The Marriage of Figaro



M

Michael Ragland

Guest
Man's tremendous aggressive instincts is matched by the incredible diversity of such instincts.
While there may be a general definition of genocide (destruction of one ethnic group, political
class, etc. by another) the forms which genocide takes are several. I've often thought Nazi
Germany embodied some type of kin selection in carrying out its systematic murder of Jews, Roma,
Poles and Russians. This may be the case but it is not a requirement for genocide. Pol Pot and the
Khmer Rogue systematically murdered one million fellow Cambodians and this had no apparent
features of kin selection. The same could be said of Mao se Tung's Cultural Revolution which
slaughtered fellow Chinese.

However, I came across this article and while I don't agree with everything stated I think it made
three valid points which generally apply to any genocide:

(a) "The most important set of factors involved in all massacres, he said, can be combined under the
label of "moral imperative." Leaders, usually authoritarians with "god-like stature," use
propaganda, organization, stigmatization and dehumanization of some group of people to propose a
moral imperative to others. This imperative "provides the energy for the slaughter, gives it
direction, engages masses of people in support of the atrocities, and justifies evil deeds and
makes them virtuous."

(b) "The earliest warning signals of massacres, he said, include actions by governments to promote
or allow legal discrimination of a subgroup."

(c) "Contrary to popular belief, he said, "massacres are never spontaneous. All require organization
and previous planning."

Psychologist Zajonc urges interdisciplinary research on massacres, genocide

BY KATHLEEN O'TOOLE What you saw today on CNN is only a small fraction of what the world has on its
conscience. In our century alone, we count between 100 and 160 million civilian casualties, for an
average of about 3,000 a day. And we have no idea how to prevent them or stop them. ­Robert Zajonc,
Jordan Hall seminar, April 28

Is the horrendous record of 20th-century genocide and other massacres the result of our "animal"
instincts, as some biologists argue, or the nightmare outcome of our "human" creativity? Without
better answers to such questions, this century's worst legacy is likely to roar on into the next,
psychology Professor Robert Zajonc said Wednesday, April 28, at a Jordan Hall seminar for his
colleagues and other students.

Zajonc said he had done widespread reading on massacres for a freshman seminar he taught last fall
on the subject and was surprised to discover how little psychology had to offer on the subject of
collectively carried-out massacres.

PsychInfo, the citation index of psychological literature, "lists no less than 15,744 articles on
'aggression' and 12,343 entries on 'violence,"' he said, but most of it deals with the subject in
the abstract or on the individual level. He acknowledged the contributions of several colleagues,
including Albert Bandura and Philip Zimbardo of Stanford, but said more research on collective
violence is necessary. "Homicide is not genocide," he said. "It takes many hands to kill 6 million
people, and these hands have to act jointly, as a unit."

Most of the published material on massacres is by political scientists, historians and journalists,
who often offer psychological explanations based on their intuitions, Zajonc said. "Some of their
assumptions could be supported by psychology research and some could not. Psychologists alone can't
do very much, but the least we can do is examine those assumptions," he said in an interview after
the seminar.

Blaming animal instincts

Meanwhile, socio-biologists such as Richard Dawkins and Edward Wilson and their offspring,
evolutionary biologists, have been offering animal models of social behavior as an explanation, for
example, for the Serbs' desire to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of Albanians. They have reformulated the
concept of instinct so that it is no longer a matter of self-preservation but of "inclusive fitness
and kin selection, a force of nature that promotes the perpetuation of one's own and one's own
species' genes," Zajonc said.

In their writings, biologists draw parallels, for instance, between chimpanzees pummeling each
other at "election time" for a new chimpanzee leader and the ethnic purge that occurred in Burundi
in 1972 surrounding the June elections of Burundi's first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, who
was later assassinated. The biological explanation has been bolstered by the recent discovery that
humans share as much as 98.5 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees. Research also indicates that
the hypothalamus is involved in suppression of violence and that testosterone levels are
important, he said.

But while such work is useful, he said, it needs to acknowledge "the enormous chasm between an ape's
grunt and the Marriage of Figaro," and that the observations of collective violence in animal
communities is on a vastly smaller scale than human massacres, especially those of the 20th century.

"It is quite a leap from inclusive fitness to the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis in just 100 days," he
said of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Stanford psychology Professor Russ Fernald, he added, "does most
interesting research on dominance in fish, but I have never heard him draw a parallel to the
academic administrative organization, and not even to another species of fish."

The historical record also undercuts kin selection theories, he said, because people who participate
in massacres attack their own. Large numbers of close relatives and neighbors were denounced to the
Gestapo between 1933 and 1945, for example, and Nigerian dissident Wole Soyinka has given the
account of a leading Hutu citizen in a Rwandan town who set an example for other Hutus by
slaughtering first his Tutsi wife and then lopping off the heads of his three sons. The Cultural
Revolution in China, Pol Pot's purge of urban Cambodians and Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union
were also massacres in which both sides came from the same ethnic group, Zajonc said.

Warning signals

Some writing focuses on the preconditions of massacres, particularly difficult life conditions, such
as population pressures and unequal distribution of wealth. "But frustration is not a necessary
precondition," he said. "The European colonists of Africa did not experience any prior frustration
in inflicting all sorts of suffering on the inhabitants of their new colonies. And the slaughter of
Native Americans had no frustration as a precondition." While Germany did suffer economic hardships
in the '30s, it was at its height of prosperity when the massacres of Jews began on a large scale
following the 1942 Wannsee Conference, which decided on the "final solution."

The most important set of factors involved in all massacres, he said, can be combined under the
label of "moral imperative." Leaders, usually authoritarians with "god-like stature," use
propaganda, organization, stigmatization and dehumanization of some group of people to propose a
moral imperative to others. This imperative "provides the energy for the slaughter, gives it
direction, engages masses of people in support of the atrocities, and justifies evil deeds and makes
them virtuous."

One such imperative is revenge. "The Serbs remember June 28, 1389, a date to avenge their defeat
from the Ottoman Empire in Kosovo. It is not a coincidence that Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination
of Archduke Ferdinand started World War I, carried out his 'mission' on June 28. Nor is it a
coincidence that the Serbs passed their constitution on June 28, 1921," he said, or that the two
Colorado students who planned to massacre their classmates two weeks ago chose Hitler's birth date.
(Zajonc quickly added, however, that the high school attack, allegedly planned by two students who
were not acting under orders from a government or large political group, "probably does not fall in
the same class as these others.")

Contrary to popular belief, he said, "massacres are never spontaneous. All require organization and
previous planning." The Hutu massacre of Rwandans in 1994, for example, was initially portrayed as a
riotous reaction to the plane crash death of the country's president. But Gérard Prunier, a French
scholar of Rwanda, has collected substantial evidence that it was planned. The best proof in
Prunier's 1995 book, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, Zajonc said, is that the Hutu
government brought from China 2 million machetes, which were freely distributed to the Hutu
population. The earliest warning signals of massacres, he said, include actions by governments to
promote or allow legal discrimination of a subgroup. The German Nuremberg Laws, passed in September
1935, for example, forbade Jews from sitting on park benches and using public transport, libraries
and museums. Such laws imply impunity for ordinary citizens who take hostile actions against the
targeted group, and in fact, he said, the perpetrators of collective violence almost never are held
accountable for their crimes.

Massacres, he suggested, also may have an element of "collective potentiation," a complex social
process that leads special intellectual skills and emotional resources to develop in distinct
locations. In more positive examples of the phenomenon, he explained, 19th-century painters
concentrated in Paris, where they struggled with new ideas, praised and criticized each other, and
produced impressionism, not unlike the way Silicon Valley has become the center of information
technology.

No 20th-century democracy has perpetrated a massacre, he said, but the United States claims 75
percent of the world's serial killers; like perpetrators of massacres, these killers select a
category of people as their victims and take special pleasure in mutilating and torturing
them, he said.

While many questions need more interdisciplinary research, Zajonc said he believes there is "timely
implication" to be drawn from the fact that massacres seem to be mostly products of totalitarian and
authoritarian societies.

"NATO is following a strategy that instead of weakening these totalitarian influences in Serbia
strengthens them. It is the same erroneous strategy that was proven to have the opposite of the
desired effects in Germany in 1944 and 1945. The massive bombing instead of demoralizing the
population unified it. It raised the level of authoritarian power of the leadership and increased
the unity and cohesion of the country, which was on the verge of collapse."

Massacres, he said, "are not an easy problem, but a problem we have a moral obligation to study." SR

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