Sometimes It’s the Situation that Is Evil

Human beings love structures. Give them a routine, a structured situation, any kind of behavioral pattern in which the outcome is known in advance, and they will embrace it with open arms. Dr. Eric Berne wrote all about it in his best-selling book, “Games People Play” (  Games may be frivolous or they may be deadly serious. Games are essentially patterns of behavior, called transactions, involving two or more roles that are usually filled by people. People who play a role in a game, who decide they don’t want to play the role or game anymore, often bring down upon themselves the wrath of the remaining role players. Psychologists and psychiatrists who subscribe to the principles of Berne’s Game Theory sometimes call themselves Transaction Analysts. Only Transaction Analysts are qualified to call a game that people are playing a game and to give it a name. Anybody else who dares to do so is called a “game caller”, which is the name of another game (a variant of “Oneupmanship”). The highest level of existence to which one may aspire, and which is mostly occupied by Transaction Analysts, is called a game-free existence. This describes a person who doesn’t play games, who does not engage in hidden or ulterior transactions.

Claude Steiner ( took the idea of game theory and developed it into life-spanning stories and scripts people followed. A person would choose (or somebody else would choose it for him or her) a story that would define the meaning and arc of that person’s existence from birth to death. Of course these stories were well-known, they had roles, and each role had a script to be followed. Many of the stories were tragedies and many were comedies, but I believe that even the comedies were tragedies. All the tragedies were Greek tragedies. Everyone knows how they turn out in the end. Stories are long-running complicated games and scripts are long-running complicated transactions.

In this vein I propose to analyze another pattern or structure called a “situation.” Like games, they are repetitious, have roles, and if not necessarily well-known, they usually are amenable to analysis. When people find themselves in a situation, they usually find themselves cast into a particular role in that situation. People usually follow the scripts that are available for their role. If they don’t, then they will be booed off the stage and somebody else will be solicited or drafted for the role. When they are released from their roles, people quickly enter other roles and play them according to the scripts available for those roles. Just like people, situations may be good or evil, or neither good nor evil. Josef Stalin was a good father who loved his daughter Svetlana more than anything, yet Josef Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 20 million of his comrades. When he played the role of father, he was a good man and he played his role well. When he played the role of dictator, he was an evil man and he played that role well too. How was that possible?

Several countries in this region are currently at war. A war is a tricky situation in which all sides struggle to gain some kind of advantage over the other sides while minimizing their own disadvantages. The situation of war has its roles and scripts, and endless variations on a few well-known themes. The only problem is that you can’t always tell who’s playing which role. The roles include government officials and clerks, combatant soldiers and non-combatant soldiers, non-combatant civilians and combatant civilians, heroes and cowards, aggressors and defenders, terrorists and those who finance them, hide them, and transport them, religionists who whip up the masses saying God is on their side, people who just want to work to support their families, people who are sick or wounded and need to get to a hospital, mothers with babies, husbands and wives, grandparents, lovers, poets, tourists, pilgrims,  doctors, policemen, prostitutes, criminals, ah yes – and “neutral” observers. As long as we are at war, and we will be at war as long as not all sides want peace, we will need soldiers to protect us. If we didn’t have soldiers to protect us or the soldiers didn’t protect us very well, some of us would become terrorists, if not now then at some time in the future. That’s what happens when one side maintains a consistent advantage over the other side but doesn’t eliminate their capacity to rise up against the victor. So we have a situation in which one side has a military advantage against the other sides, but the other sides still have the ability to shoot missiles into the “winning” side’s homeland and to blowup buses, stab civilians, and kidnap non-combatants. A poet is drafted into the role of soldier. He dons a uniform, is given a rifle, and is sent to guard some barricade between them and us. That’s his new role. The old role of poet has been folded up and stuffed in his pocket. He has a new script to learn now. A couple of burly young guys approach the soldier from the other side. They know the role he is playing, but he doesn’t know the roles they play. They don’t stop when he tells them to stop. They shout at him. One pushes him. The soldier points his rifle at them. A television camera records the scene. The soldier is relieved of duty and jailed. After being released, he goes back to his role as poet. He is not under any pressure to learn that script. It is already well-known to him, and it’s not a matter of life and death. On a TV set on the other side of the world, a news report of a soldier pointing his rifle at three young boys is presented by a respectable looking anchorman. People’s beliefs are confirmed by the news report.

Sometimes a child is forced by his peers to pick up rocks and throw them at the soldiers patrolling their streets. The child’s parents may be forced by social pressures to send their children out to throw rocks at the soldiers. They are forced into roles of rock throwers and supporters of the resistance. A young man may be pressured into a role of suicide bomber. Then again, he may just be a doctor or teacher.

Sometimes it’s the situation that is evil, and not the people trapped in the roles they have to play. Then again, there are evil people who consistently seek out roles that allow them to express their evil predilections.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel


Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose

3 responses to “Sometimes It’s the Situation that Is Evil

  1. Carlinda

    So very true…and very scary!

  2. JOHN

    I believe I had a sociopath in my life that used these so called games. The game went on for ten years. I was lied to, tricked, coned stolen from and left with nothing. I even lost any possible employment. I never heard of any kind of game. This person I trusted and cared about. I don’t play games. I am real. For some time now, I have read about sociopaths and about eric bernes games. The games are not for healthy people.

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