As promised in my last post, and I try to always keep my promises, one of the topics I am interested in writing about is the nature of evil. There are several intriguing sub-topics under the quite capacious umbrella of evil, and I have decided to begin with the one about the reasons behind massive evil acts and those who become members of groups whose goal is to commit an evil act.
I was more than intrigued by this issue in a class on Genocide that I have the privilege of taking this quarter at the University of Denver. Despite the fact that the volume of reading assignments is larger than any person can physically cover, the topic is so fascinating that I have no choice but to forsake the goal of eight hours of sleep per night. Temporarily that is.
Who, then, are the people engaging in evil acts on a large scale and why do they do it? Some have argued that the majority of people are followers who simply conform to the order of a select few elites with strong murderous instincts. This theory suggests that a small cohort of men (no women here and on that I shall have a post in the future) with hate agendas manage to convince a whole nation to comply with their ambition to annihilate an established enemy. Others emphasize that evilness or the desire and willingness to commit a mass murder is embedded in certain cultures. As such, mass killing can only be the result of a specific culture that for one reason or another has the desire for evil. The proponents of that theory persist that the Holocaust could have only happened in Germany because this is what German culture was at that time.
The theory that I find the most shocking and thought-provoking, however, is the one that claims that it is not a special kind of person that becomes a mass murderer and commits genocide. Rather, most who did, and still do by the way, are ordinary people who under normal circumstances will live quite ordinary and mundane lives. Now how is that for an inspiration? Under the ideal conditions, each one of us can participate in genocide. I am sure that many people will be outraged by such a claim and I can understand the reason. It is quite comforting to believe that those we see as monsters are separate and different from us and by all means, they cannot be referred to as humans. It is easier to hate them and banish them that way. Much evidence suggests, however, that even if some of the ones who committed a genocidal act enjoyed it very much, most despised the action and thought it wrong, but participated anyway.
Here it is important to note that labeling those who commit evil acts “ordinary people” and finding possible explanations for their behavior do not excuse the nature of what took place. Whether they hated it or not, the fact is, they did it and should be prosecuted for their actions. The answer to their believed inherent evilness, however, is certainly not a simple or a warmth-inducing one.