Why Isn't "Evil" a Diagnosis?

By Johnny Apocalypse

Gaze into the face of Evil!!!So there I was, watching Investigation Discovery when they brought on some show with "Evil" in the title. They have several shows with the name ("I Survived Evil", "Evil Twins", etc) and I can't remember which one. The show is somewhat interesting, and is describing a woman who was stalked by another gal who wanted to kidnap her kids and claim them as her own, something like that.

Right around halfway through the show they bring on a psychologist who starts discussing what's wrong with the stalker's brain. They mention possibilities of borderline personality disorder, maybe some paranoia issues, maybe some attachment problems, the list goes on.

All I think to myself is, why can't we just say "evil?"

Don't get me wrong, I've always enjoyed psychology. I've taken a few classes in it, read the occasional book on it, and I think that it's pretty much the best scientific method of studying the mind available, even though at times it's more theory than anything else. But sometimes it just seems odd to use all these clinical terms to describe what's wrong with someone, especially someone like the stalker in question. The show portrayed her as reasonably intelligent, calculating; nothing like a babbling maniac or the confused ramblings of someone with a dash of schizophrenia.

No, to me it seemed that the stalker was evil. No matter how well the psych terms fit her, it just felt like a better diagnosis to me. And maybe "evil" can be a diagnosis.

I can already foresee some of the problems with trying to create such a diagnosis. Primarily, "evil" sounds really non-clinical. When people mention "schizotypal personality disorder" or "dissociative identity disorder", they sound like a diagnosis. They sound like something a brainiac doctor would say. Evil doesn't. It's a little more like the old joke where a shrink diagnoses his patient as "just fucking crazy".

"Evil" has a lot of non-medical/non-science connotations attached. More religious-based connotations to some, to others simply a broad generalization. The preacher on the soap-box calls a person evil, they call a country evil, they call an invention evil. Your grandmother calls you an evil child for sneaking a cookie right before dinner. Your friend tells you that the pedophilia joke you told was evil. It gets tossed around a lot.

However, this doesn't mean that it can't technically apply in some cases. Henry Lee Lucas comes to mind- a serial killer who traveled the county kidnapping, molesting and murdering children. A more common example would be Adolf Hitler. One can certainly study what's known of their minds and apply the clinical terms. But no one, aside from psychologists or assholes, will question you if you call these two men "evil".

My two favorite examples, either fortunately or unfortunately, are fictional characters. Starting with one of the most well-known villains in history, The Joker. Now this man is a perfect case of either antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy (some argue that this isn't exactly a diagnosis either), or both. Sometimes he's a bit narcissistic, sometimes a little schizophrenic. But without a doubt, he's pretty much just an evil bastard. There are hardcore Batman fans out there who think the Dark Knight should kill him, and if they won't back him up on his non-violence policy than who will?

Slightly less known is Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet". Now Frank has all sorts of issues. He's kidnapped a woman's son and murdered her husband, so he can force her into some perverse mother-son roleplay rape. He displays a wide variety of sexual perversions (which is generally considered a disorder in the psych world), substance abuse issues, some intermittent explosive disorder, and of course, antisocial tendencies as well. Toss all that into a box, tie a bow on it, and call it evil.

There's really no better (or simpler) way to describe these characters, much less some of the real-life criminals. Charles Manson? Paranoid schizophrenic, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, maybe bi-polar- or evil. Ted Bundy? Antisocial, necrophilia, psychopathic- or just evil.

If I were to attempt to convert "evil" into an actual diagnosis, I think one of the qualifying factors would have to be "impossible to revert". Once someone has crossed into the diagnosis, there's effectively no going back. Now some people will say it's only a matter of finding the correct therapy, and we could argue for ages, but with certain problems, the prognosis is grim. If we tossed Ted Bundy into intensive therapy instead of an electric chair, could he be effectively be "fixed" before he died of natural causes? Keeping in mind that he was in his early 40's when he died, you will find more than a handful of therapists who will say that there could be no "certain" cure, even within a 40-year-treatment program. So I'll stick to my guns on that one.

Even if we never decide to make it a diagnosis, it's still a perfectly workable term. I'm not going to make it a life-long cause- I'll probably leave the matter alone once I've finished writing the article. But I'll always use the term plenty, at the very least when it fits. Hell, if Investigation Discovery uses it to name their documentary shows, why shouldn't I?


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