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Psychoanalyze, Don’t Moralize

noevilEvil is not a psychological category.  Evil is a moral category.  I invite you to psychoanalyze, not moralize.  Here are a few propositions for you.

“There is no evil – there is just ignorance, greed, fear, obsession and indifference.”

Ok, let’s unpack this step by step.

Ignorance is not evil.  Ignorance is the result of any number of psychological, sociological and educational factors.  Ignorance can be the result of misguided cultural programming (eg racism, chauvinism, nationalism, etc).  Ignorance can the result of educational oversight (eg “Earth is flat,” etc).  Ignorance can be due to a lack of life-experience or a lack of psychological savvy.  Ignorance can be an intelligence deficit (a matter of IQ deficit, or a learning disability).  Point is: ignorance is not evil.

Greed is not evil.  Greed can be understood as an interplay of love and fear.  Greed (“love of the money”) can be understood on some level as a fear – a fear of not having enough.  Greed can be understood as competitiveness (a desire to have more than others have).  Competitiveness-based greed is not evil – it’s just a misguided attempt to regulate one’s sense of worth, it’s a self-esteem project, perhaps, a chronic hunger for narcissistic validation.  Narcissism too is not evil, it’s just narcissism (a sense of emptiness, a failed sense of self with an attempt to reassure yourself by polishing the social mirror).  Greed can also be understood as mis-directed love – a fixation, an obsession, a transfer of libidinal energy onto the material; loving money is safer than loving people, since money doesn’t abandon us – that sort of thing …  Point is: greed is not evil.

Fear is not evil.  This is rather self-explanatory: of course, fear is not evil.  Fear is just fear.  But in fear, out of fear, we do some horrible stuff to each other.  As you’ve heard, offense is the best defense.  There are plenty of moments when we attack, preemptively, out of fear and we attack viciously – out of fear that a measured attack won’t suffice.  So, we over-react, over-defend, over-kill.  None of that is evil.  It’s just out-of-control fear.  Point is: fear is not evil.

Obsession is not evil.  Humans get obsessed.  We get imprinted.  We get fixated.  We get addicted.  We develop most unsavory fetishes.  None of this is evil.  All of this has to do with our reward systems getting highjacked.  A “- phile” is not evil, a “- phile” a “lover.” “- phile” is Greek for “lover” or “enthusiast.”  A “- phile” can be an Anglophile (a lover of all things British), a Russophile (a lover of all things Russian) or some unsavory “-phile.”  “-philes” of any ilk aren’t evil.  “-philes” are just highjacked brains.

Indifference is not evil.  Lack of empathy, antisocial callousness, sadistic insensitivity, psychopathic manipulation and unchecked violence – these are the things we fear, these are the elements of the human jungle that we have to constantly watch out for and protect ourselves from.  But we can fear all this and try to protect ourselves from all this without moralizing.  Indifference – in all of its disguises and manifestations – is not evil.  Indifference can be understood as lack of mirror neuron activity.  Mirror neurons underlie our capacity for empathy.  Those of us who congenitally lack empathy operate on a different type of neurological hardware than the rest of us.  We don’t choose our brains.  We are thrown into this life as we are.  If you lack mirror neuron activity, then your neuro-hardware is not enabled for empathy or your empathy is compromised.  Lack of empathy is not all bad – it has situational value.  Lack of empathy in a bootcamp sergeant can be quite useful.  Same goes for a surgeon and a sniper and anyone in a position of having to make tough, un-empathic decisions on the behalf of others.  Lack of empathy is not evil, it’s mis-employed.  As a civilization, we are still too young to harness and sublimate lack of empathy towards social good.   But we’ll get there someday.  Psychopaths will make wonderful colonizers of Mars.  Un-empathic types are great at “going West,” at clearing the ground for the rest of us, neurotics.  Furthermore, any of us can experience a reduction in empathy – you’ve heard of “hanger,” right?  When you are hungry, you get irritable – suddenly, you – who is usually quite nice – become an un-empathic, indifferent, irritable jerk.  Our ability to care for others might be wiped with poor sleep, illness, or a neurological event, such as a stroke, which might result in a so-called “personality change.”  My point is that any and all of this is not evil.  Indifference is not evil, it’s just a modality of human consciousness.

Why do we moralize, not psychoanalyze?

Moralizing is easy.  Moralizing also makes us – moralizers – feel better about ourselves in comparison to those we morally judge.  Moralizing is easy because it is nothing more than labeling.  Calling something or someone “evil” is simple, isn’t it?  You slap a moral label and you are done: no more thinking is required.  Psychoanalyzing is harder: you have to think, you have to go beyond the simplistic labels, you have to ask yourself a bunch of “why” questions, you have to examine context.  Heck, you even have to have the courage to relate!  So, not only is psychoanalyzing is harder, from the standpoint of information-processing, it’s also humbling.  Why?  Because as you work to make sense of someone else’s behavior you begin to relate to that behavior on some level.  Psychoanalyzing humbles us.  Unlike moralizing, it doesn’t allow us to feel superior.  Psychoanalyzing requires of us a courage to relate.  And when we do that, we see bits of ourselves in what we try to blot out with judgment.  And that creates some cognitive dissonance for us – we don’t like that.

Moralizing Isn’t Evil Either

So, yes, moralizing is easy.  Psychoanalyzing is hard.  But I am not going to moralize about moralizing: I get it, doing what’s easy is intuitive.  Moralizing too isn’t evil, moralizing is just self-care.  Labeling others with a fleeting judgment is a cheap way to help ourselves feel better.  Cheap is good, right?  Right.  I am not being snarky.  I mean it.  Of course,  cheap is good.  When we moralize, we instantly elevate ourselves – we get a little ego bump.  It’s an information-processing bargain for us, part of our self-regulatory intelligence.  Also, when we moralize, when we pronounce something or someone as evil, we are trying to be conservative – we are programming ourselves to be watchful, to be paranoid.  All that too is self-care.  What is here to moralize?  So, yes, we can psychoanalyze moralizing too.

No Evil

We are not fighting demons, we are fighting our evolutionary programming.  There is no darkness inside us – just fear,  ignorance, indifference, etc.  “Evil” is an outdated concept.  It’s not a psychological concept.  It’s a medieval theosophical crutch from a time when we thought Earth was flat.  Time we upgrade our mindware.  Life is not about good and evil.  It’s all good.  Only good.  Ordinary perfection, in fact.  Just life, you know.  So, hear no evil.  See no evil.  Speak no evil.  Psychoanalyze instead!


Psychoanalyze, Don’t Moralize

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2016). Psychoanalyze, Don’t Moralize. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Sep 2016
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