Friday, November 22, 2013

This week's American Horror Story brings up an idea that I find disturbing and wonder if it's true

Kathy Bates joined the cast of American Horror Story this season, and she's playing Madame LaLaurie, an actual woman from New Orleans history who did horrible things to her slaves. Transformed into an immortal through the magic of voodoo queen Marie LaVeau, Madame LaLaurie is a pretty despicable person. She's murdered babies for their blood to make a poultice to keep her young, mutilated people, and just in general expressed a lot of delight while others around her suffered.
Delphine LaLaurie and Queenie (in the back). Queenie's witch power
is to be a living voodoo doll. Basically anything she does to
herself can be inflicted on another person.
So in Wednesday night's episode, she's cutting some sandwich meat in the role of "maid" some 200 years removed from the actual time period that birthed her, and explains to Queenie (played by black actress Gabourey Sidibe) and states that she's trying to be good. She says, "I'm learning. That was a different time. I'm learning to be good from people like you."

Now, this episode had A LOT of things in it. We had our first undead threesome, we had one of the best "I'm a millennial and people assume we are all about entitlement and narcissism" speeches ever, and we saw that Marie LaVeau has a throne of alligators that outdoes Katy Perry's throne in the music video "Roar" (If you haven't watched "Roar" you should because it's full of awesome!) But the one thing that stuck in my mind was this line from Madame LaLaurie.
Marie LaVeau 1 Katy 0
Is she saying that "good" can actually be taught? If that's so, can "evil" actually be taught?

Guys, maybe I've grown up in a bubble, but I kind of believe that true evil just exists, and you don't have to be taught that. It just happens and those of us that aren't evil are left to pick up the pieces. The same way with good. If you are truly a "good" person, it just happens. There's not a cruel bone in your body. You feel compassion for others and you follow a moral compass that unabashedly points true. Someone that's "good" is the kind of person that would give someone the shirt off their back and make do without one. That's what "good" is.

So I guess I'm soliciting some opinions from you all on this. Can "good" actually be taught? Can "evil" actually be taught? Now just to be clear, I'm not talking about lawful or illegal behavior. I'm not talking about a person doing what's right because they make a choice based off of repercussions that might happen if they don't do what's right. I'm talking about actual goodness that goes down through all the layers and into the very center of who we are. Is that something that can be taught? Or is it something like blue either have it or you don't.

I suppose that "teaching" is in line with this season's American Horror Story. After all, it takes place in a witch's school, and class is now in session.


  1. Not sure if taught is the right word, but it can be learned. Like behavior, it can be molded and trained. And it can be unlearned. Think of Scrooge - 'a life can be saved.'

  2. I think that anything can be taught. I am a Voodoo priestess and I think that life can be the most extreme teacher in a lot of different ways. Experience shapes existence.

  3. I think it depends on whether one has some kind of organic brain damage or whether they got twisted from some horrible trauma. I do believe that some people can "turn it around" and certainly karma teaches one that.

  4. @Lilith: You are the first Voodoo priestess I have ever met! I'd love to interview you. I have so many questions.

  5. I think it's an inborn trait, as many indications of either good or evil will appear as a child grows.

    Good behavior can be learned as can evil behavior, it all depends on who your mentor is. If the child adores the mentor, they want to be like them. Anything can be learned and used to disguise a person's true inclinations.

    Watch for body language and watch the eyes. . .facial expressions or lack of them reveal a lot.

  6. I think good and evil are more born through experience than taught.

  7. It seems an innately good person, even when doing something wrong, tends to do it for the right reasons, or with hopes that this is a means to an end that benefits all—something for the greater good.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, an innately evil person, even when all appearances seem to portray them as a benevolent being, is usually only interested in doing good if it benefits them.

    Love this show!

    M.L. Swift, Writer

  8. Are we talking nature vs. nurture?
    I think good and evil can happen either way, though what we term as evil is usually some kind of mental derangement. IMHO

  9. I don't know if good can be taught, but evil definitely can. Just think of all the people who do terrible things to other people because they themselves were severely victimized.

  10. I think it's less that evil can be taught than you can tale a good person and twist them into something else. Like a good man taking the ultimate revenge on someone murdering his family instead of letting the law deal with it. But true good or evil is innate in my opinion. But I do believe someone can change, it is both the beautiful and sad fact of life.

  11. I believe who we are is 50% who we are when we're born, and 50% environment. That said, anyone can swing either way, dependent on the influences in their lives. Those who bloom in a predominantly selfless society/home will act accordingly for the most part, and those subjected to a dark or twisted upbringing are that much more inclined to become dark and twisted.

  12. Not sure about deep down goodness, but you can teach someone how to behave, which is the best you can hope for in a lot of cases.

  13. I agree with Alex--a person can change if he/she has the encouragement and the fortitude to do so.
    Behavior is learned and molded, despite one's heritage.

  14. There are too many factors to come up with an easy answer. I don't believe in easy - but I do believe in good. Evil is the absence of good, and if it's all a person has known it would be hard to break the cycle, but I do believe it is possible. Angels are sent to earth and placed in the midst of evil to show us how!

  15. No one is born "good." People are inherently selfish creatures, especially children. Behavior is taught, including how to be "good" and get along in society. The lack of "good" in people may not make them what we would consider evil, but it certainly is not "good."

  16. Environment vs genes (someone already said nature vs nurture).

    Good can be taught, but only if the person wants to be good. I think that's the crux of it. A person has to want to be good rather than evil.

    Evil doesn't realize it's evil, though. Evil doesn't believe in good vs evil. Evil thinks that it's all about power.

    I shouldn't try to come up with a philosophical argument on a Friday night. I'm an idiot on Friday nights.

  17. To me, your version of good and evil is a finite line. Yes, I believe good and evil can be taught. I don't believe in innate good or evil; we are all born with the potential for either. But, we are also all born innocent. An infant "learns" about the world through exposure; but circumstances can change, and as an individual matures physically, so they also mature emotionally/psychologically.

    A person to kill can feel guilt, and there are the seeds of good; a person taught self sacrifice can feel disgust and there lie the seeds of evil. A person can also do great evil through a desire to do good.

    I think a person is "taught" everything through physical experience and psychological perception, from birth to death. Perhaps there is such a thing as innate evil or innate sainthood. But I've a tendency to believe at some point in adulthood, every human being makes a conscious choice to be one or the other or somewhere in between.


  18. Yes, there's nature vs. nurture, but even then I really don't believe we're blank slates at birth; I've seen people raised in the same family and same environment turn out very different from each other, including the bad twin/good twin dynamic. But I also believe that children learn compassion or cruelty and starting at a very early age.

    What really is scary, however, is that a few scientists are saying some people may be born as sociopaths/ psychopaths, which basically means they have no conscience, and no amount of therapy can give them one. They estimate that about 1% of the population falls under this category. Except on Wall Street, where estimates are that 10% of the professionals are sociopaths -- and I'm not making this up.

  19. I don't think anyone is born "evil" or "good". It's everyone's personal experience while growing up that separates one from the other.

  20. Of course that good can be taught. Most ebil people are ebil either because they know no better (and thus need to be shown some warmth and compassion) or because they have suffered in the past and the ebil is their way of reacting to it (in which case you work on solving their old issues).... Doesn't always work, but it often can....

  21. I'm with you Michael, I think evil is innately there, written into the DNA and it can't be untaught. Nor can good. I am not sure this a question you can ask easily in a blog post because most people want to believe in free will and that people have the ability to choose whether they can do evil or good but I think the evidence really points to the contrary. The evidence of what I am saying? A group of children raised by the same parents, in ostensibly the same circumstances (in other words they are middle class and the the income doesn't really fluctuate) One child grows up to be abusive and mean while the other grows up to be kind and gentle. Then reverse the situation (in other words you might see a similar phenomenon in an abusive home). It is something in the DNA that is different within the children not the circumstances or how they were taught- otherwise any child of abuse would only do what they were taught and that is not the case.

  22. 1. That AHS:Coven episode's my fave so far, this season.

    2. I wonder if some folks don't confuse things like "kind" and "nice" with true "good" and things like "selfish" and "conniving" with true "evil," and other similar traits. I think the demands of "true good" and "true evil" are too strong to be met by many; in other words, I think there are very few truly good or truly evil people in existence.

    3. I reckon that the average Jane or Joe treads that line in the middle of the road and swerves in either direction, now and again.

    4. What truly motivates "good" and "evil" behaviors is anyone's guess.

    5. Having said #4, I know that both good and evil behaviors can be modeled, but it's up to the individual's desire and ability whether s/he will/can learn.

    Love this topic, Michael, though it made me think more deeply than I like to on a Monday night. ;-)