Sunday, 28 October 2012

On good and evil in human behaviour

The BBC and some other large organisations in Britain are currently rocked by the Jimmy Savile scandal. Over many decades, Jimmy Savile, apparently restlessly working for charities to help disadvantaged children, was in fact preying on the very same kids he pretended to help. The police now think that he was a 'predatory pedophile' who abused more than 200 children.

I have not written about this since the scandal broke because words can only fail to express the horror and devastation felt by those he betrayed, the children he feigned to help, as well as those he actually abused sexually over such a long time.

There are however two issuees that got my attention beyond the sheer evil of his actions. The first is that Savile's behaviour was by no means secret. In fact it was widely known amongst his colleagues and perhaps even tolerated by management in the BBC and the NHS hospital he worked in. So the magnitude of this scandal only becomes clear when one thinks about the wall of silence that surrounded his actions, a wall not built by himself but created and maintained by others.

The second aspect relates to the relationship between good and evil in human behaviour. Savile's nephew recently expressed his sadness upon hearing about his uncle's crimes and he contrasted it with the enormous amount of charity work Savile has done over his life time. Yet when it comes to predatory pedophiles this may confuse motivation and behaviour. Savile may well have developed and nurtured his charity role in society exactly because this line of work ensured that he had access to young underage girls and boys.

For predatory pedophiles, contrasting the 'good' they are doing with the 'harm' is a common strategy of defence. In one of the biggest pedophile scandals in the US, the recently convicted rapist Jerry Sandusky (who worked as Penn State assistant football coach) used a similar strategy. In an interview with the New York Times he pointed to all the charity work he has done, arguing that he could not possibly have done any evil because he had done so much good.

We now know that Sandusky founded and developed his charity for disadvantaged boys exactly because it allowed him access to his victims and a perfect cover to groom them for his sexual abuse over a long period of time. It seems that people like Savile or Sandusky do not do good or evil, they do good in order to perpetrate evil.

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