I found this whole interview with Bill James regarding the history of crime to be interesting, but I thought this passage was particularly perceptive:
“It is not as if we walk through one doorway and decide that murder is acceptable. You have to walk through many doorways. The first doorway leads to a party, where people are doing drugs and having fun. The second doorway leads to more partying. It’s a long, long series of doorways, until you end up in a room where a terrible thing happens. So the question is, “How many doorways away are you?” It’s not a question about a person’s capacity to commit a murder. It’s a question of how many doorways we keep between ourselves and that situation.”
I think this quote illustrates both the limits and the importance of agency. Some people are born having passed through several doorways; some such as myself are fortunate enough to have been born quite a distance away from any of the doorways. Often I see or hear of someone doing something awful, and it’s hard for me to put myself in their shoes and see how they could come to do that. Thinking of the doorways analogy helps.