W.H.Freeman and Company 1999. ISBN 0-7167-3567-9

Roy Baumeister holds the Professorship of Liberal Arts at Case Western Reserve University.

In the preface to his book he states that he has resisted the temptation to use fictional illustrations from literature, films etc. He bases his conclusions on what the criminals themselves say and do.

Coupled with a wide survey of other writing on the subject, Baumeister certainly manages to draws his reader into the world of evil. He proposes that to understand it, one has to identify with it to some extent, and he gives the warning that "....identifying with evil is the first step to perpetrating it, so it is necessary to step back out of that role once one is in it."

It is interesting to look at the U.S. terror bombings in the light of what he has to say.

In chapter 2, "Victims and Perpetrators", he makes the point that almost all perpetrators of evil do not see what they are doing as evil. The Nazis for example set out to correct the (real) injustices of the post WWI Versailles Treaty and avenge the imagined conspiracies and betrayals of Germany. They saw Germany as the victim.

Perhaps similarly, Bin Laden sees the Palestinians as suffering (real) injustice and he sets out to avenge the imagined American occupation of Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia. A sort of Crusade in reverse with the Islamic world as the victim. (top)

Baumeister concludes that high self esteem rather than the popularly assumed low self esteem is a major source of criminality (see an interesting commentary on this), particularly when it is challenged.

The Nazis exaggerated esteem for Germany and its perceived humbling by outside forces after WWI could be paralleled by Bin Ladens exaggerated esteem for Islam and the perception of its powerlessness against America and the West.

Combine this with the de-individuation of a (religious) group and its functional advantage of the division of labour and you have international organized terror. Religion demands greater than usual steadfastness and idealism and "...it is fair to expect that violence will become relentless and merciless."

In the final chapter he refers to the role that culture plays although in my opinion he should have emphasised it more. As he says," Yet culture can exert a great deal of influence in teaching people how to express and control their aggressive impulses. Culture also shapes the situations that for the context for those impulses, including the opportunities for response, the importance of the proper response, and the norms of what is proper. And culture articulates the beliefs and myths about evil."

Overall this is a very good book.

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