In most places, and at most times, people have been able to conceptualize, and in some cases carry out, massive atrocities against others. In doing this, they claim a special status and justification for their own interests and their own well-being and deny the same privileges to others. They make excuses for what they (or a cause with which they sympathize) have done yet seek punishment, and refuse tolerance, of others in similar situations. Yet the fact remains that most human beings get on with each other pretty well most of the time. The world is, generally speaking, not some Hobbesian nightmare of all against all but a place where different groups can coexist for long periods of time without any overt conflict between them. Telford Taylor's dinner partners did not actually go out and massacre millions of Germans, and the U.S. government itself drew back, after some thought, from the idea of mass summary executions. Yet similar dinner parties in Munich and Kigali, and in Belgrade and in Zagreb, led to unspeakable atrocities later. In this chapter, I try to describe the special factors that turn latent horrors into real ones.
Most people in the world have a sense of who others are and that they are a little different in language, in color, in customs, or in religion. Under normal circumstances these differences don't matter very much. They matter more, however, when they are subsumed into a developed theory that explains why these differences matter and what needs to be done about them. The major ideology that fastened onto these differences and exploited them ruthlessly was what we now describe as Social Darwinism. Like