Thoughts spurred by ISIS, apparently. From New Scientist:
What turns an ordinary person into a killer? The idea that a civilised human being might be capable of barbaric acts is so alien that we often blame our animal instincts – the older, “primitive” areas of the brain taking over and subverting their more rational counterparts. But fresh thinking turns this long-standing explanation on its head. It suggests that people perform brutal acts because the “higher”, more evolved, brain overreaches. The set of brain changes involved has been dubbed Syndrome E – with E standing for evil.
Yes, evil is an intelligent choice.
Not a “natural” one. As Aesop’s fable tells it, the scorpion doesn’t sting because he is evil, but just because he is a scorpion. That’s what he does.
But get this:
In a world where ideological killings are rife, new insights into this problem are sorely needed. But reframing evil as a disease is controversial. Some believe it could provide justification for heinous acts or hand extreme organisations a recipe for radicalising more young people. Others argue that it denies the reality that we all have the potential for evil within us. Proponents, however, say that if evil really is a pathology, then society ought to try to diagnose susceptible individuals and reduce contagion. And if we can do that, perhaps we can put radicalisation into reverse, too. More.
All that will really happen, of course, is that people diagnosed as “evil” will receive special privileges. That’s only bad news for those of us who are neither the perp nor the guy making a living off the perp.
See also: How can we believe in naturalism if we have no choice?
An evolutionary challenge: explaining away compassion, philanthropy, and self-sacrifice
Reality check: A reader writes, at Uncommon Descent, from which this was cross-posted:
Well, some of the people who are thus diagnosed will receive a get-out-of-jail free card. The others will endure an abridgement of their rights so that the Powers That Be may ‘cure’ them. And remember, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the punishments a government may deal out are limited by law, but the ‘cures’ have no limit.
The truly privileged will be those who are empowered to make the diagnosis and apply the ‘cure’.
He’s right, and wish I’d said that.