Good vs. Evil; What Makes People Especially Giving or Cruel?
Scientists are trying to understand and unravel the mysteries behind what makes one person act out of extreme consciousness, risking life and limb to save another from fatal harm and what makes another person, to contrast the horrors that humans commit, carry out acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, or torture. Scientists are beginning to discover the answer lies more in a person’s genetic make-up. But as it is with many other illnesses, both nature and nurture play a hand. They have also discovered that through educational training, one can even alter one’s psychopathic tendencies to become a better person.
An Act of Altruism (Acts of Good)
Intervening To Help Strangers
Micah Fletcher and two other men defended two women, one wearing a hijab, from a man spewing anti-Muslim abuse on a Portland commuter train. The assailant stabbed all three men. Two died, and Fletcher suffered a deep neck wound. He said he instinctively stepped in to help the women. Diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum as a child, he was bullied and beaten.
“If you are truly a community, then everybody should be expected to stand up for one another.” ~Micah Fletcher
Acts of Genocide (Acts of Evil)
Delusion of Satan
The majority of people are not extreme altruists, that is possessing extreme conscious states, nor or they overly violent towards one another. Yet, genocides occur within our human social structures periodically from time to time. Acts of genocide are organized mass killings of group by another group. How do these delusions of Satan develop? Gregory Stanton, a former U.S. State Department official and founder of Genocide Watch, a nonprofit that works to prevent mass murder, has identified the stages that can cause otherwise decent people to commit murder. It starts when demagogic leaders define a target group as “the other.” Next, society becomes polarized. “Those planning the genocide say, “’You are either with us or against us,’” says Stanton. This is followed by a phase of preparation, with the architects of the genocide drawing up death lists, stocking war weapons, and planning how the rank and file are to execute the killings. Members of the out-group are sometimes forced to move to ghettos or concentration camps. Then the massacres begin. Many of the perpetrators remain untouched by remorse, not because they are incapable of feeling it, as is the case with psychopathic killers, but because they find ways to rationalize the killings. Genocide scholars got a glimpse of this “incredible capacity of the human mind to make sense of and to justify the worst of actions” when they interviewed dozens of Hutu men convicted or accused of committing atrocities during the Rwandan genocide.
“If I didn’t do this, those children would have grown up to come back to kill me. This was something that was a necessity for my people to be safe, for my people to survive.”
Our Evolutionary Responses
Extreme altruists and psychopaths exemplify our best and worst instincts. On one end of the moral spectrum, sacrifice, generosity, and other ennobling traits that we recognize as good; on the other end, selfishness, violence, and destructive impulses that we see as evil. At the root of both types of behaviors, researchers say, is our evolutionary past. Social psychologists hypothesize that humans evolved the desire to help one another because cooperation within large social groups was essential to survival. But because groups had to compete for resources, the willingness to maim and possibly kill opponents was also crucial.
“We are the most social species on Earth, and we are also the most violent species on Earth. We have two faces because two faces are important to survival.” ~Jean Decety, Social Neurologist, University of Chicago
Understanding Brain Structure
The Case of Phineas Gage
A railroad construction foreman, Phineas Gage survived an explosion in 1848 that drove an iron rod through his left frontal lobe. When he recovered, he was no longer friendly and respectful; he was uncaring and indifferent. A patient in Canada underwent a similar change when a benign tumor grew in his frontal lobe. After it was removed in 2016, his wife told the Sherbrooke University medical team, “Thank you for giving me back my husband.” His MRI scans before and after surgery showed the miraculous removal and healthier brain image. Cases like these help explain how brain structures guide social and moral behavior.
The Prefrontal Cortex
“Psychopathic criminals show reduced activity in their brain’s amygdala, a primary site of emotional processing, compared with other psychopathic inmates when recalling emotionally charged words they were shown moments earlier, such as “misery” and “frown,” says Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist at the Mind Research Network and the University of Mexico. Based on these findings, Kiehl is convinced that psychopaths have impairments in a system of interconnected brain structures including the amygdala and the orbit frontal cortex that help process emotions, make decisions, control impulses, and set goals. There is “basically about 5 to 7 percent less gray matter in those structures in individuals with high psychopathic traits compared to other inmates,” Kiehl says.”
A brain scan of a murderer who pleaded insanity showed reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that restrains impulsive behavior. Abnormalities in this area could predispose a person to violence. Some 70 percent of psychopathic traits are genetic, according to one estimate. Brain injury and prolonged exposure to stress can also damage empathy circuitry. Temporary states such as drunkenness, fear, or hunger can briefly reduce our empathy responses, while childhood trauma can have long term effects. (To read more on primal scene trauma refer to my previous post Primal Scene Fantasies and The Misfiring of Oedipus; A Case Study) Professionals in the sciences who think in highly systematic ways often have lower-than-average empathy responses. Psychopaths also tend to show weaker activation in brain regions instrumental in moral reasoning. They have also discovered that psychopaths appear to compensate for their deficiency of compassion and empathy by using other parts of the brain to cognitively stimulate what really belongs in the realm of emotion. In short, they view the conundrum of emotion as type of linguistic math problem that must be solved in order to “fit in” the group. Thus, they learn relatively early on what types of responses are appropriate in order to facilitate cooperative behavior thereby gaining membership in the group in order to facilitate getting what they want. In my opinion, it appears there is a very fine line drawn in the sand between normal behavior vs. psychopathic behavior simply because of the large degree of variations we see in personality sub-types. Thus, it is quite possible to be a functioning psychopath in today’s world. What is your Good vs. Evil ratio? Would you infringe upon a friend’s or a stranger’s rights just to advance your career? To read more on the anti-social acts committed by big business click on the link below.
The Rapprochement Phase of Early Childhood Development
In a small minority, starting in the second year of life, researchers see what they call an “active disregard” of others. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported that when these children saw someone who reportedly had hurt themselves, this group of children would kind of laugh at them or even kind of swipe at them and say, “You’re not hurt,” or “You should be more careful” in a tone of voice that was more judgmental than compassionate. They found these children had a high likelihood of developing antisocial tendencies and getting into trouble.
One test a parent can perform to see if their child has acquired the attribute of empathy is to play a kind of game which measures the facial expression of the infant in response to the facial expressions of a parent’s own facial expression reflecting distress or pain. If the facial expression of the infant reflects concern upon seeing the stimulus of his or her mother than one can assume that compassionate attributes are maintained by the child. Researchers are discovering that infants show this type of emotional response even earlier than six months of age whereas it was believed that new-borns were incapable of such expressions of concern for the well-being of others. At eighteen-months-old this emotional response of empathy translates into the positive social behavior of giving a hug or a toy to comfort a hurt child.
Can A Person’s Personality Be Altered?
Our social brain is plastic, even in adulthood, and we can be trained to be more kind and generous. To enhance compassion, which combines awareness of another’s distress with the desire to alleviate it, one can practice various training exercises designed to cultivate empathy. Take for example, the Buddhist traditions, which involve having subjects meditate on a loved one, a parent or child, for example, directing warmth and kindness toward that individual and gradually extending those same feelings toward acquaintances, strangers, and even enemies, in an ever widening circle of love. This is a form of loving-kindness meditation the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh practices at his monastery, Plum Village; Plum Village Website. Scientists have discovered that people practicing this type of loving-kindness meditation, even for a few days, had a more compassionate response as measured by the activation of certain brain circuits than untrained subjects watching short clips of people suffering emotional distress.
That we might be able to mold our brains to be more altruistic is an ennobling prospect for society. One way to bring that future closer would be to include compassion training in schools. The result could be a more benevolent world, populated by people with elevated states of conscious awareness, in which reflexive kindness loses its extra-ordinariness and becomes a defining trait of humanity. Spiritually based educational training is practiced in private schools that offer morality based examples and exercises, for example Catholic schools. These schools help cultivate compassion and spirituality with Bible based teachings thereby producing and cultivating higher moral reasoning individuals.
To read more regarding delusions of Satan please click on the following link When A Person’s Paranoia Turns To A Delusion of Satan
Source: Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “The Science of Good and Evil; What makes people especially giving or cruel? Researchers say the way our brains are wired can affect how much empathy we feel for others” National Geographic Magazine, January 2018 Issue.
Originally published at proclivitiesprinciplewisdom.wordpress.com on April 18, 2018.