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Evil Genius and Malevolent Creativity

Psychologist Rollo May explains the classic Greek conception of the “daimonic” or darker side of our being (unlike the demonic, which is merely destructive) is “as much concerned with creativity as with negative reactions.

“The daimonic model considers both creativity on one side, and anger and rage on the other side, as coming from the same source. That is, constructiveness and destructiveness have the same source in human personality. The source is simply human potential.”

[From his foreword to psychologist Stephen A. Diamond’s book, from my interview with Dr. Diamond: The Psychology of Creativity: redeeming our inner demons.]

Megamind: “All men must choose between two paths. Good is the path of honour, heroism, and nobility. Evil… well, it’s just cooler.”

The archetype or character of the Evil Genius is enduring in both real life, of course, and in literature and movies, like the animated feature Megamind (2010), about a supervillain who battles society and the ‘good’ superhero Metro Man.

The Wikipedia page on Mad Scientist notes, “Though the archetypes often overlap, a mad scientist need not be an evil genius. Some mad scientists are simply scientists who have become obsessively involved with their studies and so have begun to develop eccentricities beyond normal standards and tolerances; evil geniuses, on the other hand, are geniuses that use their gift for clearly expressed consciously evil purposes.”

Creativity researcher James Kaufman notes that creativity and intellect are not simply “pure” and only virtuous.

He asks : “Is Hannibal Lecter creative? Was Adolf Hitler creative? How about Ted Bundy, Voldemort, Charles Manson, Vito Corleone, Jesse James, Lizzie Borden, or that guy who used to pick on you in the sixth grade?

“If creativity is seen as having an inherent moral component to it, then these people cannot be creative. If to be a creative person is to be a good person, then it’s hard to argue that Josef Stalin or John Wilkes Booth were particularly creative.”

He adds, “Indeed, Robert Sternberg has written about how both Stalin and Hitler still have followers today, showing that their ideas have ‘lived on’ and borne the test of time – one hallmark for determining if someone is ‘Big C.’ It is the lack of morality needed for lasting creativity that has led Sternberg to argue for the equal importance of wisdom.”

Kaufman notes that in discussing mental illness and creativity, the ‘creativity’ part “is often assumed to be good – indeed, some of the evolutionary work argues that creativity is the reason why mental illness persists; being imaginative is supposedly enough of an advantage to outweigh the detriments of mental illness. Yet malevolent creativity (and emotional intelligence) can be harmful and evil in their own right.”

From his post: Gandhi, Bill Gates, and… Hannibal Lecter?: Creativity and Emotional Intelligence in all the Wrong Places.

Malevolent creativity and negative creativity

In a newer piece about his book The Dark Side of Creativity, Kaufman writes he was thinking about the difference “between malevolent creativity and negative creativity. Negative creativity, a concept by noted industrial/organizational psychologists Keith James and Karla Clark, can also encompass creative acts characterized by bad intents.

“But it can also refer to bad outcomes that come out of good or neutral intent. It is one thing to have someone be creative about how to kill someone; it’s another thing to have someone creatively cut corners to make a cheaper house – and then see it collapse and kill someone.”

[From his post Too much novelty, not enough appropriateness.]

Author Jonathan Plucker comments about The Dark Side of Creativity: “Indeed, in this age of corruption, financial meltdowns, and technological advances that outstrip our ability to understand them, are there more important topics in the study of creativity than ethics, unintended consequences, and potentially negative outcomes of creativity and innovation? I think not.”

James C. Kaufman and Jonathan A. Plucker are authors of Essentials of Creativity Assessment.

Other books by Kaufman include: The Psychology of Creative Writing and Creativity 101.

[Photo: Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter – from The shadow self : page 2.]
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Evil Genius and Malevolent Creativity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2011). Evil Genius and Malevolent Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 2 May 2011
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