Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

by James Waller
     
 

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The first edition of Becoming Evil spoke unforgettably to a world shell-shocked by 9/11, a world that faced a new "war on terror" against members of an "Axis of Evil." With this second edition, James Waller brings us up to date on some of the horrific events he used in the first edition to illustrate his theory of extraordinary human evil, pointing out steps taken

Overview

The first edition of Becoming Evil spoke unforgettably to a world shell-shocked by 9/11, a world that faced a new "war on terror" against members of an "Axis of Evil." With this second edition, James Waller brings us up to date on some of the horrific events he used in the first edition to illustrate his theory of extraordinary human evil, pointing out steps taken both forward and back. Nearly a third of the references are new, reflecting the rapid pace of scholarship in Holocaust and genocide studies, and the issue of gender now occupies a prominent place in the discussion of the social construction of cruelty. Waller also offers a reconfigured explanatory model of evil to acknowledge that human behavior is multiply influenced and that any answer to the question "Why did that person act as he or she did?" can be examined at two levels of analysis-the proximate and the ultimate. Bookended by a powerful new foreword from Gregory H. Stanton, vice president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and a devastating postscript that addresses current outbreaks of genocide and mass killing, this new edition demonstrates that genocide is a problem whose time has not yet passed, but Waller's clear vision offers hope that we can at least begin to understand how ordinary people are recruited into the process of brutality.

About the Author:
James Waller is Professor and Lindaman Chair of Psychology at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From the Turks' massacre of Armenians in 1915 through the Serbians' slaughter of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims during the 1990s, the 20th century was an era of mass killing. Social psychologist Waller (Face to Face: The Changing State of Racism Across America) develops a four-layered theory of how everyday citizens became involved. First considering factors in evolutionary psychology such as humans' instinctive xenophobia and desire for social dominance Waller examines psychosocial influences on the killers, from people's willingness to obey authority even when causing others physical pain (the famous Milgram experiments of the early 1960s play a role here) to elements of rational self-interest (subscribing to, or at least not dissenting from, the norms of a military or other group). Waller's third element focuses on how some groups can create a "culture of cruelty," in which initially reluctant individuals ultimately commit heinous acts. In his last and most interesting section, Waller shows how a perpetrator learns to see his victim as a less-than-human "other," so that, in some cases, the victim is even blamed for his or her death. There is no new research here, and Waller's theory is quite complex. But he clearly and effectively synthesizes a wide range of studies to develop an original and persuasive model of the processes by which people can become evil. (July) Forecast: Readers of Samantha Power's A Problem from Hell and Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men will welcome this next step in the debate about man's inhumanity to man. Because Waller provides a broad overview and a summary of the current research, this also an excellent choice for readers just beginning to investigate the phenomenon. See also the "Notes" below. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and, of course, the Holocaust these are but a few examples of mass killing and attempted genocide. When such events come to light, civilized people are revolted, comforting themselves by believing that the perpetrators must have been insane. Yet later examinations of these atrocities frequently reveal the agents to be perfectly ordinary human beings, leaving the following question unanswered: what could possibly turn normal citizens into mass murderers? In this important synthesis of social psychology, evolutionary psychology, and historiography, Waller (psychology, Whitworth Coll., Washington; Prejudice Across America) draws on the work of Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo, and other theorists to examine this question, arguing that only when we are fully aware of why such evils take place will we be less likely to allow them to happen again. Combining eyewitness accounts with his own scholarly but accessible analysis of atrocities from the past century, Waller studies the common traits among mass killers, the social contexts of several killings, and the targets against whom such violence has been perpetrated. Out of this examination he creates a paradigm for analyzing mass homicide that will generate considerable reflection and discussion. Highly recommended for every academic library. Christopher Brennan, SUNY at Brockport Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Having previously addressed specific prejudices concerning race, Waller (social psychology, Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington) outlines an explanation of extraordinary human evil in more general terms. He considers the wide range of factors involved in the process of ordinary people coming to commit extraordinary evil. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"Clearly and effectively synthesizes a wide range of studies to develop an original and persuasive model of the processes by which people can become evil... an excellent choice for readers just beginning to investigate the phenomenon."—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195180930
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/29/2007
Edition description:
REV
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.30(h) x 0.90(d)

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