07
Apr
09

On air: Are some people inherently evil?

cambodia1Are some people destined to do harm to others? Is there something in their psychological make-up from their birth which is dictating their behaviour? Or do those who carry out pre-meditated murder, rape or torture do so because of their experience in life? Is it as much about circumstance as anything else? There are several reasons we’re picking up on this today.

1. Today is the 15th Anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide.

2. The LRA. New reports say the Ugandan rebel movement the Lord’s Resistance Army is continuing its attacks on civilians in DR Congo and southern Sudan. It’s long been accused of mass rape, murder and forcing children to fight for them.

3. The al-Bashir arrest warrant. The Sudanese president is accused of crimes against humanity. Whoever is responsible for what’s happened in Darfur, that thousands of people have died in devastating attacks on whole villages is fact.

4. Josef Fritzl. He needs no explaining.

5. Khmer Rouger trial in Cambodia.

6. Prolonged attack on two boys in the UK. This is clearly not on the same scale as the other examples, but plenty of people in the UK are wondering what leads to one set of boys treating another like this.

7. German teenager shoots dead 15 people last month.

And of course on top of these current events, there are many more going back over the years from the most terrible of them all – the Holocaust – to the more recent spate of gun attacks.

What is it that drives people to be involved in such horrors?


125 Responses to “On air: Are some people inherently evil?”


  1. 1 Bob in Queensland
    April 7, 2009 at 12:49

    Isn’t this the old “nature or nurture” discussion with a new theme? In any case, although people are born with an individual personality, I have to think that, in most cases, evil is a product of a person’s upbringing and experiences.

  2. 2 Jennifer
    April 7, 2009 at 12:57

    Re: Are some people destined to do harm to others? Is there something in their psychological make-up from their birth which is dictating their behaviour?

    Yes, I think so. Some people are just downright mean. Then they grow up and have access to many things and greater flexibility to do the stuff they do.

  3. 3 Maheswari
    April 7, 2009 at 13:01

    Persons involved in inhuman crimes (rape, torture, etc) seem to blame the society and circumstances for their action. But character is build with the person himself and not always by the situation. These individuals must be treated psychologically but they should also be punished and need not be left free for the simple reason that the society has the doubt that the criminal is insane.. The students must be treated with utmost care by their to avoid this savage..

  4. 4 VictorK
    April 7, 2009 at 13:07

    Yes.
    1. Rwanda: collective ethnic hostility breaks out into genocidal violence. Hardly uniquely evil or mysterious.
    2. LRA: there’s a more disturbing point – mass murder, mass rape, and child soldiers characterise almost every significant and chronic outbreak of disorder in Africa. The LRA fit into a common pattern of African evil.
    3. ‘Whoever is responsible for what’s happened in Darfur.’ Hmmm. Sorry, but it’s just that attitude that allows evil to flourish: unwillingness to name & confront it. It’s like being perplexed over who’s responsible for what’s happening in Tibet. The BBC (out of respect for Islam?) continues to be evasive about Darfur.
    5. ‘Khmer Rouge’ means ‘Red Cambodians.’ They were Marxist-socialists, a group who have killed more people than almost any others in history. There are evil ideas and evil ideologies, as well as evil religions, that are an inspiration for individual evil.
    7. We easily forget evil. Something like 10 million died in the Belgian Congo at the start of the 20th Century. Almost the same numbers as the Holocaust. But that human catastrophe is now almost completely unknown.

  5. 5 steve
    April 7, 2009 at 13:15

    I think only a tiny % of people are “predestined” to commit acts of evil, but I think the vast majority also have the ability. Look at WW2, Germany in particular, you took average people who probably never would have hurt a fly, give them nazi ideology, and they were rounding up people, killing villages, had death camps, etc. That’s an extreme, far worse than many of the examples given, but the real question is, are people trustworthy? Do you think if you lost your wallet and somehow got it back, the cash would still be in there? I bet most people would take the cash.

    Here’s my ultimate test to see your “faith” in your fellow man. Do you have a young child, if not, pretend you do, say it’s two years old, and you need a babysitter. Would you allow the first person you see on the street to babysit the child? If you had such high faith in the good nature of humanity you would, but I doubt ANYONE would let the first person they see babysit their child. Why? Because you know better, and know that there’s a lot of bad people out there.

  6. April 7, 2009 at 13:22

    In dealing with human violence, one can’t ignore the lifelong debate over “Genetics” vs “Environment”. Twin studies seem to show that genetics play a more dominant role in charactaristics of people. Recall the Chinese proverb that says “A drop off the roof, lands in the same spot” and our saying about apples and trees!

    If that’s the case, and there are clearly people with mean intentions, then it would lead me to believe that the human species is an aggressive animal. While Intelligence and compassion lead some to suppress these instincts, a percentage clearly retain the aggression tendency. A bad environment will certainly exaggerate any tendency for violence and so both factors are at play. However, human survival instincts spurn domination over others for power and ultimately “survival” and it could well be another billion years before we evolve out of that tendancy.

  7. April 7, 2009 at 13:33

    Nobody is born evil. Anyone can become evil because the potential for evil exists in all of us.

    As long as we’re listing “evil” people, where is George Bush, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair? They are responsible for much death and suffering, but of course they are more like us, so they get a free pass.

  8. 8 Alby
    April 7, 2009 at 14:01

    St Augustine said that ‘evil’ only exists as a fear reaction to the process of natural change and evolution in life moving toward perfection. This process is a life force in all nature being now determined by science.

    Genocide is an anti-dote to changing social patterns which ultimately represent evolution of life on earth, but upset the power structures of the status quo.

    Our languages are embedded with demeaning or dehumanizing speech and vocabulary words to describe others, so that racism, violence and genocide are always available when resources get tight and politics get bad.

    It is easy to explain away genocide given the kinds of religious texts we have in the West which memorialize it or even promote it. It is also from what other people have taught us about others, using them as scapegoats for failures when resources get tight. In Africa, it is clear that under-development for centuries of colonial rule now put the people in very precarious material circumstances, so competition on basis of ethnic groups seems natural. Elites in league with western colonizers dehumanizing people for so long will have bad repercussions.

    People are taught to fear change in society, and so they attack change agents, or anyone in a group who can be pinned with it. Machiavelli noticed this.

    Regarding sexual crimes, there is a theory that sexual hurt and shame early in a young person’s life can make them desperately seek identification with someone else. So, they try to create a person who will share that shame with them. This is like the legend of the Vampire.

  9. 9 Jennifer
    April 7, 2009 at 14:06

    Dear WHYS,

    If you don’t allow people to have their say they won’t waste their time posting! Both of my comments this morning were offensive because I called out islam? How many times do you allow people to bash Catholicism, for reasons that are not even accurate.

    Some things never change! Including the bias that is evident on your blog.

  10. April 7, 2009 at 14:06

    Absolutely a big YES! some peolpe are infact born evil. i would not feel good if one feels ill if a fellow being succeeds and raises on the top always will try to bring them down.

    moreover, this phenomenon happens to those who dont want to accept a challenge and competition.

    let me send a message straight to all those who are evil minded that “competion is a very good teacher” let them try emulate what their friends, colleaques, partners are doing for their better results.

    it happens to all of us regardless of political affiliations, social affiliations. lets try to see what happend to our friends in Rwanda, Kenya it was all evil minds that caused havoc if not chaos.

    its deep routed to individuals getting rid of it needs patience, prayers and above all understanding.

  11. 11 Nelson Isibor
    April 7, 2009 at 14:10

    At certain time in their lives, individuals are exposed to certain choices and experiences, how they react to these events will probably determine their course of actions which could be evil or not. For instance, a young boy growing up watching his mum being subjected to domestic violence may do either one of two things, subject his own wife to the same thing or make up his mind not to. It main issue here is the sustained reaction to these events.

  12. 12 John Henry
    April 7, 2009 at 14:11

    One does not have to be a Christian nor a believer to appreciate the many truths of the historical and prophetic books which make up the Bible.

    To cut a long story short, the bible claims that all men – and women – are born in sin and that planet earth is the domain of the fallen and evil angel Satan.

    To the traditional Christian, ALL people are inherently evil. Apart from the belief that Jesus Christ was crucified in order to save mankind from their sinful ways, following the straight and narrow path as laid down by their God is the only possible way to move away from the image of and the doing of evil.

    Only recently I heard of scientists who state that a certain part of the brain can be physically manipulated to create evil thoughts and deeds. Maybe both good and evil are programmed into the human consciousness.

    John Henry – Trinidad and Tobago

  13. 13 Anthony
    April 7, 2009 at 14:32

    Yes. We all start as blank slates, and depending on every single event in their life, who they grow up with, mixed with the chemicals in your body, make people destined to be “evil”, just like everything else. It’s nature and nurture coming together and making people the way they are.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  14. 14 Roy, Washington DC
    April 7, 2009 at 14:34

    This goes back to the “nature versus nurture” discussion that anybody who has taken a basic psychology course has heard all about. Some people have had life experiences that have driven them over the edge (this in no way excuses their actions — rather, it helps to explain them). On the other hand, some people act in such a way that not even the worst of experiences could explain.

    So where is the line drawn? Entire books have been written on this. On one extreme, you have Hitler, who caused literally millions of deaths because of little more than personal bias. On the other extreme, while I again emphasize that I am not trying to excuse or justify their actions, there are plenty of examples of people who were subjected to inhumane treatment as children or young adults, and simply snapped.

  15. 15 Ros Atkins
    April 7, 2009 at 14:43

    I cannot look into the face of a newborn and imagine evil resident there. I believe we are all fragile and resilient at birth, without a sense of moral order or code, without any notion that actions have consequences. I believe we are easily marked by our surroundings and circumstances, but generally capable of surviving most of the stimulus pitched our way from our first hours outside the womb. But fragile, nonetheless, subject to unknown manners of scarring and imprinting that could, in some, give rise to a hardness, and in others, a broken spirit that needs constant care.

    You never hear of toddlers committing crimes, do you? But by age 11, something may or may not have caught, or click or get transmitted about the nature of good and evil, about right and wrong, about how to resolve conflicts, express emotional discord, or otherwise interact with the world.

    Lydia

  16. 16 Rashid Patch
    April 7, 2009 at 14:44

    Nobody is inherently evil; and to claim that someone was, would excuse any atrocity.

    Many people are physically or psychologically traumatized, and this may dispose them to certain evil acts; but as long as they are sane, they are responsible for their acts.

    Many people become complicit in acts of evil, because they fail to consider the moral effects of their actions. However, “just following orders” is not an excuse for complicity in evil. There is always a responsibility to exercise moral judgment, even if it goes against the dictates of authority.

    Some evils are systemic in society – for example, evils of exploitation or prejudice on the basis of race, social class, caste, color, etc. The fact that a society has these evils does not excuse complicity in their practice.

    Some evils are unintended consequences, but to the extent that consequences can be foreseen, there is moral responsibility. There is a tendency to deny responsibility with euphemisms – e.g., saying “collateral damage” instead of saying, “our military actions killed 60 innocent civilians”; or to say, “drought and famine may result from global warming,” instead of saying, “American and European automobiles and industries will cause the death of hundreds of millions by starvation.” Such euphemisms are fairly transparent.

    People do choose to do evil, and they know that they are doing evil when they do it. Even the most hardened criminals, if something is taken from them, will complain, “that’s not right”. Conscience can become weak and diminished from lack of use , but it is very, very hard to eliminate.

  17. April 7, 2009 at 16:06

    We are all born with some elements of evil and good. It remains our duty as human being to supress the evil and allow the good blossm. This is the struggle that human beings engage in everyday. Sometimes, we win and at other times we loose the struggle. That is when we go off the lid and sadist tendencies overwhelm us.

  18. April 7, 2009 at 16:08

    Simply because of their upbringing from childhood, their culture, greed for power, monetery gain and religious teaching. Put all these together and one can find the reason for evil development. Such a person develops a state of mind that he or she is justified in the evil they do. The old adage “child is father to man”.

  19. 19 John Henry
    April 7, 2009 at 16:09

    Ros, I find it challenging to look into the eyes of a beautiful woman and see anything but beauty. I have no idea what traits may have been passed on to her via her parents DNA and I can only assume that she may have been a beautiful baby.

    Fragility is a human condition. Our responses to external conditions – learnt behaviours – combined with inherited traits determine the goodness or the evil in our actions.

    Evil is not resident in the faces of newborns. Nor is it resident in the faces of many adults. When it affects us, it is a signal that we should know that it exists…just like goodness.

    John Henry – Trinidad & Tobago

  20. April 7, 2009 at 16:15

    I believe we are all born with evil and good tendencies. Have you ever wondered why there was a tree with forbidden fruits in the garden of Eden? Have you never thought of doing someting really bad? Lets face it, life itself is a struggle between good end evil. It is our ability to make the good outshine the bad tendencies that makes thrive in life. Nobody is entirely good, neither is anybody entirely bad. Its in us.

  21. 21 Peter sc
    April 7, 2009 at 16:16

    If doing evil is the in thing to do and no law can check you and if you don’t believe in a God or retribution
    I am sure evil will dominate the world and only the fittest will be the most evil. Animals are different they kill to survive . Greed and lust is inherently human.

  22. 22 Alana Ronald
    April 7, 2009 at 16:16

    There is evil, and most of it is created by the ignorance of parents, the disintegration of societie’s mores, and the violence done to the individual for any number of reasons.

    But, there are those who by virtue of an extra chromosome, or some other “genetic kink”, are more predisposed to become evil later in life.\
    When there is an absence of love and discipline, and support systems, these individuals have almost no chance. Abuse begets abuse, etc, etc.

    As for evil regimes: yes, now that we as a global world are more connected we cannot use the use “we didn’t know”, as some claimed re: Holocaust. But what can individuals do to combat evil? Now there’s a topic for the future…

  23. 23 Anthony
    April 7, 2009 at 16:20

    @ Roy, Washington DC

    I think that’s where people go wrong, is that that assume that bad things happened. If you have a parent trying to be a “good parent”, but lets the child get away with loads of things, then the child gets accustomed to this control, and ends up raping, becoming violent, and taking advantage of people. You don’t need horrible things to happen in life in order to get a “messed up” person.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  24. April 7, 2009 at 16:23

    “Evil” is a pejorative term. I prefer “amoral” to describe the choices some people take when faced with a problem.

    Are some people born, as in “pre-wired”, to be amoral? I think, yes. (The siblings of those showing amoral behavior do not make the same choices as their amoral brother or sister, though they grew up in the same environment.)

    Does being “pre-wired” automatically lead one to commit amoral atrocities? Not automatically, but given one’s experiences in life, the switch to amoral choice is more easily tripped in those with the chemistry to be so.

    Does being born pre-wired to do amoral deeds excuse a person’s behavior? No. We are each born with handicaps and it is our responsibility to learn to cope with those handicaps in order to function positively within society. When a person does not / cannot take responsibility to control his actions toward others, society must take that responsibility and control its errant member.

  25. 25 Donnamarie in Switzerland
    April 7, 2009 at 16:23

    Just last week, the BBCWS Outlook programme had a feature about a Canadian youth who was murdered (and cannibalized) by a schizophrenic. My 19 year old son was an autistic schizophrenic who had paranoid delusions; he took his own life rather than “listen to the voices” and harming anyone. The question of “good or evil” is not relevant; schizophrenia is an illness.

    A distinction must be made between mental illness and episodes of group hysteria that lead to atrocities like the Holocaust, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Rwandan Genocide and Al Qaeda’s ongoing activities of mass-murder.

    The more we talk about it, the more we will come to understand these issues, and the differences between individual mental illness and organized murder and mayhem. Thanks, WHYS Team, for opening up a World Conversation on this issue.

  26. 26 VictorK
    April 7, 2009 at 16:39

    @Per Fagereng: you forget the many evil Iraqis & foreign Jihadists in Iraq, who have killed far more people than Bush-Blair-Cheney, and who have killed them as a matter of cold-blooded murder, a charge you can’t lay against B-B-C. Al Quaeda and suchlike are evil by way of religious ideology. B-B-C were foolish, mistaken, stupid, devious, and over-optimistic…but evil?

    @Alby: no African country experienced ‘centuries’ of foreign rule. Your entire colonial thesis makes no sense. The period when Africans weren’t slaughtering each other was precisely when they were under European rule: authority, order & force are the best weapons against evil. The genocidal bloodbath is a post-independence phenomenon. Isn’t there an element of complicity with evil when people try to explain it away (colonialism, local elites, competition for resources, etc), instead of just facing it, condemning it, and resisiting it?

    I don’t think it matters whether some people are inherently evil or if it’s environmental, or a combination. The important questions are whether people are ready to recognise evil as evil and fight to defeat it (as in the Cold War).

  27. 27 Tracy
    April 7, 2009 at 16:50

    Who we become is created by three forces.

    Our environment (family, friends, the people we are in day to day contact with)

    What happens to us(catalysts like winning the lottery, being raped, losing or finding a loved one)

    Self(call it spirit or soul but it’s how we choose to perceive or react to the first two)

    Someone raised and given al the advantages in life can choose to embrace the darkness and become a monster. And someone raised in a hell on earth can see what goodness and light are and reject evil. All of us are capable of good and evil, we choose which path to follow every day.

    Tracy
    Portland, OR USA

  28. 28 Patti in Cape Coral, Florida
    April 7, 2009 at 17:01

    I think I agree with Steve, possibly a small percentage of people are born with some kind of predestination towards evil. I have heard of people who had loving parents and happy childhoods doing terrible things with no explanation as to why. I think the majority, however, make a choice.

    Some people think we are all inherently evil ( the Catholics?), and some are just better than others at suppressing it. I’m not sure about that one.

  29. 29 Dennis
    April 7, 2009 at 17:43

    Well, i don’t believe that their is some of that kind as ‘being destined’ to committing evil.
    you know, unless you are a lunatic and have totally no control over yourself, i think no one is destined for evil.

    first,
    the decisions we make, right from the simple ones like deciding that you need a snack for your belly, some sleep to be able to work more effectively and feeling that you need a toilet for you nature call.

    so it is with evil,
    this is something you decide, this is why we are humans. we are capable making the decision, whether the decisions are right or wrong, thats a different discussion all together.

    But,
    my reservations are, we all can be good, and bad as well. you know, sometimes i meet someone and decide i don’t like then, and thats it. you can be sure they will tag me a bad person, likewise, i meet others and am as good like you can’t believe. and the fellas get to like me.

    so you see,
    as a Dennis, i can be good and bad as well. and when am bad, that doesn’t mean am destined for evil, does it?

  30. 30 Anthony
    April 7, 2009 at 17:48

    @ Glenn L

    Those twin studies dont show anything. The only way that those would be valid is if the twins were seperated at birth, never knowing their biological parents. Put one twin in Iran and one in Canada and then see how close they are in personality and morals. I put Nurture/Enviornment MUCH higher in shaping people than Genetics.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  31. 31 Scott [M]
    April 7, 2009 at 17:53

    FREE WILL? DETERMINISM?

    Depends on your views of free will or/versus determinism. You can’t have this conversation without thinking about those topics. They are at the core of it.

    I’ve read all the above comments and none of them address the subject in a meaningful way. Unless you have some philosophers on the show to talk about Free Will and Determinism you won’t make much progress.

  32. 32 Teresa
    April 7, 2009 at 17:54

    You need to define ‘evil’ first – for example, Catholics think “South Park” is evil.

    If “Physical harm done to others” defines “evil” then the sensitivity you have to such an act will determine the likelihood of others to do the same, in the case of the Genocide or mass rape.

    Primitive competition instincts also still exist and I don’t think any level of society will erase that from the human. We all have choices to make and most of us choose to ignore them.

  33. 33 Andrew in Australia
    April 7, 2009 at 17:54

    It is not as much about nature nurture as some people may think. We all have a basic make-up to our personality, individual differences that exist in all aspects of our biology. Just as some experience different sensations of taste and smell, the same is true of personal preferences and outward behaviour. How else would you explain a child who is brought up in a loving and stable environment but then acts in horrific ways later in life. Someone who has no conscience and commits acts against others, let alone any remorse for those acts.

    There are situations where past experience dictate how one will behave, but above all this is an overriding sense of intrinsic morality. I can think of many cases whereby people have suffered the most horrendous deprivation or experiences yet moved beyond that to live regular lives while some are destroyed by those experiences or are driven to revenge and retribution.

    How we are as individuals will drive us. Even in an event such as Rwanda of the mid 90’s those who were not inclined to such brutality would not have engaged in murderous rampages. In many societies where misinformation is prevalent or hostilities perpetuated, this can trigger such acts but it remains the individual who is responsible for how they will react. I have little faith in humanity as a whole and this is born out when you consider our legacy of war and destruction over recorded history. Unlike other species we seem to take pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering. So are some inherently evil, sad to say, and I quote from an old TV show, there is a touch of evil in all of us and in many cases it takes little for it to come to the fore and show itself.

  34. 34 Draco Aleksander
    April 7, 2009 at 18:12

    I believe that people lean instinctually toward being “good” or “evil”, however their environment plays a large role in their actions. In addition, good people may do evil things for good reasons (ie – someone who commits murder in self-defense) while evil people may do good things for evil reasons (ie – someone who gives a gift with the intent to gain influence).

  35. 35 Bruno
    April 7, 2009 at 18:13

    Of course not. I truly don’t see how this question can even be asked…
    We are what we are through our education, our environment, the way we were raised and the persons we met through our lives.

    A suicide bomber in Irak could have been a famous singer under others circumstances, and a humble and unknown baker in Thailand could have turned to be one of the worse criminal of mankind.
    Violent and merciless environments such as a civil wars are the ideal ground for the emergence of monsters. And those monsters could have been perfectly respectable people in another life.

    if YOU were born under these circumstances, who know what you would have become ?

  36. 36 Elizabeth
    April 7, 2009 at 18:14

    Accepting that people are inherently evil is allowing evildoers to make excuses for their deeds. All humans have the will and the ability to do good or evil. People make the choice to do good or evil, and every evil doer must be made to pay for the choice they make.

  37. 37 Jessica in NYC
    April 7, 2009 at 18:16

    Let’s add to the list Alberto Fujimori, former Peruvian President, was found guilty of ordering death squad killings and kidnappings. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7986951.stm

  38. 38 Vijay
    April 7, 2009 at 18:17

    Predestined er no!(here in India there are a lot of people who believe that everything is predestined,it was preordained written my the entity above) predisposed ,maybe .
    Just like breast cancer for instance, some people have a greater chance than others of being “evil”. so many aspects of human development can be enlightened by understanding the human genome,mind you just because someone has a higher susceptabilty for a condition it does not necessarily follow they will manifest it.

    I vaguely remember a Finnish survey from 20 years ago about the inheritance of criminal tendencies.

    Nurture is more important than nature.

    Rwanda ,mass hysteria?Brainwashing ? A lot of stressed people were given Carte blanche,(do what you want,you won’t be prosecuted)

    What about the anti-Sikh riots in New Delhi in 1984.The main accused were given a clean chit by investigating authority and rewarded with a Congress Party ticket in the forth coming General Election .

  39. 39 Dr Katme - London
    April 7, 2009 at 18:19

    In the final holy Book AL QUR’AN,it was stated clearly by our GOD the Creator ,that every human being has got in his creation imprented both tendencies:
    To be good and do good
    or to be evil and do evil
    The successful one is the one who reactivate more his/her innate goodness and do GOODS,as prescribed in detais in the divine teachings.

  40. 40 Richard - Jamaica
    April 7, 2009 at 18:21

    People are not inherently evil. There are several factors that affect this, including the person’s environment and the power of choice .

    A child learns a lot in the first 6 years of their life. A poor environment, which is inevitably distinguished by specific behaviours, attitudes and customs, whether established or facilitated by family, friends or influential groups of people, helps to shape a child’s way of thinking in the future. Therefore, there is a high possibility of an ‘evil’ environment producing an ‘evil’ child that will develop into an ‘evil’ adult. The bible says to train a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.

    In addition, having matured and having a better understanding of the world around them a person also has the power of choice. They can choose not to do evil and, therefore, do good. Irrespective of their circumstance, they can choose whether to react using evil or good.

  41. 41 Sook-yee - Singapore
    April 7, 2009 at 18:21

    I don’t think there is such a thing as inherent evil. All babies are born innocent. However something happens later in life and they grow up twisted. It could be anything – perhaps they were bullied in school, laughed at, were poor and suffered from envy and jealousy, were rich and had to be the alpha dog by putting everyone else down, were intolerant and believe only their views were the right ones and everyone else deserved to die, some get intoxicated by power, the list goes on. Events and circumstances shape people’s lives more than they realise.

    Goodnight, Ros and the WHYS team.

  42. 42 Linda France
    April 7, 2009 at 18:22

    I think that everyone has an evil streak but it is the weakness of human beings that evil feeds off.

  43. 43 anthony p
    April 7, 2009 at 18:23

    You better believe people are inherently evil and here is where the evil lies: total lack of empathy; no identification whatsoever with the suffering or the situation of others. A totally ego-centric and self-centered existence that will carelessly and calously enflict any pain or hardship or torment on others as long as there is the chance (however infinitesimal) of gain for themselves; and I will take it a step further, because of some twisted, tortured past experiences, some people act not even out of the possibility of rational gain, but are motivated purely by the desire to hurt others. Why? Is it because they themselves have been hurt? We have all been hurt but most of us retain our sense of the other, our care and concern and respect for life. There are sadly and mysteriously, people who do not only just have no respect for life, but who wish actually to destroy it. From whence comes this evil intent? Who can say? We have been trying to understand it and if not cure it, at least contain it since Genesis. But make no mistake, evil exists out there, and you must be wise and aware and you must protect yourself from it while never being infected by the evil virus itself. How you do that is what makes you a fully mature, understanding, aware, and dare I say, loving, human being.

  44. 44 Cheryl, Beaverton Oregon
    April 7, 2009 at 18:24

    Evil is the lack of conscience.
    Whether a person is evil by birth (sociopath), or by environmental influences (extreme poverty, need or neglect), they lack the ability to empathize.
    Without empathy humans cannot envision themselfs in another’s shoes. The wider that chasm the more detached humans become to the pain and suffering of others.

  45. 45 Anthony O
    April 7, 2009 at 18:24

    One religion could make some humans born into it evil -don’t ask me which.

    Also, a sense of weakness or fear could make people evil.

    One way or the other, it is connected to one’s belief system or one’s perception of the world around.

  46. 46 Mandie
    April 7, 2009 at 18:24

    There must be! For every person who is completely pure (Mother Teresa) there must surely be an exact opposite.

  47. 47 devadas.v
    April 7, 2009 at 18:26

    hello,
    yes ..its embedded in their blood…
    psychology,circumstances ,upbringing all play a partin this evil buildup of particular persons…

  48. 48 Rev. Dr. Bledsoe - USA
    April 7, 2009 at 18:26

    As a minister I have definite opinions about this subject. It is my belief that all people are born with the inability to do anything that is Godly. We may do “good” things, but that is often limited to background and environment.

    There is no question that sometimes abusive parents raise abusive children, but even with this there are children who grow up to be very loving and caring adults. There are some people who are born with the tendency to commit evil because they have taken the innate nature of humanity to the most wicked of limits. This is taught by Judeo-Christian teachers and I believe history supports this as reality.

  49. 49 martha - kampala, uganda
    April 7, 2009 at 18:27

    people are not born evil. In the bible , Jesus gives little children as a yard stick for entering heaven which means children are sinless. However, as children are growing up, a lot influence what they become and how they behave. they respond to their circumstances either positively or negatively and hence lose the innocence in the process.

  50. 50 BR
    April 7, 2009 at 18:27

    if a man steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, not many people would call him evil

    but if that same man keeps stealing, and begins to enjoy it, and eventually winds up killing someone for their jewelry, then yes, he is evil

    the question is: at what point has he become evil?

    anyone of us are capable of slipping into grey, and into evil

    a wise man recognizes he himself is capable of committing evil at any time, and is always be on the guard from it. meanwhile, the man who says he could never commit evil, and always does good, is probably doing something evil already, and doesn’t even know it

    true goodness is contant vigilance of evil coming from within ones own self

  51. 51 Jessica in NYC
    April 7, 2009 at 18:28

    The word “evil” is subjective to what is acceptable in society at that given moment. We are inherently taught to follow the norms of the societies we live in. A perfect example is the violence in video games. Obviously, this is not at the same level as the heinous acts listed above, but isn’t this where the foundation is set for future acts of violence?

    I think it’s if we accept that some people are inherently evil is to accept the monstrosities they commit. I accept that some people have weaker minds and are more susceptible to committing violent acts by not controlling. However, let’s note that these monsters almost always try to conceal their crimes. They know what they did was wrong, no matter how they justify it.

  52. 52 Marija
    April 7, 2009 at 18:28

    Judging from what one reads and hears in the media, some people may have some
    inbuilt inclination to do harm. Boys and youngsters build up their crimes through
    collective initiatives out of the individual inclinations. But adults are steeped in crimes
    very often for profit and because they are organised to conceal their accomplices. So
    crimes may have both the inner drive and the outer shell. Thank you.

  53. April 7, 2009 at 18:29

    I think all people are evil by nature, if they KNOW that they can get away with certain things they’ll do it. Remember The Stanford Prison Experiment?

  54. 54 Elizabeth C - Ohio, USA
    April 7, 2009 at 18:29

    Some people are born with a violent nature. They may not like violence or practice it, but they don’t shy away from it when it becomes “necessary” or “appropriate” and may enjoy it when it does. Violence is something that all people have a capacity for, but not all become violent. There is always a trigger; even if it is so small that no one notices it until the violence is over. All violence has a reason even if that reason is simple that the person likes killing or violence in general.

    On a personal note, I have anger issues and if pushed too far I could do some horrible things. I’ve been lucky so far that my control is still intact and that I haven’t been pushed that far yet.

    Thank You,

  55. April 7, 2009 at 18:30

    No, people are inherently not evils, no person is evil by birth, it’s the only society and it’s action towards him which might see evil reactions of the person.

  56. 56 Tori
    April 7, 2009 at 18:35

    Until the world is willing to recognize the fact that the vast majority of brutal acts are committed by men, nothing will change. We can say “people” are responsible for heinous deeds but the stark truth is that men are overwhelmingly, disproportionately responsible. Women are not saints by any means, but they and their children are more often the victims of male aggression than the perpetrators of aggression. Why won’t the world look at this gender related violence in a clear-eyed and honest manner? Of course I run the risk of being labeled a man-hater for my willingness to speak the truth and perhaps that’s why the world won’t speak it.

  57. 57 Kent in Iowa
    April 7, 2009 at 18:37

    I don’t think it is fair to say that some people are inherently evil. I think we are subjects of our social interactions. I say that because of this question, If Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or even hitler were born and socialized in different circumstances would the world be a different place? I don’t really think that Bin Laden would hate the United States if he were born and raised in the United States.

  58. 58 Stuart Kunkle
    April 7, 2009 at 18:39

    Please read the volumes of literature and research out there that very evenly reveal and describe how we are ALL quite capable of any of these acts. Two good places to start are THE MURDERER NEXT DOOR (David M. Buss) and HITLER’S WILLING EXECUTIONERS. I think there is something inherent in many but not all people that makes them want to think that never could they ever imagine that they themselves would perpetrate such heinous crimes. But guess what? We/they/you/whoever are completely capable of it. It is both genes and environment, but the bottom line is that we are all capable of it. This does not mean that we will do it–just that we can. We are able based on the fundamentals characteristics of what it is to be a human.

    Personally, I think that this show has been poorly laid out. Invite a bunch of victims onto a show to see if evil acts can be determined to be nature or nurture? I think it reflects a desire to sensationalize this discussion more than to educate people through it.

    Other good books on this are CONSTANT BATTLES and THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMALS: HUMAN NATURE AND THE ORIGINS OF WAR.

    Said another way, what humans are–baseline–was forged through 2 million years of evolution. Humans killed–like any other animal. Humans will kill, like any other animal. Humans also do good acts. That’s how it is. Not good or bad–per se–just what it is.

  59. 59 neal cassidy
    April 7, 2009 at 18:42

    A famous psychological study showed that “normal” people were willing to inflict what they thought was unbearable pain on another human subject, with the only instigation being a researcher telling them to go ahead.

    It is patently clear from the events of Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, etc. that with sufficient political manipulation, many “normal” people can be induced to commit atrocious crimes. How else would we characterize the behavior of typical American boys who committed atrocities against Native Americans, Koreans and Vietnamese?

    Is there any way to “inoculate” a person against such pressures? I would like to think that I would resist the hysteria and conformity required to commit mass murder, but can I know in my hear that I would?

  60. 60 Brandon
    April 7, 2009 at 18:45

    Most people have felt so upset at a time that they wanted to hurt someone.
    There is a huge step between the ones that keep it in there head and the ones that act out violently.
    That I beleve is the difference between a sociopath and a normal person

  61. 61 Tom D Ford
    April 7, 2009 at 18:47

    If some people are born inherently evil then that would explain why Conservative Republicans overwhelmingly supported Bush/Cheney when they told their lies about Iraq having WMDs and demanded the invasion of Iraq; Conservatives are born inherently evil.

    And on the contrary that would also explain why American Liberals and most people in the world overwhelmingly opposed Bush/Cheney and their lies about Iraq; most people are born inherently good.

    But that is just too simplistic, it leaves out the effectiveness of massive propaganda campaigns like Bush/Cheney used to get their way, their fear -mongering, their lies, and all the rest.

    So no, people are not born evil, they are just mis-educated into thinking and doing evil things.

  62. 62 Cullen from Kentucky
    April 7, 2009 at 18:48

    The issue is that good and evil is determined by social norms. Social norms are determined by what the majority of people feel is rght or wrong. The influence of government propaganda is incredibly persuasive in the sense of social norms by creating an attitude which dehumanizes specific populations or justifies these evil actions. The propaganda creates and/or allows a mindset where people feel as though these horrible acts are ok. The fear of being the only one to do something drives societal views of right and wrong.

  63. April 7, 2009 at 18:49

    I do not believe people are inherently evil, though we are inherently egoistic. We are born to serve ourselves first and only through an awakening do we learn the values of bestowal upon others. In the process of ‘correcting’ our self-serving egos to become givers, a lot can go wrong on the path. That anything indescribably evil is done by the hands of men or women certainly is not surprising in these days, if not forever in the past. I choose not to believe in an “evil gene” or an “inherent evil” in us, though all of us are capable of thinking or performing evil deeds.

  64. 64 Alex
    April 7, 2009 at 18:50

    People are innately evil. We are a violent and nasty species. Of course we are all born with a sense of a moral compass but, sometimes the evil of the person ignores this.

  65. 65 Linda - Waynesboro
    April 7, 2009 at 18:51

    I can’t say that I would not be vulnerable to the kind of indoctrination used to incite genocide, but I think it is harder if the individual receiving the indoctrination applies critical thinking to the problem. It’s just like the impulse to forward hoax emails on the web: some people take them at face value and just do as instructed, others look for independent verification and work to stop the viral spread. Those who are not taught critical thought are more likely to succumb to brainwashing.

  66. 66 Nate, Portland OR
    April 7, 2009 at 18:51

    There should be a distinction between the evil of communities and the evil of individuals.

    Regarding individuals I’m close to the view of the reverend who spoke about 38 mins into the show regarding individuals: some people are simply inclined to evil. Goodness can be socialized into all children, but in some cases it will be much easier than in others.

    Regarding communities it seems more complex. Individuals who are very good within their community can be evil with regard to outside communities when that behavior is sanctioned by the in-group community. The sanctioning can derive from a variety of sources, some quite reasonable from a group survival perspective. The Rwanda case included a toxic mix of low-level intergroup hostility and increasingly dire resource shortages due to overpopulation. Decreasing the population of the out-group is a very rational way to increase the resources available to one’s own group. This type of evil is, I think, both more easily understood and less easily dealt with.

  67. 67 Charles B C
    April 7, 2009 at 18:52

    It is a known fact that, and this phenomena has been replicated, that people will follow the orders of those they deem an authority figure. One famous prison experiment showed that it took less than a week for the (fake) prisoners to buy into the prisoner mind set and for the (fake) guards to buy into a superiority mind set. Human nature has this flaw it seems.

  68. 68 Crystal in Amsterdam
    April 7, 2009 at 18:53

    I believe the qustion is wrongly worded.

    It’s not that some people are born evil. It’s that some people are born good.

    Few are they that can resist evil in all circumstances at all times… but, there are a few who can.

    For the ordinary mortal, we have a leaning towards group think and self preservation powerful enough to rule our higher values.

  69. 69 Tom D Ford
    April 7, 2009 at 18:53

    I think that Dick Cheney is an interesting case study.

    I mean, even Hitler thought he was doing the right thing and the Nazi belt buckles had Gott Mit Uns, written on them, but Dick Cheney bragged on television that he went over to “the Dark side”, that is to say, Dick Cheney knew right from wrong and still made the conscious and well informed decision to do evil.

  70. 70 Dave in Columbus, OH
    April 7, 2009 at 18:54

    This argument, whether some people were more or less susceptible to commit genocide has been completely refuted. Starting in 1961, a sociologist named Stanley Milgram did a series of experiments that proved the possibility to commit harms to others exists in all of us.

    Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

    Wiki page on the Milgram experiment:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

  71. 71 John Smith - UK.
    April 7, 2009 at 18:55

    In previous shows, I’ve heard you interview people from London who claimed “they would solve problems with their fists…” and others who say that their lives “on the street…” are tough and so they have to fight.

    I have heard people on your program claim that rap music is a release for the violence they witness.

    Children in UK are bombarded with images of violence, glorified, made to look heroic.

    I worked in a very large software company in the UK when the twin towers were destroyed. All employees around me cheered and laughed when they learned of what had happened and continued to cheer and laugh as the horrors of that day unfolded.

    I have no doubt that the people of the UK would have little problem at all in committing violence without flinching.

  72. 72 Shannon in Ohio
    April 7, 2009 at 18:56

    In My Life as a Slave Frederick Douglass writes about observing the previously “anti-slavery” wife of one of his “owners” becoming one of the worst abusers during the period of his enslavement. Happily, he escaped–and then wrote about how hatred is learned. Whatever tribe, whatever religion, hatred is learned.

  73. 73 Scott [M]
    April 7, 2009 at 18:56

    Is evil a force? A course of action? What is it? Is it anything? Or, is it just a term to describe the most extreme actions that seem incomprehensible? Perhaps it matters less what evil actually is and more about why people take those actions.

    Is it a choice? Is it predetermined? Could they have acted in another way? Were they born this way. Did they learn this behavior? Is it a combination of both? Nature? Nurture? But, either way, what we still need to figure out—did they have the will, or the capacity to be different? Take a different course of action? If so, why didn’t they? If not, are they evil? Or is it the action we call evil?

    Just because we can’t explain something doesn’t mean there isn’t an explanation or a sequence of events, conscious or unconscious, nature or nurture, that lead to a course of action. One of the reasons we have been so slow to move past and escape the clutches of traditional “free will” is religion. The crux of Christianity lies in free will being true, it all goes back to the forbidden fruit. This alleged choice that led to sin and evil entering the world and along with it blame. If we can blame we can punish. If we can blame, then there are good and bad people—or the believers and the nonbelievers. “Us” versus “them” which religion needs to survive.

  74. 74 Alex
    April 7, 2009 at 18:57

    Its not a flaw its survival. Human beings are a very resourceful species. We take our surroundings and adjust ourselves so we fit in or at least. Even the most loved and cared for child, put him/her into a violent environment, he/she will become violent to survive.

  75. 75 Tedla - New York City
    April 7, 2009 at 18:57

    The last eighteen years of Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi is a rule that started by educating its followers in pamphlets and songs how to kill Amharas. The slogan is kill all the Amhraas, why ? “Because they did it to us”. The Meles regime organized other ethnic groups in the name of self determination for this enterprsie to cleanse the lands from Amharas who have settled on many of the lands for thousands of years.

    We know the evil eyes of Meles Zenawi and I hope the law will soon catch him like that of Al-Beshir of the Sudan.

  76. 76 Larry Lindberg
    April 7, 2009 at 18:59

    The first step in any genocide in my opinion is to degrade a group of people as less than human. In Rwanda I believe the Colonists (Dutch originally) split the population based on some physical characteristics and used this division to create tension and hatred to facilitate control over the whole people. In Cambodia the population as a whole became unimportant . The priority became the “unborn” as your guest pointed out. The Jew in Germany as well as disabled, gay and others became a drag on “Society” and were blamed for Germany’s ills and degrading their importance. Slavery worldwide was and is accomplished using this mindset. Experiments in class rooms where an arbitrary set of characteristics have been selected to distinguish one group selected for discrimination have shown a human acceptance of this. Then the situation is reversed as an example showing how wrong it is to lessen one person’s value. The Conservative view in the US is wrought with these judgments. The poor hate to work and are a huge draw on our tax burdens (Yet Corporate America’s government assistance far exceeds any social program). Didn’t Uncle Scrooge say it best about the poor. “Let them die and reduce the surplus population.” Don’t let these comments go by without pointing out the consequences if taken to the obvious conclusion.

  77. 77 Stuart Kunkle
    April 7, 2009 at 19:00

    Also great works are: DEMONIC MALES: APES AND THE ORIGINS OF HUMAN VIOLENCE, THE DARK SIDE OF MAN, WHY WE LIE. I think humans need to climb of their high horse and get rid of this thinking that says they “above such behavior.” We have now passed the peak in global oil production. I guess we shall all have a chance to challenge this theory!

  78. 78 Mary
    April 7, 2009 at 19:02

    I’ve been mulling this one over. Is inaction evil? This is aimed more at countries rather than individual people. If a country sees an evil act such as genocide, and has the means to end and doesn’t, is that evil? Knowing you might have stopped all those deaths and didn’t, is it evil? If it isn’t evil, then what is it? How do you describe the inaction of the world community in regards to acts of genocide like Rwanda? I’m grappling myself with this notion.

  79. 79 George P - Philadelphia
    April 7, 2009 at 19:03

    Wrong question. The bell curve distribution of characteristics over a population would indicate that good and evil are not significant percentages of humanity, but are always present. A better question would be what characteristic about evil is valuable enough that it always exists. Or does evil always exist because we change the definition?

    Hee hee

  80. 80 Mark
    April 7, 2009 at 19:08

    hello:

    There is a lot of valuable social science on this topic: see http://www.lucifereffect.com/ by Stanford emeritus professor Phil Zimbardo

    also see ‘the banality of evil’ by Hannah Arendt

    in other words, besides experience there is research….

  81. 81 jon in portland
    April 7, 2009 at 19:08

    What a fascinating subject. It is important to ask these questions.

    I once told a close friend that I believe “people are inherently good.”

    He replied by adding “they are just not good at it.”

    This insight has helped me understand the world around me.

  82. 82 anon by text
    April 7, 2009 at 19:09

    every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. — Genesis 6:5.

  83. 83 Yolanda Rommel
    April 7, 2009 at 19:09

    I have grown up in Poland at the time of II WW. I did not experience any emotions untill my 5ties as a result of intense therapy, and yet my sense of compassion toward people (including Nazis) has always been present in my experience. Compassion may start on emotional level, as an emotional skill, but needs to become a cognitive skill, based on understanding of human development.
    To my best understanding, as human beings we are a combined product of genetics, upbringing and life circumstances.
    It is known fact that Hitler grew up as a child of a very authoritorian, almost cruel, Jewish father, and in his most formative years experienced cruelty from someone who identified himself as a Jew. Hitler’s ambicions happenned at the historical time and place fertile for the events of II WW. This is just one, and probably most formative influence on Hitler’s development. It is also a good example of verious influences and conditions creating the world we are all part of and contributing to.
    The next step in human development as a species is becomiing more aware of various influences on who we are, and taking personal responsibility in our choices of principles by which we live.
    Thank you so much for the topic…
    Yolanda

  84. 84 Kevin A
    April 7, 2009 at 19:09

    Some people are prone to commit evil upon others. Most people are ready to follow if they already have an agenda such as greed or just to feel superior. Not to defend the evil of the nazi regime, but let us not forget the anti-jewish leanings of most of Europe and Russia for centuries, much like the anti-black people in the U.S.

  85. 85 Allan, OH
    April 7, 2009 at 19:10

    I believe it’s a psychological issue that a person results to killing. It takes one begin serial murders. A leader of few followers to create a mass murder. Then, a mob mentality of joining to create a genocide. When more people think it’s ok, than not, you have these issues.

  86. 86 KRISHNA
    April 7, 2009 at 19:10

    It all comes down to what kind of society we are building, what kind of parental upbringing we have, what kind of equal opprtunities we are providing !

    Any of the above failures can lead to “distraction of mind” and becomes vulnerable for brainwash !

  87. 87 Tom D Ford
    April 7, 2009 at 19:13

    If it were established that some people are born evil, then couldn’t that fact be used as a defense in court against any crimes? They can’t help themselves?

    Would religionists defend evil-doers because “God’ made them that way?

    This brings up some interesting philosophical questions.

  88. 88 Becky
    April 7, 2009 at 19:14

    I don’t think most people are born ‘evil’, but I think we are born to survive. Because we are group animals, and depend so much on each other for survival, people are driven to be a part of the group. Some people are more driven to belong than others- which is why some people follow through with violent commands made by violent leaders more quickly than others. I think that most people’s action therefore depend on who is leading the group in which they belong/strive to belong.

    I believe people are also born with an desire to have power (which, along with belonging to a group, puts us in a better position to survive). Some people have a very strong desire for power that drives all of their decisions, and that can lead them to do horrible things (like Hitler, etc etc). Those people probably put themselves in leadership positions more than people who don’t have such a strong urge for power. People can get power peacefully or through violence, depending on their circumstance. Maybe it’s just luck whether they end up chosing a peaceful path or a violent one.

  89. 89 Dave from Columbus Ohio
    April 7, 2009 at 19:15

    Stanley Milgram, a sociologist at Stanford University, tried to prove that Germans were more predisposed to commit atrocities than others.

    He discovered that his subjects would seriously injure a complete stranger based solely on the urging of an authority figure 63% of the time. This result has been recreated many times.

    People are simply obedient. It is the people in power who are to blame.

  90. 90 Ulric S - Brussels
    April 7, 2009 at 19:16

    I’m surprised you don’t seem to state the basic information that human beings do have a “start set up” that is genetic and is based on
    5 or 6 psychological characteristics. I remember only a few of them : empathy ; mental rigidity ; openness (and there’s at least two more). No one is born evil, that’s a lie and a misconception (or then these instancies are very rare).

    Someone with very low empathy will be much more capable of becoming a monster, circumstances arising.
    Someone with very high empathy will be almost incapable of that, whatever the circumstances.

    Someone with mental rigidity will stick early on to “set ideas” and will go to extreme lenghts to keep them in spite of evidence.
    Someone with mental “agility” will willingly check other ideas and put his assumptions in question and doubt his “right to kill”.

    Etc.

    With education/the lack of it/the bad quality of it, or with propaganda/indoctrination/religious endoctrination, you can exacerbate these characteristics or soften them.

    On top of that you will have the influence of “group behaviour”, and some people who would be harmless AND have weak personalities might be turned around (temporarily at least) by peer pressure.

    I think ignorance AND belief (belief being all the stronger that people are ignorant), which often take the form of religion, you increase the risk of misbehaviour.

    Add poverty or economic hardship, and I think the picture is complete.

    You don’t see genocide in wealthy, educated societies where religion is very low on people’s minds (Western Europe). History will serve us more atrocities until the wolrd has developed so far, I’m afraid… We can mitigate the outbursts and help ushering in better conditions that will stop the wrong circumstances arising, though, and that’s worth it for reducing the numbers of innocent victims.

  91. 91 Helen - Portland, Oregon
    April 7, 2009 at 19:17

    We are born social animals, eager to please and be loved. On the other hand, anyone who has ever seen very young children interact with each other in a playroom or in a park should recognize that human beings–no matter where we are born, and how well we are being raising them–start off intensely selfish, and quite ready to disregard others’ rights or feelings, or even to cause them bodily harm, in the pursuit of our own desires.

    Later on, of course, children learn that that’s not acceptable, and most of us acquire a conscience and internalize cultural norms against bad behavior. But the boundaries of those norms–that is, whether our culturally imposed inhibitions are expected to extend to people in general, or simply to one’s own countrymen or race or tribe–has varied widely, across time and across cultures and communities. Given the right prompting, I believe–a mob mentality, a charismatic leader, a perceived threat to a family member, a growing dissatisfaction with poverty or powerlessness–it’s all too easy for any of us to shuck off our inhibitions and act out our shared capacity for violence and bloodshed.

  92. 92 Frederick - Boston
    April 7, 2009 at 19:18

    Just as we have a capacity to mobilize in support of peace, so can we mobilize in support of violence. The conditions that trigger each extreme is thus what matter. Atrocities like Rwanda and Cambodia are the result of a social mentality that sees power (and its pursuit) as the epitomy of human existence; and indeed, isn’t this the historical experience of humanity? In my opinion, to tame the violent aspects of the human mind requires a fundamental reconsideration of our views on power, its importance, and its role in social life.

  93. 93 John F
    April 7, 2009 at 19:19

    I think it is important to remember the experiment in which a person was told administer a shock to someone if they answered a memory question wrong. Some %60 of those people went all the way to administer a shock that would have killed (if it were real). We should also remember that when a power situation is set up, where a power structure is telling you to do something, and resisting carries personal consequences, then the path of least resistance can be to commit murder.

  94. 94 Draco
    April 7, 2009 at 19:32

    I don’t think “evil” has been well-enough defined during this debate. “Evil” most often seems to refer to that which comes to people instinctively, such as the tribalism and racism that lead to many of the greatest massacres of humanity (WWII and Cambodia being the most ready examples). However, “good” comes instinctively as well, as exampled by Roman’s story of the couple who saved the Jewish children from the death march. In that instance, the instinct to protect the children of the species took over, and thus were they saved despite the danger it posed to the German couple.

    It seems that there is less of a struggle between good and evil and more of a struggle between instinct and logic. Instinctively, we protect our tribes, our children, and our lovers while demonizing things that are different, destroying things that stand in our way, and aggressively expanding through sex (rape in some cases, though consent is a strictly human ability) and war. On the other end, higher logic allows us to decide whether our instincts are the proper form of action or if we should discuss things peaceably. This same logic has given form to the instinctive emotions of anger, forgiveness, hatred, love, happiness, and sadness. We can choose whether something is worth our anger or if we should forgive. We can choose whether we should hate or love someone because of their actions. We can choose whether something that happens to us makes us happy or sad. All of this is possible because of our logic, however those instincts still exist because they’re necessary. It’s simply how they are used, shaped, and obeyed that makes them positive or negative.

  95. 95 Atsu, ghana
    April 7, 2009 at 19:49

    There is evil in every natural person-it is the vigilance or otherwise of society that shows the degree of its expression. .

  96. 96 Ambo-kenya .
    April 7, 2009 at 19:50

    I think its both, society en upbringing. There’s also the fact of mind poisoning which happens during genocide cases!

  97. 97 Satte j. Mbale uganda.
    April 7, 2009 at 19:50

    Poverty. Many people have become wealthier and gained leadership after killing esp. In africa.

  98. 98 Anon via sms
    April 7, 2009 at 19:51

    No one is born to be evil. Circumstances dictate their personality and sensibility about other peoples pain. But they are responsible for their acts. They would not do evil if were aware that one day would pay for that.

  99. 99 Julius in uganda
    April 7, 2009 at 19:51

    Bad living conditions u see your father, mother, brother are killed so u’ll be forced 2 join a rebel group & also kill

  100. 100 Chijioke in Owerri, Nigeria.
    April 7, 2009 at 19:54

    Such kind of wicked behaviour is as a result of evil spiritual forces operating through human beings. Some people in this world are truly possessed by these forces and they go about doing evil.

  101. 101 Ivy kenya
    April 7, 2009 at 19:55

    Your list of evil acts missed out the elephant in the room. The Abu Ghraib & Guantanamo atrocities – how telling! Evil is invisible when those protected by the so called great and good of the earth such as the US commit it. Darfur and Rwanda’s evil are more easy to call obscene. The common denominator- opportunity. The Americans did evil when they had opportunity. So do others.

  102. 102 Gerrie Abj- Nigeria
    April 7, 2009 at 19:55

    Give a man with opportunity, people badly needing leadership and it translates to dictatorship. Thats the problem ,society makes them evil.

  103. 103 Michael Bolgent
    April 7, 2009 at 19:56

    No man is born evil, it is d enviroment that influence them to be evil; peer group, harsh parents,even the media…

  104. 104 MAMUD 2RAY-FARATO,GAMBIA
    April 7, 2009 at 19:56

    Dear BBC WORLD HAVE YOUR SAY,we the youths in Africa have a deep conviction that all the suffering and miseries-wars and genocides- in Africa were caused by our contact with the Western world. Our kids also will grow with these convictions.

  105. 105 lovemoren
    April 7, 2009 at 19:57

    How do people get to an extent where they comit terrible acts of evil? Well.. its a combination of circumstances and choices – largely choices. Its also progressive i.e. one will graduate from one state of evil to another till they reach a point where they commit acts that leave everybody astonished.

    Lovemore Nanjaya,
    Lusaka, Zambia.

  106. 106 Ahmed from Nigeria.
    April 7, 2009 at 19:57

    I dont believe one is born evil but societal nd family influences changes one. Even Peer groups affects too.

  107. 107 Sandra in malawi
    April 7, 2009 at 19:58

    Some people are born evil. Cause u cannot tell me that all these atrocities that hav been committed since time in memorial were committed by people who turned evil coz of circumstances. Everyone has an evil thought at sam time in their lives. It’s just human nature.

  108. 108 richard
    April 7, 2009 at 20:10

    The world stood by while all of this murder took place in Cambodia. Like North Korea or Burma and their patron state China of today international organizations and individual countries turn away from the suffering and oppression of millions of people under the pretense of diplomacy. Cambodia had nothing the West needed so the Cambodian people were abandoned. Pol Pot and his henchmen were free to kill at will. A symoblic trial, to wash away the guilt of other nations. We tried the Germans who killed the Jews and let the Japanese who murdered many more Chinese go unpunished. The West has never shown a great deal of compassion for Asians and has always excused their brutal regimes as somehow part of the cultures.

  109. April 7, 2009 at 20:39

    At childhood human beings are generally disposed towards doing evil.
    However, through the religious bodies and the legal sytem, such inclinations are modified to some extent.

    Unfortunately, with “appropriate motivation”, coersion, fear of punishment, such inclinations resurface.

    However, after having done evil repeatedly, “diminishing returns” set in. The evil doer gets tired of doing evil.

    This explains why we have past murderers, and the like asking for forgiveness mostly, towards the tail end of their lives.
    Tnx.

  110. April 7, 2009 at 20:42

    At childhood human beings are generally disposed towards doing evil.
    However, through the religious bodies and the legal sytem, such inclinations are modified to some extent.

    Unfortunately, with “appropriate motivation”, coersion, fear of punishment, such inclinations resurface.

    However, after having done evil repeatedly, “diminishing returns” set in. The evil doer gets tired of doing evil.

    This explains why we have past murderers, and the like asking for forgiveness mostly, towards the tail end of their lives.
    Tnx.

    Biodun, Nigeria

  111. 111 Luci Smith
    April 7, 2009 at 20:44

    We are all responsible. We all have to be responsible for people who do not treat others in a humane way.

    That is why I put my hope into the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague. I look forward to seeing the trial of the President of Sudan and later, hopefully, George W. Bush and Cheney, who have been responsible for the deaths of so many people. Genocide is genocide.
    Civilization should not tolerate genocide.

  112. 112 John D. Augustine - WI USA
    April 7, 2009 at 20:52

    You open with a chilling question. How can you ask whether evil is genetically programmable? The willingness to even consider the question implies that it may also be possible to legitimize eugenics and ethnic cleansing. I’m so offended that I can’t bother to read how others have reacted, or elaborate on the various overlooked ways that genocide has been practiced throughout history.

    I will take some time to condemn your dismissal of the “scale” of attacks on two tormented boys. If you’re measuring the level of harm inflicted, how much less are you saying these boys have suffered?

    If you’re measuring according to simple numbers, then you’re missing the point that this is the kind of torment which leads to random violence against greater numbers. I could compare the psychology of such cases to the psychology of international terrorism, but my fair share of time appears to be up.

  113. 113 Morf
    April 7, 2009 at 20:59

    And then there are those who “repent” like this man –
    http://www.kansascity.com/440/story/1124498.html.

    Does he deserve forgiveness?

  114. 114 Marge
    April 8, 2009 at 02:18

    Yes, some people are inherently born evil. But they can be influenced by their environment. The people born evil are mostly men. Sorry Boys – but we women have much more of a nurturing, caring personality – we become mothers and nature demands we become selfless and caring, otherwise the species would not survive. For confirmation – look at the list of the outstanding evil doers, all men.

  115. April 8, 2009 at 08:55

    the evidence that some people are inherently evil or good evidence that the evolution theory is a myth.with evolution happening in a flash,we would all be the same.i wonder what example of our mentors to be does the evolution theories offer us to follow.
    everyone is born in a world that has both evil and good,its not humans who bring forth evil or good babies,the adaptations are a factor.

    TAMBUA VILLAGE,
    HAMISI,KENYA.

  116. 116 Emar
    April 8, 2009 at 11:14

    The paths of Hell are paved with good intentions

  117. 117 Herman Njoka
    April 8, 2009 at 11:38

    I think the notion that some people are inherently good or evil is more escapist than true. Its in my opinion an attempt to justify our actions and seek avenues to escape from the consequences of these actions.

    We are all born with among other things a free will and a conscience as well. Any decisions we make on our own, even when under immense pressure either physically, emotionally or psychologically is subject to our analysis and decision to engage in it. How we choose to exercise this free will is entirely up to us.

    Even in intense circumstances such as happened in Rwanda where deep ethnic tensions dating as back as the colonial times, we still find extra ordinary cases of people who rose above the carnage and showed incredible leadership and love for fellow human beings despite them being from the “enemy” tribe.

    Same case also happened in my country(Kenya) just after the controversial 2007 general electiions in what became infamously known as the “Post Election Violence”. Neighbours turned against each other even after having lived together for years, all in the name of “your people stole the elections” or “your people will never stop ruling over us unless we forcefully evict them”

    The choice to engage in evil is purely an individual one, brought about by our ignorance of the need to preserve human life. Though our upbringing and education also affect us eventually its entirely a choice we make on our own

  118. 118 Dorien
    April 8, 2009 at 13:01

    It is arguable that some people are inherently evil but I tend to agree with this statement a little. It may be possible that murderers and rapists and other such people are genetically different from people with natural needs. Everyone is unique.
    Needless to say that also a person’s bringing up and education determines his or her further life. From my point of view, it is quite normal that citizens behave themselves. Even genetic evil human beings do not have the right to torture or kill a fellow citizen.
    From my believes, I am convinced that being evil moreover is caused by a person’s experiences. Mischievous incidents may lead to a rather awful life. Population with such a background are branded for life.
    It could be argued but maybe some assassins are mislead by violent computer games and television programs. Regrettably, social scientists do not have the monetary means to do research.
    Although all human beings are potential killers, one can say that only a few of them will actually murder another person. Indeed, multiple explanations can be practicable.

  119. 119 Benita Zulu
    April 8, 2009 at 15:23

    When a child is born it has a blank mind & so its up to whoever will raise up that child to make sure that i want this child to be like this. But of course with the consideration that society also play a part in that.

    A human being is the most complicated being to deal with its hard to know.

  120. 120 richard
    April 8, 2009 at 17:24

    It is all in the mind. Good and Evil are terms we have invented. If there is good there must be evil, otherwise there is no good. Cambodia was a true killing field and it is difficult to judge anyone who was caught in that hell. Kill or be killed, what would you have done. Humans become insensitive to their brutal surroundings very quickly, that is why the world is not in constant revolution and people go off to war. Recently banks and investments companies stole over a trillion dollars from retirement accounts and the word “evil” was not used, yet what is the difference in what happended..they perpetuated a world financial collaspe and no one wants to bring them to public trial and call them evil. If he is tried and convicted and killed, what will have changed?

  121. 121 Thomas Murray
    April 8, 2009 at 21:28

    I conldn’t make it to the library yesterday, but felt that this issue needs comment.

    Are some people inherently evil?

    The answer is a profound yes.

    Though examples of good boys raised in loving homes with every advantage who turn into serial killers abound in every country, this question nagged at me until I attended a seminar by LA cops and social workers (even the county coroner was there (FYI, they don’t call the body fridge a morgue out there, they call it a crypt)).

    But there was general agreement among the panelists that some kids are just bad seeds.

    They agreed that the only means of preventing this behavior is to recognize it very early and intervene. If you let it go till they’re teenagers, it’s too late.

    You could have a Jeffery Dahmer or Eric Harris on your hands.

    –Gotta go, Louisville, Kentucky, US.

  122. 122 feka
    April 9, 2009 at 04:22

    It seems from the beginning each and every person’s future character depends from what our parents or environment is passing us 90% after we took these information we continue to develop them to the positive or negative side that means we clean the mistake of our parents by some chance which they got from there parents or environment and there parents got it from there parents or environment etc… and add more mistake or good things and pass it to our children and ones up on a time it reaches the higher limit or ripe enough in our age or in our children age then is born new good thing or new evil?!

    feka ,ethiopia

  123. 123 Eric Geller
    April 14, 2009 at 03:15

    No one is born inherently evil. Good and Evil are both completely human ideas. Like all animals we have needs that must be fulfilled to ensure our survival. When pushed to the edge of starvation one may have no other choice but to steal food or else perish. Unfortunately in the society with live in we have taught ourselves that material possessions equates to the value of a person. Hence why there is so much greed. People steal now not only for basic needs but this false need of self worth. There are laws to instill fear into these would be “criminals” but honestly if you NEED something you are going to do whatever it takes to get that something. As Socrates said if people know what is right they will do what is right. Many people have been misled and are certainly confused on what is right and what is wrong and many of our laws (USA) are completely unjust. People are product of the society they live in. To put blame solely on the person is to forget that people are product of society. If one is to blame then blame must also be pointed to the society and if blame is pointed at society one must remember that they are also PART of this society and thus must blame oneself. It is easy to point blame but remember when you point blame you have 3 fingers pointing right back at yourself.

  124. 124 Abeer V. Dey
    May 5, 2009 at 16:24

    Actually I think it’s pointless to argue whether some people are born evil or they become evil from life experiences. What is relevant is that some people take pleasure in harming others. Either they do it for revenge (or to compensate for something), or they simply get thrilled or pleased by doing it. Now this is a disorder in that person, or a disorder with his role in the society. That’s because, in today’s world what we understand as order is surviving by oneself and letting others survive. And what we should concentrate on is setting that disorder right, or managing it to everyone’s benefit. It’s pointless to some extent to judge people as evil or not. What is really objective is to take a dispassionate view of the situation, and determine how we can ensure that as less people are hurt or suffer, as possible.

  125. 125 Mubeen Kenya
    September 26, 2009 at 08:10

    In my opinion, man is bloody and violent, by and large.

    Throughout history, man’s deed’s, or shall we say dis-deeds have been recorded. We read of one group over-running another, pillaging, looting and destroying what the other has painstakingly built (The conquest of the Americas, the Spanish Inquisition, the Black legend, Colonisation, Massacres, Slavery, Genocide, Wars). Funnily enough, most of these atrocities have been made in the name of religion and commanded by God himself, on the one hand.

    On the other hand is Greed. There are so many scancals, and white-collar crimes done to further profit by greedy individuals, and corporations, and Nations through totally exploitative acts. Sweat-shops are a very good example. Corporatism is another example. Global-warming is a good example of the handi-work of man. Also Export Processing Zones.

    I would say people are born neutral, but man’s society turns many into greedy individuals with a lust for money, power, and possibly blood.

    The question being posed is very good and worth doing some serious research on, however, the reasons listed above for attempting to get answers to this question are one sided and biased.

    It is important for history’s and humanity’s sake to include in the reasons above also, the massacres of the Native Americans, the Canadian Natives, the Australian Aboriginials, the New Zealand Maoris, the Slaughter of the Zulus in South Africa, the vaporisation of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Scramble for Africa.


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