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The Boston Globe



‘Monstrous behavior’ has biological, environmental causes

Jeff Jacoby (“Inner angels vs. innate evil, ” Op-Ed, Jan. 2) would have us believe that the evil we do derives not from external conditions, but from bad character, which is up to us as individuals to keep in check. Don’t look to poverty, lack of education, poor nutrition, joblessness, child abuse, or extremist ideologies to explain terrorism and criminality. It’s all internal, beyond the reach of collective efforts to control.

This view ignores the biological and environmental causes of bad character and behavior that might be amenable to intervention, and it suggests that failures of self-control are strictly self-generated, owing nothing to one’s circumstances. For those who want to avoid responsibility for being their brother’s keeper, this conveniently places all the blame for “monstrous behavior” on an individual’s “free choice.”

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