People of the Lie
By M. Scott Peck
Reviewed by Kundali DasaFind more reviews at http://www.saragrahi.org
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
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
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.