Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

By James Waller | Go to book overview

A Model of Extraordinary
Human Evil

AS WE LOOK AT PERPETRATORS OF extraordinary evil, we need no longer ask who these people are. We know who they are. They are you and I. There is now a more urgent question to ask: How are ordinary people, like you and me, transformed into perpetrators of extraordinary evil?

The precise “how” of the transformation process by which ordinary people come to commit extraordinary evil remains veiled from us, as it may have remained veiled from the men and women who experienced it. Regardless, we are now in a position to advance some hypotheses. We do know, for instance, that the process is far too complex to be reduced to one factor alone, such as the nature of the collective; the influence of an extraordinary ideology; psychopathology; a common, homogeneous extraordinary personality; or the elaborate creation of a divided self. We also suspect, however, that some of these factors may contain a grain a truth that— when combined with other dispositional, situational, and social factors— will help advance our understanding of perpetrators of mass killing and genocide.

In other words, it is not that all of the existing theories are completely wrong; rather, each of them is incomplete. It is in looking at their incompleteness that we most clearly see the need for a new understanding—in all its depths and particulars—of how ordinary individuals come to commit extraordinary human evil. There is a call to find order where there appears to be none. We need a unified theory in which all of us, “normal human beings,” must confront our universal potential for extraordinary evil. Such a new theory, an attempt to synthesize and systematize the diversity of explanations into one coherent whole, is the focus of part II of this book.

Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 outline an original explanation of extraordinary human evil that considers the wide range of factors involved in the process that transforms ordinary people into perpetrators of extraordinary evil. The

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