Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
In light of the past acts of terrorism and the current events in Norway, can you talk about the psyche of an extremist? Do they have no conscience or clear perception of the consequences of their actions? What makes a person so apathetic to other’s pain that violence seems like a reasonable course of action and spilling innocent blood an acceptable loss? Are these people physiologically different… or psychologically unstable?
No one can say what is in another’s mind and no two extremists are exactly alike. In addition, the media spin on events usually skews the story. Given all that, I can make some general observations.
There are two basic types of people who create media circus catastrophic events. First, there are those who are mentally ill; they are usually working alone or possibly in conjunction with someone who is using them as a tool. Then there is the cultural or religious fanatic who may or may not be classified as mentally ill, depending on which side the examiner is on. Remember- reality is ambiguous. Our delusional terrorist who is killing innocents can also be cast as a hero when killing the vermin that is oppressing them.
In reality religion takes sides and no one ends up looking at the big picture. That’s why concepts of right and wrong fail in this context. The mentally ill might have neither conscience nor any clear perception of the consequences of their actions. They may be so apathetic to other’s pain that violence seems like a reasonable course of action.
The religious fanatic is clearly conscious of the consequences of their actions but they don’t see the people they are victimizing as being equal to themselves. The victims are seen as the enemy, the oppressors, the infidels… the victims have rejected their truth and their god. A religious fanatic will see killing us as saving our souls or doing the duty of their god. They are fully and consciously aware of the consequences of their intent but feel righteous in their actions. They interpret those consequences entirely different than we do. Nearly all religions and cultures have done this at one point in their history.
So one man’s mental illness can be seen as a religions’ inalienable right. These lines have blurred many times throughout history. If the timing and conditions are right, one insane man can become leader and dictator for a nation. It has happened many times before and will again many more.
-Dr. Brilliant Cliché
The Granny Doctor says:
You asked, “Are these people physiologically different… or psychologically unstable?” Here’s how I see it. They ARE psychologically different; but they are not unstable. Rather, they are pathologically stable.
The main difference between fanatics who end up in the headlines and the rest of us is that the fanatics have made a commitment to beliefs and emotions on a level that the rest of us cannot begin to fathom.
We all feel moments of rage, vengeance and destruction. Most of us are capable of letting them go. The people who end up shooting a camp full of innocent kids or going on a suicide bombing mission are not capable of letting go. They are fully committed to their cause to a point where it becomes dangerous; taken to such an extreme, even the desire to end world hunger could become a bloodbath.
Ouspensky had a name for such people: Khas Namous. It means wrongly crystallized. The fanatics who make the headlines are no longer human enough to possess the quality of instability. If they were merely unstable, there might be a chance to change them. They are unchangeable.
I came across this interesting information regarding the new White House policy on curbing ‘violent extremism’. It is sad it took a tragedy like Norway’s to open their eyes. I have been saying this for a long time – terrorism is not restricted to a group. We can’t alienate whole populations and then expect to get results. Well… better late than never, as they say! Hopefully this will bring some positive change on the society.
Dr. Brilliant Comments:
If our government wants any of these new initiatives to be successful they will need to set a better example themselves.
Since this essay was written an article published in the magazine Free Inquiry also addressed this topic. It cited research showing empathy is genetically on a continuum where some people are born entirely without it. They are not mentally ill just different than the norm. It cited this exists in about 1/ 100 people. These people do not understand another’s pain. They may even find it quite interesting. “To them other people are like sheep. They, on the other hand are like wolves. The sheep exist for the sake of the wolves.”
-Dr. Brilliant cliché