Aggression, Culture, death, Fear, Judgement, Terrorism, Violence, Worldview Differences

Good vs. Evil in War, Violence, and Terrorism: An Ambiguous Perception from the Fishbowl

Humans do not come into the world with a predetermined fixed worldview, but instead their worldview is shaped by their personal experiences, culture, natural environment, and social environment, which constructs their perception of the world (Burr, 2004).  While perhaps many believe that the construction of what constitutes “good vs. evil” is universal, in reality the construction of good versus evil is created through the interaction of the individual with their social environment, cultural indoctrination, as well as individual experiences through time.  In many ways, we are like fish trapped in a fishbowl that have a limited view of what we see, often encapsulated by glass barriers that expose us to a narrow current of the vast resources of water.  In addition, the inner environment of our fishbowl  affects our formation of the world from the amount of space we are allowed freely to explore our own internal world and environment, to the availability of nutrients, clean water,  oxygen, and our  fellow fish determines our level of aggressiveness and perceptions of the world.

As the world continues to struggle with acts of aggression, war, and violence on a collective group scale, the world also continues to struggle how to define legitimate aggression in defending  our own collective group vs. terrorism (Bongar, 2007; & Nacos, 2012).   Acts of aggression and violence in the human species has plagued our entire existence, with the perceptions of who is “good” or “evil” a subjective reality that is often colored by the glass of our own fishbowl existence.   One human’s view of an act of aggression or violence carried out defending a group’s worldview is pious and good, but is viewed by another collective group as pure evil.  This view of “good vs. evil” of the collective group is dependent upon the group’s values, beliefs, and collective group interests regarding resources, safety, and security for themselves and their allies.  Just as many fish species travel together in “schools of fish”, we as human often organize ourselves into little swimming schools that are often determined by social groups as religion, nationality, ethnicity, race, or other ideologies.  We have created a world of competing “schools of fish”, where survival of the fittest is propagated in terms of an “us” vs. “them” paradigm.

Globalization in the last century has created a new type of environment, in which as a species we have failed to master creating waters that  support diversity in terms of acceptance of different worldviews .  Until the last century, humans had limited cultural contact, but with the advent of more efficient and mass modes of transportation, as well as advanced technology such as the internet, our small-contained fishbowls have turned into gigantic aquariums.  We have now been dumped into this giant aquarium where different cultures, societal beliefs, values, and religions have been immersed together,  while trying to establish a food chain of who “eats” who.   While the big fish are trying to establish their power hierarchy, it is often the “shrimps” or innocent civilians, trying to carve out existences that become consumed in the whole process.   Consumed in either fear of others in the world, or consumed as they become the civilian casualties of others jockeying for their own supremacy.

Often in the media and in social conversations, acts of terrorism are often considered to be carried out by “crazed lunatics” that are perpetrated by evil villains (Norris, Kern, & Just, 2003).  Personally, it is often easier to provide explanations in which mental pathology provides some type of explanation for behavior that seeks to annihilate, hurt, or kill another human being.  Focusing on the pathology of the individual is an easy way to rid the collective responsibility of social conditions that foster an environment where acts of violence are fostered.  Research examining individuals who have carried out acts of terrorism suggests that in reality the majority of these individuals do not meet the criteria that has been suggested to indicate psychopathology or a history of being evil in other facets of their lives (Borum, 2004; Cottee & Hayward, 2011; & Kruglanski, & Fishman, 2009).  Research has suggested the life experiences, social influence, cultural influence, and historical context where shame and humiliation have been major themes serve as a catalyst for a “good” individual to go down a path of carrying out acts of evil (Borum, 2004; Waller, 2005; & Zimbardo, 2004).  In understanding the evolution of a path functioning as a “good” person to an “evil” person, the individual’s experiences, societal, and cultural factors must be all examined not in isolation, but as a cumulative experiences, that facilitates a path of violence (Kruglanski & Fishman, 2009).

One explanation of how individuals are influenced from a societal level is Hofstede’s (1984) concept of collective versus individual societies has often been used as a classification system to explain cultural worldviews and the social norms, values, and expected behaviors.  Individualist cultures are described in terms of valuing self-independence, concerns for the individual and their immediate family, as well as having loose social structures in the community.  In contrast, a collectivist society values social connectedness, extended family and communal relations, and an emphasis on the group needs versus the individual needs.  Although nations and cultures have typically been classified as more individualist or collective in nature.  Oyserman, Coon, & Kennelmeier (2002) have proposed that both elements and cultural values run concurrently in a society, but depending on the situation, one cultural orientation may be more prominent, as well as there are individual differences among individuals.  Collective identities of belonging to a group can be fostered in a group by the creation of an external threat.    Kruglanski & Fishman (2006) asserted that collective societies are more likely to use terrorist acts as a form of aggression to initiate social changes that in their perceptions benefit the group.   Both terrorist groups, and recognized governments have monopolized on the collective identities of the masses, rallying individuals using fear to engage in acts of violence, that under normal circumstances these individuals would not most likely engage in.

Just as individual factors alone cannot account for the creation of terrorist, societal and cultural factors cannot fully account for an individual going “good” to “evil”.  If the environment alone accounted for acts of evil, large groups of people would engage in terrorism, and dissenting voices condemning acts of  terrorism, both from within and outside a group of people, would not occur.  Just as different cultural and social factors may spawn an environment that is conducive to the creation of terrorist, individual experiences, individual differences in cognition, perception, and levels of tolerance exist within individuals providing both vulnerabilities and protective factors of who goes down the slippery slope of engaging in terrorism.  The concepts of “good” and “evil” are ambiguous constructs, which are influenced by both societal, cultural, and individual lenses.  Who is the feared shark and those different lenses of subjectivity shape who is perceived as the  shark hunter.


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