About the Book:

Journey from Genesis to Genocide:

Hate, Empathy, and the Plight of Humanity

An Exploration of Our Capacity for Merciless Destruction and Selfless Compassion and the Path to Peaceful and Prosperous Global Society

By Thomas G. Robbins and Peter J. DiDomenica

(c) copyright 2011 

Now available at:



Journey from Genesis to Genocide is an insightful and inspiring exploration of the depths of the human soul that combines the latest scientific knowledge with vivid historical examples and the authors’ real world experience as career law enforcement and homeland security officials.  

         The book begins with the incredible story of the “Shoe Bomber” (Richard Reid), told by the authors, both aviation security experts, who were at Boston Logan International Airport awaiting Reid’s arrival on December 22, 2001. Reid is the self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda terrorist who packed explosives into his shoes in an attempt to detonate them mid-flight aboard a packed American Airlines flight from Paris, France to Miami, Florida. The Richard Reid story touches a deep, thick cord of anxiety within us all about our vulnerability to terrorism and the vulnerability of the human condition that allows for such acts of deliberate and rationalized violence.  The Richard Reid story also provides a window into our capacity to distance ourselves from such evil acts and how we attempt to assure ourselves that the evil does not reside in us. When we learn of such atrocities we ask, “How could someone indiscriminately kill innocent people? What kind of person does such a thing?” In searching for the answers the authors spent over a decade focused on the causes of, and solutions to, planned human aggression by researching the scientific, religious, and philosophical literature on human nature, history, as well introspection based on their extensive public safety and homeland security background and experience.

As the authors answer the questions posed by the Shoe Bomber story, the book takes the reader on a journey from the dawn of time and the origins of life, to man’s arrival on the earth and through man’s epic history of conflict, war and suffering. Through two fast moving chapters the reader is taken on a tour, from the origins of the universe, through the origins of life on earth, to the appearance of primates. This whirlwind tour through 13.7 billion years of history is designed to give context to the genesis of humanity using the lens of the latest scientific knowledge and is designed to show how a holistic multidisciplinary scientific approach can now provide key insights into understanding human nature.  Initially, the biological and genetic basis of life is explored providing insight into the origins of selfish and altruistic behavior.  As a key to the understanding the origins of the unique aspects of human nature, research studies of primates will show the reader that many attributes thought to be unique to humans, such as intra-species violence, tool use, and the emotion of empathy are common to both primates and humans. Specific psychological research and studies such as the Milgram Obedience Experiment and the Stanford Prison experiment are examined to show the importance of situational factors on human behavior and the malleability of individual tolerance for mistreatment of others.   

          This journey is presented with a unique and paradigm-shifting perspective on man’s capacity to commit extreme atrocities, including ethnic cleansings and genocide, as well as man’s ability to engage in selfless acts of compassion. The book takes the bold step of providing solutions to the most vexing problem facing mankind - man’s capacity for evil - and also provides a road map to enable readers to clearly identify individuals, groups, and nations among us most likely to commit such heinous acts. This book weaves a colorful, insightful and engaging tapestry of the human condition using historical examples and research from the major disciplines of psychology, neuroscience, biology, physics, anthropology, and sociology to develop keen insights into man’s inhumanity and compassion toward fellow man.  

          Unlike what has been written thus for on war and genocide, which has focused mainly on the geography, military tactics, and politics of war, the authors perspective and insight is focused on the universal, individual capacity of humans to kill and the situational variables that allow for whole societies to standby or take part in the destruction of whole groups.  The authors start by examining the vast amount of research into how the brain is “hardwired” and how it functions when confronted with a perceived threat to survival. The human brain still retains its primitive functions and responses, based on a primitive hunter-gatherer society of a few dozen individuals, when identifying and responding to perceived threats while society has moved at an amazing pace in size and complexity and in the technology of destruction. The immensity of globalized society and the availability of weapons of mass destruction have far outpaced the evolution of our emotional capacity to deal with such societies and weapons.   We have the military capability of killing millions of people with nuclear weapons that can be launched by one person, remotely, with only a push of a button. In essence, a primitive brain that responds to threats much the same way in which it did several thousand years ago during our hunter-gatherer past. The authors focus on the one emotion that brings man to the apex of evil - hate - and the emotion that is key to our altruism - empathy. The authors persuade the reader that the control of hatred and fostering of empathy are critical to our ultimate survival as a species.  These two emotional states are the polar opposites that determine who we are willing to destroy and who we are willing to save.  

            The authors developed a theory that allows us to identify and understand individuals most likely to lead others down the path to genocide and war. Machiavellians is the author’s term for those individuals identified throughout the world as having distinct personality traits, such as narcissism and empathy deficits, that will allow them, as societal leaders, to convince their followers to wage war or commit genocide.  The authors explain a model defining the four steps that lead to genocide; these steps are clearly supported by research and the authors have put them in a model that is easy to understand and interpret in today’s violent and complex world.

            Unconscious bias is the first step on the road to atrocity. It is a survival instinct and a product of our primitive brain’s hard wiring that automatically determines who and what to approach and avoid based on a simplistic categorical view of the world that relies on stereotypic associations. These unconscious negative stereotypes of people provide the fertile soil for the planting the seeds of hate - the next step in the progression towards atrocity. Hate, because of its capacity to allow for the complete and merciless destruction of whole populations, has been called the “nuclear weapon of the mind.” Hate is devastating for many reasons and it begins within our brain’s limbic system. The limbic system acts through simple binary classifications, stereotypical thinking, and “us versus them” thinking to identify individuals of different groups, religions, nationalities, and ethnicities as dangerous and a direct threat to our survival and reproductive interests. Once an individual, group, or population is classified by the limbic system as a threat, the highly evolved cortical areas of the brain are co-opted to rationalize and plan for the use of force, aggression and violence to eliminate the perceived threat. The third step on the road to atrocity is when hate combines with dehumanization. The authors have found such campaigns of dehumanization leading to war and genocide are carried out by Machiavellian leaders seeking to prepare their societies for the desired destruction of another group. Once the group that has been the subject of hate has been dehumanized, actual violence against members of the group can often become fully accepted and routine. This is the stage when binary, “us versus them” thinking takes over the conscious awareness of individuality, completely negating the possibility of empathy for the victims. The results are usually catastrophic. With a complete lack of empathy, the victims are looked upon as less than human - mere objects to be disposed of.

            The final step from “Bias to Atrocity” occurs when the hate and dehumanization of a group or entire population moves rapidly toward mass destruction based on a perceived existential threat. At this point, real or perceived existential threats are attributed by the “us” group to the “them” group. This crisis is often manipulated by Machiavellian leaders to induce action. This is level four or the final level leading to genocide.

             In one of the final chapters, a detailed and intriguing historical study of the Nazi Holocaust is undertaken tying together all the individual and situational variables that lead to the organized, rationalized and systemic destruction of whole populations. Through review of the investigations conducted of the Holocaust, such as the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, first person accounts of the perpetrators and victims, and the psychological and sociological literature concerning the Holocaust, the authors present a compelling case for the ease of creating whole societies who will accept and support the merciless wholesale destruction of a population. These factors include Machiavellian leadership, a perceived existential crisis, obedience to authority, dispersion of responsibility through a “chain of evil”, a devalued out-group believed responsible for the crisis and a history of bias and hatred toward the out-group leading to dehumanization.   

            The final two chapters of the book look at what structures makes societies and nations best prepared to prevent the occurrence of unjustified planned aggression and provide suggestions for the adoption of universal rules of behavior and mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement of such rules. The authors promote the concept of “neocortical empathy”, that being the deliberate and conscious effort to see the humanity of all peoples. Using models from evolutionary biology and game theory the authors show that life can be “win-win” for all societies and nations and provide a template for knowing when competitive and cooperative behaviors are appropriate allowing for minimization of conflict and the achievement global peace and stability.

            More Holocausts of even much greater destructiveness are waiting and each of us has the potential to facilitate these impending catastrophes through inaction or even active participation. For anyone seeking to identify and understand the causes of such human destructiveness and be part of the solution this book is a must read. 

Chapter Outlines and Samples


Chapter One


American Airlines Flight 63


This chapter is a third person narrative of the arrest of the Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber”, at Boston Logan International Airport  on December 22, 2001 after Reid’s failed attempt to take the plane down with explosives hidden in his footwear.  It is based on the authors’ participation in the actual event and is used as a platform for the main questions and topics addressed in the book.


A small black dot appeared out of the northwest and pierced the veil of a pale blue afternoon sky. The late December chill enveloped Logan International Airport in Boston as the plane settled into its final approach over runway “4 Left”. A small army of officials, some in uniform, some in casual weekend clothes, stood looking skyward clutching their coats against the ever present runway wind.

The Boeing 767 looked much wider than usual as it approached low over the Boston skyline, as if it was stretched from wing to wing. In a split second the plane appeared to shudder and spread apart at the wing tips. Suddenly, with an earsplitting roar, two F-15 Eagle fighters from the 102d Fighter Wing punched the afterburners and rocketed skyward. The fighter jets were scrambled from Otis Air base on Cape Cod to escort American Airlines flight 63 and its Al-Qaeda trained terrorist to touchdown at Logan Airport. The 102d Fighter Wing has a proud history of defending America, from cold war escorts of soviet surveillance planes just off the Atlantic coast, to arriving first on the scene in the skies over New York City after the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The fighter jets, having finished another historic detail, were now out of sight, leaving behind a gray swirl of contrails across the pale sky as the dull gray American Airlines plane touched down on the runway and turned on to an abandoned taxiway far from the passenger terminals. As the plane lurched to a stop in the cold December air several police cars and rescue trucks pulled alongside and alternately showered the skin of the plane with blue, red and yellow lights as black clad members of the security teams quietly moved into place.

As a team of officers, weapons drawn, surrounded the plane carrying 183 passengers and 14 crew members, a large white vehicle was driven slowly towards the front cabin of the plane. The vehicle was strange looking, kind of like an oversized pick-up truck with a set of stairs rising from the bed and extending over the roof and above the front hood. The vehicle was used for those occasions, like now, when a plane had to safely unloaded passengers away from the terminals. The Incident Commander was standing, ramrod straight on the tarmac behind the communications van quietly choreographing the entire scene. As the senior law enforcement official it was his job to bring this incident to a successful conclusion. His outward actions did not reveal his innermost thoughts as to how this scenario might end. He was in constant communication with the control tower, the pilot and the team of SWAT officers that had taken up positions around the plane.


Chapter Two


Bridging the Gap


The book calls for a multidisciplinary approach in addressing human aggression that unites all the scientific disciplines in reaching a better understanding of human nature.  In addressing aggression, conflict, war and genocide two major gaps are identified: (1) There is a gap in the hard sciences such as neuroscience and biology and the social sciences such as anthropology and sociology that inhibits understanding, and; (2) There is a growing gap between the polar emotional states of hate and empathy based on globalized society that enables hate and diminishes empathy thereby endangering humanity. This chapter presents summaries of the main themes of the book including:

·         Combining a situational and individual approach to understanding and predicting planned aggression

·         Brain structure and functions

·         The key emotions of hate and empathy

·         The “banality of evil”


We propose ( and will discuss in greater detail in the following chapters) that hate (which we also believe includes revenge) is more than an emotion as described by Dozier but a hybrid emotional-cognitive state involving the fusion of primitive survival instincts of the limbic brain with the planning and purposeful neocortical “thinking” brain.  In particular, where human causation is identified as a threat to survival or reproductive interests, the primitive limbic brain and highly functioning neocortical brain unite to eliminate the threat at almost any cost including in extreme cases, paradoxically, one’s self. True hate does not arise when calamity affects us where there is no nexus to human causation. People who have lost loved ones to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earth quakes experience sadness, distress, depression, anxiety, and anger but are not consumed with true hate. They may loosely say “I hate tornadoes” but they are not experiencing that special emotional-cognitive state called hate. In some cases, out of a need to find something to hate in order to feel some form of control, people may personify natural disaster through ascribing blame to a supernatural deity. How often have we heard the victim of some calamitous natural disaster lament, “I hate God”? There are no social groups committed to a hatred of tornadoes like the numerous hate groups that exist committed to the destruction of another group of people such as Nazis or al-Qaeda. In true hate, a feedback loop between the limbic and cortical areas of the brain exists in which primitive fears provoke identification of a human cause and the identification of a human cause provokes primitive fears.  Once this loop is created it is extremely difficult to interrupt it because the most primitive survival mechanisms of the brain are in sync with the most highly evolved cognitive parts of the brain.  Thus, inter-generational warfare and rivalry, such as the present conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, can exist and thrive for decades and even centuries. 

Fortunately, empathy serves as an antidote to hate. Hate and empathy are polar opposites that can lead to the most vicious and destructive acts or the most sacrificial and compassionate acts toward our fellow humans.  Empathy involves experiencing for one’s self the emotional state of another.  Empathy is neurological process that allows us to actually feel what another person is feeling.  Empathy inspires altruism - compassion and the desire to act in other’s interests – because it creates the sensation that the other person is same as you or your immediate kin. It blurs the distinction between you and another so that you are more inclined to act in the other’s best interest.  This type of altruism, known as “reciprocal” altruism, is based on the expectation of the act of kindness being returned.  “If I treat you as though you are me, you are likely to treat me as though I am you.” The Golden Rule is the embodiment of empathy.  While we are genetically predisposed to support close relatives (“kin altruism”) our behavior towards people outside of immediate family is fluid and dynamic depending on our culture and experience.  Unfortunately, who we hate and who we are empathic towards is subject to easy manipulation by others.

Hate and empathy evolved as social controls during our primitive hunter-gatherer past consisting of small bands of related people numbering no more than about 150 who were known to each other. This way of life constitutes more than 99 percent of our history as humans. We are naturally empathetic towards any person identified as part of our “band” or “tribe”, cautious around anyone outside the “band” or “tribe”, and easily provoked to hate anyone who presents a threat to the survival of ourselves and our kin or our reproductive interests.  In our past as hunter-gatherers, hate and empathy were in balance; empathy was the normal condition and hate limited to truly human caused existential threats.  Modern industrial society now threatens our very existence because it tends to promote the development of hate and limit the exercise of empathy. In dense urban environments our anonymity decreases our sense of responsibility to others and increases our suspicion of others. Globalization has thrust distant and unfamiliar cultures into direct contact promoting fear. Large populations of different “tribes” in close proximity with decreasing resources easily provoke suspicion, fear, and eventually hate. This was the demographics of the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Central and Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century that contributed to the severity of the Holocaust. Because of our negativity bias – the tendency of our limbic brain to fixate on bad events – the global news media constantly feeds us with all the bad news and minimally reports good news thus reinforcing our fears and fueling our hate. And finally, hate is the most highly evolved emotion involving the co-opting of the thinking brain to set in motion destructive behavior, whereas as empathy relies almost exclusively on feeling to motivate helpful behavior.   The delicate balance of hate and empathy that allowed humans to succeed as a species has been disrupted with far too much hate and far too little empathy.         

Chapter Three




As a means of showing the power of science and the scientific approach to problem solving, this chapter presents at 13.7 billion year journey from the Big Bang to the first forms of life. It shows how the interconnected disciplines of science can unite to provide a broad perspective for understanding human nature including at the most fundamental level the influence of “selfish genes”. It defines the two paths of change to human nature through genetic and cultural evolution and ends on an optimistic note that we are not bound by genetic evolution and have the power to alter our fate through cultural evolution.


In the beginning there was Absolute Nothingness:  no matter, energy, space or time.  About 14 billion years ago a quantum fluctuation in the Emptiness allowed an ounce of positive energy to appear, offset by the negative energy of its gravitational field so that the total energy of the universe remained a zero. This ounce of energy was confined to an area a billion times smaller than a proton, 10-26 centimeter [*], with incredible density 1080 (1 followed by 80 zeros) times that of water. After the smallest amount of time allowed by physics, 10-43 seconds known as Planck time, the temperature of the universe was a trillion trillion times hotter than the interior of the sun (1032 Kelvin[†]). The three other forces of nature in addition to gravity - electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear forces[‡] - were unified as a single force and matter was a dense super-hot plasma of its basic constituent particles: quarks, electrons, neutrinos and their antiparticles. This seed for the universe began expanding and cooling. Thus began the Big Bang[§]. 

While the laws of nature do not allow for the creation of matter or energy out of nothing (the law of the conservation of mass-energy), the gravitational field created by the presence of matter or energy represented negative energy balancing out the presence of the mass and energy. Imagine holding a marble in your right hand attached to a rubber band anchored in your left hand. As you separate your hands the energy of the marble moving away in your right hand is cancelled out by the tension in the runner band. In this example the marble represents mass and the rubber represents the gravitational field, each equal in force and each canceling each other out leaving zero net energy. Mass represents positive energy because mass and energy are interchangeable under Albert Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 from his special theory of relativity. The energy (E) of an object is equal to its mass (m) times the speed of light squared (c2). Since c2 is such a large number, a small amount of mass converts into a huge amount of energy. Converting just 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of mass to energy would produce an explosion equivalent to 22 million tons of TNT!  Thermonuclear bombs, or H-bombs, using the mass to energy conversion process that powers the sun, have been built with the explosive power of 50 million tons of TNT, more than a thousand times as powerful as the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima during World War II that killed about 90,000 people. 

Later in this book we will talk about the H-Bomb of the mind, a bomb fueled not by hydrogen but fueled by hate.  This “Hate Bomb” of the mind produces the motivational energy for a human destructive force that is on par with the energy produced by the hydrogen bomb.  The hate bomb is fueled not by the fusion of hydrogen into helium but by the fusion of a perceived existential threat with primitive “us versus them” thinking.   The greatest threat to humanity today is the potential for the confluence of the hate bomb with the hydrogen bomb or other weapons of mass destruction.

Chapter Four


Bipedal Apes


This chapter examines our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, who share 99% of our DNA.  It shows the possible shared origin from our last common ancestor with the primates of today, the apes. This common origin includes bands of primates that were highly socialized and hierarchical. Many features thought to be unique to humans such as inter-species destruction, tool making, and empathy have been observed in chimpanzee populations and this understanding of chimpanzees may provide a window to understanding our most basic drives. This chapter also reviews the anthropological record of our long extinct ancestors since the last common ancestor with the apes. The record shows the gradual development of traits considered unique to homo sapiens sapiens or modern humans.


Goodall documented a “four-year-war” that started in 1974 when six adult males, an adolescent, and three adult females with their young split off from the main Kasekela community that was left with eight adult males and twelve females and their young. After a couple of years, each group formed a distinct community with its own territory.  The new community, called the “Kahama community” took over the southern part of the original Kasekela community. For a year the two communities did not engage in fighting but would hurl “noisy insults at each other” then retreat to the safety of their territory. Then the first attack occurred when a patrol of six Kasekela males came upon a young male of the Kahama community a viciously assaulted the Kahama male who was never seen again and presumed dead. “Over the next four years, four more assaults of this sort were witnessed.” At the end of the four years, the Kahama community was completely wiped out, most, if not all, killed by the Kasekela males. Additionally, during this period there was intercommunity violence in which a mother and daughter team in the Kasekela community attacked other females with young and cannibalized as many as six infants.

            The Kahama community chimpanzees, former members of the Kasekela community, were transformed from in-group members to out-group status based on their creation of an independent community. The malleability humans are capable of, as to who belongs to a community and who does not, seems to be a genetic trait developed several millions of years ago in our primate ancestors. Goodall notes that the human capacity to “dehumanize” out-group members, which can lead to “the atrocities of war,” can be seen in chimpanzees who “dechimpized” out-group victims out of their aggression. “Non-community members may be attacked so fiercely that they die from their wounds,” in attacks, Goodall observes, that are “usually seen when a chimpanzee is trying to kill an adult prey animal – an animal of another species.”

Chapter Five


Why We Hate – Why We Help


This chapter explores the two principal emotional/cognitive states of hate and empathy that our novel theory propounds as the source of our motivation to engage in planned aggression or to act altruistically for those outside our kin group. Basic brain anatomy is described and basic brain functions described that show how our brain is hardwired to classify people as either one of “us” or one of “them”. The evolutionary significance of these two emotional/cognitive states is described that promoted social behavior for the “in-group” and, when threatened, the destruction of the “out-group”. While hate is described as the source of our ability to engage in the wholesale destruction of entire populations, empathy is described as the source of desire to help others at the expense of our own interests. The hate-empathy gap is discussed in which globalized society provides many more opportunities for hate and reduces opportunity for empathy. 


Empathy is the key to our morality as it guides our response to the needs of others. Morality itself can be seen as a type of struggle between the impulses of egoistic behavior versus altruistic behavior. Pushing us towards altruism is empathy which is embodied in a rule many philosophers such as Confucius, Isocrates, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, and John Stuart Mill, believe the first moral principle – the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule – “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18) – is universal and found in all the world’s major religions and in the writings of influential thinkers throughout recorded history. The key to our survival as a species lies in empathy and it is no wonder that religious/philosophical leaders such as the Dalai Lama are preoccupied with it. Our survival as a species also required the need to negate empathy when threatened by other humans and thus the ability for top-down ability to control it including the ability actively seek the destruction of other humans through the antithesis of empathy – Hate.   In modern globalized society hate has the advantage – there are a lot more reasons to be suspicious of and mistrustful of others than to embrace others. Empathy requires close contact and familiarization with others; hate does not. Our primitive emotional brains evolved a capacity for empathy for groups usually no larger than a few dozen people. There is even research by Adam Waytz of the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago that suggests that people who are socially connected tend to be less able to empathize with more distant others and can more easily dehumanize more distant others. The need for social connection was compared by the authors of the study to the need for food. People who are hungry seek food as people who are socially disconnected seek to connect with others. However, people whose hunger is satisfied will be less motivated to seek out food and, similarly, people who are socially connected will be less motivated to seek out social connections.  We believe that because of the small size of our ancestral social network as hunter-gatherers that our appetite for social connection is easily filled by a small circle of family and friends. Once this need is satisfied, empathy for others becomes more difficult.  

Chapter Six


The Cycle of Violence


Various examples from ancient to modern history, from the Athenian siege of Milos in 416 B.C.E to the Russian-Chechen War that spanned the 20th and 21st centuries, are discussed to show the capacity of one group of people to engage in the complete destruction of another group of people.  These examples of utter destruction that span all of recorded history show the power of hate and how one atrocity leads to another atrocity in a spiraling of destructiveness that can last for generations.  This chapter also explores the emotion of disgust and how it is used by leaders to promote destruction violence against out-groups and can be used to predicate such destructive behavior.  The effects of physical distance and a concept known as “psychological distance” are discussed which have a direct correlation with the level of destructiveness people are capable of committing.


The AK47 rifle has a distinctive sound when it spits bullets angrily in rapid fire succession. Named after its inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov, the AK47 is regarded as one the most reliable battle rifles ever produced. Around the world today there are over 30 million of these killing machines in circulation. The AK47 is the preferred weapon of the Russian military and it has lived up to its well-earned reputation. The “AK” as it is sometimes referred to, performed particularly well on this day when Hell descended upon the tiny settlement of Novye Aldy. Lying on the outskirts of Grozny and at the foot of the caucus mountains, Novye Aldy found itself trapped in conflict as the marshaled forces of the Russian Federation began their “Zachistka” operations. After several days of intense battle, the first wave of soldiers assigned to “mop up” duties entered the city, battle weary, looking to move swiftly through the city and flesh out any remaining pockets of resistance. As the force methodically and deliberately wound its way through the streets they were keenly aware that the second wave, not of their kind, was right on their heels.  The second wave came into the city on February 5th 2000 and spit hell fire from their AK47’s slung tight against their chests. They cursed the living and showed no mercy or discrimination in their delivery of death. They displayed an unmatched brutality without flinching as they slaughtered any human standing in their path. There was a name to describe the massacre that followed; “Bespedrel” which loosely translates to “No Limits”.  On this day there was no limit to the atrocities that would take place. The brutality inflicted upon and witnessed by the Chechen population were so extreme that the federation forces themselves used the term “Bespedrel” to describe the events. Kill, rape, brutalize, and leave nothing in your wake. There was no limit to the pain, suffering and death that was inflicted upon the people of this village.

Chapter Seven


The Capacity for Evil


In this chapter the authors seek to dispel the commonly held belief that acts of large scale planned violence such as genocide are carried out by psychological disturbed sociopaths or people who are psychotic.  This chapter shows that the vast majority of people who engage in such destructive acts are psychologically normal people who could be us or our neighbors.  Two major social science research experiments – the Milgram Obedience Experiment and Stanford Prison Experiment – are discussed including their impact on our understanding of human nature. Lessons learned from this and other research are applied to help understand the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal from the Iraq War. In particular, it is shown the outcome this scandal should have been predicted and that, rather than being caused by a “few bad apples”, the primary cause was the “bad barrel” of situational pressures, lack of training and preparation, and lack of supervision and clear policies.   


Linsly-Chittenden Hall stands stoically on the Old Campus at Yale University situated on the West Side of New Haven Connecticut. This hallowed building is where Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted his now famous research experiments on obedience to authority.  The genesis for this experiment was the controversial and highly publicized trial of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann, a member of the Nazi party, served the Third Reich very well by assuming the leading role in the deportation of European Jews to Death Camps. The world sat transfixed to this “trial of the century”, and wondered aloud, “How could this apparently normal man send millions of Jews to their death?”  The “banality of evil” is the term that social philosopher Hannah Arendt used to describe the life of Eichmann and his nondescript business like attitude towards the atrocities he committed.

            Arendt detailed the Eichmann trial in her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and received international scorn for suggesting that Eichmann was a normal, function bureaucrat and not a sadistic, psychotic monster who could not possibly function as a normal member of society. Eichmann stated emphatically, as so many other Nazi leaders had stated upon arrest and interrogation, “I was only following orders”. Eichmann had also spent many sessions with multiple psychiatrists who all came to the same disturbing conclusion: Eichmann the “monster” was certified as “normal” in every respect. In fact one of the examining psychiatrists emphatically stated that Eichmann was “more normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him.” Another had found that Eichmann’s whole psychological outlook, his attitude toward his family and friends was “not only normal but most desirable.”  And finally, in Arendt’s conclusion she states, “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”

Chapter Eight


Bias to Atrocity


The authors present their model for charting, in four steps, the progression of an individual, community, society, or whole nation to the complete destruction of an out-group. What starts as simple negative unconscious bias against an out-group, step-one, which virtually all people possess, can progress under certain situational variables through hate, step-two, and dehumanization, step-three, of the out-group. The final step, step-four, is an actual or perceived existential crisis that is blamed on the out-group that leads to the attempt to destroy the out-group.  For each step in this progression from bias to atrocity historical examples are given such as the internment by the U.S. military of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during World War II and the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s.  The chapter concludes with a scoring system for each of the four steps that can be applied to groups and nations to assess the likelihood of war or genocide.


19 year-old Palestinian Murad Tawalbi, from a refugee camp near the West Bank town of Jenin, was arrested on his way to blow himself up in a crowded marketplace. He was recruited by his older brother. “He wasn’t trying to make me wear an explosive belt. He was giving me a ticket to heaven. Because he loves me, he wants me to become a martyr. Because martyrdom is the most exalted thing in our religion. Not just anyone gets the chance to become a martyr….I was very happy. I was waiting for the time to come. I was counting the seconds before I went down. I felt very calm, as if nothing were happening….I was just thinking about saving the Palestinian people. That’s all. I never felt so calm in my life. It was the will of God.”

            Merari’s research and Tawalbi’s story show, in additional to the paradoxical calmness associated with planned hate-inspired murder, how hate and other situational variables can drive healthy normal people to commit acts of mass murder and suicide. Tawalbi’s mission, as hard as it is to see for us, was, if it is possible to analyze in a truly detached manner, an act of altruism. Many, if not the vast majority of people outside his culture, would not accept the notion of the mission as altruistic and most likely vigorously object to such a notion. It is this resistance to a detached and analytic view of purposeful and deliberate aggression by our opponents that is one of the greatest impediments to our ability to understand and prevent such acts. Just as we Westerners are hated by groups such as extremist Islamic terror groups, we hate them. Just as such extremist groups fail to see out point of view and engage in empathy, so do we. Although the conduct of targeting civilians in suicide bombings is morally wrong, the people involved in promoting and carrying out such acts are completely righteous about their conduct and not only believe it is justified but an imperative for their existence.

            In Tawalbi’s case, the natural resistance to killing was overcome by hate and dehumanization of the Israelis, an existential crisis - the survival of his in-group, sanctioning by political and religious authority, and to an appeal to his self-esteem. Tawalbi’s instinct for survival was overcome by an appeal to kin altruism, the survival of his kinsmen and therefore many of his genes from an evolutionary biological perspective, and by his belief in the survival of his soul and entry in Paradise. Tawalbi illustrates the relative ease involved, during a perceived existential crisis, in programing normal people to commit acts of violence and mass murder motivated by altruism and sense of duty to one’s in-group. Behind every war and genocide are the masses of people like Tawalbi - average and psychologically normal people in the midst of a crisis driven by hate and other situational variables to violence or at least to indifference towards the suffering of the out-group identified as the source of the crisis.

Chapter Nine


The Final Solution


A detailed analysis of the Nazi Holocaust is used to tie together all of the themes presented in the book that have been presented to explain how and why organized campaigns of planned and rationalized destructive violence occur. The personal lives of the key leaders are analyzed including Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, and Eichmann, as well as several of the foot soldiers, involved in the campaign to destroy the 11 million Jews of Europe. This analysis allows the reader to see how the interplay of Machiavellian leaders - characterized as charismatic, exploitative, narcissistic, and lacking in empathy - with psychologically normal members of society combined with the situational pressures such as war and obedience allowed for the atrocities to occur and be accepted.  The four steps from bias to atrocity outlined in the previous chapter are vividly shown in this historical example to culminate in the most extreme occurrence of organized destruction of a population in the history of the world. Despite the immensity of the destruction of life and the reluctance of social scientists and philosophers to seek an explanation out of fear of minimizing its evil, the reader will come away from this chapter with the disturbing conclusion that such destructive forces were inevitable and should have been expected.  


Grossman makes a key point in distinguishing between the intellectual and emotional awareness of mass killing. The Holocaust was presided over by highly intelligent members of the Nazi government. Eight of the fifteen attendees of the Wannsee Conference held doctorate degrees. All but one of the 21 defendants in the Trial of the Major War Criminals held before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, during 1945-46 had Wechsler-Bellevue IQ Test scores above normal with nine defendants in the second highest category of “very high” intelligence (120 to 129) and another nine defendants in the highest category of “gifted” (130 and above). Despite this concentration of Nazi leaders with very high cognitive intelligence they utterly failed to appreciate the moral implications of their actions.  Our understanding the difference between cognitive intelligence – the ability to comprehend complex ideas and solve complex problems – and “emotional intelligence” – the ability understand and control emotion and judge actions against basic moral values – is going to be the difference in whether or not the human species survives.  The mechanism for inhibiting deadly violence is not an intellectual process but is based on an emotional process that identifies the other as being a human being like ourselves or like our family.  The closer we are in terms of physical distance, in the directness our actions physically cause injury, or in terms of identification of the other as part of our in-group, the more we empathize with the other person and the more difficult it becomes to cause injury or death.  Without such empathy, the intellect can easily be convinced of the utility of behavior that condones or passively takes part in killing.

            Like Eichmann, psychological distance from victims can permit us to rationalize the killing of others.  In the Twentieth Century in which political ideologies permitted one individual to have unchecked and absolute power over millions and in which technology permitted the killing of people over great distances with massive lethality, mass murder and genocide became inevitable.  We, the people of all nations, are not intellectually capable of sufficiently recognizing the humanity of all peoples in order to prevent our destruction and our emotional capacity for empathy, the only reliable safeguard we have to check our aggression, is too primitive to guide us through the psychological distance and destructive power created by modern society.


Chapter Ten


The Nature of Societies and Governments


As a prelude to the final chapter of the book which provides specific advice on forms of government best suited to prevent violence and policies for international oversight, this chapter provides a description of the different types of social organizations – band, tribe, chiefdom, and state – and explains their origins, organization, structure, and attributes.  The chapter then examines the American republican form of government, the most successful form of governance for states - the largest and most complex form of social order.  This type of government prevents Machiavellian dominance, prevents oppression of minority groups from majoritarian excesses, and allows for substantial civil liberties based on its authority being derived from the people, supremacy of the rule of law, division of powers, and representative democracy.  A historical review is conducted of the Enlightenment philosophers who inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and the chapter concludes with a biographical sketch of John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers whom the authors believe was the single most influential person in designing the novel experiment of American democracy and in assuring America’s successful break from Great Britain.


Despite a world containing seven billion people, we continue to struggle, fight, and sow the seeds of our own destruction because of a lack of true leaders of the caliber of Adams. Instead of a society that nurtures self-interested politicians we should strive to develop leaders who are Philosopher-Scientist-Statesmen like Adams. It was Plato who disliked democracy because it was always in a state of flux being swayed by opinion rather than reason and knowledge. Plato also believed most people were unfit to rule because they lacked wisdom and self-restraint and were likely to respond emotionally rather than for what is rationally good for society. Plato favored an aristocracy ruled by “philosopher-kings” trained to be guided by reason rather than passion, to have escaped the “Cave” and seen the “Good”.   Adams, who was accused by some of being aristocratic, no doubt agreed with Plato’s ruling class elitism but was wisely wary of the ability of self-serving individuals to penetrate and take over any system of governance without sufficient checks and balances. Adams was also more optimistic than Plato about the underlying intelligence and wisdom of the common man despite man’s ability to be swayed by momentary passions.  The government chosen by Adams and the other Founding Fathers wisely found a balance between pure democracy and Platonic aristocracy. This was a representative democracy with foundational separation of powers. Adams homage to Plato was, however, his instance on “wisdom and knowledge” being “diffused generally among the body of the people” as part of the Massachusetts constitution. We believe it is now imperative that society promotes an educational and political system that allows persons with the temperament of “philosopher-kings” to serve as public officials; men and women who, to use our terms, resist limbic, stereotypical and binary thinking and who engage in deliberate cognitive empathy and rational decision making. 

Chapter Eleven


An Initial Solution to the Question of Man’s Inhumanity to Man


In determining the guiding principles for societies the final chapter begins with a review of a form of game theory known as the “iterated prisoner’s dilemma” which seeks to determine the best strategy for providing the maximum payoff for two self-interested players. The game is played by two players seeking to maximize their score through a series of decisions to either cooperate with or defect against the opposing player. The “dilemma” is that in a one move game the best strategy is to always defect against the other player, however, in a multiple iteration game the best score can be obtained only by cooperating with the other player.  This game is played out in nature on an evolutionary basis and determines the levels of cooperation and competition from single cell bacteria to humans.  The “moral” of prisoner’s dilemma is that life can be a “non-zero sum game” in which both sides are winners. From the lessons learned from the prisoner’s dilemma the authors construct rules for when individuals, groups, societies, and nations should cooperate or compete in order to promote “win-win” results. The authors then take the bold step of universal definitions of good and evil based on the shared genetic heritage of all people. Despite religious, nationalistic, ethnic and cultural difference throughout the world on notions of good and evil there are some basic concepts shared by the vast majority of people of the world. Espousing these beliefs is the first step towards a truly integrated world community capable of a truly peaceful coexistence. The book concludes with a model policy for the United Nations to ensure world peace, cooperation, stability, health, and safety based on establishing and enforcing rules that minimize the ability of Machiavellians to rule through despotic regimes and through setting minimum standards for forms of governments and their behavior towards other nations.  International response is also mandated when a nation is shown to be waging war upon its own citizens or when a nation fails to adequately respond to a humanitarian crisis.


Axelrod persuasively argues that even in biological systems ranging from bacteria to humans, cooperation can evolve into evolutionary stable strategies (discussed in the last chapter) using Dawkins proposition of the “selfish gene” as the unit of natural selection in evolution. In environments in which bacteria consistently interact with the same organisms, the bacteria can “learn” which strategies lead to greater success and can play the game.  While an always defect strategy is always an evolutionary stable strategy, the question is: How can an evolutionary trend of cooperative behavior get started and become stable? The two forms of altruism discussed earlier found consistent with evolution, kin altruism and reciprocal altruism, are both capable of creating an evolutionary stable strategy for cooperation. A sacrifice for other individuals who share a substantial amount of the same genes leading to the successful propagation of those genes can give rise to an evolutionary stable strategy of cooperating with related individuals. Reciprocal altruism can also lead to cooperation in a population of always defecting individuals if the cooperative strategy occurs, initially randomly as a mutation, as a cluster that is a nontrivial proportion of the interactions each has.  Once there is a sufficient probability that interaction between two individuals will continue, then cooperation becomes stable.

            The very history of life is one of cooperation between individuals starting with the first replicators (believed by most in the field of biology to be a primeval form of RNA) combining to form DNA. Segments of DNA, (genes and chromosomes) combined to form the first cells, the prokaryotes, which contained no nucleus, which in turn combined to form the eukaryotes, cells with a nucleus of genetic material. Single eukaryotic cells began to cooperate to form colonies and within colonies cells began to take on specialized roles leading to the complexity of multi-cellular life forms including us. Many biologists, including E.O. Wilson, now believe that members of a species organized into a distinct society, such as a colony of ants, form a “superorganism” with each individual functioning like a cell does in the body of an individual. 

            We saw in chapter four that chimpanzees frequently cooperated through such behavior as grooming and sharing of food. In the animal kingdom, nature abounds with cooperative behavior towards non-related members of a species: female vampire bats will share blood by regurgitating blood into the mouths of unrelated female bats with whom they roost; ravens feasting on carrion will make loud calls to attract other ravens and even return to their roost to recruit more ravens; wolves will hunt together in packs; honeypot worker ants whose only job is to hang upside down as a source of nutrition for the queen; numerous species of grazing mammals that live in herds for protection from predators. While the common view of evolution is that of survival of the fittest through fierce competition - of “nature, red in tooth and claw” - nature more often than not seeks out ways that avoid direct competition as a means for survival.

[*] This extremely small number using exponential notation is a decimal point followed by 25 zeros and the number 1. The conversely extremely large number 1026 is 1 followed by 26 zeros.

[†] Kelvin (K) is a temperature scale referenced to absolute zero which is the absence of all thermal energy. 0 K equals absolute zero or -273.15 °C or -459.67 °F.

[‡] The electromagnetic force is the attractive and repulse forces associated with particles that have electric charge and produces electromagnetic radiation which, depending on frequency, takes the form of waves such as radio waves, microwaves, light waves, x-rays, and gamma rays. The weak nuclear force has an effective range smaller than an atomic nucleus and is responsible for radioactive decay of neutrons into protons. The strong nuclear force is limited to the area of an atomic nucleus and holds protons and neutrons together inside the nucleus of the atom and binds quarks together to form protons and neutrons.

[§] Cosmologists and physicists generally agree on the evolution of the universe after the first fraction of a second however the reason for the existence of the initial singularity and the initial state of the singularity lead to numerous speculative views.  The view of creation of the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing) is one of such speculative views although consistent with Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs on creation.  The Catholic Church pronounced the Big Bang theory as being in accordance with the Bible in 1951.  

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