More on the banality of evil

[In my browser, at least, several of my recent posts have disappeared, but I’ll worry about that later.]

I’m reading The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo. I’ve blogged about Zimbardo’s work before, but I want to share a remarkable quote in the book by C. S. Lewis, in which he describes how we can be seduced into becoming “scoundrels,” simply thorough our natural desire to be liked and to belong. Unfortunately, the term “scoundrel” has a sexy ring to it these days, thanks to Han Solo, so when you read the quote, substitute in your mind a term for whatever recent scandal has pissed you off: corporate thieves, sports cheats, political liars. You know, those people whom we could never become….

“To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors…. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still–just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naive or a prig–the hint will come. It will be the hint of something, which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play, something that the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand. Something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, which “we”– and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure–something “we always do.” And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face–that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face–turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.” — C. S. Lewis. The Inner Ring (1944)

Have you ever faced this moment? What did you do?