I’m not sure if this has always been there or if it’s a fairly modern thing but there is certainly a trend, at least here in the United States, for people to dehumanize anybody they view as evil. A good example of this is the alt-right and the anti-fascists. The alt-right describe the anti-fascists as violent psychopaths incapable of empathy who want nothing more than to see the world burn. The anti-fascists describe the alt-right as, well, violent psychopaths incapable of empathy who want nothing more than to see the world burn. Both sides have effectively dehumanized each other because they view each other’s philosophies as evil.
But evil isn’t perpetrated by inhuman monsters, it’s perpetrated by humans:
One of the key themes of Tizons’ article is that his family was, in many senses, almost a caricature of the striving, American-dream-seeking immigrant experience. They were normal. They were normal and yet they had a slave. To which one could respond, “Well, no, they’re not normal — they are deranged psychopaths to have managed to simply live for decades and decades with a slave under their roof. That is not something normal people do, and it’s wrong to portray it as such.”
But the entire brutal weight of human history contradicts this view. Normal people — people who otherwise have no signs of derangement or a lack of a grip on basic human moral principles — do evil stuff all the time. One could write millions of pages detailing all the times when evil acts were perpetrated, abetted, or not resisted by people who were, in every other respect, perfectly normal. It’s safe to say, to a certain approximation, that all of us — I really mean this; I really mean you and your family and everyone you love — could, in a different historical context, have been a slaver or a Holocaust-perpetrator or at the very least decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to contest these grotesque crimes. Because that’s the human condition: We don’t have easy access to a zoomed-out view of morality and empathy. We do what the people around us are doing, what our culture is doing. Tizon’s Filipino family came from a place where a form of slavery was quite common, and moving to America didn’t change that fact.
One of my favorite characters in any television show is Obergruppenführer Smith from The Man in the High Castle. He’s a ruthless member of the American arm of the SS but at the same time one would probably describe him as a good family man. He has a happy marriage and cares deeply for the wellbeing of his children. The reason I like him so much as a character is because he shows what real evil looks like.
Too often once we categorize somebody as evil we become entirely unable to identify any human characteristics in them. Doing this creates an interesting archetype that actually hinders us in detecting evil. We’ll identify somebody like Charles Manson, who made his beliefs very obvious by carving a swastika into his forehead, as evil but we’ll assume that somebody who appears to be a good parent and spouse is entirely incapable of evil. You see this periodically when somebody is found guilty of an especially heinous crime and people who knew the perpetrator talk about how nice of a person they were, how quiet and well mannered they were, and how they can’t believe that the perpetrator would have committed such a crime.
Us humans are complex creatures made even more complex by being social creatures. Most of us have a general tendency to fit in, which leads us to generally go with the flow when it comes to social norms. We’re also capable of compartmentalizing ourselves. We can be extremely caring to friends, family, and strangers alike but at the same time have a day job that many would consider evil. People caught in that kind of situation are often unaware of it because they’ve compartmentalized their personal and professional lives.