And Evil

      I've been looking for some hi-profile bad guys to include in my karass so that we could consider what went wrong. However, 1935ers seem to be a very law-abiding and rule-following lot. Charlie Manson (11 November 1934) and Angelo Buono Jr. - The Boston Strangler (5 October 1934) are a few months too old. The Kray twins - Ronald and Reginald (24 October 1933) are 2 years too old and Saddam Hussein (28 April 1937) is 2 years too young. Andrei Chikatilo (16 October 1936), who killed and cannibalised 53 children in Russia between 1978 and 1990 was a year too young. Ian Brady (2 January 1938), with is accomplice Myra Hindley, the notorious Moors murderers, and Charles Starkweather (25 November 1938), with 14-year-old girl-friend, Caril Fugate, inspiration for Natural Born Killers were 3 years too young.

      However, I did finally find three people, born in 1935, who could be considered as "bad guys" - a Mafia hit-man - Richard Kuklinski (11 April 1935), a dictator - General Gnassingbé Eyadema (26 December 1935), and a white-collar criminal - Robert Vesco (12 April 1935).

      Richard Kuklinski is reputed to have killed between 100 and 200 people. He didn't kill them for their money or because he was annoyed at them - he killed them because he was paid to kill them. He was just doing his job. Unlike most hitmen, who use only one weapon, he was very versatile. He used guns, chainsaws, tire irons, cyanide, and his hands. Looking into his childhood, you find the usual background of such callous people, his childhood came with Assault and Battery included. When he should have, according to nature's plan, been establishing empathy for other people, he was acquiring enmity towards his father who beat him for sport and, by generalisation, for other men. He would have been eligible for parole when he was 111. Fortunately he died.

      In Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore certain "freaky" relationships revealed by statistics [LEVITT & DUBNER]. One of the most remarkable relationships they revealed was between the passing of the law permitting abortion and the decline in crime statistics 20 years later . Unwanted, and therefore potentially abused children, were not being born to commit the crimes 20 years later. How many Kuklinskis were cut off before their criminal careers got started?

      General Gnassingbé Eyadema ruled Togo for 38 years. He acquired and retained his power through a regime of fear and brutality. He rejoiced in all the trappings of power - an entourage of 1,000 dancing women who sang and danced in praise of him; portraits which adorned most stores; a bronze statue in the capital city, Lomé; $20 wristwatches with his portrait, which disappeared and re-appeared every fifteen seconds; and even a comic book that depicted him in a Superman-esque role. No one was telling him he was a pompous ass. His absolute power corrupted him absolutely.

      Robert Vesco was a victim not so much of power but of greed, the other aspect of human nature encouraged in a capitalist society. He absconded with millions of dollars of money entrusted to him by other people when under investigation of his business practices by the SEC. After wandering around various South American countries without extradition agreements with the United States, he ended up in Cuba. He was allowed to stay if he didn't get involved in any shady deals but he continued in his dissolute ways and is now in a Cuban prison until 2009. His biographer, Arthur Herzog, calls him the king of white-collar criminals [HERZOG]. It's a dubious title. A blue-collar criminal, who goes into a bank and takes the money, is somehow more "honest" than someone who acquires your confidence and steals your money with a smile. Trust is very important in social animals like us. Robin Dunbar, in his book Grooming, Gossip, and the Origin of Language, attributes our fascination with gossip to the fact that gossip ensures a bad reputation for a member of the tribe who is untrustworthy [DUNBAR 1996].

      Capitalism has proven itself as a powerful device for the generation of wealth. After the fall of the Soviet Empire, Francis Fukuwaya declared the end of history with the triumph of capitalism over its major rival - socialism [FUGUWAYA]. He failed, however, to point out that this is a sort of Pyrrhic victory. It has demonstrated that certain negative aspects of human nature - power and greed - are stronger than certain positive aspects - brotherhood and empathy.1 Capitalism has demonstrated that it is the best way to generate wealth but, since it is based on the bad side of human nature, it is not the best way to share this wealth. It creates a climate which encourages the human potential for power and greed.

      In attributing the badness of my "bad guys" to abusive and neglectful parents in the case of Kuklinski, to a capitalist culture which encourages greed in the case of Vesco, and to a climate in which power is absolute in the case of Eyadema, I would seem to be reverting to behaviourism. They had been corrupted by their environments. However, they would not have been corrupted unless there is some aspect of human nature which is corruptible. It is the interaction between this potential and their environments which doomed the victims of Kuplinski, the thousands of people who lost their life savings to Vesco, and the population of Togo which lived in an oppressive environment during the reign of terror of Eyadema.

      The down-side of turning the question of good and evil over to the secular side of science is that we are reluctant to face our dark side. Religion rubs our nose in evil but psychology holds its nose. Two psychologists, Bernard Bererlson and Gary Steiner, summarised what psychologists knew about people in 1964 [BERELSON & STEINER]. Their major conclusion was that we can't stand too much reality. Gary Steiner committed suicide shortly after completing the book. Since then, psychologists like Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo have provided clear empirical evidence that the evil side of human nature emerges under certain circumstances. Milgram found that people will shock others if told to do so by an authority figure in a white lab coat. Zimbardo found that students assigned as guards in a simulated prison will be brutal towards students assigned as prisoners. Lauren Slater included their experiments in her study of great psychological experiments of the twentieth century [SLATER]. She points out that rules for the ethical treatment of subjects now prevent such experiments from being conducted. The official reason is that such experiments may damage the self-esteem of the subjects. Perhaps the real reason is that we don't want to look too closely at the dark side of ourselves. In the right situation, we are all potential Kuklinskis, Eyademas, and Vescos.

      Psychologists are even a bit squeamish about talking about good. I was once secretly in love with Genevieve Bujold, a beautiful and talented French-Canadian actress, and thus got very interested in Gordon Sheppard, the fellow she was living with at the time. Why him and not me? He was pointed out to me in the street. He looked like a pleasant fellow but not outrageously handsome. He was introduced to me. He was bright but not obviously brilliant. He took me home to his apartment (which I later visited often hoping he wouldn't be home!). He was comfortably off but not incredibly wealthy. As I got to know Gordon better and better, I found that he was a good man. It was a sad reflection on me and my times that I was looking for all the flashy stuff before considering goodness as the reason why a beautiful and talented actress was living with him and not me.

      One psychologist who was not embarrassed about talking about goodness. was Abraham Maslow. A note from Ruth Benedict, one of his teachers and one of the few people he considered self-actualized, was discovered in his files while preparing a posthumous book of his essays. Benedict, an anthropologist, had devoted her life to studying other cultures. She liked some of them and she didn't like others. Her note indicated that she had finally realised that she liked the cultures which were synergetic (that is, where the ends of the individual and the ends of the society are compatible) and she didn't like cultures which were antagonistic (that is, where the ends of the individual and the ends of society are in conflict). Needless to say, our culture, whether seen as Good Person/Bad Society (Rousseau) or Bad Person/Good Society (Hobbes), was antagonistic. Maslow used this distinction in considering the Good Person and the Good Society.

Return to the Table of Contents       Continue to Chapter 2.3

1   Phillipe Gigantes entitled his book - Power and Greed: A Short History of the World [GIGANTES]. A companion book - Brotherhood and Empathy - would be a VERY short history of the world. It would describe the many failed attempts to build a society based on the more positive aspects of human nature.