Monday 23 March 2009

There is no crime of which I do not deem myself capable.

Everyone is disgusted by the pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib, somehow we’re surprised that men and women who had been trained to kill might get around to abusing their power. I’ve just finished reading an article by a therapist about her visit to Rwanda that has an editorial tag of ‘Thinking the Unthinkable.’

Neighbours killed neighbours, friends killed former friends and their children, and trusted authority figures like priests and teachers turned on the people who looked to them for safety.
Laurie Leitch Therapy Today, Feb 2009


And of course it’s not unthinkable. Unless we believe that a great many Hutus/Nazi’s/Serbians/Sudanese/Cambodians/Bangladeshis/ Americans/Angolans/Ethiopians/Iraqis/British/French and people from every other nation are fundamentally different from us in some way, then we are all pretty much capable of acts of vicious violence. These acts, whether they’re Josef Fritzl raping his daughter for 24 years or the bombardment of Gaza, become headline news because we want to know all the details

I was rounding the bread aisle in Sainsbury when I came across three young women in mid-conversation. “He ripped off his fingernails,” said the first. “And nearly pulled off his ear,” added a second. “Who could do such a thing?” said the third, and they all shook their heads in what's-the-world-coming-to despair. But their eyes were lit by other emotions: excitement, titillation, glee.

Baby P and the pornography of child violence Janice Turner Times. November 15 2008

I’d suggest that when we are confronted with the accounts of such violence what we feel is excitement, anxiety and ultimately fear, and that this fear is the knowledge that you and I are capable of terrible acts.

Everyone is capable of everything, according to Goethe and I tend to agree. We all have within us the capacity if not the ability to behave horrifically, and only in understanding and accepting this do we have a chance of looking carefully to the uses and abuses of our own power. If we believe that we’re not capable of behaving horrifically then we will see all our acts through the warped pink lens of silliness, egotism, and pompous pseudo-benevolence. Through this lens looked Jeremy Bentham, a Quaker philanthropist, whose prisons drove prisoners insane; looked people who tortured and burned heretics to save them; looked Harold Shipman, the doctor who euthanized scores of elderly women.

Pagans, knowing that we do not come from Atlantis or the Pleiades have the opportunity to look through a clear lens to the natural world for inspiration in our understanding of our own natures. It means that when we meet people who have done shocking things we know that they too are human rather than some weird aberration. We don’t have to like them, absolution is not part of our theology, but there is a part of us that can meet a part of them, and perhaps, from that part, help bring them closer to the world that the rest of us live in.


Makarios said...

As a psychotherapist, you are no doubt familiar with the Milgram experiment. [Note to other readers--do read the "See Also's."]

Clare Slaney said...

Yes, and thank you for the 'see also's' which demonstrates further our ability to perform acts of commission and ommission. Here in the UK today has been a coroners report on the death of a man with learning difficulties who died in a hospital ward - of starvation, having not been fed for 24 days. Qualified nursing and medical staff are capable of ignoring a starving person in a bed on their ward.