People of the lie : the hope for healing human evil

by M. Scott Peck

Paperback, 1988



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London : Rider, 1988.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bespen
A fascinating and riveting work on human evil. I was most interested in the case studies that formed the bulk of the first half of the book, and far less interested in the theoretical application of group psychology that formed the last half. The case studies in the book could well describe someone you know. I appreciated the honesty of Peck regarding his feelings about his patients. I could well relate to his frustration and revulsion, it gave his accounts more verisimilitude.

I remain unconvinced of Peck's identification of evil with a specific form of personality disorder. While the people he describes certainly were evil, albeit of a mundane, domestic variety, I found the definition flat and truncated. It just seemed to be missing something. I found it very interesting that Peck thinks that Augustine's idea of evil as an absence of good has been discarded, when in fact it remains a part of Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic philosophy and theology in this day. It is even more surprising given that his attempt to define evil as disease is a subset of the idea that evil is a privation.

The attempt to explain the group psychology behind the MyLai massacre was ultimately unconvincing, but it did remind me of the mimetic theory of Rene Girard, specifically the necessity of a scapegoat for group cohesion. However, on the terms of Peck's argument, what I found remarkable was that so few massacres occured. His analysis made the events seem inevitable, so the real question becomes not why MyLai happened, but why there weren't hundreds more MyLais.

Overall a very interesting read. One of the most notable insights of this book is nicely summed up by the reviewer who brought my attention to this book, John J. Reilly. "The people whose cases Peck describes were seriously sick and hated their sickness, but they could not get better because in some fundamental sense they had chosen to be that way." A psychological insight with shades of Dante.
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LibraryThing member aklnbrg
People of the lie is a very flawed in it's psychology, theology, and morality. This comment from a Jew who identified fully with Peck's prevous book, The Road Less travelled.

In this book people with emotional issues or lack education are condemned as evil. He also goes against accepted professional standards by condoning in some circumstances sexualy contact between client and therapist.… (more)
LibraryThing member kencf0618
Scathing and trenchant.
LibraryThing member auntmarge64
One of the most chilling books I've read. Real life examples of truly evil people passing as regular folk, who have come into contact with the author through his practice. The most memorable: parents of a suicide who give their remaining, and less-favored son, as a Christmas present, the rifle used in the suicide.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I've been fascinated by the question of evil ever since learning about the Nazis and the Holocaust as a child. I've never lost the part of me that wonders, "Why?" and that was only reinforced post-9/11. This approaches the question of evil from a psychological point of view--for Peck is a practicing psychiatrist--but also a Christian point of view--for Peck is a believing Christian. A blurb from the Wall Street Journal on the back cover says the "long-overdue discussion between psychology and religion has begun, and nowhere does that beginning bear better fruit than in Dr. M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie." That does come to the fore from time to time--Peck takes the idea of demonic possession and exorcism seriously--I do not. I'm an atheist.

Yet I found plenty to consider, to highlight and dog-ear and think about in this book. Certainly the case studies made for a fascinating read, though some certainly seemed to me more troubled than evil, and I wonder how effective therapy can be if that is how psychiatrists see their patients. How can they expect to help them? I'm also dubious about Peck's analysis of My Lai, which I think has more to do with his political views than his psychological expertise. But there's plenty in the book that doesn't require religious faith to accept as insightful:

Mental health requires that the human will submit itself to something higher than itself. To function decently in this world we must submit ourselves to some principle that takes precedence over what we might want at any given moment. For the religious this principle is God... But if they are sane, even the nonreligious submit themselves, whether they know it or not, to some "higher power"--be it truth or love, the needs of others, or the demands of reality... Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

And that's why evil resides in the people of the lie. Even Ayn Rand, an atheist who many would accuse of advocating a form of narcissism, would agree with this in essentials--above all for her the first commandment would be "Thou Shalt Not Fake Reality." The rest is commentary. So all evil, from emotional manipulation to mass murder start to finish comes down to refusing to honor reality---and to change that, to face reality, is what psychology is supposed to help us to do. Although I have to say, I question just how in touch with reality is a therapist who believes in supernatural explanations for human behavior.
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LibraryThing member 4bonasa
The book was referenced in a article I read in a blog. Worth reading, especially the discussion about the Vietnam.
LibraryThing member AnneMichaud
This is a truly original work. It made me see human moral choices, including mine, in a new light. I wasn't so much interested in the exorcism sections - although they are the most sensational. It was more the author's exploration of daily decisions, his way of analyzing right and wrong, that I found so unique. I recommend this for anyone who's interested in what it means to live a moral life.… (more)
LibraryThing member dangraves
Peck reminds us of a fact naturalism does not satisfactorily explain: why is there evil? I do not mean suffering, but absolute, deliberately chosen evil, a willingness to hurt others that cannot be explained by fulfillment of any natural need such as food or sex. His case studies are eye-opening and horrifying. Like others, I found the case studies more relevant than the theory.… (more)



Local notes

inscription: from the library of Hazel Dwyer

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