Philip Zambardo looks at the nature of evil in this TED talk, and has done a book on the subject entitled `The Lucifer Effect'.
I must admit as an aside that whenever I hear stories of the fall of Lucifer as `God's favourite angel', and then the arch-angel Gabriele being sent to throw him out of heaven to descend to the newly created hell, I struggle to see the distinction between the main Monotheistic religions and the religions of Greece and Rome.
This talk is not about religion, it is about good people becoming evil... and how we stop it.
I think the concept of good people and bad people is a very very fuzzy one. It is really very difficult to know how we would act in extreme situations. Some of the experiments Zambardo refers to reflect just that.
As another aside... Sorry, it is late and my mind is wandering...
I recently tried to restrain myself as someone mentioned how much they hated Cape Town because of the explicit contrasts between wealthy and poor (especially as you leave the airport), and the fact that most of the people serving this person were black. The wealth was clearly extracted from these poor people, and the evil is self evident.
That there is truth in what he said can not be disputed. What lead to the anger is the fact that that racism and exploitation is not unique to South Africa. In the time I have been in Vancouver (a city which is very easy to fall in love with and very easy to live in), I have seen but a handful of `First Nation' (read Native Americans) people. Disease ravaged over 90% of the population of this continent when Europeans arrived, and to a large degree the rest were subjugated.
Later `generosity' to a minority should not EVER be compared to the opposite degraded majority in Africa. I think to pat yourself on the back that you are not as evil as others is a very very dangerous thing to do.
Evil is prevalent in the world. We are not in control of where we are born, but I don't think that absolves us of all responsibility... I think in fact it increases our responsibility where we are all responsible for all evil in some way.
Maybe that seems like an overstatement, and maybe it is... but I think it is hard to say that given similar circumstances and environments (random birth aside), we would have acted any differently to other `evil' people.
The only thing we can do is, learn and look forward... I think.