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Why do people commit evil?  How does one get from being an ordinary citizen to someone who oversees the genocide of their neighbours?   What are the psychological states that premeditate acts of violence on the personal and societal level?  Noga Arikha is a historian who has looked into the research on how we foment and propagate evil institutions and evil acts.


“This is what the neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried at the University of California, Los Angeles did with his article ‘Syndrome E’ (1997) in The Lancet. A syndrome is a group of biological symptoms that together constitute a clinical picture. And E stands for evil. With Syndrome E, Fried identified a cluster of 10 neuropsychological symptoms that are often present when evil acts are committed – when, as he puts it, ‘groups of previously nonviolent individuals’ turn ‘into repetitive killers of defenceless members of society’. The 10 neuropsychological symptoms are:

1. Repetition: the aggression is repeated compulsively.
2. Obsessive ideation: the perpetrators are obsessed with ideas that justify their aggression and underlie missions of ethnic cleansing, for instance that all Westerners, or all Muslims, or all Jews, or all Tutsis are evil.
3. Perseveration: circumstances have no impact on the perpetrator’s behaviour, who perseveres even if the action is self-destructive.
4. Diminished affective reactivity: the perpetrator has no emotional affect.
5. Hyperarousal: the elation experienced by the perpetrator is a high induced by repetition, and a function of the number of victims.
6. Intact language, memory and problem-solving skills: the syndrome has no impact on higher cognitive abilities.
7. Rapid habituation: the perpetrator becomes desensitised to the violence.
8. Compartmentalisation: the violence can take place in parallel to an ordinary, affectionate family life.
9. Environmental dependency: the context, especially identification with a group and obedience to an authority, determines what actions are possible.
10. Group contagion: belonging to the group enables the action, each member mapping his behaviour on the other. Fried’s assumption was that all these ways of behaving had underlying neurophysiological causes that were worth investigating.Note that the syndrome applies to those previously normal individuals who become able to kill. It excludes the wartime, sanctioned killing by and of military recruits that leads many soldiers to return home (if they ever do) with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); recognised psychopathologies such as sociopathic personality disorder that can lead someone to shoot schoolchildren; and crimes of passion or the sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain. When Hannah Arendt coined her expression ‘the banality of evil’ in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), she meant that the people responsible for actions that led to mass murder can be ordinary, obeying orders for banal reasons, such as not losing their jobs. The very notion of ordinariness was tested by social psychologists. In 1971, the prison experiment by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University played with this notion that ‘ordinary students’ could turn into abusive mock ‘prison guards’ – though it was largely unfounded, given evidence of flaws in the never-replicated experiment. Still, those afflicted with Syndrome E are indeed ordinary insofar as that they are not affected by any evident psychopathology. The historian Christopher Browning wrote of equally ‘ordinary men’ in the 1992 book of that name (referenced by Fried) who became Nazi soldiers. The soldier who killed my grandfather was very probably an ordinary man too.

Today, biology is a powerful explanatory force for much human behaviour, though it alone cannot account for horror. Much as the neurosciences are an exciting new tool for human self-understanding, they will not explain away our brutishness. Causal accounts of the destruction that humans inflict on each other are best provided by political history – not science, nor metaphysics. The past century alone is heavy with atrocities of unfathomable scale, albeit fathomable political genesis.”

I pondered the conclusions of this essay and am reminded of the work “Ordinary Men” by (also referenced in the essay) by Christopher R. Browning that describes the psychological and sociological contagions that bring out the evil that exists in all of us.  I’m struck by, even as I write, the tendency to pathologize evil as if it were disease that somehow takes root and manifests itself on ‘good people’.  This socially sanctioned frame, looking at the literature, is shockingly incorrect as the data points to the fact that we all possess the capacity to commit heinous acts of violence, even genocide, if the conditions are right.

Arikha states that “empathy is rarely universal” and that “Family belonging and social belonging are separate. When they meet, as happened in Bosnia and Rwanda when families turned on each other, the group identity prevails”.   Chilling statements such as these implode the ideas we carry around about common human decency and common human morality and empathy.  The story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, is bullshite and these bullshit assumptions are what we run ‘civilized’ society on.  I think this false narrative allows people to be repeated shocked and horrified when tales of wanton bloodshed and genocide hit the news – it is seen as a huge deviation from the norm.  Yet, if we look at humans, it isn’t a particular large leap from our observable behaviours.

We – ‘the good guys’ – ran a government sanctioned torture program.  Oh, certainly we had our legal pretzelese to mask and make torture palatable for the general public. Never the less, dodgy legal justifications do not nullify the social and psychological ramifications of one’s nation endorsing the institutional infliction of pain on others.  I think we are still seeing the negative effects of the torture revelations running through our western societies .

Essay’s like Arikha’s make me contemplate how much projection we engage in as a society to protect ourselves from the rather brutish reality of our societal and geo-poltical existence.

(*edited for early morning writing)


[ed. Trigger Warning for child abuse.]

Christianity doesn’t have a clue what love is. It starts by fucking up the notion beyond all recognition right off the bat. God’s “love” is so great that if you swear eternal obedience and submission, he won’t torture you until the end of time, even though he knows full well you deserve it, you despicable mortal you. This ultimate perversion of love makes it possible for christians to say any atrocious action could be done “out of love”.

At it’s mildest, you have your run-of-the-mill bigots and misogynists, smiling sweetly as vile hatred pours out of their mouths. Middle of the road, we get people like the West Borrow Baptists who don’t bother with the duplicity of smiling or making the vitriol sound nice. They tell people flat out they deserve to burn and suffer endlessly in hell. Out of love, of course. The last step is to go beyond words to express christian “love” and demonstrate it physically, to the point murder if need be.

stop-child-abuse‘To Train Up a Child’ is a horrendously vile book, authored by a loathsome duo of wretches that the world would be better off without. That bears demands repeating. Michael and Debi Pearl, the repugnant writers of this appalling book, should not exist; the utter obliteration of their influence on our society would be an immeasurable boon. The teachings in their book, which include such deplorable tidbits like telling parents to starve and beat their children to break them into obedience, has resulted in yet another child’s murder.

In a story that caused a nauseating sense of deja-vu, another set of parents have been convicted of murder. The parents, looking to their faith for guidance on how to raise their children, took to heart the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl and their ‘No Greater Joy’ ministry. As a result, 13 year old Hana Williams died after three years of abuse.

Malnutrition, hypothermia, severe beatings, all part of the program that has lead to at least three cases of parents killing a child while adhering to the advice from the Pearls. I say ‘at least’ as that’s how many I’ve read about. I can only imagine the actual number of horror stories that have resulted from the malicious filth spread by these “loving” christians.

Is it a fringe element, just a few nutcases following a pair of backyard loons? Nope. The Pearls run a very successful ministry, bringing in an estimated $1.7 million a year. They are also the tip of the iceberg. Evangelicals adopting foreign children in order to ‘save their souls’ are an infestation of child abuse and neglect. The christian ‘spare the rod’ doctrine is as mainstream as it can get and it’s killing kids.

Christianity is vile, its idea of love is deplorable, and its witless followers are a threat to the innocent. Because monstrous brutality for your tyrannical “god” isn’t just old testament stuff, as many apologists would have you believe. It is born-again and murdering children for the glory of jebus!




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child abuse 9 05 09   2     A frequent dodge to avoid actually thinking about the issue criticism I have to deal with is that, as an anti-theist, I unfairly target Christianity and/or Islam. Why don’t I go around completely dismantling the vile B.S of other religions? Are their supernatural beliefs not just as irrational? Yes. Are their woo filled tenets not just as useless for understanding the reality which we inhabit? Yes. Is their presence not just as harmful to our society? No, no it isn’t.

And let me explain why.

We don’t have Zeus worshippers powerfully lobbying for science classes to ‘teach the controversy’ about the origin of lightning bolts. We don’t have Anubis acolytes “honour” killing wives and children. Christianity and Islam deserve every ounce of disrespect, ridicule, loathing we can throw at them because of the horrendous effects they have on individuals and society as a whole. I’ve always maintained that should any other ludicrous belief system result in such disastrous transgressions, I would criticize them with the same level of harshness. It wasn’t a challenge to be accepted, but here we are.

Catholicism, it turns out, does not have a monopoly on systematic child rape. Much less in the public eye, hiding under-the-radar, Judaism has its own truly awful institutionalized sexual abuse problem. Much like the worst stories from the Catholics, the inhuman perpetrators are shielded and go uncharged, people who speak out are severely punished, and kids are left to the predators. As reported in this article, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg walked in on one such rape in a mikvah, a Jewish bath. When he tried to stop it, the rapist beat the protesting rabbi with a back scrubber for interrupting him.

Since then, Rosenberg has gone on to start up support systems for abused children and has spoken out against the rampant sexual abuse. For his efforts in trying to protect children, he receives death threats, is slandered in Hebrew newspapers, and is turned away from synagogues. He’s also had a cup of bleach thrown in his face.

Other inhuman lowlights mentioned in the article include:

  • Stat: 50% or more of young males in Brooklyn’s massive Hasidic community have suffered from sexual abuse at the hands of their religious elders.
  • Those speaking out against the problem face complete ruination
  • Mothers who try to protect their children have them taken away
  • Parents are afraid to complain to authorities on behalf of their children
  • One of the worst offending Rabbis forced children to eat fecal matter in order to “purify” them

I can’t even process how a community can protect the vile scum that is raping their children while attacking the one of their number who’s trying to stand up for those kids. Once again, religion’s capacity to propagate incomprehensible evil in the world blows my mind.  So fuck religious tolerance; fuck christianity, islam, AND judaism; fuck apologists defending rapists, but in the name of all that is good,

The Latin translation:

Am I to believe those were the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with Your punishments! I was Your servant on Earth – I spread Your word and did Your work. To hell with your punishments! To hell with You!”

Another day, another religious scandal.  The unctuous Catholic Church continues to devolve and show it true colours as the amoral cesspool they call a clergy is now very sorry for raping and abusing thousands of children in Ireland since 2005.

Did someone just say 'alter boy'?

“Pope Benedict XVI has released a letter apologizing for years of physical and sexual abuse suffered by Irish children at the hands of priests.

“Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated,” the Pope told victims. “I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured.”

The Pope said he felt “shame and remorse” over what the victims have endured and praised their courage in speaking out about their abuse. He also acknowledged that in many cases, no one listened to their complaints.

“You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry,” he said.

It seems like institutionalized rape and abuse is a-okay -of course until the shamed victims shed their fear and call you on your atrocious record.

Religion needs to go away.  Christopher Hitchens, writing at Slate,  does his usual excellent job at dismantling particular story, more so than I could at the moment, so enjoy his smack down of the this particularly evil religious moment.

Sometimes the weasels win.

What I am talking about is this particularly disturbing occurrence that just passed through(not unlike stool) Winnipeg’s City Council.

The CBC reports: “A Christian group is hoping to build a multimillion-dollar, non-denominational recreation centre for youth in the heart of one of Winnipeg’s most hardscrabble areas.

Currently, Youth for Christ operates more than a dozen small rec centres in the city.

But on Wednesday, a handful of councillors on city hall’s executive policy committee gave the green light to contribute land at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main Street toward the project, as well as approve a $2.5 million loan to the organization.”

More mana from heaven!

“Courtney said the federal government has agreed to provide $3 million of the project’s $11-million total cost. A fundraising campaign is also about to begin, he added.”

To understand how repugnant this is, a little historical context is in order.   Here in Canada we have the shameful legacy of sponsoring via the church attempted cultural genocide of the peoples of the First Nations.  The vehicle of choice was, along with institutional racism and discrimination, the Residential School System.  I cannot adequately describe the level of injustice, or the suffering or the psychic trauma we inflicted upon Native Canadians in the name of bringing God and Civilization (which, unsurprisingly, also happened to coincide with kidnapping, segregation, indoctrination, torture and rape) to them, but when your PM apologizes in the House of Commons for our dark malfeasance, it speaks to the magnitude of the crime.

So what is going on over there in Winnipeg?  Well apparently the proposal for this recreation centre magically appeared on the city councilors agenda, with scant details and none of the extensive research required for large publicly funded projects of this magnitude necessary to begin or even properly analyze.

“Gerbasi and fellow Coun. Dan Vandal have also expressed concern about the lack of information being provided on the project, which they believe is getting rushed through council.

“This money is all going into capital to build this massive new facility that has not been scrutinized,” Gerbasi said.

“There was a one page piece of paper with a motion on it that was walked onto an agenda [Wednesday] and the decision has to be made next week by council with virtually no information provide to members of council who have to make this decision.

“That’s not a way to run a city.” [apparently it is if you are ‘doing it for Christ’ TM]

Okay, so there is this huge push to get funding passed for this supposedly “needed” recreational center.  It certainly has nothing to do with the people who will be privately running an publicly funded operation.  It is not like the money could have been used elsewhere.  Oh wait:

“Kemlin Nembhard executive director of the Daniel McIntyre-St. Matthews Community Association, is also angry about the deal being given Youth for Christ.

She runs youth programs in the community on a shoestring budget and was stunned when she heard the news.

“Given that we’re constantly told that the city has no money, [that] they’re constantly amalgamating and closing centers, and then they all of a sudden turn around and find $2.6 million to give to a group to run programming that won’t be available to a broad range of youth?”

So, how this spins out is that the public (on two different levels of government) has been duped into paying for a privately run institution whose goals include civilizing the natives proselytizing for Christ and creating future misanthropically deluded Christian leaders.   From the Youth for Christ Website:

Our Mission

“Youth for Christ, Canada exists to impact every young person in Canada with the person, work and teachings of Jesus Christ and discipling them into the Church.”

Contrast this with what their spokesperson John Courtney has to say:

“Proselytizing is one of those words that’s attached to the radical side of religion,” Courtney told council on Wednesday.

“Do we think it’s a good thing for any young person to embrace the Christian faith? Of course we do. Do we reject any services from kids that don’t want to take that journey? Absolutely not.”

Did you hear the shlluuuuuurp? That was the sound your irony meter imploding as it just suffered a suppurating chest wound courtesy of John Courtney’s christian mendacity.

Huh.  Its like our mission is to proselytize, but like,  we won’t do it if you don’t want us to.  Utter horsepucky.

It gets better!  Our boy John Courtney simply dismisses the residential school connotation with this gem:

He [J.Courney] also called it unfair to put his agency in the same category as the church-run, government-funded residential schools that took native children from their homes to assimilate them into white society.

You know what, what happened there wasn’t Christian. Christians did it but it wasn’t Christian,” he said. “And to compare that with who we are, with our track record of 60 years in this community, I think that’s an unfair shot.

Will the No True Scotsman representative please come to the front and take a bow.

Damn, it is unfair to think that you’re trying to target and assimilate at-risk Native Canadians into your church of holy bullshit.  Unfair but true, you pusillanimous douche-nozzle.   That publicly funded recreation facility will be an epicenter for your vilely delusuional coercion machine, your weasel words cannot hide that fact.

The Native Canadians know about your Damon Johnston speaks against christian duplicity:

“Damon Johnston, head of the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg, vowed the centre would be relentlessly picketed if it goes ahead.

“This is not 1876. You will not get away with this, let me assure you,” he said, eliciting applause”

There should be more public outcry about this, but I believe Damon Johnston’s words are prescient.  In the 21st century we will not let religion off the hook for their past crimes, there will be no small mea culpla and then business as usual.  This outrage will not stand.

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