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The antidote for judging, backbiting & similar ills

Whenever the temptation to judge, gossip or interpret peoples’ motives or conduct comes a-callin’ just watch this video and afterwards read this https://biotheorist.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/neither-a-roman-at-the-games-nor-a-supporter-of-those-who-play-at-this-be/:

 

Neither a “Roman at the games” nor a supporter of those who play at this be

ROMAN HELMET - FREE MSWhere you have competition, you have losers and those who seem to revel in their loss. Pretty much everyone reading this knows how the Romans flocked to the Amphitheatrum Flavium better known as the Coliseum (starting around 80 CE) and were thrilled to see gladiatorial contest losers being dispatched and were reportedly especially happy when enemies of the state were served up to the Angel of Death in the goriest way possible. Today this competitive impulse is vented and satisfied in sports stadiums and contests of every description. And….on TV and in movies, in science and medicine, in academia, and in pretty much every endeavor or undertaking you can name. It is almost as if the road up is paved with the wounded, fallen, and discarded.

I personally think we all get more mileage out of cooperation than competition, which is actually a cardinal expression of our social nature. But we still compete. In academia, the term “publish or perish” wasn’t coined as a joke but as a reflection of the cutthroat competition that researchers, scholars and professors keenly feel. Today it is almost commonplace to read about retracted papers whose underlying studies include fraudulent or plagiarized data or information, which I suspect arises when researchers and others feel the only way to “stay afloat” is to take “shortcuts to glory” (Something that when exposed oftentimes sinks the very careers the perpetrators hoped to sustain and grow). The website “Retraction Watch” is actually devoted to airing these kinds of failings from the world of published research.

What concerns me isn’t that people make bad choices, we all do at one time or another after all, but rather that some folks seem to revel in seeing the “perpetrators” thrust into the spotlight and made to endure a seeming unending barrage of shame and denunciation. Some even anticipate bad times for not only people who wonder off the straight & narrow, but for those who are unconventional or are doing things that could be perceived or interpreted as crossing some real or imagined legal or regulatory line by the powers-that-be. Some seem to salivate at the very prospect that an ill wind will blast those they disagree with or oppose into obscurity…or worse.

Those who take this particular low road are IMO the modern day equivalent of those Romans who clamored for the destruction of those who had violated Imperial law.

So why do people, especially cultured, educated souls, seem to thrill in what amounts to an exercise in cruelty? Has their sense of competitiveness and the need to be right taken on a pathological dimension? Do they find that the only way they can feel better is by stepping on and then over the careers and lives of those they feel duty bound to hurl stones at? Do they have little or no empathy, at least for those they disagree with or oppose? Is it intolerance or ignorance at work…or both? Maybe it is all of this and more, at least in some instances. Let me share what I think motivates at least some of these “professional stone throwers”.

It is my contention that the mechanism (if you will) at work in those who either predict doom for their real or perceived nemeses (“worthy targets”) or who work towards this end, is the same one that animates the cruel actions of terrorists who behead their helpless victims. In 2005 I touched on this in an analytic article I titled “Terrorist beheadings and other forms of inflicted, violent death: Are victims aware of what is happening around them after their heart and lungs have stopped working?” (which you can access at http://bit.ly/142hi4Y)

 It will take only a few salient lines to spell out my spin on this:

…there is an element of “enlightened self interest” in our curiosity and even fascination with dying and death. When we ask “What did that poor soul experience?”, we are in some way seeking in the death of others some idea of what we might sense or think or visualize as we go through our own final, irreversible “systems failure”.

So there you have it. As I see it some, perhaps many “stone hurlers” – I refer specifically to those who engage in ad hominem attacks on people or classes or groups of people instead of challenging faulty or flawed ideas, or who make suppositions with regard to what underlies poor or bad choices as though they are privy to seeing into their being (quite a feat when you consider most mental processes beneath consciousness and are not accessible to us) – do so (in part) to both existentially anticipate and experience the suffering they predict or facilitate for those they oppose. Of course, if their target winds up in hot water, rehab, prison or the cemetery, there is the ego-gratification of being able to say (either bluntly or ever so diplomatically) “See, I told you so”. By virtue of this they feel justified in the rightness of their particular stone hurling activities and encouraged to continue doing so. Society is not better for it, for successful cruelty has a way of attracting imitators and supporters and then of being further reinforced until it becomes “a self-evident truth”.

How should we deal with stone hurling and other forms of depersonalizing cruelty? The faulty thinking, choices and ideas that underlie such actions should be brought to light, dissected and challenged. But under no circumstance should this include attacks on the character or worth of people who have “played a Roman at the games” or supported those who do so. And, last but not least, we should strive mightily to meet and supplant heartless, cynical or even cruel actions on the part of others with exceeding kindness, cooperation, forgiveness and mercy whenever possible.

Dr. Anthony G, Payne

© 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

Recommended Supplemental Reading

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will by Heidi M. Ravven, Ph.D.

The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce Hood, Ph.D.

The Illusion of Conscious Will by Dr. Daniel M. Wegner

How do you kill 12 million people? Evil then and now: Recognizing & containing it

Color photo from TIME, Inc.

Color photo from TIME, Inc.

Dr. Anthony G. PayneMy good friend Jim Haverlock recently asked, “How do you kill 12 million people?” He was,  of course,  referring to the Shoah or Holocaust. He wasn’t asking about the nuts & bolts of pulling off mass executions but, rather, how did so many ordinary and even extraordinary men and women willingly take part in Hitler’s Endlösung (Final Solution). This is a question that has intrigued and haunted me since early boyhood actually. In fact, as part of my quest for answers I read all of Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels diaries as a young man plus vol. 1 of “Mein Kampf” (Vol. 2 was unknown when I was a youngster), watched archival film of the Nuremberg & Doctor’s trials, and read just about every substantive book on Hitler, the Nazis and fascism that existed at the time (And everything worth reading on the subject since as well). As anyone reading this who ever took a course in World History knows, both Hitler and Goebbels stressed the use of propaganda and the “big lie” as integral to the creating and sustainment of the Greater Germania they envisioned. And both were extraordinary in their zeal and abilities to forge a monolithic state predicated on a shared national myth, and induce the German people to embrace it via lies, artful use of imagery and symbols, fear, rewards and appeals to entrenched biases that went back not just decades but centuries (Particularly in the case of antisemitism which sadly had its roots in early Christian teachings especially the Hellenized spin on Jesus and his message crafted & promulgated by Saul of Tarsus aka St. Paul. Learn more by reading Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity  by scholar & historian Dr. James D. Tabor).

One place to turn for insight is historian Dr. Daniel Goldhagen’s books plus those of psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo. They do a smashing good job of laying out the historic, sociological, psychological and economic forces, currents and mechanisms that set the stage for the rise of the Nazis and then sustained them once they were in power.

But, even after you’ve read and mastered these works and others like them you likely find yourself still perplexed by the fact so many people down through the millennia and especially during the heyday of fascism could ignore and in many instances take an active hand in wanton cruelty. After nearly a lifetime of studying human cruelty and complicity in cruelty and evil I know there is no simple answer to “why”. Certainly lack of empathy or reduced or impaired empathy for targets/scapegoats is vital to evil and, yes, lies play a powerful role as well, but there is so much more that works to foster wickedness than lies and people’s failure to detect them or act on them or neglect to search them out and deal with them. However, with this said it certain behooves Americans to be vigilant and to call out wrongs and evil as soon as they come to light.

Things are complicated by the fact that evil and good rely on similar mechanisms and tools to govern (God, too, relies on these – see my op-ed piece on this subject titled “Hitler & HaShem at http://www.healingcare4u.org/hitler-hashem.pdf). Heaven knows our government has used lies of varying magnitude to govern across the years of our country’s existence. Probably Nixon and his “Imperial Presidency” took this to a whole new level and set certain wickedness in motion that has grown in scope to this day. In theory, yes, a super crisis or series of crises could lead to martial law and suspensions of Constitutional guarantees. During the Civil War (or as it is better known where I came from, “The War for Southern Independence”) Abraham Lincoln threw many folks who questioned his administration and policies into jail and kept them there, thanks to his having suspended the writ of habeas corpus. However, people rebelled, the press raised hell and the Supreme Court ultimately undid some of the more egregious acts of hegemony. I think any move to contain social disorder by imposition of a police or ultra-authoritarian state would, at the very least, result in the formation of tens of thousands of militias and resistance groups across the land that would make keeping the lid on the pot problematic if not impossible.

Naturally, best to act now and prevent a quasi-police or full-fledged police state then try to overthrow one that is in-place. Keeping our representatives working and honest is certainly part of that.

While no one has knows the full rhyme and reason behind human evil and its various incarnations, it helps to be aware of and reject ideas, movements, and acts that arise from and feed evil: Among them being intolerance, the marginalization and dehumanization of others especially minorities and other vulnerable groups, and unquestioned belief in authority figures and an unwillingness to call them out when they violate the very civil virtues and Constitutional guarantees they are charged with upholding.

I would add this: Although I’ve been a democratic socialist since 1985 I find some ideas and notions articulated by conservatives and even some right wingers of merit. As a Southerner whose ancestors go back to Revolutionary War times (and beyond) in South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi, and whose paternal and maternal forbearers lived under the Stars & Bars (Confederacy) and in some instances fought for the C.S.A., I inherited a mix of ideas and notions, some worthy of consideration if not embrace, others that had no substance when they were articulated long ago and never will.  Of those that I deemed worth hanging onto was the longstanding Southern distrust of a powerful central government running everything including many aspects of people’s everyday lives. Although you might think a democratic socialist would welcome an all powerful centralized government, I emphatically do not. History shows all too clearly that the concentration of power in the hands of strongmen leads to abuses and skullduggery of the worst sort. Actually there are at least a few liberal thinkers who would prefer to see a decentralization of power in the US and other countries, and even the break-up of powerhouse countries into small nation-states (Especially those that are unstable or might become so and with this attempt to retain order and stability by imposition of a police or authoritarian state). I’m sure a world comprised of small, less powerful nations, say, the size of Switzerland, would by no means avoid many of the ills that plague major powers today, but I can’t help think they would have less influence and thus less ability to work evil in the world. And for those that do, their neighbors could form temporary confederations and impose various kinds of sanctions or, when regrettably necessary, military containment (Hey, sometimes the only way to stop a thug is send in the police).

But until power shifts from Washington to the states (if it ever does), best to keep an eye on the politicians on Capital Hill and do everything possible to keep our representatives working, honest and limited in the evil they can do. The same applies to the press and other so-called sacred American institutions.

Dr. Anthony G. Payne (waxing philosophic from his porch swing)

RECOMMENDED ADDITIONAL READING

My spiritual watering hole website: http://summerclouds.weebly.com/

Why does God allow evil (Theodicy)? See Are you an atheist, religionist, deist, fideist or ???

CBN video presentation “God & Hitler”: http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/churchhistory/godandhitler/index.aspx

Restoring Abrahamic Faith by Dr. James D. Tabor

The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity by Dr. James D. Tabor

The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Rev. Jeffrey J. Bϋtz

How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson, Ph.D.

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D. Ehrman, Ph.D.

Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose by Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D.

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

Copyright 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.

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