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.


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

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.

Aggression, Bias, Fear, Psychology

Help! Tyrannasaurus Rex Is In My Garden


       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.