Monday, August 22, 2016

Religion, politics and psychopaths-2

Psychopaths, people without empathy and without conscience, gravitate towards positions of power: the military, the police, top management, top finance, top legal people. If they are smart enough, they go for careers. Of course not all CEOs or military are psychopaths, only a few. But more than among gardeners or shopkeepers.
At the lower end we find them among petty bureaucrats, among soldiers, among criminals. How many soldiers in wars act like psychopaths? Estimates vary between 2% and 5%. But the longer a war lasts, the higher the percentage becomes.

OK. As I wrote in my previous blog, the only fundamental approach is to discourage the making of new psychopaths. But how?

Psychopath parents are the surest way to produce new psychopaths. The golden rule is to consistently humiliate children. Quite openly, by being harsh and cruel, treating them like little monsters that have to be broken. Or more insidiously, by mocking them as an inferior breed. Or mechanically, like dumb robots that still have to be programmed.
In the second half of the 19th century, belief in the “survival of the fittest” saw rapidly diminishing standards in taking care of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. Discipline and harshness in education became almost the norm. It may be that the horrors of totalitarian regimes have been unleashed because some critical mass in psychopaths in positions of power was reached. In cultures already tending to hardness, the psychopaths took over: Russia, Japan, Germany. Small differences can produce large consequences.
In the biographies of many leading Nazis, we find a harsh education, especially a cruel or harsh and indifferent father. The Nazis emptied the prisons to recruit the guards for the concentration camps. SS-officers were trained very harshly. The trainees got each a dog to train. For many months that was their only companion and many got a sentimental bond with their dog. At the graduation ceremony, they got their officer’s pistol and the first thing they had to do was to shoot their dog. “To become hard.”

How can we prevent psychopaths from taking over powerful institutions? Grossman, in his book On Killing, says that the only protection sheep can find against wolves is from what he calls ‘sheep dogs.’ Those who can be firm, even hard and violent, but still remain humane and conscientious.
The main development of civilization is in eliminating humiliation. The antidote to humiliation is not love, but respect. Against psychopaths we can’t come with love or flowers or peace. We need to establish clear boundaries and containment procedures.
Even in love and tenderness there may be easily belittling. Overprotection is also disrespectful. Eliminating humiliation in education, in work organization, in public offices, even in police and justice. Even in war. Wherever possible.
Can humiliation be avoided in boot camps? Maybe it can’t, but maybe it can. Anyway, it is not just a tool for discipline. It may foster indiscipline in the end.

Society is people living together. Culture is how people live together. Civilization is how humanely people live together. Our society is full of rituals, though our behavior is less prescribed than in more traditional societies. Humanization rituals make people more decent, taking one another more into consideration, into account.
An example remaining dehumanization are the rituals in what Ervin Goffman called total institutions: hospitals, asylums, prisons. Many rituals practiced in these institutions are defacement rituals that strip people of their personality. The strongest examples of such defacement rituals have been in concentration camps, where all personal distinctions were removed and people were treated as animals or things. Inmates were regarded as useless or reprehensible, as objects of contempt, derision or experiment. The essence of many camp rituals lay in declaring inmates to be non-people, non-humans, reducing them to naked, frightened, trembling rabbits. As Goffman showed, benevolent institutions such as hospitals and mental wards also employ defacement rituals.
By contrast, rituals that stress people’s humanity and personal dignity enhance self-respect and self-confidence. All rituals that stress acceptance and inclusion of the participants and recipients in society are humanization rituals. Rituals that treat people as nonhumans, barbarians, animals, robots or things, or just not there, are dehumanization rituals, apart from the intention or awareness of the people who engage in such rituals.
Boss-subordinate relationships in a factory are prone to dehumanization. Production schedules have to be met. Breakdowns occur, waste problems and quality problems arise, as does friction between groups and within groups. Competition, irritation, jealousy, distrust, and disappointment are present in the work environment. Rituals may reinforce such problems, contain them or counteract them. Work rituals define the culture of a company. Companies with the most positive corporate culture are often the most successful.
Dehumanization rituals are common between organizations and their clients  when organizations don’t depend directly on their clients for their survival, like most public agencies. The treatment given to clients at many counters is almost the prototypical defacement ritual. We all know how it feels to be treated as a number. And many of us know the bureaucratic crucifixion when someone happens to have a request or suffer circumstances that do not fit standard operating procedures and threatens the convenience of bureaucrats.
What is the easiest way to humiliate people? To make them wait. Many bureaucratic rituals are to keep people waiting. Clerks make civilians wait, bosses make subordinates wait and subordinates avenge themselves by making bosses wait. The anonymous sphinx of modern bureaucracies is indeed a dehumanizing machine.
It may console us to learn that firms that define their business as service are the most successful. Just as horses respond favorably to a treatment geared to horses, and car engines respond favorably to maintenance schemes that are geared to car engines, so also people respond favorably to treatment geared to people.
Morality is about treating people as human beings. Humanization rituals are the preventive maintenance of society.
Much of what goes under the name of alienation is a response to dehumanization. 

The first step toward a more civilized world is to fight dehumanizing rituals and foster humanizing rituals. Thanking someone for a service rendered is a humanizing ritual, as is the custom of replying promptly to requests. Barring someone from expressing an opinion in a meeting is dehumanizing, as is withholding of information about the purpose of our work.
The most sensitive areas in society as to human and inhuman rituals are total institutions; the least sensitive areas are market institutions where people can always go somewhere else. Employment functions more as a total institution when unemployment is high, more as a market institution when employment is high.
    The first defenses against the arrogance of powerful institutions are more freedom and more humane procedures: liberalization and humanization respectively. Under liberal conditions, humane policies pay off, when applied with some intelligence and some patience.

    Unrestrained psychopaths like to make people suffer, to destroy their homes, their families, their lives. Why are people cruel? Why do they abuse, rape and kill and maim others?       
Engaging in cruelty, torture and terror overcompensates feelings of worthlessness - a stronger form of the inferiority complex - by means of an all-powerful, sadistic manipulation of other people, by threat of prolonged suffering and ultimately destruction.
    Brutes laugh when something comical happens with the body of a victim, when the head or neck snaps weirdly, or when a man stumbles over his own entrails. These marionettes are cute: they are droll and they squeak. Brutes make fun of them. They can do as they please. They are out of bounds. They are the boys with the boots and the whip. But an unconscious feeling of worthlessness remains and is drowned by a further descent into inhumanity.
    Brutes see their descent into barbarism and sadism as courageous, hard, superior, only for the strong. Others are sleepers, dreamers, sentimental squeakers; they are timid, afraid, soft and vulnerable.
    When Himmler visited an extermination camp, he told his SS-men how proud he was of them. This was a great moment in German history. People could say about them that they had become hard. They did not falter because of revulsion and abhorrence; they had hardened.
Such people view themselves as superhuman, and ordinary folks as subhuman, children of a lesser God. In the world of a brute, humanity is no more; only strong supermen and weak subhuman rabbits. This mind-set is evident in many butchers, but even more in their bosses: the Hitlers, the Himmlers and the Eichmanns.
    Distant bosses may have the same dynamic as acting brutes, but more intellectual. They are more fanatical or more cynical, indulging in the cold and dry satisfaction of unleashing a man-destroying machine. Fanatics make themselves hard, unyielding servants of their higher purpose. Preaching fanatics are hot and acting fanatics are cold, but their henchmen are hot again.
Religious fanaticism is even more dangerous than political fanaticism.

What conditions turn people into brutes? Ultimately, none. Some people remain decent when everyone around them indulges in cruelty. The mind is its own place, and there is no condition that triggers inhuman behavior in the absence of a corrupted mind. Still, many influences may ease a corruption of the mind.
    A brute is someone whose feelings of self-esteem and dignity, of being loved, accepted or respected, have been destroyed, and whose feelings of rage have been bottled up. Self-pity and aggression are universal responses to frustration. Deeply frustrated souls tend to become either aggressors or victims.
    Usually, such frustrations begin to bottle up early in childhood.    The main breeding ground for brutes is deep and constant humiliation and intimidation from an early day on. Continuous inhuman treatment sows the seeds of inhuman response. Whenever people in authority (parents, teachers, bosses or priests) treat people as small and insignificant or as despicable, they create losers. Or brutes.

(See for a more extensive analysis chapters 2 and 3 of my Humanity, Civilization, Politics;

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