SPEAKING WITH THE DEVIL: A Dialogue with Evil by Carl Goldberg


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An original and invigorating contribution to our thinking on why certain people become cruel and violent. Psychoanalyst Goldberg's main achievement is to offer a convincing psychological account of what he terms ""malevolence"" while avoiding the trap of determinism, whether psychological, sociological, or historical. He insists that abusive and violent acts, however much influenced by early suffering and despair, are freely chosen by their perpetrators, who remain morally accountable for their actions. A series of choices made throughout life, he claims, from small acts of violation (such as crossing a lawn with a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign) to increasingly greater ones, determine one's character and eventually do destroy one's ability to choose good. At the root of malevolence Goldberg puts the secret feeling of shame. Using case histories from his own practice, the author (a former professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine) illustrates how a sensitive child who is shamed learns to shift his contempt for himself onto others, who are then seen as deserving the abuse he heaps on them, while he himself, by means of magical thinking, becomes a superior being, free to do as he pleases. But despite his case study of a young Serb who took part in a village massacre and his analysis of the dark symbiosis between Jim Jones and his cult followers, Goldberg fails to support his claim that his theory of shame can explain the violence we have seen in Bosnia and Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, this is an innovative contribution to the needed recuperation of the notion of individual responsibility, yet also a reminder that our common humanity requires that we attempt to understand evildoers--only then can we help them and try to prevent others from going down the same path.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Viking