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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

Science of Evil

Several days ago, Zack gave us a presentation on the ¨Science of Evil.¨ We discussed the stages of evil acts and the mental process by which they occur. What constitutes evil? What plays out before, during, and after an evil act, both with the perpetrator and the victims? Are evil acts done by naturally evil people or is anybody capable of evil? One of the things I really liked about our discussion was the way it broke down the ¨other¨mentality that I feel can easily surround this conversation. This happened in two different ways. Firstly, our discussion of genocide took into account examples of genocide and discrimination that were directly relevant to us.

At least for me, the topic of genocide can feel a bit unattached and far away from me and the country I live in. It is something that happened decades ago and if it happens today, it is in a Rwanda or a Myanmar, countries far across the world that I have little personal knowledge about. Zack´s talk helped break this mentality for me. Genocide is something that has distinctly occurred in the United States, perpetrated by our government and some of the figures that we still hold in such high regard in our country. On a much less extreme but still very important level, many of the so called ¨stages¨of genocide have occurred up in our history and continue to happen to this day.

Japanese interment during WW2 clearly involves at least 3 of the stages (classification, symbolization, dehumanization). I would say that the portrayal and actions against Muslims in our current American political climate definitly has at least several of those 3 as well. That is not to say in any way that the US is preparing a genocide against Muslims or Muslim Americans, but it is at least startling to realize how easily several of those earlier stages of discrimination can pop up in your own society.

The lecture also made me consider the way the process of evil on a more personal level. Everybody would like to think that they are inherently good. To do something evil would be unsconsciable, something done by despotic leaders and pyscopaths different from ourselves in any way. The things we looked at it showed me a dramatically different picture. The Stanford prison experiment took normal college kids and put that in a guard and prisoner simulation scenario. The conduct between the guards and prisoners became so horrific and unseemly that the study had to be stopped in a matter of days. Study after study shows that the majority of the population, ¨regular people¨are capable of acts that we would consider very much ¨evil.¨ Evil is not some foreign concept that occurs in a couple individuals, or in a dictatorial far away country: it is an easily attainable force that has occured in our own nation and can occur within ourselves as well should the right circumstances present themselves.