Somebody visited W.C. Fields in hospital, on his deathbed, and found him reading the Bible. They expressed surprise.
“Just looking for loopholes,” he explained.
And that is the story of much of human life, and much of human history. Everyone wants to be good, but without that difficult bit about doing good. Civilization itself may be seen as the struggle against that tendency, and civilizations have been successful to the extent that they have pulled it off: the ability to accept the difference between good and evil, and to act accordingly. Societies of any kind work to the exact extent that everyone follows the Golden Rule, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The temptation is always very strong to simply deny that there is good and evil—that lets you completely off the hook. That is why you hear people using terms like “inappropriate” or “negative” for human deeds instead of “wrong” or “evil.” Modern psychiatry and psychology is founded on the premise. You read—as I just have—references to the “myth of pure evil,” claiming that most people who commit terrible acts, even mass murder, do so in the sincere conviction that they’re on the side of the angels. Perhaps they simply “lack empathy” because their brains are wired differently.
“I wanted to understand how ordinary people got caught up in doing these things,” the present author says. “I came to realize that those who come to do evil don’t view it as evil. Evil is in the mind of the perceiver. Most of the Nazis thought they were doing noble work.”
No. This reduces the human person to an automaton, without free will.
If there really were no such thing as evil, if it really were in the mind of the perceiver, all punishments for crime would be no more than the persecution of minority opinions. It would mean we had no right to judge the Nazis at Nuremberg, or to punish anyone at the International Court of Justice for personal peccadillos like mass murder. It never really mattered whether the Nazis won, or we did. Everyone died for nothing.
There is no way Himmler, for example, had a sincere conviction that he was on the side of the angels. Nor those below him. That was why they invented the gas chambers. They found it too troubling to see their victims shot. Better to do it all out of sight, so they could pretend to themselves it was not happening.
Everyone has a conscience. Demonstrably, when a narcissist does something morally wrong, he or she knows perfectly well they are doing something morally wrong. Because they will invariably lie about it. If they did not think it was wrong, they would not. And they have plenty of empathy as well: if they did not have a well-tuned sense of how others experience things, of how others feel, they would not be able to manipulate them so expertly, which they are famous for. Their “emotional intelligence” is through the roof.
Narcissism is like alcoholism. The alcoholic knows perfectly well that taking that next drink is bad for him, and for those around him. He does not lack a conscience. He just wants it; nothing else matters as much. Same with a narcissist.
This is also why not everyone who is raised to have maximum self-esteem, who is spoiled, will end up a narcissist. Everyone has a conscience, and in the end knows right from wrong in their heart. Becoming a narcissist requires a conscious moral choice.
The essential task for either the narcissist is to get back in touch with that natural rheostat or internal gyroscope, with conscience and with reality.
Psychology in general, sadly, takes exactly that solution, and puts it out of reach. By saying there is no reality, no morality, no right or wrong, and no free will. Trapping narcissists in their narcissism, and melancholics in their despair.