“When the Good Do Bad”

Brooks, David

The New York Times, March 19, 2012

A27

People are often shocked when a mass murderer is identified. They knew him as compassionate and kind. How could he have blown away 16 Afghan civilians? The shock comes from a worldview that holds that most people are naturally good and that only a few beasts are the killers. And yet somebody who seems good often does what’s bad. It happens all the time. “David Buss of the University of Texas asked his students if they had ever thought seriously about killing someone, and if so, to write out their homicidal fantasies in an essay. He was astonished to find that 91 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women had detailed, vivid homicidal fantasies. He was even more astonished to learn how many steps some of his students had taken toward carrying them out. One woman invited an abusive ex-boyfriend to dinner with thoughts of stabbing him in the chest. A young man in a fit of road rage pulled a baseball bat out of his trunk and would have pummeled his opponent if he hadn’t run away. Another young man planned the progression of his murder — crushing a former friend’s fingers, puncturing his lungs, then killing him. . . . We are descended from creatures who killed to thrive and survive. We’re natural-born killers and the real question is not what makes people kill but what prevents them from doing so.” To handle all the facts about humans, Brooks goes on, you need something like a doctrine of original sin. “John Calvin believed that babies come out depraved (he was sort of right; the most violent stage of life is age 2).”