Friday, August 3, 2018

Recommended Essay on Human Capacity for Evil

I stumbled upon this highly recommended essay today:
Noga Arikha (2018). How evil happens. Aeon Magazine. Available,
Arikkha's account is very sophisticated in blending neurological, psychological and social-cultural accounts of evil.

Although reduced affect (except in the arenas of anger and fear) drives the individual psychology of evil, it is not alone a sufficient precursor.

Social ideas play an important role in igniting evil behaviors, particularly contagious evil behaviors.

If you are not paying attention, now is the time to start attending carefully to the deliberate dissemination of ideas that ignite evil behavior.

See for example these discussions here (Hat tip to readers):
Jordan Weissmann (2018, August 3). How I Got Sucked Into the Alternative Universe of QAnon. Slate. Available
Jonathan Hutson (2018, July 31). Exclusive: Trump-endorsed radio show has promoted ex-CIA agent’s call for right-wing rebellion. Salon. 

I've read alternative media on the Internet routinely for over a decade and I've noticed a shift toward more stories and (even more so) comments that vilify, dehumanize, and incite violence across the political spectrum.

Its fashionable for liberals to blame Russia and for conservatives to blame liberal intelligentsia for propaganda aimed at inciting violence, but I believe there are multiple forces involved.

Carl Rove, for example, was a Republican strategist who fomented dissent in the democratic party by recruiting working-class white populations through appeals to cultural values, such as guns and abortion issues. The immunological logic promoted by Rove and related others represents non-believers in socially conservative values as a threat to national purity. Now that threat is represented as requiring purging. See for example this analysis here:

More recently, one could point to the Koch brothers' role in fomenting dissent and manipulating citizens

To be entirely balanced, one could argue that left-wing propagandists also actively promote their agendas for social justice and equality. However, the American populist left is ordinarily not intent on using violence as a method for addressing grievances, although that could change under the climate of contagious violence that is growing. (see my argument here:

The human capacity for evil is produced by a convergence of biological, psychological and cultural conditions of possibility. Today we inhabit particularly fertile grounds for its cultivation.


  1. "Evil is the relic of a former good." Zoroastrian sage--20th century

    The religions of the book prefer to see evil as connected to an evil spirit like Satan or the Devil or Lucifer. Thus two powers, one of God and one of the great Demon. In Christianity God wins.
    Eastern religions associate evil with soul immaturity. The slings and arrows of outregous fortune are then actually just Karma. One accumulates good and bad karma in one life which in later lives comes back as good and bad fortune. Hence, only the illusion of victimhood since one is one's own victimizer.
    The Eastern take on evil seems to me very enlightened and more advanced than the West's. Hinduism for example is not so obssessed with morals and ethics as their Western counterparts. Enlightenment rather than salvation. One Western mystic had this to say: The Western religions have the lesser mysteries and the Eastern, the greater mysteries. He included the ancient Greeks with the East.
    Augustine claimed that one can not will the evil but only the good. Thus the murderer really believes that he is doing good by his murdering. This makes perfect sense. While a sociopath can regenerate, the psychopath can not. The psycopath is truly the lost soul.
    Hating evil is sort of a pointless and even destructive waste of time.
    Christians told some of the above will react as though one were depriving them of a good, namely of an absolute evil and hell where bad people go for all eternity.
    Stalin in the 1930's used to say he was helping God rid the world of scum.
    Without reincarnation the problem of evil has no solution.

  2. Majia, you are not getting much response to "the human capacity for evil". Perhaps if you focused on the two great producers of evil in the 20th century it would be different. I have in mind the Soviet Union and Communist China. Now Alexandra Solzhenitsyn did a marvellous job of chronicaling the Soviet Union, but I am not sure if anyone has done the same nightmarish job for China? How many of your graduate students have read the Gulag Archipeligo? Stalin is generally given a pass when it comes to evil simply by not mentioning his name. All conservatives are apparently fascists or Nazis. Are all liberals closeted Stalinists? Well, the Nazis were admittedly more colorful and artistic. Communism we associate with drab, with Kulak colors of earth or the bleak colors of Siberia.

    In any case year ago noticing the neglect dealt to Stalin I decided to not mention Hitler or the Nazis but instead use Stalin at those times when some one needed a good reviling! Or Chairman Mao. As an experiment it was quite revealing. Lots of college age students think highly of Mao and were not sure who Stalin was.

    Years ago I read an account of a Buddhist monk who journeyed from Inner Mongolia to Hong Kong during the great famine of the late 1950's. Horrifying and with not a thing to eat. His survival on that journey was a miracle. He recounts being helped by a spirit of benevolence who once carried him to cave when he was in collapse.

    Doesn't all evil flow out of fear? Without fear no anger, without anger no resentment and without resentment no envy . . .

    Is Marx then the most evil figure in human history? He was certainly a nasty individual. On his death bed it is reported that Lenin said, communism has failed because we were not like the disciples of Jesus!


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