People of the Lie

By M. Scott Peck

Reviewed by Kundali Dasa

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M. Scott Peck has written several very useful books, such as The Road Less Traveled, The Different Drum, and a few others. People of the Lie ranks next to the best of them. The sub-title, “A Hope for Healing Human Evil” reveals the theme of this book, and a good thing too, as the title gives nothing away. Books that explore the evil psychology of historical figures are plenty, but books on the roots of evil in general are too few. People of the Lie helps to even things out in this regard. 

The book has two big divisions. The first five chapters explore various forms of individual evil and the psychology motoring it. This is where Peck wanders off the straight and narrow path of psychiatric convention by discussing possession and exorcism as if they were a reality and not just plain superstition. There must be a scientific explanation for everything, psychiatry says, and possession and exorcism don’t come under science. One suspects that among his peers some eyebrows may have gone way up when Peck dared to publish this book. Some may have used it as an excuse to discredit the entire book; it would be their loss, because a lot more is covered than possession and exorcism. 

Having read years ago the astonishing story of Billy Milligan, an Ohio man who was found to have 24 distinct personalities inhabiting him, I think the case weighs strongly in favor of the psychiatric slant. The mind, when fragmented enough, can appear to house many individuals, and to a lesser mind observing this, possession by someone else, a spirit from outside, seems a plausible explanation; but it is only a lack of understanding of the mind, which is like a labyrinth. After all, the possession theory stretches credulity to the breaking point when 24 different persons target the same man for possession. Some of them were not even bad spirits. 

A more plausible explanation for the multiple personality phenomenon is that a fragmented mind can manifest many personalities, even 24; and when psychiatrists come along and integrate them (making Billy a singular functioning person again), the possession theory begins to crumble.  Then again, maybe Peck knows something that scientific minds don’t. Maybe both things are possible, fragmented Billy Milligans and possession by outside spirits. 

Whatever the case, if we allow Peck this consideration, perhaps shelving this part pending further information, reading People of the Lie still gives a lot of value for one’s time and money. It helps us to understand the character and actions of people we know—school chums, colleagues at work, neighbors, perhaps people within our own family, our mate, and even ourselves. And even if no gainful insights along these lines occur this part of the book can pass as terrific diversion, but I doubt that.  Taken as a whole the book is too reasonable and informative. 

The second major division, covering two chapters, is where I found the most value; it is an examination of group evil. Here Peck soars. The author happened to be one of the four psychiatrists that the US Army called upon to come up with an explanation of the My Lai incident in Vietnam. Peck uses that incident, the massacre of over a hundred non-military village men, women and children, by American soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Calley, as a backdrop to discuss how, why, and what happens to cause people in specialized groups to do things in the group that they would never do as individuals. 

This part of the book has a lot to offer would-be members of any group, as well as standing members, and ex-members, too. Peck’s analysis, which ultimately reduces group evil to a manifestation of conscienceless behavior brought about by individual laziness and narcissism, is hard to refute. People of the Lie is well worth reading, provided that the reader allows Peck his belief that demonic possession and the possibility of exorcism by religious ritual are facts. It should be widely read; it is a book for our times.

See also:
The Passionate State of Mind
Do you believe man descended from the apes?

In Czech: Články na podobné téma
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