Despite my general critique I do agree that a certain percentage of people may be incorrigible, and possibly for reasons that are fixed in their ‘nature’ or genetic makeup. I once worked for a savvy business manager of a theatre with lots of employees. She knew that given the size of the theatre she could pretty much count on having severe problems with 10% of the employees (theft, drugs, gambling debts, fake illness), regardless of how sure they were to have made the correct descisions during the hiring process.
By the same token, physics students often were the valedictorians in their respective highschools, and yet, now that they’re an undergrad at MIT they suddenly find themselves somewhere on a bell curve distribution where a few of their fellow students finish their problem sets in early afternoon while they give up at 3:30 am. No longer above average, good bye Lake Wobegone.
The point being: we have different abilities, and whenever we look at the extremes of a distribution we most likely have folks who got there by the grace or curse of superb or dismal genes.
Sociobiologists have long argued that we ignore our biological determinants at our own peril, but the cautious ones add that much of what our genes do not do for us can instead achieved through practice, cooperation, delegating tasks, or redefining goals. But again: mitigation may be tough or impossible at the extremes where 12 hours of excersises don’t make a math genius, and 10 years of therapy don’t cure a pathological sex killer.
Speaking of pathological: much of what we consider pathological or sociopathic in one society is considered normal or unremarkable in others, for purely cultural reasons.
Sexual initiation of teenage boys in bordellos in Thailand (used to be the practice in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, too). Wife beating. Slavery. Lynching. Honor killings. Killing of prisoners of war. Stealing from travellers. War raids over cattle, cuties or calebasses. Deadly duels over matters of ‘honor’ (i.e. words).
Consider: all these behaviors can be judged as rather evil, and yet they might have been performed by entire societies or within certain classes by a wide range of people. Did they have bad genes? No, they followed accepted cultural norms.
And as for Hitler and Co: What about that old wisdom that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?
My Aikido teacher (a mellow defensive Japanese martial art) told us yesterday how tempting the position of martial arts teacher is in that the aura of authority creates a power imbalance that is easily exploited. Often, female students feel drawn to a teacher who can easily take advantage, eager students quickly idealize a teacher, and the result is often that a teacher overestimates his actual skill. It even goes so far that some start to believe they have supernatural powers even when they initially knew full well that they were performing what amounts to circus tricks. Didn’t James Randi debunk some of those?
Anyway, just an example of how power corrupts, either with the corrupted knowing full well why he scores so easily, or, at a later stage, when his own interpretation becomes delusional. No ‘evil genes’ required here, just normal corruptable people developing nasty features.