Resources that might explain why people treat each other badly?
February 21, 2013 11:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for resources to help me understand why it is that people treat each other badly. Specifically, I'm thinking about large-scale injustices that people in power either create or refuse to fix. Whenever I try to understand the roots of these issues, I try to put myself in the shoes of the people who created them and/or those who refuse to use their power to fix it - but I just cannot understand it. I think it's important for me to get a better handle on this, because I want to work toward making the world more just, so I would love any help you can give me to gain some understanding of their mindsets and perspectives.
posted by inatizzy to Religion & Philosophy (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Evil. Some people are evil. How does that happen? A repeated habit of choosing the selfish path until your conscience no longer speaks up. People do all sorts of horrible things bc it makes them feel powerful or as means to an end. And other people do nothing bc they do not want confrontation or they are lazy or afraid or don't care as long as it does not affect them directly. Evil. Mind your ethics in the small decisions and develop a habit of making right choices, incl the cboice not to put yourself in situations of great temptation.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 12:57 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

[It's fine to maybe summarize info, but to keep this from just being a collection of personal ruminations or general chat, please recommend resources (books, articles, videos, sites, etc.) that you feel might help provide insight. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:07 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think this video clip of philosopher Peter Singer has influenced my thinking about ethics more than just about anything else in recent years. It might be a place to start learning from someone who has given this kind of thing a lot of thought.
posted by cellura p at 1:50 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

To name but a few:

The Scapegoat: René Girard's Anthropology of Violence and Religion

War Before Civilization by Lawrence H. Keeley

Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage - Steven A. LeBlanc with Katherine E. Register

Reflections : or sentences and moral maxims - François, duc de La Rochefoucauld

posted by y2karl at 2:31 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Simon Baron-Cohen (he's the comedian's cousin)
posted by decathecting at 5:32 AM on February 22, 2013

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is about how countries can be evil to one another but you learn that by reading the story of one American family living in the Congo. It doesn't give a definitive answer but it will definitely give you food for thought.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:12 AM on February 22, 2013

Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt
posted by decathexis at 7:24 AM on February 22, 2013

I read this many years ago, but I think it addresses your question.
Are we all Nazis? by Hans Askenasy
posted by neutralmojo at 7:29 AM on February 22, 2013

Also, the Milgram experiment is one of the foundational psychological experiments towards this line of inquiry, so researching it may give you more information on it or lead to similarly applicable work.
posted by decathexis at 7:31 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might want to come at this from a slightly different direction to get more insight.
There have been a lot of articles recently about psychopaths/sociopaths and how many business leaders, successful politicians often exhibit similar traits. So if you buy that argument, the question becomes what creates a psychopath? This probably leads you into neuroscience. What are the conditions for creating a criminal, a bully, a racist?

I would also distinguish between common human traits and tendencies (Milgram, the Nazis, as outlined above..."the banality of evil"), the Camus notion that we are all capable of anything, the seemingly pervasive "fear of the other"/my tribe against yours, and the extremes epitomized by Stalin, Mao, Hitler etc.

You could get into neuroscience, sociology, economics, religion, hierarchies, pack behaviour...

Big question.
posted by PickeringPete at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2013

The wikipedia page on deviance may lead you down interesting paths.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2013

Reading this right now. I suggest it seriously, it's rigorous and has real-world examples.
posted by troywestfield at 10:50 AM on February 22, 2013

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo provides a close analysis of his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and similar cases. IIRC, he wrote the book specifically in response to Abu Ghraib.

For a more rigorous book on the same topic, see Lack of Character by Doris.
posted by meese at 8:47 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to recommend The Science of Good & Evil every chance I get. The part that struck me the most was when Michael Shermer explains that a society without evil is impossible, and how we need bad people in order to prevent complacency. A rather chilling thought.
posted by princeoftheair at 10:14 PM on February 24, 2013

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