The difference between ‘bad’ and ‘evil’

One of the three key ways to look at social deviance is absolutism – the idea that there are some tenets or rules of existence that are immutable and universal regardless of culture, gender or persuasion. Absolutists believe that there are no conditions under which deviating from these norms is acceptable.

Generally, deviance within the absolutist view is equated with demonism. That is… to break one of these tenets is not just bad, it must be evil. The thing that represents the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ is that evil carries the suggestion of the occult. Super-natural influence. And so in the absolutist view, deviance from the main tenets of society has been viewed, through history, as demonistic behaviour. And that is the first place they look for the cause of deviance: some internal struggle with supernatural evil.

Cue forced exorcisms, green vomit and the Spanish inquisition…

Classical demonistic perspective was powerful and positive because it puts the act beyond the control of the person. It’s also dualistic which, as a society, we like because it’s simple – good and evil, nothing more needs to be said. The concept of evil is also the most fundamental layer of our most ancient (and modern) cultural myths. This makes it very accessible for people. No grey areas.

It must be nice (and also horrible) inside an absolutist’s head. Things must be very simple there.

Taken from The Great Courses’ Explaining Social Deviance Lecture 2: Demonism