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  • Writer's pictureClay Anderson

Review of Becoming Evil by James Waller

In his book Becoming Evil, social psychologist James Waller provides a comprehensive and insightful analysis into how ordinary people can become perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities. Through extensive research and case studies, Waller examines the complex interplay of factors that enable such extraordinary acts of evil.


Waller identifies several key elements that contribute to the perpetration of genocide and mass killing:


1. Group Dynamics and Ideologies: He explores how certain ideological beliefs and group mentalities, such as dehumanization of victims, can foster an environment conducive to violence.


2. Individual Dispositions: Certain personality traits and psychological tendencies, like an authoritarian personality or lack of autonomy, make some individuals more susceptible to becoming perpetrators.


3. Social and Cultural Context: Waller highlights how situational pressures, like a "culture of cruelty" or perceived threat, can normalize violence and override moral restraints.


Through numerous examples from historical atrocities like the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and the Guatemalan genocide, Waller illustrates how these factors converge to create a "perfect storm" that enables ordinary people to commit


One of the book's strengths is its challenge to common misconceptions about perpetrators of genocide. Waller debunks the notion that they are simply psychopaths or inherently evil individuals. Instead, he demonstrates how ordinary human beings, under certain circumstances, can be gradually conditioned and motivated to participate in mass killing.


Ultimately, Becoming Evil serves as a sobering reminder of the human capacity for cruelty and a call to vigilance against the forces that enable such atrocities. By understanding the psychological and social dynamics at play, Waller argues, we can become more aware of the warning signs and take steps to prevent future genocides.


While the subject matter is undoubtedly disturbing, Waller's rigorous and multifaceted approach provides valuable insights into one of humanity's darkest chapters. Becoming Evil is a must-read for anyone seeking to comprehend the depths of human behavior and the prevention of mass violence.


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