‘…no matter how heinous a crime. If a human being did it, you have to say, “I have all the components that are in her or in him.”’

- Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist

Course duration

20 hours (2 hour classes over 10 weeks)

Aims and objectives

Why We Kill challenges you to read and listen to the stories and words of those who have perpetrated violence or have thought about doing so. While the material in the course has been described by one student as ‘fascinating’, the course offers you more than just 20 hours of an engrossing subject matter. It will enable you to fundamentally rethink everything you think you know about the nature of human beings, their capacity for violence, but also their capacity for change. This course is not simply informative. It aims to be transformative. A central aim of the course is to equip and empower students with concrete skills and capacities to understand why and how different forms of violence are committed.

We must go beyond a ‘fear that to explain the behaviours of perpetrators of extraordinary evil is to justify those behaviors’. This should be obvious. Why We Kill is based one fundamental principle: to understand violence, we must listen to those who have either thought about committing violence or who have indeed done so. Listening is a very human thing, but this is the point of Why We Kill. As James Waller, author of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing has argued, ‘we must not place human evil beyond human scrutiny’. Through books, film and TV, violence is a medium of entertainment for many. Violence is an absolutely serious subject however, that has relevance for us all. The first line of the Executive Summary of a report from the Counter Extremism Project is stark: ‘More than 70 years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, ethno-nationalist and white supremacist movements in Europe continue to thrive.’ In other words, the beliefs, values and attitudes that ultimately led to the systematic mass murder of six million Jewish people not only persist but are growing. It is for this reason among many, that makes the question of ‘why we kill’ so urgent.

The course invites you to go beyond any notion that people who commit violence are ‘monsters’. The lesson from the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocides is that violence and mass murder is not done by ‘monsters and psychopaths’. As James Waller points out, ‘it is ordinary people, like you and me, who commit genocide and mass killing’. Through Why We Kill, you will be able to read the words of a person who is expressing anger, animosity, hostility, hatred and say with confidence ‘I think I know what’s going on here’. In fact, you will feel that you really do know what is going on. Probably the most uncomforting thing about the course is not that you might recognise the similarities you share with victims of violence, but the similarities you share with perpetrators of it. Indeed, the course is not about why 'they' kill. It is about why we kill. It is about us.