Commenter “Ymarsakar” made an interesting observation two days ago. The subject:
When the world declares Jews, Republicans, and whites to be non humans that need to be exterminated to get rid of a threat to humanity, most people will Obey.
Most will. They have nothing in their spine that can resist the Power of the World and its numbers. Nothing.
I have a slightly different take on it. I’ve long conceptualized the whole thing as a hierarchy of evil and the resistance to it, a sort of ladder with many rungs. Here they are, in order from most evil to most dedicated to fighting evil:
Some people will conceptualize, plan, and implement it as leaders.
Some people will actively cooperate with vigor.
Some people will support it but not actively participate.
Some people will be indifferent unless it directly reaches them or their family.
Some people will be somewhat disturbed by it, but manage to put it out of their minds most of the time and go on with their lives.
Some people will be disturbed by it and contemplate various forms of resistance, but will be too frightened to act.
Some people will be disturbed by it and will decide to act in small ways to resist it, ways they consider lower risk.
Some people will be disturbed by it and will decide to take great risks in order to resist it, but could be stopped by threats (not necessarily threats to themselves, but threats to friends and family).
Some people will risk all to actively resist it in every way they can.
An example of the latter would be those Poles who continued their rescue efforts and resistance despite this type of retribution from the Nazis:
Poland was the only place where German law rendered any assistance to Jews punishable by death. That punishment was severe and collective: It was meted out not only to the rescuer but also to his entire family and to anyone else who knew about such activities and did not report them. Almost 1,000 Poles were killed this way, including entire families whose children were not spared.
When we talk about the prevalence of evil in humanity, and whether people are “good at heart,” this is what I think we’re actually discussing. What percentage of the population belongs to each group? I don’t know, but if I had to guess at the shape of a graph, it probably would be a normal distribution—that is, the biggest bump would be in the middle groups, with much smaller numbers for the beginning and ending rungs of the ladder of evil.
So what causes the difference among the groups? Why is a person in one rather than another? Darned if I know, but I have ideas. Some of it probably has to do with devotion to something beyond oneself, which could be religion (in certain circumstances it could even be Communism—in Poland, for example, many of the resisters to the Nazis were Communists). This can lead to good or to evil (such as the 9/11 terrorists). Many of the differences among groups almost certainly involve personal traits that are some combination of nature and nurture, such as the extent of the devotion to liberty. And although psychopaths/sociopaths (the ladder’s first couple of rungs) are often born, certain societies in certain times can be especially effective at fostering and encouraging and promoting them, and using them most fully to further goals of the group rather than just goals of the individual psychopath/sociopath.
In the end, though, there is something mysterious about it all: the problem of evil, with which humankind has been wrestling for aeons.