2 Jan 2007
What I’d like to know is the attitude towards ‘cutting’ during normal times.
I’ve long noticed how collective or institutional behavior can make acceptable what is normally regarded as repugnant for an individual. Take theft, for example. Most individuals I know see common theft as un-dignified and consequently un-worthy of a civilized being living in a civilized society. However, the same act is seen as benign if it is done through the government; “we” decide how “we” are going to spend “our” money as we reach into our neighbor’s pocket through a collective process. How easy it is to merge into the collective and not even notice that one is committing the same act that would otherwise find repugnant. Whenever I’ve pointed this out most people hide behind the excuse “everyone does it.”
3 Jan 2007
Once again Dalrymple invites us to think in uncomfortable areas of the human condition. I have read all his articles and find his rationale incisively sound, his subject knowledge impressive, and his conclusions chilling.
Why can't we have men like this in government?
16 Jan 2007
Mr. Dalrymple makes a point to tell us of his extensive travels through the under-belly of black Africa prior to the Rwanda genocide. That is why his repeated insistence as to the intelligence, sophistication and decidedly non-primitive nature of these people is all the more curious. Almost as if he fully expected to stumble upon a band of dirty, illiterate Hottentots running naked through the forest. We can be thankful he forcefully dispels such archaic presuppositions.
16 Jan 2007
There is a great deal of writing and research on human altruism, notions of fairness and capacity for cooperation. It is time that the pendulum swung back a little to examine his (and her) capacity for remorseless evil. It is only by doing so that we will understand what is needed to prevent us slipping back into pre-human amorality despite our rather tenuous human guilt and empathy.
16 Jan 2007
As to dismissing the easy way out of thinking that the butchers in Rwanda are a different tribe and to thank God (if there is one) that we are not as other men, and women, are, did not Solzenhitsyn write somewhere in his book about the Gulag Archipelago that it would be fine if only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and we just needed to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them -- but that, in fact, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
16 Jan 2007
Based on a trip I took to Rwanda last year and close reading of both Hatzfeld books. Into the Quick of Life - The Survivors Speak and Machete Season - The Killers speak, I have written a book of poems to try in some way to show how common place evil can be. One of the killers quoted by Hatzfeld remarked that they considered the genocide "The Lucky Season". Imagine that. Years later, a killer talking somewhat nostalgicvally about the "Lucky Season". I would be happy to send a copy of my book to Theodore. It is called Again, No More - Poems of Africa. I am trying to give readings all over based on these poems. To in some way, any way, help educate the West so that truly something of this scale does not happen again.
17 Jan 2007
From ancient this kind of evil occuredin the world.One reason may be that we all are afraid of death.our entire life is based on daeth.WHEN WE KILLED SOME ONEWE THINK WE ARE SAFE AFTER ALL THIS IS ILLUSION.
But all mankind is live in illusion,and afraid of death, then why so much mas killing in rawanda, I THINK WHEN LAWLESSNESS SPREAD IN ANY COUNTRIES THIS KIND OF MADNESS EASLY SPREAD.ONLY SOLUTION IS KEEP ANY COST LAWFULLNESS IN SOCIETY
17 Jan 2007
George J. Leonard
Dalrymple's essays give me as much intellectual pleasure (if one can call it pleasure) as Orwell's philosophic journalism and Larkin's poems.
This one reminded me of the chill I felt reading Larkin's "Sunny Prestatyn."
17 Jan 2007
My own definition of evil is pretty simple: anything which decreases freedom both physically and metaphysically. The idea that has so much currency today that evil is always the result of ignorance is true but not wholly so; knowledge is indeed a component of freedom and ignorance necessarily curbs freedom, but many highly educated people are astonishingly ignorant, and many uneducated people are not only knowledgeable but wise. Education doesn't cure ignorance per se, and lack of education doesn't prevent learning.
The romantic ideal that a good education will cure all ills is painfully refuted by the 20th century; many of the worst monsters were highly educated, or if not themselves, they were surrounded by doctors of medicine, science, or art who were very quick to rationalize depravity. Native intelligence is likewise no guarantor of goodness, as the same examples, or the additional example of serial killers can demonstrate.
The real difficulty is not understanding evil, since all of us know perfectly well our own leanings in that direction. Everyone has had a wicked impulse to do something dastardly, and many or even most of us have actually carried the impulse into action. Each such successful act makes the next easier, and decreases not only the victim's freedom but the perpetrator's. What can a paedophiliac or other rapist ever do to undo their vile acts? How can a murderer atone for the innocent blood he spilled? It is self-imposed slavery, but slavery it remains. Every additional act increases the strength of the self-imposed chains until even horrific deeds seem like nothing.
These self-imposed chains come from many directions; and in essence they are all part of the most common of all human undertakings, which is the desperate attempt to escape responsibility. Almost every religion, philosophy and political movement includes a sop to this desire, and the more irresponsibility is allowed, the more popular it will become.
It doesn't seem to me very difficult to understand evil, because it seems to be just a logical progression from ordinary and very common beliefs. The fragility of those beliefs and traditions is something most of us generally don't want to think about, but they remain extremely fragile. In my own life I have set bounds and guards to avoid heading down that road. For example, when I was 11 years old I discovered the existence of Child Pornography from a Readers Digest article. I decided then that if my digust ever turned to curiosity I would immediately kill myself. I'm 38 now and still alive, and in that area at least I am perfect.
It never occurred to me even when I was 11 that it was impossible for ME to become such a vile person. I always believed that it was possible unless I prevented it from happening by my own will and exertion of freedom.
I'm willing now to assert that I will never take part in a pogrom of the sort that occurred in Rwanda, and many other areas of evil likewise remain far away and metally guarded by specific thresholds. Nonetheless I believe that constant vigiliance over one's own mind and soul is necessary to prevent the slow descent into slavery, and I intend to increase my level of freedom every chance I get.
18 Jan 2007
What strikes me most about not just the perpetrators here but also the sociopathic behaviour of others I've read about and encountered elsewhere, is that the perpetrators do not think of themselves as carrying out "evil" acts. Either they are conscienceless, as in the case of sociopaths, or else they are able to rationalize and justify their actions by reference to, for example, science, or to the prevailing morality that frames their actions as reasonable. The comment from Solzhenitsyn is apt in this respect, and it is why the capacity for behaving in a "similar" way is not beyond any human being capable of uncritical devotion to a worldview that dehumanizes others and brutalizes us all.
18 Jan 2007
The behavior described is appalling but not surprising. It would not surprise me to learn that such behavior was fairly typical of all our ancestors prior to the time for which we have documentation for specific behavior. In fact, looking around at how the other predatory species act (and thus both our more ancient ancestry and surrounding dangers and difficulties), how would you have expected a species to evolve that would be different in its inclinations from this? That is, given the nature of the physical universe, what could you expect earth to be like, and given the nature of the earth what could you expect the species evolving on it to be like, and given those surroundings and that early DNA, what could WE be expected to be like?
To me the utterly amazing thing is your and my ability to find that behavior so unbelievably appalling--that and the fact that there are as many exceptions to such behavior as there are.
In fact it is difficult for me to imagine our species not continuing to engage in such behavior at ever higher and higher levels of technological sophistication until we have brought ourselves (and most of the other species with which we feel any real affinity) to a bad end--after which the true top predators of our planet (the unicellular ones--it is a typically human piece of vanity to think of ourselves as the top predator, instead of the predators constantly feeding on us and frequently killing us) will continue to dominate as they have done for so many eons.
Perhaps we will reach enough technological sophistication before we kill ourselves off to contaminate other locales than earth with the beginnings of another whole round of earthlike ruthless viciousness before we do. Is not Evil God? At least the "highest" among the earth's religions all project the human soul onto infinity by describing gods who revel in such behavior and are waiting eagerly to practice such viciousness on people as soon as they die if not before (whether they supposedly expect humans not in political power fawning on them to act differently or not)?
Just be glad that you and I and a modest number of others are lucky enough to live in precious temporary little bubbles of fragile knowledge, peace and prosperity instead of having cropped up in more typical earth environments of human beings such as Medieval Spain, pre-Columbian Central America, modern Ireland, the environs of modern Germany or Germany during the 30 years war, the entire Middle East at any time in known history, any neighborhood near ancient Rome, anywhere in or near China at various terrible times, anywhere in America during the Civil War, the American South at any time before the middle of the 20th century, as native North Americans just before the arrival of the European invasion, or ....
The list could go on and on and on of the absurd bloody horrors perpetrated by our species. The rare thing about Rwanda is probably the honesty of the comments of the perpetrators. Most of the perpetrators of these outlandish acts make up the most imaginative JUSTIFICATIONS of their behavior--though undoubtedly the actual intention of the behavior has been quite equivalent to that of the Hutu killers. That is the way of earthlings of every stripe.
Accounts by perpetrators of what their depredations are about often reach imaginative heights, but the BEHAVIOR still at the moral level of our truly ancient unicellular ancestors just keeps on ticking.
There continue to be RARE EXCEPTIONS to such behavior, but how would you expect the normal behavior of earth animals not to continue among most of our species most of the time. The template for the human being is not the Amish, let us say, but Iraq, for example (for the last 5,000 years of its known horrifying history right through today's news).
23 Jan 2007
The genocide in Rwanda is a sobering reminder that "evil" is never far away from the reality of mankind. Although I think the psychological impetus here was different than those of the Nazis, what's staggering is how easily mundane and quotidian the act of murder becomes in genocide. It's how quickly a collective conscience of insanity is able to replace individualism that's most frightening to me and a glimpse into the reptilian core of our species. Culture and society are thin veils over the animals we all are. It makes one wonder if, as a species, we'll ever be able to stop killing each other.
23 Jan 2007
This is one well written essay that now clarifies any thoughts and questions I once had on the evils happening in the world.
2 May 2007
I enjoy Dalrymple's writing, having read all his books and as many essays as I can sneak into my day. The book he describes is critical reading, as are others that document and address the human capacity for self-centeredness and amorality. It is perhaps of greater value, as well, to immerse ourselves with stories that attest to our capacity for redemption and the urgent need to seek it 24/7.
Scripture is one such series of stories. Even if not taken as God-breathed, it certainly is an apt description of the human condition (behavior/psyche): The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. Genesis 6:5
The new testament addresses the practical reality of the need for forgiveness, healing, and the possibility of redemption in the story of the Messiah, who came not as a conquerer of Rome as was the popular hope, but over eternal death of soul darkness, not only in the afterlife, but while living with the the ever-present reality of evil on the planet: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matt 10:16
Knowing that evil will indeed have its day, Paul teaches, Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Ro 12:17
So long as we draw breath, evil will reign; we are called to name it, resist it, conquer it, and then triumph over it, that is - release ourselves from its bondage when we've been subjected to it. Of course, this all becomes more complex when we refuse to recognize that it - evil - simply is the order of the day.
I would love to read Dalrymple's analysis of some of these epic biblical tales and guiding principles.
17 May 2007
Wim de Vriend
Dr Dalrymple writes:
No, it is impossible to console ourselves with the thought that the Rwandans are so different from us that they and their experiences have nothing to say to us.
I never had that illusion while reading his piece. The rationale for the Rwanda genocide was no different from that for Hitler's invasion of Russia in 1941. Germany must have more land to raise more food, the Slavs were subhuman and could be freely wiped out. Not that Stalin didn't employ similar methods himself; Hitler was more open about his.
22 Jul 2007
An interesting feature Rawanda and Burundi is that in spite of all the disquiet expressed in recent times about what has happened there, very little is mentioned of how the world ignored the massive genocide which occurred there more than four decades back. The Watutsi were massacred in Rawanda. They then decided to get in first, and the Bahutu were treated similarly in Burundi.
The Papal representative reported what was happening to Rome. The World Council of Churches representative filed reports. Even the local C.I.A. officer asked for someone to do something somewhere. But the world (perhaps too caught up in the problems of Cod War dictates?) did absolutly zilch.
Isn't 'morality' a complex issue?