From Publishers Weekly
In this open-minded, provocative, unsettling inquiry into the causes of evil, Baumeister rejects the entrenched view that low self-esteem causes violence and aggression. On the contrary, he argues, violent or evil people tend to have highly favorable opinions of themselves, and cross the line to commit immoral, hurtful acts when they feel their egotism is threatened by others. Among the root causes of evil he identifies are ambition, desire for power or wealth, misplaced idealistic adherence to a creed or doctrine and sadistic pleasure. He applies this framework, with varying degrees of persuasiveness, to an analysis of diverse evils: murder, rape, street crime, war, petty cruelty, emotional abuse, wife beating, government repression, racial and ethnic hatreds. A social psychologist at Case Western Reserve University, Baumeister believes that evil grows and spreads when cultures stop restraining individuals' angry, violent impulses?a process abetted by desensitization, yearnings for revenge, group conformity and inadequate socialization or upbringing. His rewarding study challenges?and complements?traditional, religion-based views of evil with a humanistic perspective. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Baumeister, a professor of social psychology, examines evil beyond the many myths associated with it, rejecting the belief that certain people possess a "pure evil" core. Instead, his survey of evil acts by people throughout history focuses more on the question of what stimuli or scenarios have led rather ordinary people to commit heinous crimes like the Holocaust. Baumeister concludes that most perpetrators do not see their actions as inherently bad and often see themselves as victims fighting for survival. Evil, he believes, is often the result of an incremental accumulation of pressures or rewards, and it is frequently connected with peer pressure, the need for acceptance, and losing one's identity to a group. Even rather idealistic people, he argues, can and will participate in the most horrible behaviors, completely believing in the right of what they're doing. A revealing and unflinching look at a subject usually ignored. Brian McCombie