We so often speak of “human evil.”  Really, that is an oxymoron.  Those few humans whom I have met that are truly evil, have detached themselves from any claim to “humanity” which might define them as members of our species, in a sense.  They have an alien-ness; they do not belong, by their choice.

In the taxonomy of evil, I find that it is vastly over-diagnosed.  I have met only a few in my life.

I worked in a State prison system at a senior level capacity in supervising medical care.  I met most of the incarcerated persons, several of whom were incarcerated for murder and crimes against persons, horrendous crimes.  There were many who were vastly damaged by personality disorders, such that they would never be fit to go among human society ever again.  They were incurably bad.

Many of these were psychopaths, sociopaths.  They are damaged at the moment of creation; they have no conscience, nor any concept of what having a conscience might be like.  They see us as cripples.  We will stop ourselves in pain, and go no further, claiming pangs of conscience.  They see us as though we have infirmity, a sudden pain or limitation that halts us just at the moment of greatest productivity.  If we break into a house and are surprised, we will not kill.  We are, in their eyes, indescribably pathetic and stupid.  Obviously, eliminating a witness and possible threat facilitates one’s escape in an interrupted robbery; that should be obvious.  What is our problem?

One of the inmates who I met had slaughtered and field-dressed her boyfriend’s wife.  He was part of the butchering.  As a state with plentiful game, many people are skilled at the butchering of large animals in the field.  They brought back only the parts which satisfy the rather finicky, prissy modern American diet; mostly muscle, no organ meat.  She and her boyfriend made several satisfying meals of her, resisting the temptation to over-cook the portions into too many leftovers.  She was apparently doled out from the deep-freeze.  Their motivation, whether phony or genuine, was some sort of loopy New Age astral tribalism.

She did not care for me; she had certain grievances.  Yet, I did not see her as evil.  I never met the boyfriend, and he might have been truly evil.  But the sense of being in the presence of evil did not particularly resonate when one was with her.

Actually, I do not believe that I ever met a genuinely evil incarcerated person through my work with the prison.  I did meet people with whom I would be afraid to share a room without constant supervision, and I did meet people whose anticipated release from prison would be a mistake, no matter how long they were incarcerated.  I did meet people whom I might fear.  But I did not meet that level of awfulness which characterizes true individual evil.

Our state has no death penalty.  I am pleased by that.  I have serious problems with the State assuming the right to end the life of its citizens. Had I met a truly evil person in this prison system, I might have doubts about this as an absolute ban.

Human evil, as I stated, is an oxymoron.  True evil draws the humanity out of the person who submits to it.

My residency director was evil, was unique in a way that none of the incarcerated were.  He believed that he had the wisdom to select which physicians should go on to success, and which should be extinguished.  It was long my impression that he did not wish merely to impede the progress of certain persons.  He wished them to die.

He was also a minister of a conservative congregation.  In addition, he was a sexual predator, victimizing women medical students and residents.

And the system kept him in power by looking the other way.

I still have bad dreams about residency.  I do not wish to raise a hand to “save medicine,” as many of my colleagues who are frustrated by its inhumanity are doing.  The system is evil enough, it retains enough evil people, that it may become extinct without bothering me.