Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

Synopsis

Political or social groups wanting to commit mass murder on the basis of racial, ethnic or religious differences are never hindered by a lack of willing executioners. In Becoming Evil, social psychologist James Waller uncovers the internal and external factors that can lead ordinary people to commit extraordinary acts of evil. Waller debunks the common explanations for genocide- group think, psychopathology, unique cultures- and offers a more sophisticated and comprehensive psychological view of how anyone can potentially participate in heinous crimes against humanity. He outlines the evolutionary forces that shape human nature, the individual dispositions that are more likely to engage in acts of evil, and the context of cruelty in which these extraordinary acts can emerge. Illustrative eyewitness accounts are presented at the end of each chapter. An important new look at how evil develops, Becoming Evil will help us understand such tragedies as the Holocaust and recent terrorist events. Waller argues that by becoming more aware of the things that lead to extraordinary evil, we will be less likely to be surprised by it and less likely to be unwitting accomplices through our passivity.

Excerpt

The Holocaust was a man-made event, as have been the many other acts of genocide and mass killing that stain our history. Indeed, one of the most haunting questions that these acts of mass killing pose to us all is, quite simply, “How were they humanly possible?” When confronting the awesome task of trying to explain the behavior of the genocidal perpetrators, however, scholars have not reached any consensus. One group of answers to that inevitable question has focused on particularities. What culture, society, or nation, what ideology, historical prejudice, or ethnic hatred, what psychological profile or cluster of personality traits, what unusual situation or special circumstance is to be deemed the cause of such aberrant human behavior? The underlying assumption to this approach is that there is a fatal flaw, a major deviation from the norm, that must be discovered to account for it.

Given that most societies do not commit genocide and most people do not become genocidal killers, there is an intuitive common sense to such an approach. If “extraordinary evil” is not the norm either historically or in our everyday experience, then its source must be found in some abnormality particular to those peoples and societies that do perpetrate “extraordinary evil.” Such a commonsense assumption is also comforting. We look for flaws in others, not latent potentials within ourselves. For surely “we” and “our” society could not do what the perpetrators and their societies have done.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.