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Are some people born evil?
Daily Mail ^ | 7 Feb 2007 | Brian Masters

Posted on 02/07/2007 6:36:07 AM PST by gobucks

At the age of 84, America's grand man of letters Norman Mailer has lost nothing of his appetite for controversy. His latest novel, The Castle In The Forest, tackles the childhood of Adolf Hitler.

The book tells how two-year-old Adolf watched his father whip a dog with 'a look of remarkable intensity for one so small'. And how, as a six-year-old, he went into the woods by himself 'to work on the power of his voice. He would roar at the trees until his throat was sore'. Perhaps the most chilling passage is when Adolf causes the death of his younger brother, Edmund, by deliberately infecting him with measles by kissing him.

But above all, the novel poses a central question: 'When did evil enter Hitler's soul?' And it provides an unequivocal answer: at the moment of conception.

This, of course, is a dotty idea. For a start, the use of the word evil - which is associated with the occult and the Devil - is pure laziness because evil implies conduct that is so bad we can never explain it.

But more importantly, Mailer's novel does raise the issue of whether Hitler was predisposed at birth to be a genocidal tyrant.

Or to put it another way, whether people can be born bad - whether it is inevitable that some individuals will turn out to be murderers or rapists or bullies or thieves and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Coincidentally, a so-called scientific study from the University of Virginia this week reached the conclusion that children may be 'born to be bad'.

But I believe this conclusion to be completely misguided. And I come to this conclusion having spent a lifetime studying truly bad people - I wrote the biography of the north London mass murderer Dennis Nilsen, for example, and came to know him well.

Virginia's experts in human genetics would have us believe that character defects such as criminal behaviour, the desire to bully others and the necessity to tell lies despite all evidence that one has been rumbled are tied up in our DNA.

They have little or nothing to do with influences that may bombard us in our infancy.

Thus, there is precious little virtue in trying to be a good child, because the programming of your personality has decided in advance that you can't win.

Forget about the soul. It's all to do with the ingredients that were thrown in by your parents, and by theirs, and so on ad infinitum. The result is a soup which cannot be unmixed.

Scientists seem to have spent the best part of a century gleefully promoting this idea and repudiating the Romantic notion of the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau that 'there is absolutely no fundamental perversity in the human heart', and that all bad behaviour is the result of society itself.

Today, experts appear to take a perverse pleasure in making sure we know how irredeemably wicked we are. This week's research is just the latest in a long line of simple-minded foolishness.

It is wrong because it confuses two separate categories of inquiry. One is whether children have a predisposition to behave badly; the other is why they behave badly, which is not at all the same thing.

Of course, a child inherits traits of personality from its parents. It also learns much of its behaviour from its parents. These facts are undeniable, and manifested every day in ordinary observation.

We have all encountered terrible parents who spend all their energies in berating their offspring, shouting, forbidding, chastising, screaming their own frustrations with spitting mouths and glaring eyes at infants who are at first bewildered, and subsequently adopt the same negative behaviour patterns as their only way of dealing with the world.

It is no wonder they bully in the playground and attack their peers, physically, violently, as well as verbally. The genes have predisposed them to angry behaviour and the way they have been treated by their parents has encouraged it. They seem trapped.

Yet not all of them succumb to this hideous imprisonment - and this is why the scientists are fundamentally wrong. Some children break free and evolve, in contradiction to the supposed predisposition that should, say the scientists, warp their soul.

In other words, the predisposition may be there; it is what you do about it that makes the difference. The fact that one child may turn into a bully or become a criminal and another not remains a tantalising mystery, and one that scientists cannot possibly explain in simple terms of DNA.

That is why it is the subject of much of our drama, from the ancient Greek theatre to today. And not only drama, but real incident as well.

Consider the case of Gary Gilmore - the American murderer who killed a hotel clerk in Utah, then killed a student the following night, and was fatally shot himself a year later by a firing squad - which was chronicled by Norman Mailer in his 1979 book The Executioner's Song.

Gilmore had a brother, Frank, who turned out to be as peaceable and inoffensive in character as Gary was violent and destructive.

Their mother, Bessie, was perplexed, for she brought them up together. 'One son picked up the gun,' she said. 'The other did not pick up the gun. Why?' Nobody has been able to offer her a fully-inclusive answer. Similarly, Jeffrey Dahmer in Milwaukee strangled and dismembered 17 men between 1978 and 1991. Much was made of his upbringing by a self- obsessed mother and largely absent father.

He inherited their lack of human warmth and inability to empathise and see the world through eyes other than their own. He was dangerously disconnected from humankind.

But he, too, had a brother, David, who never did anyone any harm and who now lives quietly under another name. David had the same parents, the same start in life and carried the same cartload of genes and DNA as his brother.

It is how the child learns to manage his inheritance that matters, how to shape it and restrict it when necessary.

Dahmer, paradoxically, did make an effort, and spent many years grappling with the murderous monster within, of which he was all too aware. But he lost the battle.

Others, like mass murderers Frederick West and Dennis Nilsen, never tried, because they did not realise that it mattered - they were, like the engineer of the Nazis' Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, morally blind.

Nobody would pretend that it is easy to behave well, or that the influence of genes is negligible. It requires struggle.

Vice is the easy option, whereas virtue denotes difficulty and sweat. As the great Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca wrote: 'Nature does not give a man virtue, the process of becoming a good man is an art.'

The art is in using one's genetic inheritance to advantage. People such as the scholars responsible for this latest study get mixed up between aggression and hostility.

For example, if a child inherits the aggressive gene, he might transform it into ambition and enterprise, leadership, artistic creation, love, self-fulfilment, all beneficent in outcome.

On the other hand, another child with the same genetic disposition to aggression might become a hooligan.

It is often said that Beethoven, remote, sullen, morose, superior, driven, might have become a dangerous psychopath if he hadn't written music.

Norman Mailer's suggestion that Hitler was evil at the moment of conception may be his attempt to explain conduct so bad that it defies comprehension.

But in reality, it is a ridiculous notion that, if taken seriously, excuses the behaviour of perhaps the most appalling individual in history.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: everyoneisbornevil; evil; hitler; sin
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1 posted on 02/07/2007 6:36:08 AM PST by gobucks
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To: gobucks

After achieveing power, Stalin asked his mother why she beat him as a child. She assured him that's why he turned out so well.


2 posted on 02/07/2007 6:38:41 AM PST by Tijeras_Slim
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To: gobucks
On the day I was born,
the nurses all gathered 'round
And they gazed in wide wonder,
at the joy they had found
The head nurse spoke up,
and she said leave this one alone
She could tell right away,
that I was bad to the bone!
3 posted on 02/07/2007 6:39:14 AM PST by theDentist (Qwerty ergo typo : I type, therefore I misspelll.)
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To: gobucks

I don't think anyone is born evil. I think it's the result of a long process that often begins at an early age.


4 posted on 02/07/2007 6:41:51 AM PST by cripplecreek (Peace without victory is a temporary illusion.)
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To: gobucks

If, as the author says: struggle can overcome the influence of genetics. If vice is the easy option and virtue requires sweat to overcome difficulty, then one can only wonder if the author would support stuggle and sweat to over come the 'homosexual gene'?


5 posted on 02/07/2007 6:47:42 AM PST by DugwayDuke (A patriot will cast their vote in the manner most likely to deny power to democrats.)
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To: gobucks
I firmly believe that some people are "born bad".Not many...in fact,a very small percentage.
6 posted on 02/07/2007 6:48:32 AM PST by Gay State Conservative ("The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism."-Karl Marx)
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To: cripplecreek

Just as a side: People constantly refer to hitler as THE evil of WW2. Yeah, he was an evil SOB. But there was a whole train load of others as well, that actually did the deeds, in a very evil fasion. The whole lot of em had no concerns for life.


7 posted on 02/07/2007 6:49:13 AM PST by going hot (Happiness is a momma deuce)
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To: Tijeras_Slim
After achieveing power, Stalin asked his mother why she beat him as a child. She assured him that's why he turned out so well.

Many a retail Assistant Manager across America could tell an identical story. ;)

The notion that people are born evil is nonsense. Evil behavior stems from fear - and the only fears we are born with are the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Everything else is learned.

Like many poor Europeans at the time (and - as "Borat" showed us - like many backward societies in Europe and Asia still believe) Hitler learned early on to fear Jews and their "sorcerous powers" and acted dramatically to rid himself of that phobia once he got the power to do so.

8 posted on 02/07/2007 6:49:18 AM PST by Mr. Jeeves ("When the government is invasive, the people are wanting." -- Tao Te Ching)
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To: Gay State Conservative

I agree with the small percentage ... it's to give the rest of us something to fight "against".


9 posted on 02/07/2007 6:50:35 AM PST by Let's Roll ("...given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor - you will have war"- W.Churchill)
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To: cripplecreek

Psalm 58:3
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.


10 posted on 02/07/2007 6:50:36 AM PST by Red Badger (Rachel Carson is responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler...............)
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To: gobucks
Are some people born evil?

Obviously; look at Pelosi, Clinton (both), Carter, Feinstein, Schumer, Rangel, McCain, Edwards, Kennedy, Gore, McCarthy (D, NY), Boxer, Mikulski, McKinney (former D, GA), Reno, etc. A more evil bunch it would be hard to find outside of the inner Nazi party and Stalin's close associates. Most of these people went directly into government jobs, never working a day in their lives. Born evil indeed.

11 posted on 02/07/2007 6:53:21 AM PST by from occupied ga (Your most dangerous enemy is your own government)
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To: going hot

Interestingly, he likely would have been a long-forgotten painter if he had just passed his college art class (got an 'F', went on to destroy Europe).


12 posted on 02/07/2007 6:53:24 AM PST by ctdonath2 (The color blue tastes like the square root of 0?)
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To: gobucks
Are some people born evil?

Yep.

Then they move to New York and get elected to the Senate.

13 posted on 02/07/2007 6:54:09 AM PST by N. Theknow ((Kennedys - Can't drive, can't fly, can't ski, can't skipper a boat - But they know what's best.))
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To: gobucks
Some people are wired to be evil. We've had psychopaths around ever since the dawn of Man. You know the type: smooth, charming and very likeable on the outside. Its inside that they're different. They have no conscience and no regard for the rules of civilization. Evil people are egotists to the core. They take what they want without regard for others and they leave behind human wreckage in their wake. The bright dividing line between the Right and the Left is the former acknowledges the existence of evil; the latter denies it. Evil is still the knottiest problem facing mankind and its hard to completely eradicate it because its tied into the question of human free will. No one knows what is truly in the human heart save Our Creator, God.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

14 posted on 02/07/2007 6:57:48 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: gobucks; Alex Murphy
This thread deserves a GRPL ping.

"T" = Total Depravity.

"TULIP".


15 posted on 02/07/2007 6:59:09 AM PST by fishtank
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To: going hot

I've often wondered at the evil that took place, Hitler didn't do it all alone. He had a lot of help and seemingly "normal" people went along.


16 posted on 02/07/2007 6:59:24 AM PST by tiki
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To: tiki

I think forcing the German people to look at what they allowed to happen was the right thing to do.


17 posted on 02/07/2007 7:02:10 AM PST by cripplecreek (Peace without victory is a temporary illusion.)
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To: gobucks

"there is no such thing as a bad boy"

-Rev E J Flanagan.


18 posted on 02/07/2007 7:02:11 AM PST by absolootezer0 (stop repeat offenders - don't re-elect them!)
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To: gobucks
Norman Mailer's got a pretty bad track record when it comes to sniffing out evil. Does the name Jack Henry Abbott ring a bell? If not, read Theodore Dalrymple's Of Mailer and Murder. Chilling.
19 posted on 02/07/2007 7:03:09 AM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: Tijeras_Slim

Of course, Stalin's mother was a little dotty.

She didn't really understand what he did: there is a lovely story about her asking him what it was that he did. After a long fruitless explanation, he finally retreated to the explanation, "It's sort of like being the Tsar."

That sank in, and his mother replied, "Too bad, it would have been better if you'd been a priest."


20 posted on 02/07/2007 7:04:34 AM PST by The_Reader_David (And when they behead your own people in the wars which are to come, then you will know. . .)
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To: Mr. Jeeves
The notion that people are born evil is nonsense. Evil behavior stems from fear - and the only fears we are born with are the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.Everything else is learned.

The human brain is an organ,just like the heart,lungs and liver.If one is born with a subtle (perhaps genetic) defect of the lungs then that person could certainly have very serious health/breathing problems.

If a person is born with just the right kind of subtle brain defect (which may or may not be genetic) then that person could develop serious behavior problems throughout life.

Have you ever seen the CT Scan or PET Scan of a chronic schizophrenic? I have.When comparing them to the CT and PET Scans of normal people the differences are so dramatic and obvious that even a hospital janitor can tell that there's a difference.

21 posted on 02/07/2007 7:04:39 AM PST by Gay State Conservative ("The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism."-Karl Marx)
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To: fishtank; Alex Murphy; Gamecock; xzins
This thread deserves a GRPL ping.

I was wondering when you guys would show up. ;-)

22 posted on 02/07/2007 7:05:01 AM PST by Corin Stormhands (James Lileks: Rudy, He'll nuke 'em if he has to.)
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To: Red Badger

This would describe Keith Olberman.


23 posted on 02/07/2007 7:05:08 AM PST by dforest (Liberals love crisis, create crisis and then dwell on them.)
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To: gobucks

I agree with the others who say they believe environment to be the stronger influence, but the authors argument using brothers of famous murderers is weak. To be valid this argument would require identical twins of evil people.


24 posted on 02/07/2007 7:05:13 AM PST by conejo99
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To: gobucks

yes


25 posted on 02/07/2007 7:08:11 AM PST by NonValueAdded (Pelosi, the call was for Comity, not Comedy. But thanks for the laughs. StarKisses, NVA.)
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To: gobucks
We are all born sinners, which can be equated with 'bad'.

However, FREE WILL allows us to choose a righteous path for our lives OR the evil alternative.

26 posted on 02/07/2007 7:08:17 AM PST by PISANO
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To: ctdonath2; tiki
Shoulda given him a passing grade in art....

Seriously, he convinced (how hard was it) a whole lot of people to do his bidding. The methodical coldhearted cruelty, and the sheer numbers boggles the minds of even the hard corps.

Was there that much evil to go around? were they brainwashed?

I think there inherantly is the capacity to do good and evil in the mind, and in some (weak minded? starved for power? ) the tipping point towards evil is close.

27 posted on 02/07/2007 7:08:20 AM PST by going hot (Happiness is a momma deuce)
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To: snarks_when_bored
Does the name Jack Henry Abbott ring a bell?

Yup.He was the scumbag that Mailer and a few of his friends "discovered" while he was doing a long prison stretch for some serious crime.

Mailer and his pals told the parole board that this clown was so talented that he must be allowed to "contribute" from outside a prison cell...and the parole board agreed.

And then....a couple of weeks after his release...he murdered a waiter in an argument over the use of a bathroom.

28 posted on 02/07/2007 7:10:16 AM PST by Gay State Conservative ("The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism."-Karl Marx)
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To: Mr. Jeeves
Babies who grow up unattached have a tendency to grow up to be sociopaths. As kids they have Reactive Attachment Disorder. As adults, we just call them sociopaths.

Not all sociopaths are violent, and commit crimes, however.

29 posted on 02/07/2007 7:11:32 AM PST by Texas_shutterbug
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To: absolootezer0
Forget about the soul. It's all to do with the ingredients that were thrown in by your parents, and by theirs, and so on ad infinitum.

This is the core of liberal bleeding hearts. This is the notion that someone else is always to blame, especially the parents. The liberal conclusion is that evil can't be condemned or judged.

30 posted on 02/07/2007 7:12:26 AM PST by aimhigh
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To: Gay State Conservative

Yes. And it's unlikely that Mailer ever lost a minute's sleep over the incident. One wonders whether Mailer even remembers the murdered waiter's name...


31 posted on 02/07/2007 7:14:03 AM PST by snarks_when_bored
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To: gobucks
One may be born with a tendency to injure others, with a tendency toward insensitivity toward the pain of another, with a tendency toward having a sexual attraction toward the same sex, or with a dozen other destructive tendencies but we are moral creatures who are shaped by God. We have the choice as to how we will act on those destructive tendencies.
St Paul moans about a thorn in his flesh. He understood that without the power of the Holy Spirit we are unable to resist the power of evil.
32 posted on 02/07/2007 7:17:37 AM PST by quadrant
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To: aimhigh

who else is there to blame for how a child is raised?
the difference is a conservative will try and fix the problem with love, understanding, support, and if necessary, punishment.
a liberal will ignore it and hope it'll go away, perscribe drugs to cover it up, or try to psycho-analyze it and call it a "mental disorder" that should be protected.


33 posted on 02/07/2007 7:19:10 AM PST by absolootezer0 (stop repeat offenders - don't re-elect them!)
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To: Corin Stormhands; fishtank

Did you see the snakes?


34 posted on 02/07/2007 7:19:24 AM PST by xzins (Retired Army Chaplain and proud of it! Supporting our troops means praying for them to WIN!)
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To: xzins

heh...yeah


35 posted on 02/07/2007 7:20:05 AM PST by Corin Stormhands (James Lileks: Rudy, He'll nuke 'em if he has to.)
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To: Tijeras_Slim

According to Radzhinsky's bio, Stalin's mother told him he would have done better to be a priest.


36 posted on 02/07/2007 7:20:05 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 ( ...even more American than a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: PISANO

Ditto.


37 posted on 02/07/2007 7:21:39 AM PST by rollo tomasi (Working hard to pay for deadbeats and corrupt politicians.)
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To: gobucks
Those of us with a Calvinistic/Puritan bent recognize that all men are born with evil inclinations, which is restrained to varying degrees by external factors such as civil government or society. Take, for example, the Milgrim experiments - given commands that "the experiment must proceed" by an erstwhile authority figure (scientists in lab coats), the majority of persons would commit tortures.

Turning the Nazis into cartoonish supervillians has obscured the lessons we should learn. Instead, we should remember that they were men like you and I, who loved their wives and kids and thought they were doing what was best for their country - and so justified the most astonishingly evil acts. The evil of the Nazis was disturbingly banal.

38 posted on 02/07/2007 7:23:05 AM PST by jude24
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To: going hot

"Methodical" is the key word. Couple that with "obey or die", plus a good dose of "everyone is doing it", and most people will do anything, with little remorse, just to do their job, collect a paycheck, and go home at the end of the day.

Evil behavior can be surprisingly mundane. When made methodical and commonplace, few people would _not_ do it.

Hence the axiom that humans are inherently evil - very little encouragement is needed for most people to cross the line.


39 posted on 02/07/2007 7:24:34 AM PST by ctdonath2 (The color blue tastes like the square root of 0?)
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To: Corin Stormhands

I was hoping you'd save that picture for future reference.

It was a classic.

I don't know if it's totally depraved, but it's mentally depraved.


40 posted on 02/07/2007 7:25:47 AM PST by xzins (Retired Army Chaplain and proud of it! Supporting our troops means praying for them to WIN!)
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To: gobucks; Tijeras_Slim; theDentist; cripplecreek; DugwayDuke; Gay State Conservative; going hot; ...

While I don't care much for Mailer it should be pointed out that the USA was founded by a people who were generally Calvinists. Calvinists believe that people are NOT fundamentally good at heart but rather fundamentally bad. That's why the US government was created with has all kinds of checks and balances built into it.

As pointed out in the article its the french revolution (rousseau) that came up with the idea that the men are basically good and that its society that's bad -- and society that makes men bad.

The calvinists believe that men have no righteousness of their own. (all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God)Rather Jesus imputes his righteousness before God to those who believe in him.

The French have come up with the opposite formula. What they do-- and what the communists & democrats have learned to do-- is figure out their own worst evil and impute that evil to the opposition.

In Sum: Jesus imputes his Righteousness to those who believe in him.
French Dems, commies impute their evil to their opposition.


41 posted on 02/07/2007 7:28:32 AM PST by ckilmer
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To: gobucks

All people are born evil, or at least sinful.


42 posted on 02/07/2007 7:29:34 AM PST by Leatherneck_MT (In a world where Carpenters come back from the dead, ALL things are possible.)
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To: gobucks
Consider the case of Gary Gilmore - the American murderer who killed a hotel clerk in Utah, then killed a student the following night, and was fatally shot himself a year later by a firing squad - which was chronicled by Norman Mailer in his 1979 book The Executioner's Song. Gilmore had a brother, Frank, who turned out to be as peaceable and inoffensive in character as Gary was violent and destructive.

Consider that I have dark hair and blue eyes, my sister has blond hair and blue eyes, my brother has brown hair and brown eyes.

That argument holds no water. Just because one child in a family has a certain genetic trait, the fact that a sibling doesn't have the same trait does not prove that genetics is not real.

If we have no problem with believing our genetic makeup determines our height, our hair and eye color, our hand usage, our foot size, our intelligence (or lack of),our sense of humor, etc. - why is it such a stretch to think it might not also determine our sense of right or wrong?

I firmly believe that nature trumps nurture most of the time. Of course there are always exceptions but you very often hear about cases where identical twins are adopted into two totally different environments yet end up with striking similarities in their behavior.

Most old sayings have a kernel of truth in them. One of these is "Blood will tell".

43 posted on 02/07/2007 7:29:48 AM PST by Tokra (I think I'll retire to Bedlam.)
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To: ctdonath2

Hitler failed the entrance exam to Art School. Problems with figure studies. the Art School suggested he seek admission to a school for architecture [his buildings were quite good. Since Hitler dropped out of school, and had no diploma, he could not apply to architecture school.


44 posted on 02/07/2007 7:31:12 AM PST by PzLdr ("The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am" - Darth Vader)
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To: ctdonath2
Hence the axiom that humans are inherently evil - very little encouragement is needed for most people to cross the line.

I don't think we are inherently evil per se, just easy to tip one way or the other (precariously balanced?). As we grow, we develop more conviction, furthering us away from that edge, in one direction or the other. The truly evil probably develop in that direction. The sheep that follow remain near the edge, forever easy to manipulate.

45 posted on 02/07/2007 7:34:13 AM PST by going hot (Happiness is a momma deuce)
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To: ctdonath2

You know, I have read that but the way you put it so bluntly, for some reason, caused me to snicker.


46 posted on 02/07/2007 7:34:30 AM PST by 7thson (I've got a seat at the big conference table! I'm gonna paint my logo on it!)
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To: gobucks
For a start, the use of the word evil - which is associated with the occult and the Devil - is pure laziness because evil implies conduct that is so bad we can never explain it.

Satan laughs at us, when we ignore his power. He reigns over the earth, after all. When we draw characatures of the devil painted in red, with horns, pitchfork, and a menacing grin, Satan is entralled in rapture. For the devil wants us to discount him, to pretend he isn't as dangerous as he is. He is EVERYWHERE. And to mock his existance puts us in peril.

47 posted on 02/07/2007 7:35:25 AM PST by Pan_Yans Wife
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To: gobucks
Are some people born evil?

I'm leaning towards yes.


48 posted on 02/07/2007 7:35:37 AM PST by reagan_fanatic (Every time a jihadist dies, an angel gets its wings.)
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To: gobucks

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.


49 posted on 02/07/2007 7:36:18 AM PST by AD from SpringBay (We have the government we allow and deserve.)
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To: gobucks
Are some people born evil?

No. ALL people are born evil (Romans 5:12-21).

Dan
Biblical Christianity BLOG
Pyromaniacs

50 posted on 02/07/2007 7:37:35 AM PST by BibChr ("...behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?" [Jer. 8:9])
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