I've been puttering around the subject of evil with posts on Hitler's Missing Testicle, the deadly Wal-Mart stampede and the barbarism in Mumbai (and here). Inevitably, discussions of evil risk moving into simplistic Us v. Them territory, but there are reasons for that. The early psychic differentiation between Me and You is complicated by the uncertain location of Good and Bad. In psychic terms, the differentiations are never complete, never fully settled. That doesn't mean we don't try to convince ourselves that these matters are fully settled.
Developmentally, the simplest solution is: I am good and you are bad. But, that simple, reassuring answer quickly runs into problems. We cannot maintain physically and emotionally sustaining relationships when we deem the Other polluted beyond use and beyond love.
The developmentally regressive pull toward moral certainty allows us to locate and confine evil, keeping it away from us. But maintaining this state of psychic segregation requires an ongoing rejection of deeper moral reflection for fear that we will lose ourselves and our moral centering in a relativist quagmire.
Yes, the relativist quagmire poses real dangers, but, so does primitive moral certainty. The former, you might say, is a psychological Mumbai, or maybe Vegas. The latter is an extremist Madrasah. The
moral relativist can kill because life is cheap. The primitive
moralist can kill with the vengeance of a righteous god who is endowed
with the moral refinement of a gnat. Both positions ignore, dismiss or even ridicule the far more challenging and never completed course of critical moral reflection and discernment.
I encourage you to also have a look at a post on the subject of evil over at Ars Psychiatrica. Below is an excerpt, but the entire post is worth reading.
I've always been interested in the way psychology has struggled to deal with the hulking fact of human depravity. We try to stow it away in little boxes like psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and situational and contextual predispositions to malfeasance (see Walmart, stampedes). The poets and artists have been much better, recognizing that this is, along with love, one of the great subjects. Shakespeare's Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello derive much of their irresistible, infernal power from the central fact of nefarious humanity. It doesn't make for very pleasant drawing room conversation, however, and perhaps not for proper blogging, I don't know. So many other things are easier to talk about...
The child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein postulated that we experience evil in ourselves first but, unable to bear it, project it upon others, in what she called the "paranoid-schizoid position" of infancy; for the baby, the Other is either all good (breast available) or all bad (breast withdrawn). She argued that moral complexity develops in the "depressive position," in which we recognize the Other as, inevitably, an amalgam of good and evil (it is "depressive" because the rage that, one hoped, could eradicate the Evil Other would also, it turns out, eliminate the Good Other as well; moral complexity is difficult and therefore disheartening).