Roscoe Lecture Series - Liverpool John Moores University

Roscoe Lecture: Rebecca Tinsley

Monster and Angels: Is Genocide Part of Human Nature

Journalist and human rights activist, Rebecca Tinsley, delivered a thought-provoking Roscoe Lecture which delved into the human psyche, asking if genocide is part of our nature.

We are all part angel and part monster, Rebecca suggested, and our journey through life is to decide and define which we lean closest to.

The lecture began by questioning the statement that genocide is a rare occurrence, with Rebecca listing all genocides since 1900. In total there are 16 incidents of genocide, including those that are ongoing today in Darfur and Nuba, defying the belief that they are infrequent. Rebecca then went on to evaluate how the world responds to genocide.

She commented that typical responses are to deny genocidal ideology, deny the scale of genocidal atrocities, and act as though there was no forewarning for the genocide, that they are rare acts of madness. These responses, she said, were to avoid any moral responsibility and to justify not taking any action.

Rebecca then went on to question which factors lead humans to commit genocide, listing conformity, hatred, fear and greed. When discussing conformity she gave the example of the Stanley Milgram research trial where a group of students were separated. One group was ordered to give electric shocks to the other group and, even though they were under the belief that their classmates were in a great deal of trauma and anguish, 80% of them continued to shock them - because they had been told to do so.

She also explained how hatred and fear during a catastrophic event can lead to genocide, outlining how the Great Depression in Germany was the catalyst for rise of the Nazi Party, responsible for The Holocaust.

“We are all capable of genocide,” said Rebecca. However, she added: “For every act of horror and violence in a genocide I promise you there is a corresponding act of human decency and generosity.” She cited the example of Albert Goering, the brother of Herman Goering, Hitler’s second in command, who rescued many hundreds of Jews and the bravery of the Soviet Union prisoners of war during WW2. They sabotaged more than 50% of rockets they were ordered to build by the Nazis, while facing sub-zero temperatures in salt mines caves during a brutal Russian winter, wearing thin clothing and little food, and risking certain death if they were caught damaging the equipment. Together they rendered the majority of the killing devices ineffective.

Rebecca’s lecture then brought us into the modern day, and in particular Darfur. She questioned the media’s response to the genocide taking place today, suggesting that there is a media vacuum because the world at large cares very little about the Darfurians.

You can download and listen to Rebecca's lecture here