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Among the pile of books that accumulated next to my desk in the last month were a couple of things that touched on, in one way or another, the concept of victimology. One of them was M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie (subtitle: The Hope for Healing Human Evil) which I picked up for $2 at my local bookstore in town.
After reading a few chapters I could see why they were letting this one go for cheap: it's a mess. The book wanders in some no-man's land between theology and psychology, cherry-picking concepts from both domains with no regard for whether or not they complement each other intelligibly. It not only gets lost in this no-man's land, but obstinately refuses to ask for directions. It also uses ill-chosen examples that do not illustrate Peck's own concepts properly, contradicts itself repeatedly — especially in its conclusions, which are so disconnected from everything that came before it's disturbing — and is written in a plodding, humorless style akin to having your head repeatedly clapped between two giant blocks of Styrofoam.
And yet out of that mess — or maybe despite it — I came away with an insight that was not related to the thesis of the book at large but still got me thinking. There are two ways of dealing sympathetically with someone who has been wronged. The first is sympathy, where we feel compelled to do right by the person because we've been wronged ourselves, maybe even in the same way, and their pain reminds us of our own.
There's another feeling some people manifest, which superficially resembles sympathy but is in fact envy — better described as a kind of morbid fascination with suffering. (I've since found out Jillian Becker in her work Hitler's Children had expressed this same sentiment; she calls it Leidensheid.) One who feels this way is not interested in alleviating the suffering of others; rather, they simply want to borrow it so that they might too be identified with an oppressed class and thereby gain some undeserved sympathy. If anything, the idea of truly alleviating someone else's suffering would be a mistake — it's that much less of the stuff they can sop up for themselves.
I saw hints of this mentioned in Why They Kill and in other discussions of sociopathic behavior. The sociopath plays exploitive games like this with human emotions, because he assumes everyone else is going to do the same thing. If you're not a player, you're getting played, and their worldview encompasses nothing else.
Some of this research was intended to be put towards work I was doing about a possible character for a future work, someone who had engaged in a kind of psychobiography of villainy. He wanted to understand evil thoroughly, so that he might make use of its worst tendencies to fight it in the real world. I left it an open question to myself whether or not that would work out.
Previous: Caught Dept.