Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Educational Specialist (EdS)


Department of Graduate Psychology


Eric W. Cowan

Jennifer Cline

Debbie Sturm


Evil abounds. Even the most cursory glance at the news yields harsh headlines about bombings, school shootings, acid attacks, murder, rape, sex slavery, torture, and the occasional mass genocide. The 20th century alone featured roughly 135 million military and civilian deaths due to war and democide (White & Pinker, 2013). Recently, a cultural narrative has emerged proselytizing that evil is an aberrant, caustic mutation of the otherwise unsullied human soul. Philosophers and sociologists, among others, contend that “civilization needs to believe that it does not have an inhumane or barbaric side, leading members of the mainstream to constantly project unacceptable feelings onto those they deem ‘barbarian…’” (Chudzik, 2016, p. 586). Such explanations provide a veneer of logic inviting enough to keep people existentially comfortable by relying on an externalized notion that cruel, violent, and inhumane people are always “out there,” rather than coiled dormant inside each individual. The persistence of lying, neglect, psychological abuse, and physical violence across both time and culture suggests that increasingly sophisticated and empirical conceptualizations of the forces driving evil are of particular importance to the counseling profession given our occupational obligation to help foster personal growth and bolster well-being, abilities inexorably rooted in a thorough familiarity of the human organism. This paper will examine how ordinary people can behave with extraordinary malevolence due to their innate biology, threats to their ego, the gradual disengagement of their moral compass, ideological blindness, situational pressures, and more. The ensuing examination and synthesis of the prevailing literature on evil will ideally function to provide interested clinicians an introductory guide for understanding the etiology of human darkness.