To Be Good, You First Need to Be Bad: Here’s Why

a man stands between a devil and an angel

A big tenet of this website is that to be a force for good in the world, you have to learn how to be bad.

The concept of facing evil as a necessity for good is not simply a matter of philosophy, but there’s enough empirical evidence to prove it.

The first part of this post will address the quantitative, more empirical side.

The second part will address the question more from the individual point of view.

An Empirical Case For Mastering Evil

Cooperation can be a conundrum in the face of otherwise selfish genes.

But experiments such as The Evolution of Cooperation explain how cooperation also makes sense for selfish individuals.

The experiment is a computer program running a simplified version of negotiations (iterated Prisoner’s dilemma).
Many different negotiation strategies were pitted against each other.

prisoner dilemma and tit for tat
By Christopher X Jon Jensen (CXJJensen) & Greg Riestenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
In brief, these were the main strategies:

  • Always defect to get maximum selfish payoff (cheating, in human terms);
  • Always cooperate (too nice, in human terms);
  • Middle of the road between the two (shall we say, “strategic”. Or, to humanize even more, assertive and win-win).

Albeit obviously simplistic when compared to human social exchanges, these experiments are still significant for us.

And the “too nice” VS “too cheating” strategies also allow to draw parallels with human behavior.

The results of these game theory experiments are very telling:

1. Abusive & Too Nice Strategies Die Out

The strategies skewed towards maximum payoff -“abusive”- die out.

And the same fate awaits highly cooperative strategies -let’s call them “too nice”-.

Who wins, then?

2. Conditional Cooperation Wins

The strategy that won out, TIT FOR THAT, could be interpreted as a middle-of-the-road, sort of an “assertive win-win“.

Read more on TIT FOR TAT strategies, but in a nutshell, it works like this:

  1. First, it cooperates
  2. It keeps cooperating with those who cooperate
  3. It retaliates with those who cheat
  4. It starts from scratch after the retaliation

3. Retaliation is Required

“Tit for tat” embodies, empirically, the central thesis of this post (and a central tenet of this website).

And that is that to allow cooperation and win-win you need to be able to punish and cast aside the abusers of this world.

There have been more elaborate techniques that eventually beat “Tit for tat”, but they all included the capacity of cooperating as default while defending and isolating abusers (for a good overview see Ridley, 1996).

For cooperation to even exist, evil must be met with evil

Too Nice Is The Root of Evil

alien invasion
Helplessness to evil invites evil (and gives evil the world)

As the empirical experiments show, highly cooperative strategies (“very nice”, in human terms) are the best for everyone IF everyone else around were to be equally very nice.

But it’s important to notice that unless forever ring-fenced, naively cooperating environments are in high danger of being invaded and taken over by opportunistic cheats.

Indeed, as long as an abusive alien force can penetrate a highly agreeable system, the agreeable players will be relegated to ever-increasing indigence, enslavement, and, eventually, extinction.

Indeed a dishonest strategy seeping into a cooperative-only strategy (too nice strategy) would make it easy to pick off everyone who can’t retaliate.
Unable to defend themselves, the too-nice people of this world succumb to the self-centered, evil player.

The World Needs Good Men With Capacity for Evil

When we extrapolate the results of game theory, we get a bleak outlook for virtues without the capacity for evil.

Because if people with good intentions don’t arm themselves with the tools and knowledge to muster evil when it’s necessary, then this world is mathematically doomed to be run by evil people.

No wonder so many people around the world lost all faith in the political class: it seems like getting to the top automatically filters out the good players.
Which is indeed something that happens when systems become rotten to the core.
Mathematically indeed, it’s impossible to infiltrate a cheat-only system with a collaborative strategy (unless many collaborative players enter it at once).

More Evil In Real World

There’s one more twist.

The simulation probably makes it harder for abuse to pay off.

“Tit for tat” for example plays multiple rounds with fixed payouts.
But what if one could win big once without retribution? Or cheat without anyone else knowing it?

Indeed, abusive behavior is more likely to pay off socially when:

  • Nobody knows you have cheated
  • The other player cannot retaliate
  • You will never meet the other player again
  • You can win huge and give back little when retaliated against

You will notice that any of the above are common instances in life.
An abuser who is able to legally -but not ethically- take advantage of someone else, for example, will often face no retribution.

What’s left to do, then?

Why You Must Master Evil

By mastering evil I am referring to:

  1. The ability to recognize evil when you see it
  2. The strength, and skills, to withstand it (avoid it or destroy it)
  3. The ability to act evil, when needed

Once you can do that, it will do a myriad of great things for you, the people around you, and the world at large:

1. Mastering Evil Prevents Abuse

When you know how to recognize dishonest players, you are also more likely to defuse them or even beat them at their own game.

It’s a little bit like martial arts training.
You will be able to spot the signs of aggression and are more likely to respond calmly and confidently.
Which, overall, lowers the chances a fight will ever be needed.

2. You Remove Yourself From The Easy Target List

Who do abusers prey on?

Mostly on people who are easy to prey on, of course. When you can read the signs of dishonesty and cruelty and are able to send back equally powerful signals, you are less likely to become prey.

And if everyone were able to withstand evil, evil will cease to pay off. And cease to exist.

If you’re unable to muster evil, you’re enabling evil to exist

3. You Respect Yourself More

As Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules For Life, explains: if you are too nice, too agreeable, and too passive in the face of abuse, you will pay the price emotionally.

All that action that you’re not taking, all that anger you’re bottling up makes you become bitter and resentful.

Peterson says that if you’re harmless you’re not virtuous. There’s no virtue in being harmless.

But if you’re a monster without acting monstrously, then you’re virtuous. And, I would add if you can be a monster and act virtuously, then you’re a hero.
Why don’t you be a hero instead?

4. The Only Way to Do Good

Ultimately, I believe, you can’t do good in any meaningful way without being able to be bad when the time calls for it.

I’m afraid it’s again simple logic that supports this statement: the higher you aim, the more you will have to contend with evil.

Your success will attract lots of great people and great opportunities. But also the swindlers, the resentful haters, and the vultures looking for easy spoiling.
And of course, it might be the case that unfair competitors won’t stop at anything trying to squash you.

It derives that you cannot spread love at scale if you cannot destroy the evil that stands in the way.

a man looks poised as he stands between devil and angel
The better angels of our nature are useless if they can’t confront evil

The Hero Journey

“Having an impact” has become a catchphrase.

Usually, people mean to say they want to have a positive impact.

Albeit we find the mantra to be potentially manipulative, we appreciate the goal of succeeding while adding value.
That’s what win-win is, and we’re all for win-win here.

However, to effectively add value while also winning for yourself… You do need to learn all the “darker” disciplines we teach here:

And you must learn all of that… While also never forgetting the light.

As Nietzsche says: when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.
That’s especially true when you move forward in life. The higher you go, the more ahole you will meet.

And all the turkeys you meet along the road may

But don’t let that stop you.
Mastering the dark while still pushing ahead for the light is the ultimate hero’s journey.

Go for it.

Get your sword. Then keep it sheathed (most of the times).


We talked about why you need to be bad.

But don’t get this article wrong:

We’re not promoting endless cynicism here -more enlightened cynicism.

There are plenty of good men and women in the world.
And some will even help you while asking for little or nothing in return.

But what this article says is that you can’t count on that.
There will be people wanting to take advantage of you along the road. That’s also human nature. And you’re better off being prepared for that.

This is what this website -and Power University- are all about.

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