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Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty Paperback – 1 Mar 1999
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About the Author
Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., holds the E. B. Smith Professorship in Liberal Arts at Case Western Reserve University. Since receiving his doctorate in social psychology from Princeton University, he has received numerous fellowships and awards. He has published nearly 150 scientific works and is cited in numerous sources in the popular media. Baumeister has authored or co-authored nine other books, including Losing Control: How and Why Self-Regulation Fails and Meanings of Life. He lives on the shores of the Great Lakes.
Dr. Aaron T. Beck, M.D., the Father of Cognitive Therapy, is University Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, and President of The Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy. He is the author and co-author of twelve books and over 350 articles and chapters.
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Baumeister is a very well known psychology academic. He pioneered a whole area of psychology focussed on willpower and self control. He has a NY Times bestseller entitled Willpower. Self control is a primary predictor of success, health, happiness, incarceration, effectiveness, etc.
This book on evil is built on Baumeister’s work on self control. Those that claim the book makes unsubstantiated claims failed to look at the bibliography and source material this foremost academic psychologist brings to bear on the subject of evil. Tje idea that evil is caused by a failure of self control is nuanced, actionable, and supported widely in studies on the subject (eg, such as the Stanford Prison study).
I have had contact with evil in my life, and there is a scale as discussed in the book. The book is an effective look into the causes of evil actors in our world. If we betternunderstood these ideas, perhaps we could do a better job at identifying them to stop some of their harm. For example, the root causes of most gun violence in the US is explained in this book.
After adopting the simple definition of "intentional harm to other people", the author identifies the four roots of evil as greed, egotism, idealism, and sadism, and explores each of these in depth. He dispels the popular misunderstanding that low self-esteem is a major contributor to violent behavior. Instead his careful analysis establishes that people who have high self-esteem, but lack a firm basis for that belief, are especially prone to be violent. He describes how an ordinary person crosses the line into evil, how evil spreads, and how perpetrators deal with guilt. After examining the provocative question of "why is there not more evil" he describes the central role of self-control in preventing evil. He also describes how typical bystanders often unwittingly contribute to evil acts.
Central to the analysis is the principle he calls the "magnitude gap." This describes the discrepancy between the importance of an evil act to the perpetrator and the victim. This magnitude gap accounts for the rapid escalation of violence that is so typical in retaliation. The response chosen to avenge each provocation is amplified at each round to account for the victim's point of view.
Because lasting peace will come only from a profound understanding of violence, the analysis and insight this book provides is an important contribution toward a more peaceful world.