Speaking with the Devil: A Dialogue with Evil

Overview

Based on thirty years of clinical work with patients, Goldberg attempts to explain the psychological basis of malevolent behavior by incorporating heretofore unrecognized sources of deformed personality development into the existing body of knowledge. Approaching his subject from many perspectives - psychology, philosophy, theology, mythology, jurisprudence, and literature - he at once provides a cultural and historical overview of malevolence. Through that prism, supported by a five-step theory, Goldberg charts ...
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Overview

Based on thirty years of clinical work with patients, Goldberg attempts to explain the psychological basis of malevolent behavior by incorporating heretofore unrecognized sources of deformed personality development into the existing body of knowledge. Approaching his subject from many perspectives - psychology, philosophy, theology, mythology, jurisprudence, and literature - he at once provides a cultural and historical overview of malevolence. Through that prism, supported by a five-step theory, Goldberg charts the causes and development of the malevolent personality and its resistance to self-examination. He illuminates the developmental sequence of that personality through case studies of his own patients that represent a progression of stages - from a young child shamed and humiliated by caretakers to an adult who commits malevolent acts. Goldberg's thorough and fascinating investigation of the evolution of evil raises questions confronted in Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, Erich Fromm's The Heart of Man, and Ernest Becker's Escape from Evil. Elaborating on arguments in those classics and drawing on his revealing case studies, Goldberg concludes that "evil" deeds are no more a product of mental illness than they are compelled by Satan. People do not turn into Jeffrey Dahmers or Susan Smiths overnight, says Goldberg, but rather "learn by doing." As he writes, "Opportunities to choose between good and bad occur continually in our lives, even in the smallest matters. How we have responded to earlier choices shapes our moral (and immoral) choices now and in the future."
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Psychoanalyst Goldberg (social science, New York Univ.) draws on case studies from his practice in this discussion of the nature of evil. He elucidates how the malevolent personality can develop when an individual makes the wrong choices in life, and he goes on to describe the six phases a person goes throughranging from shame through justification to magical thinkingthat allows him or her to commit harmful acts. Extremely helpful is a brief section at the end of the book that talks about the healing of shame and how society needs to return to previous person-centered values in our collective effort to combat evil. Anyone interested in a psychological understanding of the nature of evil will find this book informative and easy to comprehend. For most collections.Marguerite Mroz, Baltimore Cty. P.L., Towson, Md.
Steve Schroeder
Goldberg writes in the best tradition of psychoanalytically informed clinical narrative. He is at his best when he is engaged in interpretive storytelling that draws on his own substantial clinical experience, as much a literary as a scientific endeavor. He modifies and enriches Freudian theory with careful attention to Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and George Kelly; but he also draws on psychodrama and the work of Erich Fromm, as well as a wide range of literary sources. Goldberg's reflection on the sources of malevolence are compelling, his proposals for dealing with it are suggestive, and his writing is engaging. Whether readers agree with his conclusions or not, they will find the book an accessible treatment of a fascinating topic.
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780737275902
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Pages: 287

Table of Contents

Author's Note
1 The Problem of Malevolence 1
2 The History of Evil and Its Psychological Theories 19
3 Shame and Malevolence 37
4 Child of Scorn 61
5 The Role of the Double in Malevolence 77
6 Child of the Devil 89
7 The Role of the Mirror in Human Suffering 111
8 Transition from Victim to Perpetrator of Malevolence 127
9 Madness and Malevolence 143
10 Experimental Malevolence 163
11 Courage and Fanaticism 179
12 The Forging of the Malevolent Personality 209
13 Friendship as the Basis of Psychological Healing 227
14 Healing Shame and Despair 245
15 Constructive Responses to Malevolence 253
Notes 261
Index 279
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