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People of the Lie

Monday, October 11, 2004

People of the Lie (1983) M. Scott Peck

I’m taking Legal/Ethical Issues in Public Health, and this is one of the books my professor has brought up several times, so I thought I’d read it.

Parts of the book I like, other parts I was less sure about, and sometimes even disagreed with. I was not sure how to take the chapter on exorcism, mostly because the idea of exorcism is something that is so far outside my worldview I don’t know what to think.

Considering that the book was written in 1983, there were several passages that I found particularly striking.

When it no longer bothers us to see mangled bodies it will no longer bother us to mangle them ourselves. It is difficult indeed to selectively close our eyes to a certain type of brutality without closing them to all brutality. How can we render ourselves insensitive to brutality except by becoming brutes?

As someone who is bothered by the violence in movies, TV, and video games that others seem blithely to ignore, I do have to wonder. We have research that has found that viewing violence desensitizes us it, but are we too far gone? Is it not impossible to put that genie back in the bottle?
I was especially struck by the following quote, which to me seems applicable to our current situation, as much as the time he was discussing:

How could this have been? How could a whole people have gone to war without knowing why? The answer is simple. As a people we were too lazy to learn and too arrogant to think that we needed to learn. We felt that whatever way we happened to perceive things was the right way without any further study. And whatever we did was the right thing to do without reflection

Which made the following all the more disturbing:

(I)t is not only possible but easy and even natural for a large group to commit evil without emotional involvement simply by turning loose its specialists. it happened in Vietnam. It happened in Nazi Germany. I am afraid it will happen again.

Ethics, or lack there of, is a problem in the US. How else can we explain Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, and so many more? How else can we explain the fact that people accept cheating on your taxes as the norm and acceptable? How else can we explain the amount of crime?
I’m not certain that I accept his idea that evil should be a psychological diagnosis. The evil in the world seems so much more complicated than a simple psychological term, or even than possession.

Despite the fact that I’m not sure I accept his ideas about evil, the book was a fascinating and interesting look at ethics.

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