Two articles that I read in the last 24 hours that address similar subject. One from a psychological perspective and one from a historical. A Brain’s Failure to Appreciate Others May Permit Human Atrocities
A father in Louisiana bludgeoned and beheaded his disabled 7-year-old son last August because he no longer wanted to care for the boy.
For most people, such a heinous act is unconscionable.
But it may be that a person can become callous enough to commit human atrocities because of a failure in the part of the brain that’s critical for social interaction. A new study by researchers at Duke University and Princeton University suggests this function may disengage when people encounter others they consider disgusting, thus “dehumanizing” their victims by failing to acknowledge they have thoughts and feelings.
This shortcoming also may help explain how propaganda depicting Tutsi in Rwanda as cockroaches and Hitler’s classification of Jews in Nazi Germany as vermin contributed to torture and genocide, the study said.
“When we encounter a person, we usually infer something about their minds. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human,” said lead author Lasana Harris, an assistant professor in Duke University’s Department of Psychology & Neuroscience and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Harris co-authored the study with Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University.
Social neuroscience has shown through MRI studies that people normally activate a network in the brain related to social cognition — thoughts, feelings, empathy, for example — when viewing pictures of others or thinking about their thoughts. But when participants in this study were asked to consider images of people they considered drug addicts, homeless people, and others they deemed low on the social ladder, parts of this network failed to engage.
Increasing it seems the MRI and neuroscience rather than the eyes are the windows to the soul. Even given the explicit task of imagining a day in the life of a homeless person or a disabled woman many people still related to images in a way that negated those people’s basic humanity. In a review of two new books about the atrocities of war Joanna Burke notes the reaction of poet and writer W. H. Auden to the uncanny ability of humanity to compartmentalize cruelty – Pity and war histories
The problem that both Englund and Hastings face in writing about war is one that troubled Auden throughout much of his life. Indeed, a couple of years before the Second World War, Auden had reflected on the poetics of cruelty. In Letters from Iceland, he evoked a scene in which he observed the slaughter of an enormous, gentle whale, “the most beautiful animal I have ever seen”. While the whale was being cut up on the slip-way, Auden heard a bell clang and, immediately, “everyone stuck their spades in the carcass and went off to lunch. The body remained alone in the sun, the flesh still steaming a little”. He reflected that the scene evoked “an extraordinary vision of the cold controlled ferocity of the human species”.
In a powerful essay, entitled “Squares and Oblongs”, Auden speculated that writing about cruelty meant paying attention precisely to the “lack of feeling” that enabled (some) humans to move easily from slaughter to sipping a mug of tea. Such a poem would have to tell how “when he read the news [of atrocity], the poet, like you and I, dear reader, went on thinking about his fame or his lunch, and how glad he was that he was not one of the victims”.
Both the psychological and historical examples are reasons I do not trust disgust as a reaction to something. Though I feel disgust at things and people probably as much as everyone else. Sometimes disgust is in order, as in the retelling of the massacre of the Czech village of Lidice recounted in the history review. When it comes to people, pausing to question one’s reaction is part of what prevents horrific tragedies like Lidice.
It looks as though President Obama has decided to pass the National Defense Authorization Act with the very ambiguous language contained in sections 1032 and 1031. So Republicans and most Democrats have finally found something to agree on, destroying the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments in the Bill of Rights. In case anyone has read otherwise 1032 and 1031 are contradictory, thus ultimately people will be charged and detained, then and only then, will someone, perhaps over the course of years be able to challenge someone’s detention. In the mean time you or your neighbor or whoever will be learning every square inch of a 6 by 8 prison cell.
U.S. Congressman Justin Amash states in a letter to Congress:
The Senate’s [bill] does not even distinguish between American citizens and non-citizens, or between persons caught domestically and abroad. The President’s power, in his discretion, to detain persons he determines have supported associated forces applies just as strongly to Americans seized on U.S. soil as it does to foreigners captured on a far away battlefield.
[ ]..The ACLU notes:
Don’t be confused by anyone claiming that the indefinite detention legislation does not apply to American citizens. It does. There is an exemption for American citizens from the mandatory detention requirement (section 1032 of the bill), but no exemption for American citizens from the authorization to use the military to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial (section 1031 of the bill). So, the result is that, under the bill, the military has the power to indefinitely imprison American citizens, but it does not have to use its power unless ordered to do so.
But you don’t have to believe us. Instead, read what one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham said about it on the Senate floor: “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.”
Ironically if a serial killer murders 10 people they will be given a court appointed attorney if needed, there will be a presumption of innocence and should the trail not be held in a fair manner there will be grounds for appeal. Merely accused of supporting a terrorist organization? – say you send money to someone who says they are raising funds for Middle-East orphans, but unbeknownst to you, was a front. Good luck trying to convince your guards at Guantanamo that you’re innocent.
I do not know whether this is a good idea, but there is a growing contingent of netizens who are encouraging everyone – regardless of current political affiliation to register as a Republican and vote for Ron Paul in the primaries ( who is against 1032 and 1031), in order to send a message to Obama and Democrats about the NDAA, SOPA and some other issues in which Democrats seem to have abandoned their civil liberties values. These were supposed to be the core values of the Democratic Party. We all expect overreach from far Right Conservatives. It seems the only people who are standing up to these attacks on democracy are a patchwork of liberal progressives, independents, libertarians and old school small government Republicans. Paul’s stances on many issues ranges from abysmal to borderline insane, but even if you register as a Republican you can vote Obama or any Democrat in the general election.
“We’ll Be Together Again” – Dianne Reeves