Often, enemies really are innately evil.

by Andrew Vlahos4 min read7th Jun 202156 comments

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Part 1: What evil is:

I'm not just talking about a "mere" clinical psychopath or sociopath who doesn't feel guilt and isn't restrained by social norms. First of all, people who don't feel the emotions can decide to be good anyway, or at least not pointlessly cruel for no benefit. Second, everyone partly fulfils the definition of psychopath (see this TED talk for details). Saying that psychopaths are the problem just doesn't work.

I'm also not talking about people who don't know any better, like medieval soldiers who are taught honorable fealty. I'm not even talking about people who theoretically could do otherwise but Moloch would ruin them if they tried. I don't mean victims of circumstance.

What I mean are the many people who know that some things are damaging to someone else, gain no tangible value from doing them (or even expect that their life would be worse off!), know it is not a virtuous act, and do the harmful acts anyway without expecting future good to come from it.

People commonly have a terminal value of dragging other people down. Consider a game theory study by J. Sayer Minas, Alvin Scodel, David Marlowe, and Harve Rawson. The study itself is behind a paywall, but it's described in the book Prisoner's Dilemma by William Poundstone. People would often reduce their own prize if it means that their opponent's is reduced more.

Don't think this study is big enough to be representative? Neither do I. That's fine, though, because there are many, many, MANY more pieces of evidence from (almost) every internet troll, bully, and rapist, and many other criminals too. I'm not including on this list domestic abusers, since they often get rewarded with things like the spouse's money, or dinner being consistently made what and when they want. Remember, I'm not just claiming that some people are evil when it's convenient for them, or intrinsically apathetic. Many people would, when making a choice between harming a stranger or doing nothing, would harm the stranger. My point is that people often are innately evil, not a majority but not a negligible percentage, and saying that everyone is good inside is very, very wrong.

There is some good news. People really can change their behavior and values. Someone being evil now doesn't mean they always will be. But, if you aren't convinced yet, let me tell you specifically the harm done from thinking that people are good inside.


Part 2: Harm done by evil, and more harm done by denying it

Bullies go far beyond insults or "stop hitting yourself" stereotypes. I won't describe the specifics of what I went through (and you wouldn't want me to), but I'll tell you the results. I was so stressed as a child that my hair started to fall out. Until a few years ago, I've been yelling in my sleep almost every night. I have never been in a war, but PTSD perfectly described my symptoms. When I read the webnovel Worm, I considered the bullying described in the backstory to be completely realistic*. The situation was worsening to the point where I started seriously thinking I might need to do an Ender Wiggin-style killing.

I'm not alone either; In stop confounding yourself, Scott Alexander describes a bullying study which found that "In fact, the frequently bullied kids had nearly twice as much psychiatric disease, were twice as likely to attempt suicide, were twice as likely to drop out of high school, and even had double the unemployment rate. Worse physical health, worse cognitive function, less likely to get married, et cetera, et cetera." When you consider that a bully "crops up untaught and unbidden in near-identical form in schoolyards from Los Angeles to London to Lanzhou", it becomes apparent that this is a massive problem. (Sorry Scott Alexander, you totally fell down as a rationalist when you saw one of the biggest effect sizes ever, in a study that controlled for so many things, and still thought "hmm, i doubt being tortured regularly for a decade has a long term bad effect.")

Fortunately, psychologists are aware of the problem and are on the job! They have done a few studies, and found:

Wait what?

What planet are these psychologists from where if you walk away from a bully, they suddenly become stuck in place and give up? For that matter, has any bully ever been stopped by talking to them? "Bullying is wrong." "You're right, I won't torture you".

The other great advice I heard, in action!

Actually the effects of listening to advice was worse than in this comic strip. The authority figures in my life had read up on the "studies", and determined that, in fact, the best way to fix this problem was encouraging interaction, talking it out, and reconciliation. Authority didn't just fail to solve the problem, they made it worse by encouraging interaction.

Disclaimer: this section doesn't advise a return to corporal punishment in schools. Almost all corporal punishment would be because of sadistic teachers, enforcing rules that shouldn't have been made, doing something inconvenient for the teacher like contradicting them or "talking back", or, if somehow they are able to successfully punish bullying, hit the victim just as much as the instigator AKA zero tolerance. Ending corporal punishment was a big success because it replaced directly harmful actions with actions that don't do much.


Part 3: Evil is common

How would someone go about finding the rate of evil? Crime rates don't work because evil people often use legal methods to cause suffering, and many crimes have complex motives. And it's not like you can just run a poll asking people if they if they maliciously harmed a stranger for no gain, right?

Actually you can. This poll asked people if they did "malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn't know", and 28% said that they did. Let's subtract the lizardman constant, and then subtract a few more percent because this might include some people who didn't really mean it and would have stopped to think if they weren't mind-killed by a political or religious topic under discussion. That leaves 15-20% of adults reporting malicious behavior toward a stranger. 15% being evil or having been evil in the past seems like a reasonable estimate based on my life experience.

What about bullies? I don't know, since the poll results are all over the place. I tried looking through the results, and, well, this summary I found about sums it up:

If I had to guess why, I'd say that for kids and teenagers, the lizardman constant for polls goes up far beyond 5%. The comic strip "Zits" once ran a strip where the teenage main character gave the most ridiculous possible answers to every question on a poll while giggling, and then the news reported "2/3 of high schoolers believe Europe is a planet". I've met teenagers and this doesn't seem unreasonable. However, Scott Alexander said that a bully "crops up untaught and unbidden in near-identical form in schoolyards from Los Angeles to London to Lanzhou", one of the few things that he got right in that article. Based on the prevalence of bullies in fiction set in schools, this seems reasonable. 

I know that people have a lot of corrupted instincts that cause them to treat enemies badly, but bullies and trolls target people who aren't enemies. Also, these are accurate behavioral tests because there is no significant enforcement or reward, so the behavior would be usually intrinsic. Therefore the rate here would probably be accurate for determining the rate of evil.


Part 4: A few more notes:

People can be evil in general but not be cruel to their friends. Don't think evil=always 100% as cruel as possible in every circumstance.

Methods to control or prevent bad behavior would need to be a separate post. However, the pattern isn't just "treat them well and they will reliably grow up well".

Sometimes people who were evil stop on their own, but often they simply continue. You can't reliably "wait it out".

*By the way, here's the bullying mentioned in Worm. (It's not a spoiler because it's mentioned in the first few pages, and is what starts the main plot.) The main character was regularly bullied (conventional methods) by some girls, but then the bullying settled down and the lead bully apologized and became friends. Then, once she had the main character's trust, she betrayed the main character's secrets, and then the girls stuffed her into a locker filled to the brim with used tampons and locked her in overnight with that biohazard. (Wow, no wonder it's one of the most popular webnovels). No bullying I or anyone else I know has experienced was that bad, but the point is, bullies can go far beyond name-calling or even hitting.

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Scott Alexander, you totally fell down as a rationalist when you saw one of the biggest effect sizes ever, in a study that controlled for so many things

Controlled for so many things = A lot of potential for P-hacking 

A single P-hacked correlational study is generally not strong evidence and doctors are trained to require more evidence for the medical actions they take.

This poll asked people if they did "malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn't know", and 28% said that they did.

If someone answers "yes" to that question that tells us little about whether the person benefited from engaging in the malicious activity. It also doesn't tell us whether the actions are prosocial. A person who gets people on facebook banned by reporting their posts does harm to other people but they might think that it's good to do so because it removes people from facebook who are harmful.

I don't think you have done a good job at defining evil. I would expect that a good portion of evil behavior in the sense that it does damage to another person while producing no personal gain is due to heuristics build for determining group status.

If Bob is together with Dave, there's a question of whether Bob or Dave is higher in social rank. Engaging in an action that does damage to Dave without Dave being able to do anything about it is a way for Bob to assert that he has higher social rank. 

Evolution trained some heuristics into us to engage in such status moves. 

I have found myself telling a mean joke about a friend which might have made the friend uncomfortable while providing no value to myself. I have the self awareness to flag the behavior as an error but most people don't in a similar situation.

A mean joke that's doesn't do more then a few dozens of seconds of discomfort isn't a big evil but it's nevertheless evil in the above sense. I would expect that most bullying arises out of instinct that exist for making moves to assert status in ancestral enviroment. 

Bullying in schools often happens in enviroments with strong status competition and is likely a result of status dynamics (with the caveat that it's following heuristics that produce status in the ancestral enviroment and not all of those necessarily actually produce status in the enviroment of the school). When a group bullies together toxoplasma is involved where it's a strong signal of group loyality to bully and defection to the group when speaking up in favor of the victim.

Strong upvote as I find this is a very useful lens for parsing this kind of behavior from others and checking such impulses in myself.  Importantly, this also opens a whole other dimension for resisting bullying: One need not be able to win the specific game the bully wants to play (e.g., prove who's stronger and can win fights), mere be able to credibly threaten their status another way.  Framing it as a negotiation over status ties up the strong majority of this behavior IMO.

Mind you, there's still the kid that thinks lighting a cat on fire is delightful fun - whole other league of not right in the head.  I'm not sure the above being 90% right fundamentally alters the main thesis of the post.  There are people who enjoy having absolute power of life or death over something or someone else; I’m not convinced that is truly a different impulse than the one that leads to bullying as much as a matter of degree.

Cats hunt mice and play with them in ways that's adds more pain then necessary to kill the mice. 

Hunter gathers have to learn to kill animals and that requires some ability to desensitize yourself against the pain of hurting prey. I think that lighting a cat on fire might be downstream of that. 

Interaction with prey is very different then status competition with other humans.

Maybe, but for modern-ish humans in western cultures cats aren't prey and really never have been.  Certainly never to the extent that torturing non-prey animals for fun has been.  AFAIK that behavoir is currently considered a predictor for escalating to similar abuse against humans.

Contrast that to society's reaction to meat production: don't make them suffer needlessly, or at least don't make me watch/know about it.

Contrast that to society's reaction to meat production: don't make them suffer needlessly, or at least don't make me watch/know about it.

This shows you that there are barriers that aren't easy to overcome. A hunter gather needs to overcome those emotional barriers to be a functioning hunter gatherer. Evolution needs to have installed strategies that allow a hunter gather to overcome his empathy towards an animal and kill it.

In the least convenient possible world, everyone has impulses to dominate others and would find that power directly enjoyable because they all have the same brain hardware. Many have the means at some point and try it; those with early failures are deterred, the rest find they like it. Most are ultimately deterred or constrained by some combination of reputational, social, cultural, or moral reasoning – they don’t stop such behavior but do reach equilibrium and stop escalating for lack of actual or perceived means.  The remainder eventually become your serial abusers.  This drive is not easily removed or isolated because it’s integral to how we process status hierarchies and social situations. Society has exhausted all low hanging fruit for pushing the numbers at each state as low as possible.  Any mind we might construct that must process and participate in status higherarcies is suceptable to the same drives.

Here’s to hoping it’s not really quite that bad…

I don't believe a significant percentage of people is innately evil, and at the end of part I of this post, I don't think you've given me significant evidence to chance my mind. The study is not convincing, and not because of effect size -- people could have misunderstood the game or just pressed the red button for fun since we're talking about cents. I would have predicted few people to press the red button if the payouts were significant (thinking at least 100$ difference); I genuinely don't know what I would have predicted for the game as-is.

there are many, many, MANY more pieces of evidence from (almost) every internet troll, bully, and rapist, and many other criminals too.

I mean, rape has a pretty obvious advantage for the rapist. "Troll" is so overloaded that I think you'd have to define it before I can consider it seriously for anything. Bullying is the most convincing case, but my model of bullies, especially if they're young, isn't that they're innately evil. If I remember correctly, I have participated in bullying a couple of times before thinking about it and deciding that it's morally indefensible. I imagine most bullies are similar except that they skipped the part where they think about it, or that they have thought about it, maybe decided to stop, but then proceeded anyway because the instinct was too strong.

Anyway, this is quite speculative, but my point is that I don't think you're making a strong case for your leading claim. I realize that this may come across as nitpicking details in a mountain of obvious evidence, but that's often just how it feels like if someone doubts what you consider an obvious truth.

There's also an issue that we may have different ideas of what 'innately evil' means.

"Sadism exists and is popular" is something I think of as a major blind spot for mistake/error theorists.

Not at all.  Mistake theory would say sadism is a reaction to pain and caused by incorrect world-modeling about the protective value of inflicting it on others.

This does not strike me as a psychologically realistic model of sadism, and (absent further explanation/justification) counts in my opinion as a rather large strike against mistake theory (or at least, it would if I took as given that a plurality of self-proclaimed "mistake theorists" would in fact endorse the statement you made).

This is an example of the problem. More concern with intractable causes than tractable effects.

It seems to me this article would gain a lot of quality by refocusing around bullying. Bullying's definition is more clear-cut and uninamously accepted than evil and good definitions are. I find the title especially misleading, since nothing in the article applies more to anyone's enemies rather than their allies, or themselves.

When talking about school bullying, my pet theory is that it has the same psychological causes as prison bullying. There's a form of violence that arises from being constrained for too long, like when battery chickens end up pecking each other to the death.

I think that theory is false. In an unconstrained wild west environment, an asshole with a gun will happily bully those who he knows don't have guns. And conversely, people have found ways to be good even in very constrained environments. Good and evil are the responsibility of the person doing it, not the environment.

"good", "evil" and "responsibility" are terms that are hard to agree on a definition.

A fact that everyone should agree on is that each event has multiple causes, defined as previous events that are necessary for the event to happen. In the case of a person's behaviour, some causes are internal and others are external. What is relevant depends on what you can leverage. I don't see how saying "some people are good, some are just evil" can be leveraged to reduce bullying. But I believe making school less prison-like would.

Also, an "unconstrained wild west environment" is neither a common nor natural environment. Humans have evolved to live in a network of constraining but flexible relationships, personal debts and cultural items.

So you think that between two theories - "evil comes from people's choices" and "evil comes from circumstances" - the former can't be "leveraged" and we should adopt the latter apriori, regardless of which one is closer to truth? I think that's jumping the gun a bit. Let's figure out what's true first, then make decisions based on that.

We need to taboo "evil", and split this confusing mental bucket into multiple less confusing ones.

everyone partly fulfils the definition of psychopath

What exactly does this mean? Psychopaths are incapable of certain emotions (such as compassion), which allows them to develop certain skills (such as lying and manipulating people) to a degree almost unimaginable for an average person (who would be aware, and hampered by, consequences of the lies and manipulation on other people; and would therefore every day miss thousand opportunities to practice). Are normies also capable of lying and manipulation? Sure they are. Does this make them partial psychopaths? Nope.

People commonly have a terminal value of dragging other people down.

I have a problem with the word "terminal", because it is easy to imagine instrumental reasons (and difficult to verify whether they actually exist outside of my imagination), such as intuitively perceiving the world as a zero-sum game, and trying to increase one's relative status by dragging other people down. In an ancient tribe, sometimes you only need to drag down about dozen people to get on the top.

On the other hand, what is instrumental from evolutionary perspective, may still be terminal for a human mind. Humans, as a species, are evil to certain degree. (Also good. Also inconsistent.) Another question is whether some groups of humans are more evil than others. Seems plausible; if we have people who are taller than others, or smarter than others, why not also people who are more innately evil than others? That is, they have a stronger version of the universal instinct for evil. (This is different from psychopathy, because the natural assumption would be that this kind of innate evil exists on the bell curve. Psychopathy is bimodal. The person with strong version of universal evil would probably enjoy hurting people in some ways a lot, and yet feel genuine regret for accidentally hurting them in a different way. On the contrary, an ethical psychopath would not give a fuck about human suffering, but might refrain from hurting people for some non-emotional reason.)

People often turn off empathy for an outgroup. I don't even know how to correctly classify this, because the instinct is obviously innate, but the definition of outgroup is learned.

Now, having said this all, I believe this article points towards an important thing. Yes, demonizing one's outgroup is classic propaganda / cognitive bias. But we should not revert this stupidity blindly. Sometimes people are different. And if we assume that people differ on the scale of innate evil, you may happen to be more good than the average... in which case you are likely to meet people or groups of people who are more innately evil than you. (Okay, but really what is the chance that Less Wrong just happens to be the place where good people gather? Dunno, it's a website about saving the world, maybe this resonates with some. Another possible hypothesis is that Less Wrong is for nerds, nerds are more likely to be on the autistic spectrum, and maybe autists are less evil... because evil, in some sense, is a social skill? No idea, just made this up.)

People commonly have a terminal value of dragging other people down.

I'm doubtful this is true, because it's easy to see that dragging people down is not a terminal value, since there must be something gained by dragging others down, and getting that thing is the thing terminally valued. For example, maybe dragging people down makes someone feel good in some way, then getting that good feeling is the thing valued, not the dragging people down. Dragging people down is a strategy, not something terminal.

This suggests the core thesis is mistaken: it's not that people are innately evil, it's that they've learned a bad strategy to get what they want and are trapped in a local maximum where that strategy keeps working and other strategies are locally worse even if they would be globally better if they took the time to reorient themselves to those alternative strategies.

I'm not sure this has much of an impact on some parts of this post, like the bits about bullying, but it does call into question many of the inferences you try to draw about people in general.

By this reasoning almost nothing normally described as a terminal value is a terminal value. "He robs banks because he wants money because getting money makes him feel good".

Yes, exactly.

Put another way, I'd say that if it's not grounded in a felt sense it's not a value, but a policy/strategy/etc. for achieving some value.

Dragging people down is a strategy, not something terminal.

Caching strategies without a functioning cache invalidator turns them into terminal values.

But this is still a type error even if you think the strategy is being executed without any regard to why it's being executed. It's like mixing up the policy for the utility function.

Not all minds do type checking.

Is this an objection? That a person fails to conceptualize what they are doing doesn't change the reality of what they are doing except by their own understanding of it.

For example, many people wander around in a state of cognitive fusion with the world, causing them to do things like read intent into places where there is none because they can't tell apart their own motivations from observations about the world. This doesn't really mean though that, for example, the curb on the sidewalk was out to get them when they tripped over it.

So it can still be a type error regardless of if the mind bothers to check this or not; it's a type error within the normal meanings we give to categories like value and strategy and terminal.

What I'm saying is that these categories may not map cleanly onto the messy reality of a real mind.

This suggests the core thesis is mistaken: it's not that people are innately evil, it's that they've learned a bad strategy to get what they want and are trapped in a local maximum where that strategy keeps working and other strategies are locally worse even if they would be globally better if they took the time to reorient themselves to those alternative strategies.

Are you advocating blank statism where humans can freely chose their own strategies without regards for various inbuild heuristics? A lot of humans engaging in evil behavior (strategies that are not optimal for any goal) is one of Michael Vassar's thesis. As I said in the other post, I did notice one very minor action that falls in that category (it was also very far from a normal strategy for me).

Given that you also have plenty of awareness training I would expect that you will find such impulses as well if you look for them in interaction with friends (especially one's where you tell the friend about something where you have more expertise).

Not at all, only that values and actions taken to achieve those values are not the same thing and that people can change strategies. It'd be too far a jump to go to supposing folks are a blank slate, and we need not consider the question anyway, since the author doesn't go so far as to propose something we need try to resolve by making such a strong claim. I am only saying that the author is mistaken about the idea that strategies are terminal.

For myself, if I look at myself and ask "why did I put so-and-so down" what I don't find is "oh, I want to put people down", I find "oh, I thought that if I did that it would make me look better in comparison" or something like that, where a deeper value is being served: making myself look good.

For myself, if I look at myself and ask "why did I put so-and-so down" what I don't find is "oh, I want to put people down", I find "oh, I thought that if I did that it would make me look better in comparison" or something like that, where a deeper value is being served: making myself look good.

If there's an audience "making myself look good" seems to be a plausible end. If there's however no audience and I don't have any reason that my friends considers people who cause him pain to look good, I fail to see how that would be an end for the strategy and the impulse is still there in some situations. 

It's seems to me like a strategy that's completely maladaptive in a 1-on-1 context with a person with whom I want to relate as friends. 

Humans are social creatures. We often assume there is an audience even when there isn't one. Even if there isn't one, there's still the audience of me observing myself and making judgments about how good I look to myself.

You're right that this seems to be a maladaptive strategy, but it's also worth remembering that humans are bounded agents. I mean, humans seem to actually do the thing I've described, and a reasonable explanation is that they are short sighted in policy planning.

it's not that people are innately evil, it's that they've learned a bad strategy to get what they want

what if sometimes it is not a bad strategy, but the only strategy?

For example nazi scientists did some cruel and evil experiments on humans, but in exchange they got what they wanted.

There's basically no time when you are actually faced with a single option you must take at this level of consideration, so this is a nonstarter. Instead, it's that an option has been screened off so that it looks this way, but in fact there were many available that were simply not considered.

To me, 'evil' means 'should be destroyed if possible'. Therefore I don't like to hand out the label recklessly, as it leads generally to impotent rage, which is harmful to me.

Depends on if you mean by that, as shorthand that the evil (insert person or thing) must be destroyed if possible.

You could get rid of something 'evil' by reforming or changing it to be 'non-evil' by whatever means, that don't involve literally annihilating it.

Unless your definition of evil thing implies unreformable (don't know if that matches intuition -- I can image stories where an 'evil' villain sees the light and becomes good) and destruction is the only option.

Evil is when you "know that some things are damaging to someone else, gain no tangible value from doing them (or even expect that their life would be worse off!), know it is not a virtuous act, and do the harmful acts anyway without expecting future good to come from it."

The first failure point is "gain no tangible value." Imagine any prototypically evil character, maybe a person who is bullying once, maybe a chronic bully, maybe Dr. Evil, maybe Satan. Each of these gains some subjective value from their actions, if not "tangible" value. Either "tangible" is critical here, in which case you have way too narrow a definition of value, or it's not, in which case it is clear that these people are selfish and pretty legible.

What makes them evil is that their value system is so out of whack that they are evil (please just live with the circularity for now, I'm not trying to propose that as a formal definition). So the person who is bullying once and then learning it doesn't fulfill them that much...they may have done a bad, or even evil, thing, but they aren't evil! Same of the chronic bully - if they had a bad home life and are coping poorly, their innate value system may still be programmable to avoid evil acts. Dr. Evil is much closer to chronic evil right up until Goldmember (I can't believe I'm really going with this), when we find out he is a victim of circumstance, which anyone seemingly can be with enough compassion. Satan, well yeah, he's evil.

No one likes or endorses bullying, but you need a definition of evil that has validity, and yours is debatable. But even if accepted, it hardly encompasses a lot of people. You could actually stand to loosen the definition of evil, but you quickly run into selfishness. Construct definition is step one here. And it'll probably carry value judgments (see: virtue).

People would often reduce their own prize if it means that their opponent's is reduced more.

This tells me we care more about relative status than absolute. See: anyone saying anything remotely critical of capitalism in the 21st century in the United States.

This poll asked people if they did "malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn't know"

You mean the default way to gain status on Twitter?

But yes, pure cruelty does exist. What of the fact that chimpanzees are cruel but have no concept of evil? This tells me maybe cruelty serves a self-interested purpose in dominance-based status hierarchies. If the human bullies don't know that, it wouldn't be the first evolved behavior that humans do without fully knowing why.

Whenever I try to analyze evil, I find banality all the way down.

chimpanzees are cruel but have no concept of evil?

But... how do you know that chimpanzees have no concept of evil?

Evil is not a semantic primitive that all human languages have. It's a quite abstract concept. 

That word doesn't mean the same thing as evil. Bad is much less abstract. 

Yeah "bad" is like "don't climb the ladder or we get the hose". 

I am extremely dubious of the claim presented in part I, and in particular am dubious about the validity of the study cited.

Wait what?

What planet are these psychologists from where if you walk away from a bully, they suddenly become stuck in place and give up?

I think the "walk away" thing works better, broadening the situation to not just school bullies, if you stretch the definition or I suppose steelman it to mean do actions where you can leave the bully behind and it's costly for the bully to follow unless they stalk or resort to means or risks that are too troublesome. 

e.g. Quit a workplace full of harassers or leave a club or an organization full of jerks. In some settings if enough victims "vote with their feet", the bully runs out of victims. Obviously totally unreasonable in settings like schools, prisons etc. 

Also moving away from situations with bullies is easier for adults or people with more agency or choice than kids.

But it doesn't work in settings where locally "walking away" doesn't put you out of the bullies reach and there is a low barrier for the bully to "walk back to you and resume bullying" -- moving to a different part of the playground, the bully will just follow. Changing office spaces, while a harasser still remains your co-worker and will still harass in regular encounter.

(Sorry Scott Alexander, you totally fell down as a rationalist when you saw one of the biggest effect sizes ever, in a study that controlled for so many things, and still thought "hmm, i doubt being tortured regularly for a decade has a long term bad effect.")

Controlling for things isn't a good way to go about researching the effects of this. Instead, you should ask, what factors lead to variation in who gets bullied?

Don't think this study is big enough to be representative? Neither do I. 

I created an economics.stackexchange question for whether that finding generalizes. If you are also interested in the question, go and upvote/star it. 

Consider a game theory study by J. Sayer Minas, Alvin Scodel, David Marlowe, and Harve Rawson. The study itself is behind a paywall

I think we are talking about Some descriptive aspects of two-person non-zero-sum games which is openly available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/002200276000400204?casa_token=2Tu4lDl7sxoAAAAA:hZAPPiOyqZmfCINGNs8a-zu1O-1vA4oXu4JJ3MD1XTwywyNaeNuPs6AJyXIeToTNePHyczLcfBVsLQ

Coincidentally, I started re-reading Worm about a month ago, and am almost done.  I'd forgotten how LONG it is, but I'm pleasantly surprised that it holds up well to a re-read.

I don't understand the point of this post, though.  You seem to be making a claim that some people cause pain to others, intentionally and for no obvious gain.  That claim seems so amazingly obvious and uncontroversial that I suspect I'm missing the point.  What work is "innately" and "evil" doing in your analysis, and what difference does it make whether someone's pointlessly cruel or pointedly cruel because they see a benefit in it?

What should I do once I classify an act or person as "evil"? Apparently "wait it out" isn't something you recommend, but you don't offer alternatives.  Is it even something you have to address, or can you just wait it out on a longer timescale?  They probably won't stop just because you're stoic, but they'll stop regardless of anything you do in less than a hundred years, because they and you will be dead.  

I think the context is that many people say that there is no such thing as evil and advocate for some actions and against other actions based on that. Just pointing out that they are recommending harmful things is valuable.

Ruling out certain classes of responses is useful even if there is still more than one possibility remaining and it's still hard to pick the right one.

If someone told you not to use homeopathy to cure disease, would you respond that they haven't explained how you should cure disease?

People say plenty of crazy bullshit.  Simple debunking isn't all that useful, unless it's targeted well to the audience in a way that helps them do better.  More importantly, you haven't pointed out any harmful recommendations, only shown that there are ineffective recommendations (and even then, only that it's ineffective in a narrow sense).  

What class of response have you ruled out?  "Avoid and ignore" probably is the best plan for a lot of situations, even if it doesn't actually solve everything.

In point of fact, I don't worry about whether homeopathy cures diseases that I don't have alternatives for.  If someone tells me it doesn't cure a disease, and can offer no other options, I'd probably ignore them.  For all problems, homeopathy is a better treatment than, say, injecting bleach.  For untreatable cancer, it's exactly as good as anything else.  For many diseases, there are better treatments, but if you don't know that and don't know how to find it out, it's not useful to diss the homeopath.

Don't think this study is big enough to be representative?

How big is the study?

Eh, I think this is no innate evil, but people optimizing their behavior around the incentive of getting dopamine jumps, when they show their superiority to people around them while acting as a bully, or self pleasure of knowing they managed to troll someone on the internet forums and thus are better than them.

You gave no examples of evilness but just things that some predisposed people do to get their rewards, because their prehistoric ancestors evolved that way over the course of millions of years. Real evilness would be to do things that give nothing in return, therefore would be irrational to do. There is no real evil in the world, because even a madman doing irrational subjective evil is still rational to himself.

Want to eliminate evil? Just give people some Soma.

Innately evil would mean engaging in evil action for a innate reason. To the extend that a person engages in evil action because of how they are evolved they are innately evil. 

While I find much of the post not good evidence of a large share of adult people being mean, I did experience multiple times adults being arbitrarily mean in situations with no apparent reason at all - while I believe most people are innately somewhat good, I agree there is a significant share of them being evil to random strangers for really no apparent reason at all.

Different point, probably not the most crucial point here but: In these prisoners-dilemma/public-good behavioral games, I always wonder whether the results are affected by the fact that participants might, half-consciously or consciously, understand that it's zero-sum: no real economic value gets lost. It's merely a transfer between the leader of the experiment and the participants. No social value gets destroyed from defecting, only money gets transferred between different agents in response to my behavior in the game.

Inherent evil is rooted in 2 sources.

1 Palatability is main source of inherent evil.

A fish inside water breath outside suffocating , a man the opposite.

Favorite food vs hated. Nutritional vs poisonous or allergic.

2 competition.

The enemy is enemy because what they do.

That is why inherent evil is a matter of perspective.

The sadist perspective is that the victim's suffering is a good thing. If you like peanuts everyone (those who hate or allergic) ought to eat them. Jocker of mean jokes don't see them as mean just the sharp point of the funny. Cats see the reaction of the pray as what they are doing right when practicing hunting. Falling from what someone judge as incompetent is funny , both as a show of dominance and not having in mind the suffering.

Homogeneity and competing for the same side , can take care of inherent evil.

No bullying I or anyone else I know has experienced was that bad, but the point is, bullies can go far beyond name-calling or even hitting.

Selection bias much?

Not quite, since although it never went that far, there was a legitimate concern that I could get killed. Also, l needed to show a specific example of a bully taking the extra effort to do extra harm, and giving a real example would be, well, problematic.

TL:DR; I was talking about selection bias from you still being alive (I assume).


My point was that, given that the protagonist of Worm almost died, probabilistically, most people won't have experienced that level of bullying, unless we include dead people in 'people who have experienced' because there's a selection effect from being alive. Conditioning on survival*, probabilistically selects against more extreme torture, and towards none at all. At the limit, no one survives, and thus everyone who is alive has experienced such things with probability zero.

*For more exact numbers, look at the SSC link, and see if they investigate at a finer level that 'was or wasn't bullied'. Alternatively, just review the statistics and compare the rates of survival implied by this:

"In fact, the frequently bullied kids had nearly twice as much psychiatric disease, were twice as likely to attempt suicide, were twice as likely to drop out of high school, and even had double the unemployment rate. Worse physical health, worse cognitive function, less likely to get married, et cetera, et cetera."

Also, l needed to show a specific example of a bully taking the extra effort to do extra harm, and giving a real example would be, well, problematic.

I think also that any bully who goes far enough to do something really bad gets called other things and becomes a non-central example of a bully (e.g. a bully that resorts to murder is labelled a murderer, not a bully). It seems bully often evokes images of doing mean-but-not-to-the-point-of criminal things where laws get involved and where the label on a kid shifts from bully to juvenile delinquent, even if the non-illegal things are still bad and traumatizing to victims.