Social psychologist Roy Baumeister begins his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, with a proposition that will be counterintuitive to many: “Evil usually enters the world unrecognized by the people who open the door and let it in. Most people who perpetrate evil do not see what they are doing as evil.”
Dismissing evildoers as “insane” is an attempt to absolve both them and you of responsibility. Baumeister observes, “People do become extremely upset and abandon self-control, with violent results, but this is not insanity.” If only “insane” people commit “evil” acts, you might reason there is no need to strengthen spiritual and moral muscles. You might skip the reflection, study, and practice that builds spiritual and moral strength.
Would you, Baumeister asks, “obey orders to kill innocent civilians? Would you help torture someone? Would you stand by passively while the secret police hauled your neighbors off to concentration camps?” Baumeister writes, “Most people say no. But when such events actually happen, the reality is quite different.” Today, to the point, will you obey orders to fire upon people who refuse to comply with mandates?