Acts of evil always puzzle civilized people because they cut against the grain of what we all believe: that violence against innocents breaks the bonds of basic humanity. That means that when we see an act of evil, we have a tendency to simply label it “other” and then to dismiss it as out-of-the-norm. Here, for example, is National Review’s Jim Geraghty, with whom I usually agree:
We’re going to hear a lot of questions in the coming days about “why did he do it?” Does it matter? Aren’t all of these shooters more or less the same? In their minds, they’ve been wronged by the world; the world owed them something and it refused to give it to them.
That’s certainly true. But not all evil is the same, at least in terms of how we fight it. Yes, all evil people feel aggrieved. But that’s not enough – lots of non-evil people feel aggrieved, too, sometimes correctly.
A good framework for examining evil comes from psychologist Roy Baumeister. In his book Evil: Inside Human Violence And Cruelty, Baumeister breaks down four types of evil.
1. Instrumentality: The notion that evil acts aren’t evil so long as you’re performing them with a good end in mind. This would include the suicide bomber, who believes that he’s changing the world for the better by slaughtering children in pizzerias, or the dictator who slaughters his enemies in pursuit of power.