EVILICIOUS: Cruelty = Desire + Denial

EVILICIOUS: Cruelty = Desire + Denial by Marc Hauser

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Authors: Marc Hauser
liking have parted company. Violence becomes addictive.
    Lust murderers, child soldiers, suicide bombers, and batterers in an abusive relationship move easily from violent desires to violent actions. For all, harming others is addictive. For all, the addiction is aided by a psychology of denial. Lust murderers fuel their appetite for violence by thinking of their victims as objects, child soldiers do it by means of self-deception, suicide bombers by the belief in a just cause, and battering spouses by creating the false belief that they deserve control. Objectification, self-deception, and ideological justification are forms of denial that loosen the grip of our moral sense, and help complete the recipe for evil.

    Recommended books
    Atran, S. (2010).
Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.
New York: Harper Collins.
    Bloom, P. (2010).
How Pleasure Works
. New York: W.W. Norton.
    Krueger, A. (2007).
What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism
. Princeton, N : Princeton University Press.
    Staub, E. (2010).
Overcoming Evil
. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chapter 2:
    Ravages of denial
    Self denial is not a virtue: it is only the effect of prudence on rascality.
    — George Bernard Shaw
    The still life and tableau vivant represent two art forms that involve careful placement of objects into specific positions. The artist, using canvas or camera, recreates a staged scene. In a still life, the focus is typically on inanimate objects such as pitchers, books, or fruit, while in a tableau vivant the focus is on animate objects, including humans and other animals.
    The tableau vivant reached new heights when Corporal Charles Graner decided to use his photographic talents to pose Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib into human pyramids, hooded scarecrows attached to electrical wires, dogs on leashes, and piles of naked flesh. Unlike the original art form which involved wealthy guests at dinner parties who voluntarily put on costumes and assumed silly poses, the Iraqi detainees were forced into humiliating positions, dehumanizing them into inanimate objects or animals. This represents a massive distortion of reality, but is not the representation of a delusional mind. Graner believed that the only way to protect his group was to crush and humiliate the other group’s spirit, and the only way to do that was to dehumanize them. For those of us who dared to stare at these pictures, or saw them come to life in Errol Morris’s superb film
Standard Operating Procedure,
they provide a wake-up call to the horrific ways in which we recruit dehumanization and self-deception to deny the moral fabric of other humans. This chapter explains how these two components of denial work, how they are enlisted to satisfy our desires, and often lead to the destruction of innocent lives.
    Attempting to satisfy our desires frequently brings us into opposition with others who are interested in the same resources, as well as moral sanctions that prohibit particular actions. When moral constraints operate, either as intuitively understood norms or explicitly recognized laws, they set guidelines for what is right or wrong, what is praiseworthy or blameworthy, and who counts within the circle of morally relevant individuals. When we dehumanize another human being, we have taken them out of the circle of moral consideration, thereby lifting a significant constraint on our desire to procure resources. When we self-deceive, we justify to ourselves and often to others that new moral norms are necessary to address a societal problem. With new norms in place, actions that were prohibited under the old regime are not only legitimate, but sanctioned. So begins a process of denial that enables us to satisfy our desires.
    Before I explain how we dehumanize and self-deceive?? I need to explain the process of humanization, the capacity to perceive some things but not others with human qualities and moral worth. This is an

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