My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
In his bestselling book People of the Lie, the author, Scott Peck, claims that narcissists are evil. But are they evil? Are tornadoes evil? Are tigers evil? All three, tornadoes, tigers and narcissists, hurt people. But do they hurt people because they are malicious or malevolent? Or do they hurt people because of who or what they are?
In this age of moral relativism, the concept of evil is slippery and very ambiguous. In the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, evil is defined as the suffering which results from morally wrong human choices.
This means that to qualify as an evil person, one must meet two requirements.
One, that the evil person can and does consciously choose the morally wrong over the morally right. And that the evil person acts on this choice, irrespective of the consequences to himself and to others.
In other words, he cannot help being evil. So clearly evil must be premeditated.
Philosophers such as Francis Hutchison and Joseph Butler argued that evil is merely the byproduct of the pursuit of one's interest and cause over other people's interests and causes.
But this is too reductive, too limited. It ignores the critical element of conscious choice among equally efficacious alternatives of action.
Moreover, often people pursue evil even when it jeopardizes their well-being and obstructs their interests.
Ask any criminal or say domesticus.
Narcissists satisfy the two conditions for evilness only partly. The narcissist's evil conduct, the narcissist's alleged evilness, is utilitarian.
Narcissists are evil only when being malevolent secures a favorable outcome. Sometimes they consciously choose the morally wrong, but not invariably so. They are not compelled to be evil. They choose to act in a certain way to maximize profits or benefits. And if it is evil, it's evil.
Narcissists act on their choice even if it inflicts pain or misery on others.
But they never opt for evil if they are the ones to bear the consequences.
So they act maliciously only because it is expedient to do so, not because it is in their nature.
The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil.
In the pursuit of his interests and causes, the narcissist sometimes chooses to act wickedly.
Lacking empathy is rarely remorseful for his conduct.
And because if he is entitled, exploiting others comes as a second nature. The narcissist abuses others, sort of absentmindedly, offhandedly, as a matter of fact.
Narcissists generally objectify people. They treat them as expendable commodities to be discounted after use.
And admittedly, this kind of attitude and this kind of treatment of others is evil.
Yet it is the mechanical, faultless, heartless face of narcissistic abuse.
The narcissist's evil or evilness is automatic. It is devoid of human passions and familiar emotions.
And this is what renders the narcissist so alien, so frightening, so repellent.
But also, this is what makes the narcissist more like a tiger or a bacterium or a virus or a tornado. He inflicts damage, he hurts people, causes pain, but he does it as if he were a force of nature.
We are often shocked by the actions of the narcissist, but we are usually more startled and taken aback by the way he acts rather than by what he does.
In the absence of a vocabulary rich enough to capture the subtle use and gradations of the spectrum of narcissistic depravity, we default and resort to habitual adjectives such as good and evil.
Never mind that I don't fit the narcissist. We don't have other words. We don't have an extended vocabulary.
This is, in my view, intellectual laziness, and it does this pernicious phenomenon and its victims little justice.
In the pursuit of the study of narcissism, we need to invent a new language to capture this phenomenon and what it does to people.