This essay focuses on the definition of evil by analyzing the case of Beth Thomas. The analysis deals with evilness, how it occurs and how it can manifest even in children. It is concluded that she is evil but that she was able to overcome this sort of behaviour.
Detecting A Variant Of Evil
Beth Thomas the child of rage, is a story that has not only impacted her adoptive parents but also caught the attention of filmmakers and documentaries (Ginsberg, 1990). The focus is on Beth Thomas and Dr. Ken Majid's therapy footage in which many questions were asked (Peerce, 1992). It starts with the abuse Beth does to her family members but also puts attention on what she had to endure. She was labelled as ‘Beth Evil’, the child of rage, so immoral that her parents (Figure 1) were afraid that she would hurt her brother John (Peerce, 1992). In the documentary, she explains to the Doctor that she would hurt her brother at night time, when asked what she means by hurting him, she explains that she wants to stab him with a knife (Boudry, 2018).
She starts by pinching needles into her brother, which she does routinely to the point that her parents were forced to lock her room door at night and set the alarm. Her main goal is to kill but also to not be around any other human being. It was clear for the doctor to analyze that Beth had no conscience and could kill without feeling remorse. The main factor that was demonstrated in Beth's behaviour is a result of her being a victim of abuse. When her adoptive parents took her and her brother on, they were not told about the severe emotional problems they both had. The problems had more effect on Beth, most probably because she remembers the physical and sexual abuse she suffered under her birth father. This trauma has caused her to exhibit inappropriate behaviour of sexual acts, especially towards her brother.
"Because I hurt him so much." - Beth Thomas
The aspects of evil are complex. Once we understand the perpetrator's inner processes and attitude, the crimes become less vile than others might think (Baumeister, 1997). It is important to understand their perspectives to understand their actions in a way that will diminish their evilness (Baumeister, 1997). Just as in the case of Beth, her severe past traumas lessen her wrongdoing and it is questionable to consider it pure evil. Beth is also an example of a child being neglected to such an extent that empathy was not taught to her in her early years of childhood. This explains her cruel behaviour towards others. Empathy is a very important inhibitor that keeps one from doing evil things (Baumeister, 1997).
This also goes hand in hand with self-control (Baumeister, 1997). Cultures rely on rules and standards that only work if everyone adheres to these rules, so people are expected to self-control their inner desires for society. Not everyone can do as they please, a delay of gratification is vital. This behaviour is in children as young as four years old, as demonstrated in experiments. Children can delay their gratification, which is a delay in giving in to their own desires. This is something that was not inherent in Beth even though she was already six years old throughout the interviews in the documentary.
Can we consider Beth evil? Yes, it is possible. In the eyes of the observer and victims, she is displaying the main factors of evil. She is intentionally harming others (has the intention to kill) and expresses it throughout the interview. She is not seeing her own actions as evil and she shows no signs of remorse. In the documentary, it was never clearly explained or asked whether she is justifying the wrongdoing or saying that the victim deserves to be treated that way.
To conclude this story the one thing that becomes clear is that there is a thin line between perpetrator and victim. The roles are not clearly divided, she is a victim of abuse and if that is enough of an excuse to act out is unclear. No one looked into the matter of who is right or wrong. The doctor and her parents identified her as a victim, sending her to a facility to receive treatment. She was also not condemned by her society in any way and was able to reintegrate after her therapy.
Baumeister, R. (1997). Human Evil: the Mythical and the True Causes of Violence. Florida State University.
Boudry, M. (2018). The myth of senseless violence. Palgrave Macmillan. Pg. 147-160
Ginsberg, A. (1990). Child of Rage: A Story of Abuse. HBO.
Peerce, L. (1992). Child of Rage. Gillian Productions C.M. CBS.