Recently HA and I have been discussing the nature of evil and whether it is a useful concept. Here is some stuff I said at his blog.

From Response to Recen Anders Sandberg and TGGP Posts: Mao, Stalin -the most evil?

Why do I “pin the blame”? If you read the link in my comment here it explains that holding people responsible for their actions, even if they don’t have free-will, is useful because it can be used to disincentivize their behavior. Even though Stalin & Mao are dead, one of the things people of their ilk are concerned with is their reputation, and if they are held in ill-repute people in the future in their positions will be less likely to engage in similar behavior. Social forces are the results of many actions taken by different individuals, and cannot be treated as anything else. You cannot strike part of a social whole and expect the mass to treat that as a strike against it. You can only inculcate in each individual the expectation that if they engage in certain behavior they will be punished for it. Attacking something amorphous like “deadweight loss” isn’t going to make Mr. Dead W. Loss turn his tail and run. All we can do is encourage people not to create that loss. Lastly, as I said I’m not as committed as you are to maximizing persistence odds, but I’d have to say that discouraging mass murder seems likely to improve odds of survival.

Overall, I think you’re demonstrating a commission/ommission bias, where you attribute blame to people and entities that “commit” bad things, but do not attribute equal or proportionate blame to people and entities that allow these bad things to happen through ommission.

I agree with Gordon Tullock than for any given individual acting against a system is unlikely to result in anything other than their own punishment, even if all of them acting together could possibly result in great benefits for each dissident. That is difficult coordination problem to resolve. Harping on an individual that they should do something does not seem likely to succeed. There are usually a much smaller number of people who are doing something harmful rather than merely permitting harmful things to be done, so it would seem more effective to focus on them.

You’ll notice that here I’m using a manner of thinking called “methodological individualism” which is often considered “reductionist” within the social sciences. It is possible to get even more reductionist than this by focusing on, say, neurons as the unit of analysis, which was suggested as a reductio ad absurdum by Robert Nozick. Here is a post from the Austrian Economists on why that isn’t done. Personally, I don’t know much neuroscience outside of this, so that wouldn’t be a productive route for me.