Do bad people exist?

Photo: Léa Dubedout
Photo: Léa Dubedout

We are very happy to believe that there are among us those who are innately bad people. There are, we imagine, people who constantly create schemes and ideas for causing us or others around us harm.

Surely this cannot be true? Is there a gene for mischief? Are some people wired to cause suffering? Doesn’t everyone start as a child who might, rather than plotting the downfall of a civilisation, also laugh at a juggler on the television?

To say there are bad people must be a misnomer.

But then, why do we insist that when we see criminals on television, or tell our children to stay away from a person, that it is because they are a bad person.

It is, I think, quite convenient to carry on with the idea that some people are bad to the core because we are, as a species, at our happiest when we believe that everything in the world is controlled by balancing forces.

Light is offset by darkness, gravity a counterweight to our flighty ambitions, riches a haven from poverty.

Humans like the idea that every force that might harm us has a convenient enemy.

And so, if we can accept the idea that there are people who are bad, we accept also the possibility that there are good people and that we might be one of them.

It is more easy to assume that goodness is innate than it is to cope with the idea that heroes and heroines were no different from you or I. If goodness is innate, our failures to be good can be excused as a mere twist of fate.

This is, of course, far preferable to an altogether more inconvenient scenario: that our goodness or badness is merely a result of our choices. To choose to be consistently good is far more difficult than to accept that we may be unable to be consistently good. Predestination to badness or, at least, not goodness is much more palatable than constant effort and failure to excel.