Byviewing the devalued group as less than human, violence against them, becomesincreasingly acceptable.
To support his argument, Staub relies on a number of psychologicaland social experiments, including the Milgram study which focused on one’s orientationto authority; the Stanford Prison Study focused on hostility; and Steiner’sresearch on former SS “sleeper” members who respond to certain conditionswithin an environment. While Staub recognizes the role of obedience in thesecases, he believes its influence is done to a lesser extent. Though Stauboffers an exhaustive view by social-psychologists to support his findings, littlequantitative analysis is presented to support his claim. Furthermore, despiteespousing the importance of external bystanders in preventing group violence,Staub provides little, if any analysis, on the impacts of international law asa deterrent or on the availability of external state pressure. (Perhaps thisundercuts his assumption that universal psychological needs and beliefs exist).Staub also relies heavily on broad generalizations about the nature of society.For instance, Staub assumes that a national character can be uniformly presentin societies like Argentina and Turkey. Nevertheless, Staub’s work is a refreshingtake on the origins of genocide.
Staub’s focus on human nature as a precursorto violence is a welcome addition to current literature which focuses almostextensively on economic or political factors. I am left wondering how Staub’scontinuum would work in today’s globalized society? Would mass violence bynon-state actors across borders fit into the same continuum; and if so, howmight technology impact his theory? While I agree with Staub that altruism can counteractevil, I adopt a more realist view. Unless and until realpolitik is addressed groupviolence will continue along the continuum of destruction.
If humans reallylearned by doing, we wouldn’t have to repeat Nunca mas. Groupaggression, like genocide, evolves overtime. Psychologists like Staub have identified two primary conditions thatinstigate aggression: (1) frustrationresulting from the interference with goal-directed behavior, and (2) an attack on or threat to life, well-being or self-concept.
Here we see one of the first stagesalong the continuum. When difficult life conditions exist, such as deterioratingeconomic conditions in Nazi Germany or political instability from military coupsin Argentina, people focus on self-protection. Because of changes to their surroundingcircumstances (whether economic, moral, social or even territorial) it is hardfor groups to satisfy their goals; instead, this leads them to internalize frustrationsas a result of another’s actions, creating unintended psychologicalconsequences.
These include devaluation of the victim group, scapegoating, adoptingnew ideologies and assimilation into new groups. However, most problems are socomplex that no one person or group can truly be responsible for any particularoutcome – except perhaps bystanders. Because bystanders exist outside thevictim/perpetrator divide, Staub implicitly assumes that perpetrators will beviewed “us” rather than “them.” I’m not convinced. Toprevent genocide and “lesser” cruelties like torture, war and group violencefrom occurring, Staub focuses on two things: motivation and action.
For Staub, altruism,empathy, modeling and socialization must be activated. Personal goal theory describes how individuals and cultures selectgoals to actively pursue, and suggests ways to determine when it is likely theywill act towards fulfillment of those goals. Such a theory necessarily rests onthe idea that individuals and groups possess a hierarchy of motives. Toillustrate his point, he focuses on four historical situations: theextermination of six million Jews in Nazi Germany; the first “modern” genocideof the Armenians in Turkey; the “autogenocide” carried out by the Khmer Rougein Cambodia; and the disappearances / executions of thousands in Argentinaduring the 1970s.
He compares each of these cases to a list of conditions hebelieves help predicate group violence: the formation of cultural self-concept,goals, values, devaluation of subgroups, orientation to authority, monolithic vs.pluralistic cultures, and ideology. In all four cases, violence was a commonprecursor; devaluation of the groups that became victims was always evident; ideologyplayed a critical role; and shared problems, motives and solutions effectively ledgroups to turn against one another. While each of these steps along the continuumare unique, they do not in and of themselves lead straight to genocide. Forhis conceptual framework, Staub observes the interaction between culturalpredispositions for violence, familial structures and upbringing, conflicts between groups, as well as thenature and fulfillment of one’s psychologicalneeds through social processes. Difficult life conditions, such as warand deteriorating economic circumstances, are then coupled with cultural and personal characteristics.
Conflictsbetween groups over material resources, power and societal self-identificationlead to new dangers: moral exclusion, better world ideologies, scapegoating,devaluation, stereotyping, and ultimately, mass violence. In his discussion onthe impacts of cultural foundations within society, Staub implies that monolithicsocieties are more likely to commit genocide than pluralistic ones. While thismay lead to shared threat perceptions, no further analysis is given. As such, onecan only assume that such a belief is premised on principles articulated by democraticpeace theory.
Cultural foundations also play a significant role and arereflected in a society’s orientation to authority. Here Staub examines theimpact of nationalist movements in both Turkey and Germany. An equallyimportant component of cultural foundations is the way in which the society andpolitical institutions are organized. As Staub notes, societies with a historyof victimization are likely to view the world as a dangerous place. He assumesthat when past violence and victimization are left unaddressed those affectedwill risk traveling along the continuum, transforming themselves from victimsacting in self-defense to perpetrators. All that’s left is for bystanders tostand idle, further solidifying divisions between “us” and “them.” In societieswhere difficult life conditions, conflicts between groups and psychological needs are unmet, thepassivity of bystanders all but guarantees that intense forms of group violencewill occur. Having recognized the great potential for change housed withinbystanders, Staub seems to imply that their inaction and complicity makes them just as evil as perpetrators.
Rather than ask whyhuman beings commit genocide, mass killings, and other forms of group violence,Ervin Staub explains just how normal and ordinary group violence is. In The Roots of Evil, Staub argues that intenseviolence between groups does not suddenly emerge, but instead, progresses alonga continuum of human destruction. Put differently, evil is an evolution, not an anomaly. By carefullystudying historical, psychological and social situations, Staub identifies conditionsthat make extreme violence probable, though not certain. As part of hisanalysis, Staub considers the many influences (both internal and external) thatplay a role in determining whether group violence will escalate to itsgenocidal apex.