Making Evil by Julia Shaw [7/10]

A psychological scientist, Julie Shaw has tackled one of those issues or themes that fascinate me most, namely the nature of evil in our human world. “Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side” is an unusual offering in the this field, one that attracts interest from neuroscience (and this is what Shaw wants to explore, among other things) and moral philosophy and true crime. Her book is like nothing else I’ve read on the subject. Because what she is about is “destroying the fundamental conceptualisations of good and evil as black and white, replacing them with nuance and scientific insight.” All of us, she reckons on the basis of her work, can become any manner of evil. She wades into the worlds of murderers, paedophiles, sadists, psychopaths, and genocidaires, but “but this book is not really about them. It is about you. I want you to understand your own thoughts and proclivities more than I want to pick apart specific examples of other people’s transgressions.” Shaw is a fluent, persuasive writer, and the book is fascinating from start to end. Yet I remained unconvinced that she has demonstrated relativism (“Let us not confuse our fear of death with justification for dehumanising people who have inflicted it”) but also abhorrence of evil, both of which she regularly espouses. All in all, “Making Evil” is recommended for anyone driven, like me, to seek clarity on the nature of evil and how society should tackle it.

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