a switch waiting to turn on. The more disconnected you are from the people around you and the innate goodness, love and empathy within, the closer you get to that tipping point.

We are born with a natural capacity for love, a craving for connection. But if we are surrounded by hatred and violence and neglect rather than love, we may learn that our humanity and empathy is a weakness. One that will only be used against us if we let it. This is the fertile breeding ground for evil.

Fear.

Isolation / Disconnection

Us versus Them.

When love is replaced by fear, evil is let in and we we all lose.

Even vengeance, a reason many of us might entertain violence given the right circumstances, is really fear. Fear that there is no justice.

I am a warm hearted, peaceful person, but I think I could turn murderous if someone harmed my child. And I am not talking self defence here because that is not an evil act. But I believe vengeful retribution is, and I can see how I could be pushed to this state. I wouldn’t necessarily think I deserved to get away with my crime, maybe I’d never be able to forgive myself, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it. What does that say about me?

Some interesting quotes from The Dark Knight on man’s capacity for evil are:

“when the chips are down, these uh… civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” – THE JOKER

“some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” – ALFRED, Batman’s loyal butler

And another classic I have always liked is:

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” EDMUND BURKE, Irish orator, philosopher and politician (1729 – 1797)

So, what do you think? Are humans inherently good? How thick is the veneer of cvilization? Are some people hard wired for violence? Do you believe you are immune to murderous impulses?

I’ve admitted I’m not.

And go see The Dark Knight. It is destined to be a benchmark in big ‘Hollywood’ films and will go down in history as a fitting testament to Heath Ledger‘s extraordinary talent.
Photo by bart234465

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1 Vered 07.29.08 at 4:13 pm

I agree that humans are inherently good. I also agree that the “right” conditions can bring out the evil in anyone. But I also believe that some people are born evil. That under the same conditions, some will turn out normal and compassionate while others will become criminals.

I didn’t know you were a victim of crime. Will you share your story with us?

Vered’s last blog post..Powerful Men, Half-Naked Women (Best Shot Monday)

2 Barbara Swafford 07.29.08 at 6:16 pm

Hi Kelly,

Like Vered, I think most people are good. Granted, situations can arise that will push those deeply buried buttons, but for most of us, that usually doesn’t happen. Drugs can also change a person’s perspective and convert them from good to evil in their pursuit of their next fix. But, all in all, I think we’re all born with a loving heart. Or, at least that’s what I want to believe.

Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..NBOTW – Blogging – No Age Requirement

3 Ribeezie 07.29.08 at 6:52 pm

First and foremost, The Dark Knight was AWESOME! And Heath Ledger’s performance was FANTASTIC!!!

I’d like to continue to believe that people are inherently good. I’m an optimist. So naturally, I believe that people are capable of doing many great things for one another. But I can also see (as Vered points out) that the “right” conditions can bring out the bad in anyone; this is something I think we’ve all experienced.

4 Marelisa 07.29.08 at 11:52 pm

Have you heard of the concept of the noble savage? From wikipedia: “The term “noble savage” expresses a concept of the universal essential humanity as unencumbered by civilization; the normal essence of an unfettered human .. . without the bounds of civilization humans are essentially good” I think we all have the potential for good and the potential for evil within us. It does take more to push some people over the edge than others, but I think we can all be pushed over. That’s why a strong system of justice is so important.

Marelisa’s last blog post..Creating Your Dream Life: Practical Intuition

5 Kelly 07.30.08 at 12:12 am

@Vered
I have an aversion to the word “victim”, but I have been on the receiving end of criminal behaviour a few times. I’ll definitely talk about a couple of them when the time feels right, but maybe not all. Sometimes the past is better left there.

@Barbara
I agree about the drugs. They definitely change you and even if you never do anything ‘evil’, regular drug use and addiction is guaranteed to have you losing your ethics, your morals and your sense of self, and worse yet, you don’t even notice.

@Ribeezie
A newcomer, welcome! I’ve seen you over at Cath Lawson’s blog, I think. That’s for coming along to first wish SHE-POWER a happy birthday, and now to join in on our little discussion. wasn’t The Dark Knight, the best? My hubby and I were so impressed with it. Not only is ALL the acting first class, but the story is so tightly written it amazes me Christopher Nolan managed to get such an intelligent film made when there are obviously big bucks on the line. As for my article, like you I am an optimist, so I have to believe people start out as good. There is also enough evidence out there that humans are powerful enough to change, even if they have previously done bad things.

Kelly

6 Monica 07.30.08 at 1:09 am

Hi Kelly,
We were talking about the very same thing here at home and I can relate to your thoughts on this. I believe that humans are inherently good. I also believe in tipping points that drive good people to do bad things. I don’t think people are born evil though, and for some reason I have a hard time even using the term “evil”, even though it is so widely accepted.We have such a huge range of experience in life, so I’m not sure about the good vs evil scenario, although it does make a good plot? We were also discussing that every human has access to every single emotion on the spectrum, including the most hateful and vengeful. This is what makes an actor “a great actor” when they can completely access the emotional realm of their role like Heath Ledger. It’s a great conversation and I enjoyed your article!

7 chris 07.30.08 at 2:30 am

I believe that people are inherently good but I also believe that people have the capacity and the tendency to think and do evil things. I guess what really separates the good from the bad is that the good can control their evil urges and the bad just act on them. In addition bad people usually don’t think that they are bad because for some peverted way they can justify their evil actions as being normal or being good.

chris’s last blog post..I’m Back

8 Ribeezie 07.30.08 at 5:01 am

I loved the movie! My g/f and I both did! I’d have to say that the two movies I’ve enjoyed so far this summer have been “The Incredible Hulk” & “The Dark Knight.” I can’t tell if I liked the 1st one better than the 2nd…a few friends seem to think the 1st one was better. I will say however (again) that Heath did a fabulous job! (No disrespect to Jack Nicholson cuz he did a great job too…but whoa, “Heath, that was awesome!”)

PS. Kelly, thanks for the warm welcome. I’ve been known to frequent a few of the blogs of your readers :-p

9 Urban Panther 07.30.08 at 6:50 am

Wow, I could get into a really long-winded discussion on this. Okay, I’ll try and limit myself. I believe the human race is inherently good. However, I do believe that some people, the very rare person, is born with something missing. Something that allows them to differentiate between good and evil. What I do believe is that humans are inherently self-serving. And this isn’t a negative statement. It is self-serving for me to bring a smile to someone’s face, because I feel good as well. However, it might be self-serving, to live violently…to release pent up anger, to be freed from opression, for basic survival, whatever. I used to believe it was all black and white. Thou shalt not harm another human being, period, end of discussion. But over my lifetime I have met beautiful, wonderful people who have witnessed, and possibly had to do, what I consider to be awful things. It’s not black and white. It’s definitely grey.

Urban Panther’s last blog post..Please, just throw it out

10 Evelyn Lim 07.30.08 at 12:55 pm

I watched The Dark Knight over the weekend too and loved the movie for its portrayal of good tipping over to the evil side. What I felt would be more realistic would be that the “good and innocent” folks on the boat pushing the button to detonate the boat, with the criminals on it. It’s not that I would have liked evil triumphing over good; it’s just an observation that it is in our basic human nature to judge others based on their mis-deeds.

Also great observation there made by Urban Panther about being self serving. Perhaps that’s what we are here on this earth for. To learn how to transcend our self serving nature for the good of all, in the purest way. It seems like a tall order; but here is where humanity truly stands!

Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Confess Your Secrets

11 Kelly 07.30.08 at 7:44 pm

@Marelisa
We must have just missed each other! I have heard the term ‘the noble savage’ before, but I’m going to go read up on it some more. I find the whole subject of how civilized humans are really without societal constrains fascinating.

@Monica
I know what you mean about using the term ‘evil’. I don’t like the word either, particularly in context with an individual. It sounds very black and white and like Urban Panther I don’t see the world that way. But in this article and in line with discussing The Dark Knight, it seemed appropriate to use it for discussion sake.

@Ribeezie
I also like Jack’s interpretation, but it was much more comical than this Joker character. Heath played this villan as deranged and psychopathic, and less for laughs. Though he was funny at times too.

@Urban Panther
When I read your comment I was instantly thinking I agree with you completely. Humans are very self-serving and ego driven so this does allow a lot of room for our human empathy to be replaced by a dangerous, and possibly sociopathic narcissism. And I have definitey found in life that it is true that “good people can do bad things”. We are not defined by one act.

@Evelyn
It’s so funny you should say that about the boat because I walked out of the cinema and said to Musicman that this scene was straight from la la movie world. In reality I believe both boats would have detonated each other. Fear would have take drastic steps. Even if most couldn’t do it, it’s unrealistic to think NOT ONE PERSON would have grabbed those remotes and gone ‘boom’. Thanks for coming by and joining our discussion.

Kelly :)

12 Devosion 07.30.08 at 10:14 pm

Dr. Phil Zimbardo has already expunged on this conundrum quite adequately in the book ‘The Lucifer Effect’ which is based on the Stanford Prison Experiment that occured during the 80’s. Personally im of the mind that we are all inherently capable of good and evil, but the extreme versions of each are far more uncommon to the psychologically ‘fit’ and reserved for those that are already experiencing psychological effects that would precede something like insanity.

13 Monica 07.31.08 at 3:55 am

I loved The Dark Knight 1. Because I love Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman 2. I talked for days about the philosophical and ethical implications of the actions of Batman, the Joker and Harvey Dent. I kept noticing how Joker wanted Batman to kill him and how Batman went to great lengths not too; EVEN THOUGH the city would have been oh so much better off without him.

I believe that humans are inherently evil and most of us are “civilized” because there is too many consequences, shame, punishments attached to behaving badly. Those people who do behave badly don’t care about the negative consequences associated with bad behavior or the costs of NOT doing the bad behavior is greater than conforming to the societical norm .

I know, I know I’m a cynic and a pessimist.

Monica’s last blog post..How do you move from big ideas to making it happen?

14 Roz Mitchell 07.31.08 at 2:51 pm

I like to say remember the good remember right and wrong and do our best to get on with our neighbours.
If confronted by wrong try to think of the consequences that lead to our actions it really is simple .
Love ourselves and our neighbours its up to you where you want to fit in this world and what you want your life to be.

15 Hunter Nuttall 08.01.08 at 6:15 am

Yeah, the people on those boats were the most indecisive people in history. I’ll try not to give anything away, but on one boat a guy asks for the detonator for a certain reason and the guy hands it over for that reason, then the opposite happens and the guy is equally happy about that. And meanwhile, no one else on the boat seemed to have any opinion about whether it was a good idea to give the guy the detonator, and they also didn’t care when the opposite thing happened. Did they not understand what was at stake?

Oh, and not to mention that no one considered the possibility that the JOKER might be playing a JOKE on them. As in, maybe he’s not being entirely honest and the detonators aren’t wired to the opposite boat. Like, maybe they’re wired to the same boat, or to some building, or to Batman, or anything. Come on, people!

Sorry, it’s a sensitive topic for me!

Hunter Nuttall’s last blog post..Todoodlist: Technology Is Great, Pencils Are Better

16 Kelly 08.01.08 at 9:48 am

@Devosion
That books really interesting. I’ll see if I can find it. I’m fascinated by human behaviour and criminology so it sounds like it’s right up my alley. Thanks for coming by and joining our discussion.

@Monica
Thanks for being willing to share an opposing point of view. Though I wonder how much of a pessimist you are if you read this blog because I’m all about faith, love, forgiveness and hope. Maybe there’s an optimist inside waiting to creep out. And I took Batman being unwilling to kill The Joker because then he’s just another killer like him. He’s crossed the line, unleashed his even darker side and that would be the end of him.

@Roz
I agree. Moral dilemmas provide us with unique opportunities to redefine who we are. And it always comes down to who do you want to be? What can you live with? And are you willing to accept the consequences?

@Hunter
I hear ya, man! I was watching the film and whispering to my hubby “This is ridiculous. Someone would try to take control here”. And I really expected the joke to be on them in terms of pressing the button. I thought that was how it would play out. Thanks for dropping in, Hunter.

Kelly :)

17 Al at 7P 08.01.08 at 3:33 pm

Wow, it looks like “The Dark Knight” is the movie to see! I was a big fan of Batman Begins though, so it sounds like I would like the sequel.

I think people tag “good” and “evil” based on a person’s action, but I think one needs to go to the root source of the person’s intent to truly answer the question.

I find that most people that seem evil are either simply an insecure person, or someone who was so jaded by an unfair world that they think evil is the only way to get ahead. Not that either excuses justify being evil though. I just think that most people with evil intentions weren’t born that way.

Al at 7P’s last blog post..Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

18 charlotte (charmed life) 08.01.08 at 9:40 pm

great discussion here kelly! CONGRATULATIONS!

i have seen ‘batman begins’ and i was really impressed! i would love to see ‘the dark knight’, i’m sure it’d like it!

people are good. it’s their behavior that is sometimes bad.

charlotte (charmed life)’s last blog post..Back in Florida

19 Robin 08.01.08 at 9:58 pm

Hi Kelly

An interesting discussion! I think we are all inherently good, and when people behave in evil ways they are acting out of fear, for whatever reason – and I think if they can somehow be healed (or heal themselves) of their fears they will stop doing bad stuff. I think your post says it all!

Robin’s last blog post..Is Living Like Today Might Be Your Last A Good Idea?

20 shearyadi 08.02.08 at 1:14 pm

In my opinion, people are inherently both good and evil, none of them lead each other at the start, they are both in balance of power. None is pure evil and none will always good, it’s just you that control which side to dominates your soul, nothing comes from the outside, perhaps an influence that could leads you to either side.

21 Kelly 08.02.08 at 5:52 pm

@Al
Welcome to SHE-POWER! I agree that intent is important when you label people’s actions, though your actions do have consequences regardless of your intent and we must live with that. And you should definitely go see The Dark Knight. It rocks!

@Charlotte
Thanks for making time to contribute to the discussion

@Robin
Another new commenter – great – welcome! Seems most of us agree that people are born good and with a clean slate and can go down a dark path. Fear is a powerful and crippling emotion and when you consider the start some children get in life it makes sense that they would grow to regard the world as a dangerous place where it’s kill or be killed. Let’s face it, in some parts of the world, that’s exactly how it works.

@Shearyadi
Thanks for joining in our discussion I like your take on this, it’s like the balancing of scales, we tip one way and then the other and most of us stay in the middle, but some tip over and then of course it’s hard to tip back.

Thanks everyone. I’ve really enjoyed reading what everyone has to say on this.

Kelly :)

everyone has to live with that. your actions ahve ramifications and you must live with them

22 betsy 08.03.08 at 11:10 pm

Great topic for discussion. I have often thought about this. Especially as a mother when I first saw the impulse for “violent” behavior in my child. The best advice anyone gave me was to trust in the inherent goodness of my child. I like to adapt that to all people. To trust in their inherent goodness. Without that, what do we have?

betsy’s last blog post..Falling off

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