UnitedLife 05

Moral downfall and the evil within us


Nowadays you hear a lot about the moral downfall of contemporary Western society. Excess consumerism, mammon worship and immorality are criticized. It makes us believe that our advanced society is doomed. Was the world more moral in the past? Were people better?

Lisa-Marie Black
Salzburg, Austria | Dipl. Psychologis


Socrates was beheaded in Athens as early as 399 BC. A philosopher convicted to death who allegedly didn’t believe in god and set a bad example for the youth. His famous words “I know that I know nothing; nor do I fancy I know something” only demonstrate his knowledge. It was not that he did not possess enough knowledge, quite the opposite is true. His knowledge comes from a true understanding that human perception is limited amongst the complexity of being. This stood in contrast to those who believed to have an answer to everything in the world. Socrates died because he encouraged people to critically approach and reevaluate laws, opinions and matters around them.


Much later, Dürrenmatt’s tragicomic play The Visit was introduced in Zürich in 1951. The story opens with an old lady returning to her poor hometown as a billionaire. She seeks revenge and so she offers a billion as a reward for the death of one of the town’s citizens. The play illustrates a certain part of human nature vividly. The characters are willing to sell out anybody around including themselves for financial rewards. Paulo Coelho dares to dive into the deep abyss of human soul too. In his book The Devil and Miss Prym he similarly scrutinizes greed, cowardice, fear, temptation and evil. He reaches an understanding that “given the right circumstances, every human being on this earth would be willing to commit evil.”

Coelho’s hypothesis seemed to be confirmed by the Stanford prison experiment in 1971. Twenty-four students were randomly divided into prisoners and guards. The American scientists were interested in group interaction and actions of individuals under conditions where the guards have unlimited power.

During the first night already, the prisoners were woken up at 2:30 AM to be counted. The aim was to humiliate them and demonstrate the power their guards had over them. After a rebellion on the following day, the conditions grew harder. The guards applied more violence and bullying than originally agreed, especially at night when they felt unobserved. Prisoners stuck together at first. After failed rebellion they separated and focused on their own survival.

The experiment was ended prematurely after six days instead of two weeks due to increased brutality and nervous breakdowns of prisoners. It demonstrated how a sane person is capable of radical change in a very short time under extreme conditions. A hypothesis was formulated suggesting brutal crimes such as war crimes cannot be exclusively attributed to psychopaths only. Also common people just like you and me are capable of such behavior under extreme circumstances. Is there still a point in trying to determine whether our society is less moral or sadistic?

Darkness is also a part of humanity. Coelho believes all humans have an inexplicable tendency towards evil which we are able to control while showing our good side instead. Again it is left up to us which path to choose. It is our decision which one of the two wolfs we are going to feed. If your path leads through cowardice and low morals, or if it is one of honor and justice. Socrates could have escaped if he repented and converted. It might sound simple, yet he would have betrayed his ideals. He chose death instead. For the sake of preserving peace and safety in our communities, for a healthy and bright future of our offspring there is only one option left. We need to set an example by living and increasing what is good within us. Both good and evil are catalysts, causing series of reactions. Their power is nowadays palpable in Ukraine or in the growing anti-Islamic protest in Europe. Sometimes a single match can set off an unspeakable disaster. That is precisely why that match needs to be put out immediately.


Our happiness lies in the happiness of those around. This is where we are able to see the purpose of life. Moral downfall, destruction and evil have no chance of survival if you honor this purpose with every step, word and decision. Such is the path of courage, dignity and self-improvement. It is the way to happiness and a better tomorrow.


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