The Wolf You Feed

The Wolf You Feed

E. N. Anderson



            Studies of genocide find that once killing is started, almost everyone joins in.  People suddenly change from peace and order to violent murder, and often back to peace when the dictator falls.  This can be explained only by the existence of both potentialities within people.   Human evil is here defined as gratuitous harm to people and other lives.  It very often comes from simply following orders or doing a job, or from “greed” (gain by predatory taking from others), but most often it comes from hatred and defensiveness.  At worst—and very commonly—it causes people to hurt themselves simply to hurt disliked others.  At root, it can be traced to irrational, overemotional responses to fear and threat.  These are common among people abused as children and subsequently, and among people raised in disempowering, oppressive, intolerant environments.  They become resentful, frustrated, and personally weak—lacking in self-efficacy.  They often bully or scapegoat others, usually even weaker persons.  Social hate is especially damaging, seen in genocide, bigotry, warfare, allowing people to starve or die of disease when they could have been saved, and other mass destruction.  Empowerment, rational coping with stress, and comprehensive morality based on “we’re all in this together” are the major cures.  These general cures can be applied to specific social issues.


“Son, it’s time to teach you the most important lesson about life and people.  It is that everyone has within him, or her, two wolves:  a good wolf that wants to help everyone and do what’s best for all, and a bad wolf that wants to do evil and hurt people and the world.”

“Father, that’s scary.  It really worries me.  Which wolf wins out in the end?”

“Son: the wolf you feed.”

                        Native American folktale



            This story—perhaps more Manichaean than Native American—captures much of what I have learned in my life.  I was raised to think people are good, and that evil is merely ignorance.  The people around me gave the lie to that.  They were often quite deliberately bad.  Many ordinary people, perhaps most at one time or another, hurt themselves just to hurt others.  They ruin marriages and friendships because of imagined or trivial slights. They vote their own destruction by electing people who promise to crush “the others.”  They sacrifice their lives for violent and extremist causes.  Humanity has a sorry record.  Despite claims of moral progress, the genocidal dictator and the suicide bomber are the emblems of the late 20th and early 21st century.

            Yet, obviously, many people are good, some are saintly, and almost everyone is good some of the time.  Even mass murderers and psychopaths usually have a history of decent behavior when not having a psychotic break. 

            Jesus said:  “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).  The salt of the earth—as opposed to sea salt—came from salt springs, and was contaminated with ordinary dirt or carbonate.  Over time, aerial moisture would leach the salt out, leaving only the residue.  Natural human goodness and sociability is subject to similar leaching.  This was, of course, Jesus’ real message.  (One wonders what Biblical literalists make of verses like this one.) 

            Most people are in a rather neutral, everyday state most of the time, not thinking of acting saintly or demoniacal, but they are still torn between virtuous ideals of helping, sheltering, and caring, and vicious ideals of excluding, ignoring, and hurting. They are either working for and with people, or working against people.  We are constantly forced to decide.  As Pascal Boyer (2018:33) says, “Observers from outside our species would certainly be struck by two facts about humans.  They are extraordinarily good at forming groups, and they are just as good at fighting other groups.” 

            The nature and promotion of good have been addressed by every religious writer in history, as well as countless psychologists and other scientists.  Covering this literature is neither necessary nor possible in the present brief essay.  Evil is less well studied.  Outside of religious imprecations against sin, there are rather few studies, mostly by psychologists.  Of these, particularly valuable are Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999),  Alan Fiske and Taj Rai’ Virtuous Violence (2014), Ervin Staub’s books (1989, 2003, 2011), the Sternbergs’ The Nature of Hate (2008), and James Waller’s Becoming Evil (2002) and Confronting Evil (2016).  Simon Baron-Cohen’s Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011), Steven Bartlett’s The Pathology of Man (2005), Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear (1997), Fiske and Rai’s Virtuous Violence (2014), Robert Sapolsky’s Behave (2017), and Kathleen Taylor’s Cruelty (2009) cover some important psychological terrain.  Zeki and Romaya (2008) review the physiology of hate.  Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) exhaustively treats that aspect of evil. 

            Most of these books, as well as the literature on genocide, spice up their texts with horrific stories.  Baumeister is especially graphic.  I have absolutely no interest in transmitting such stories here.  If you need to know how bad people get, seek out those sources.

             By evil, I mean a very specific thing: deliberate harm to people simply because one wants to harm them, because of what they are or might be.  It is the state described by words like “murderous,” “malevolent,” and “cruel.”  Ordinary everyday selfishness is bad enough, but it is part of the human condition; most of us give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, cutting corners, being stingy, cutting ourselves some slack.  This is no doubt deplorable most of the time, but it is not what I am considering in this book; I have devoted two previous books (Anderson 2010, 2014) to the problem of overly narrow and short-term planning and acting, and need not go into it here.  Selfishness becomes more evil as it moves into violent robbery, gangsterism, and raiding.  There is obviously a transition zone.  Similarly, violence in defense of self and loved ones is not evil, and is often praiseworthy.  A transition zone exists between clearly necessary violence—resisting Hitler in 1941, for instance—and clearly excessive use of force, as when police gun down an unarmed boy and claim “defense.”  Transition zones make moral decisions difficult—“hard cases make bad law”—so I will confine this book to issues like genocide and intimate partner violence that are clearly unacceptable in functioning societies.


Part I.  Human Evil in Context

  1. Starting with Genocide

            Visiting Cambodia together, we saw the relics of genocide and the devastation it had wrought.  We resolved to study genocide seriously.

            At that time, little was known about genocide in general.  Thousands of historical sources covered Hitler’s Holocaust, and a much smaller but still important literature covered the mass murders by the Young Turks, the USSR leadership, and Mao Zedong.  Much more recent genocides, such as those in ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Cambodia itself, were only beginning to be visible in scholarly sources. 

            Very few generalizations had come out of this work.  Rudolph Rummel had just written a book, Statistics of Democide (1998; see also Rummel 1994), arguing that genocide was the natural result of totalitarian regimes.  His oft-repeated conclusion was direct: “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely” (Rummel 1998, passim; a rephrasing of Lord Acton’s famous quote about corruption.) 

            We quickly realized that this was not far wrong, but that it was not quite true or adequate.  Hitler was democratically elected, though he committed genocide only after taking total power.  Several other notorious genociders have been democratically elected.  They usually seized absolute power in the process of killing, but often not until the killing was under way.  We thus set off on a long voyage of discovery, comparing all documented genocides since 1900 to find common themes. 

            When science reaches this stage—several teams working on a problem—one expects simultaneous discoveries, and they occurred in this case.  Barbara Harff (2012) and ourselves (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017), and shortly after us Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, developed broadly the same model of genocide, and James Waller, in his great work Confronting Evil (2016), has developed it further.  Gregory Stanton’s well-known list of traits (2013) is another independent invention of a similar, but more developed, model. 

It is quite a simple one.  A would-be leader wins by developing a whole ideology based on ethnic or ideological hate, but going beyond mere hate to promise a utopian world—usually, harking back to a lost golden age and promising to recall it and improve it–if we can only eliminate “certain people.”  He often flourishes only when difficult and uncertain economic times give people economic incentives to look for radical solutions, but many such leaders take power in good times; mobilizing antagonism is always available as an easy and straightforward way to win in politics.  All that is required is that the existing administration is either fighting a war and not doing well (as in Russia when Lenin took power), or widely perceived as corrupt and incompetent.  People then work for change.  Most commonly, the country in question had a long record of ethnic and political killing, but this was not always the case.

Many dictators simply rode popular movements to victory, but many were installed by large economic interests, almost always rentiers—landlords, natural resource owners, and others who make their money from controlling primary production rather than from enterprise.  Oil has been the greatest single backer of modern autocratic states, from fascist (several in Africa and elsewhere) to feudal (Saudi Arabia) to socialist (Venezuela).  We will examine this link in due course.  In the early 20th century, most dictators were puppets installed by fascist or communist regimes when they conquered countries, and in the mid-20th the United States installed or backed several genocidal fascist regimes, most notably in Guatemala and Chile (on the history of 20th century genocides, see Anderson and Anderson 2012; Kiernan 2007; Rummel 1994, 1998; Shaw 2013).  Since then, however, genocidal and autocratic regimes have come to power through coups, local wars, or, very often, elections.  Corrupt and weak regimes create conditions where many will vote for strongmen.

John Kincaid says of American far-right politics, “right-wing movements are successful when they deploy rhetorical frames that synthesize both material and symbolic politics” (Kincaid 2016:529), and this finding summarizes a fact that seems well documented worldwide.  Oliver Hahl and collaborators (2018) have shown that “lying demagogues” succeed with disaffected voters who feel disrespected by elites and cultural brokers; lying, violating norms, openly expressing widely-held prejudices, and economic populism are a particularly successful (and deadly) combination.  Trump in the United States was only one of many leaders who triumphed in the early 21st century by using this technique.

            When he (such leaders are male, so far) takes over, he quickly moves to consolidate power. He can usually bring about a brief return of prosperity, by cracking down on crime and by “making the trains run on time” (as the proverb claims for Mussolini), but the prosperity may be illusory or short-lived.  Alternatively, the leader may take over during a war, in which case he may lead the people to victory—or may simply make things even worse, as in Cambodia.  He suspends whatever democratic or institutional checks exist, and becomes a dictator or functional equivalent.  Many small genocides have taken place in democracies, but, in almost all such cases, the victims were not citizens and were under de facto authoritarian rule.  Native Americans in the 19th century constitute a prime example.

            A dictator begins by consolidating his power.  As Rudolph Rummel often reiterated, “power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”  Almost inevitably, a dictator begins to consolidate his rule by killing “certain people”—whether they are Jews, bourgeoisie, political enemies, educated people, “heretics,” or any other salient group that seems opposed in some way to the new order.  I term these “structural opponent groups.”  The savagery and scope of the killing sometimes depends on the number of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the dictator.  Hitler’s indiscriminate hatred extended from Jews to handicapped people to gays to modern artists, totaling over six million dead.  The Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia included people defined by ethnicity, education, foreign influence, and other broad variables.  The Rwandan genocide began with Tutsi, but quickly moved on to eliminate many Hutu (Nyseth Brehm 2017b).  At the other extreme are mass political killings that eliminate the opposition and anyone related to it, but at least stop there, such as Agustin Pinochet’s in Chile, which killed about 10,000 people.  These political genocides blend into the sort of mass political elimination characteristic of medieval empires.

            Usually, there is then a lull in the killing.  The leader has his power.  However, eventually, unrest challenges his position.  In some cases, he is forced out by popular movements.  Dictators often fall.  Frequently, they come to believe their own personality cult, think they are infallible and can do anything, and decline into something hard to tell from madness (Dikötter 2019).  Often, however, a leader meets the new challenge by another wave of mass murder.  The challenge is often external war, as in Hitler’s Germany and the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia.  Sometimes it is power jockeying within the ruling party, as in the USSR and Mao’s China.  Sometimes it is civil war or revolt, as in the Indian subcontinent when successive episodes of violence accompanied the breakaway of Pakistan from India, the later breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan, and the failed revolution of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

            The most important thing to note is that the people go along.  Humans are prone to anger and hate, and even the most incompetent politician can whip up hatred and direct it against enemies. 

            This simple model—exclusionary ideology, dictatorship, consolidation, and challenge—turns out to be 100% predictive.  We concentrated on genocide under the strictest construction of Raphael Lemkin’s definition of the term—actual mass murder of innocent citizens or subjects by their own government—as opposed to general killing of civilians in war.  Some of the best work on genocide has used that wider definition (e.g. Kiernan 2007, Shaw 2013). Our model does not work for this extended use of the term.  One would have to have a predictive model of all war—something that has so far defied scholarship, despite literally thousands of attempts.  Wars are notoriously multicausal; it usually takes several reasons to make leaders decide to go to war.  Economic gain (or plain loot), political power of the state or its leaders, land, ethnic and religious conflicts, maintaining warrior culture, and other factors all operate. 

            By contrast, genocide is usually rather simple: when autocratic leaders feel they are in a shaky situation, they kill.  Very often—famously with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao—they come to depend more and more on the level of hatred of their backers, and thus must whip up more and more hate to stay in power; this makes them take still more power and kill still more minorities, to provide red meat to their “base.” 

There are four ways to hate: hate upward (hating the elites), down (hating the less fortunate, from the poor to the less abled to the minorities), laterally (real enemies or social rivals), or not at all.  Bad leaders, and often even relatively good ones, move more and more toward getting their followers to hate downward—to hate the weak, the powerless, the minorities.  Even those who took power by marshaling upward hate, such as the Communists, soon find it pays better to get their followers to hate downward.

            A marginal sort of genocide is “cold genocide”:  Slow and not very sure elimination of an ethnic group by selective killing over a long time, coupled with every effort to destroy the group as a distinguishable entity possessing its own culture or ideology.  The term “cold genocide” was coined by Kjell Anderson to describe the Indonesian pressure on West Irian (West Papua).  It has been applied to the far larger and bloodier repression of the Falun Gong movement in China since the late 1990s.  This movement, a spiritual discipline that by all accounts except the Chinese government’s was utterly inoffensive, seemed dangerous to the Communist leadership, because of its size and rapid growth.  Suppression included propaganda wars, but also mass torture, imprisonment (“reeducation” in “camps”), and killing by extracting body parts for transplantation or the international black market (Cheung et al. 2018, citing a huge literature).  The Falun Gong has become the major source of hearts, livers, and other vital organs in China, a practice that may seem even more ghoulish than most genocidal atrocities. 

            The Chinese government has now expanded its reach to include the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang.  Approximately a million have been placed in concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and subjected to intense pressure to acculturate to Han majority norms (Byler 2018).  Children have been removed from homes and parents, and educated according to Han patterns.  Islam is attacked in particular.  The Uighurs’ sin appears to have been agitating for minority rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.  The Chinese government has accused them of ISIS-style terrorism because of a very few extreme individuals.  Recently, government agencies in Uighur territory have been ordering thousands of clubs, stock probes, tear gas canisters, spiked clubs, handcuffs, prison uniforms, and other instruments of suppression and torture (SBS News 2018).  This constitutes “culturocide,” the form of genocide that involves destruction of an entire culture by restriction of personal freedoms and forced removal and re-education of children—one of the forms of genocide specifically addressed by Lemkin.

            Most genocides have been propagated by elites: ruling governments or powerful groups that whip up hatred to consolidate their power.  However, these groups may have started as small popular movements, like the original fascists.  Moreover, settler genocides are largely bottom-up phenomena, and so are many small-scale religious massacres and revolutionary bloodlettings like the French Terror.

            Mobs, genocides, and wars do not just happen, and they are not the result of blind forces.  They are invoked by individuals.  People do not spontaneously go into orgies of murder, unless some leader or leaders are profiting in important ways.  Whipping up hatred in others is not confined to leaders—anyone can do it—but ordinary people doing it at grassroots levels can do only so much damage, though if they form a large organization like Hitler’s Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan they can have devastating effects.

            Further work since 2012 has extended the models backwards, to look at the factors behind the final extreme abuse of autocratic power.  From Waller’s Confronting Evil, Frank Dikötter’s How to Be a Dictator (2019), among other books (cited below), we learn that the vast widely-targeted genocides of modern times accompany the decline of traditional societies and communities and the rise of mass communication and mass top-down society.  Links evolve from networks of local people, only somewhat influenced by governments, to top-to-bottom chains of authority by huge governments that take more and more power, even in peaceful and democratic societies.   When a dictator seizes control in such a mass society, he can quickly draw on his power, on loyalty, and on the lack of countervailing horizontal forces.  He can rapidly turn a peaceful, orderly society into a killing machine. 

            He will do it only if he has not only public but also financial support, and many genocides are enabled by specific firms or economic interests.  These turn out to be primary-production interests—extractive, often rentier, often export-oriented—in most cases (see below, part 3).  Large agrarian interests—landlords—are often involved, and more recently the oil industry has been notorious (Auzanneau 2018).  Sometimes industries come on board, as in Nazi Germany.  Some communist genocides have taken place with support from peasants and workers rather than giant firms, but some others had the support of giant state-owned economic interests.

            The dictators who invoke genocides are also a special selection (Dikötter 2019).  Many genocidal leaders fall into two types.  Most are elites, often military, but a surprisingly large number of them are marginal—subalterns or regional-derived, educated in metropoles or big cities, and educated in contexts that are also somewhat marginal, ranging from military academies (very often) to extremist mentoring by other radicals or lovers of violence (for details, see, again, Anderson and Anderson 2012; Waller 2016; this has been noted before, e.g. Isaiah Berlin noted a correlation with origin in border regions; Rosenbaum 2019:7).  The range is from Napoleon (Corsican), Stalin (Georgian), and Hitler (Austrian) to Mao (educated in Japan) and the Cambodian genocide leaders (educated in Paris with mentoring by the Egyptian Samir Amin).  Very many of the genociders have been military men: Napoleon the corporal, the Argentine colonels, General Rios Montt in Guatemala, Idi Amin in Uganda, and many more.  Leading in mass killing is, of course, the job of military officers.

            Usually, the ideologues of these exclusionary ideologies are not themselves killers.  Karl Marx dreamed revolution, but actually spent his time studying and writing in the magnificent reading room of the British Museum.  Friedrich Nietzsche for Germany and Gabriele d’Annunzio for Italy were the major thinkers behind fascism, but they led scholarly lives.  It was left to lieutenants, and lieutenants of lieutenants, to become the hard-nosed opportunistic toughs that led the movements and were also the initial followers and fighters.  They were often animated more by hatred and ambition than by attention to doctrine.

            These leaders all shared a quite specific ideology of the purity and superiority of one group over the abysmal badness of another, with the further concept that all members of each group have those respective essences.  This can be broken up into 20 specific ideas, carefully extracted from an enormously extensive analysis of the rhetoric of genocide leaders in 20 of the major historic cases by Gerard Saucier and Laura Akers:  “tactics/excuses for violence, dispositionalism/essentialism, purity/cleansing language, dehumanization, dualistic/dichotomous thinking, internal enemies, crush-smash-exterminate-eliminate


, group or national unity, racialism in some form, xenophobia/foreign influence, uncivilized or uncivilizable, attachment/entitlement to land, body or disease metaphor, revenge or retaliation language, traitor talk (treason, treachery, etc.), conspiracy, subversion, something held sacred, nationalism/ethnonationalism, threat of annihilation of our people” (Saucier and Akers 2018:88). 

            They add some other frequent themes, including “placing national security above other goals,” wanting to move fast and thoroughly, and thinking “individuals must suffer for the good of the collective” (Saucier and Akers 2018:90). They find all of these in many cases, from Hitler’s and Stalin’s rhetoric to the less widely known writings of the Serbian and WWII-Japanese leadership and the propaganda of mass murderers of Indigenous people in Australia and the United States.  Dehumanizing terms like “rats,” “cockroaches,” and “insects” appear to be universal.  One can, for instance, note the Communist Chinese leadership’s invocations against Falun Gong and dissidents as “rats” and “subversives” (Cheung et al. 2018).

            The worst genocides are usually associated with extreme ideologies: Leninist communism, fascism, extremist religion, or nationalist and ethnic fanaticism.  Extremist ideologues must be a strange combination to succeed: ideologically zealous, yet utterly amoral and opportunist in the ways they take power (Dikötter 2019 provides valuable case studies).  More pragmatic military dictators like Egypt’s, and economic hardliners like Pinochet in Chile, usually kill their opponents and anyone suspected of opposition, but do not engage in the vast orgies of extermination that almost always follow from ideologues taking power.  They too are opportunist and amoral, but they usually make little secret of it.  

            On the other hand, the people must be susceptible.  As Mao Zedong used to say, “a spark can ignite a prairie fire,” but that depends on the availability of dry grass.  Humans are easily enough turned to evil to give any credible leader a chance.  Understanding such events involves working back from the event to the direct perpetrators and their mindsets, and then on to the back stories.  The casual tendency of modern historians and other scholars to attribute causes of historical events to abstractions (“the economy,” “politics,” “culture,” “climate”) is wrong.  Marx is often blamed for it, because of vulgarization of his theory of history, but he was careful to specify that real people must lead the revolution, even if it is “inevitable” sooner or later because of economic forces.  Marx was also aware that those economic forces were themselves caused by the choices of real people.  Other thinkers from Ibn Khaldun to Max Weber and Anthony Giddens (1984) have made the same general point: structures emerge from individual actions and interactions.

There is no definite link between genocide and any particular economic system, organization, interest, or condition.  Capitalist, socialist, and communist countries have all done it.  Claims that genocide is most likely during economic downturns or is associated with deprivation do not hold up (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).  International war generally dominated mass bloodshed before 1945, but since then genocide has far overshadowed it, causing more deaths than all wars, murders, and crimes combined.  One suspects this has something to do with the dispensability of labor.  Kings of old could not afford to decimate their own work force.  Now, with rapid population growth and machines displacing workers, governments can deal with problems by thinning out their own people, saving the price of war.

Genocides fall into three types: settler, consolidation, and crisis genocides (our classification, but see Waller 2016 for much fuller but similar typology).  Settler genocides occur when a large, powerful society takes over land from small or scattered groups, especially when the powerful society is technologically advanced and the smaller victim groups are less so (“Whatever happens, we have got / the Gatling gun and they have not”—Hilaire Belloc; also quoted as “Maxim gun”).  The most famous cases are the United States (Dee Brown 1971; Madley 2016), Brazil (Hemming 1978), and Australia (Pascoe 2014), but the same story can be told of societies from Russia to China to Japan (Kiernan 2007).  It goes far back in time.  Ancient Babylon and Assyria exterminated captives.  The Romans and medieval Europeans exterminated rebellious subject peoples and took their possessions.  The Bantu took southern Africa from the Khoi-San with attendant exterminations.   Settler genocides depended on convincing a large part of the citizenry to kill the Indigenous peoples, and to threaten protectors and dissidents into silence.  A particularly good study of this is Benjamin Madley’s study of California in the 19th century (Madley 2016). 

This counts as genocide only if the victims had been conquered and subjected.  Extermination of enemies who are fighting back with everything they have is normal war, not genocide.  The dividing line is obviously blurred, but extremes are easy to see; the wars with the Apaches and Comanche (Hämäläinen 2008) in the United States and Mexico in the 1870s were initially fair fights with little quarter given by either side, and thus not genocide, but the extermination of the Yuki in California in the mid-19th century was genocidal massacre of helpless conquered people (Madley 2016; Miller 1979). 

Modern genocides fall into four categories: communist, fascist, military dictatorship, and random cases of rulers who lack ideology.  The last are usually military, since military men have an advantage in seizing power, but almost as often they are democratically elected politicians.  Sometimes an initially able ruler becomes more and more extreme (or even demented) with age.  The one common thread is that they come to power by marshaling hate.

Some genocides have direct corporate backing.  American corporations acting through the CIA established genocidal regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile.  European colonial powers sometimes established murderous successor regimes in liberated colonies, or, conversely, set up a hopeless government that soon fell to genocidal rebels.  Former colony status is a fair predictor of genocide. 

Many genocidal regimes have survived and flourished despite mass murder because states support business interests that are benefited by the regimes in question.  Cases range from early fascist Italy under Mussolini to more modern states such as Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.  The oil industry is notorious for this, but armaments merchants are interested, for obvious reasons.  One also recalls “blood diamonds,” blood coltan (columbium-tantalum ore, source of conflict in DR Congo), and other commodities deeply stained. 

Plantation slavery or serfdom is one back story.  Developed in ancient Mesopotamia, it was the first institution based on cruel treatment of disenfranchised multitudes by ruling elites.  It grew steadily, especially in the west, peaking in the Atlantic slave trade and the indentured-labor plantations of Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. It led to a vast amount of murder. 

Consolidation genocides are the commonest and often among the worst.  They occur when a rather shaky totalitarian regime based on exclusionary ideology takes over full control of a country.  They usuallyoccur in that situation, but the kill totals range widely, from rather small-scale politicides (like Marcos’ in the Philippines and Pinochet’s in Chile) to vast mass murders like Mao’s in China.  The scale depends on the extremism of the new government, especially its exclusionary ideology.  Ideology was not a huge factor in the pragmatic (though murderous) Marcos government; at the other extreme, the indiscriminate hatreds of the Nazis led to the vast massacres of the Holocaust.

Crisis genocides occur when genocide is brought about or exacerbated by war, either international or civil.  Very minor local rebellions can serve as excuses for already-planned genocides, as in Guatemala in the 1980s (where violence continues; Nelson 2019), or international war can vastly escalate already-ongoing genocides, as in Hitler’s Germany in the 1940s.  Sometimes consolidation and crisis occur together, as in Cambodia in the late 1970s, producing the most extreme of all genocides. 

Almost all genocides fall into one of these three types.  The only exceptions are cases in which an extreme (if not downright psychopathic) dictator continues to kill whole populations without let or stay.  Stalin and Mao are the major cases in history, but other apparently demented monarchs from Caligula to Tamerlane might be mentioned.

            Genocides range greatly in the numbers and percentages of people killed.  The Cambodian genocide, which killed perhaps ¼ of the total population, is unique.  Rwanda’s genocide killed 10% of the population—a million people—in only 100 days, a rate of killing calculated at 333.3 murders per hour, 5.5 per minute (Nyseth Brehm 2017b:5).  Most genocides are fortunately smaller; many are “politicides,” confined to classes of political enemies of the dictator.  Mere political killings do not count as genocides, but mass political murders by people like Agustin Pinochet of Chile and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines threw far wider nets.  Not only actual opponents, but families of opponents, ordinary protestors, children who seemed somehow opposed to the regime, and random suspects were killed.  The scope of genocide depends on the size and range of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the exclusionary ideology of the leaders.  Hitler targeted a huge and, at the end, almost random-looking assortment of peoples.  Pinochet narrowly targeted suspected liberals and leftists.

            Recent attacks on “social media” for being platforms that amplify hatred (e.g. Zaki 2019:146-150) made me aware of an important and previously neglected fact: the greatest genocides, the ones in which whole nations seem to have gone mad and collapsed in orgies of blood, were propagated by print media and radio.  The first, the Turkish massacre of the Armenians and other Christian minorities, was even prior to radio.  The others—notably Germany and central Europe under Hitler, the USSR under Stalin, China under Mao, Nigeria in the Biafra War, and the Indonesian, Cambodian, and Rwanda-Burundi genocides—were driven by newspapers, radio, and public appearances.  Social media allow discussion, argument, persuasion, and grassroots movements.  Radio in totalitarian societies is the ultimate in faceless, top-down communication to people who have no way of answering or commenting on any scale. Public appearances by leaders, and propaganda pictures and films, are not much better: they show the leader in crisp uniform, from a distance, generally high above the masses.  It is surely significant that there have been no huge, out-of-control genocides in societies with good social media.  The worst recent genocide in terms of mass participation by ordinary people is that in Myanmar, where access to modern media is limited.  Even TV has the value of showing the leader up close, making him look less than respectable.  But the real value of Facebook, Twitter, and the like is that allow us to answer back.  They are often compared to face-to-face encounters, to the disadvantage of the social media, but the real comparison is with the passivizing and alienating radio and its cousins.

            Genocides have become much commoner and bloodier since 1900.  Earlier genocides were largely religious persecutions (such as the Inquisition) or settler genocides.  Since 1900, genocides have targeted wider groups, often huge segments of society.  This tracks the decline of community and the rise of mass hierarchic society, as we have noted.

            Through history, genocidal regimes just kept killing till conquered by outsiders or popular movements.  Then they often returned to bad ways unless they underwent decisive political changes—sometimes forced on them by conquest, as with Germany and Japan after WWII.                       Slavery, though not genocide by our definition, is very close to it, and requires a similar mentality: the basic idea that one whole group of humans does not deserve human consideration.  By establishing that mind-set, it helped the progress to modern genocide.  The slave trade was notoriously bloody.

            Genocide and war always include far more than mere killing.  Victims are routinely tortured.  Women and girls are almost always raped.  People are burned or buried alive.  The deliberate sadism goes beyond anything an ordinary creative torturer could devise; there have been instruction books on torturing for centuries, and there are now websites on the “dark web.”  Ordinary people are as prone to do all this as the leaders themselves.  Similar findings are common in studies of warfare, criminal gangs, and perhaps above all the whole history of heresy persecution in religions.  Even domestic violence often involves unspeakable torture and humiliation of spouse, children, or other family members.

Ordinary people caught up in even the most mundane street gangs soon learn to commit unspeakable acts without second thoughts.  Psychological explanations of this range from direct explanations in terms of conformity, anger, learned hate, and social antipathy (Baron-Cohen 2011; Baumeister 1997) to the elaborate Freudian-Lacanian framework of Edward Weisband (2017, 2019).  Animal models (of which there are many in Clutton-Brock 2016, esp. chapters 8 and 13) suggest that competition for control of resources and of mates and mating bring out the worst in all mammal species, turning otherwise meek and inoffensive animals into demons.  Human domestic violence usually (if not always) turns on control and relative power issues (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Rage over shakiness of control certainly lies behind much genocide and genocidal behavior.  Exploring the full scale of this phenomenon, and of other causes for rage, remains an urgent task for the future.

The universality of the phenomenon, especially perhaps in street gangs, suggests that it is all too normal a part of human potential, but many of Weisband’s cases (such as the Nazi death camp leaders) seem to be genuinely psychotic or brain-damaged.  Whatever the explanations, the performative sadism of human violence is a particularly horrific thing to find so universally.

            Genocide (aside from settler genocide) is a particularly interesting case because ethnic genocide is a relatively new form of evil.  Outside of religious persecutions—the real font of genocide–huge-scale elimination of vast numbers of peaceable fellow citizens, simply because they fall in some arbitrary category, is new enough that people have not adjusted to it as a matter of ordinary life since time immemorial (as slavery was considered to be).  Conforming to genociders is, or was in the early 20th century, a new way to be bad.

            The Enlightenment gave rise to ideas of peace and freedom.  War was reduced, and slavery slowly but surely was outlawed everywhere.  However, the Enlightenment was founded not only on rapid expansion of trade, commerce, communication, and science, but also on the slavery and exploitation that it eventually fought. 

            As the world filled up in the 20th century, problems of overpopulation, pressure on resources, and competition for goods became more salient.  Leaders by this time tended to be old and not battle-hardened, so they did not always deal with such problems by international war, as almost everyone had done before 1800.  Often, either during war or instead of war, the modern leaders turned on sectors of their own people, waging genocide campaigns.  Wars and slaving were partially replaced by internal mass murder.  Genocide developed from religious persecution and settler colonialist practices. 

            Genocide, like other violence, must ultimately reduce to hatred.  The government must be able to whip up mass hatred, to get support and help in its project of mass murder.  To the extent that people are hateful and angry, they are susceptible to this persuasion.  On the other hand, they may simply be “following orders” and “doing their job,” becoming callous to the whole enterprise (Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015). The genocidal leader or leaders mobilize an insecure or downward-mobile majority, or fraction of the majority, against the most salient or disliked minorities.

            Genocide seems to sum up the other forms of violence.  Like war, it is often about loot and land (Kiernan 2005).  Like intimate partner violence, it always involves some issues of control and insecurity about control and power.  Like civil war, it often begins with rebellion, driven by class or religious or ethnic conflict.  Finally, leaders of genocidal regimes are often classic bullies, a point elaborated below.

  •  Mass Killing in General

            The forms of mass killing are international war, civil war (which differs from interpolity war in causes and usual course; see Collier and Sambanis 2005), revolution and rebellion, genocide, structural violence on large scales, mass poisoning by pollution, denial of medical care, and mass starvation through refusing to take action on agriculture, welfare, or food security (on famine as mass murder, see Howard-Hassman 2016).  Large-scale human sacrifice, once a major part of religion and kingship, has fortunately been eliminated, but sacrificing millions to the cults of guns, automobiles, and oil continues.  These form something of a continuum. Genocide sometimes grows from bureaucratic neglect.

            These all have different risk factors.  International war is hard to predict and almost always multicausal.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was not just about Jenkins’ ear.  Usually, desire to capture a neighbor’s territory and resources, a desire to support one’s own military machine and sometimes one’s armaments industry, pressure by hot-headed males hungry for glory and loot, claims of wounded national pride, and ideological differences with the enemy are all involved.  Traditional or manufactured hatreds are always conspicuous.  Small incidents are typically taken as excuses.  (In the case of Jenkins’ ear, the war was a complex fight between Britain and Spain over New World territories and other issues).  Nations such as the medieval Turks and Mongols may have war as their major economic activity and even their whole lifeway.  Rivalries within families forced rivals to compete to see who could amass the most loot and glory (Fletcher 1980:238). 

War seems to have been around forever, if one counts the local raids and small wars typical of small-scale societies.  War seems to have been especially common in chiefdoms and early states.  Population growth, rivalry for land and loot, and hierarchic institutions had run ahead of peace-keeping mechanisms.  Typically, neighbors come into conflict over land and resources, but such conflicts can almost always be settled by negotiation.  When they get out of control, however, traditional rivalries may develop, as between France and England through much of history.  Then, honor, nationalism, and eventually real hatred come into play, increasing the danger.  Specific histories are almost invariably complex and highly contingent on hard-to-predict events.

            With the state, maintenance of order slowly developed.  Even so, the incidence of violence and war varied widely within tribal and early state societies.  Just as there are violently aggressive people and saintly ones, there are bloodthirsty and pacific groups.  Particularly interesting are profound changes over time.  Scandinavians changed from Vikings to democratic socialists (Pinker 2011).  English changed from Shakespeare’s blood-drenched warriors to today’s peaceable folk.  Germany changed from the most demonic country in history to leader of a peaceful Europe in only one generation.  Most dramatic was Rwanda, where gradual increase in hate and violence built up to the genocide of 1994 that killed 1/10 of the population—but then ended suddenly and was followed by amazingly peaceful, tranquil, well-regulated recovery (as shown by brief research there by ourselves, and much more detailed ongoing research on the ground by Hollie Nyseth-Brehm). 

            Lies are universal in war; “truth is the first casualty,” and George Orwell’s analyses remain unsurpassed.  People believe lies against all evidence when their political beliefs are served thereby, as several modern studies have shown (Healy 2018).  Patiently pointing facts can work, but only when the truth is inescapable and unequivocal (Healy 2018).  The endless circulation of repeatedly discredited fictions about Jews and blacks is well known.

The ability of people to change dramatically from war mode to peace mode, from bad wolf to good wolf, is truly astounding.  Recent studies have shown that this is heavily contingent on social pressure.  Michal Bauer and coworkers (2018) found that in an experimental setting, Slavic high school students in Slovakia were twice as likely to play hostile toward Roma in a game than toward other Slavic students—but only if someone started it.  They would all play peacefully unless someone made a hostile move, but if that happened all the Slavic students generally joined in.  It was easy to flip the group from tolerant to ethnically discriminatory.

            Today, a range of violent engagements are common.  International war is still with us, though current ones all grew from local civil wars.  Civil wars abound, and merge with local rebellions.  Civil wars stem from rebellion, revolution, or coup, or—very often—from breakaway movements by local regions, as in the United States’ Civil War (Collier and Sambanis 2005). 

Criminal gangs dominate whole countries; the governments of Honduras and El Salvador are particularly close to their gangs.  Gangs kill for loot, rivalry, “honor,” turf, women, and other usual causes.  Individual murder for gain, revenge, or hate blends into gang killings and then up into militias, armies, and nations; there is no clear separation.  A murder in a gang-dominated country like El Salvador may have individual, gang, and national overtones.

Finally, ordinary, everyday murders are usually over issues of control.  The commonest murders are within the family; next, within the neighborhood.  The mass murders of unknown (though usually local) victims that dominate the media are relatively rare, though much commoner in the United States than in most countries.

Genocide continues, in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan, and several other countries.  China is committing genocide against its Uyghur population; it has imprisoned a million and killed countless more (Byler 2018; Stavrou 2019).  China is also repressing Tibetans, Mongols, Kazakhs, and Hui, apparently for no reason other than a desire to crush religious and cultural minorities, since China’s world-leading security and surveillance system has surely established these minorities are not a security risk.  Turkish repression of Kurds and Brazilian massacres of Indigenous people have now reached genocidal proportions.  Violent, genocidal or potentially genocidal regimes now control about 1/6 of the world’s countries.  It is highly contingent.  In many cases, the dice could easily have rolled the other way.  Evil ranges in extent; Hitler had real power, his American imitators very little before 2017.  The degree of evilness is not well correlated with its success.

Today, with warfare constant and technologically sophisticated, militarism is on the increase, dictatorships are becoming common again (as in the mid-20th century), and whole societies are becoming militarized.  An important special issue of Current Anthropology, the leading anthropological journal, is devoted to this; an important introduction by the issue editors, Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteson (2019), details the rapid rise and current pervasiveness of the new hi-tech militaristic world and worldview.  Military bases around the world have led to virtual slavery of local hired workers, as well as dispossession of local farmers and others (see also Lutz 2019; Vine 2019).  Besteman’s article (2019) details the progressive conversion of the world into an armed camp, with the rich routinely attacking the poor nations—no new thing that, but more and more a worldwide unified effort, rather than a country-by-country issue.  Gusterson (2019) recounts the use of drones to create terror; there is no one to fight—only a strange, buzzing object that brings random death and chaos.  As Gusterson shows, drones are claimed to hit actual individual terrorists and military targets with pinpoint accuracy, but of course they do no such thing; they are used to terrorize whole populations with large-scale random strikes on soft targets.  Militarized cultures develop in zones of war and conflict, as they have throughout time (e.g. Fattal 2019; Hammami 2019).

            Another set of cases of people turning violent and destructive is provided by the well-known cycles of empire.  Every preindustrial state had cycles of rise and fall, usually at vaguely predictable intervals, with a 75-100 year period and a 200-300 year period being common.  The great Medieval Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun (1958) first isolated, described, and explained these.  Recently, Peter Turchin (2003, 2006, 2016; Turchin and Zefedov 2009) and I (Anderson 2019) have elaborated on Ibn Khaldun’s theory.  There is thus no reason to go into it here; suffice it to say that internal processes make dynastic crises inevitable, over the long run, in such societies.  At such times, rebellion, local wars, banditry, and sometimes international wars break out, and societies often dissolve into chaos.  Basically, it is a process in which a society based on positive-sum games (cooperation, law-abiding) dissolves into negative-sum games, in which groups and power brokers try to take each other out. 

On rare occasions, a whole empire may completely collapse, as Rome did in the 5th century.  This represents yet another society-wide set of cases of fairly rapid change from peace and order to violence and mass death.

  • Slavery

            At the slave museum in Zanzibar, built on the old slave quarters there, one can see the hellholes were slaves were confined, read their stories, and see many excellent exhibits with contemporary accounts, drawings, and even photographs.  The most disquieting, and the most pervasive, message is that the slave trade was an ordinary business, like selling bananas.  Hundreds of people routinely raped, murdered, tortured, brutalized, and oppressed their fellow humans, for eight hours a day (or more), simply as a regular job.  These slavers no doubt felt like any other workers—bored, annoyed by trivial problems, angry at the boss every so often, but indifferent to the subjects of their effort.  They were not singled out for being violent, or psychopathic, or intolerant; they were simply locals who happened to be available.  Anyone could do it.

            Mistreatment of enslaved people involves minimalizing them—not denying their humanity, but denying that it matters.  They can be treated brutally because they do not count.It is perhaps harder to imagine the mind-sets of people who worked in the slave trade, day after day, for a whole working lifetime, than to imagine the mind-sets of genociders.  Today, most people in developed countries are repelled even by bad treatment of farm animals.  I remember when people treated animals worse than they do today, but even in my rural youth, animals were never treated as badly as slaves were treated in Zanzibar, Byzantium, the American South, and other places where slavery occurred.  The animals needed to stay healthy to turn a profit.  By contrast, the whole goal of slaving is to reduce humans to helpless, terrified victims, through intimidation and brutalization.  Their health was a secondary concern at best.  It was easier to get new slaves than to deal with well-treated ones.

            Slavery has cast a long shadow over America, influencing American politics profoundly to this day (Acharya et al. 2018).  Many, possibly half, of Americans believe slavery was happy blacks playing banjos and occasionally picking a bit of cotton under the benevolent eyes of the plantation owners.  The rest usually think of slavery as the work of a few utterly evil men, like Simon Legree of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  The fact is that slavery involved thousands of men and women brutalizing other men and women, simply as a regular job, carried out with varying degrees of racist hate but with little thought about the whole issue.  In America the brutalizers were white and the victims black, but in most of history—and today in countries like Thailand and Ukraine—the slaves were the same race and very often the same culture and society as their oppressors.  Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil, comments on how repugnant most people find evil acts, but how quickly they get used to them and see them as routine.  There is no evidence that slavers found even the initial phases of their work particularly unpleasant.  They put in their eight hours (or more) of rape, torture, and murder with a “just doing a job” mentality.

            John Stedman wrote a classic 18th-century account of the horrors of slavery in Surinam (Stedman 1988 [1790]).  Stedman was a mercenary in the service of the plantation owners, so at first he was biased in favor of slavery and against slaves; his horror at what he saw convinced him that slavery was an evil practice.  He reports a great deal of real hatred by slaveowners of their slaves, and a great deal of torture simply for torture’s sake, often because of extreme (and not wholly unjustified) fear of slave rebellions, and the fear-driven belief that only brutality could prevent those.  His writings became foundational to the antislavery effort, first in England, then worldwide.  Most interesting, though, is his extremely extensive documentation (confirmed by every other early report) of the matter-of-fact, everyday, routine brutality.  It simply never occurred to most people of the time that this was monstrous.

            One also recalls John Newton’s conversion, at about the same time, from slaving captain to extremely repentant Christian; after years of depression, he felt divine forgiveness, and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which, somewhat ironically, became a favorite of African-American churches.  As with resisters of pressure to commit genocide, repenters of slaving are rare in the archives.

            Slavery in traditional societies (from the Northwest Coast of North America to pre-slave-trade Africa), was sometimes less murderous and torture-filled.  But it was never other than cruel and oppressive.  All records from all societies speak of rape, terrorizing, and brutalizing.  Yet, no one in history—not Buddha, not Confucius, not Jesus—opposed slavery as an institution, until the Quakers in the 18th century concluded it was against God’s law.  The tide then turned with striking speed.  Enslavement of Europeans was basically over, outside the Turkish Empire, well before 1800.  Enslavement of Native Americans was theoretically banned in the Catholic countries, and was actually reduced to a rare and local phenomenon by 1800.  Enslavement of Africans continued well into the 19th century, being legally abolished between 1820 and the 1880s.

            Illegal slavery continues today.  The Council on Foreign Relations (2019) estimates that there are 40.3 million slaves in the world.  Few are chattel slaves like those in Zanzibar; most are forced prison laborers (e.g. in North Korea), persons enslaved for debt, or sex slaves (including forced marriage sufferers).  Sex slavery, with all the attendant horrors, is carried out in the familiar spirit of “all in a day’s work,” by thugs and pimps from Thailand to Hollywood.  Reading reports of child sex slavery shows how low humans can sink, all the time thinking they are doing what culture and economics require.  As always, there is no evidence that most of these people are especially evil to begin with.  Some child-sex slavers are clearly psychopathic, but others simply drift into the life and do what they believe is necessary.  Many were sex slaves themselves. 

  • Structural Violence and Callousness

            Millions of deaths today come simply from the bureaucratic attitude that people are merely things to move around, like rocks.  One of the most chilling books I have read is The Future of Large Dams by Thayer Scudder (2005).  Scudder spent his life studying refugees from huge dam projects.  In almost every case, people displaced by big dams were simply ordered to move.  Their homes were bulldozed, their livelihoods flooded.  There were usually token “relief” efforts, but these were so trivial as to be more insulting than helpful.  Millions of refugees were left to shift for themselves, and in poorer nations that meant many of them died.  Scudder bends over backwards to be fair, which makes the stories sound even worse; one cannot write him off as biased..  The bureaucrat perpetrators are cut from the same cloth as the cold “doing my job” slavers and Nazi executioners.  There is a huge subsequent literature on dams and displacement; suffice it to cite Sunil Amrith’s Unruly Waters (2018), which puts India’s and China’s megadams in historical context while describing their social and ecological devastation.  Almost always, the displaced are poor, and often from minority groups, while the benefits go to the relatively rich: landlords, urban power-users, and the like. 

Similarly, pollution is generated by giant firms producing for the affluent, but the pollution is almost always dumped on the poor and vulnerable (Anderson 2010 covers this issue in detail).  The populations sacrificed for the greater good of the giant firms are the stigmatized ones; Erving Goffman’s classic work Stigma (1963) is highly relevant.

            Related are the horrific famines invoked by governments against their own people, as described in State Food Crimes by Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (2016) and for specific, particularly horrible cases by Anne Appelbaum (2017) for Ukraine in the 1930s and Hazel Cameron (2018) for Zimbabwe in 1984.  Not only totalitarian governments, but the British in 1840s Ireland and 1940s Bengal, and most settler societies in their campaigns to get rid of colonized peoples.  In the Irish potato famine, aid was denied although Ireland was exporting food and England was rich (Salaman 1985; Woodham-Smith 1962)  Many countries have deliberately invoked famine as a form of state policy.  The Holodomor in the Ukraine and Russia in the 1920s was an extreme case (Howard-Hassman 2016).  America’s 19th-century extermination of the buffalo was explicitly done to starve the Native Americans, and thus was genocidal. 

            Johan Galtung (1969) coined the term “structural violence” to describe destruction by the cold workings of the social system, ranging from the results of institutionalized bigotry to bureaucratic displacement and refusal to provide famine relief.  Structural violence is usually a matter of passing public costs onto those held to deserve no better, usually poor and vulnerable people.  Again, ethnic and religious hate is very often involved.  The targeted victims—selected to pay the costs of industrial development, public works, crop failures, and the like—are almost always poor, and very often from minority groups.  Robert Nixon has used the term “slow violence” for this. 

            There is, however, a range from clearly and deliberately murderous and unnecessary structural violence, such as the Holodomor and the Ethiopian famine under the Derg, down to the tragic results of incompetent and irresponsible planning.  Famines before 1900 were usually due to genuine crop failures in societies that did not have adequate safety nets, and often could not have had.  The gradation from such tragedies to deliberate mass murder by starvation is not an easy one to unpack.  There will always be controversial cases.  Lillian Li’s classic Fighting Famine in North China (2007) goes into detail on a society that was desperately short of food but did have a well-developed safety net; the famines reflected a complex interaction of crop failures, local violence, and government success or failure at deploying their extensive but shaky relief infrastructure.  Such cases remain outside the scope of this book, which deals only with cases such as the Holodomor and the buffalo slaughter, in which famine was deliberately created for genocidal reasons.  On the other hand, massive displacement of people without preparation for resettlement or rehabilitation is herein considered intrinsically genocidal, even if done—or supposedly done—for good economic reasons.

            I hereby introduce the word “bureaupathy” to describe the associated attitude and mindset.  It is a mental state as sick and destructive as psychopathy and sociopathy.  It is quite different from greed; the bureaucrats are usually following orders or truckling to rich clients, rather than enriching themselves.  It does, however, merge into corporate murder-for-gain, which is done with similar cold-blooded indifference.  Tobacco companies continue to produce a product that causes up to ¼ of deaths worldwide, and no one in those companies seems to feel either genocidal hate or moral compunction.  Similarly, big oil and big coal preside not only over thousands of pollution-caused deaths per year, but over the creation of a global-warmed future that will lead to exponentially increasing deaths.  Unlike the innocent, uneducated rural American voters, oil executives know perfectly well that climate change is real, and what it will cost.  They read the journals and are trained in science.  Many documents, leaked or quite open, show they are aware.  They continue to produce oil and lie about its effects on health and the ecosystem.

  • Hate vs. Greed

            This alerts us to two very different kinds of harm.  Hatred causes genuinely gratuitious harm: no one benefits.  In fact, the hater usually harms himself or herself just to hurt others; suicide bombing is the purest case.  It is a negative-sum game: both sides lose.  Selfish greed, however, does benefit the doer; by the definition used here, it harms the other people in the transaction more than it benefits the doer or doers.  Big dams benefit the rich and urban, but usually hurt the displaced people and the total economy more.  The cost-benefit ratios of big dams are notoriously bad.  More pure cases of selfish greed, such as drug gang violence and medieval Viking raids, are even clearer: the thugs get some loot, but the entire polity suffers, especially but not only the looted victims.  Professional gambling is another case in point: the house always wins in the end, since it is there to make a profit.  Casino owners get rich.  They do it at the expense of victims, often nonaffluent and often compulsive, who are ruined and often commit suicide.  The total cost-benefit ratio is negative.  But the victims choose to gamble, so it is hard to stop the industry.  In this case, as in “the right to bear arms” and many others, individual liberty is traded off against social costs.

            Simple rationality—ordinary common sense—would stop hate as a motive for harm.  Stopping greed is more difficult, especially when the greedy have the power to force their will on the rest of society, as oil interests do today.  From a regulator’s point of view, there is also the problem of defining exactly where reasonable cost-benefit ratios turn to unreasonable ones.  Big dams do sometimes benefit the whole of society, or at least they have in the past.  Simple morality directs that displaced persons should be compensated, but other cases of “takings” are less clear.  If some suffer because they were selling poisons and the poisons are finally banned, should those sellers be compensated?  Or penalized for selling the poisons in the first place?  Much of politics is about such issues, which seriously problematize the whole issue of evil.

            In war, genocide, and murder that most harm is usually clear-cut.  So much, however, is due to greed—the entire tobacco economy, most of the oil economy, most of the dam-building, and so on—that looking far more seriously at cost-benefit accounting is a major need for the future.  On the other hand, the role of hate, or at least of infrahumanization, in even these cases cannot be underestimated.  The case of dams is, again, the best example: those displaced are almost always poor and rural, and thus “do not count.”  They can be ruined and even reduced to starving to death, without any of the rulers or engineers or construction bosses caring—sometimes without even noticing.  The oil industry, also, typically dumps its pollution on poor rural areas, such as rural Louisiana and the Indigenous communities of Canada.  When oil pollutes a well-to-do urban area, there are protests and political and legal action.  Moreover, oil, tobacco, and other harming industries have made it a practice to whip up hatred to get the public to oppose valid science, as will be discussed below.  Thus, hate, or at least discounting whole communities, is central to the wider and more general applications of greed. 

  • How Much Violence?

Several recent studies attempt to quantify deaths by violence in human societies.  Stephen Pinker (2011) famously concluded people kill much less than they used to.  This is apparently wrong (Fry 2013; Mann 2018), but small-scale societies kill at a relatively high rate.  Many small-scale farming societies, especially chiefdoms, are particularly bloody.  The human average seems to be about 1% dying by violence per year, but it varies from insane meltdowns like the 100 Years War, the fall of Ming, and the Khmer Rouge genocide to total lasting peace. 

            In a recent comparative study of war, Kissel and Kim (2018) define it as organized conflict between separate, independent groups.  They note that the terms “aggression” and “war” cover a vast range of very different behaviors.  “Coalitionary” killing of enemies is confined to ants and people and chimpanzees and maybe a few other mammals; only humans do it on any scale.  The genetics of aggression are as ambiguous as ever.  They note some archaeological massacres, including one in Kenya 10,000 years ago, and cannibalism evidence in many areas of the world—possibly during famines.  They see a big change after agriculture and settlement growth, but more in the size and organization of war than in the commonness of aggressive killing.  They see war as cultural.

            A recent study by Dean Falk and Charles Hildebolt (2017) finds a wide range, from small-scale societies that have essentially no violent killings to those where a large percentage of deaths are violent.  Variation is much higher than among state-level societies.  In general, it appears that small-scale societies do have a somewhat higher percentage of violent deaths than large state societies, but the margin is not great (if it exists at all).  The genocides, slaving deaths, and mass murders of modern states go well beyond Pinker’s estimates (Mann 2018).  In few societies is murder and war the norm; such a society would quickly self-destruct.  In fact, there are records of societies that did so.  Something very close happened to the Waorani, but they were persuaded by missionaries to become more peaceful (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998). There is a range in states from Afghanistan and ancient Assyria to relatively peaceful Tokugawa Japan and Yi Korea, or, today, Scandinavia and Switzerland.  Most states through history have been undemocratic and repressive, with many political murders. 

Among the Enga, one of the most violent societies in Falk and Hildebolt’s sample, powerful self-made leaders—“big men”—often whip up war for their own advantage, but may also make peace for the same reason; the oscillation from peace to extreme violence that has characterized Enga society is heavily determined by these self-aggrandizing maneuvers (Wiessner 2019).  Popular will often forces peace on disruptive young men or would-be leaders, however. 

An “average” is hard to calculate and probably meaningless, since most societies swing back and forth between war and peace, conflict and stability.  The average may be close to urban America’s less privileged neighborhoods.

            Since death is forever, the consequences of murder are irreparable, while good is easily undone.  (The same goes, in general, for environmental damage; it is rarely, if ever, fully reversible.)  A society requires countless small good acts to make up for a terminally bad one.  Human nature must average positive to keep societies functional. 

            Human tendencies to defend social position, defend the group, and defend or seize land and resources continue to keep violence at a high level in most societies.  From the books cited above, a clear pattern emerges of why people kill.  As individuals, if not killing in simple defense of self and loved ones, they kill either for gain (as a paid job or for loot) or for social control.  Most often, they kill to maintain social position: control over a spouse, “honor” in local societies, revenge on a neighbor, dominance over minority members, or control of a personal position of some kind.  Even psychopaths who kill compulsively usually wait for such opportunities.  Probably most killing is done for “defense.”  Even aggression in war becomes “preemptive strikes.”  Genocide is occasioned by extreme fear of minorities. 

            Targets change over time.  In agrarian societies, the groups were very often rival branches of ruling families, clans, or lineages.  There was also, usually, an opposition of “us” versus “barbarians,” i.e. semiperipheral marcher states or semiperipheral invasive groups.  In the west, intolerant monotheist religions powered up hatred of other religions and of “heretics,” and this tended to spill over into hate of all “others.”  Opposition of men vs women, old vs young, and rich/powerful/elite vs poor always create tension points.  Toxic conformity takes over.

            Gavin de Becker (1997) provided many accounts of psychopaths and mass murderers.  All turn on the obsessive need of the killer to control someone—the woman he is stalking, the parents who have tortured him growing up, the owner of a valued good who has tried to protect it. 

            Killers in such situations either commit suicide or are fairly easily caught, but gangsters who kill randomly may not be.  In particular, many gangs in the United States and elsewhere require a new recruit to commit a murder, as a rite of passage.  Such initiates seek out homeless mentally ill individuals who will not be missed (or even identified, in many cases) and whose death will not be investigated seriously.  This murder-for-position leads to further crime.  In the United States, a killer usually is jailed eventually, but in much of Latin America he (or sometimes she) will often be accepted by society and escape the law. 

            As groups, humans kill largely to maintain the power of the group over perceived and hated rivals.  These structural opponent groups may be traditional enemies, new rivals, or ideological or ethnic opposites.  The hatreds lead to international war, religious strife, civil war (most often between regions), ideological murders and genocides, and other types of group violence.  War for land is also extremely frequent.  This led Ben Kiernan to title his great study of warfare and genocide with the old Nazi phrase Blood and Soil (2007); he saw identity and land as the two great reasons for mass killing. Nationhood and religion, both sources of a fictive or socially constructed identity, are deadly, much more so than actual blood relationship.  I am far from the first to remark on the human tendency to kill real people in the service of vapid dreams.

            War for loot (portable wealth) seems largely limited to Viking raids, Turkic wars, Caucasus Mountain feuds, and banditry in general.  It is the moral norm, and often the livelihood, of classic “barbarians,” for whom it is a way of life rather than considered an evil or an exception. On the other hand, wars to acquire land and mineral resources, to help one’s national armaments industry, and to support its military, are universal throughout history.  Still, group hatred remains one great reason for war, just as individual social control is apparently the commonest reason for murder.  Greed, even for land, is controllable; the deadly mix of social fear, social hate, and need for social control is the real “heart of darkness” within humans.

  • People Almost All Join In

            One thing is common to all genocides and wars:  Some individual or individuals whip up hatred, and the public goes along.  Usually, the leaders are desperate for power and are not particularly restrained by morals.  The masses, however, can be almost anyone, anywhere, any time, though most sources agree that genuinely threatening and unsettled conditions make it easier for tyrants to whip up enmity.  There are on occasion mobs that spontaneously riot and destroy minority neighborhoods, but even these normally have a single instigator or small group of instigators. 

            Normally, this involves a flip from peaceful, economically rational behavior to behavior that is violent, destructive, and economically, personally, and morally irrational according to normal standards of the group and of humanity.  The bad wolf suddenly takes over.  Genocide leaders are men—they are almost all men—who are geniuses at making people do this psychological flip.  They can manipulate social fear, using a mix of charisma and exaggerated group rivalry.  They can whip up the hatred that is latent in people, and mobilize it.  They are masters of redefining groups to make them smaller, tighter, more defensive, more closed.  They can get people to circle the wagons.  They can make people see it is an “exception” when moral rules are broken to harm a rival group, something people all too often figure out without help (Sapolsky 2017, summarized p. 674).  The human ear and brain reduce their processing of ordinary peaceful messages, and become more sensitive to ominous messages and less sensitive to people or to rational considerations; people can be reduced to blind rage (Monbiot 2019).

            It is particularly clear that a certain type of narcissistic, cocksure, extremist leader can often manage to take advantage of human loyalty, religion, or ideology to reduce a whole nation to near-hypnotism, adulating him (he is always male—so far) with worshipful adoration.  Frank Dikötter (2019) has investigated this in the case of several 20th century dictators, including Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and found many common threads.  All consolidated power ruthlessly and came more and more to depend on a cult of personality.  They became strongmen, above the law, above tradition, above any restraint—even the restraints of their own claimed ideologies.  The more they did, the more the loyal citizens adored them, until they miscalculated and caused actual ruin through war or economic collapse.  The sad fact is that the tendency of humans to conform with society and follow its leaders—usually useful traits, preventing chaos—can be and often is misused in the most horrific ways.

            In all genocides, the mass of the population is susceptible to messages of hate.  It is astonishingly easy to make ordinary “decent” citizens into mass murderers.  People go along with the evil leaders.  The public follows the leaders as loyally as they do in international wars or in actual defense of the nation.  The leaders are power-hungry and hateful individuals, but their followers are not; yet their followers do appalling things on command.  Detailed interviewing over time in Germany, China, the USSR, Rwanda, and other states showed that people were swept away by the rhetoric, and then strengthened in murderous resolve by the fact that everyone else was involved in the killing.  Most people simply did what they were told, or what their neighbors were doing.  They often took a sort of pleasure or satisfaction in doing it, but often found it simply a job that had to be done.  It is often pointed out that Hitler killed only one person: himself.  It was the people “just following orders” that did the real work.

            This mass conformity is very extensively documented.  (Particularly good recent reviews of it are found in Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015, Staub 2011, Tatz and Higgins 2016, and Waller 2016.)  It seems particularly common where hatreds are traditional, as with the Jews in “Christian” Europe, but it is reported everywhere.  The same is true of criminal gangs, slave procurement, police work in less lawful parts of the world, and indeed every situation where ordinary people get caught up in violence.  They almost always conform (see esp. Baumeister 1997; Waller 2016).

            Finally, the testimony of many anthropologists (e.g. Atran 2010, 2015), psychologists (Baumeister 1997), criminologists (De Becker 1997), and other experts all confirm that perfectly normal people can and do become terrorists and murderers in any social situation that puts a high value on such behavior as serving the group.  Scott Atran’s accounts of Islamic terrorists are particularly revealing: the terrorists and suicide bombers are usually young persons who have experienced traumatic events in their own small worlds.  They are not particularly violent, certainly not psychotic.  They are very often recruited through intensive influence by leaders of local extremist organizations—leaders who rarely endanger themselves. 

            Otherwise, worldwide, accounts of recruits to violent gangs often speak of neighborhoods where the only alternative to membership in a violent gang is being killed by one.  Criminals who are not part of gangs are far more apt to be genuinely demented—usually psychopathic.  Even among such loners, however, writers like Roy Baumeister and Gavin De Becker stress the number who seem superficially normal.  For the record, the pirates, smugglers, and sometime killers I knew on Asian waterfronts in my youth were largely a perfectly normal lot; they got caught up in an ugly world and had few or no alternatives.  By contrast, the one American mass killer I have known was a deeply troubled individual, bullied and treated cruelly for his obvious mental issues until he finally snapped. 

            There are, in short, some people whose inner demons drive them out of control—though they can be identified and stopped (De Becker 1997).  Far more common are ordinary individuals: we normals who have within us the two wolves, waiting for food.  The relevant works are surprisingly silent on what makes one or the other wolf take over.  The old Victorian clichés—coming from bad seed or a broken home, falling in with bad company, taking to drink—are echoed to this day in one form or another.  They have much truth, and we now know more, but there is still much to learn.

            Older literature often described such behavior as regression to “animal” or “savage” behavior, but no other animal does anything remotely close.  Nonhuman animals fight and kill when threatened or when vying for mates or territory (Clutton-Brock 2016), but they rarely kill without those immediate motives, they rarely torture (though cats and many others will toy with prey, cruelly by our standards), and they certainly do not make social decisions to starve millions of their fellows to death.

 “Savages” in the old sense of the term do not exist and never have.  The small-scale societies of the world do about the same things that modern states do, but on a very much smaller scale, and they lack the technological ability to carry out the mass tortures and murders so common now.  They could not force mass starvation on their societies even if they wanted to.  Claims of greater violence among early, small-scale societies and early states, e.g. in Pinker (2011), are based on outrageous sampling bias (Fry 2013; Mann 2018).  Pinker compares the most warlike of documented small societies with the most peaceful modern ones, which does show we are capable of being better than we often are, but says nothing about what social levels are most murderous.

            In fact, virtually anyone can be converted, rather easily, into a monster who will torture, rape, and murder his or her neighbors and even family members for reasons that no rational person could possibly accept after serious consideration.  Religious wars over heresies provide extreme cases.  In such conflicts as the Albigensian Crusade, the 13th-century genocide that gave rise to the infamous line “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out,” probably not one in a thousand participants could explain the differences between Catholic and Albigensian Christianity (see Anderson and Anderson 2012).  Yet the murders of neighbors and friends went on for decades.  The same endures today, as in the persecution of Shi’a by ISIS (Hawley 2018).

            Such phenomena raise the question of how and why normal, peaceable human beings can so easily flip into genocidal states, and then back into peaceful states after the genocide is stopped.  Many of the most horrible genocides were committed in countries long known for the tranquility, peacefulness, cooperativeness, and even tolerance of their citizenry.  Cambodia and Rwanda were particularly clear examples.  On the other hand, some genocidal countries had a long and bloody history of independence and conflict.  No pattern emerged from this line of enquiry.

            In most genocides, those who resisted and worked to save victims were astonishingly few.  Tatz and Higgins (2016) have recently collected the data from the Holocaust and other genocides.  They find that even when there was no penalty for refusing, ordinary people went along with mass murder.  This was as true in the United States and Australia in the 19th century as in Hitler’s Gemany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.  It is sobering for modern Americans to read how otherwise normal, reasonably decent, “Christian” Americans could perform the most unspeakable and unthinkable acts on Native Americans—often neighbors and (former) friends—without a second thought (see e.g. Madley 2016).  Colin Tatz’ harrowing summary of settler genocides in Australia reveals the same (Tatz 2018).  Nor did more moral citizens do much to restrain the killers.  The “Indian lovers” like Helen Hunt Jackson and James Mooney who agitated to protect Native Americans in late 19th century America were few.

            Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017b), in a particularly thorough analysis of the Rwandan genocide, found that killing was clearly top-down-directed, with a concentration around the capital and major cities and among well-educated (and thus elite) people, but also was commoner in areas with low marriage, high mobility, concentration of Tutsi, and political opposition—especially by Hutu themselves—at the grassroots.  The areas in and around the capital, Kigali, were far more deadly than areas at the northern margins of the country.  This is the opposite of the pattern seen in settler genocides, where murder was far commoner on borders where settler populations were expanding at the expense of Indigenous people. 

            Accounts from China’s Cultural Revolution indicate that people were swept up in mass hysteria, but were also afraid of appearing to be neutral, since lack of enthusiasm in persecuting victims led to substantial trouble, up to being made a victim oneself.  A few of the many memoirs indicate that the writers were unreconstructed Maoists, but the vast majority worked under orders, from fear or social pressure or conformity.  Many repented, and write agonizing stories of their internal sufferings as well as the sufferings they inflicted and endured.

  • Anyone, Anytime, Can Turn Evil

          The alternation between peace and rage is typical of animals, especially carnivores; we see it often in dogs and cats.  Chimpanzees show it too.  Humans are different in two ways.  First, many humans are always “on the fight” or “in your face,” seemingly looking for imagined slights, threats to their honor, and excuses for a fight.  This is both individual and cultural.

          Arguably the biggest cause of slights, anger and hate is ranking out: arrogance, putting others down, open insulting superiority. This is particularly touchy if A really does outrank B and has to show it, as in the military, in hierarchic business firms, and in traditional societies with hereditary nobility.  A display of modesty can go too far, but a display of arrogance is disastrous.  Soldiers and bureaucrats have to game this.  It is a minefield, even more than romance, let alone ordinary civility.  Every day brings new outrages by minorities insulted—sometimes unintentionally—by people in power.  The sheer advantage of the priviledged, in everyday discourse, makes even “niceness” seem a putdown.  As with other forms of slight and offense, the Scottish ballads and Shakespeare’s plays are full of this: people are outraged at failures to recognize superior status, but even more outraged at having their noses rubbed in someone else’s social superiority.   

Some cultures and subcultures teach violent response to offenses as normal behavior (Baumeister 1997).  Such “honor cultures” always track societies with a bloody, unsettled, poorly controlled past.  Killing, however, goes far beyond such societies.  Humans fall into rage states not only when fighting immediate rivals for food or territory or mates, as dogs and cats do, but also over issues that do not directly concern them: war with remote enemies, malfeasance in distant countries, terrorist attacks in far-off cities, political injustices to other groups of people.  Humans specialize in offense, outrage, antagonism, and hate, and will take any excuse. 

            Antagonism is the opposite pole to Agreeableness on the Agreeableness scale of the widely used Big Five personality test.  Worldwide, people range between the two extremes, and there is a substantial inherited component, though much (I believe most) of one’s level of agreeableness/antagonism is learned.  Highly antagonistic people are, of course, heavily overrepresented among doers of evil, and are very susceptible to inflammatory rhetoric (Kaufman 2018).

            People, even quite antagonistic ones, are usually peaceful in ordinary everyday life, and even helpful, generous, and tolerant.  Many are curmudgeons, even snappish or bigoted, but at least not violently cruel.  It takes some effort to make them do deliberate harm to those who have not harmed them.

            However, it does not take much effort.  Following discovery of this fact among Nazi survivors, psychologists experimented with students, seeing how easy it was to make them be cruel to other students.  Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments with faked electric shocks, Philip Zimbardo’s with students acting as jailers and prisoners, and many subsequent experiments showed—to the horror of psychologists and the reading public—that it was very easy indeed. 

            Zimbardo’s experiment with a mock prison, at Stanford, had to be stopped within a week, because the students took their roles too seriously (Blum 2018 criticized this experiment, but has been effectively answered by Zimbardo, 2018).  This led to major reforms of experimental ethics, as well as to much soul-searching (Zimbardo 2008).  Contrary to published accounts, Zimbardo did not initially allow the “prisoners” to leave the experimental situation, and in any case privileged white and Asian young men (as these students were) hardly provide a realistic prison situation, given America’s racist and brutal prison system (Blum 2018).  However, Zimbardo’s main finding stands: people, even the “best” young men, can turn into evildoers with astonishing ease if they are following orders.

            People flip easily from a normal state—mild and peaceable—to an aroused state of anger, hatred, aggression, brutality, or rage.  There is a continuum, but phenomenologically it often feels as if we are dominated by either the good wolf or the bad one—not by an intermediate, neutral wolf.  Our enemies are not always external.  Suicide is the commonest homicide. Next most common is killing family members.

            We have a choice.  We must choose to be angered, and can always choose to “turn the other cheek.”  A punch in the face is hard to ignore (though some can manage it), but by far the most anger we feel is over trivial slights that can easily be ignored, or over social issues that may not concern us directly.  I am much more frequently angered by reading about injustice, murder, or war in places I have never been and involving people about whom I know nothing than I am by threats to myself.  Reading the political literature, one realizes that some people are outraged by the very existence of African-Americans somewhere, or by the fact that not everyone worships the same way.  An excellent column by Ron Rolheiser (2018) talks with some ironic detachment about the human proclivity to moral outrage.  Humans love to work themselves up into anger, or even hysteria, about perfectly trivial issues irrelevant to their own lives.  Most of us in the scholarly world know teachers who turn red in the face at such things as bad grammar in student papers. 

            Indeed, almost all the evil discussed herein is deliberately chosen because of outrage over something that does not directly or seriously concern the chooser.  The Jews were not really destroying Germany, nor were the Tutsi causing much trouble in Rwanda, nor were the victims of Mao’s purges doing anything remotely worthy of national outrage and mass murder.  All of us have encountered a great deal of everyday prejudice, bigotry, and open hatred of people for being what they are, as opposed to what they may have done.  This too has been studied; Gordon Allport (1954) reviewed early sources.  Since then a huge literature has accumulated (see below).

            Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is uncomfortably compelling.  We sense, somehow, that we could all go there.  Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” (Arendt 1963) is also compelling.  Indeed, evil is banal, for the very good reason that it is usually done by the kid next door, or his equivalent.

            Peace came to Colombia after more than 50 years of conflict between the government—often via paramilitary gangs—and FARC, which began as a rebel organization but became largely a cocaine ring.  The paramilitary groups were little if any better.  Both sides accommodated to and dealt with the organized drug cartels.  Thousands of people were involved, and they committed the usual torture, rape, and murder associated with such activities.  With peace came rehabilitation.  Sara Reardon (2018) investigated the process.  She quotes one of the rehabilitation psychologists, Natalia Trujillo: “I realized not all of them are sociopaths. I realized most of them are also victims.”   In fact, it is obvious from Reardon’s account that the vast majority were closer to victimhood than to pathology.  They were local people, some originally idealistic, swept up in a nightmare.  Many were forced to fight to save themselves and their families.  Most of the combatants have returned to ordinary life with varying degrees of success; some have been killed by revengeful farmers and others who were devastated or had loved ones murdered. Unfortunately, but predictably, the peace did not hold.

The way that ordinary people can be caught up in senseless civil war is clearly shown.  Similar stories from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other civil wars, back to the United States’ own, show this to be typical. 

            In short, the vast majority of killing and harming in the world is done by people “just following orders.”  They range from people mindlessly conforming, or even hating what they do, to enthusiastic perpetrators who needed only the excuse.  Especially successful are orders to kill or oppress minorities or to ignore their suffering when displaced.  Orders or requests to care for people and help them meet far more resistance.  The United States has faced continual protests and objections over its exiguous and miserable government safety nets, but no trouble finding soldiers for wars in the Middle East, and Trump had no trouble whipping many of his followers into frenzies of violence and hate.  For better or worse—usually for worse—people are easily mobilized by antagonism, but difficult to mobilize by religious teachings of love and care for fellow humans.  People are too apt to be spontaneously antagonistic and destructive, simply due to overreaction to the negative.  They hate trivial enemies, callously neglect valuable but less-noticed people, and take too little account of the good.

The average human is pleasant, smiling, friendly, and civil most of the time, but when threatened or stressed he or she becomes defensive.  This usually begins with verbal defense or with passive-aggressive sulking.  It escalates if the threat escalates—usually matching the threat level, but often going beyond it, in preemptive strike mode.  This is a necessary and valuable mechanism when genuine defense is needed. 

The differences between people and cultures then matter.  The average human seems easily persuaded to wad up all frustrations, irritations, threats, and hurts into a ball, and throw that ball at minorities and nonconformists.  This displacement and scapegoating comes up over and over again in all studies of human evil, especially genocide. 

            The world is far from perfect.  Wars, crimes, and genocides happen.  We must deal with them.  We are rarely equipped with perfect ways of doing this.  Cool, rational action in the face of hostility requires both courage and the knowledge of what to do. 

            Failing that, action is difficult.  The most available and simple option is to follow the orders of those who do know, or to conform with cultural norms that provide strategies for dealing with problems.  The next most available option is to maintain a front of hostility: to be touchy, aggressive, or fearful.  Ideally, one can seek out the knowledge to cope better, but this requires effort and time.  One can also flee, hide, become a hermit, act as virtuous as possible in the hopes that virtue will prevail, or simply die. 

            Recognizing this choice matrix makes the victory of the bad wolf more understandable.  Facing a hostile world, people are prone to let the bad wolf roam, or to follow the orders of those who do.

The model that emerges, then, is one of ordinary people dealing with ordinary everyday frustrations, slights, trivial hurts, and difficulties, who can easily be persuaded by extremist leaders to direct their frustration at scapegoats.  Scapegoating minorities to maintain control by venting diffuse anger is the food of the bad wolf.  Violence comes from directing diffuse hate to a specific target.  This is the common theme of the books on evil listed at the beginning of the present work. 

Such violence sums up into war and genocide when human agents with their own damaged agendas are swayed evil leaders who are willing to go beyond normal social rules.  This is the human response that evil leaders from Caligula to Hitler to Trump have whipped up.  The immediate cure is minimizing offense-taking, but the ultimate cure is finding enough good in the world to balance out the offenses.

Often, though not always, these leaders, in turn, are the creatures of landlord or rentier elites wishing to maintain control over income streams and resources.  The deadly combination of propertied interests, evil leaders, and frustrated masses is the common background of modern mass killings.

Part II.  Roots of Human Evil

1. Human Nature?

            Speculations on human nature have taken place throughout the ages.  The classic Christian and Buddhist views are that people everywhere are basically good; evil is a corruption of their nature by bad desires.  The problem, according to Buddhist theology, is giving way to greed, anger, and lust.  The Christian tradition is similar; “love of money is the root of all evil,” according to Paul (I Timothy 10).  Most Confucians follow the great Confucian teacher Mencius in seeing people as basically prosocial, corrupted by bad or inadequate education.  Many small-scale and traditional societies hold that people are basically sociable and well-meaning, but must develop themselves through spiritual discipline and cultivation.  Quakers speak of the “Inner Light.”  Modern biologists and anthropologists have found it in the social and proto-moral inclinations now known to be innate in humans.

            Conversely, the commonest western-world view is probably that of Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud: people are basically evil, selfish, competitive, and out for themselves at the expense of others.  This view goes back to the ancient Greeks; Marshall Sahlins (2008) provides a full history of it.  Social behavior must be forced on them by harsh training.  Hobbes saw “man in his natural state” as being in a permanent condition of “warre of each against all” for resources (Hobbes 1950 [1657]:104).  Freud had a darker view:  Innate human nature was the Id, a realm of terrifying lust, murderous hate, and insatiable greed.  Both men thought “savages” showed “man in his natural state”; they believed travelers’ tales rather than real descriptions, and thought “savages” were bloodthirsty, cruel, and driven by the lusts of the moment, with no thought of the future.  In fact, even without modern anthropology, they should have known from actual accounts that small-scale societies are about as peaceful and orderly as our own. 

These dark views come from traditional folk wisdom, which incorporates a good deal of cynicism based on the common observation of people hurting themselves to hurt others more.  A worldwide folktale tells of a man who is granted one wish (by an angel, godmother, or other being) but on the condition that his neighbor will get twice what he gets; if the man wishes for a thousand dollars, his neighbor gets two thousand.  The man thinks for a while, then says “Make me blind in one eye!” 

            Machiavelli, Hobbes, Freud, and their countless followers assumed that society will force people to act decently through powerful discipline.  This is impossible.  One cannot make mountain lions form social contracts, or teach crocodiles to cooperate.  An animal that is naturally individualist, each animal competing with others, cannot create a society capable of enforcing rules.  Joseph Henrich (2016), among many others, has pointed out that only an animal with cumulative culture, natural sociability, and an innate tendency to cooperate could have social norms and expect conformity to them.  Hobbes, Freud, and others expected far too much of human rationality.  Rationality is notoriously unable to restrain emotion.  Ask any teenager, or parent of one. 

            A serious cost of the Hobbesian view is that by assuming people are worse than they are, Hobbesians excuse their own tendencies to act worse than they otherwise would.  Hobbesian views have always been popular with hatemongers.

            The other classical and mistaken view of humanity is the rational self-interest view.  The briefest look at humanity instantly dispels that.  People do not act in their self-interest, and rarely act rationally in that restricted sense (see e.g. Kahneman 2011).   The “irrational” heuristics that people use can be highly useful as shortcuts, creating mental efficiency (Gigerenzer 2007; Gigerenzer et al. 1999), but they constantly cause trouble when cool reason is needed.  Human limits to rationality are now so well documented that they need no further notice here. 

            The rationalist view is a far more positive view of humanity than Hobbes’ or Freud’s.  It does not give much space to evil; evil would occur only when it really pays in material terms, which is not often.  Unfortunately, irrational evil appears much commoner in the real world.  Tyrants may often die in bed, but they often do not.  Suicide bombers and other front-line fighters for the wrong are obviously not advancing their rational self-interest.  Straightforward shortsighted but “rational” calculation does explain some bad acting, but does not explain people going far out of their way to be hateful and cruel, or the common human tendency to resist improving themselves and their surroundings.  Over the 5000 years of recorded history, countless people around the world have chosen, over and over, to suffer and work and make themselves miserable simply to hurt others.  Technology has often developed for war.  Rational choice could be believed as a general motive only because hate, vengefulness, overreaction to slights, and irrational hate of nature are so universal that they are not even noticed, or are considered “rational.” 

             The contrasting view also goes back to the ancient Greeks, who wrote of human abilities to love, cooperate, and found democracies.  Christianity later built on a view that people could love each other; the line “love thy neighbor as thyself” goes back to Moses.  However, few could see humanity as innately good, or believe in virtuous utopias.  There were always a few, but on the whole belief in a “noble savage” view is largely a straw man.  Rousseau did not believe any such thing (the phrase actually comes from John Dryden), nor do most of the others accused of having it.  In so far as it is taken seriously, it does not survive the many accounts of war in small-scale societies.  Even relatively “noble”-believing sources (e.g. Fry 2013) cannot gloss over the frequency of killing in almost all societies.

            A more realistic, but still dubious, take on humans comes from the Zoroastrian-Manichaean tradition.  This tradition sees correctly that people are a mix of well-meaning, helpful, prosocial good and cruel, brutal evil.  It further holds, less believably, that the good comes from the immaterial “spirit” realm, evil from the flesh.  This view, which entered Christianity with St. Paul (see his Letter to the Romans), lies behind the extreme Puritanism of much of western society—the view that sees sex, good food, good wine, and dancing as Sins with a capital S.  Everything of the flesh tends toward corruption.  Good sex is the door to hell.  “The fiddle is the devil’s riding horse,” according to an old American saying.  I was raised in a time and place when this view was widespread.  The social revolution of the 1960s cut it back sharply, but it keeps resurfacing.   Yet, a great deal of human good comes via those “sins.”  Condemning these is regularly used to distract people from the real sins: cruelty, oppression, gratuitous harm, selfish greed, hatred.

            A deeper problem with the Manichaean view is that people are usually neither saintly nor demonic.  They are just trying to make a living and then get some rest and relaxation.  Their forays into proactive goodness or proactive evil are extensions from ordinary low-profile getting along.             This leaves us with the Native American folktale: the two wolves, like the “good and bad angels” that folk Christianity took over from Manichaean belief, are symbols of the prosocial and hostile sides of humanity, of working with people versus working against them.

In this sense, people are not bad or good; they are good to kin and culturally constructed fictive kin, bad to rivals, and neutral to everyone else.  There is a very slight positive bias, enough to have saved the human race so far.  But people will kill vast numbers of distant strangers without thinking much about it, as King Leopold of Belgium did—indirectly—in the Congo.

In general, people are far better than the savages of Hobbes and Freud, but not as good as idealists or rationalists assume.  The hopeful dreams of “positive psychology” and “humanistic psychology” have turned to dust.   Ordinary everyday human life is full of minor slights and disrespects, and of misfortunes interpreted as personal attacks when they were not meant as such.  It is also full of minor kindnesses and helpful moves.  From this constant low-level evil and good, it is easy to move suddenly and unexpectedly to much greater evil or good. We are always poised near the edge of flipping into violence or heroism.  Everyday hurt and disrespect can be exploited by evil leaders who whip up hate and deploy it against their victims—usually the weak.  Everyday good and care can be stimulated by situations or by moral suasion, and people can be heroic. Often the contrast is between “realism”—the cynical realism of evildoers—and hope, often the unrealistic idealism of the best. People must often choose the ideals or be lost to the cynics.

            At worst, intergroup competition leads to cruelty, viciousness, nastiness, greed (here defined, recall, as hurting others by taking their goods for oneself, without fairly compensating them), and other vices.  We are still not sure how much these are inborn tendencies—like minimal morality—and how much they are learned.  Most authorities think they are learned.  Others concentrate on the learned aspects.  However, broad capacities to fight, hate, and destroy are clearly innate in all higher animals.  Humans seem to have more of these innate cruel tendencies than do other animals, at least as far as “proactive” violence goes.  But real wolves—as opposed to the ones inside us—have their own fights; normally peaceful and calm, they erupt into violence when a new wolf threatens an established pack, or when a bear or human or other enemy attacks (Clutton-Brock 2016).  Dogs, domesticated descendants of wolves, still engage in “resource guarding”; an otherwise peaceful dog, especially if leashed, will attack anyone that seems to menace its owner.  We are a predatory mammal; we can be expected to act accordingly.

            We are gifted by our mammalian heritage with the ability to love, care, fear, hate, and fight.  These we share with all higher mammals.  We are also gifted with the uniquely human ability to form complex, diverse social and cultural systems that construct care, fear, aggression, and other natural drives in ways that can amplify both good and evil out of all bounds.

            People are abjectly dependent on their societies.  We live in stark terror of rejection and ostracism.  They therefore overreact, negatively, to any challenge to their social standing.  Therein lies the problem of the human condition.

2. Evolution?

            Any animal must divide its attention between avoiding threat and getting necessities of life.  Thus, all animals have a fight-flight-freeze response repertoire for dealing with the former, and ways of dealing with the latter to obtain food, shelter, territory, reproduction, and other needs with minimum danger.  They may be jealously protective of mates and homes.  Animals compete for these, and social animals compete for place in the group.  Humans, with far more complex social lives than other animals, add socially constructed identifications with groups, their basic principles, and their identifying flags (from skin color to religious beliefs). 

Overreaction to threat is selected for; thinking a poisonous snake is a rope is far less adaptive than thinking a rope is a snake (to use the classic Indian example).  Failure to find food in a day means a better hunt tomorrow, but failure to identify a deadly threat means no tomorrow ever again, for oneself and often for one’s genetic investment in young.  Even plants react with fear; a chainsaw can end in a few minutes a few centuries of investment in growth.  

This is the ultimate biological substrate of human reactions, including the human tendency to overreact to perceived (and even imagined) threat.   Humans seem about half dedicated to crushing opposition, from criticism to competition, and half dedicated to peacefully obtaining what they need and wish.  Feedback in perceived threat—deadly spirals—is made probable by the need to react to even mild threat as potentially serious.  Contingent variation in personal, situational, and cultural factors prevents better prediction than a rough 50-50.

It is now well established that humans are innately “moral,” in the sense that they have natural predispositions to fairness, generosity, tolerance, welcoming, acceptance, sociability, friendliness, and other social goods.  (There is now a huge literature on this; see e.g. De Waal 1996; Bowles and Gintis 2011; Henrich 2016; Tomasello 2016, 2019.)  It is basically a rediscovery of what Mencius knew in the 4th century BCE.  People are naturally interested in the world and the other people in it.  More neutral are anger at real harms, and desire to satisfy basic wants, including a desire for pleasure and beauty.  Bad traits that appear universal, but possibly not inborn, include hatred of nonconformists and structural opponents, a tendency to grab desired stuff from others, a tendency to resent real or imagined slights, and above all weak fear. 

Excessive need for control is notably a part of the picture, especially in intersex violence.  In many species of mammals, will kill other males and even their own female companions to maintain it (Clutton-Brock 2016: Heid 2019 for applications to humans).  Intraspecific aggression and violence are universal in higher animals, highly structured, and shaped by evolution (Clutton-Brock 2016). Even meerkats, regarded by many humans as particularly cute, are murderous to rival groups; females will hunt out and kill pups of neighboring packs (Clutton-Brock 2016:303). The rapid transition from harmony, empathy, playfulness, and cooperation to cold-blooded murder of weaker “others” is not confined to humans, or even to large predators like wolves.

A few recent writers have made important contributions to the study of human nature as producing good (prosociality and cooperation) and evil.  Two stand out in particular for very recent work: Michael Tomasello and Richard Wrangham.

Michael Tomasello, in A Natural History of Human Morality, postulates that morals evolved in three steps.  First came natural sympathy, developed from the loving emotions that all higher mammals feel for their mothers and siblings; these are extended to other kin and ultimately to any close associate, in human society.  Infants display this from birth.  Second, as humans evolved cooperative hunting and foraging, they learned to respect, help, share with, and support their partners.  Apes do not do this; they may co-hunt but they do not share or cooperate more than minimally.  Wolves and meerkats do, however.  Third, and uniquely human, all social groups have cultural moral repertoires.  They have long lists of “oughts,” almost always said to be divinely sanctioned. 

Tomasello follows almost everyone in arguing that the human tendency to cooperate evolved in foraging.  Cooperative animals could hunt big game, find isolated honey trees and share the news, and work together to catch fish.  A bit of evidence he misses is the parallel with wolves.  Canids scaled up from fox-like animals to hunt big game.  However, their need to run fast denied them the chance to develop the formidable claws that allow cats to be solitary hunters of big animals.  Wolves thus learned to cooperate to chase and bring down large animals.  This skill is seen today in the incredible skills of herding dogs at coordinating their efforts.  They not only have to know exactly what each other dog is thinking and planning; they have to put themselves in the positions of the humans and the sheep.  I once watched two shepherds and some muttish sheepdogs negotiate a herd of sheep through a difficult traffic intersection in the Pyrennees.  The shepherds did almost nothing; the dogs had to work together, trusting each other to keep order in a deadly environment, while understanding what the shepherds wanted and what the sheep would do.  They managed this three-species balancing act perfectly. 

A good Kantian, Tomasello looks to abstract rules founded on basic principles of cooperation and mutualism.  Tomasello is fond of citing Christine Korsgaard for this approach, and she does indeed argue powerfully for the Kantian view (Korsgaard 1996).  Kantian “deontological” ethics deduce rules from basic principles.  In contrast, utilitarian “assertoric” ethics hold that ethics are practical solutions to everyday problems (see e.g. Brandt 1979).  It is fairly clear, ethnologically, that both these methods of creating moral rules happen in the real world, and every culture has a mix of high abstractions and pragmatic rules-of-thumb.  Moral philosophers tend to emphasize one or the other.

No other animals have anything remotely like cultural rules that regulate whole large groups that are not only not face-to-face but many involve millions of people who never meet at all.  As Tomasello points out, children raised in human families learn these rules very early, but family pets do not (Tomasello 2016:154, 2019; pets do learn to act differently in different cultures, but only through simple training).  Tomasello admits that he emphasizes conformity and cooperation and that people are frequently immoral (Tomasello 2016:161), but does not take into account the actual alternatives within moral systems that allow people to murder each other for purely moral reasons, from Aztec human sacrifice to capital punishment.  In a later publication (Tomasello 2018) he admits that conflict must have had something to do with shaping human moralities.  Tomasello’s Rousseauian view keeps him from addressing hatred, but one can assume, from his work, that nonhuman animals can’t really hate; it takes too much long-view and abstraction.

Tomasello sharply contrasts apes and human infants.  Even before they can talk, human infants show a vibrant sociability more complex than chimpanzees.  By the time they are three, children have reached not only a level of social sensitivity that outdoes the ape; they also can thnk morally, reason according to what they see others doing and thinking, and react on the basis of knowing that others will expect moral or conventional or socially appropriate responses.  Apes barely do anything like this; they show awareness of others’ thoughts and fear of punishment and domination, but they do not understand abstract social rules.  By the age of six, human children are rational, reasonable beings who know how to apply the moral and pragmatic rules of their cultures (Tomasello 2019).  

In fact, going Tomasello one better, those of us who have raised children in other cultural settings are aware that children know by three that there are other sets of social rules, and by six they are masters of language-shifting, rule-shifting, and norm-shifting depending on what group they are with.  It was almost spooky to watch my young children quickly learn that a mass of undifferentiated words must be separated into “Chinese” (tonal, rhythmic, spoken with those outside the family) and “English” (a very different-sounding language used with the family and a few friends). 

Tomasello continues to see humans as basically cooperative, helpful, generous, and moral (according to their societies’ codes, but never normalizing hurt or cruelty).  They show astonishing levels of fairness by three years of age, in contrast to apes, who simply grab anything they want from weaker apes.   He has plenty of evidence, and has shown that such virtues are universal among children.  However, much of his sample derives from child-care centers in college towns, and this gives it a rather irenic balance.  We who grew up in what my wife calls “the real world” are aware of less harmonious child environments.  They force children to choose right from the start between the two wolves.

            Recently, Richard Wrangham has brought this issue to the foreground in his book The Goodness Paradox (2019).  He contrasts reactive aggression—ordinary anger and rage leading to violence—with proactive aggression, which evidently started out as hunting, but was retooled far back in our evolution to become planned, deliberate, often cool-headed violence.  Compared to other primates, humans have much less reactive violence.  We are far less violent than chimpanzees, in particular.  Even the peaceable bonobos rival us.  On the other hand, we display far more proactive violence—our raids, wars, genocides, organized crimes, and the like are at least planned and premeditated, at worst truly cold-blooded rather than passionate. 

He then questions how we could have evolved to do this.  His answer lies in our ability to cooperate to take down excessively violent individuals.  Even chimpanzees do this to some extent.  Humans do it quite generally.  Anyone reading old ethnographies and accounts is aware of the extreme frequency of stories of a psychopathic or hyperaggressive man (it is almost always a man) being quietly eliminated.  Often, four men will go out hunting, three will return, and no questions are asked.  Wrangham follows Christopher Boehm (1999) in seeing this sort of take-down of a dominant or domineering individual as basic to traditional societies.

Wrangham hypothesizes that this happened enough to influence human evolution.  It selected against reactive aggression, but selected for proactive aggression.  Other factors, such as the needs of foraging and food preparation, selected for cooperation.  Once cooperation was established and used in proactive aggression, it was available to allow a group to devastate the neighboring group that shows less solidarity in war. 

This theory is neat, consistent, and plausible, but there is no real evidence for it.  No one has counted the number of males eliminated by cooperative execution.  Moreover, Wrangham weakens his argument by showing that cooperative execution is very often—perhaps usually—invoked against nonconformists, often meek and innocent ones, rather than against bullies and psychopaths.  In fact, it appears from the accounts that bullies and psychopaths very often invoke the violence themselves, and execute the weak—especially weak potential competitors.  This would select for violence, not against it.  It seems that we will have to get better data, and to explore other possibilities.

In any case, Wrangham seems to have at least some of the story.  Truly inborn is a strong tendency to form coalitions that act against each other and, in the end, against everyone’s best interests.  Samuel Bowles and others have explained this as developing in feedback with solidarity in war.  Those who stand together prevail, wipe out the less cooperative enemy groups, and leave more descendants (Bowles 2006, 2008, 2009; Boyer 2018; Choi and Bowles 2007).  This is known as “parochial altruism.”  Individuals may not be locked in “warre of each against all,” but groups very often are.  Richared Wrangham (2019:133-134) dismisses this, finding too little evidence of self-sacrifice for the group or large-scale pitched battles in hunter-gatherer warfare.  This is not exactly relevant.  The only requirement is for groups to be solidary and mutually supportive; individuals do not have to go out of their way to sacrifice themselves.  Moreover, Wrangham has not adequately covered the literature.  There is much evidence for large-scale raiding, small but bloody battles, and defensive aggression among hunter-gatherers (see e.g. Keeley 1996; Turney-High 1949).  Serious and dangerous war is found in all the well-studied sizable nonagricultural groups, such as the Northwest Coast, Plains, and California Native peoples.  Wrangham was apparently misled by his focus on tiny hunter-gatherer bands that do not have the manpower to support large wars.

A different view is provided by Samantha Lang and Blaine Flowers (2019).  They begin from the other extreme: the phenomenon of individuals caring for others who have terminal dementia and thus can never pay back any debts (material or psychological) to their caregivers.  The vast majority of such caregiving is within the family—60.5% from children, 18% from spouses, most of the rest from other relatives—but even this is “irrational” in economic terms, and even in biological terms, since it costs the caregivers and prevents them from investing more in their children.  Moreover, the residual 5% of care is often given by devoted volunteers, who simply want to help others.  They note that all this can simply be seen as an “exaptation” from inclusive fitness—if we are selected to care for kin, we have to care for all kin—but also note that no nonhuman animal is known to do this (though there are some anecdotal records of group-living predators supporting disabled members).

Yet another view comes from work of Oliver Curry, Daniel Mullins, and Harvey Whitehouse (2019).  They hold that people evolved through cooperation, and that cooperation was then constructed as morality.  In their “morality-as-cooperation” theory, there are seven basic values:  “Allocation of resources to kin (family values)…, coordination to mutual advantage (group loyalty)…, social exchange (reciprocity)…, contests between hawks (bravery) and doves (respect) [that is two things]…, division (fairness)…, possession (property rights).”   These they break down into a list of specific values that are very widely held; for instance, family values start with “being a loving mother, being a protective father, helping a brother, caring for a frail relative,” (Curry et al. 2019:54).  They look at 60 societies around the world, finding all that are well reported have some form of all these, except for fairness, which is spottily attested.

To a biologist, the only reasonable explanation is that selection originally operated as it does in all higher animals, through inclusive fitness:  mutual care is deployed among families to maximize genetic success over time.  This then can be extended along ever-wider kinship lines, and to increase in scope to include in-marrying spouses (typically women, in traditional human societies, though in many agricultural societies it is the men that move).  Then further increase of scope takes in whole communities, perhaps via in-laws and distant cousins.  The defining moment (or long period) in the history of humanity was when we extended kinship to include culturally constructed relatives.  This in turn derives, at least in critical part, from the need to marry out—not only to prevent inbreeding but to build solidarity with neighbor groups. 

By this time—the time in the past when kinship extended so widely—the link with genetics is essentially lost.  The huge groups characteristic of modern human societies can form.  We can freely adopt strangers’ children, marry people from other countries, and devote our lives to helping humanity.  However, perhaps the most universally known social fact is that we continue to privilege close family members, and to build solidarity by self-consciously using family terms: Bands of brothers, church fathers and mothers, sisterhoods, fellow children of Adam and Eve.  A very widely known proverb (I have heard and seen it in countless forms) summarizes the normal human strategic condition: “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; my cousin, brother, and I against our village; and our village against the world!”  The closer we are to others, the more solidary we feel with them.  Aggregating along kinship lines allowed Genghis Khan and his followers to build world-conquering armies by widely extending kin claims and tolerance of difference.  On the other hand, the closer we are to others, the more they can hurt and anger us.  They are around us more, and we are psychologically involved with them.  Their opinions matter, and their help is necessary.

            Solidarity in the face of attack by an enemy group is a human norm.  It is probably an evolved behavior, selected for by that situation occurring frequently over the millions of years.  Samuel Bowles (2006, 2008) held that it came from the tendency of larger groups to kill out smaller ones.  Since these groups had cores of relatives, kin selection operated, and gradually wider and wider circles of kin would be solidary, as people evolved or learned the ability to demand loyalty, detect disloyal members, and punish them.  By that model, violence against outgroups would have evolved along with detection and punishment of nonreciprocity within groups.  So long as it is actual defense against an attacking enemy, group loyalty in violent confrontation is a matter of necessity. 

            Most groups are peaceful internally but often at war with neighbors.  These are impossible to explain from old, simplistic models of human behavior.  How could Hobbesian savages or Freudian ids differentiate so cleanly?  How could virtuous “noble savages” be so bloody to their neighbors?  The only view of humanity that allows it is one in which humans are usually living ordinary low-key lives, but can easily be motivated to support their group in conflict, and somewhat less easily motivated to be peaceful and proactively helpful. 

            This makes evolutionary sense.  Groups need to exchange mates, to avoid inbreeding.  This means that selection cannot totally favor one’s own genetic investment all the time.  In fact, there is a paradox: one can maximize one’s own genetic advantage only by having children with a genetically quite different mate.  The classic arguments for genetic determination of selfishness all founder on this rock.  On the other hand, groups also compete for scarce resources, such as hunting grounds.  If there is enough food, larger groups will outcompete smaller ones, and will also have enough genetic diversity within themselves to allow endogamy.  The ideal group size seems to be around 50-100, which, in fact, is the size of the usual human face-to-face group (Dunbar 2010).  Such groups tend to be parts of larger associations, typically around 500, a figure consistent from the number of speakers of a given language in hunting-gathering societies to the number of Facebook friends that a moderately sociable person has; very often, the groups of 50 are exogamous, but the groups of 500 are largely endogamous (Dunbar 2010). 

            In modern societies, groups cross-cut each other, and an individual may have one reference group that is “neighbors,” another for “workmates,” another for “religious congregation,” another for “hobby,” and so on.  This makes it possible to shift groups and loyalties, a point highly relevant to genocide, where an individual can suddenly change from highlighting “neighbors” to highlighting “ethnicity” and killing such neighbors as are suddenly shifted from one to the other.  Such individuals often shift back after the genocide.  This is notably attested for Rwanda (see e.g. Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).

            Recently, Mauricio González-Forero and Andy Gardner (2018) set out to test what model fit best with what we know of the evolution of the human brain, which more than tripled in size in a mere 2 million years—incredible speed for the evolution of a basic organ.  These authors needed to take into account the origin and dispersal of humans from east Africa between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago.  Their enterprise was highly speculative, involving assumptions that may be wrong, but at least they had considerable data on the genetics, dispersal rates, and behavior of the humans in question.  They conclude that conflictual models of human evolution are not supported.  Conflict is too costly.  Animals that fight all the time would not develop large brains—in fact, they probably would not survive at all.  Human conflicts are indeed costly, reducing cooperation even against the others (Aalerding et al. 2018; see also De Dreu et al. 2016). 

            Simple sociability as a cause of complex behavior is even less well supported.  They found that highly social animals generally have smaller brains than closely related, less social species.  Care substitutes for thinking.  They conclude that only ecology can account for it.  A positive feedback loop exists between finding more and better food and having a bigger, better brain.  More brain enables us to find, select, and prepare highly nutritious food.  Humans have adapted increasingly over time to seek out rich patches of good food. 

            Graeber and Wengrow (2018) hold that humans probably evolved in larger and more complex groups than usually thought, and that problems of equality and conflict are endemic to such groups, which then develop ways to cope.  Such coping may be successful or may not be.   As I have pointed out (Anderson 2014), an animal that can find rich patches of food can support a large group.  Best of all, we can talk, and thus tell the group that there is a dead mammoth behind the red hill, or a lion in wait beyond the stream.

            González-Forero and Gardner have not explained how humans became so violent.  The obvious answer, avoiding the high costs of conflict, is that humans evolved to move rapidly into new habitats, displacing smaller groups they found in the way.  The resulting gains would outweigh the costs of conflict.  This has happened countless times in history; it surely happened countless times in prehistory.  Human hatred of opponent groups and disregard for nature must come in part from predatory expansion.

            People also have rather poor innate controls on killing off their food supply.  Most human groups have learned how to manage sustainably, but they often overshoot, and in any case the learning was originally done the hard way, if local myths and stories are any guide.  Traditional peoples usually have tales of overhunting and then starving.  Children are told such stories with the morals clearly spelled out.

            The nearest to a common thread in the evolution of human badness is “my group and I at the expense of others.”  One’s group usually comes first.  Cross-cutting and nested allegiances make groupiness problematic, however, affording hope for more solidarity.

The imperative human need for society—without which we cannot normally survive—makes ostracism and rejection the most frightening of possibilities.   People become defensive at the slightest hint of it.  Antagonism, aggression, and stark fear result.  Anger and insecurity lead to defensiveness and sour moods.

3. Human Variation

All humans must satisfy basic physiological needs, including genuine physical needs for security, control of our lives, and sociability.  Beyond that, people are highly variable.  They vary along the now-classic five dimensions of personality—extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neurosis—from total introverts to total extraverts, from rigid closure to expansive risk-taking, and so on.   Some of this is known to be highly heritable.  Much is caused by culture and environment.  Early trauma actually changes gene activity (epigenetics).  Even gut microbiota are credited for affecting behavior.

From what has been said above, one would expect the most relevant variation to be in weakness, insecurity, and tendency to anger, and that is what we find.  The combination makes people defensive.  They become the people who “have a chip on their shoulder” and “have an attitude.”  Being weak and insecure makes one highly reactive to threat or harm, and apt to be passive-aggressive about it.  Being insecure and angry leads to the barroom brawler and similar folk characters.  Being weak, insecure, and angry, whether dispositionally or situationally, leads to overreaction: escalation of defensive behavior, often to violence. Note that “situationally”; individuals can be very different at different levels of threat and harm.  Yet disposition always matters.  Some people have enough strength of character to stay unbroken in tyrants’ prisons.  At the other extreme, the tyrants themselves are often living proof that a weak, insecure, hostile person who has assumed total power will still be weak, insecure, and hostile.

Beyond that, whether they are violent are not depends on what they have learned—culturally, socially, and personally.  Individuals violently abused in childhood very often become violent adults.  Mass murderers and major bullies are virtually 100% certain to have been abused physically (see Batson 2011; Baumeister 1997; Zaki 2019; and other sources on the good).  Similarly, cultures constructed by people who have long been weak, insecure and subject to abuse (and thus anger) naturally put a high value on defensiveness and “honor.”  Such is the history of the border-warrior cultures at the fringes of old and oppressive civilizations, of oppressed subcultures within dominant cultures, and of subcultures of anomie and alienation. 

Conversely, the more people are self-confident, secure, and self-controlled, whether dispositionally or situationally, they can damp down responses to challenge, and react rationally and coolly.  The human average seems to be toward the more weak, insecure, and angry end, if only because we all start that way as infants.  Self-efficacy (Bandura 1982) must be learned and developed. 

Competitive distinction is challenged easily, and social disrespect and slighting become pretexts for revenge up to and including deadly force.  Anti-intellectualism follows when people insecure about their own lack of self-improvement and education are rendered really uncomfortable about it, either by direct insults or by seeing better-qualified but “inferior” people rise.  Much of America’s all too well-known anti-intellectualism and anti-“elitism” comes from people in dominant groups who see people from less prestigious groups moving up the educational and cultural ladders.

Deviation from the mythical-average person described above occurs because of cultural and social teachings, specific insecurities, general perceived level of threat, and personality traits such as openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.  More specific learned themes, such as how to show anger, how to be violent, and whom to hate, then come in as the final stage of shaping the bad and good wolves.  

            A few resist the pressures to kill during mass genocides.  They have strong internal controls on aggression.  Others are less constantly moral, but most humans have a great deal of innate empathy—abilities to feel others’ emotions and sensations, understand them, and act accordingly (Denworth 2017).

            Some few, on the other hand, seem genuinely evil.  They seem almost incapable of acting without harming someone.  These are generally called sociopaths or psychopaths:  people who appear to have been born without a moral compass and without a way of acquiring one.  Others seem moral enough most of the time but apt to lapse into uncontrollable violence.  These are not insensitive individuals.  Unlike autistic people, who are usually well-meaning despite lack of social abilities, psychopaths and hyperaggressive persons often seem to have preternatural social skills.  “A person with autism spectrum disorder has little ability to assume the perspective of someone else.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, understand what others are feeling but have a profound lack of empathetic concern” (Denworth 2017:61; cf. Baskin-Sommers et al. 2016).  They may have anomalies in neural connections in the brain.  Serious killers may be far more troubled than ordinary psychopaths.  The one mass murderer I have known was both mentally deficient and severely disturbed.  By contrast, people I have known who killed in war were perfectly normal.  They were also traumatized by the experience. 

            Sociopaths seem residents of a different world.  They lie without a second thought, and, even when it clearly is against their better judgment, they seem to prefer dealing treacherously and unfairly with others.  Ordinary rational self-interest simply does not work for them.  I have known several who regularly wrecked their lives by wholly gratuitous betrayal.  They simply could not understand why betraying others brought outrage. On the other hand, one of the sociopaths I knew was a prominent politician, and—though rather notorious—has never been singled out as being worse than many colleagues. 

            Psychopaths and sociopaths are, in fact, notoriously successful in business and politics.  Published descriptions of genociders make many of them seem psychopathic, but tests are obviously lacking. 

            There are also extremely aggressive individuals, sadists, and others who verge on psychopathy; most have a background of brutal abuse in childhood, by parents and peers, or of major trauma.  Some may simply be “born that way,” others appear made by environment; a harsh, hostile, critical environment worsens all.  

            Mass shooters are so common in the United States that profiles of them have been assembled by researchers.  The shooters are very often white supremacists targeting ethnic minorities (Cai et al. 2019).  Jillian Peterson and James Denaley (2019) report a more specific set of findings: “First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.  The…exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence and/or severe bullying….Second, practically every mass shooter…had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.”  This included things like job loss and relationship failure (often, I take it, related to progressive alienation of the shooter).  Third, most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters”—they were diligent students.  “Fourth, the shooters all had the means to carry out their plans.”  They could get guns, including illegal guns, though most simply bought guns at the store or used ones already in the home.  “Most mass public shooters are suicidal, and their crises are often well known ot others before the shooting occurs.  The vast majoirty of shooters leak their plans” but are not taken seriously, nor are they reported to authorities. 

            Most people, however, are peaceable, empathetic, and reasonable most of the time.  We can arbitrarily guess that at most 10% of humanity are deeply evil—not always acting badly, but doing evil on a regular enough basis to produce serious net harm to their communities.  This 10% figure is supported by crime rates, vote totals for extremist candidates, and common experience.  Others show social dominance orientation (see e.g. Altemeyer 2010; Guimond et al. 2013), looking favorably on high levels of social and economic inequality in society and to patriarchal social organization.  Dominance is not a human need, but certainly is a widespread want, and the simple desire for it is a major source of evil.  Most mammals have dominance hierarchies.  Humans are notably lacking in innate tendencies in that direction (Boehm 1999), but very often develop them anyway, especially via top-down hierarchic systems.

            These dubious actors can be balanced by the best 10% or so:  the individuals who never say an unkind word, are unfailingly sensitive and considerate, give gifts and donations freely and save little for themselves, and devote their lives to careers in healing, teaching, charity, and aid.  The sad evidence of the genocide literature suggests that even such people can be corrupted, though only with difficulty.  The reasons for such variation in mentality are partly unknown, partly developmental.  The latter shall be discussed below.

            The other 80% (approximately) of us are the people within whom the two wolves constantly compete.  Common experience suggests that there is a straight and unbroken continuum from the most evil through the bloody-minded to ordinary middling souls, and then to the 10% who are near sainthood.   There are continua from acceptance to rejection of groups, from positive to negative-sum gaming, from laudable ambition to power-madness, from necessary defense against enemies to defensiveness based on cowardly fear.  It is hard to cut these continua. 

Defensiveness attenuates as it moves up toward actual strength and reasonableness, the cures.  It also attenuates if people collapse into total fear.  It moves outward to callousness and then thoughtlessness.  The core mood is more or less that of a child’s temper tantrum:  a mix of violently negative emotions from which fear, anger, and rage slowly differentiate as the child grows or as the adult gets better control.

            The common ground is simple: wanting social and economic security, especially in social acceptance and position.  What matters is how rationally and cooperatively one seeks to satisfy those wants.

            One might think of a continuum from a clearly demented psychopath (like Mexico’s drug-gang leaders) to an ordinary criminal gangster, then to a schoolyard bully grown up to be a spouse abuser, then to an ordinary person who grumbles and scolds and occasionally fights but rarely harms anyone, and then onward to a basically good and honorable soul who loses her temper on frequent occasions but does no worse than that, and finally to a truly virtuous individual—say, the leader of a charitable medical group.  I have observed this continuum everywhere I have been, and through literature and psychological studies we can be sure it is essentially universal.  People everywhere range from very bad to very good, as they range from passive to active and from weak to strong (the classic three dimensions of agentive evaluation; Osgood et al. 1957). 

            Common experience also teaches that those of us in the 80% tend to weasel good and bad.  We drive too fast.  We eat at cafes that underpay their staff.  We take advantage of cheap deals when we know there is some dirty game on.  We skimp on public commitments.  We spend too much time giving nibbles to the bad wolf while trying to serve the good one.  We shirk, laze, dodge responsibilities, and commit the “deadly sin” of sloth.  We are, in short, frail and fallible humans—and require strong social standards backed up by law to keep us on the straight and narrow path (as discussed at length in Henrich 2016).  Religious and moral ideals must be enforced by social conventions.  Most of us have experienced life in communities where traffic laws were laxly enforced, and have seen ordinary “good” people slip into more and more dangerous driving until accidents make the police take better note. 

Allow that people are, on average, 50% good and 50% bad.  (Again, these are guesses.  We have no real measures.)   The worst 10% can win by mobilizing the 40% who are worse than average but not totally evil, and then getting enough of the relatively good to make a majority.  In fact, Hitler was elected with a bare plurality, not a majority, and the same is true of many elected evil leaders.  Trump was elected by 25.7% of the voting public, with almost half of registered voters not bothering to vote at all.

Half good, half bad predicts the institutions we see in societies: they are meant to preserve the good, and to redirect the bad to fighting “the enemy” rather than the rest of us.  And they never work perfectly.

            People vary from best to worst along several dimensions.  The most important of these from the point of view of explaining evil are agreeableness vs. hostility, tolerance vs. hatred, peacefulness vs. violent aggression, help vs. gratuitous harm, reasonable vs. unreasonable, open-minded vs. closed, and charity vs. greed.  Behind these are deeper continua: Individual to group; weak to strong; attacking weak to attacking strong; courageous to cowardly; greed to defensiveness; rational to irrational.  People can hate those richer and more powerful, or—more usually—the weaker.  They can be cold and callous or savagely furious.

All these are related.  All are consistent with the “Big Five” and “Hexaco” personality theories.  The Big Five personality dimensions—extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticness—are predictive: individuals low on agreeableness and high in neuroticness are more apt to do evil than those who are the reverse.  People very low in openness become conservatives, and thus often involved in fascism; those very high in openness may become left-wing rebels.  There are, however, good or evil persons who are at the best or at the worst ends on many or all measures.  Social pressures as well as personality are determinative.  The Big Five (or Six) do not directly predict levels of violence, aggression, competitiveness, or hatred.  Genocide and other extreme mass-level evils come from hatred, so it must be considered the worst of the lot, and though it is probably commoner among the less agreeable and more neurotic it is well distributed over the human species.  Degree of scapegoating, and targets of scapegoating, are also hard to predict from basic personality factors; they are social matters, largely learned, though the tendency to scapegoat others seems part of human nature.

            Greed is often regarded in the US as the worst of sins, a belief going back to Paul on love of money.  However, selfish greed succeeds in mass politics only when it marshals support through whipping up hate.  The few rich must have the support of millions of less affluent; these can be persuaded to act and vote against their self-interest only by making them sacrifice their own self-interest out of intemperate hate.  We have seen this in every genocidal campaign in history, as well as in almost all wars, and many political and religious movements.

            Moreover, greed is often a social hatred issue; it is not really about material wealth, but about rivalry for power—for control of people and resources.  The normal expectation if one wants a material item (for itself) is to cooperate with others to work for it, or at least to work for others in a peaceful setting.  Smash-and-grab is not the normal or widely approved way to get goods.  Neither is crime, ordinary or white-collar.  The rich who desire endless wealth are not after wealth; they are after social position and social adulation. 

            Really extreme, high-emotion evil thus usually comes from social hatreds—whether due to psychosis, greed for position, “honor,” extreme defensiveness, extreme need to control others, extreme sensitivity to slights, or—most common and deadly of all—displacing hatreds and aggressions onto weaker people or onto defenseless nature. When not feeding from those troughs, the bad wolf tends to go to sleep, leaving the field to the good wolf.

            In other words, people will kill in competition for goods, but more usually negotiate; they kill for land in wars, but tend to negotiate there too.  They kill in competition for power, which is more dangerous since positions of power are necessarily limited.  Above all, they kill for reasons of social standing and honor.

            Genocidal killing goes further: it is usually focused on religion or political ideology—givers of fundamental morals and of security.  Where ethnicity is more the source of basic values, ethnicity is the ostensible cause.  A pathological leader, or indeed almost any dictator, will be sure to stress the links, identifications, group memberships, and reference groups that provide the best opportunity for stirring up hatred and violence.  This is the secret to extremist leadership: make the most deadly links the most salient.  Recruiters for jihad, for instance, stress the Islamic, and specifically Wahhabist, identification of people who might otherwise see themselves as French, or Moroccan, or factory workers, or soccer players, or any of the other cross-cutting loyalties we all have.  A genocidal leader will also do best to appeal to a majority that feels itself threatened or downwardly mobile.

            The reasons for violence and evil are, in order, security, power, greed, prestige/standing, and psychopathy (or basic aggressiveness), plus the critical ingredient: violence and/or cruelty as preferred coping strategy.  Anger and hate are the mediators, and hatred is generally defensive.  Even callous bureaupathy has to start with someone who makes a deliberate choice to destroy poor people to give more money to rich people.

Personal factors involved are concerns of power, control, social place, and greed and other wants.  The social and cultural contexts are all-important, telling individuals whom and how much to hate.  The worst individuals seek out each other.  They also seek out the worst cultural and social values and attitudes.  This produces a strong multiplier effect, highly visible in right-wing social movements.  Cowardly defensiveness, gain (not just greed but even routine jobs), power and control needs, and innate aggression levels all play into such attitudes.

            The same individual who is an angel of help and mercy within his or her group can be a formidable soldier, a suicide bomber, or a crazed killer when group defense is involved.  In fact, the same individual can be alternately angel and devil to his or her own significant other, as many stories of domestic violence tell us. 

            Revenge is often the most terrible of motives.  People tend to be at their very worst when thinking they are revenging selves for slights, disrespect, or actual harms.  This is when they cheerfully torture and murder.  Thus all genociders wind up focusing on a story of their group being victimized by the opponent group or groups.  This is absolutely key to understanding genocide and extreme violence.

            Revenge is often for betrayal.  Betrayal is another common response of the human animal to threat and fear.  Suspected betrayal can bring about real violence.  A vicious cycle can be established, as in Shakespeare’s Othello.

            Finally, different forms of violence seem to accompany different personality profiles.  Mass shooters are typically alienated young males, usually right-wing.  Domestic violence is associated with high control need, as noted.  Bullying, as we have seen, is associated with glorification of physical strength and devaluing of intellectual qualities as well as weakness.  Sheer aggressiveness can be a separate personality trait, as can the closely related “oppositional personality disorder.”  Spread over these types are the general qualities of alienation, excessive control need, excessive antagonism, resort to violence as first resort, and brooding or ruminating about real and imagined wrongs.  These are the real foods of the bad wolf—the human qualities that we must address to give the good wolf a chance. 

4. Cultural Variation

            Cultures also vary.  “Culture” is a general term for learned, shared knowledge and behavior within social groups, above the family level.  Cultural knowledge is constructed over time by interaction between group members.  It can change rather fast, as when a particularly violent period such as WWII forces people to confront issues they often try to avoid. 

Since humans will inevitably compete for scarce resources, conflict is inevitable.  All societies know theft, violence, and treachery.  All condemn these and have mechanisms for coping with them.  Especially touchy are issues with affection, social support, and control.  These may or may not really be limited, but people often perceive them so.  Power is particularly problematical, since there is less and less “room at the top” as one ascends a hierarchy.  Conflicts, especially over power and control, tend to escalate, creating fear and stress.  These in turn make people defensive, leading to still more conflict.  We need not be Hobbesian to see that conflict is likely in the human condition. 

This being the case, all cultures include a great deal of shared and often widely-accepted knowledge about anger, violence, conflict, conflict resolution, and other relevant matters (Beals and Siegal 1966).  All cultures include canonical rules for dealing with conflict and violence.  All cultures have storylines and plans about these matters.  All cultures include stories people tell to provide models of how to deal with violent conflict.  Children are raised on stories explaining how to defuse a fight.  Adults go on to Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s history plays, China’s Three Kingdoms Story, Japan’s Tale of the Heike, and on down, from these epic works to the latest Hollywood action movie.  People constantly refer back to these model cases.  Genocide stories, especially the story of Hitler’s Holocaust, have become part of the world’s knowledge pool. 

            Knowledge from one realm is freely adapted to others.  We draw on knowledge of ancient history to understand modern war.  We draw on knowledge of animal conflict to understand the deepest roots of our own.  Drawing with the best judgment on the widest set of data is an ideal to strive for, but biases—often culturally constructed—interfere.  Clearly, changing cultural plans for dealing with violence, dissent, and conflict is basic to understanding such processes (Beals and Siegal 1966).

A pattern broadly visible in eastern Asia is one in which both individuals and societies can flip from extremely peaceful to extremely violent and back to peace.  Chinese dynasties exhibit this pattern: during times of strong government, they were very peaceful and orderly, but in dynastic breakdown periods, violence became universal and appalling.  Japan had similar flips, for example from the rather calm Ashikaga shogunate to the civil wars of the 16th century and then the peaceful and orderly Tokugawa shogunate.  A modern case is Cambodia.  The Cambodians were famously peaceful.  They dropped rapidly back to peaceful behavior after the meltdown in the 1970s that killed some 25% of the population.  Rwandans moved from genocide to peace and order with surprising ease.  Like Cambodians, they are usually gentle and tolerant people, far from the western media stereotypes of “savage tribal Africans.”

            Still other societies have chronic low levels of violence, fluctuating but never very high.  Still others, especially in the Middle East and northern Africa, have fluctuated over time from constant low-level violence to major outbreaks.  Some few, such as the Waorani of South America, are or were almost continually violent.  Clayton and Carole Robarchek studied the Semai of Malaysia, among whom violence is condemned and virtually nonexistent, and then for comparison studied the Waorani, who were rapidly killing themselves out until missionaries persuaded them to be more peaceful (Robarchek 1989; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).  The societies turned out to be strikingly similar in economy, child-rearing practices, and other behaviors; they differed in that the Semai dealt with conflict by flight and avoidance, the Waorani by almost immediately escalating to violence. 

            Mountainous borderlands tend to be famous for violence.  Think of the Caucasus and the Appalachians.  Fertile plains are more easily pacified, both because farmers have more to lose and because control is easier to exert.  People in any setting may change.  The Scottish borders that were once infamous for violence—immortalized in some of the world’s greatest ballads—are now among the most peaceable places on earth.  We have already noted the example of the Vikings, to say nothing of the now-peaceful Waorani.  When threats from stronger neighbors were constant, and internal problems could not be solved because of constant trouble, these societies were violent.  When security within and without was possible, they pacified.

A different way of looking at society and culture concerns the form of economy.  Overall, rentier societies, especially those with servile labor, produce right-wing politics; ones dominated by secondary and tertiary industries and hopeful workers often produce left-wing activity.  The United States has generally been hopeful, so votes progressive in bad times, but often right-wing in good times, to keep taxes low and industries growing.  The rise of southern-style politics in the United States, and its spread to the northern midwest, tracks the rise of primary production and declining but still powerful heavy industry, and the rise of giant firms vs decline of small ones. 

In short, cultures and societies, like individuals, respond to insecurity by becoming more defensive, and to physical threat by becoming more violent.  With confidence and security—from strength and from secure leadership—they can and will change rapidly in more peaceful directions.  Of course, such facts deal a death blow to the myth of “human nature.”  If Hobbesian devils can convert to Rousseauian angels in a few years, and if whole societies can suddenly become violent and as suddenly stop, where are the primal drives?

Societies must also find ways to deal with the formation of sub-societies with different rules: feuding, mafias, corruption, etc.  Then there are two variables: how well the society can enforce the rules, and how well its members want to.  The rich and powerful are above the law to some extent in most societies, and they may be perfectly happy to let mafias terrorize the general populace.  On the other hand, a society as totally at the mercy of gangs as El Salvador and Honduras are today, or as riven by religious and tribal conflicts as Afghanistan, cannot long survive with a crisis.

            Social differences are often in the cultural construction of bullying, power-jockeying, and hatred.  These can become idealized and culturally taught, via religion and other ideologies.  Nazism is the most obvious and extreme case of a culture constructed from such bases, but it is only the most extreme of many movements.  World religions eventually construct power via hierarchies, initiations, and other institutions.  All cultures construct aggression through ideas about war and defense.  Religion usually includes peace, harmony, and nonviolence among its ideals, but it is also the source of foundational beliefs and foundational morals for many or most societies, and the most important source of security for many believers.  Devout believers who depend on religion for both certainty and security often feel deeply and directly threatened by challenges to their faith.  The same goes for true believers in any comprehensive ideology, from communism to fascism.  Gods are usually either benign or a human-like mix of creative good with all-too-human foibles (like Zeus and Coyote), but all religions also postulate a vast host of evil spirits who mean nothing but harm: demons, devils, bad winds, ghosts, demiurges, and countless more.  These projections of human fear and hate into the supernatural realm fit Durkheim’s view of religion as the collective representation of the community (Durkheim 1995 [1912]); they are the community’s worst—and most often hidden—feelings, displaced outward.

            Many of the cultural groups that committed the worst genocides were famous for their obedience to authority: Cambodians, Rwandans, Chinese, Germans, Indonesians…the list is long.  Many warlike and independent groups also became genocidal, but the link with obedience is clear enough to be thought-provoking  The great genocides—ones in which the populace in general seems to have gone mad with blood—were generally in such societies, though the Turks and several other exceptions can be mentioned.

            Since overreaction to negatives is the general problem, it follows that culture can establish the idea that one should overreact.  This regularly occurs in cultures of “honor” (Baumeister 1997; Henrich 2016).  Defensiveness can seem moral in highly unstable societies.

            Cultures provide scripts and storylines and schemas for action.  These cultural models (to use the technical term) provide canonical ways to deal with or adapt to life.  Most of them are adaptive and valuable, but every bad type of action has its model too.  Hitler’s anti-Semitism drew on centuries of pogroms and massacres, well scripted and following a set of plotlines.  Contemporary Islam provides accessible models for suicide bombing.  In the United States, there is now an all too well-known cultural model for mass shooting, followed in one form or another by hundreds of alienated, angry, often sulking individuals—most of them young men and many of them white supremacists or similar right-wingers (Cai et al. 2019).  There is another cultural model for spouse abuse; similar models of mistreatment exist in most other cultures.  Other cultural models exist for criminal gang behavior, robbery, suicide, and other violent acts.  A desperate person needs only to activate the model.  He or she will learn what weapons to use, how to obtain them, how to deploy them, and what to do next.  Planning is simple and kept to a minimum.

            We have also seen above how social and cultural pressures act on everyone—even the least alienated, and indeed especially the most conformist and well-socialized—to get the vast mass of individuals to go along with genocide.  Here, direct social pressure, including threats of ostracism or worse, is added to the cultural models.

            In ordinary everyday violence, the bad wolf wins when a particularly susceptible individual—aggressive, alienated, or simply angered beyond bearing—is subjected to social pressure to act violently, and has an available cultural model of how to do it.  In war and genocide, everyone is expected to join in and do their bit, and almost everyone does.  In bullying, terrorism, and domestic violence, only some do; they are alienated or desperate for control, and they nurse their sorrows until an available cultural model becomes salient.  Terrorists are usually persuaded by intense pressure from their social group.  In all cases, violence depends on a prior development of anger, hate, and need to assert control.  Individuals get into a tighter and tighter spin of negative emotions.

5. Inevitable Conflicts

An agent-based approach (in the tradition of Ibn Khaldun and Max Weber) allows us to see that humans do not just reflect their culture.  They balance family, cultural group, subcultural group, father’s people, mother’s people, spouse’s people, immigrant neighbors, and last but not least their own interests as individuals.  People are constantly faced with moral choices of whom to go with and how much to cheat selfishly. 

The hardest problem is how to deal with social criticism and disrespect.  The descendant of territorial defensiveness in animals is human defensiveness about social place and social position—“honor,” “face,” etc.  (Humans are not territorial in the sense most mammals are.  We socially construct space in all manner of free-form ways; see Lefebvre 1992.) 

The great Greek tragedies, the best of the medieval epics, the Scottish tragic ballads, and equivalent literature around the world (including many Native American tales), reveal people in crisis situations, where they are forced to reveal their deepest selves.  In the crises when ordinary life is disrupted, individuals are forced into extreme good and evil behavior.  Many of these dramas turn on inescapable conflicts between two loyalties.  Often, as in Scottish ballads and many Native American stories, the drama turns on loyalty to true love versus loyalty to family.    The heroes and heroines are powerful, but have the costs of their virtues, the fatal flaws that comes with their power. 

These stories may be the best ways to understand humanity and its conflicts. Great literature strips off ordinary everyday conformity and reveals the bare human in full glory or vileness.  Greek tragedies do this.  So do Medieval epics, Chinese classical stories, and other great works.  Folk literature always contains such stories. 

They are critically important for understanding humanity.  First, they show that people are agents, not mindless slaves of genes or culture or society; everyone has to deal with and, hopefully, resolve such conflicts.  Second, they show that cultures are not homogeneous, and mindless conformity cannot work indefinitely.  There are cultural models of different loyalties: loyalties to different groups that often come into conflict.  There are tradeoffs between long-term and wide-flung interests and short-term narrow ones.  There are conflicts over allocating resources.

            An inevitable conflict often recorded in song and story is between security and advancement.  Advancing in society requires taking some risks.  People usually and naturally act to minimize risk for maximum advancement, but there are plenty of exceptions, and they are often the leading entrepreneurs and inventors.  Managing to try to make advancement opportunities more secure is a major part of economic behavior for many of us.  Cutthroat competition is thus stressful.

            The conflict most relevant to the present book is the one between loyalty and morality.  When dictators whip up their populations to commit genocide, this conflict becomes agonizing.  Most people choose loyalty, as we have seen.  Many are perfectly happy with it—they wanted to eliminate the minorities anyway—but many are not at all happy, and have to be steamrolled into it.  Already noted is the inevitable conflict over rank and the resulting problems with arrogance, humility, ranking out, and insult.

            These songs and stories turn on courage and on failure, on individuals against the world, and on opportunity and challenge.  They are the corrective to dismissing and devaluing people.  The hero powerful against the storm, especially if the hearer or reader can identify with that hero, is humanity in compelling form and inescapable predicament.

            In modern society, traditional folk and elite societies, communities, and cultures are thinned down or extirpated.  People are left to the tender mercies of vast, impersonal governments and firms.  This not only disempowers them; it also robs them of those canonical stories that once modeled behavior in conflicted times.

 This out-of-control inequality, and above all the sheer bigness, makes people feel weak, out of control of their lives, and lacking in self-efficacy.  They become timid, and succumb all the more easily to toxic conformity and obedience.  Lost are such empowering and strengthening cultural forms as great art and literature, and even ordinary civility and decency.  Weakness and fear makes people desperate for security, including material security; the result can look like greed, but is actually cowardice.

6. Explaining It:  Fight, Flight, Freeze

            People are usually sociable, but react to threat as all large, strong animals do, by fighting back.  They are stressed not only by direct threat, but by threat to their social position, and their sense of control of their lives (Bandura 1982, 1986; Langer 1983). 

            The fight-flight-freeze response is wired into the nervous systems (Sapolsky 2017, 2018).  Faced with superior strength and an escape route, an animal will flee; with no escape, it will freeze; if it is cornered and attacked, it will fight, even against superior strength.  This response is mediated through the ancient limbic system in the lower back part of the brain.  A threat is first processed by the amygdala, which recognizes and catalogues it (the amgydala being also a center of memory, as well as the center of much emotionality).  A message goes to the hypothalamus, where the center of the fight-flight-freeze response occupies a small group of nuclei that release aggressive behavior, including speeding up the heart, raising blood pressure, and directing blood toward appropriate muscle and nerve systems (thus away from functions like digestion).  This area sends messages down to the pituitary gland, attached to the bottom of the hypothalamus.  Hormones are released from the anterior pituitary, and circulate through the body, stimulating—among other things—release of adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands (Fields 2019).  Adrenalin and the bone-derived hormone osteocalcin drive the actual physiological responses that are the core of the fight-flight-freeze response (ScienceBeta 2019).

All this is under varying degrees of control from the frontal and prefrontal cortex—very little in a lizard, a great deal in a well-socialized human.  In a human, “the frontal cortex makes you do the harder thing when it’s the right thing to do” (Sapolsky 2017:45, emphasis his).  That can mean doing what is reasonable (foregoing a reward now for a bigger one later) or what is social (foregoing a theft because it is morally wrong).  Conversely, stress disorients.  Sustained stress and fear lead to chronic biologic responses that impair judgment and lead to heightened responses (Sapolsky 2017:130-1360).

Under such conditions, animals and people can flip almost instantly from peaceful, calm behavior to extreme violence.  This is the biological substrate of the change from good wolf to bad wolf. 

Humans have considerably complicated the response. We are faced, more than other animals, with a tradeoff between reacting emotionally and rationally.  The medial frontal cortex, home of social emotionality, dominates empathetic and sensitive choices, and—with other regions—cognitive empathy (Kluger et al. 2019; Lombardi 2019).  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is more involved with “cool, utilitarian choices” (Kluger et al. 2019:12).  The ventromedial prefrontal cortex integrates many of these, and processes morality and its social applications, as well as cognitive interaction choices.  It is conspicuously absent in reaction of psychopaths to others’ pain (Lombardi 2019:20).  More interesting, in psychopaths, is their lack of connection between the reward processing center of the brain—the ventral striatum—and the center for examining outcomes and consequences, including emotional ones, in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (Lombardi 2019:29). A quite different situation is found in people on the autism spectrum, who may be socially challenged but are generally well-meaning, trying hard but often failing to be social; damage to the anterior cingulate cortex is suspected.  It seems that differences in brain regions and connections lie behind a great deal of human good and evil.  This does not explain why the same individual can transition so rapidly from one to the other.

In people, because of the necessity to prioritize dealing with threat, hate is all too often stronger than love, viciousness stronger than caring, defensive resistance to change stronger than greed or desire for self-improvement.  Chronic threat and stress crystallize the fight response into hatred, the flight response into escapism, and the freeze response into conformity or apathy.  One result is that polls often mispredict how people will act: people generally answer that they want more wages, or better health care, or other positive things, but then vote or act their hate.  This led to massive misprediction of the 2016 election results. 

Flight can thus be into video games and daydreams, freezing can be labeled “depression” or “laziness” by psychologists or judgmental peers, and fighting is usually verbal rather than violent.  Still, all the limbic responses are there, underlying the prefrontal plans and cultural instructions that introduce the complexity.  (Much of what follows is derived from, or at least agrees with, Beck 1999 and Staub 2011; Gian Caprara [2002] has critiqued Beck’s model for being too narrow and not covering a wide enough range of situations and contexts, so the model is somewhat expanded here, following Caprara.)

            The most basic root of aggression is fear (on which see LeDoux 2015).  Any animal capable of fighting will fight when threatened or attacked, if there is no alternative.  Animals also fight for resources:  for mates above all, but also food, space, and other necessities.  This may involve fear of loss of necessary resources, but often—especially with mates—it is simply fighting to win desired goods.  Sheer discomfort—sickness, hunger, loss—can also make most animals more aggressive or fight-prone.  The order is:  Stressors; feeling of inadequacy or frustration; defensiveness; then, if the bad wolf wins, hatred and aggression.

            Grief can also be a source of stress and thus of violence.  The role of grieving in motivating suicide bombing has been addressed by Atran (2010).  In many cultures, from Appalachia to New Guinea, grief over previous killings leads to revenge, and is expected to do so.   

            The human difference is that humans are compulsively and complexly social (Henrich 2016).  They live by, through, and for their social systems: families, communities, neighborhoods, networks, and—in the modern world—states.  Humans feel fear when these communities are threatened.  Even humans not at all involved in a community will often feel fear or anger over seeing it attacked.  People willingly die for their communities.  We routinely observe the heroism of soldiers sacrificing themselves in war, parents dying to save children, suicide bombers blowing up supposed enemies (Atran 2010; Bélanger et al. 2014), and even gutter punks dying for their drug gangs. 

            Such fighting, fleeing, and freezing are structured along social lines.   The usual human condition, socially constructed on the innate bases described above, seems to be kind, friendly, and warm to one’s in-group, hospitable to strangers, hostile to opponent groups in one’s own society, and deeply hostile to individuals in one’s own society who seem to be a threat to one’s control or to society’s most fundamental beliefs. The real problem is threat to social place and position, which can lead to anything partner abuse to international war, depending on the scale.  Threats to social beliefs lead to savage persecution of “heretics.”  Heretics and minority religions are the victims of many of the very worst massacres.  They usually live mixed in among the orthodox.  Perhaps the intimacy is related to the extreme violence of such persecutions.  Cognitive dissonance can make people act worse than they might.

            It is also universally known that people are most easily united by being confronted with a common threat, especially a human threat—an invading army, looting gangs, or simply those “heretics.”  Leaders and would-be leaders thus tend to seek or invent enemies.

            Existential threat—simple fear of death—also exacerbates hatred.  In a fascinating study, Park and Pyszczynski (2019) found that making fear of death salient to experimental subjects made them become more defensive about their group identification and core values, and more intolerant and antagonistic toward others.  They found, moreover, that mindful meditation could reduce this, and eliminate it in practiced meditators, providing a rather unexpected and potentially important weapon against hate.

            Thus, natural human tendencies to deal with fear by fighting or escaping can be mobilized by leaders.  All they need to do is mobilize fear—whether it be fear of war, or economic problems, or change, or minority groups getting ahead, or any other stress—and convince an increasing sector of the population that this problem can be handled by removing some group.  Typically, people will redirect anger they feel against targets unsafe to criticize, or even just anger from stubbing their toes or having problems with the house, into hatred.  Hate of the strong is unsafe to act out, so it is displaced onto the weak.  Scapegoating—hating people or groups through displacement—is the most cowardly of the defense mechanisms.  Intolerance is a close second.  Denial, rigidity, and low-level escapism are among others.  

            Doğan and collaborators (2018) have found, studying modern Ethiopian societies, that war is much less likely in egalitarian groups, because everyone is at risk and no one gets a huge chunk of the spoils.  In hierarchic societies, the leaders are less at risk (young men do the dying) and yet get disproportionate shares of the loot, as well as increased power.  So they are happy to invoke war.  The current world situation, where national leaders are not only safe from fighting but often have never served in the military, is an extreme case of this.

            There is a whole decision tree in the fight-flight response.  Responding to stress, people must decide—at some level, usually preattentive—to fear it or not.  They then decide which of the three possibilities to choose, and at what level of response—from verbal confrontation to murderous attack.  They must then decide where to direct their efforts.  If they fight, they can direct action against actual enemies, as in war and revolution, or displace action against weaker parties instead of against the actual threat.  This is a strikingly common response among some animals, notably baboons.  It is clearly related to human bullying, and thus to the hypertrophied bullying that is genocide. 

            The basic principles of a cognitive-emotional explanation of evil can be summarized as follows.  First (and in this case going back to Freud’s defense mechanisms), people tend to blame other people—not fate, not the structures of the economy, not the weather, and most certainly not themselves—for whatever goes wrong in their lives.  The root of much evil is the belief that we can fix our problems by controlling or eliminating other people, rather than by rational means.  This is particularly true of people who have weak confidence in their control of their lives and situations.  (See especially Bandura 1982 on self-efficacy, and the rational-emotional psychology of Albert Ellis, e.g. 1962; the cognitive-behavioral work on evil of Aaron Beck 1999; also Baumeister 1997; Maslow 1970.) 

            Antagonism is the general cover term for the usual sources of evil.  It is usually mindless, coming from culture, conformity, or orders.  Its natural basis is the normal “fight” response to threat, but it is increasingly distorted by weak fear, especially when weakness is part of cultural norms.  The daily kibble of the bad wolf is frustration, resentment of trivial or imagined slights, everyday irritation, rejection, disempowerment, harassment.  This is especially true if one assumes the slights and minor rejections are due to malignant intent (Ames and Fiske 2015).  The raw red meat that gives it strength and power to take over is social hate.

Political anger—which appears to be the main anger in modern societies—is most certainly decided on: one learns who to hate and persecute and how angry to get, and one must decide to follow the leaders in this.  The steps one’s mind goes through in dealing with stress involve decisions at every point.  First, one must identify something as a threat.  Then one must decide whether to react with flight or fight.  One must decide how much flight or fight to apply. 

This requires attention to what is actually causing the threat.  If one is being chased by a bear, no questions need be asked, but dealing with widespread social problems is something quite different.  Reasonable alternatives include distancing oneself, resenting silently, turning the other cheek, being as pleasant or fearless as possible, and just bearing hardship.  From there, the next step is to actual caring: helping, enjoying, working.  

A more important realization is that we are dealing with two phenomenologically different kinds of emotionality.  The fight-flight-freeze response, and the fear and anger that are part of it, are normal.  Quite different is the weakness and consequent out-of-control fear that comes from personal lack of confidence, lack of support, and lack of courage.  Cowardly emotions differ from these normal equivalents.  Honest fear in the face of a real threat is not the same as irrational panic in the face of a trivial one.  Real anger—wrath at actual injury—is different from the fearful anger of a person who has no confidence in his or her ability to control a situation, and therefore hysterically overreacts.  Carelessness from sheer inattention to detail is not the same as defiant sloppiness or toxic irresponsibility.  Love is not the same as dependence and controlling clinginess, especially since the latter competes psychologically with real caring interest in the other person.

In violence in general, but especially in genocidal movements, these play out in different ways.  The initial leaders and revolutionaries are hard-nosed fighters, animated by hatred and opportunism but not scared of anything.  Very often they have been devalued through no fault of their own: they are poor, or from marginal regions (Napoleon’s Corsica, Hitler’s Austria, Stalin’s Georgia), or they are short or disfigured, or something of the sort (cf. Dikötter 2019 for several cases).  Far-right-wing acquaintances of mine (I have known hundreds, over a long life) follow a pattern: they arr males, from the dominant reference group (white in the US, land Cantonese in Hong Kong, and so on), but neither affluent nor well-educated nor very successful.  Accounts suggest that this is typical.  Such people, from Napoleon to my acquaintances, become resentful toward society, and make up in anger and oppositional stance what they lack in social prestige.  They are anything but weak and fearful.  (This compensation theory of problematic behavior has a long history and literature.  It has been abundantly qualified and nuanced; the simple form is not a total explanation.  See our usual sources, notably Baumeister 1997, Beck 1999.)

The vast majority of genociders and other killers, however, are weak and defensive—low in self-efficacy, in Albert Bandura’s terms.  (See the thorough and insightful discussion of such matters in Bandura 1982, 1986.)  They are the conformists who require only social pressure from the leaders to turn murderous.  Individual sense of weakness is much less of a problem if the self-doubting person feels he or she has family or community support.  This should be obvious, but requires some reflection.  The kind of support, the areas in which one is supported or not, and the people doing it (family or friends or the wide world), all matter greatly.  We all are weak at times, and defensive at times.  Most, perhaps all, of us feel weak and defensive in the face of overwhelming threat or stress.  It always sets a limit on our coping.

An important and thoughtful recent study by Robert Bornstein (2019) puts this in real-world situational perspective.  Studying domestic abuse (my prime model for genocide), Bornstein found sky-high rates in two mutual dependence situations.  First, when a man is dependent on a woman for personal validation and she is dependent on him for emotional and financial support, he feels a powerful need to control her and she finds it very hard to escape.  Second, when adult children are dependent for financial support on an elder who is dependent on them for physical care, elder abuse is highly likely.  In these cases, the problems of lack of control and desperate need to assert it become obvious.  

My sense is that the real back story of genocide and similar mass killing is precisely this weak defensiveness.  Ordinary fear and harm lead to the ordinary fight-flight-freeze responses.  Weak defensiveness leads to a quite different cluster of behaviors:  above all scapegoating and bullying, of which more below, but also to passive-aggression, taking extreme offense at trivial or imagined slights, extreme jealousy and envy, petulance, silent resentment, and similar mechanisms.  Brooding about these is the real food of the bad wolf.  If I am right, the back story of mass violence is the ability of strongman leaders who brag of being above the law to mobilize latent weak defensiveness, resentment, and frustration, and turn it against scapegoats.  They are the constituency that votes for such men, the passive citizens that allow coups by such men, and then the obedient subjects of such men. 

The worst of it is that the more overwhelming the situation, the more weak and defensive we all get.  Hard times and strongmen bring out the weakest and most defensive side of people.  This is the key reason why they are so easily mobilized to break from passivity to hatred of scapegoats. The break point where the good wolf gives way to the bad wolf, in every studied case of large-scale genocide and mass murder, comes when the leaders get enough power and social visibility to exploit weak defensiveness and other hatreds to flip the masses into genocidal mode.  As so often, Rwanda provides a particularly well-studied case (see Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b, and references therein).

This explains the rarity of people like Oscar Schindler standing firm against genocide.  It requires a level of self-confidence, self-control, and community-supported morality that very few of us have.

This is one half of the explanation for political extremism.  The other will be discussed below: the conflict between groups that feel they are downwardly mobile and those that are moving up.  This classic Marxian conflict drives much of world politics today.

7. Power and Control

            It is notoriously easier to unite people against a perceived enemy than for a good cause (Bowles 2006; Henrich 2016).  Thus, evil tends to win, in the “real world.”   The larger the organization the more dangerous this tendency becomes.  An empire or a giant firm will attract the power-hungry, and they will often rise rapidly, since they are unencumbered by the scruples that restrain most of us.  Since people follow their leaders, history shows that people are considerably worse in aggregate than they are as individuals.

People often unite more easily against good others than against evil ones, because it is easier to go after weaker and milder than against the powerful and brutal.  Moreover, being good tends to be a small-scale, personal activity, while hatred gets extended to whole classes of people.  The weaker, more salient, and more physically and socially close perceived enemies are, the easier to go after them.  So evil often starts with domestic violence.  Even more often, it starts with attacks on weaker neighbors or on oppressed minorities.  Actual enemies are often the last to be attacked, since they will fight back.  It is easy to unite people through conformity to exclusionary norms (Henrich 2016).  Tolerance and openness, however, are a bit of a psychological luxury; they sharply decline when people feel their mental energy is exhausted (Tadmor et al. 2018).  Still more of a luxury is actual enjoyment; one must be out of threat zone to relax enough to cultivate the arts of life.

            The worst problems occur when power-mad people figure out how to use morality to sell their drive for power.  Religious hatred is the commonest way, but nationalism, militarism, and communist and other revolutionary ideologies have done as well.   In the United States we have seen hatred justified by opposition to illegal immigrants, by appeals to law and security, and even by opposition to “hate speech,” which seems always defined as strong speech by one’s opponents. 

            The rich often want power and status, not money per se.  (What follows is a skeletal outline of material on power reviewed in Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017; see also Traverso 2019.)  They thus will play zero-sum and negative-sum games with the rest of us, because they want relative positions.  They want to be powerful more than they want money (not that they mind having more of it also).  Critical is that Success, or Power and Control, or Wealth and Status, is their whole life involvement, not just one thing they want. 

            Thus we may say that evil is usually done for four reasons:  callousness toward people who “don’t count”; anger toward people who do count—very often loved ones and family that one wishes to control but cannot control; hatred toward specific groups, almost always scapegoated minorities; and hatred of actual enemies.  Greed as a factor may lie behind these, but it generally acts through them; the selfishly greedy dehumanize or disregard their victims.  This produces some ambiguity.  In a war, one must maximize killing of the opposition, including civilians and ordinary unfortunates drafted by evil but personally safe overlords.             

            Another major background factor in evil is negative-sum gaming.  This often involves seeing the world as steadily declining, such that one can do better only by taking from others.  It views resources as limited.  This view tends to come from a focus on social power and status, where positions really are limited and one is controlling or controlled; economic welfare is more easily spread or increased for all, but it too often involves competition over limited goods.  Often, people who feel the world is getting worse see themselves as hopelessly downward-bound; they see no way to slow this except by taking more and more from weaker people and groups.  This was visible in much of the voting for Donald Trump.  His backing was concentrated among people who saw their groups as downwardly mobile.  They saw their best hope in getting what they could, while they could, at the expense of other groups.  Fear is abundantly obvious in such cases.  The resulting policies are hardly helpful; taking oneself down to take others down even more—the suicide bombers’ logic—is ruinous in the long run.

            Hate is successful at unifying society, blinding people to ripoffs and corruption, getting otherwise unmotivated people to fight for their exploiters, and otherwise allowing evil people to get the mass of ordinary people on their side.  The main generalization is that the more deeply important a social identification is, the more hatred it can mobilize.  Religion so often leads to especially irrational and extreme violence because it is about basic issues.  Yet, far less important matters can cause fighting; even sports team rivalries may lead to war (Anderson and Anderson 2012).

            The range of behaviors goes on to touchiness about “honor,” overattention to negativity, holding people to ridiculous standards, rage, overcontrolling, dominating, domineering, general antagonism, inimical attitude, and finally violence and murder.  Common or universal is an attitude that everyone’s bad traits are what count; their good does not.  People become rigid and judgmental.  Minor slights become cause for murder.  These can be at individual or group levels.  Mass shooters fit the profile: alienated, usually young, males, dealing with threats to personhood or social place by indiscriminate murder-suicide.  Ability to think rationally or morally suffers in proportion.  Ability to enjoy and love suffer too (Bandura 1982, 1986). 

            The common ground here is insecurity leading to irrational levels of harm to the “threatening group” or “the competition.”  The worst and commonest reason is direct threat to one’s personhood.  Following that come desire for wealth, power, control, prestige, status, lifestyle. 

Always, in group hate, there is either a massive devaluing of certain groups or a general defensiveness, and usually both.  The front story is actual evil or good; the mid story is the emotions and feelings that motivate; the real back story is destructive competition versus cooperation.  The ultimate back story is individual defensiveness, weakness, neurosis-psychosis, and other psychic factors.


The basic axioms of authoritarianism are:

Since I’m in power, I’m better than you.

My first need is to keep you under control.

Your differences from me—especially in such basic matters as religion and ethnicity—are bad: threatening, inferior, inappropriate, offensive.

You must be kept weak.

Since raw fear is the easiest and most straightforward way to do this, torture and cruelty are central elements of power and discipline.
But, since those attract resistance, in time they must be softened by an ideology of “good” and “ideals” plus development of a socio-political-economic structure that keeps the weak down. 

The rulers, or would-be rulers, are the Chosen People.  “Progressives” are often as bad in this regard as other bigots.

I’m more powerful than you, so I make the rules.  This holds all the way from “I’m the mom, that’s why” up to the dictator level.

            If people learn rational or common-sense ways of coping with fear and threat, they are less likely to fall into hatred and toxic conformity.  If they do, however, they may become authoritarians.  The “authoritarian personality” created by Freudian mechanisms (Fromm 1941) has not stood the test of time, but “authoritarian predispositions” leading to an “authoritarian dynamic” are now well attested and studied (Duckitt 1994, 2001; Stenner 2005).  They are called up or exacerbated especially by normative fear: fear of the breakdown of the social norms that give what the authoritarian mind considers necessary structure to society.  These norms typically involve norms that keep minorities and women “in their place,” and otherwise create a rigid top-down order.  Learned helplessness (Peterson et al. 1993) often leads to toxic conformity.

            Authoritarian predispositions and behaviors may include devotion to strongmen, hatred and fear of homosexuals and other norm-benders, love of stringent punishment for lawbreakers (especially those low on the social scale), militarism, and similar conditions.  There is, however, a great range of ideology here, from the near-anarchist violent right wing to the genteelly hierarchic older businessmen of a midwestern suburb.  It seems likely that we are dealing with several different responses to weakness in the face of threat, the common denominators being a need for a strong-man leader and a need for underlings to blame and oppress.  Authoritarianism is surprisingly common within societies and surprisingly widespread over the world (Stenner 2005).

            This rests on several observations about human responses to threat and stress.  Three other important ones deserve attention:  People hate in others what they dislike in themselves (especially if they feel guilty about it); they like in others what they want for themselves; they use their strengths to make up for their deficiencies.  These are all involved in bullying and authoritarianism.  Bullying can have permanent negative effects on bullied children’s brains (Copeland et al. 2014).

            The problems usually follow from cowardice and hostility, which reinforce each other.  In an isolated person, they come out as giving up, or as setting oneself against the world.  In the far commoner case of a social person, they come out in displacing aggression against the weak.  Fear forbids aggressing against actual offenders (if there are any); antagonism is displaced downward, to scapegoats.  This usually leads to bullying them.  Of course, as Robert Sapolsky points out, “You want to see a kid who’s really likely to be a mess as an adult? Find someone who both bullies and is bullied” (Sapolsky 2017:199).  That probably describes virtually all serious bullies.

Bullying involves belittling them: regarding them as low or worthless.  Underlings use malicious gossip to get back at powerful bosses. “I’m better than you” and “I’m worse than you” are bad enough, but the worst is “I’m worse than you, so I have to pretend I’m better, and if in power I have to bully you.”  The classic bully is resentful toward the world at large.  He attacks both the weak (“contemptible”) and those in authority; he revels in breaking laws and conventions (Sapolsky 2017:199).  Bullies resent civility; it interferes with their activities, and they brand it as “weakness.”  They resort to lying and “gaslighting” as routine methods of manipulating others, and to insults.  They tend to be violent and unpredictable.

            A standard bullying routine is to insult the victim, then take any response as an “offense” and “slight” that justifies attack.  Imagined slights are quite adequate.  The genociders’ version of this is the attribution of all manner of horrific but imaginary sins to the targeted group; Hitler’s claims about the Jews are the most famous in this regard, but all genociders—at least all those with a recorded history—do it.  Genocide is bullying writ large.

            Another very common aspect of bullying is that bullies are adulated as “strong” and “independent” by those who would love to be bullies but are too personally weak.  They become groupies, followers, toadies.  Women who are afraid to be violent themselves, but would love to be bullies, find male bullies irresistible, leading to a remark attributed to Henry Kissinger, “power is the best aphrodisiac.” 

            Evil people, from ancient Greek demagogues to Hitler and Trump, can most effectively get the least competent of the tier-just-above-bottom to hate the bottom tiers.  Failing that, they can always whip up nativistic hate of foreigners, especially immigrants. 

            Most movements that end in authoritarianism and genocide start by recruiting bullies and haters, then gather momentum.  Not until they win, and succeed in turning the polity into a dictatorship or turning a local community into one defined by hate, can they recruit the vast mass of ordinary people.  However, there are cases in which many followers are genuine idealists, not bullies, and then the picture is complicated by the restraint introduced by the idealists.  Stalin in the USSR was infamous for purging his movement of these idealists, leaving only those who were either bullies or saw repression as simply a necessary job to do.

            Following, again, Baumeister (1996), Baron-Cohen (2011). Beck (1999) and others, we can identify several subtypes of persons who despise or hate downward.  The widest and most general category is those who simply believe in the necessity of hierarchies and of maintaining those hierarchies through keeping those below firmly in their place (as described by Haidt 2012, and argued, in effect, by Aladair MacIntyre 1984, 1988).  An extreme form is the strongman philosophy that argues for rulers being above the law, or being the law, and often acting outrageously simply to show they have the power; this was the classic attitude of European royalism, and is similar to the politics of modern strongmen.  At the other end of power distribution are the weak and timid souls who desperately try to maintain their position by keeping firmly down anyone that seems to be below them.

            Opposed to these views are two types of philosophy.  First comes abjuring all anger and negative judgment, as advocated by many religions.  The second is directing one’s anger against the powerful, especially the powerful and lawless or harming, as advocated by revolutionaries.  This latter allows anger to be directed upward rather than scapegoated downward in a social hierarchy.  This is not necessarily a good thing, as we know from the sad ending of many revolutions. 

            We have now come to the core of what feeds the wolves.  The bad wolf is fed by fear socially channeled into scapegoating and bullying; by culture and society based on top-down power that is poorly restrained; and by personal grievance and offense coming out in hate and irrational harm.  This may be deployed in the service of greed, sadism, defense, or “honor,” but the basic animal is the same.  The good wolf is fed by the opposite: dealing with problems as rationally and peacefully as possible, in a society where equality and tolerance are values.  This too may be deployed for gain or defense or any other purpose.  The rest of this book will be dedicated to unpacking that simple formula.

            Fear and fight lead to three overarching social vectors: ingroup versus rival group; general level of hostility; and minimizing.  These are called “othering” today, and often considered to be a part of human nature.  This is not correct.  The actual direct causes of evil appear to be cowardice, hostility, and minimizing or infrahumanization.  The first two are overreaction (overemotional reaction) to fear, threat, and hurt, with structural opponentship (not just difference) seen as a threat.  The common ground is seeing people, or some people, as bad or unworthy.  All or some people are to be bulldozed, dominated, or preyed oneven family and friends, let alone real opponents. (On discrimination, see Kteily, Bruneau, et al. 2015; Kteily, Hodson, and Bruneau 2016; Parks and Stone 2010; Rovenpor et al. 2019.) 

            The third is failure to consider people as fully human, or even failure to consider people at all.  People become Kantian objects (Kant 2002): mere numbers on a spreadsheet, dirt to be bulldozed out of the way of construction projects, or underlings to be disregarded.   

            Such minimizing can be aggressive.  It can be cold and calculating. It can be simply mindless—just not thinking of the problems of the servants or workstaff.  It involves devaluing people: maintaining that they are unworthy of attention, concern, or care.  Sometimes it involves not noticing people at all.  It tends to go with callous indifference, as opposed to hostility and anger.  Anger shows at least some respect for the opponent; the opponent is worthy of being noticed and hated.  Not infrequently, the opponent is even considered superior, as when revolutionaries attack the state, or a David goes up against a Goliath.

            Othering without much hostility is typical of traditional people; they know the “others” are different, but have little to do with them.  Usually, strangers and travelers are welcomed, often very warmly.  My wife and I have traveled the world and almost never run into hostile reactions, nor have our students of all backgrounds and economic situations.  Exceptions are neighboring groups, often traditional rivals for land and resources.  Hostility without much othering—without displacing it to an outgroup—produces gangsters and aggressive loners. 

            The human norm seems to be occasional anger and aggression against even one’s nearest and dearest, great aggressiveness against structural-opponent groups, and indifference to the rest—the unknown multitudes out of one’s immediate ken.         One consoling lie that such people tell themselves is that we live in a just world (Lerner 1980), in which people get what they deserve.  The poor are lazy, the rich worked for their wealth.  People displaced by dams somehow deserve to be displaced.  Genociders come to believe fantastically overstated lies: the people they hate are truly evil, subhuman, the sources of all ills.  Thus, to the totally other, evil is done from callousness: coldly planned aggressive war, bureaupathy.  There is then a continuum through “different” members of one’s own society—internal others—to family members.  The closer people are socially, the more hatred is necessary, or at least usual, before harm is done.

            The most clearly established fact is that infants are born with some degree of innate fear of strangers, and the more different those strangers look and act from the parents, the more the fear. Thus, some degree of “othering” on the basis of appearance and voice sound is normal.  On the other hand, infants show acute interest in other people, especially faces, toward which they orient (Tomasello 2019).  They seem innately primed to recognize the more universal emotional expressions: smiles, angry looks, and so on.  Moreover, people differ at birth in how shy they are and how aggressive they are.  These vary independently, apparently. 

Infants react quickly to smiles, reassurance, gentle touch, and other marks of friendship, and react in the opposite way to frightening stimuli like shouts and rapid, dramatic movement.  Infants also look to their parents for signs of how to treat the stranger.  They are extremely reactive to parental moves and voices; the parents may be completely unaware of how strongly they are signaling the infant.

            From birth, people can react along a whole spectrum of ways, from initial fear but quick reassurance and friendliness to initial fear made worse by scary stimuli.  This is rapidly exacerbated by the reactions of parents, siblings, and soon other family members and friends.  Culture enters in right from the start, by conditioning the reactions of all these important people in the infants’ lives.  By three or four, children already know that certain recognizable groups are liked while others are disliked.  They learn gender roles, clothing associations, and other quite complex cultural messages to a striking degree (Tomasello 2016, 2019).  Much of this was learned quite unconsciously, with no one intending to teach, and without the children realizing they were learning.

            This means that any group of people will show a variety of reactions, not notably predictable.  The most predictable thing is that every group will have its structural opponent groups: groups that they feel are competing with them for power, land, jobs, resources, social recognition, political sway, poetry, art motifs, foods, and anything else that people compete about.  The word “rival” literally means “sharer of a river bank” (Latin rivus, riverbank), in recognition of the universality of arguments over water, especially for irrigation; in the western United States, “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting,” as Mark Twain said.  In the United States, the classic divide has been white vs black, and in much of the US today “race” and “diversity” means, basically, that antagonism.   In Canada, the same “worst structural opponent” attitudes are white vs Native American (First Nations to Canadians). Blacks in the US and Native Americans in Canada are notably overrepresented in “hard case” stories in the media.  (This struck me when I compared Seattle and Vancouver, BC, newspapers in the 1980s.)  Stories of substance abuse, crime, and welfare dependence often feature photographs of them, even where they are a very small percentage of such “hard cases.”

            Going back in history, one recalls the love-hate—mostly hate—relationship of England and France, of France and Germany, of Germany and Poland, of Poland and Russia, and so on forever.  And throughout Europe the Roma are victims of vicious prejudice; they are often the ones in the hard-case stories in the newspapers, even when they are a microscopic percentage of the national population.

            To my knowledge, every culture has prejudices like this.  Moreover, as we all know, different stereotypes go with different groups.  To white racists, blacks are “inferior” and “dumb,” “Mexicans” (by which they generally mean anyone with a Latin American heritage) are “rapists” and “criminals,” and so on.  To many American blacks, all whites are suspect and all or almost all are racist and dangerous.  These views are variously nuanced.  We have probably all encountered racists who hate “blacks” but sincerely like their close friends and neighbors who happen to be black: “He isn’t really a black guy, he’s old Joe.”

            One reason for such self-contradictions is the degree to which “old Joe” conforms to local norms and morals.  A complex field experiment in 28 German cities showed considerable bias against helping hijab-wearing women, but the same woman without the hijab but still obviously a Middle Easterner got about as little hate as a clearly native German woman. Moreover, and more importantly, if the hijab-wearer helped protest littering (by a confederate of the experimenters, of course!), she was helped in turn at the same levels as the non-hijab-wearers (Choi et al. 2019).  The general conclusion is that foreigners who mark their “difference” from the host society are accepted if they mark their “similarity” to the host society by proactive behavior. 

            Typically, individuals who regard a group as low or despicable put up with its members as long as they “keep their place,” but not when they try to assert equality or rights.  Racists who tolerate “old Joe” do not tolerate Al Sharpton.  Misogynists may love their docile wives (in a patronizing way), but hate feminists.  When I worked with fishermen in Hong Kong, I found the same phenomenon: fishermen were regarded as lowly by most of the rest of society, but were tolerated unless they tried to assert full equality.  The psychology seems essentially universal in stratified societies.

            Relations of power notoriously exacerbate hatreds.  This is so extreme, so obvious, and so universal that no one misses it.  Less obvious is the effect of specific kinds of power.  Blacks are notoriously in a particularly bad place in American society because they were enslaved.  “Mexicans,” however, are the structural opponents who are most devalued by South Texas white

racists, because of Texas’ history of breakaway from Mexico and later oppression of Mexican workers.

            Hard times sometimes make hatreds worse, but sometimes draw the country together and thus make hatreds recede somewhat; the Depression gave us Hitler in Germany and the New Deal in the US.  Good times can make hatreds worse, especially if a large percentage of the majority is left behind watching a tiny group get richer and richer, as in the US in the 1920s and since 2016.

            This being the case, it is inevitable that politicians invoke hatreds and usually do everything possible to whip them up and make them worse, the better to “lead” the “people” against the “foe.” 

To foreigners from realms too distant to be actively stereotyped, most people worldwide are welcoming and friendly.  There is a range from incredibly hospitable to quite suspicious and unfriendly.  The former is usually found in stable, secure communities.  The latter response is common in highly ingrown communities like the stereotypic European peasant villages, but also in highly unstable and insecure communities

            A common claim is that religious hatreds are often the worst.  This seems true especially in the monotheistic “Abrahamic” religions, though it is more widespread than monotheism.  In so far as it is true (it seems to be untested), the reason probably is that religion is about the most basic values, hopes, dreams, and beliefs that people have.  (It is not about how the world started!  The world-origin stories are there just to provide some validation.)  In China and historic Central Asia, much less intolerance was observed, because religions were not given such narrow and dogmatic interpretation, and value sets existed independently of faiths.  On the other hand, many of those who are extreme in religious hate are not deeply knowledgeable about their religion (see e.g. Atran 2010 and Traverso 2019 on Islam), and may fight only for meaningless tags instead of content, as Edward Gibbon accused Christians of doing in the war between homoousia and homoiousia.

            A final generalization is that othering relationships and stereotypes change fast.  We have observed immigrant groups to the United States get stereotyped by the media within a few years.  We have observed the rapid demonization of Muslims in the US. 

The common theme of all these matters, and of all evil, is rejection of people simply for being what they are.  In Paul Farmer’s oft-quoted remark, “the idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.”  (This line is very widely quoted, but I have not found a source citation.) They are condemned simply because they are poor, or Jewish, or female, or black-skinned, or rich, or any of the other things that give hateful people an excuse to dismiss whole categories of humanity.  However, extreme rage and hate are very often deployed against wives, husbands, children, parents, close friends, and other loved ones.  Family violence seems, in fact, to be a strikingly accurate small-scale model of genocide.  Assassination is even farther from Farmer’s general case; it involves targeting people because they are important.  Thus, while usually the targets of evil are downvalued, sometimes they are targets specifically because they are highly valued.

            Othering takes many forms.  One recalls the British stereotypes of “foreigners” and “savages” in the days of the British Empire: French ate frogs and snails and were effeminate, Germans drank beer and were big and dull, Italians were dirty and noisy and smelled of garlic, and so on for every group the British contacted.  American stereotypes of the 20th century were usually similar, though less well defined.  Children’s books reveal these stereotypes most clearly, and were one of the main ways they were learned.  Political cartoons often trade on them to this day.

            The same general rules apply to hate and disregard for other lives—for animals and plants.  Cruelty to animals and destruction of nature are common.  The mindset seems to be the same: either uncontrolled rage at the familiar, or displacement of hate and fear to weak victims, or sheer indifference backed up by social attitudes.  The Cartesian idea that animals are mere “machines” that have no real feelings has justified the most appalling abuses. 

            Summing up, evil occurs in four rough attitudinal clusters:  negative stereotypy; callousness (cold indifference, selfish greed, cold callousness, etc.); anger, rage, and hate, variously directed; and psychopathy-sadism. 

10 Groups and Group Tensions

            A final part of the back story is that humans everywhere dislike foldbreakers—people who conspicuously resist conforming to basic social rules.  Even people who are unusually good may be disliked because being so good is “different” (Parks and Stone 2010).  Usually, enforcing conformity serves to make cantankerous or poorly-educated people fall in line.  Very often, however, it simply makes people hate anyone conspicuously unlike the herd.  Individuals (including geniuses and artists) or groups (Jews in Christian countries, black people in white countries, and so on) are targeted.   A further cost is that members of devalued groups lose their sense of autonomy in proportion to the level of devaluing and repression of the group (Kachanoff et al. 2019).  They become less able to help themselves, precisely when they most need to do so. 

Groups cope with foldbreakers by trying to covert them, by ostracizing them, or by learning to live with them (Greenaway and Cruwys 2019), but all too often by killing them (Wrangham 2018).  The group may even break up, if foldbreakers form a large faction (Aalerding et al. 2018; Greenaway and Cruwys 2019).  All groups experience conflict, all have conflict resolution mechanisms (Beals and Siegal 1966), but when mechanisms are ineffective genocide often results.  Intergroup competition makes for solidarity—in fact it is famously the best way to develop that—but intragroup competition is deadly to solidarity, and must be resolved for a group to function, so available methods are sure to be used—even if fatal to minorities.  Intragroup deviants can be hard to spot, which makes them particularly frightening to the more sensitive group members (Greenaway and Cruwys 2019).  Particularly in danger are highly salient groups that seem relatively wealthy or successful to majorities, especially if the majorities feel themselves stressed or downwardly mobile.  Jews in Depression Europe, Tutsi in Rwanda in the difficult 1980s and early 1990s, and any and all educated people in Cambodia in the 1970s serve as clear examples.

The level of sensitivity to intragroup variation varies enormously from person to person, society to society, and culture to culture, something little studied.  Anthropologists have documented intolerance to deviance and consequent occasional breakup of communities among the Pueblo tribes of the southwestern United States, among small southeast European villages, and among Middle Eastern village societies, among others, while high levels of tolerance are documented for some—not all—urban trading and commercial communities.  More confusing still is a pattern, notable among some religious communities, for extreme tolerance of many kinds of behavior but extremely rigid observance of defining traditions of the group.  Intragroup deviance is a matter that needs more theoretical attention. All religions attack the major evils, but people do evil and then claim their religions made them do it.  There are always excuses.  Morality is never enough.  But, with laws, people can create peaceful communities.  Evil is not necessary.  It can be reduced to low levels. 

            Critically important is awareness that there is a continuum from good to evil, and specifically from actual enmity to utterly unprovoked genocide: from treating people with antagonism, as enemies, because they actually are so, to treating them as enemies because they might really be a threat, to treating people as enemies because they seem different and numerous enough to seem a threat to fearful leaders, to treating any different group as a threat simply because its difference is obtrusive or because it is in the way of settlement or “development.”  This tends to correspond very closely with the continuum from courageous fighting against attacking force to increasingly cowardly displacement of aggression to ever weaker targets. 

            People may believe that a currently weak group is secretly powerful, or might become so, and could be a threat.  Preemptive strikes then occur.  The Jews were a small, innocent, relatively defenseless minority.  Hitler directed against them all the anger stirred up in Germany by the loss of WWI and the Depression, and then revived and greatly extended the old image of the Jews as all-powerful and all-destroying. 

            A more local example is intimate partner violence.  This almost always involves a man, usually the physically stronger of the pair, beating a woman because he feels that he is somehow losing control of her (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Very often, he feels generic anger against the world, or against stronger people in his life, and takes it out on the most vulnerable available person: wife, child, older parent.  Domestic violence is extremely close to genocide—it might even be called the individual-level equivalent (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017). 

11 Self-esteem and “Moral” Evil

            Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil (1997), documents at length the unexceptional nature of people who do evil things.  He also documents the degree to which they self-justify: they think they are doing the right thing, or the reasonable thing, or the expedient thing.  They rationalize to avoid guilt, and they use carefully disinfected language.  Most commonly of all, they think or say that they are only doing what everyone does.  In genocides and slave camps, they are right; everyone in their situation is indeed doing it. 

            Baumeister demolishes the old idea that evil people are those with low self-esteem; it appears that the worst problem in that area is with people who have “high but unstable self-esteem” (Baumeister 1997:149; his emphasis).  They are often bullies, because they think highly of themselves but are insecure enough to be wounded by challenges.  People need some degree of self-esteem and self-regard, so they concentrate on their strong points and minimize others’ lives and endowments.

            He also debunks the idea that evil people dehumanize their victims.  They most often see their victims as fully human—just not deserving of normal consideration.  In recognition of this, Castano (2012) suggests the term “infrahumanization.”  Baumeister runs through the standard explanations for violence (“greed, lust, ambition…” on p. 99—the classic land, loot, women, and power—as well as sadism and psychopathy), only to show how inadequate they are; crime rarely pays much, lust turned evil does not feel particularly good, and ambition served by evil rarely ends well.  Greed to the point of ripping others off, or crushing them, is not usually profitable in the long run.  It is normally done when society forces people into evil ways of making a living, such as raiding in Viking days or slaving in the 18th century.  He sees “egotism and revenge” as more important (Baumeister 1997:128-168).  People committing evil are often showing off their ability to maintain their power.  “Threatened egotism” (Baumeister 1997:377; Baumeister et al. 1996) is the deadliest of the factors he lists. 

            This, however, results from two things: basic predisposing factors of personality (threatened egotism, sadism, psychopathy) and immediate triggering factors (greed, idealism).  Moreover, “greed” is not desire for material goods; it is willingness to get material goods at the expense of other people, harming them in the process.  The same goes for social position, social acceptance, and even desire for power and control.  They are not bad in themselves, because they can be, and often are, used for good.  They become evil and cause harm when they are won at the expense of others.  

            Those triggers do not cause evil in people who are not in a state of hatred, bullying, or overcontrolling others.  In people who have fed the good wolf, desire for material goods is satisfied by working with others for the common good, or at least by healthy competition of the Adam Smith variety; desire for social acceptance and approbation is satisfied by being nice enough to be genuinely liked; desire for power and control is satisfied by being a good leader and administrator.  We all know people who are not particularly nice or pleasant people, but who make good administrators anyway, simply because it is the reasonable thing to do.  People are notoriously sociable, and do not need Immanuel Kant to explain that good social strokes are, in the end, more rewarding for most people than inordinate wealth or power.  We are left no closer to an explanation of why ordinary people without the basic personality factors of a psychopath become genocidal or become slavers.

            Baumeister also points out that much evil is done in the name of good—of idealism.  He is, like Ames and Fiske (2015), far too quick to believe that murderous “good-doers” (from the Inquisition to the Khmer Rouge) believe what they say.  My rather wide experience of those who talk good but do evil is that they are usually, and consciously, hypocrites.  At best, their willingness to do real harm in the name of imaginary good is hardly a recommendation for their morals.  Idealism that involves little beyond torturing people to death hardly deserves the name of idealism.  It is not an explanation for evil; it simply raises the question of why people sometimes think that torturing is idealistic, or that idealism can reduce to murder. 

            On the other hand, idealism that necessarily costs lives but really is for the greater good, like the fight against fascism in WWII, can be genuine.  Similarly, defensive war against invaders is often a good thing.   Of course, idealism can get corrupted fast, as in the French and Russian revolutions.  The boundary between good and evil is the point at which a reasonable person, independently judging the situation, would judge that there is clearly gratuitous harm occurring.  Rationality is hard to achieve in this world, but necessary in this case.  (Influence by Immanuel Kant, esp. 2002, and John Rawls, 1971 and 2001, is obvious here; I am following them on “rationality” in this context, thus avoiding the need to explain it.)

            Acting reasonably good seems the default option for most people most of the time.  It is even difficult to make people into killers.  Not only the Nazis, but also armed forces everywhere, have always had trouble accomplishing this (Baumeister 1997:205-212). 

            However, even the most trivial differences in feeding eventually allow the bad wolf to take over from the good one.  The strongest desire of humans is social belonging; therefore, people feel strong needs to conform to social norms and to whatever social currents are flowing (see e.g. the studies of Kipling Williams [2007, 2011] on ostracism).  The currents are not always good ones.          

            Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) points out that evil is often done for alleged moral reasons (as in religious persecutions), or for openly immoral ones (as when a sadist psychopath kills), but most evil involves some degree of moral disengagement: minimizing, excusing, or justifying what is done.  Bandura covers the individual agency involved in this, and also the way society magnifies that by marshaling euphemisms, blaming others, playing the “you do it too” card, minimizing damage, dehumanizing or partially dehumanizing victims, personally disengaging and becoming callous or escapist, causal displacement, attribution of blame to the victims or to the wider society, and above all justifying one’s behavior by claiming a higher morality.  Bandura covers recent newsworthy events: gun violence and gun culture, terrorism, banking crimes, pollution and environmental damage, capital punishment, and others.  He thus spares us (most of the time) the citing of Hitler that tends to let moderns off the hook. 

            Moral disengagement, victim-blaming, and self-justification are indeed typical of almost all human activities that do harm and of almost all humans that harm others.  The problem with Bandura’s book is that he lumps evil morality (fascist ideology, Communist extremism) with disengagement, which is surely wrong.  Still, Bandura has done an extremely important task in covering with great thoroughness the ancillary mental gymnastics that allow people to harm and kill without much guilt.  Moral disengagement leads to bureaupathy.

            Alan Fiske and Taj Rai (2014) have argued that almost all violence is moral: it is justified by the moral teachings of the society in question.  They point out that violent behavior such as blood revenge, horrific initiation rites, war, raiding, human sacrifice, brutal discipline, and physical punishment have all been considered not only moral but sacred duty in literally thousands of societies around the world.  Steven Pinker (2011) reminds us that revenge killings, duels, killing of one’s own disobedient children, rape and killing of slaves, and many other forms of mayhem were not only accepted but approved in western society—including the United States—well into the 19th century.  Disapproving of such behavior is very recent.  Antiwar sentiments are also recent.  Taking over land by exterminating its occupants was universal, and broadly accepted, until the mid-19th century. 

            Fiske and Rai see societies as displaying relational models.  These come in four kinds, which can all be combined in one society:” communal sharing: unity… authority ranking: hierarchy…equality matching: equality [Rawlsian fairness]… and market pricing: proportionality” (Fiske and Rai 2014:18-21).   There are six “constitutive phases” of moral violence: “creation [of relationships]… conduct, enhancement, modulation, and transformation [again of relationships]….protection; redress and rectification…termination…mourning” (sacrifices, self-mutilation, and the like as mourning rituals) (Fiske and Rai 2014:23-24).  Violence follows the models: a result of group solidarity (usually against other groups) in unity-driven societies; keeping people in their place in hierarchic ones; maintaining equity in egalitarian societies; and “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in market-driven ones.  Complex societies can be expected to have all four types of relational models operating inside people’s heads and in the cultural spaces, and thus to have violence for all those reasons and more. 

            Genocide, as we have seen, is moralized as necessary to eliminate the loathesome and hated groups within society.  Aggressive war is moralized by a felt need for land and loot—Hitler’s lebensraum, American settlers’ manifest destiny.  Murder is moralized as honor killing, or revenge, or any of many dozen other motives.  Brutal punishment is moralized as necessary to keep people in line and maintain proper behavior. 

            Fiske and Rai deal largely with cultural groups and cultural norms.  Unusual events like genocide are not quite in the picture, though, for example, Europe’s massacres of Jews go back many centuries.  Exceptional murder and violence for gain or from psychopathy or sadism are explicitly exempted from their theory, being immoral even to the perpetrators. 

            The problems with this work are numerous.  First, and most obvious, there is no explanation of where such morals come from, beyond the idea (almost universally agreed) that violence is necessary to maintain any social order at all.  We are left wondering why honor killings, cruel initiation rites, rape, incest, and the like are found in some places and not others.  (As for the rites:  John and Beatrice Whiting showed decades ago that they are found in societies where all children, including boys, are raised almost exclusively by women, and must transition to men’s roles at puberty.  They occur in almost all such societies and in few, if any, others.  See Whiting and Child 1953.) 

            Second, all societies, and especially all those more complex than a hunting-gathering band, have multiple moral alternatives.  One does not have to be a violent barroom brawler in the modern United States, even in the working-class white south (cf. Nisbett and Cohen 1996 on honor and violence in that milieu).  Very few Middle Eastern Muslims become terrorists or suicide bombers, despite western stereotypy.  Intimate partner violence is normal in some societies—19% of world societies, according to Fiske and Rai (2014:160), a strangely precise figure—but is uncommon and a “marked case” in most. 

            Third, Fiske and Rai do not distinguish between genuine cultural rules, individual moral poses, and outrageously lame excuses.  It is certainly a cultural rule almost everywhere to kill attackers who are trying to kill you and your family.  It is a cultural rule in all civilizations that if you are a soldier you must kill enemies when ordered.  It is a rule in all medically competent societies that surgeons can and should commit “violence” to save their patients (as noted by Plato and Aristotle).  It is an individual choice, not a rule, to beat your wife and children, murder your rival, or commit suicide.  Doing such things is sometimes done for deeply held moral reasons (murdering your wife’s lover in many societies) but is usually done for reasons that do not play well in courts of law.

            Political violence often is clearly due to hatred, however cloaked in rhetoric.  Much becomes clear when one listens to playground bullies (the following lines come from my own childhood):  “He was littler than me, so I beat him up.”  “I’m torturing this squirrel to death because it’s a varmint, it ain’t good for nothin’.”  “I hit my little sister to make her shut up.”  Fiske and Rai quote a number of young peoples’ justifications for killing that are no more persuasive, but sounded moral in some sense.  The grown-up forms of such excuses, “all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men” as G. K. Chesterton put it (in the poem “O God of Earth and Altar”), are no less lame for being suave and phrased in proper political language.

            My personal experience with violence—and I have known murderers, pirates, criminals, and other assorted perpetrators—is that almost all violence except obvious self-defense or defense of one’s country and loved ones is justified by excuses, and most of them are as lame as the schoolyard bullies’ offerings.  Reading the genocide literature is particularly revealing.  The actual sins of the Jews, Tutsi, Hutu, urban Cambodians, and so on were trivial or nonexistent.  The hatred was whipped up deliberately for the basest reasons.  The high moral justifications were blatant lies.  How many followers believed them remains unclear.  People usually say after a genocide is over that they conformed out of fear.  They are usually unwilling to admit any further belief in the propaganda, though a surprising number—including men of the calibre of Martin Heidegger and Ezra Pound—stayed faithful to fascism all their lives, and there are similar loyal Maoists in China today.  (On the case of Heidegger, see Pierre Bourdieu’s important work, 1991.)

            We are left with the near-universality of moral justifications for violence, but with a range from genuine, deeply held moral belief through serious but not-very-moral personal grievance down to the skimpiest of fig leaves covering crude hatred, rage, and greed.  Fiske and Rai have done a major service in focusing on these justifications and on the social poses that evoke them.  The claim that such moral arguments actually motivate violence must be evaluated case by case.               

12  Feeding Wolves Over the Life Track

            The roots of evil have a genetic component.  Psychopathy, sociopathy, and aggressiveness seem to run in families.  The fight-flight-freeze response is universal among higher life forms.  In humans, however, most evil is learned, as the enormous person-to-person, time-to-time, and group-to-group variation shows.  (Most of what follows is derived from or paralleled in Beck 1999 and Ellis e.g. 1962, with specifics about evil from Baron-Cohen 2011, Bartlett 2005, Baumeister 1997, Tomasello 2019, and other previously noted sources, tempered by my experience as a parent.  See also Sapolsky 2017:222 for coverage of this material.)  Most bad behavior is done in conformity with one’s immediate social group.  Most humans start out neutral: tending to wind up about half good and half bad, but actually winding up according to how they were trained. This, of course, is the real message of our two-wolves story.

            There is a clear genetic drive in infants to explore, engage, learn, socialize, communicate, and even create.  Babies are surprisingly interactive, and mostly in a positive way, trusting and smiling.  They cry a lot when they are uncomfortable, and can fear strangers, but they are basically a rather positive set of humans.  Allowing them to explore and interact in a secure, supportive environment is the key to feeding the good wolf pup.

            “Learning” may be too narrow a word for environmental influences.  Trauma even generations ago can affect the brain, via epigenetics.  Trauma in the womb and during birth can more directly injure brain tissue.  One common result of such trauma is reduction in control over violent emotions and actions.  It does not occur in all cases, but it is not rare.  The exact location of the trauma matters, but trauma is usually widespread enough to affect at least some relevant brain centers.  Fear is focused in the amygdala, aggression more widely in the limbic system, but interpretation of stimuli as frightening and reaction to fear by rational or irrational means are distributed over the brain, typically following neural pathways from the amygdala and other basal structures to the frontal lobes and the motor centers.  Eventually, all the brain is involved.  Any trauma can impact the fear-aggression pathways somewhere.  (See, again, Beck 1999; Bandura 1982.) 

            However, humans are tough.  They can adapt to terrible conditions, at least if they have support.  Werner and Smith (1982, 2001) studied children growing up resilient or otherwise.  They found that about ¾ of children raised in poverty and rough surroundings in rural Kaua’i in the mid-20th century did perfectly well.  These were the ones who had strong, reliable families.  Half the rest were redeemed by institutions—good schools, the military, and the like.  The final fourth were products of broken homes, and usually of abuse and neglect.  Abuse teaches children to abuse, and neglect teaches them to neglect.  Those children lived rough lives. 

            Resilience comes at a cost. Further studies have confirmed Werner and Smith’s findings about effective prevention, but have found that such resilience is accompanied by emotional fragility, physical stresses of all sorts including cardiovascular problems and metabolic syndromes, and sometimes a failure of resilience in key areas.  All are proportional to the difficulty of coping with the stresses in question.  Interventions are now able to help, but no one gets away unscathed from a harsh background (Hostinar and Miller 2019; see also Reynolds et al. 2019).

Infants have several states, including sleep and rest; fretting and whining; temper tantrums; and dependent loving and caring, combined with an exploratory interest in the world.  Adults break the fretting state into whining and complaining.  The temper-tantrum state develops into fear, anger, and hate.  Empowerment is always needed in education.

Infants start by feeling generalized discomfort when scared, wet, cold, hungry, or otherwise needy.  They cry for what they want.  Failing in that, they can bear it or become frustrated.  Over the first two years of life, frustration turns to anger.  Good parents teach children to bear when needs cannot immediately be met; bad parents punish the child for whining.  Young children quite normally throw temper tantrums if they are tired, frustrated, uncomfortable, scared, or in need of affection or a sense of control.  Ignored, these taper off; punished, they turn to lifetime anger.  This turns to hate if the child learns to hate from parents and peers.  Meanwhile, better-raised children learn to help, share, and be sociable. 

Adults usually acts from fear of losing social place, but the babyish causes—fatigue, discomfort, and the rest—still operate.  On the other hand, children learn to reason, to think things through, to obey, to be considerate, and to conform (for good or ill) at the same time they learn to throw temper tantrums (Tomasello 2019).   Security, especially security within a supportive circle of family, is the child’s greatest social need.  Children denied acceptance or other social validation lose security and become fearful, often acting out fear through anger.

            A human child with poor parenting may overcompensate, using learned but ineffective coping mechanisms to deal with weakness and fear, because of failure to learn other (and more appropriate) coping mechanisms.  Since humans are supremely social animals, the child learns to fear isolation, abandonment, hate, scorn.  Physical fears become less important; in fact, they are easily handled by a child or adult who feels that her social group “has her back.”

            Abusive childrearing produces adults who make up for felt deficiencies by using what they do have to bully others.  The unintelligent but physically strong schoolyard bullies beat up “smart kids” as a way of using what they have—strength to deal with ego threats caused by what they lacked.  The converse is the intellectual arrogance of many a physically less-than-perfect academic.  Weak fear due to failure to learn good coping mechanisms leads to abject conformity, especially conformity to ego-reinforcing notions like the superiority of “my” group to “yours.”  White supremacists are often those who fear or know that they have nothing else to feel supreme about.  Children, especially if female, may be exposed to sexual harassment, which is a form of bullying.  (It is not a form of romance or normal sexuality.  Men do it to dominate, control, and demonstrate power, not to be affectionate.) 

            In short, people begin as scared babies, who then, to varying degrees and in varying areas of their lives, grow up.  Most of us partially succeed and partially fail, and that is a dangerous combination.  We are fearful and defensive because of the remaining weakness and failure.  We use our strengths to defend—often to overdefend, and often to deflect our hostility downward, to those weaker than we are.  Caring for others is innate, but must be developed, and ways to be caring and considerate must be taught (see esp. Tomasello 2019)All cultures have rules about this, and all cultures have alternatives, including “nice” ones for everyday and less nice ones for dealing with actual threats and enemies.  The capacity to harm is also innate, and can be developed; harsh, unpredictable, gratuitously cruel environments bring it out.  Children as adults pay it forward: they often treat others the way they were treated as children.  This tends to be a default option.

            Learning when to use the appropriate coping mechanism is thus crucial.  Anything that empowers the growing child to take care of her own problems, by teaching proper and effective responses, feeds the good wolf.  This means that the child must be taught what to do—preferably as the situation unfolds; backed up for doing it; and backed up further in case the response is inadequate. 

            If the parent, peer, teacher, or elder then criticizes the child and takes over, “fixing” the situation that the child has “ruined,” the bad wolf gets a huge meal.  Few things feed the bad wolf better than deliberately weakening a child by telling her she can’t cope.  The resulting frustration and weakening turn into aggression eventually.  Widespread rejection follows, leading to still more anger. 

            Being raised by one highly critical parent and another parent who retreats and becomes passive is one common formula for producing a scared and defensive child.  Weakness and hypercritical judgment very often go together, either in the same parent or in a couple; perhaps hypercritical people attract weak spouses.  These couples can raise children who are hypersensitive and defensive, feeling that even the tiniest slight is a total attack on their personhood.  By contrast, if both parents are punitive but reasonably strong as persons, the child usually turns out well enough, but can become a bully; if both mild and gentle, the child becomes well-adjusted but often frail in the face of the world’s harshness.  Firm, but accommodating and open about communicating, seems to be the ideal parenting stance, but research is ongoing.

             A critically important point made by the psychologists is that a typical young child comes to depend especially on one specific immature defense mechanism, which then becomes the most stubborn and intractable problem in adulthood—the one thing most resistant to psychotherapy and life experience, and the one hardest to bring to full consciousness and self-awareness.  The bigot’s hatred and overreaction to threat are often the products of such deeply entrenched immature mechanisms.  Psychologists also find that it is challenges to precisely the most relied-on defense mechanism that bring out the greatest fear, anger, and reactive defensiveness in people.  If your favorite coping mechanism is racism, for instance, you will be more defensive about your racism than about other defenses.  Risk factors include a Manichaean worldview, and the idea that hierarchy is automatically appropriate and top-down control necessary.  In short, in ordinary life, much of the problem is that the default is always to stay with early-learned responses instead of self-improving, and with initial support groups instead of expanding one’s field to all humanity (on the above matters, the classic works of Ellis 1962 and Maslow 1970 remain useful).

            Conversely, nothing feeds the good wolf better than praising the child for doing what she could, while instructing her how to do even better next time.  Wolves feed on empowerment: empowering and supporting the child feeds the good wolf, empowering other people at the expense of the child feeds the bad wolf.  Empowerment means, among other things, teaching coping strategies that work (Cattaneo and Chapman 2012).  To work, they must be reasonable, which random violence and other evil behaviors are not.  (Adults can be coldly and rationally evil, but that usually comes later.)  Self-confidence and self-control, in particular, are the basic necessities to manage the weakness, insecurity, and anger that we have seen to be basic in hyperdefensive and scapegoating reactions.

            Somewhere in between is providing support without teaching proactive coping strategies.  A child who knows her parents have her back is in good shape.  But for coping methods she must rely on whatever methods are available.  She must copy or improvise.  These are rather random and unsatisfying methods, especially since copying without real instruction is not often successful.  The essential pieces of the strategy can easily be missed, or underemphasized.

Growing up with adult authority makes people tend to defer, adulate, and obey upwards in the age and status hierarchy.  This tends to cause them to displace hate downward, scapegoating the younger and weaker.  Abusive, erratic, cruel raising leads to adulating strongmen; usual parent-dominant tradional upbringing leads to conservatives.  Good parenting leads to children who develop into adults who can treat others as equals, and who are self-respecting and self-reliant. 

            Supportive and considerate parenting vs unsupportive and harsh parenting can be set up as a 2 x 2 table.  Supportive and considerate is ideal.  Supportive and harsh was the traditional European and frontier American way; it worked, in its way, for the time.  Unsupportive and undirecting yet gentle is more or less the classic “spoiling.”  Unsupportive and harsh is the abusive parenting that produces brutes. 

The normal order of learning a new skill is a very good one: from most simple and direct to most abstract.  Children learn to walk, talk, play musical instruments, and do homework by gradual steps, from simple and direct to abstract and complicated.  This is the way to learn civil behavior: from politeness formulas to basic considerateness and sharing, then to basic principles.  The simplest virtues are carefulness, civility, mutual aid, sociability, considerateness, and generosity.  Then they can move on to more abstract virtues. Teenage angst and misbehavior can be cured or alleviated by giving rights in proportion to responsibilities.  In teaching, exposure to real (and realistically taught) contexts (laboratories, field, great art) works; books and schoolrooms are slightly above neutral.  The result is that raising a child to be caring and sociable, but also to bear stoically the discomforts of life, feeds into a sense of justice, fairness, compassion, and social decency.  The family creates the basic psychodynamics.  The peer group provides the ways to express those—whether through bullying, random violence, and cruelty or through mutual help, support, and kindness (J. R. Harris 1998). 

            Finally, in a situation where control is lost, or where evil people are in control, everyone seems to regress not only into “following orders,” but into the combination of cowardice and hostility that drives brutality in the first place.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is very common among former soldiers, and more so among victims of genocide, and probably perpetrators also.  Post-traumatic stress is a risk factor for violence, but most PTSD sufferers do not become violent. 

13 Learning and Hating

Working back from a given violent act, we see it is grounded in anger, hatred, or callous doing-the-job.  The wellsprings are, most often, desires for material gain, or power and control, or social acceptance and respect, or desire to protect these, or—perhaps above all-desire to protect one’s group and self.  Sheer desire to kill can be a factor, in psychopaths and similar damaged persons.  Social pressures are extremely important and often determinant.  Cultural biases and cultural models of coping are also often determinant.  Factors exacerbating the situation can include anything from economic hard times to unsettled and chaotic social periods to ordinary irritants like hot days, smog, and confinement; these are outside our scope here.  Lest this all sound dauntingly complex, note that most evil can be explained by desire for goods, control, and respect, combined with unnecessarily harmful and hateful coping mechanisms taught by society or incorporated in cultural models.  The ramifications and manifestations of these are complex, but the basic framework is not inordinately so.

            One social and cultural force is pressure on young men to prove themselves by acts of social daring or self-sacrifice.  In warlike or violent societies, and sometimes even in peaceful ones, young men are under extreme pressure to be soldiers, fighters, or just “bad dudes.”  Young men are high in aggression and testosterone with or without cultural pressure, but they are peaceful enough in peaceful societies; their activity is used in work, or sports, or community service, or studying.  But in warrior societies it becomes “toxic masculinity.”

            Status emulation guarantees that the upper classes, elders, and superiors have more effect on this than the rest of us do.  “The people strive to imitate all the actions and mannerisms of their prince.  It is thus very true that no one harms the state more than those who harm by example…. The bad habits of rulers are harmful not only to themselves but to everyone.” Petrarch (as quoted by Sarah Kyle, 2017:157.)

            People clearly have a strong innate tendency to become hateful, cruel, and violent.  It is not a mere ability that society trains into us.  The generalized cognitive abilities to make computers, drive cars, and trap fish in weirs are all innate, in that any trained human of reasonable intelligence can do them; but humans do not have any innate tendencies to carry those specific tasks.  They do not make computers unless taught, within a society with a long history of technological development.  Evil is different.  Every known cultural and social group in the history of the world has had its cruel, brutal, murderous individuals, and the horrible record of wars and genocides proves that almost every human will act with unspeakable cruelty under social pressure. 

As long as humans are social animals with strong fight-flight-freeze responses, the chain from defense to hostility to evil is sure to be reinvented, and to become popular wherever displaced aggression is socially tolerated.  As long as human childrearing is imperfect, leading to weak but resentful children and adults, evil leaders will take advantage of that weakness and resentment.  Evil is not inevitable, and can be prevented, but it takes over when given even a small chance, due to the human fight responses to threat and stress.  Almost any person will become evil if pressured enough, but almost any person can be kept from evil if pressured in that direction.  Culture usually provides both good and bad models and teachings.

Part III.  A Bit of History

  1. Social evolution over time

All societies have three processes always operating: negative feedback loops maintaining the situation without change; cycles; and positive feedback loops producing slow progress or decline over long periods of time.  Progress has generally dominated throughout history, despite long declines like that of the Roman Empire.  Human groups in ancient times were generally patriarchal lineages with in-marrying women.  These developed into the vast fictive-ancestor lineages of nomad and mobile people from the Mongols to the Scots.  Much later, sedentary agriculture led to more association based on place, eventually leading to the nation-state.  It also led to many societies becoming matrilineal, with much more power to women, and often with the men doing the marrying-in. 

Over the last 50,000 years, there has been progress in science, arts, lifespan, food production, and other areas.  Complex large societies arose; they needed markets and government as well as norms—markets and political structures supplement norms in organizing at huge scales (here and below, see e.g. Christian 2004; McNeill and McNeill 2003; Morris 2010; Turchin 2006, 2016). 

Unfortunately, there has also been advance in the technology and practice of war, cruelty, and repression.  War is somewhat less common than it was in early civilizations (Pinker 2011), but bloodier and more technologically sophisticated.  Many technological advances were developed for war, and only later applied to civilian use.  More effort and money have gone into war than into almost any other sector of social action.  Violent death rates were always high (Wrangham 2018:238), ranging from less than 1 per thousand in peaceful modern societies to as many as 200 or more in some highly stressed tribes.  Wars and murders seem to have become less frequent (Pinker 2011; Wrangham 2018), but wars are far vaster in scope, and genocide has appeared as a major cause of death.  Evil leaders can appeal to group hate in a way not easily managed (though not unknown) in ancient societies. 

Also increasing is the extent and inequality of hierarchic social relations.  For countless millennia, people lived in small bands with little differentiation except by age and gender (Boehm 1999).  With the rise of complex societies came the rise of more and more unequal social relations, climaxing in the kings and emperors of old and the heads of state and CEOs of today.  This causes rapidly increasing competition for scarce positions of power, and more and more defensiveness on the part of those who gain such positions.

In agrarian societies, resentment and antagonism is directed against bandits and barbarians, as well as coups and religious deviants.  Early trade and commerce led to mercantilism and then freedom and democracy as the alternative, so the hopeful revolutions.  Early but full industrialization produced socialism and communism.  Later industrialization produced fascism, because elites were entrenched and powerful and good at oppressing and at divide-and-rule.  Resource squeezes made everyone worse off and less hopeful, thus easily turned to hate.

It thus becomes clear that hatred is a natural human response, but is socially engaged, manipulated, and deployed by the powerful to advance their own interests.  The most obvious case is war for gain—predatory invasion of the weak by the strong.  From the Assyrians to the European settlers of the Americas, and from the “barbarians” sacking Rome to the wars over oil in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, loot has been the driver of war.  However, it is not the only one.  Family politics, religious hatred, and even minor slights can push a tense situation into outright war.  In the modern world, where genocide and civil war are commoner than international war, it is most often the giant primary-production interests that mobilize hate and decide who shall be the victims.  They usually go after local weaker minorities, but anyone can be fair game.  On the other hand, class hate, dimly related to Marxism, may be the driver, as in Venezuela today.  The point is that hate does not exist in a vacuum.  It is deliberately manipulated and targeted by the powerful

Warfare in premodern times took place between rival claimants to the throne (often different branches of the royal lineage), between rival states and empires, between rival ethnic groups, and between religious factions.  In Europe, for instance, we see a progression from warring tribes to city-states to the Roman Empire with its frontier generals and barbarians.  After the fall of Rome, rival nobles assembled loyal knights and dragooned peasants into being arrow fodder.  Then the wars of religion dominated until the Treaty of Westphalia substituted nation-states for religious factions, and war became a battle of nations rather than of faiths.  Meanwhile, racism and ethnic hatred became dominant.  The wars of empires and nations at least call forth courage and self-sacrifice; ethnic, religious, and class hatred seem largely mean spite.

Playing over this goes the more general tendency of humans to be too tightly social, leading to group hate, or too individual, leading to selfish greed and corruption—Kant’s principles of aggregation and differentiation applying to public morality.  We can see that the racism and religious bigotry paralyzing America today are merely the latest in an endless sequence of powerful, evil people taking or maintaining power, control, and wealth by marshaling their troops through antagonism and hate.

            Religious hate grew out of identification of religion with rival powers, and then crushing the conquered people, and thus hating and repressing their religion.  Conquered Persian dualists, Jews, and then Christians were harassed in Roman Empire times.  After Constantine, Christians crushed non-Christians and “heretics.”  Racism as a visible, significant force (beyond simple ethnic prejudice) began by the late Roman Empire, but was not serious until the 16th Century, with the conquest of the Americas and much of Africa.  The expansion of the slave trade drove racism to a high point in and after the 18th century. 

            Haves vs have-nots is a permanent opposition in society, as Marx pointed out, but real classes arose only with fully developed ancient civilizations, and did not get serious till highly developed empires appeared.  In China, hate was mobilized along kinship (especially within imperial families), political sectors, and to a lesser extent region and ethnicity.  Improvement in rationalizing bureaucracy, terror, and surveillance help explain the increase in longevity of Chinese dynasties, notably the success of Ming and Qing against all odds.  It is increasingly difficult to expect revolution to succeed.  Eventually, the elites will turn on each other.  If they are evil leaders, since they are amoral and only hate and greed hold them together; they betray each other the minute they can.  This happened repeatedly in historic times (Ibn Khaldun 1958).

            Traditional societies rarely committed genocide in the modern sense.  Tyrants killed political rivals and their families.  Wars were total, with civilians not excepted.  But wiping out whole groups of non-offensive subjects of one’s own government was not common, except in cases of religious crusades against “heretics.”  Typically, a dynastic cycle ended when the rulers had grown so weak and corrupt that no one could put up with them any longer, at which point a general or invader or popular leader would mobilize popular discontent and bring down the regime.  This happened over and over in Europe, west Asia, China, and elsewhere, and is well understood (Anderson 2019; Ibn Khaldun 1958). 

            Actual genocides were rarer, and generally confined to religion.  They tended to occur when forces of modernity directly challenged the landlords and rentiers of the old order. Not only did a new economy threaten them; new ideologies and sciences challenged their whole self-justifying worldview.  Genocide, based on hate and fear, is thus quite different from (even though it may grade into) normal warfare and dynastic cycling.  Those latter phenomena are based on rivalry, especially for power, also for land and loot.  They always include hate of the enemy, but not usually hate of one’s own weaker groups.  Indeed, they may unite the whole polity against the common foe.

            Large-scale killers were often highly selective about their massacres.  The Mongols and other Central Asian conquerors were famously indifferent to religion, and even ethnicity (at least outside their own); they were equal-opportunity massacrists.  The Americans of the 19th century committed genocide against Native Americans and repressed African-Americans, but were fiercely independent otherwise; the Cossacks of old Russia were similar, hating minorities while triumphing in indepencence.  Today, independence is neither so desired nor so possible.  Voters motivated by hatred vote for strongmen, and put themselves under a yoke of tyranny, from the Philippines and India to the United States and Brazil.  This deadly mix has appeared before in times of rapid change.

The late Roman Empire saw violent repression, first of and then by Christians. Later, Europe, challenged by aggressive spread of trade, commerce, and new scientific knowledge from the Islamic world, resorted to the Crusades and persecution of heretics in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Spain’s Reconquista descended into genocide after the final conquest of the Muslims in 1492.  Then Europe’s own progress and religious ferment challenged old regimes in the 16th and 17th centuries, leading to vast religious wars that involved genocidal murder of opposing religious communities (including the Irish Catholics in Ireland).  In the 19th century, following the Industrial Revolution and its political revolutions, the forces of modernity rolled into eastern Europe, where the result was anti-Jewish pogroms and Tsar Nicholas II’s persecution of serfs and minorities, and into China, where rebellions ensued and the Qing Dynasty met these with reactionary measures.  In the early 20th century, new ideas, arts, and sciences challenged primary production, leading—among other things—to fascism.

These periods elevated tyrants such as Philip the Fair, Ferdinand and Isabela,Oliver Cromwell, and Empress Cixi.  They represented landlords and other rentier elites against the forces of change.  As in later centuries, such negative leaders were often marginal persons: individuals coming from remote regions, and often subjected to poverty and hardship when young.  Genghis Khan, Zhu Yuanzhang (the leader who drove the Mongols from China), and several Roman emperors fit this pattern.

Following Adam Smith (1910/1776) and other political economists, and oversimplifying them somewhat for convenience, we find that improvements on this warlike pattern developed in expanding economies, especially those dominated by the trade, commerce, and human resources sector of the economy.  That sector must invest in people to survive; it depends on skilled workers and innovation.  Economies dominated by rentier primary production—plantation agriculture, mining, fossil fuels, and the like—are regressive, and often repressive.  Agrarian societies from the Inca to Sumer to China wound up the same: city, king, court, bureaucracy, vast mass of farmers from rich to landless. 

Between enlightened traders and reactionary plantation owners are the majority of people—the ordinary workers and businesspersons who have to make a living today.  They are thus more concerned with whether the immediate economy is going up or down than with vast forces of Progress or Return to the Old Days.  Especially if they are in business, they default conservative, but can shift rapidly and easily rightward or leftward.

Class is also, famously, a relevant factor; it has diminished from great importance in the mid-20th century in American voting to near irrelevance now, with almost equal shares of rich, middling, and poor voting Democrat or Republican.  This has tracked the rise of social issues such as racism and medical care at the expense of concern for immediate economic returns.

In many traditional societies, “honor” and distinction came from killing and looting, not from honest work or trade.  Not only warlike but even quite peaceful agrarian societies shared this attitude.  Fighting was honorable, compromising and peacemaking dishonorable.  

One can predict with considerable accuracy the amount of evil in society by assessing the amount of rentier or primary-production-firm dominance of the political economy and the level of warlikeness of the culture.  Within equally agrarian societies, Afghanistan, rampant with landlordism and steeped in a heritage of violence already noted by Alexander the Great, compares with more peaceable Bhutan.  The other dimension—from agrarian to late-industrial—is seen in the conversion of formerly warlike societies to currently peaceful ones.  The Vikings, ruled by landholding and slaveholding earls, contrast with their peaceable descendants in modern Scandinavia’s world of trade, commerce, and education.

The ancient Greeks saw a cycle: democracy gave way to autocracy (monarchy or oligarchy), which gave way to tyranny, which collapsed and left the way open for democracy.  This proved less than predictive, but cycles from relatively open to relatively totalitarian societies and back do appear in many historical records (Ibn Khaldun 1958).

Really new good ideas spread from rich cores of trade and communication-based systems.  Military technology seems to spread fastest of all innovations.  Next come innovations in communication; people want to be in touch.  Then comes ordinary production.  Last comes the spread of morality.  Then in the twentieth century, primary production, especially fossil fuel production, took over, and now rules most of the world. 

            Critical to progress were several steps, mostly taken in Europe or China.  One was rapid discovery science, foreseen by the ancient Greeks, then developing between 1100 and 1600 in Europe.  Rationalized property rights and freer markets followed, for better or worse, in the 17th century.  The Enlightenment then emphasized law and recourse, with ideals of free speech, press, religion, assembly, and conscience.  (It is not mere coincidence that this took place at the same time as the explosion of slavery.)  Equality before the law for full citizens, and expansion of the citizen concept, came a bit later in the 18th century.  The logic led to a rapidly growing movement to end slavery, beginning in the mid-18th century and continuing till slavery was legally ended, though not ended de facto, in the late 19th.

The Enlightenment succeeded not just because of the rise of trade, commerce, and science.  Another key was the development of world trade too fast for any nation-state to control it.  Opportunity exploded, and traders managed it themselves, through international networks.  They had to deal, without government supervision, with people of very different cultures, faiths, and technologies.  This was one breeding ground of concepts of liberty, self-governance, tolerance, freedom of conscience, and personal responsibility.  One can compare the rapid rise of enlightenment in multinational Europe with its relative failure in East Asia during the centuries when the Qing Dynasty imposed its crushing weight on the East Asian world-system.

The Enlightenment did not invent the rule of law or welfare-oriented governments; Europe and China already had those.  What the Enlightenment brought were science and participatory democracy coupled with the ideal of freedom of conscience.

Another milestone was free public education, an idea from the early 19th century.  Through all of this, popular demand by people rising in society but left out by the elites was the usual cause.  It was always a fight: entrenched interests always opposed good changes, and religious elites were often the worst.  When self-interest combined with needs for fairness and equality, progress occurred.  The more normal human tendency to weather down and adapt to the system was always used by the elites to repress the masses.  So were hatreds of all kinds, as we have seen.

2 American Ideas

The Founding Fathers worked with a strong sense that we are all in this together and that my rights stop where yours start, sometimes phrased as “your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.”   Finally, they were aware that a society and its laws and economy exist within a moral shell, and that shell must be embodied in the laws and indeed in the whole system.  (They got this thoughtful perception from Adam Smith’s writings on morals.)  These basic principles lie behind the Constitution.

This led to emphasizing freedom of conscience, thus of speech, religion, ideology, assembly, and voting.  It meant free enterprise, within reason.  It also meant freedom from torture, warrantless search, and other abuses of government power.  It meant equality in justice, opportunity, and law, with protection in oppression.  It meant rule of law, not of men.  It meant presumption of innocence, protection of all, and mutual defense.

These were seen as necessary because evil so often wins unless actively stopped.  A polity must have balances of power, equality before the law, universal voting rights, full recourse (rights to sue, etc.) in the event of direct harm, and the other rights the Founding Fathers thought—wrongly—that they had guaranteed in the Constitution.  It is amazing how easily Republicans now get around those rights.

The United States failed at the beginning, in allowing slavery and in refusing citizenship to Native Americans while taking their land.  It failed again in the Reconstruction by not enforcing full civil rights, and by letting the carpet-baggers cream off wealth from the south.  These ills were eventually corrected, but not the lingering racism and power abuses that resulted.  These failures have led cynics to dismiss the entire American program, equality, freedom, and all.  This is not a helpful approach.  The Depression was much better managed.  Fairness and, eventually, civil rights followed from bringing some degree of justice to the economy.

While the world was wide-open, when exploration and colonization were running wild, and then as long as technology was increasing wealth faster than population, freedom and Enlightenment values flourished.  Today, with closing frontiers, people are rushing to make all they can.  Failing that, they support and follow the powerful, in hopes of at least holding onto something.  The poor have given up hope of getting rich; they can only hope to cut other, weaker groups down and take what little those groups have.  This is a negative-sum game.  Some cultures are much more prone to see the world as a zero-sum or negative-sum game than are others (Róźycka-Tran et al. 2015; Stavrova and Ehlebracht 2016).  The United States was formerly rather moderate in this regard, but negative-sum thinking has increased. Reform in US history has been strongly cyclic. 

The course is highly consistent.  A few idealists will see a problem and a solution.  If they are right, and if the problem gets worse, more and more people will be attracted to the cause, until a majority is on board and can prevail.  This happened with the Enlightenment values that drove the Revolution and the US Constitution.  The next major crisis was slavery: anti-slavery was early dismissed as crackpot, but with the progressive damage to the whole US economy by plantation agriculture with enslaved workers, anti-slavery prevailed (through war).  Next came the mounting criticism of deforestation and wildlife loss in the late 19th century, climaxing in Theodore Roosevelt’s environmental reforms.  The next crisis was the Depression, which led to massive economic reforms.  Then came environmental and food production crises in the 1960s, dealt with (inadequately) by laws in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Visionaries are always proposing new reforms, but these are picked up by the majority only if they are immediately practical ways of addressing real and worsening problems.  On the other hand, the opportunity allows the visionaries to pass many measures that the majority would probably not support otherwise.  The Bill of Rights, for instance, was added to the Constitution by Enlightenment visionaries; the Bill probably went beyond what the majority wanted at the time. 

All the crises after independence were caused by the reactionary behavior of the plantation and big-resource-firm sector.  Slavery at its worst led to the Civil War; suicidal levels of environmental destruction led to massive reform campaigns in 1890-1910 and 1955-1975; cutthroat speculative and rentier capitalism led to the Depression and resulting New Deal.

3  Progressive Erosion of Old Society

            The steady rise of giant firms has been noted, and protested, since the 1870s, but it continues.  It has had a steadily more distorting effect on the economy and on politics (this and what follows is largely common knowledge, but otherwise follows Anderson 2010; Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017; Putnam 2000; Turchin 2016; Snyder 2018).

            As folk society and traditional elite society collapsed with the decline of local communities and the rise of mass society (Putnam 2000), people became more and more dependent on giant corporations to integrate their worlds.  Politics became less and less public and more corporate.  A worldwide shift from lateral and community-wide association to top-down hierarchies, separate or competing, appeared.

            The broad contours of politics in the early 20th century made sense: the Republicans were the party of business, ranging from family farms to local businesses and up to large firms; the Democrats were the party of labor.  This led to reasonable dialogue (though also plenty of bullying and cruelty by bosses).  The change beginning in the 1920s, but not serious till the 1970s, was toward a Republican party uniting racism and giant reactionary firms, and eventually a Democratic party also becoming absorbed with identity politics more than with economic issues.  This has led to nothing but hatred, largely Republican racism and religious bigotry, but also some real reverse racism on the left.  Serious discussion of economic issues is increasingly contaminated or lost in a welter of mutual accusations.

            One of the first effects of the shift from a farm-and-small-business America to an urban one dominated by giant firms was the disappearance of folk society.  The old-time world of folk, elite, and town forced people to work hard, cooperate, and toughen up.  Now, life is easy but frustrating, especially for those who aren’t succeeding.  Bereft of the support of old-time communities and the opportunity to work with different types of people, humans become alienated, weak, and hence cowardly.  This leads to fascism.

            In traditional agrarian society, life was short and usually ended violently.  People tended to escape into religion.  They also had songs and folk literature to teach them that individuals mattered—that life and death need not be in vain.  Now, few are in that position, so political action is commoner.  In small-scale societies, religion was about spirit power, since controlling the uncontrollable was desirable and any control of anything helped.  Now, fear and overoptimism are the problems.  So, pragmatic proactive help become the main alternative to giving up.

            The decline of that world also led to the decline of folk and traditional culture after 1950, and then to the dominance of popular culture and passive consumption.  Arts deteriorated.  Great literature made people confront tragedy, intense emotion, and social and personal complexity; it became less and less appreciated.  The burgeoning interest in nonwestern cultures that taught people tolerance and mutual appreciation in the 1960s and 1970s waned, leading to increasingly dispiriting identity politics after 2000. 

            Perhaps most interesting has been the disappearance of the self-improvement agenda.  The humanistic psychology and personal development movements of the 1960s-1970s collapsed and left little trace, outside of improvement in counseling practices.  They succumbed to a backlash by people who relied on thinking they were tough, and often on outright bullying, to maintain their self-image.  Weak and defensive individuals were threatened by the whole notion of self-improvement.  They attacked it with a vengeance. 

            The arts succumbed to dominance by giant “entertainment” corporations.  They became dominated by faddism, conformity with the widest number, enjoyment as simply watching TV and playing video games.  The Depression and WWII led to a lullaby culture, the soothing and mindless pop culture of the early 1950s.  That gave way to a range of developments, from rich and complex to trivial, but ultimately mass culture settled on “action” movies, video games, and other superficiality.  Much of ordinary life settled on the least emotionally and cognitively involving forms: mindless music, wallpaper art, fast food.

            Political organization peaked in the 1930s and again in the 1960s with the civil rights and antiwar movements; solidarity, voter drives, demonstrations, teach-ins, and other forms of resistance thinned out.  Utopian experiments such as communes had a silly side, but they at least expressed hope; they are few and far between now. Only the Great Depression and WWII solidified people around progress toward the good.  The 60s got most people motivated, but not enough. 

            This preceded political decline.  Traditional culture had kept Enlightenment values, including the Founding Fathers’ values, alive.  As traditional cultures and educational forms disappeared, and Hollywood filled the gap, American politics shifted rapidly from democratic to fascist.

            What happened in politics was similar to what happened to food.  Decline of food traditions and rise of agribusiness corporations led to the rise of sugar, salt, and soybeans, with resulting heart trouble and diabetes.  The same rise of giant corporations led to the discovery, first in the plantation sector and then in the fossil fuel world, that political power came from a mix of lobbying and whipping up hatred to get right-wing votes.  This led to a rise of racism, religious bigotry, intolerance, and incivility—not just in the United States, but worldwide.  Face-to-face community has been largely replaced by virtual communities.  Among the casualties are newspapers, local helpfulness, and Robert Putnam’s bowling leagues—Putnam’s book Bowling Alone (2000) used their decline as a marker of the widespread decline of civic and civil culture in America.  With folk and community cultures dead and ideas of artistic quality gone, people collapse into a mass—Tocquevillian “subjects” as opposed to “citizens,” as Putnam puts it.

            The result is a pattern in which environmentalism, concern for fine arts, liberal politics, and community all decline.  Real wages and returns to labor decline.  Deaths of despair—suicide, drug overdoses, and the like—increase.  Conversely, even in recent years, science progresses; medical treatment improves, but not access to it; comforts of ordinary life continue to increase.

            Sexual mores and other Old Testament values relaxed as old-time farming and rural folk society disappeared.  This has certainly had its good sides, but also has led to a constant renegotiation of norms, not an easy task.

            In short, the traditional world of rural and small-town America, of Christian churches and local folksingers, of factories and workshops, is gone or fading.  Its economic underpinnings are dissolving, as hi-tech and smart machines replace workers and farming becomes concentrated in a few corporate hands.  It had its wonderful side, but also a very dark side.  The worst features of it—racism, religious bigotry, class oppression, and gender biases—are still very much with us.  Increasingly, older and less educated whites take refuge in those pathologies of the older world.  So do ordinary suburban older whites, who see their privileges challenged by upwardly mobile minorities. 

            All this would be manageable if the hatred were not used by the giant but downward-bound productive interests, especially the fossil fuel corporations.  They have funded much of the hatred and anti-science activity of the last few decades. 

            The Republican party has been captured completely by these corporations, and has become a vehicle for subsidizing big oil, big coal, big agribusiness, the military procurement and arms industry, and their allies.  It has thus become a party of white supremacy and military right-wing Christian religious agitation.  The Democrats have moved from the party of the working class into a position as the party of relatively upwardly-mobile groups: minorities, women, urban young people, the education and health establishments, and to some extent the hi-tech world.

            This new party alignment gives the Republicans a perfect platform to mobilize the weak defensiveness considered above.  Everyone, progressive or regressive, has some weak defensiveness within, if only because we all start as babies and never quite get over it.  We never take full control of our lives and eliminate all babyish crumbling in the face of out-of-control reality.  The Republicans, however, are placed to take advantage of it, via scapegoating and repression.  The Democrats only lose by it.  Weak defensiveness takes the form of lashing out at “whites” and “males,” censoring right-wing speech, and otherwise playing into Republican hands.  Democrats will have to be the party of self-control or they will lose all.

4  Decline from 2000, collapse from 2016

            The real key to what happened next was the rise of corporations that live by out-of-date production processes and by deliberately harming humans and the environiment:  big oil, big coal, toxic chemicals, munitions and “defense,” and the shady sectors of finance and gambling.  These are the home industries of the funders and leaders of the political right.  The core has been the linkage of big oil and the munitions-arms-military procurement industries.  They support each other.  They naturally attract those rich from gambling, shady finance, private prisons, the mafia, and similar interests.  They naturally defend themselves.  They have defined themselves into a state of war with the American people.  They flourish only by polluting, selling guns, resisting clean power, digging up mountains, and generally damaging the public interest.

Leaders in the United States include the great oil barons such as the Kochs, who funded global warming denial as well as the Tea Party, ALEC, and other Republican agendas (see e.g. Abrams 2015; Auzanneau 2018; Cahill 2017; Folley 2019; Hope 2019; Klein 2007, 2014; Mayer 2016; Nesbit 2016; many of these sources detail the enormous sums paid to congresspersons for special favors).  Even more extreme are the Mercers, who fund the major white supremacist and far-right hatred organizations and media (Gertz 2017; Silverstein 2017; Timmons 2018), and the Princes, including Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  These and their allies are the people who have most to gain from a government that lives by war and repression.  They are also the most heavily dependent industries on federal subsidies, contracts, sweetheart deals, loopholes, giveaways, and failure to enforce laws.  They are also the most in danger from a government that cares about people. 

Big oil, in particular, would be uneconomic without government support, because the costs of cleaning up pollution and dealing with damages would be insupportable (see Oil Change International 2017).  The CEOs would be in danger of prison time for their shady lobbying and deliberate release of pollution.  These industries that invest heavily in lobbying and campaigns.  Their fears and defensiveness are thoroughly understandable.  Fossil fuels receive over $649 billion in federal subsidies every year (Ellsmoor 2019; figures from International Monetary Fund), and plow a good deal of that back into the system via political donations, effectively bribing legislators to provide even more subsidies.  A vicious spiral is created.  They create another vicious spiral by investing much of the money in anti-science propaganda, from racism to global warming denial, and in whipping up hatreds.  They have been able to divide the voters and eliminate the chance of unity against the common threat that fossil fuels present.  Big Oil, and especially the Koch brothers, have spread their tentacles throughout the world.  Najib Ahmed, writing in Le Monde diplomatique, shows how “US climate deniers are working with far-right racists to hijack Brexit for Big Oil,” which “exemplifies how this European nexus of climate science denialism and white supremacism is being weaponized by US fossil fuel giants with leverage over Trump’s government” (Ahmed 2019).

            With this went an explosive increase in rent-seeking, quick money games, and financial shenanigans, leading to monumental inefficiency in the economy (Mazzucato 2018).  Corruption in government has greatly added to this.  The situation in which everyone is out for what they can get, at the expense of the system, is characteristic of the end phases of political cycles.

            Another casualty has been traditional conservatism.  The old union of small-government advocates, hierarchic law-and-order defenders, patriots, and security advocates has disappeared.  Most of them at least had some sense of honor and honesty.  They were also pro-environment, an attitude totally reversed now (as extensively documented by Turner and Isenberg 2018). The current “conservatives” favor big government interfering continually in people’s private lives (in sex, drugs, religion, media, and more), are indifferent to hierarchies (though loving strong-men), and make covert deals with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other countries against America’s obvious interests.  Their main concerns are using racism and religious bigotry to whip up support for the giant primary-production firms.  As to honor and honesty, one may allow the record to speak.

            The decline of cultures and their ideals came before the political decline, and before any economic effects.  Economic growth continues.  It seems that the last thing to be affected by a change in economic organization is the economy itself. 

            All the worst things that progressives and liberals feared over the last 50 years came together in a perfect storm in the Trump administration: attacks on democracy, freedom, equality before the law, the environment, science, minorities, the press, the poor, the workers.  One main driver has been the rise of inequality—especially the rise in power and wealth of the rich.  The rich are literally above the law; it is almost impossible to convict them of anything, given their ability to pay lawyers and bribe politicians.  Nazism and fascism have been revived, with even more focus on Big Lies than in Hitler’s Germany, and with even more fawning surrender of America to the most reactionary of the giant corporations.  There is no question that Trump is directly copying Hitler; Burt Neuborne has listed eleven pages of close, highly specific similarities (Neuborne 2019:22-33).  Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bed for years (Neuborne 2019:20), and sometimes uses Hitler’s literal words. The Big Lie and other fascist methods of rule and control are manifestations of weak fear and take advantage of it.  Since 2016 they have become the government. Nor is the United States unique; this is a worldwide movement (Luce 2017; Snyder 2018).

            The worst of that process is that it allows truly evil people, who are often motivated by extreme greed and hate, to get ahead.  Contrary to tropes of “the 1%,” most rich people are reasonable enough.  The problem is that the few evil, sometimes downright psychopathic, rich—the Kochs, Mercers, Princes, Trumps, and their ilk—are highly motivated to seek power.  Since they are ruthless and not restrained by morals, they outcompete others easily, and then become more and more lawless and thus more competitively successful.  When they get power, they use it vindictively.  They do not merely increase their wealth; they attack the rest of us.  True Trump supporters channel all their fear, frustration, resentment, anger, and spite against the less fortunate.  The segment of the left that is racist and sexist (hating whites and males) differ only in that they are secure and privileged enough to hate up, not down. Democrats should realize that the right wing now represents only the reactionary fraction of the super-rich.  They do not want economic growth; it would lessen their control by making their industries more and more obsolete.  They want a decline from which they can benefit.

            Evil ideology in the United States perfectly tracks economic evils.  The slave-based plantation world began it.  Continued decline of the rural south has made it more toxic.  It has spread first into other declining rural areas, then into declining manufacturing ones.  The “Southern Strategy” of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove was perfectly timed to take advantage of this.  The situation appears to be comparable in other countries.  The ties to giant-corporate primary production are clear.  Extreme hierarchy of power and wealth, and economic and social stagnation, are endemic to such systems. 

Much of this is direct, face-to-face politics.  Investigative journalism (e.g. Mayer 2016; Rich 2018) reveals that Trump was tied directly to McCarthy’s right-hand man, Roy Cohn; that the Koch brothers started the Tea Party and other right-wing organizations; that all these are directly connected by personal ties, and are also tied to powerful Democrats.  The extent of actual friendship and mentorship on the far right is far too little studied and appreciated.  This is not “conspiracy”; it’s long-standing networks of friendship, political aid, mentorship, and power-sharing, going directly back to the pro-Hitler activists of the 1930s via such ties as the Koch and Coors family interests.

The political conversion of the border south, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas from “blue” to “red” between 1970 and 2016 came with the decline of labor unions and small farms and the rise of giant primary-production firms in those states.  It was directly precipitated by a steady stream of right-wing propaganda telling people that their problems were not due to economic unfairness or mismanagement but to minorities.  This led to a massive flip, especially in 2016, from voting self-interest to voting hate.  Many seem to have become convinced that the minorities rather than the system (or the rich) were the source of their problems; others thought there was no hope except to keep the minorities down; but surveys and comparisons reveal and many or most simply voted because hysterical hatred had been whipped up against particular groups and persons.  People who had been feeding the good wolf were feeding the bad one.

One must go back to Hitler and Stalin to find anything comparable in terms of the sheer number of groups attacked by the Republicans in the 2016 and 2018 campaigns.  It results in cruelty—deliberately going after not only the poor and weak, but everything that helps people: education, medical care, sustainable resource use, etc.  These new leaders support and are supported by the war and gun industry and the fossil fuels producers, the mega-polluters, and almost no one else. 

Trump voting has been analyzed by Bob Azarian in Psychology Today (2019).  He sees, among other things, immediate concerns over morality; sheer fear, conservatives being relatively fearful; overestimating of expertise by voters; authoritarian personality; Trump’s ability to engage people as celebrities do; and, of course, racism and bigotry.  One can add a real fear of immigrants and Muslims, due to exaggeration and lies by Republicans, and a real fear of change and process, especially among less educated white males, who see themselves threatened by the rise of other groups.  Immigrants, who tend to be highly motivated and enterprising, do present a threat to such persons.  So do upwardly-mobile women and minorities freed from open discrimination in hiring.  So does the steady decline in community and folk society in the rural United States.  The Trump voters have their reasons to want to stop and reverse progress.  Diana Mutz (2018) reports similar findings; perceived threat to economic and social position dominated Trump voting.

            Current problems in the United States include a full-scale frontal attack on democracy: on free press, voting rights, civil rights, civility, and equal protection under the law.  Brian Klaas, in his book The Despot’s Apprentice (2017), provides a thorough account of these attacks, with many important and thought-provoking comparisons to tyrannies and despotisms around the world.  This attack is supported by the Big Lie technique, by exploiting religious and racial bigotry, by attacks on the poor, and by anti-scientific lies and misrepresentations.  Huge subsidies and special favors for giant corporations are now the rule, in a climate of corruption.  Clearly, American democracy and freedom are doomed unless Americans unite to save their best traditions (see Klaas 2017).

            The United States saw regime change in 2016-17, with the collapse of the 240-year-old Enlightenment traditions and the commencement of a regime dedicated to eliminating those.  Corruption in the modern United States guarantees collapse.  Most of it is legal.  Firms donate as they wish to politicians who vote on the issues that are critical to those firms.  Legislators vote on subsidies for firms that fund their campaigns.  The interests that depend heavily on subsidies and that also harm the general good through pollution or dangerous speculation become the biggest donors. 

            In general, the more socially tightly bound and the more hierarchic a society is, the more people unite in hating and lowest-common-denominator social presentation.  Progress and individual tastes divide.  The far right has learned to unite followers not only by arousing bigotry, but also by providing lowest-common-denominator entertainment (video games, trash music, and the like) that debase individuals and make them conform at a bottom level.  George Orwell foresaw this in 1984 and commented extensively on it in his essays.

The war on science and public truth gets more serious as the Trump administration gains more and more control of departments and agencies, and censors speech, cuts funding for science, and denies scientific facts (Friedman 2017; Sun and Eilperin 2017; Tom 2018).  Many Republicans have come to hate and fear education, especially higher education; a poll show that most oppose and distrust it (Savransky 2017).
            The few giant firms that support right-wing politics to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year now control the United States, through the Republican Party.  The 2017 tax cuts, opposed by 75% of voters and appealing only to the rich, show this dominance clearly. 

            Suicide, opiate abuse, and Trump voting are all strongly correlated; they are at high levels in the same places, including rural counties in Appalachia and the northern Midwest (Snyder 2018).  They indicate a level of despair in these downwardly-mobile areas.  Since these areas are overwhelmingly white, much of the despair translates to anger against minorities who are supposedly taking the livelihood or at least the social status of the white workers. Diana Mutz (2018) found that voting for Trump tracked perceived threats to group status, not economic woes.  The suicidal tip of the iceberg reveals the degree to which rational self-interest, as normally understood, fails to explain right-wing attitudes, in the United States and elsewhere.  Mass shootings, suicide bombings, genocides, and voting for amoral strongmen are manifestations of a self-destructive level of hate and fear.

            In short, the United States faces a unique crisis, involving a shift far to the right of anything seen before except in the Confederacy before 1861.  Racist and religious prejudice financed by giant firms are taking over politics (Beauchamp 2018; Lopez 2017; MacLean 2017; Metzl 2019).  From the farthest right, there are calls for civil war and mass killings (Nova 2017).  Justice is corrupted at the highest levels (Eisinger 2017; Neuborne 2019).  Democracy is suffering from increasing distortion (Browning 2018).  The human costs are far worse than most people realize.  For example, American children are 76% more likely to die before reaching 21 than children in other developed countries; high infant mortality and enormous levels of gunshot deaths are the main causes (Kliff 2018).  Even Francis Fukuyama, famed for his overoptimistic views of the future, has recognized the darkness (Fukuyama 2016).

             Politics becomes more emotional, more passionate, and less civil, as shown by Lilliana Mason in her book Uncivil Agreement (2018).  An increasing number of young, uneducated white men have flocked to Trump’s standard.  They are frightened by the rise of minorities and immigrants, and of more educated workers, all of whom compete directly for economic position.  In a world where memories of the 2008 recession are still fresh and where wages are stagnant, these fears are expectable.

            An economic downturn or fear of losing the 2020 elections could precipitate dictatorship and its inevitable result (Neuborne 2019:227-228).  It is possible that the Republican administration will crack down around 2020, declare a state of emergency, suspend the Constitution, and begin full-scale genocide (on this possibility see Goitein 2019).  The Republicans, like Hitler (and apparently copying him), have engaged in widespread hatred.  Trump, in campaigning and in tweets, has attacked Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, liberals, poor people, feminists, and others beyond counting.  Followers have added their voices, sometimes advocating extermination of gays (as preacher Kevin Swanson and several other right-wing “Christians” have done).

The centrists, liberals, and moderate-conservatives of the United States have very little time to unite and stop this.  Without unity, it is unstoppable.  The stalwart unity of the reactionaries and disunion and mutual criticism on the left are expectable and typical of periods of declining empire.  The people who were dominant want it all back, and what should be the rising and progressive fraction are despondent and easily set against each other.

            The center and left in the United States have recently fallen back on being “the opposition”—opposing rather than proposing.  We need to borrow a leaf from parliamentary systems of government.  These usually have a government-in-opposition: a shadow cabinet made up of opposition figures who discuss policy and plan what to do if they cycle back into power.  The United States now needs a Democrat group who can develop policy and unite the party around it, via opposition figures serving as virtual cabinet ministers, heads of agencies, and the rest of the government machinery.  History teaches that people must go against something to unite successfully.  We can only do that in the name of a higher, nobler, more inclusive goal.  Even Hitler knew enough to do it.  We certainly should.

            We have seen how certain “progressives” of the 2010s failed disastrously by opposing their antagonism toward men and whites to right-wing antagonism toward women and minorities.  One does not fight fire with fire in a gasoline storage depot.

5.  A Dark Future

            We have a new mode of production, that unites China, North Korea, and Venezuela with the United States despite alleged differences between “communism” and “capitalism.”   The new mode is one in which giant primary-production corporations, especially oil, coal, and agribusiness, control the economy.  They are tied closely to government by subsidies and special favors and rules as well as by bribery and corruption.  In other countries, they are actually a part of government.  Big oil and big coal—the reactionary energy-suppliers that should now be displaced by solar and wind power—have an especially distorting effect, because they are in such desperate need of maintaining political reaction and fighting environmental protection.  Their role is like that of slavery and the slave trade in past times, not only the Atlantic trade of the 18th and 19th centuries but also the Byzantine and Genoese slave trade from the Black Sea region in the Middle Ages.  All these had enormous distorting effects on politics and culture, driving reactionary and anti-Enlightenment views and policies.  The thousand-year cultural stagnation of the Byzantine Empire seems due to this.  Relying on reactionary and harmful methods of getting basic energy is culturally fatal.

            Capitalism in the narrow sense—control of society by capitalists—is dead.  If “neoliberalism” ever existed, it does so no more.  (The term has been used so loosely that it has no established meaning; it once meant the extreme free-market view.)  Giant firms working through tyrannical governments are the future, or at least the foreseeable future.  Since the rapid growth of these extractive industries cannot go on much longer, a hard limit will be set within 100 years (and probably within 50), leading probably to mass starvation, hopefully to some search for solutions.

            Even the dinosaur firms are somewhat horrified at what is happening in the US, Turkey (Altınay 2019), Hungary, and elsewhere, but they cannot escape it now.  They depend on racists, religious fanatics, and other extremists.   The right wing worldwide has abandoned traditional conservatism in favor of an agenda that is anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-health-care, anti-poor, anti-young, anti-old, anti-minority, religiously bigoted in favor of extremist right-wing beliefs, anti-women, militarist, gun crazy, violent, pro-corporation and anti-taxpayer, corrupt, pro-unequal treatment and inequality, opposed to all human and civil rights, pro-dictatorship, anti-freedom of conscience, strongly hierarchic.  In their world, the powerful can do what they please and are above the law, the weak do what they are told.

            Primary production by itself is not the predictor of evil.  Evil does come from the primary-production end of the economy, but only from the fraction of it that is controlled by powerful landlord or corporate interests.  The evil done in the world for the last 200 years has been largely at the bidding of plantations, fossil fuel companies, agribusiness, and related interests.  The driver is the slave-worked plantation and its modern descendants:  an economy based on a tiny, rich, powerful elite ruling a vast servile labor force of which most are expendable and can thus be killed in unlimited numbers to maintain discipline or simply for convenience.  Very different were the old monarchies, even tyrannies, which could not kill at will—they usually could not spare so much labor.   

            In the future, worldwide, concentration of power and wealth will go on, while resources diminish and global warming runs on apace—unless the human race sees fit to stop fighting and hating and start working for the common good.  The economy remains one of throughput, as opposed to efficiency and recycling. 

            The Republicans, and equivalent parties in other countries from Russia to Turkey to Brazil, are now trapped.  They depend financially on a handful of giant corporations that are increasingly acting against the interests of the majority, and are increasingly dependent on bribing politicians for support—including exemption from laws, especially laws protecting people against physical damage.  China’s tobacco industry operates with the full support of the government, though tobacco kills 1.2 million Chinese a year, because the government depends on tobacco taxes and many individual politicians depend on bribes (Kohrman et al. 2018).  The oil interests occupy a similar position in the United States.

            The future after 2030-2050 is clear enough: the world will move toward emulation of existing top-down primary-production systems.  These are recapitulating the society of the old agrarian empires.  Some 20% of the population will be starving, 65% barely surviving, 10% secure but not well off, 4% well off, 1% ruling and super rich.  There will be a steady downward sift as population falls, first from starvation, then from disease as health care gets cut back. 

            The world has made a collective decision to have one final orgy of consumption, rather than converting to sustainability and assuring a future for our children and grandchildren.  This appears in the rise of fanatically anti-environmental regimes in the United States, Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro, and elsewhere.  The rise of strongmen—individuals who specifically and explicitly violate laws and morals to show they are above such things—has given us fascist leaders feeding on hate not only in those cases but also (currently) in Hungary, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Poland , Russia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and elsewhere.  Such strongmen above the law are recorded in the most ancient texts; Nebuchanezzar was an early one, followed by a whole list of Roman emperors, then such conquerors as Tamerlane and Henry VIII.  The Greek and Roman historians already had the type thoroughly described.  They always have the support of publics who feel threatened by change and progress, especially the poorer members of majorities, but also the primary-production and rentier interests.  Today, big oil and urban mobs take the place of a team formerly made up of rentier landlords and rural laborers.

            Today’s strongmen share a whole range of characteristics.  First and foremost, they sanction their rule by appeals to extremist religion or its ideological equivalent (especially communism).  This religion is virtually identical whether called “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Jewish,” “Buddhist,” or “socialist.”  It sanctions total power in the hands of the ruler; repression of women, often to the point of rendering them passive vessels of men; violence in defense of the faith; denial of equal rights to those not in the specific cult in question; and extreme opposition to the messages of peace, love, harmony, forgiveness, and charity that are the hallmarks of the actual faiths claimed.  Second, they lead attacks on weaker minorities, whether political, ethnic, religious, or lifestyle. 

Juntas with similar amoral characteristics, but lacking the strongman image, control another few dozen countries.  Democracy is on the wane worldwide.  Strongmen sometimes limit themselves to military dictatorship (as currently in Egypt) but more often invoke full-scale fascist regimes, with ethnic hatred, fusion of government and giant corporations, militarism, glorification of force, and other fascist principles.  They are skilled at mobilizing otherwise peaceful, passive majorities against minorities.

            In all cases, the fundamental ideology is one of rigid hierarchy, with respect or adulation due to superiors and stronger individuals, contempt and oppression due to those below.  Callousness or contempt of the poor and of less powerful miorities shades over into outright sadistic treatment, of which the ultimate form is full genocide.  This ideology follows from the “conservative” reading of Nietzsche (which I accept as the correct one). Nietzsche did not inspire it—he properly credited it to the more authoritarian side of ancient Greek thought—but he expressed it, and his expression inspired the Nazis, the Randians, and others who went well beyond his glorification of power into outright glorification of mass deaths. 

This form of thought animates many a weak bully, who invariably calls out his opponents as “weak” or “snowflakes.”  It goes with dismissal of all well-meaning public projects as “fantasy,” but glorification of the military and of warlike adventuring.  It also, as pointed out repeatedly by George Orwell, goes with ferociously anti-intellectual, anti-nature, and anti-art attitudes.  Orwell’s portrayal of destruction of high culture and promotion of pop trash in 1984 and Animal Farm is expanded in most of his essays.  It turned out to be eerily predictive of the Republican preference for a reality-TV star and public buffoon over a whole slate of veteran politicians.

The difference from the old days is that with better means of surveillance and massacre, monitoring and genocidal elimination of dissidents will replace the wars and campaigns of old.  North Korea, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and several Middle Eastern countries already display this regime.  Turkey, Thailand, India, the United States, Israel, Venezuela, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and several other countries are moving rapidly toward it.  Many of these are oil countries; most have powerful primary-production interests dominating their politics.  Interesting exceptions include Hungary and Israel, which have diversified and progressive economies but have gone fascist.  More interesting are the countries with powerful primary-production interests that are not going fascist.  Norway and Canada depend heavily on oil, but are developed countries, so are more diversified.  Bolivia, Zambia, and a few other countries are anomalously liberal for countries dominated by extraction.

            The “base” for the leaders of these countries seems largely the same, especially in the cases of the United States, Brazil, Turkey, Hungary, and Russia, and it is similar to Hitler’s base in Germany.  Older people of the dominant ethnic and religious group, especially if involved in traditional occupations like farming and small business, make up most of it, so that rural areas are solidly right-wing even if cities are solidly liberal.  The big businessmen in dinosaur firms and the rootless young men (and some women) of the dominant groups are heavily involved.  Puritanical religion, as opposed to liberal or social-oriented religion, is heavily involved.  Less educated or more traditionally trained individuals from the dominant ethnic and religious groups are overrepresented.  The young, the minorities, and the occupants of socially oriented or new-type occupational roles are less involved.

            The common thread seems to be that wealth is rapidly increasing but is being captured by the top 1%, while the masses stagnate economically.  The most frustrated and resentful are the less progressive fractions of the majority ethnic groups, and they are the drivers of the fascist trend, as they often were in the earlier fascist wave of the 1930s (a point made by Edsall 2018).  Really rough times have sometimes led to fascistic or psychopathic leaders taking over, but real hardship often tends to make people unite behind a capable leader rather than a merely evil one.  The breakdown of the United States in 1860 gave us Lincoln; growth appropriated by the rich while working-class whites lost out gave us Trump.

            Democracy, in the end, may prove unstable—a brief interlude between the monarchies of the past and the fascist tyrannies rising in the present.  Resource crunches may simply make it impossible for the good to prevail.  However, this is not necessary at present.  We can stop the downward slide.

            There is one striking conclusion that emerges from all:  Evil is almost always due to power challenged.  Rulers consolidating dictatorship, totalitarian rulers under threat, schoolyard bullies dominating weak but smart kids, insecure and inadequate husbands beating wives, politicians facing trial, oil company bosses facing better energy generation and consequent loss of power and position, druglords facing upstart thugs all have this in common, and above all majorities facing imagined challenge by immigrants and minorities. 

            The only hope lies in eliminating total power and restraining by law and superior force those who abuse power.  This will not be adequate, but it is the basic first step.

6.  A Final Note

            Many people of the younger generation now appear to be giving up, saying “The United States has always been like this.”  They can point to a bloody history of slavery, genocide of Native Americans, internment of Japanese and (some) Germans, Jim Crow laws, denial of the vote to women, the Texas Rangers and their institutionalized harassment of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, anti-gay violence, and much more. 

            However, those ills have always been challenged and all were eventually stopped, or at least made illegal.  Slavery and racism go on, but underground.  The campaigns to stop them were widely supported, and involved much heroism and sacrifice.  Slavery was stopped by a bloody war.  The women’s suffrage movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and other movements involved a great deal of bloodletting. They prevailed in the end.

Part IV.  What to Do About It?

1. Trying to Cope

            Most communities and states have systems of checks and balances.  It is when these break down, or are deliberately dismantled, that the psychopaths and hatemongers take over, and genocide can begin.  We have observed above that the two commonest reasons for murder, whether genocide or individual, are desire for power and desire for acceptance and approval.  Frustration of these leads to escalating conflict, especially when someone with an unusually high lack of perceived control or of perceived approval feels frustrated in those needs.  The more the perceived weakness and failure, and the more the frustration, the more the overreaction to a slight, and the more the resulting conflict spins out of control.

            Throughout history, people have had to cope with human evil.  Religion has been by far the main and most important way, over and above ordinary community solidarity.  Religion has produced countless saints, sages, holy men, holy women, teachers, and meditators, many of whom were genuinely virtuous people—though many were not, at least by most modern standards.  Religion has been the carrier vehicle for most of the moral messages in human history. 

            However, religion has, notoriously, been the excuse for many of the most horrific mass murders.  No religion has a notably better track record than any other.  Christianity became the excuse for the Crusades.  Islam moved all too quickly from a call for unity and peace to a call for jihad.  Monotheistic religions appear to have a worse record than others, but the others are far from perfect.  Classical Greek stoicism and related philosophies of ataraxia (suppressing desire) became excuses for expanding the Greek and Roman empires.  Even Buddhism, which explicitly bans violence and teaches compassion to all beings, became the religion of the samurai, and has been the excuse for countless killings over time, including two of the worst genocides in modern history: the long-continuing campaigns to exterminate the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.  There are many other cases in history.  The Rohingya massacres should end the stereotypes about peaceable Buddhism and violent Islam widely current in American society.

            The basic problem with religion is that it claims to have the one absolute truth.  This leads to intolerance for other claims, even obviously correct ones (see the fate of evolution by natural selection, as a theory, in religious societies).  Moreover, organized religions generally have organized hierarchies, often with a single apical leader, and such hierarchies inevitably reprise Rummel’s principle:  “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely” (Rummel 1998).  The same dismal fate occurs with religion-like ideological systems, notoriously including communism and fascism.  

Since all cultures and traditions include alternative morals and moral codes, religions that are founded on impeccable principles of love, care, justice, and empathy always develop countertraditions that teach hate, cruelty, and butchery, from human sacrifice to burning heretics at the stake.  These are then often held-especially by rulers consolidating power—to be the highest of moral goods, superior to the everyday care and help.  Ordinary selfish greed can be handled; sadism considered as highest morality is harder to control.

The alternative is not abandonment of religion or of truth, but of expanding the basic principle of intelligent enquiry: we are searching for truth but have not found it all, and the more people cooperate in searching for truths, the better we all do.

            There is a common theme of religion turned evil: it is obsessed with control, especially control over the more vulnerable and less dominant members of society.  The clearest and most obvious common theme of religions that harm is that they focus on harming and oppressing women.  This is the distinguishing feature between right-wing and liberal Christianity, extremist and ordinary Islam, ultra-Orthodox and reform Judaism, extremist and ordinary Buddhism, and so on throughout the world’s religions.  Repression of women usually carries over to repression and abuse of children (“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” a folk version of Proverbs 23:13-14).  Degree of intolerance for heresies, including the most minor and trivial divergences from practice, also tracks religion turned harmful; the opposite is ecumenism or tolerance.

            Religions all seem to fall into the trap of seeing ordinary innocent need-satisfaction and fun as “sin,” while social jockeying for position and control is taken for granted, and even put to evil use to promote the faith.  No religion seems to face the obvious fact that most evil in the world is done to maintain social position or control.  Religions have hierarchic orders, organized monasteries and priesthoods, and so on, thus leaving themselves open for the worst sins of all while fighting the trivial ones. 

            Killing desire, the goal of some religions and philosophies, frequently succeeds in killing desire for the morally good, while leaving hatred intact.  At best, it allows people to avoid confronting the world, including its evils.

            Some argue that religion is “the problem,” but the alternatives do not have a good track record.  Nationalism, fascism, capitalism, and communism are the leading ideologies developed as alternatives.  Stalin and Mao repressed religion (all religion) with even more sadistic enthusiasm than Christians in the 17th century demonstrated in repressing heretics. 

            The problem is clear: all these are social, all of them define groups, and it is social group hatred that is the main and usual problem.  Religions usually blame greed and lust, but cannot get rid of them.  The real problem is social hate, and the religions do not even try to get rid of it.  They often cause it.  Religion and its imitators provides communitas, but also unreal abstractions and unprovable visions.  People then commit to those, and carry out real murders in support of them.  In short, grand ideological frameworks are not going to save us.

2. First Steps to Policy: Evaluating What Helps

            From what went before, it appears that the current problems facing the world are best conceptualized under five heads, from more specific and immediate to general and deep-rooted:

            Saving the environment, especially from dinosauric interests such as Big Oil and Big Agribusiness.  This means protecting biodiversity, switching immediately and thoroughly to renewable energy, and being as sustainable as possible—by whatever measure is useful.

            Restoring the rule of law, at the expense of the fascistic despots that now run all the largest nations and many of the smaller ones.

            Fighting racist, religious and ideological bigotry and hatred, by teaching tolerance, valuing diversity, and social solidarity.

            Getting people to stop, think, learn, and make reasonable decisions, instead of going with exaggerated media-driven overreactions.

            Above all, the real back story: dealing with the chronic social fears and stresses that create most of the problem.  This requires fair, responsive, responsible governments and leaders.  Such are now exceedingly rare, and the worst sort of strongman leaders control dozens of countries.  Restoring fair, equitable governance is clearly basic to security and thus to reassuring people, reducing threat, making individuals feel capable of dealing with threat, and thus greatly reducing the drive to hate and harm.

            We also desperately need an educational system that will create and foster self-confidence, self-control, concern for quality of life, and dedication to self-improvement.  These are necessary to blocking hatred and defensiveness.  People need to see themselves as independent agents improving the world, or at least their own lives, rather than followers and mindless conformists.

Obviously, we also need to increase such basic amenities as medical care, education, and justice.

To do all this, we will have to work on technology, ideology, morality, and praxis.  What follows, for most of the rest of this book, is heavily moral.  It will sound sententious to many, but I believe there is a need to establish an agreed moral ground as well as dealing with practical issues and stopping violence.

            The rest of this section will be largely devoted to my ideas on these topics.  I claim no great originality, but will not be citing literature except where I am directly using someone else’s ideas.

            In general, social change comes from individuals working within existing structures, often modifying those structures in the process.  There is a front story of individual decisions, a mid story of human context, and a back story of demography, climate, existing rules and laws, and historical contingencies that create a “path dependent” situation.  Charismatic or brilliant leaders succeed, but only in hopeful times.  They cannot do much in reactionary times and regimes.  Democracy helps, but reactionary democracy does not.

            Good behavior does not come easily.  One must not only be moral, but—more importantly—able to deal rationally and as coolly as possible with actual harms and stresses. The innate impulses toward developing morality stem from human needs for warm sociability.  As we have seen, developing these requires at least some support, empathy, and empowerment of children growing up, and self-efficacy among adults.  Since people being much worse than many of us once thought, we need stricter laws and sanctions.  Recent events worldwide have proved that we most especially need laws against malicious lying for political reasons.  We also need much stricter sanctions against betrayal, bullying, and hate crimes.  We need far better civil rights protection.   The Founding Fathers lived at a time when politically active people could be assumed to be at least somewhat brave and responsible. Not now.

Violence normally requires weakness and irrationality to drive it, so strength and reasonableness help.  However, there are exceptions.  Violence is the default recourse and first recourse in warrior cultures, though mostly in intergroup relations.  Culture enters in to tell individuals when to be violent.  In any society, violence can be dealt with only by strict, fair laws, with no corruption.  A wider moral shell is necessary, but not sufficient.  There must be law and order with firm, impartial enforcement; norms of peace; conflict resolution mechanisms, formal and informal, general and specific.  Experience teaches that there must also be something adventurous but nonviolent for young men to do.  Ordinary sports appear to fail at this, but exploring, seafaring, and the like are available.  Peace is also helped by an expanding economy that raises all boats, or at least prevents groups from sinking.  This need not be ecologically ruinous; we can expand into sustainable energy and services instead of mass-produced bulk goods.

Recall that it is easier to unite people against a common enemy, and to get them to follow orders if those orders involve destroying a hated or despised group, than to unite people in the cause of love and care.  People are sociable, and usually loving and caring to their close kin and friends, but fear and hate dominate public interaction unless rigidly combatted.

The one thing that almost everyone agrees on, in politics, is that the first requirement for a government is that it protects its people.  Until now, that has been interpreted as military protection, with economic protection added to the list in the 20th century.  Today, the dangers to a given citizenry are, first, environmental (especially climate change); second, genocide and related corrupt and violent internal politics; third, preventable diseases and health risks.  The first and third were not manageable by government when the Founding Fathers wrote.  The second was, but was far less a problem than external invasion; such is no longer the case. 

The citizenry also has a right and a need to be protected from hatred and hate crimes, and from major loss in quality of life, as by loss in aesthetic opportunities, nature, historic monuments, and the like.  Protection of economic benefits by managing the economy well is clearly necessary, but now less important than preventing the catastrophic disasters that climate change and pollution are bringing about.

3.  A different kind of civilization

            An ideal to strive toward is a civilization depending on growth in environmental and cultural amenities rather than mass-production of manufactured goods.  We currently measure economic growth and development by the amount of value created by human activity, rather than by the amount of value overall.  Mining, manufacturing, and any form of resource-transforming count—even if all they are doing is producing pollution (Anderson 2010). Often, this means that pure destruction is highly valued on paper, though it brings nothing but harm to actual people.  Preserving nature, allowing environments to recover, and creating personal amenities not traded in the market do not count.  Art and craft production does not count unless it is counted in the manufacturing and sales statistics.  Singing songs for one’s children does not count, but polluting the air with hideous electronic music does. 

            An opposite model of how to run a civilization existed in old Southeast Asia.  Nobody assessed economic growth, though the governments did tax value created.  What mattered was saving forests and fruit trees, growing rich and complex crop assemblages, creating beautiful arts, living happily, and letting others live as they wished.  Societies were ruled by kings, but were astonishingly free and open.  The landscapes were beautiful, and got richer, lusher, and more diverse over time, because agriculture was devoted to producing human food rather than industrial goods.  There was some war and killing, but nothing remotely like what we have seen in the past 100 years in the world.  The one great problem was disease, which was rampant, but with modern medicine this has been stopped, and lifespans are comparable to the west.  The problems now are rapid population growth in a context of even more rapid shift to western industrialization and destruction.  Similar, if less materially successful, cultures existed in other areas worldwide.  The Maya of Mexico and Central America have been notably good at maintaining ecosystems, for instance.

            We are not going to return to Southeast Asia in 1900, but we can use their design principles: a world where people are helped by moving toward the more natural, more simple, more beautiful, and more sustainable.  Our current industrial civilization sets all its incentives, subsidies, and accounting in the opposite direction: valuing destruction of nature to make vast and complex amounts of ugly stuff by unsustainable practices.

We need to value trees, grasses, gardens, birds, fish, landscapes, clean water, health, good food, beautiful art and music, and other amenities, rather than sheer throughput of materials.  Bhutan, basically a Southeast Asian state in economy and ecology though culturally and linguistically Tibetan, has in fact done this, measuring its “gross domestic happiness” via such indices.  They show a genuine alternative, a way out of our rush to collapse.

4.  Education

To recapitulate:  the most direct and basic cause of evil is anger turning to hate and hate turning to violence.  This usually comes from strong reaction to social slights, threats, and harms.  Escalating anger leads to fighting.

In such cases, the food of the bad wolf is brooding on insults and personal offenses.  Weak and defensive individuals, especially those that have physical power (often in the form of guns) but lack of perceived self-efficacy in social life, are the most avid consumers of that food, and the most dangerous of people.

On the wider scale, genocides and mass killings occur when ruthless leaders take power through extremist ideologies, using those ideologies to whip up hatred that unites masses against victims.  In this case, there is an initial coterie of zealots and then a vast mass of weak, conformist followers who allow their everyday frustrations and resentments to be mobilized in the cause of destruction.  Once again: the food of the bad wolf is ruminating on minor slights and harms, in this case leading to weak and defensive persecution of scapegoats.  The weak and defensive conformists are the voters who vote for vicious dictators, the passive enablers of dictatorial coups, and then the easily-swayed subjects of brutal regimes.

Part of this food for the bad wolf is the insidious thought that some people don’t matter.  Education must also teach people to control hostility and aggression, the real problems in cases of hatred.  Teaching students that hatred and unprovoked aggression are unacceptable—morally wrong and socially destructive—is obviously necessary. To feed the good wolf, we need to feed the irenic and full-person sides of human nature.  The best food for good wolf is reflecting that every being is important, and every human deserves consideration.  Common decency and honesty would be enough to keep the good wolf fed and the bad one at bay.   Surely schools, media, and public life can teach that much. 

Education therefore needs to talk at length about domestic violence, bullying, genocide, and war.  All educators—including parents and, indeed, everyone—must teach young people not to hate, not to brood about trivial slights, and not to escalate conflict.  Anger and fighting have their place, but overreaction and hatred do not.  People need to be taught about bullies and the strongmen who are bullies writ large.  They also need to grow up in a world of enforced laws against such behaviors, to get a sense of the need for the rule of law.

Conflict resolution is thus important.  Children and adults need to learn how to deal with conflicts other than by angering and fighting.  This should be combined with teaching them not to displace their fear, stress, and aggression.  Specifics include better parenting and better advice and counseling.

Education must return to teaching civics and basic civil morality—not elaborate or puritanical rules, but simple common decency.  American history must go back to teaching the ideals that founded the nation and have continued to improve over time.  American education has suffered terribly from both jingoistic idolization of America, denying its past of racism, genocide, and slavery, and hypercritical focus on such ills at the expense of recording the ideals and the progress toward them.  One would hope for education in the great literature and arts of the past—the whole world’s past—but teaching the “classics” did not save Europe from fascism and communism, so perhaps something was missed in the old days of liberal education.

More serious is the need to require and demand that public and private education teach verified science and absolutely ban global warming denial, anti-evolution, anti-vaccination propaganda, and other outright lies propagated for the purpose of harm.  We are not policing education at all well.  When it teaches hateful lies, we are corrupting the nation.  Freedom of speech absolutely must not extend to freedom of schools to teach lies.  This is among the most immediate and critical of needs.

Schools need to change profoundly, to teach civility and ordinary decency and to deal with values.  Today, schools have come increasingly to drill students mindlessly in basic skills, to be assessed by endless standardized tests that kill thought and destroy creativity.  Some students report writing stories and poems surreptitiously because the schools discourage such behavior.  We need to go back to older ideals.  The most important thing to teach is civil behavior, not STEM skills.  Teaching students how to learn, how to do research or at least find out accurate information, is vital also.  Teaching truth is important, teaching how to tell truth from lies is even more so, but teaching students how to find out for themselves and improve their knowledge and accuracy of knowledge is most important of all. 

Traditional education, worldwide, usually taught skills through doing, in an apprentice role.  It taught values and abstract principles through stories and songs (see Kopnina and Shoreman-Ouimet 2011, especially my essay therein, Anderson 2011).  It taught ordinary declarative knowledge through taking young people out in the world and letting them experience what they were learning.  That last is no longer adequate—knowledge is not just local any more—but should be pursued as much as possible.  Certainly we need to return to these principles.  They worked; our modern system does not teach well, except when it uses them.  Nobody expects students to learn sports, or musical instrument playing, or doctoring, through lectures.  Nobody should expect morals to be learned without songs and stories.

The other point, building self-efficacy to prevent weak defensiveness and conformity to dictators, involves teaching students to do their own thinking and acting—to be independent and creative.  This involves making students (and everyone) do their own work, rather than rote memorizing and taking tests.  It also means moving people away from radio, television, and other passive-listener media, toward active interchange.  Even video games at least involve some effort.  Messaging, email, and the social media may yet save us.

People also need to know that someone, somewhere, is backing them up.  Education needs to deal with issues of alienation, isolation, prejudice, rejection, and marginalization.  This is a widely recognized point, but widely ignored in a world that will not spend money on schools or psychological help.

Clearly, education, therapeutic enough to cure people of weak defensiveness, hatred, and scapegoating, is the most important need in combatting evil.  Now that we know the basics of feeding good and bad wolves, we need to reform educational systems accordingly.

5.  Some Moral Principles

          The Seven Deadly Sins are all too well known, as identified by the early Christian church from late Greek thought, but no one seems to recall the matching set of Seven Virtues.  They are: Faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude.  This seems as reasonable a place to start as any, but the following will highlight justice-as-fairness, following John Rawls, and tolerance, following none of the Seven.  Intolerance was not a bad thing in ancient times. 

If  people were really selfish, they would want what we know people really enjoy: happy, cooperative, mutually beneficial, warm societies and communities above all else—not self-aggrandizement at the expense of their friends and families and communities.  If people were not mean, they would hate disease and misery and unnecessary suffering—not each other or science or nature.  If they were interested in actual control rather than power to bully others, they would hate autocracy and unnecessary hierarchy. 

Caring is the nexus, the alternative for which we strive.  We seek especially the broad sense: wanting good for others and wanting a good and harmonious society (even infants want that).  The Bible calls this agapé or caritas.  Buddhists call it compassion.  Humans being so prone to domination by the bad wolf, we must err on the side of caution, caring, helping, reching out, and empowering. 

Viktor Frankl noticed that survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps were those that had something deeply important to live for and be responsible for.  Usually, this would be either families or work that was a real Calling rather than a mere job.  Sometimes it was religion.  He spent his life extending this observation, learning that almost all people need or want a deep meaning of this sort in their lives (Frankl 1959, 1978).  This is one basic counter to living for hate.  Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, group conflict is one of the most powerful ways to give meaning to life (Rovenpor et al. 2019).  Nothing is more meaningful to people than fighting for a cause.   One must use caution in deploying the classic “work and love” in support of tolerance.

            The other counters are the opposites of excessive anger: reasonableness and peacefulness.  The opposites of hatred are tolerance and valuing diversity.  The opposites of callousness are responsibility, but above all empathy and compassion, which may in the end be the most important qualities for all good-doing.  The daily kibble of the good wolf is support, empowerment, caring, compassion, mutual aid, mutual responsibility, mutual respect, and mutual concern.  The red meat that gives it strength to win is conscious work to create and build social solidarity. 

            In dealing with evil, we need to attack it directly: to oppose rational truth to hatred, political lies, oppression, cruelty, abuse of power, and the summation of all these in fascism and similar political ideologies.  We need to call out such things directly, constantly, and explicitly. 

            Above all, we need to drive rational, reasonable thinking and behavior against the irrationality (sometimes downright insanity) of murderous harm.

            Nothing helps except dealing directly with it.  When your baby throws up all over you, all you can do is clean it up.  Prayer doesn’t help, good thoughts don’t help, meditation doesn’t help.  You keep loving the baby and do what is necessary.

            The only direct way to stop murder and mass violence is through appealing to reason and rational discourse while also enforcing strict laws within a rule of law.

            This, by itself, is not enough.  We need to oppose evil with cultural and social teachings of help and unity, sustained by the innate moral or premoral sense of mutual aid and generosity that seem to inhere in humans.  Directly relevant, also, are natural interest—especially active warm interest—and curiosity, and the urge to learn more in order to improve.  Natural toughness and innocent enjoyment are reasonable and useful.  

            The reason that advancing the good so often fails is not mere selfishness.  It is antagonism to cooperating and to working with others as equals, especially as seen in refusal to learn, change, and self-improve as part of the process.

            The cure is seeing all people as worthwhile and that we are all in this together.  The long first part of this book demonstrated at length that the root problem is rejecting people for reasons of “essence”: the false belief that “race,” ethnicity, religion, and the like are somehow basic essences that condemn whole groups of people.  The only cure is seeing all as not only tolerable but worthy of help and of civil behavior.  Ideally, they are all equal before the law, and equal in opportunity—a hope not approximated in modern societies.

            Seeing all as worthy requires checking excessive anger.  It also requires proactive compassion and empathy, to avoid callous bureaupathy and similar evils.  Studies on how to further such goals exist (Batson 2011; McLaren 2013; Zaki 2019).  Our authors, notably Beck (1999) and Maslow (1970), provide ideas and experiences.

            The task is to minimize both the level of anger and number of things that arouse it.  A fascist dictator will try to find as many reasons for anger as he can, finding ways to include almost everyone in the violent movement (see e.g. Traverso 2019 on recent successes and failures at whipping up hatreds in Europe).

I recognize the drawbacks of utilitarian calculation, but I cannot see any way to evaluate policies and politics except by net help to people and the environment versus net harm to same. Things like peace and freedom must be calculated within that shell.  There are times when peace is wrong, such as when one’s country is invaded.  There are necessary limits to freedom, such as denying people the right to bully others.  Proactive effective help is good, by definition, but can be worse than nothing when it is badly planned, or unneeded and intrusive.  The usual social-conformity measures are usually helpful, keeping society together, but they can be bad: being too conformist, going along to get along, and the like. 

            Helping requires self-efficacy, reasonableness, self-control, self-confidence, and courage (i.e. ability to go into unknown and risky, where self-confidence fails).  Obviously, parents and schools need to do everything possible to develop these.  Self-confidence, including confidence in one’s moral principles and above all confidence in one’s control of one’s life, is the key virtue for preventing collapse into blind conformity, including conformity to genocidal leaders.  It also prevents collapse into domestic violence and other individual violent acts. 

            The countervailing forces are indifference (resulting in callousness) and actual hate.  Hatred in particular must be fought wherever and whenever it arises.  If it becomes pervasive in society, violence becomes inevitable.  Genocide is the ultimate case of hatred spun out of control; it can only be stopped in advance by fighting hate and displacing evil leaders.

The usual moral touchstone, the Golden Rule, does not work perfectly.  My neighbors do not take well to being treated to Brussels sprouts, Scottish murder ballads, or displays of Chinese art.  Granted that such individual preferences are probably not what was intended by the Golden Rule, where do we draw the line?  I do not inflict my rather old-fashioned Christian morality on my kids, let alone the world at large.  Conversely, I would not accept the hierarchic social morality that works in and is highly popular in Singapore and China.  We simply cannot use ourselves as measures of all things and all people. 

            The only reasonable touchstone is helping people.  But what helps?  Is it help in their terms, or in mine?  One hopes for easy cases—things that are recognized by almost everyone as helping, such as feeding the hungry.  Not all cases are easy.  If I were in Singapore (where I lived and worked for a while many years ago), would I work to advance its quite popular but rigid moral code, which—then at least—banned chewing gum, rock music, and Playboy?  Or would I work to advance freedom and liberty of conscience, according to my own view of helping?  Such cases can only be decided by detailed consideration and consultation.

As David Hume said, “Reason is, and must ever be, the slave of the passions” (Hume 1969 [1739-1740]:462).  Reason is a good slave.  It is the only way to get things right so that we can survive.  It is the only possible route to change and improvement.  But it matters more to get the passions right, such that reason is a slave to the good ones.  It is at least as competent and hard-working a slave to evil as to good. 

One opposite to evil is the “universal positive regard” of the psychologists (Rogers 1961), but that is a process goal, not achievable in the real world.  Checking evil often involves direct fighting against real enemies, so life cannot be free from harming others.  This multiplies the need for rational thought, since any irrationality can lead to harming the wrong people.

The cure for misdirected aggression and rejection is action that is as helping as possible.  Most religions have come up with this idea, but only certain forms of the religion feature it.  It has been termed the “Social Gospel” in Christianity.  It also characterizes reform Judaism, Ahmadiyya, the Three Teachings tradition in China, various forms of Buddhism, and other traditions.  There needs to be a Goddess of Common Sense.   

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed ten ways to fight hatred: Act, join forces, support the victims, speak up, educate yourself, create an alternative, pressure leaders, stay engaged, teach acceptance, dig deeper.  Desire for wealth, power, status, standing, and sociability can lead to positive-sum games and thus to goodness and progress, but all too often desire leads to zero-sum or negative-sum playing.  Then, when others push back, conflict escalates, eventually spinning out of control unless damped down.  To be evil, this must—by my definition, at least—reach irrational levels.   

Damping must start with desire (as religions have always taught).  It cannot end there.  We must teach and invoke policy to get people to play positive-sum games and to be reasonable.  We must put in place conflict-resolution mechanisms (Beals and Siegal 1966).   We must teach a morality of peaceful behavior instead of vengeance and predation.  Finally, we must outlaw actual harming, including indirect harms that are currently accepted, such as pollution damage.  Damping down conflict is the most immediate and direct need, however.  The greatest problem in conflict, always, is escalation.  Really successful ways to damp that down, all the way from playground fights and intimate partner violence to international conflicts and genocides, are not always deployed, and more research on them is seriously needed.  As we have noted above, the ordinary small-scale tensions, problems, and slights of daily life keep people in a state that allows sudden positive-feedback loops to emerge and lead to exploding conflict.

Since cowardice and self-doubt lie behind so many of the problems, there is a serious need to promote self-efficacy, self-reliance, and ability to act—notably including the knowledge of how to de-escalate conflict.

People are often too busy or defensive or simply lazy to work hard for the good; we cannot expect everybody to do it.  Dealing with indirect problems like environmental woes is especially difficult.  People discount the future, are too optimistic, and hate the endless small adjustments that fixing the environment entails.  It is easier to go for one big fix, such as a war. 

Since overreaction and misreaction are root problems, the start of the cure is facts.  We have to get science back to a place where people will accept scientific findings.  After that, the clearest intervention needed is demanding civil rights and civil behavior.

6. Background: A Wider Moral Shell

            This provides a guide for a moral shell involving solidarity with others above all, especially tolerance and valuing diversity, but also concern for self-improvement and quality of life, including a return to the civility, mutual respect, responsibility, and patience that we are losing. 

            Reasonableness is inadequate.  People cheat on their own morals; they fall short and provide excuses.  They fail to reason correctly, and err in predictably self-serving directions.

            Even without that, people must sacrifice to make community work.  They need to make up for cheaters, and they must be heroic in emergencies.  We cannot expect everyone to love and care much beyond the family and friendship circle. (What follows draws heavily on John Rawls’ doctrine of fairness as justice [Rawls 1971, 2001] but is informed by a range of ethical positions, from Kantian [Kant 2002] and neo-Kantian [Korsgaard 1996] to neo-utilitarian [Brandt 1979, 1992, 1996] to Aristotelian virtue ethics [Aristotle 1953]; see also Anderson 2010).

            Thus, every society on earth has had to develop a morality of self-sacrifice and service to others, enforced it by public opinion.  This was memorably argued by Adam Smith, who correctly saw it as a necessary shell around his economic utopia of free small-scale competition (Smith 1910, 2000).  They must conform up, to higher standards of behavior, rather than down into toxic conformity to evil norms.  This requires personal strength.

            From what has gone before in this book, we conclude that evil is due to extreme individuals—psychopaths, sociopaths, and the like—who often become leaders; to cowardice and failure to cope with hurt, stress, and threat; and to conformity with orders from people suffering from those two conditions.  Ordinary selfish greed is also a huge problem, but rarely gets out of control unless the other three conditions hold.  People are notably good at stopping each other from selfish greed.  Studies show that humans are good at “cheater” detection, and at stopping cheaters by shaming, ostracism, and outright punishment (Tomasello 2016; Wrangham 2019).  Ordinary people develop a conscience that restrains them from cheating even when they can get away with it, and a concern for people that makes them want to help others and do right by them.  It is hard to separate these good mental states from sheer fear of shame and punishment; all combine to keep most people only somewhat selfish.  We all cheat a bit, but most of us limit it to fairly innocuous matters.  The psychopaths are those who cheat in spite of being attacked, writing off the attacks as unfair and hypocritical. 

It is worth briefly noting that some “sins” are not what they seem: gluttony is a matter of eating disorders, themselves caused by problems usually apart from food; “sloth” is usually hatred for dull work, or physical illness, or psychological inanition due to fear and stress; and so forth.  Many early moralities foundered on the rock of condemning reasonable and normal desires, rather than the irrational reactions to fear and stress that made people seem sinful or immoderate in their desires.  It seems likely that puritanical condemning of normal desires did more damage by creating fear, stress, and guilt than it brought benefit to anyone. 

            We must maintain a consistent, oft-repeated ideology of unity, solidarity, mutual aid, mutual care, and tolerance.  From a general sense of “we’re all in this together,” the first personal virtues are openness, warmth, interest in the world, self-confidence, and ability to enjoy life.  These were highlighted by Aristotle (1953), but they have been amazingly neglected since his 4th-century-BCE days.  These imply a set of learned personal orientations: compassion, respect, responsibility.  These in turn entail civility, reasonableness, courage, patience, and hard work.  Social attitudes include empathy and egalitarianism—both equality before the law and the rough-and-ready sense that we are all here and thus have to take care of each other and take people as they are.

            Empathy and altruism are linked; psychological studies have unpacked both.  Humans are wired for empathy in ways unknown among other animals, and can build on that by learning to be much more empathetic than is “natural” from the genetic base.  We are experts at putting ourselves in others’ places, feeling what they feel, and understanding how they could react to situations.  Daniel Batson (2011), a leading expert on empathy, points out that these are different things.  Understanding others’ feelings, matching those feelings, and understanding how our own feelings can be different from others’, are all different agendas.  Lack of empathy is, of course, far too typical of bureaucrats and governments, and of many ordinary people who have either never learned real empathy or have suppressed what they know (Baron-Cohen 2011).  Batson went on to show that altruism goes beyond this: we need to value others.  We have seen that understanding the feelings of others can make cruelty worse; the sadist can use understanding and sensitivity to devise the most fiendish tortures.  This is well known from the annals of both crime and Hitler’s death camps (Baumeister 1997). 

            Batson further points out that empathy and altruism are not enough.  They can make people unfair.  One naturally has more empathy to one’s family and friends than to strangers, and thus tends to skew altruism.  The extreme is reached in those super-rich families that take care of their own very well indeed while giving nothing to charity.  Batson, a Kantian who follows Kant and Rawls into a realm of absolute ethics of fairness and principle, opposes such narrow empathy to his general principles of fairness.  However, in a particularly thoughtful passage (Batson 2011:220-224), he traces the limits of extreme fairness: not only can we not really do it—family ties are generally too strong—but we are also masters at rationalizing, excusing, justifying, and otherwise weaseling out of our principles, when emotions are strong.

            Jamil Zaki, in The War for Kindness (2019), takes up where Batson left off.  Summarizing Batson’s work, he goes on to detail a number of programs for dealing with real-world problems involving various kinds of empathy: reforming criminals, teaching police to be community servants rather than “warriors,” teaching autistic children, and simply helping ordinary people with problems.  We have the tools; we can go well beyond the remedies for hatred and lack of empathy suggested by Beck (1999) and our other basic sources.  The only problem is that all these remedies involve intensive one-on-one work, “saving the world one person at a time.”  Meanwhile, strongman leaders whip up millions with hateful rhetoric.  It is all too easy to turn nations of peaceable Germans or Cambodians into killers.  Fortunately, peace did reverse that process in those and other countries.

            Recall what was said earlier: the real food of the wolf is personal weakness or lack of self-efficacy, leading to taking offense easily, brooding on it, and escalating it in response.  The cure is to minimize offense-taking, but then to find morality, empathy, beauty, care, compassion, and goodness in the wide world and in humanity.  Both dealing with evil and separately appreciating and respecting the good seem needed.

            Religions have tried for millennia to make people love all humans, or have compassion for all living things.  This is difficult.  People love or at least feel solidary with their reference groups, which can be very large; many Chinese feel deep solidarity and passionate loyalty to their billion and a quarter compatriots.  But genuine love for all humans is rare indeed.  Unfortunately, it is demonstrably far easier to learn hate for targeted groups, even groups whose members the haters have never met.    

            The only philosophy that seems to have addressed this problem squarely is Confucianism.  Confucianism generally holds that people are innately compassionate, helpful, and prosocial.  However, first, they also have tendencies in other directions, particularly in the direction of selfish greed.  Second, they naturally and necessarily privilege family over strangers (Confucians long anticipated Darwin here).  Third, they do indeed rationalize away moral conflicts.  Thus, Confucianism sought to define what each category of people owes others, with family, friends, neighbors, the nation, and all humanity as the relevant categories.  Debate still rages among Confucians about the perfect balance, but the real message is that humans in the real world need to accommodate different levels of empathy and be as fair as possible under such circumstances.  (See Mencius 1970; I have benefited greatly from discussions with Neo-Confucian thinkers, especially Ben Butina, Dean Chin, Bin Song, and Tu Weiming.)

            All these result in ability to be socially responsible, and to carry out mutual aid, a highly desirable end-state (Smith 2000).  Basic to this are what I would consider the leading interpersonal moral needs:  caring, compassion, considerateness and civility, reasonableness, respect, and responsibility (4 C’s and 3 R’s).  It includes the values that create peace and unity in society: solidarity, tolerance, valuing diversity, mutual aid, and empowerment; thus, for society, peace, justice, fairness, equality, truth, and inquiry (as argued by Rawls 1971).  On these are built leadership, civic action, mutual aid, and social responsibility in general.  The short summary of all this is valuing people (Batson 2011; Zaki 2019), or at least taking them seriously, as fellow travelers on the planet. 

            The main stem of this runs from caring to actual help.  Ancillary to this stem are self-efficacy and learning.  Self-efficacy involves self-control, not trying to control others, courage, industry, and loyalty.  It includes self-improvement in appreciation, knowledge, and psychological functioning (Bandura 1982, 1986).

            Learning, knowledge, and wisdom are obviously necessary, and critical, for this enterprise.  That involves keeping an open mind about new findings, but no open mind about hatred or cruelty.  It also requires self-control (including giving up the attempt to overcontrol others), patience, and courage, but above all the ability to work hard, in focused and thorough way, for the common good.  Hypocrisy and toxic conformity are banished.  Education must follow accordingly.

            The good person will ignore slights and dislike, being fully civil in such cases.  Actual threats must be taken seriously, but rationally, by trying to talk things out, then seeking recourse, and only if that fails does one fight or flee.  The real opposite of hate is common decency, not love.  Seek positive solutions.  Act for the good.  Do your best at what you do best.  Remember also the airlines’ truth: “secure self first, then attend to others.”  Above all, look to long-term, wide-flung benefits, not to short-term and narrow ones.

            It pays to look at this with a medical gaze: see exactly what is wrong, why it is wrong, and what is the cure.  Moralizing in the abstract is of less use, though also necessary.         

“Process goals” are goals that can never be fully reached, but that make the world better the closer we approach to them.  The classic example is health.  Perfect health is impossible in this flawed world.  We could always be a little better off.  But striving for better and better health is obviously worth doing.  Similarly, we will never be able to feed everyone, but the FAO’s goal of secure, healthy, nourishing, accessible food for everyone in the world is a goal worth striving for; the closer we get to it, the better off we are.  Other such goals include learning, appreciation of diversity and beauty, and cooperation.  We might even list cleaning, fixing, and maintenance.

Freedom, tolerance, and wealth all stop at moderation.  Tolerance must stop before it reaches tolerance for rape, murder, and theft.  One should never be intolerant of persons as such, but certainly we must be intolerant of evil acts.  We must also frequently oppose actual enemies, even though they are persons and deserve respect and fair treatment as such.  Inequality and excessive wealth are notorious social evils.

There is a difference between goals that must be intrinsically moderate, like drinking (assuming one drinks at all) or exercising, and goals where the issue is targeting rather than moderation per se.  Tolerance is such a targeting goal: being tolerant of ordinary differences is close to a process goal (though it always requires some moderation), but being tolerant of Nazism is intolerable—the classic “tolerance paradox.”  Similarly, wrath is usually a bad thing, but wrath against leaders of genocide is appropriate and commendable. 

This gives us morals in pairs:  Caring vs indifference; courage vs. cowardice; peace vs. hate and hostility; proactive help vs. laziness; responsibility vs. irresponsibility; reason vs. irrationality; carefulness vs. carelessness; respect vs. scorn.  Courage comes before hate, though hate is the Problem, because hate comes from fear and thus courage is a prior and more basic virtue.

Another need is for proactive positive action, and that requires a vision of the Good and an ability to enjoy.  Cowardly defensiveness destroys enjoyment; it causes anhedonia.  If one can openly enjoy something, one is already moving toward the good.  It is natural for the social animals we are to want others to enjoy and to share in our enjoyments.  Puritans and constant complainers are notoriously easy to delude into genocidal evil.  Puritanism about anything—not just sex or alcohol—feeds the bad wolf. 

7. Towards a New Moral Order

            We need a new moral order (Anderson 2010), based on keeping the good wolves fed and the bad ones starved.  Morality exists because people are compulsively and necessarily social, and yet get offended and angry and then hateful and aggressive.  In this case, it should be the opposite of hatred, callousness, and irrationally violent response to perceived threat.

            Following Kant, the first rule of morality is to take all people, and ultimately all beings, as important, to value them (again following Batson), and to accept them as valid beings—fellow travelers on this planet.  As Kant said: they must be subjects of concern, not objects to be used. 

            This is one of the messages of epics like the Iliad, of the classic Scots ballads, and of great literature the world over.  The extreme opposite of the typical Hollywood “action movie,” in which cardboard characters are killed by dozens without anyone’s concern.  The slide from traditional literature to Hollywood thrillers is clearly related to the rise in genocide and violence; the latter tracks the former and other pop cultural forms that teach indifference to life.  The rise of inequality, especially the rise in power of giant multinational firms, is a much more obvious driver of indifference to people and of taking them as Kantian objects (Kant 2000).

            Great cultural productions can thus be used for self-improvement and for learning about the humanity and sensitivies of others.  If they are simply read for schoolwork, however, they do very little.  The depressing lack of empathy and humanity among well-educated leaders has often been noted.  Particularly sad is learning of the number of extremely intelligent, highly educated, creative people who sympathized with the fascists in Europe in the 1930s.  The most famous cases were Martin Heidegger, Ezra Pound, and Leni Riefenstahl, but there were countless more.  Poets from T. S. Eliot to e. e. cummings were sympathizers early on, and wrote viciously anti-Semitic poetry, though they cooled when they saw what was happening.  Fortunately, no significant thinkers or writers have seen fit to approve of fascism in recent decades (see Travserso 2019 for the nearest-to-exceptions). 

            The main pillars of that are caring, charity, and peace.  These can take us on to active help: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and the other standard social goods.  We are called to be nice to all, but for life work do your best at what you do best to help.  St. Paul’s “gifts differing” (Romans 12:6) is a watchword: people have different strengths, and this allows a complex society to exist and to be far more productive and efficient than one in which everyone had the same skills. 

            Long-term, wide-flung interests should prevail above short-term, narrow ones.  In the real world, the short term must be considered, because failure to attend to immediate threats and concerns can kill before the long term is reached.  However, the world is now sacrificing more and more long-term interest to shorter and shorter benefits.  A classic case is overfishing.  At current rates of fishing, there will be no wild commercial fisheries by 2050 (Worm 2016; Worm et al. 2006).  This occurs largely because of overcompetition among fishers and subsidies by governments.  Another problem is the opposite: overplanning and top-down control. 

            A final need is more integrity.  Never humanity’s strong point, it has declined for the usual reasons, especially the loss of community to the rise of giant corporations and their passivity-creating media.  Ordinary lies are common enough now.  Even more common is a broader failure to keep commitments, as modeled all too well by our political leaders.  The highest integrity is working single-mindedly for more quality in life and thus real improvement of the world.  Quality ranges from better music to better environment to better leadership; everyone has some particular skill or calling, and can work for some cause, depending on innate and learned abilities.  The Japanese have a word, ikigai, “life value,” for living one’s calling in a satisfying way.

            Within this moral shell, the most important thing to do is avoiding hatred and rejection of people or any other beings on the basis of prejudice: imagined “essence” that is somehow bad.  Tolerance and valuing diversity are essential.  The costs of prejudice are substantial.  Subtly foregrounding “maleness” made African-American boys do better on tests, while foregrounding “blackness” made them do worse, because of internalized stereotypes (Cohen et al. 2006).  Similar results have turned up over a wide range of stereotypes, e.g. foregrounding “Asian” vs. “women” makes Asian-American women do better or do worse, respectively, on math tests (Clark et al. 2015).  A part of this is realizing that there are no pure races and no pure cultures, and there never have been.  The racist and culturist appeals to purity are major sources of evil.  Recently, even “progressives” have been seduced by pure-culture theories, as in the more naïve theorizing about decolonialization and cultural appropriation.  Decolonialization means fixing social inequalities, not rejecting all cultural change.  Cultural appropriation is bad when it involves insulting stereotypes of others, or stealing their livelihood—not when it is simply normal borrowing.  Some progressives are being lured into genuine right-wing thinking—the old fascist lies about pure cultures and their need to remain pure.  In fact, a social morality for the future would involve, critically, learning the best from all the world’s traditions about how to manage the environment, reduce conflict, and keep societies moral.  Every culture and society on earth has experiences with these problems and has something to teach us.

            Direct action should be to help, not harm unnecessarily; work for a living and some material comforts, but, beyond minimal personal comforts, only to share with others and help others in the world; constantly work to learn more, find more truths, and abandon more wrong views; defend, but only against real direct threats, not imagined or trivial social slights or indirect or potential enemies.  Morals thus cover social interaction, self-efficacy and self-control, learning, and public values.

            Religion teaches us to be as good as possible to sinners and lure them into a warm, supportive community.  Religions all idealize helping, concern, and peace, but often fail to encourage the interest, engagement, and love of beauty that are also necessary for the common good.  Puritanical religions in fact fear these, since they tend to make people think independently and want to change.

            Practical concerns and economic adjustments are not going to do all the lifting.  Economics has followed culture and ideology in the past, and will no doubt continue to follow.  Obviously, in the future, we will have to set up a society based on sustainable use of the earth, equality of opportunity, substantial public sector, and controls on inequality, but the immediate need is to unify behind a set of principles that will stop fascism and restart progress in those directions.

            The first step, since the root problem is hatred (in the broad sense—including deliberate dismissal), is to shore up civil and personal rights to provide maximal protection from abuse of minorities, women, children, and other vulnerable groups, and maximal recourse for those groups in case of injury.  Hate crimes (to say nothing of genocide) must be condignly suppressed.  That includes deliberate incitement to hate crime.

            Ideally, we will have physical neighborhoods held together by strands of mutual aid, co-work on projects, mutual responsibility, and general neighborliness.  Virtual and dispersed communities are also valuable and need all the encouragement they can get, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and mutual aid. This requires promoting tolerance; all traditional small communities had their experiences of intolerance and violence.

            We need to make our current values far clearer, but we also need to combine them with emotional and personal appeals, as religions do.  This takes us back to education and the media.  It also requires some resolutions, at the political level, about what kind of society we want.  The rapid descent of the Republicans from a party of business to a party of hate has been terrifying to watch.  It is similar to the evolution of fascism in Europe, and communism in the USSR and China.

            The old ideas of “economic determinism” do not work.  We have now seen genocide and other evils arising in every type of economic situation and every type of economic regime.  The classic modes of production are not helpful.  “Socialism” covers everything from Denmark and Norway to North Korea to Venezuela.  “Capitalism” covers everything from Germany to Equatorial Guinea.  This does not get us far. 

            We have, in fact, seen genocide arise in every type of system except true democracy with equality before the law and full equal rights for everyone.  And even true democracy has proved unable to get rid of war, violence, gangsterism, and everyday crime.  Obviously, we need all the laws we can have, to outlaw harming others gratuitously, but laws exist in a moral shell, and we need to work on that as well as on making the laws apply to all equally.

The nexus, always, is caring for and about others.  Only powerful self-interest combined with social pressure can lead to doing good.  Morals exist to drive people to do good even when scared. 

8. Rights and Rules

            The morality enshrined in the Constitution is based on the theory of equal rights.  If people recognize the need for equality before the law and equal opportunity under law, they must work from this principle above all.  Then, the clear moral order for the world is saving nature, promoting responsibility and mutual aid (with the more fortunate or strong helping those less so), promoting learning and truth, and nonviolence.

            It is important to understand that both this and other moral views can go with economic growth, wealth accumulation, and the other things that developers currently consider “good.”  There is no reason to pick one over the other except for common human decency.  In the long run, the Trumpian view is unsustainable, because it leads to dinosauric interests pushing the system into collapse, but in the short run, we have seen the lack of any real break from Obama’s growth economy to Trump’s.  “Capitalism,” whatever it is, can be range from rather benign to utterly malignant.  The socialist alternative is equally ambiguous; Norway and Venezuela are both “socialist” in some ways, but Norway has a morality based on social decency, Venezuela has a moral order based on Trump-style dictatorial violence and bullying.

            It is depressing to read how the British and Americans, good Christians and lovers of Shakespeare and Milton, ran most of the world slave trade that killed perhaps 100,000,000 people in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  It is similarly depressing (though less bloody) to read the sorry history of religious movements, communes, idealistic communities, grassroots utopias, and the hippie movement.  Good intentions not backed up by firm social rules led only to collapse.

            People being imperfect, progress comes from outlawing the bad and forcing minimal civil decency.  Appeals to inner virtue are not enough.  Historically, help has come from science and education, relative economic freedom within moral limits (as Adam Smith argued), and the Enlightenment program.  That program of democracy, equality, rule of law, separation of church and state, and civil rights has done wonders.  So has the idea of promoting people according to their knowledge and ability rather than according to their birth.  Meritocracy has a bad name recently, but any acquaintance with history shows that the alternatives were worse.

            Comparing societies and communities that minimize violence and cruelty with those torn by it shows that only strict and specific rules help.  Rights are general; if they are not backed up by specific laws and court judgments, they are empty.  All societies outlaw murder, and that ban has real effect, depending on how many ancillary rules are passed.  Above all, it depends on how much the societies in question frown on violence as a way of solving problems.  Some societies regard violence as the only “manly” or “honorable” way to deal with problems, and they have murder and warfare rates that are many times—sometimes orders of magnitude—greater than the rates in societies that privilege peaceful methods of coping (Baumeister 1997; Pinker 2011; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998). 

            The Founding Fathers of the United States were aware of the problems of hatred, autocracy, lack of checks and balances, and lack of recourse.  They instituted participatory democracy in hopes that people would pick the best, or at least the less awful.  They created a mesh of checks and balances that distributed power fairly well.  They separated church and state, to prevent the awful conflicts that had driven many of their ancestors from Europe.  Most important, they established a rule of law rather than a rule of men.  This worked well for a long time, but then the genocidal demagogue Andrew Jackson took over and began a long, bloody process of consolidating power in the hands of the president and then using that power to bad ends.  This process has now reached the very edge of fascist dictatorship, and American democracy may not long survive. 

            Absolutely necessary is the right to recourse.  People who are injured must be able to sue, to protest, to speak out, to vote evil leaders out, and to defend themselves in any reasonable way.  The success of democracies at preventing genocide and famine is notable, but even more important is the realization that in such democracies, only actual citizens avoid being killed or starved (Anderson and Anderson 2017; Howard-Hassmann 2016).  Noncitizens, such as Irish in the British Isles in the 1840s and Native Americans in the United States before 1924, are starved and killed without compunction. 

            Communities must have written and unwritten (customary) laws that strictly and thoroughly regulate violence and callousness.  These laws must be based on a principle of equality before the law, which requires at least some degree of economic equality, because otherwise the rich will simply buy their way out of enforcement.  Laws must be based on the principle that violence is the last resort in dealing with any problem other than direct personal attack.  They must also strictly forbid activity that destroys many solely to benefit a few, such as big dams, engineered famines, and exposure of impoverished workers or families to pollution.  There must be legal requirements to rehabilitate both victims and lawbreakers.

            Communities must extinguish specific bad behaviors by specific rules, but they go on to encourage general good behaviors and ideals by more broad appeals to morality.

            Above all, concentration of power in the hands of one person is always dangerous.  Even a long run of good administrators or autocrats comes to an end.  Sooner or later a bully or psychopath takes over.  I have seen this process on small scales in academia, where chairs and deans usually have enough power to devastate their units, ruin careers, destroy students, and corrupt or block research.  Academia usually picks better leaders, but one bad one does incalculable harm.  There are benevolent despotisms in the world—Singapore and Oman occur to mind—but they rarely last. 

            On national scales, the takeover of democracies by tyrants has been noted ever since ancient Greece, and the results were known to be awful even then, as Aristotle’s Politics tells us. Democracy works only so far as a way of picking good leaders; again, the ancient Greeks already knew of charismatic demagogues—in fact, they coined the words. Participatory democracy seems still the best way of picking leaders, but then they must be restrained by a mesh of laws that create checks and balances and prevent corruption.  The United States is hopelessly behind in these regards.  The extreme corruption and tyranny of the Trump presidency came after a long downward slide, visible since the Nixon presidency.  Similar devolution from Hungary and Brazil to Turkey and the Philippines characterizes politics in the 21st-century world.         

Today, to the classic rights, we need to add the right to a livable environment; a right to good education, at least to the point of literacy, basic science, basic math, and competence with technology; a right to free enquiry; a right to government honesty, with full recourse if the government knowingly circulates lies; and a right to decent medical care at little or no cost.  These all follow as entailed corrolaries of our natural rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

From what has gone before, the needs center on three areas: damping down conflicts caused by desire for wealth, power, and approval; balancing power so that it is distributed as widely and evenly as possible, with checks and balances at the top and equality before the law for all; and a widely distributed search for truth—science in a broad sense—instead of religious or ideological claims for absolute truth or nihilistic denial of truth’s existence.

In the United States, and increasingly in other countries, the rule of law has collapsed, and the first need if we can take the country back would be to restore that rule.  Second would be some sort of truth and reconciliation agenda for dealing with the hatred that has spun out of control in recent years, and not only on the right.  Rational and civil discourse must replace increasingly unhelpful confrontation and in-your-face insult.  Hate speech up to a point is protected as free speech, for the very good reason that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” (see below).  What needs to be stopped is actual incitement to violence.  Also, hateful lies should be checked by false-advertising laws.  I thouroughly agree with the proposal to make campaign statements and public speeches by leading politicians sworn testimony, with mandatory jail sentences for deliberate lies.

The simplest, cleanest model of mass violence is that a strongman backed and funded by sunsetting industries whips up hatred of minorities that have long been salient as weaker rivals or enemies.  Obviously, action must start by preventing evil leaders from rising, and preventing them from leading a charge by deploying ever more vicious rhetoric.

Individual violence is more complex, but turns on issues of greed, power, and social acceptance and respect.  Individuals are not, however, violent because of those motives; they are violent because they have learned that violence is the best way to get those goals under existing circumstances.  Alternatives to violence thus become needed.  Peterson and Denaley’s findings (see above, p. 33) show that mass shooters have a characteristic background, involving abuse, and usually announce their plans in some way before they act.  Proactive prevention of abuse and proactive listening, reaching out, and treating young people with violent and suicidal or murderous ideology is obviously needed.

From a wider social context, several obvious things need doing in the United States to accomplish any of these goals.  Among these are: making campaign statements sworn testimony to prevent outright lying, ensuring voting rights, ending gerrymandering and voter suppression, getting big money out of politics and making all political money fully transparent, fighting corruption, saving the environment, and cracking down on hate crimes and incitement of them. 

We need an entire new civil rights movement, focused immediately on putting a total end to gerrymandering, voter suppression, partisan purging of voter rolls, new Jim Crow laws, and similar games.  We need to limit money in politics, starting with a Constitutional amendment to end dark money, demand full disclosure, and force politicians to recuse themselves from voting to help, subsidize, or act in support of any direct economic interest (as opposed to public-interest and worker groups, and even trade organizations) that funded their campaigns. 

Freedom of speech must be defended, but does not include direct incitement to violence, or libel, or false advertising.  These provide enough of a platform to allow us to ban campaign lies, Fox News-style public lying for evil ends, and direct rabid hatred that cannot help but lead to violence.  A great deal of “hate speech”—ordinary racist rhetoric, for instance—must be protected, because if it is banned then those in power will ban anything that annoys them.  This is a “slippery slope” argument that is quite true.  We have hundreds of years of experience, in every realm from religion to education to politics to community “civility” and “political correctness,” to prove it.  The principle is, once again, my rights stop where yours start.

A major part of this must be vastly increasing research on social problems, especially evil as herein defined.  Both scientific research and investigative reporting are required.  The great newspapers are a shadow of their former selves.  We desperately need much more exposure of dark places.

We must ban subsidies as much as possible, and certainly ban subsidies to maintain dinosaur industries that cost more than they produce. We must block the chain from lobbyist to “regulator”; those who lobby for a polluting industry can never be allowed to regulate it.  Above all, we must take actual social and environmental costs—the hard cash people lose—into account in all social and political accounting.  Oil is profitable only because its real costs are passed on as externalities.  Many calculations have shown that gasoline would cost hundreds of dollars per gallon if those costs were internalized.  (For more, see Anderson 2010.)

The only way to get these goals accomplished is the tried and true combination of mass peaceful demonstrations, teach-ins, media campaigns with new media dedicated to the task, proposals for comprehensive legislation, and above all getting people voted into office at all levels of government from waterworks boards on up (see Chenowith and Stephan 2012 on what succeeds in people’s campaigns).  These are the measures that worked for the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movements, the environmental movement, and every other popular cause that got beyond shouting.  Voting and media attention without demonstrations and other active measures are not enough.

Social pressures, leadership, and social behavior are critical, motivating most of the good and evil behavior; cultural models are critical in providing plans for how to act; and individual personality and environment factors finally determine what a given person will do.  The social, political, and economic environment provides a back story, but the direct motivation is typically social pressure by leaders and peers.  Improving bad situations requires full social change.  Revolutions rarely work; they simply bring other violent leaders to the fore to replace earlier ones.  Social and cultural change requires deeper and more systematic, and therefore more gradual, evolution.  This requires personal commitment.  The oft-heard argument that changing oneself is a waste of time because only vast social changes matter is self-defeating.  Without changing ourselves, unless we are already committed actors, we will never have the courage or drive to change anything.

            Bringing about all those changes will depend on teaching and otherwise carrying the word, on contributing to organizations that fight for justice and truth, and on modeling civil behavior.  People need to choose reasonably what groups to join and what groups to prioritize.  Joining extremist political groups is the order of the day.  We need centrist groups, community organizations, aid associations, and other groups that will bring people together to help and to meet each other—groups that will be unifying rather than divisive.

One cannot keep a totally open and tolerant mind.  As in eating and drinking, moderation is advised.  The ills I am addressing in this essay—genocide and its small-scale correlates such as bullying, callousness, and domestic violence—do not deserve “open minded” assessment.  They must be stopped.        

Very few ways of feeding the good wolf have worked in the past, but those few have worked very well.  Unsurprisingly (given the human condition), they largely add up to empowerment of individuals through provision of human rights.  We also need to go back to civility in society, as long argued by Jurgen Habermas (1987), and stop fighting each other over every change.

            By far the best way has been guaranteeing civil and human rights, equal for all, before the law, and enforced strictly by executive and court action.  This has eroded disastrously in the United States, but grown steadily in much of western Europe.

            Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela exemplify the most important: appealing to solidarity and natural human social goodness in the face of oppression.  Next most important and effective has been empowerment.  Doing scientific research to find out what improves the human condition is a strong third.  Forthrightly opposing evil is a long fourth, but still needs to be done. 

            Group hatred has traditionally been addressed by getting the groups together in positive situations, giving them common goals or working with the common goals they already have, affirming irenic and tolerant values, stressing the advantages of diversity, looking for common ground, striving to make groups as equal as possible (at least in opportunity and before the law), stoutly defending civil rights and explaining why those are beneficial to all, and other well-known methods. 

            All this does work, but not perfectly.  The most notorious case of failure was the heroic attempt made in Yugoslavia to get the various nationalities in that “united Slav” (“Yugo-“Slavia”) country to get along.  Unfortunately, it was counterproductive; the well-meaning majority tried too hard, alienated a vicious and noisy minority, and faced breakup, war, and genocide when Yugoslavia threw over communism (these insights come from my own questioning and observation in Croatia in 1988).  “Multiculturalism” in the United States has had some similar problems; when it emphases the classic American e pluribus unum, it works, but too often it emphasizes differences and even antagonisms without emphasizing the common ground and common goals. It often fostered the deadly mistake of seeing subcultures and ethnic communities as closed, steel-walled spheres, completely cut off from each other.  That view directly causes and fosters ethnic hatred.

            Some traditional societies have dealt with potential religious conflicts for centuries, and managed them by a number of social rules and strategies.  The people of Gondar, an Ethiopian city that is a traditional stronghold of Christianity but has a large Muslim population, have learned to get along, and have taken ISIS in stride, partly by casting it as non-Muslim or otherwise aberrant (Dulin 2017).  Similar accommodations have worked until recently in many countries, but the breakdown of very old and long-established ones in Iraq, Syria, and China bodes ill for the future.

            The standard methods of increasing happiness—gratitude, good thoughts, reaffirming values, and other mindfulnesses (Lyubomirsky 2007)—are also of some use, but never transformed a society.  Only uniting economic incentives, charismatic leaders, and common morality ever works to improve conditions.  We need positive and inclusive dialogue that is factual yet hopeful.  We need healing and rejuvenation.  Recall, also, that mindful meditation reduces existential fear and thus defensiveness and intolerance (Park and Pyszczynski 2019).

             Wayne Te Brake (2017), studying the decline of religious war in Europe, found that nation-states had to facilitate the process of getting people to live in harmony.  The bottom line was that people who were neighbors had to get along.  Where the cuius regio, eius religio rule held, the country had only one religion, and intolerance kept right on, but in areas where pluralism was established, governments finally realized they had to guarantee rights to religious minorities—ushering in the Enlightenment, by slow degrees.  It appears that government peacemaking led to philosophers and politicians coming up with ideas of religious freedom, which eventually led to ideas of liberty of conscience.  Something similar happened with civil rights in the modern United States in the 1950s and 1960s, but the results have been less satisfactory so far.  State and local governments have dragged their feet.  Still, the model is there.

            The good wolf is fed by empowerment, which brings confidence and hope, and allows rational assessment and coping.  Weakness and fear feed the bad wolf.  They lead to scared and defensive reactions, including sudden breakdowns into terror, rage, and violence, and allowing strongmen above the law to rule the polity. Society, especially social leaders protecting their stakes, almost always do the actual feeding.

            For having a decent world, and for having a future for the world, we must make moral choices, not simply economic ones.  We must make a moral choice to help people rather than hurt them.  That involves honesty with ourselves about the ways that weakness, resentment, overreaction to trivial or imagined slights, and overreaction to trivial harms combine to feed the bad wolf and thus feed displacing resentment onto weaker people and onto the natural world. 

            Then we must work to feed the good wolves, all of them, everywhere, out in the world.  The food of good wolves is caring and consideration for all, especially as shown through empowerment by decent, supportive, respectful behavior.

Appendix: Special Topics

            Freedom of speech is most at risk.  The Trump administration is attacking the media in exactly the way Hitler did in the 1930s.  Unfortunately, some of the misguided “progressive” camp is going after the media too, in the name of suppressing “hate speech.”  There are classic problems with this, all identified by the Founding Fathers, and by Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill.

            Since the people in power will naturally be the ones doing the censoring, all opposition to those in power will soon be censored, and everything that supports them will be permitted, no matter how vile it is.  This is, in practice, the greatest reason why censorship is generally bad. 

Hate speech is in the eye of the beholder.  No definition can be tight enough to stop people from insisting that what they say is not hate speech, and what their opponents say is always hate speech no matter how nicely phrased.  (Politeness can be a way of subtly maintaining white privilege, for instance.)  Hate speech can be educative–if not the speech itself, then from the fact that people say it, believe it, and act on it.

            Suppressing speech drives it underground, where it spreads like wildfire—as censored things always do—and is attractive simply because it was suppressed.  There is an Arab saying that “if you forbid people from rolling camel dung into little balls with their fingers, they would do it, because they would think that if it is forbidden there must be something good about it.”  Moreover, suppressing speech makes the suppressed people into instant martyrs, no matter how unsavory they seemed before.

            Last, it is immoral to shut other people up because you happen to dislike what they say.  They have a right to their opinions and their mouths.

            If what they say is downright libel, or a direct call to violence, or a lie that directly leads to physical harm to people (like a con game, or incitement to murder), that is something else.  Lying under oath is properly forbidden.  It has been suggested that campaign speech should be sworn testimony, at least when facts are stated, and thus lies like Trump’s would be illegal.  We also have no freedom to disclose proprietary secrets, or to plagiarize.  Freedom is not a matter of absolute freedom; it is a matter of considering others’ rights.  However, the wise activist errs on the side of liberty.

            All this we learned in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in the 1960s, but it has all been said before, ever since Voltaire and Jefferson.

            Similar conclusions apply to freedom of press, assembly, and religion.  However, religion has now been so thoroughly abused as a cover for political campaigning and even for money-laundering and profiteering that it must be restricted.  Taxing the churches seems an inescapable necessity if the US is to flourish.  Politics is probably protected speech, up to a point, but outright campaigning by churches—with donations of laundered or illegally-gained money—is banned in the US by the Johnson Rule.  It is inappropriate for churches and temples. 

            Preachers who are clearly in it for the money rather than the souls are all too common, and tax laws must recognize this.  The problem is not just one of politics; the rapidly escalating religious hate that has swept the world, and notably the United States, in the last generation is to a very large degree a product of preaching for money.  Corrupt and evil men posing as preachers find that the easiest way to make it pay is to preach hate and right-wing politics.  This is the story of ISIS and the Taliban as well as of Trump’s preacher claque.

            Thus, cleaning up the institution of religion would seem to be a part of assuring liberty of conscience.  Above all, though, liberty of conscience must be preserved.

            Tolerance, the most desperately needed and vitally important civic virtue, is also under an astonishing amount of attack from the left as well as the right.

            It really should need no defense.  Many of the same considerations as those above will apply.

            If you do not tolerate others, they will not tolerate you.  They may not even if you do tolerate them, but, in general, hate breeds hate, acceptance breeds acceptance.

            We are all in this together.  A functioning society must grow, change, and build, and can do that only by unified effort, mutual aid, and solidarity.  The alternative is mutual destruction.  The dominant group may win for a while by doing others down, but it merely hurts itself—first by losing those other groups and whatever they can offer, but second by starting a spirit of hate and rivalry that inevitably tears up the dominant group itself, in due course of time.

            As usual, there are limits.  Obviously, we do not want to tolerate rape, murder, or robbery.  The argument is for tolerating people as individuals—the essential personhood behind whatever unacceptable behavior they may sometimes present.  They deserve fairness and consideration, but if they are acting to harm others, they must be stopped.  Toleration of ideas is a good; we need to argue and negotiate and work them out.  Toleration of specific behaviors is allowable only in so far as those behaviors do not actively and unnecessarily harm people.  Not all harm to people is bad.  Plato and Aristotle were already pointing out 2400 years ago that surgeons “harm” people for their own good.  One wants to minimize hurt, but some pain is necessary. 

            In short, tolerance is a major goal, but must be qualified by common sense.  None of this affects tolerating people as human beings, or, for that matter, tolerating other life forms.  Essential acceptance of living beings, simply because they are fellow travelers on the planet, is the basic and essential need of a functioning society.

            It is therefore unacceptable to hate or reject anyone because of skin color, ethnicity, language, history, or the like.  No morality can justify that.  Total personal rejection of anyone for any reason is unacceptable.  We may have to kill a person in self-defense, but we are not given license to hate that individual simply for being.  We are also not given license to kill off his entire ethnic group just because he attacked us.  We know that “races” are not biological entities, and that all human groups are pretty much identical in potential, but even if we did find a group that was—say—less intelligent by some measure than the average, we would morally have to pay them the same respect and treatment as everyone else. 

            This is the real underpinning of the classic Enlightenment virtues: liberty, equality, fairness, justice as fairness, and civil behavior in civil society.  Never mind that the Enlightenment was financed by slavery and colonialism.  The point is that much of its content was explicitly directed against slavery and class discrimination.  No one in the history of the world had opposed slavery in general until 18th-century religious thinkers, largely Quakers, did so.   Fairness means serious attention to disadvantaged groups, not just even-handed treatment of all.  Equality before the law has been in sorry shape under Trump, with flagrant favoring of whites and rich people over the rest.

            Racism and religious bigotry are more open now than they have been since the 1960s or perhaps even the 1920s.  However, the real underlying problem seems to be a more general increase in hostility and antisocial aggression.  We have mass shootings in which the victims are country music fans (Las Vegas), Baptist churchgoers (Texas), Walmart customers, and other ordinary Americans.  By far the greatest number of mass-murder and terrorist killings in recent years have been of this sort; very few are either Islamic-extremist or otherwise religiously or racially motivated.  Ordinary murders are also increasing again after years of decline. 

            It thus seems that there is a major need for calming speeches and for ideas on how to reduce violence and antagonism in general.  Certainly, we still need to combat racism, and to defend freedom of religion, especially freedom from bullying in the name of religion.  We need even more to combat overall hostility.

            This brings us to solidarity:  Mutual aid, mutual support, mutual empowerment and strengthening.             It worked for the labor movement and for the old-time Democrats; disunion, carefully nurtured by the right wing and now by the far left, has led to the decline of both those institutions.  The war between Clinton and Sanders supporters took down Clinton in 2016, and will guarantee a Republican win in 2020 if it is not resolved.

            A major part of this is civility.  We are getting farther and farther from civil discourse.  The right wing is usually the leader and always the most successful in extreme, exaggerated, intemperate, and insulting remarks, and we should leave that to them.  We always lose if we try that tactic. 

            This brings up science and environment.  The Trump administration, including the Republicans in Congress, have launched a full-scale war against both.  They do not stop with dismissing science that is embarrassing to their corporate donors, such as research on climate change and pollution.  They have attacked everything from conservation science to Darwinian evolution.  This is perhaps the area where the Republican base—giant primary-production firms, racists, and right-wing religious extremists—shows itself most clearly.  “Scientific” racism and creationism are now supported; the genuine science that disproves these is attacked.  Budget cuts to basic science and to science education are planned; they are serious enough to virtually destroy both.  Republicans realize that promoting such a wide anti-scientific agenda—climate change denial, claims that pesticides are harmless to humans, anti-vaccination propaganda, anti-evolutionism, racism, and so on—can only succeed if the entire enterprise of science is attacked.  The whole concept of truth is a casualty, with the calls for “alternative facts.”  Ideas of proof, evidence, data, and expertise are regarded as basically hostile to Republicanism.

            Clearly, it will be national suicide ot allow this to go on.  Not only is further scientific research necessary to progress; a government that makes policy in defiance of the facts of the case will not survive.  We have already been afflicted with Zika, MRSA, and a host of other germs because of indifferent attention to public health.  Rising sea levels are eating away at coastlines.  Bees and other critically important insects are disappearing.  Foreign policy made in a fact-free environment has devastated the Middle East.  The future will be incalculably worse.  Attention to science education, moral education, and humanistic education remains small.

            Part of this is environmental concern, and there we need to draw on traditional moralities.  Most cultures, worldwide, have solved the problems of sustainability—usually by teaching respect for all beings.  Children absorb this at a very young age.  They go on to remember that trees, fish, grass, and future humans all need to be regarded as worthy of consideration—to be used only as necessary and to be protected for future uses or simply to keep them alive.  The western world has long been an outlier, worldwide, by treating resources as things to destroy without a second thought. 

            With a proper spirit of respect, we will be able to preserve species and environments and to avoid destroying the environment with pollutants and excessive construction.  In the short run, we will have to fall back on laws.  The framework existing as of 2016 was inadequate but was a good start; it is now lost, and we will have to start from scratch, hopefully with better laws to be designed in future.  There are countless books on solving the environmental crisis, and to go further into it here would be tedious.  What matters is recognizing that we must think of sustainability and respect.

            The Endangered Species Act has been under permanent attack by Republicans since it was proposed.  The ostensible reason is that the act saves worthless weeds and bugs at the expense of human interests.  The real reason is that it protects habitat that corporate interests want to use.

            Balancing environmental protection against immediate use is always difficult, and requires much more attention than it usually receives, but in this case there should be no question.  “Extinction is forever.”  Once a species is extinct, it can never be brought back (despite recent claims for reconstruction through DNA—still merely a vision).  Most of the species proposed for protection are economically and ecologically valuable.  A few “weeds and bugs” do get protection, but they are probably more important than they look.  We still have no idea what is important in nature.  Sometimes, loss of an apparently minor species has caused meltdown of a whole ecological system.  Beyond mere utility, there is an issue of respect for life and living things.  Individuals can be replaced; species cannot.

            We also need a mechanism for moving quickly to protect species that collapse suddenly.  A new pesticide, an epidemic, a rampantly multiplying introduced pest, or an ill-considered human action can rapidly change a species from common to endangered. 

            The need for environmental protection and conservation is now obvious to everyone except certain giant corporate interests, who persist in seeing everything natural as a problem to be eliminated.  Even far-right activists admit a need for some action.  Sustainability of resource use is obviously necessary when at all possible, given the rapid expansion of US population and economic activity.  Some things will inevitably be lost; we need to restore a great deal to make up for that. 

            Anti-pollution rules, wise use rules, and conservation in general are under full and total attack by the few corporate interests, however.  This has led to some extreme rhetoric on all sides.   Always, the worst problem is the fossil fuel industry, which not only causes most of the pollution and global warming, but is fighting for its life against cheaper, more efficient, ecologically preferable energy sources.  It now survives thanks to enormous taxpayer subsidies, so it plows vast sums into lobbying and into spreading disinformation.  The amount this industry spends on those activities could very possibly finance a full-scale conversion to clean energy.

            One huge problem that is widely ignored is loss of farmland.  Soil conservation has been quite effective in the US in recent years, leading to complacency.  The real problems now are urbanization and pollution.  Vast areas of productive soil and waters are lost to these.  California has urbanized almost a third of its farmland, including almost all the very best land, in the last two centuries.  Within my memory, “Silicon Valley” (the San Jose Valley) was probably the most productive orchard land in the world.  It now has no orchards at all.  Nothing is being done to halt the steady conversion of the best land to suburbs and parking lots.  Other states suffer less, but the problem is nationwide (and worldwide). 

            Conversely, there are some reasons to pull back on Obama’s new national monuments, and rather more reasons to look for more due process in future.  Obama declared vast areas of mixed-use land as national monument, without local consultation or input, and with some disregard for established interests.  In general, one can only sympathize with land protection, but more local input is highly desirable for both pragmatic and democratic reasons.

            Forestry has also suffered from a see-saw battle between lock-down preservation and totally destructive and wasteful clearcutting.  Wiser solutions (reforestation, controlled burning, thinning, etc.) have been well known for over 100 years.  They are too rarely invoked today.  A scan of satellite photographs of Oregon is instructive:  tiny pockets of overcrowded locked-down preserves, surrounded by vast moonscapes of badly recovering clearcuts.  Oregon has lost most of its songbirds, as well as its forestry futures.  There is a desperate need to maintain more wilderness, for reasons that have filled many whole books, but that would need to include some burning to preserve actual wild conditions.

            Specific conservation areas of major concern:

Biodiversity and endangered species preservation

Forest management: sustainable logging, controlled burning, disease control, etc.

Grasslands, wetlands and streams, brushlands, deserts:  sustainable management

Agriculture: getting away from deadly chemicals, continuing to fight soil erosion, saving farmland from urbanization, reducing meat and increasing vegetables, etc.


Urban sprawl and urban crowding; urban blight; lack of parks, markets, etc.


Park and recreation areas that are actually accessible to everyone

Environmental education       

Regulating imports: banning endangered species and hunting trophies, controlling dangerous pest importation, banning palm oil, banning or discouraging other ecocidal crops, etc.

            There is now no question that the world is warming rapidly, and that human-released greenhouse gases are the main reason.  The outright denialist positions are now apparently monopolized by public-relations people working for fossil fuel corporations.  (There is a long list of books and articles documenting this.)  Since not only all scientists, but all persons who have spent much time outdoors over more than a couple of decades, must admit that global warming is occurring, the denialists have fallen back on saying that it’s happened before.  Indeed it has; we know the causes, which were either the earth changing its tilt in regard to the sun (so the sun more effectively warmed the earth) or natural releases of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane.  The most dramatic well-known episode of that was a massive outpouring of CO2 from volcanoes, about 50 million years ago.  The Eocene world warmed rapidly and dramatically, and stayed warm for about 200,000 years.  Then it cooled so fast that trees growing in the high Arctic froze in place.  Explorers unthinkingly used some of them for firewood, only later discovering that their firewood was 50 million years old.  We are now releasing quantities of greenhouse gases comparable to those released by the volcanoes.

            The immediate consequences include slow but sure sea level rise, and increase in global temperatures to the point where major changes in biota and in human lives will occur.  In a bit of karma, the world’s main oil producing region, the lowland Middle East, will become uninhabitable in a few decades, as air temperatures soar into the 180s.  No one knows where this will end.  There is no reason to expect that the earth will not suffer the fate of Venus, with surface temperatures in the hundreds of degrees.

            The fastest and most effective way to deal with this is by leaving or restoring natural vegetation, especially forests.  That alone could blot up 20% of atmospheric carbon, given quite possible scenarios.  Other agricultural changes in the direction of less fuel-intensive, more biointensive farming would greatly help also.  There is a long literature on this, some reviewed in: Griscom, Bronson; Justin Adams; Peter Ellis; Richard Houghton; Guy Lomax; et al.  2017.  “Natural Climate Solutions.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114:11645-11650.

            Ultimately, the solution must extend to clean power; power generation for electric grids, transportation, and industry accounts for the other 80% of greenhouse gas release. 

            The denial industry has been financed by the large fossil-fuel corporations, who have hired public-relations firms and in-house scientists.  The Koch brothers are the most conspicuous organizers and funders of the effort, but ExxonMobil, Shell, and other firms have been involved. 

  • Health

            All other developed countries, and many less developed ones, now have government health care systems: socialist, single-payer, or government-insured.  All these systems work better than the US system, but every normal measure: life expectancy, days lost to work, maternal mortality, infant mortality, and coping with illnesses in general.  The US mix of government, private insurance, and private or religious health care is a disaster.  American pay twice as much as Europeans for vastly inferior care.  The only reasonable solution is to expand Medicare and Medicaid to cover everyone, while also expanding the CDC and other government agencies that deal with health. 

            Health education is another problem, as is the level of nutrition in virtually all environments in the US (and, in this case, most of the rest of the world also). 

            Research should add more work on prevention and education to the ongoing research on actual pathology and treatment.  We are not doing enough to prevent conditions like substance abuse.   We are not doing enough to stop pollution and clean up polluted environments.

  • Education

            Another value in extreme danger under the Trump administration is education.  His Secretary of Education opposes the whole idea of education, in the usual sense, and totally opposes public education.  She is systematically planning to minimize schooling and turn it into indoctrination in right-wing views.  We need the exact opposite: education to produce genuinely better people—people who are not hateful bullies, but who want to help others.

            Americans are not getting the type of education they need.  This would be one that 1) teaches civics, including the Constitution and a non-whitewashed US history; 2) teaches actual science and how one can tell falsehoods and investigate truth; 3) teach the young about the depth and complexity of human emotions. 

            Humanistic education these days runs too heavily to comic books and other media that may be well enough in themselves, but do not have the sustained engagement with human feelings and thoughts that one gets from Shakespeare, Cao Xueqin, Dostoievsky, Thomas Mann, or Toni Morrison.  Serious music seems to have disappeared from most people’s lives; again, whatever is true or not about “quality,” music of Victoria or Beethoven engages much more deep and complex emotions than the popular stuff.  Whatever one likes or feels is appropriate, people need more insights into humanity than they get from American popular culture.  A reasonable order of teaching children would be starting them with civil behavior (considerate, respectful, sharing; responsible reasonable), then going on to teach compassion and helpfulness because we are all in this together and must follow something like the Golden Rule.  This should be done along with reading, writing, history, and math, if we are to survive.

            The Republican tax cuts have caused a massive and steadily increasing flow of wealth from the poor and middle class to the super-rich.  Cutting tax deductions that the middle class uses, while maintaining those for the rich, accompanies huge cuts to the highest brackets of taxing and trivial and temporary cuts to the rest of us.  The resulting rise in national debt will be managed by cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other programs that transfer wealth to the less fortunate.  The worst problem with that, from an economic point of view, is that money in those programs is immediately spent—it goes directly into circulation, to buy goods and services.   The rich, in contrast, hoard their money, waiting for ideal investment possibilities.

            This is bad enough in the current good times, but Republican policies will certainly cause a depression in the near future.  At that point the less affluent will lose their jobs and savings, and the rich will have every incentive to move their wealth offshore—investing in other countries or stashing their money in tax shelters like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.  Other countries will be developing while the US is depressed; hence the rich will invest in the other countries. 

            By that time, also, education will have been devastated by Republican policies and funding cuts (see Kansas, currently leading in that area).  There will be no pool of young, educated people to re-grow the economy.  The depression will feed on itself, bringing the United States down, and letting other nations pick up the lead.

            The Democrats must unite, first of all, before doing anything else.  The current disunion (routinely described in the media as a “circular firing squad”) is suicidal.  Democrats will never win any close elections until they at least vote for each other. 

            Then, obviously, appealing to the former base—the great working class—is the next most important thing to do.  Democrats are perceived, with much reason, as having forsaken the workers to pursue other issues, many of which are of interest mainly to well-to-do, educated urbanites.  Populist issues like health care and tax fairness should be foregrounded.

            Third is getting out the vote.  This should be obvious, but Democrats have failed to do it for the last several elections.  Money is spent on lavish media campaigns—not terribly effective—instead of the proven doorbell-ringing and precinct phoning and activism.

            Fourth is a concentrated fight against voter suppression and gerrymandering.  Again, this should be obvious, but Democratic officials have been surprisingly quiet about it.

            Fifth is more aggressive calling out the Trump administration on their constant lies and misrepresentations, and above all naming names of their funders and backers who are really calling the dishonest shots—the Koch brothers on global warming, for instance.

            There are many other issues I could name, but those five, in order, seem to me the key ones.  Without attention to these five, the Democratic party is finished, and the US will be a one-party nation.

            First, the standard freedoms, including all human and civil rights, guarantee of impartial justice (especially impartial to dollars) and rights to organize.  Explicitly, money is not speech.

            Next, full rights to a decent environment—minimal pollution and waste, no subsidies for primary production, preservation of as much of nature as possible given the need to maintain a decent standard of living.

            Next, no offensive war; war only to defend the country from direct attack, but that can cover going after terrorists abroad.

            Then, firm graduated tax rate, written into the constitution.  No tax exemptions except for legitimate business and work expenses, and actual, effective charities. No exceptions for churches, for “charities” that do not spend over 80% of their incomes on actual charity work (as opposed to “overhead” and administration), or political outfits masquerading as “non-profits.”  Offshore tax havens and the like would be absolutely illegal, with extreme penalties.

No subsidies, no favoring specific businesses, minimal restriction of business and trade, but firm regulations such that harm and cheating do not happen. 

            Free universal health care (free up to a point—small deductibles possible, and no free discretionary treatment such as plastic surgery for looks).

            Free universal education with arts as well as sciences in the schools.

            Savage penalties for corruption, which would be defined to include donating campaign funds beyond a set low limit.

            Universal national service: a year in the military, a year doing environmental work, then a year of social work.  Lifetime emergency call-up, as in Switzerland.

            Discouragement of hate and hate speech.  Citizens see their duty as opposing it and damping it down.  No penalties, but extreme, savage penalties for violating civil rights and for hate crimes.

            Campaign fund regulations, especially in sensitive things like judicial elections.

            Aesthetics encouraged; national conservation in museums, sites, etc. 


Thanks to Barbara Anderson, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Jennifer Skornik, and Andrea Wilson for ever-valuable comments.


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