An illustrious British family produces two interesting offspring-Sacha Baron Cohen, eccentric film maker and bizarre comedian, and Simon Baron-Cohen, psychologist.
Simon is interested in the nature of evil acts, as am I. His bhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/science/14scibks.html?ref=science book "The Science of Evil" is reviewed in the NYTImes.
Is evil a biologic imperative or a free will act? What motivated Holocaust prison guards to prod Jewish children and babies into gas chambers while fondly tucking their own children into bed at night? What state of mind allows warring African tribes to bash in the heads of babies, rape the women of their neighboring tribe?
This remains the ultimate question. Who are we?
Baron-Cohen writes about levels of empathy. He prefers this term over "evil". I can understand his perspective. The term "evil" has religious implications as well as the possibility of interpretation. After all didn't the Nazis justify their actions as "only following orders"?. They very likely did not consider themselves to be evil, merely eliminating those they had already demonized and de-humanized.
War has been used to justify many acts of brutality and there have always been the gray zone in which atrocities have been excused by those who perpetrate them. But…..there are those which cross the line.
When self-defense becomes brutal annihilation of innocents, we are entitled to use the term "evil".
I believe we all possess a gene. It is the tribal gene. It reflects the ability create a "us" versus "them" attitude. It allows us to de-humaize other human beings and therefore perform atrocities upon them.
What triggers this gene to express itself is the powerful emotion– FEAR. Fear produces two opposite responses in human beings–withdrawal and escape, or attack and destroy. Attack is the more acceptable and satisfying of the two.
FEAR is the emotion which drains empathy for those who threaten us.
As a species capable of suspending empathy based on fear of the other we need to study how and why this occurs.
Perhaps the definition of evil is the propensity to lose empathy for another living being.
But evil it remains and referring to it as a lack of empathy somehow lessens its horrific destructive potential.