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.

References

Bongar, B. (2007).  The psychology of terrorism:  Defining the need and describing the goals. .  In B.  Bongar, L.  Brown, L Beutler, J. Breckendridge, & P.  Zimbardo (Eds.)  Psychology of terrorism.  New York, NY:  Oxford Press.

Borum, R. (2004). Psychology of terrorism. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida.

Burr, V. (2004). Constructivism. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 186-187). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412950589.n165

Cottee, S., & Hayward, K. (2011). Terrorist (e)motives: The existential attractions of terrorism.  Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34(12), 963–986.   Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Hofstede, G. (1984). The cultural relativity of the quality of life concept. The Academy Of Management Review, 9(3), 389-398. doi:10.2307/258280

Kruglanski, A. W., & Fishman, S. (2006). The psychology of terrorism:“Syndrome” versus “tool” perspectives. Terrorism and Political Violence, 18(2), 193-215.

Kruglanski, A. W, & Fishman, S. (2009).  Psychological factors in terrorism and counterterrorism: Individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis.  Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 1–44.

Matsumoto, D.  & Juang, L.  (2008). Culture and psychology (4th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Nacos, B.  (2012).  Terrorism and counterrorsim (4th ed.).  New York, NY:  Pearson Education.

Norris, P., Kern, M., & Just, M. R. (Eds.). (2003). Framing terrorism: The news media, the government, and the public. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128(1), 3-72. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.1.3

Waller J. E. (2005).  Becoming evil: The making of terrorists. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 42(2), 167–188. Retrieved from https://www.whitworth.edu/Administration/InstitutionalAdvancement/UniversityCommunications/WhitworthToday/2007_Spring/PDF/BecomingEvil.pdf

Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators. In A. G. Miller (Ed.), The social psychology of good and evil: Understanding our capacity for kindness and cruelty (pp. 21–50). New York, NY: Guilford.

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Aggression, Bias, death, Fear, Judgement, Palestine / Israeli Conflict, parenting, prejudice, Stereotypes

When the World is Vulgar……

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, what future do you see?

Toys and guns, cookies and blood, and a people searching for serenity?

Mama and Baba are close to protect you from harm, so close your eyes and dream my little habibi!

Play with your toys, run against the wind, and feel the sun against your face.

A two- year- old’s world, exciting and new, so much to learn about this place.

 

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, tell me what do you see?

“Mama! Mama! Shoof (look)! Look! A big steel bird is coming to see me!

How lucky am I, to see such a thing, something so different and rare! Do all good little boys get to see these?

“Ya habibi! Run with mama, somewhere to a different new place!”

Mama! Mama! Why? How come the smile is gone from your gentle face?

Oh little child, with your eyes open wide, why do you no longer see?

The world still has much to show you and how life should idealistically be!

The big shiny steel bird brought you a surprise and now you no longer see!

A two-year-old child, blankly stares out from a lifeless, charred, bloody face.

Habibi close your eyes and let your soul fly to a safer land far away from this hellish place.

 

I wrote this poem five years ago, after watching broadcast news, in which I viewed a small Palestinian boy who had been gravely wounded in an Israeli air assault being worked on by medical professionals in a hospital.  I caught myself glued to the television unable to look away from the fear and look of confusion I saw in the toddler’s face.  Even though his face was charred in places by burns, and reddened by his own blood, his beautiful cherub appearance was still visible, making the vision of his face a mixture of both heaven and hell.  As I continued to watch the live broadcast, right before my eyes, I saw the “light”, “soul”, or “life” disappear out of the little boy’s eyes.  The look of fear was replaced by a blank empty stare.  The medical professionals continued to work on the innocent child, but the moment his eyes changed, I knew he had passed on to another realm.  The efforts of the doctor were useless on the destruction that had been ravaged on this child’s small body by the air strikes.  The doctors eventually stopped administering medical treatment, and one of the men closed the child’s eyes.

I sat on the couch, holding my youngest daughter, who herself was only an infant, with tears streaming down my face, unable to talk, or articulate the feelings I had about what I had witnessed through modern technology.  My husband looked at me with confusion and said “If you don’t stop crying, I swear I am going to take all of the televisions out of the house”.  My husband has always been irritated by my emotional sensitivity and reactivity to the world around me.  As I sat and tried to compose myself, I finally stood up and walked off muttering “At least that little baby doesn’t have to exist in this fucked up world anymore”.  I walked into my home office and promptly wrote the above poem, trying to use a more productive form of expression to deal with my emotions.  Yes, I do tend to use profanity when I am distressed.  My apologies to those who I might offend, but sometimes with all the insanity and vulgarity of our world, my only release is with a response that has an equal level of vulgarity to combat my disbelief in how cold, cruel, and inhumane humans can be.  Perhaps we need to replace the word “humanity” with a more suitable term, taking the attribute of the human species out of the whole concept.

Over a year later, while visiting my sister in California, I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident in which a small child, of Hispanic ethnicity, had fallen from three stories.  As I knelt by the child and grasped his small hand, I saw that same look of confusion and fear that I saw in the Palestinian boy’s eyes.  I watched helplessly as I witnessed the “life”, “light”, “soul”, or “spirit” leave the little boy’s eyes.  Not only did I watch it, I physically felt the departure of his essence leaving his body.  The little boy was still breathing when the ambulance arrived, but  from what I understand was later taken off life support because of the absence of  brainwave activity.  I knew the little boy was gone before I received this update; I not only saw, but also felt his soul leaving his broken body on the pavement below the apartment window from which he fell.  I felt a connection with this child, even though our brief encounter and introduction to each other lasted only a few moments.  I struggled mentally and emotionally for a time after this tragic accident, coming to terms with this child’s death that occurred physically right before my own eyes.

The next day after the accident, I sat on my sister’s balcony with my mother in the upscale apartment complex at which the accident had happened.  The people living above my sister were also out on their balcony as well, who happened to be a nurse and doctor, and who had witnessed the accident the previous day.  As I sat and half-heartedly listened to the conversation between my mother and the neighbors, I concurrently was lost in my own internal world (and yes I have a tendency to do this), but a comment from the neighbors above caught my attention.  I remember the women saying “Well we didn’t go down because the family was clearly Hispanic and I am sure the accident somehow had drugs involved”.  Again, my emotional sensitivity, as well as my own personal Achilles heel of emotional reactivity took over my faculties and judgment.  I stood up and walked back into my sister’s house, but not before muttering “Racist fucking bitch”.  Again, I uttered a spontaneous emotional vulgar insult and response to a situation and worldview of another human that I saw as completely vulgar.  The realization that two trained medical professionals had forsaken offering their medical expertise and services to a child based upon their own jaded stereotype of “Hispanics” was more than I could tolerate.

It is only upon later reflection, that I can make the differences and connections between these two events and the emotional responses that the events elicited within me.  The differences between these two events are as follows:

  1. One was an accident, the other was an aggressive act by other humans.
  2. One child was Palestinian of Arab descent, the other child was American of Hispanic descent.
  3.  One event spurred suggestions of how to prevent the future loss of life, one event spurred escalating hostility.
  4. One event I could personally come to terms with because it was an accident, one event I still struggle with because it was caused by human’s evilness.

The similarities between these two events:

  1.  A child died.
  2. The child was from a marginalized group, in which some sectors of society refuse to lend help based on this.

Annually when the summer heat enters my life, my mind often drifts to the summer that I held a child’s hand as he passed over to a safer place.  This summer is no different in that I still think about his family and wonder how they have dealt with this death.  This summer is no different in that conflict and war across our world continues to take the lives of the innocent, and often this involves innocent civilians; especially children who are trying to exist and live in a world where the powerful and greedy do not recognize their rights to live in safety and security.  This summer is no different in that much of the world that is not directly affected by this conflict turn their backs on the suffering of others.  This summer is no different in that people in general fail to lend a hand, or give support to those that they view different from themselves.

My question is:  How many summers have to pass before humans quit basing their judgments and actions on who deserves help on stereotypes of the “other”?  How many summers have to pass with the continued death of children in Palestine and elsewhere in the world caused by humans’ darker side and lack of empathetic concern and action?  I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece nearly five years ago, even more shocking, the war and conflict has raged for more than 80 years;  how much more time has to pass before no more children are casualties of this conflict?

When humans quit being vulgar in their actions, perhaps I will learn to be less vulgar in my words as well.

 

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Aggression, Bias, Fear, Psychology

Help! Tyrannasaurus Rex Is In My Garden

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       Fear serves a purpose in our lives; it gives us a defense warning system to avoid certain people, animals, situations, or environment to avoid death, pain, or loss.  It is rational to have a certain level of fear, such as crossing a busy street because of the possibility that we may be hit by a car and forever maimed, or worse yet, meet our own death.  It is rational because the perceived risks exist, and serves a purpose in making us extra vigilant in our efforts to get from one side of the street to the other side.  Social scientist describes this as rational fear in which the level of emotional arousal is equal to that of the real danger.  As our autonomic nervous system kicks in, our body is flooded with adrenaline and hormones that make us hyper vigilant in double-checking before we cross, as well as our muscles and limbs are ready to jump into action if the threat of a speeding car is heard or seen.  However, what about fears we all have that have no basis of any real risk?

              All of us most likely can think of a fear we have that really has no serious threat to our safety.  Social scientist have labeled this irrational fear, because the amount of emotional and physiological arousal that an individual experiences is not congruent with the actual danger the individual faces.  Some of this irrational fear is based on our earlier childhood experiences.  For example, I have a fear of birds.  As a young child playing in my backyard on my swing set, aggressive starlings would dive bomb me, leaving scratches on the top of my head.  Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller The Birds probably did not help this matter as well.  To this day, I keep my distances from birds, unless they are safely locked away in a cage, and even that if I see them eyeing the top of my head, I prefer to move away.  This fear is based on my former experiences and although irrational, can be explained and understood by my childhood experiences. 

       But what about those situations where we really do not know where the hell that creeping feeling of anxiety, fear, and yes, sometimes pure terror is coming from  This past month, I have been fighting a battle with a gecko in my garden.  A gecko, which is perhaps no longer than my hand, even when measuring the creature from the very tip of its nose to the very tip of its tail.  A reptile that does not have the ability to inflict any source of pain to me.  A small creature that I disproportionality outweigh 100 times over and could squash all the life out of his little translucent body with only one small “step” of my foot.  Although every encounter this gecko monster and I have had this past month has resulted in me unleashing murderous screams, mixed with profanities that are only heard when an individual is facing dangers such as the inferno of hell.  My reflexes and muscles go into overdrive.  In the past month, I have hurled a watering can, a book, and this evening, my mobile became my weapon of choice as the miniaturized T. rex rushed me in defiance of defending his territory behind the flowerpot.  Yes, my rival garden inhabitant has been named T.  rex, or Tyrannosaurus rex, which when translated from Greek means “tyrannical lizard king”.  My irrational fear and response is equivalent to what my prehistoric ancestors must have experienced right before the giant T.  rex munched down on their fragile human bodies and sliced through their flesh with his razor sharp teeth (or at least that is how they always portrayed it in the movies).  Although, the miniaturized T.  rex in my garden poses no danger to me, and the likelihood of him even crossing the boundary and taking even a lizardly-lick of me is quite remote.  Still yet, looking at his image, which my oldest daughter captured with her phone (no doubt as entertainment for my four daughters watching their mother scream and visibly shake even with a digital image), is an account of how irrational humans are.

     I am sure somewhere in my past I was exposed to some image that has been imprinted in the recesses of my unconscious of the mortal or even moral threat of some creature that has a resemblance to my gecko  garden enemy.  Perhaps all those Sunday morning of my parents watching the Nature channel on PBS, or the cheesy movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s, where the life of a caveman was depicted by women being pulled by their hair by the caveman, and T.  rex chomping them both for his evening meal.  With that thought, how many other irrational fears do I, or others have of places, people, or things that are based on some brief image imprinted in their memory?  How many times have you caught yourself in fear or discomfort of something or someone that you have never had contact with, and do not pose a real threat to you?  Where does this fear stem from?  From images you have seen on television on the news, movies, or even stories vicariously transmitted to your from a 2nd hand source?  Furthermore, where did the second source get their information?  When I think about it, perhaps I am being unfair to T.  rex in my garden and need to revise my plans of sending my warrior husband off in the morning to do battle and ultimately annihilate T.  rex.  Perhaps instead I need to learn to appreciate the fact that T.  rex, the gecko, is actually eating the insects that pose far more risk to the lives of my plants and myself than he ever will.  We need to question the level of rationality that exists in our fear, and especially when the fear enrages us to look for ways to destroy the other, which is in reality, no threat at all. 

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