By Vacy Vlazna
“The problem with Israel thus is not a policy here or there, but its overall strategy that has not changed since 1948 and is as cruel, and far more effective, than some of the ethnic cleansers now in action elsewhere in the Middle East and in the world as a whole.” — Ilan Pappé and Samer Jaber
The nature of human cruelty is vastly complex, so I am focusing on some insights that have enlightened me.
For years, like others, I was utterly baffled by the question: how do the perpetrators sleep at night?
I had no satisfactory answer until last year when I read Liam McLoughlin’s article, No Shame: The Science Behind Why Most Australians Feel Okay About Tormenting Asylum Seekers . It set me on a path that helped me understand the indifferent cruelty of the Netanyahus, Obamas, Trumps, Hitlers, Merkels, Blairs, Turnbulls and their ilk – past, present and future.
For activists, the truth is the ultimate weapon against the evil of injustice. We can’t achieve justice with an illusory or ignorant mindset.
For me, the prime delusion that limited me had its source in my Christian upbringing where I was brainwashed to believe all God’s children are fundamentally good and yet naturally violent. Go figure! This perspective on the human condition has been a handicap.
No longer do I believe either premise. The proof for me that people are not naturally violent is the endemic PTSD in military veterans which seems not to stem from being close to one’s own death, but from one’s immoral participation in the hell of war.
Last month I watched National Bird, a documentary on 3 whistleblowing military operators in the US drone program. Heather Linebaugh, a drone imagery analyst had never been in a war zone but suffered PTSD from ‘killing up close and personal from afar.’
And the proof that not all people are fundamentally good is all around us especially in governments.
McLoughlin’s article shows the HOW of cruelty and evil.
He cites Stanford University Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology, Albert Bandura’s Theory of Moral Disengagement which outlines,
“the many ways moral codes can be disabled to avoid the negative feelings like shame and guilt normally associated with behaving immorally.”
In a nutshell. The first stage is Moral Justification – turning the immoral into the honorable like Australian cruelty to asylum seeker hostages is justified to end people smuggling or preventing deaths at sea. The use of euphemisms enhances justification such as the names of Israel’s vicious operations against Palestinians, ‘Protective Edge’, ‘Pillar of Defense’, ‘Brother’s Keeper.’ The ultimate euphemism- mass cruelty becomes ‘entertainment’ as Israelis ‘on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.’
The second is minimizing, hiding or ignoring consequences. Australia controls media access to cruel offshore detention camps and threatens whistleblowers with imprisonment. John Lyon’s book, Balcony over Jerusalem exposes the Israeli/ Zionist control of international and local media and its targeting of an endangered species – journalists with integrity.
The third is dehumanizing and blaming the victim. Asylum seekers are ‘illegals’, Palestinians are ‘terrorists’ and BDS supporters are ‘anti-Semites’ out to destroy Israel.
The above strategies lead to a displacement or diffusion of responsibility. McLoughlin explains this as,
“People don’t feel personally responsible when many others are involved. This happens at the governmental level, where group decision-making is at play. Researchers have found that people act more cruelly as part of a group … Conversely, where everyone is responsible, no one feels responsible. .. At the broader population level [this] is known as the bystander effect; the more witnesses to a tragedy, the less likely any single person will intervene.”
Personally, I think the bystander effect in the general public is due to fear of authority and fear of speaking out that began in the education system from kindergarten onwards. It produces establishment clones rather than independent thinkers that dare to challenge injustices. It is safer to swallow the sugarcoating lies of the authorities than stand for the truth.
But, we know it isn’t safer.
As for political bystanders, such as Western governments that have stood by for decades watching Israel’s cruel war crimes perpetrated against the indigenous people of Palestine, they are led by the masters of what Hannah Arendt called ‘the banality of evil.’
Now this led me to the WHO and the WHY of cruelty and evil.
I had misunderstood that Arendt’s banality of evil referred to normal people finding themselves perpetrating evil, like ‘poor’ Eichmann following Nazi orders to exterminate Jews, Roma, Homosexuals, dissidents. However reading clinical psychologist , Andrew M. Lobaczewski’s Political Ponerology (A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes) was an eyeopener, a rational epiphany of fact, giving my new viewpoint a coherent edge.
PONEROLOGY, Lobaczweski elucidates comes from the Greek poneros = evil. He explains that his study of narcissism led to the study of psychopathy which he says afflicts 4% of the population and is 10 times more likely among males. For example, 4% of 24.6 million Australians; almost one million people.
Here is Lobaczewski’s description of a psychopath,
“Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend, that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools. Now add to this strange fantasy, the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs.
“Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition. In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.”
Lobaczewski points out that “psychopaths seem to have in abundance of the very traits most desired by normal persons” – They can come across as possessing smooth self-assurance, they can be charismatic, “Likeable”, “Charming”, “A great success with the ladies”, “Intelligent”, “Alert”, “Impressive”, “Confidence-inspiring,” and morally they can talk the talk but don’t walk the talk. Remind you of anyone?
They can also be efficient machines, arrogant, manipulative, cynical, exhibitionistic, sensation-seeking, swearing an oath means nothing, Machiavellian, vindictive, enjoy making people suffer, and out for their own gain. ‘They attribute love and status to themselves, seeing themselves as highly worthy and important’.
Psychopaths can be among your friends, could be your partner, your boss, neighbor,. They belong to all professions and, Lobaczerski states, “Politics is no exception, and, by its very nature, would tend to attract more of the pathological “dominator types” than other fields.”
Lobaczerski wrote at the time of the Bush Reich’ a warning that “it seems that the United States, in particular, and perhaps the entire world, will soon enter into “bad times” of such horror and despair that the Holocaust of World War II will seem like just a practice run.” Twenty years later, his words are prophetic.
Of course, there are people with consciences who enact cruelty driven by fear, or obedience, or ambition, greed, insecurities, childhood trauma, mental illness, etc. And they are easily manipulated by the tactics of moral disengagement.
“I think it’s important to recognize that probably the three things that characterize Israel and the Israeli government are arrogance, brutality and stupidity. And those are the three elements that guides them in their actions. Their arrogance is they think Palestinian’s lives are not important. They think Palestinians are nothing which is what racist regimes think about the ‘other’. Their brutality, like I said from day one, they’ve demonstrated horrific brutality and cruelty towards the Palestinians. And their stupidity is when you get to know them closely and you are behind the scenes, when you take a look at the details and you just take a look at the lack of their foresight, you can see just how stupid they are.” — Miko Peled, Israeli dissident and peace activist.
Labaczewski presents the biological i.e. nature origins of psychopathy, but aberrant behavior can be instilled by nurture en masse in a nation.
In Israel, pathological cruelty and moral disengagement is the national culture. With regard to Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine, decent people scratch their heads and ask, “Why do the Israelis behave like Nazis?’ or ‘Why, having suffered the Holocaust, do Israelis make Palestinian’s suffer?” They are important questions, and the answer is shocking.
I don’t know of any civilized nation that inflicts a brutal regimen of mind-torture on its population.
From childhood, Israelis are sealed in a delusional bubble in which they are programmed to anxiously peer at a hostile world that supposedly hates them and is rearing for another holocaust. Reuters alluded to a Grade 4 Israel schoolbook that said,” Israel is a young country surrounded by enemies, like a little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves.”
The indoctrination of victimhood in Israeli children is torture pure and simple. It is child abuse.
Torture is generally held to be ‘the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of the state authorities for a specific purpose.” The purpose in this instance is the preparation of Jewish kids for glorified conscription from 18-21 that bolsters total and unequivocal support for and the execution of the illegal occupation, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
It breeds and attracts cold-blooded killers who get promoted for killing Palestinians.
In the lair of the beast where systematic impunity for atrocities obliterates rule of law, conscience is superfluous. From mass carnage to individual execution of Palestinians, with rare exceptions, Israelis have free rein to commit acts of, what is in effect, state sanctioned terrorism.
Domestic impunity is duplicated in the international impunity Israel enjoys granted by the UN and Western governments.
Conversely, Israel savagely punishes Palestinian resistance with house demolitions, torture and lengthy imprisonment without charge or trial or most commonly, extrajudicial executions.
Victimhood indoctrination combined with racism, Biblical myths, Jewish supremacism and militarism, exploitation of the holocaust is integral to Israeli identity.
Israel has purposely elevated the holocaust into a religion and its greatest hypocrisy is the brutal concentration camp of Gaza now in its 10th year. Western governments bystanders actively protect the sanctity of the holocaust but are silent on the daily collective punishment and inhumane suffering of Gaza families.
Israel’s soul perversion is clear when you try to consider what goes through young soldiers’ minds when they prevent an ambulance from reaching someone they have wounded and then mercilessly watch the person bleed to death.
In a healthy society, people immediately follow their instinct to help someone who is hurt and call an ambulance. In Israel blocking ambulances is a systematic practice of one-by-one-genocide. Or view the public outcry against the arrest, trial and detention (18 mere months) of army paramedic, Elon Azaria who cold-bloodedly executed wounded Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif lying unarmed on the ground. In a normal society, such violent fanaticism would be condemned as animalistic and criminal, yet typically Azaria was convicted of ‘manslaughter’, hailed an Israeli hero and given a 4-day furlough for Jewish New Year.
Israeli journalist, Amira Hass has contempt for Israel’s ‘vanishing humanity’.
“And maybe even more appalling than the sight of the police and the Border Police – and their arrogant, alienated and hostile sneers at the Palestinians – is Israelis’ delight at their attractiveness, heroism and sweetness.
“Our own cruelty – moment after moment, day after day, month after month, year after year – doesn’t bother us. As long as our cruelty guarantees our generally good lives, it’s legitimate.”
While, currently 4,649 disabled veterans of the IDF are being treated for PTSD, every Israeli’s mental and spiritual health is under siege. Enmeshed in abuse, the abused easily crosses over to the dark side.
So, what can be our response to cruelty?
Even here, there is hope – indoctrination can be reversed and we have to create avenues of reconciliation and solidarity between Palestinians and the 90% of Jews with a conscience so that a one state of civil and political equality can emerge.
I now understand that that psychopathy is natural, like some people are born with dyslexia or born with a low or high IQ and that there is individual variation in the range of psychopathic behavior from mild to extreme.
Regarding activist strategies, Lobaczerski urges us to enter into moral reflection, sharpen our reasoning faculties, understand our adversaries, trust our instincts, and we “must keep both abhorrence and fear under control”.
With psychopaths, I know now it’s a waste of time to appeal to conscience or morality, to a non-existent “better nature”. Their Achilles heel is their ego, reputation and self-interest. One can pander to the ego or ridicule it. Notwithstanding, accountability is our principal target.
Lobaczewski hopes that his research will to enable us “to overcome evil through an understanding of its nature, causes, and development.” He reminds us, “It is very important to keep in mind that this influence comes from a relatively small segment of humanity. The other 90-some percent of human beings are not psychopaths.”
Ultimately, he believes that “Difficult and laborious times give rise to values which finally conquer evil and produce better times.”
I conclude on a positive note- What we know and psychopaths don’t get is, empathy + action is power, as is compassion + action, as is truth + action.
(Adapted from a paper given alongside Prof. Stuart Rees at a session @ Politics in the Pub, Sydney 14 Sept. 2017 on the theme; ‘Cruelty in public policy in Australia, Israel, USA, Saudi Arabia: How to respond?’
– Andrew M. Lobaczewski’s Political Ponerology (A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes)
– David Gillespie; Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing With Psychopaths At Work and At Home.
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to PalestineChroicle.com.