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Updated 04 Apr 2010

For a quick overview of our research see: Peace Via Nature's Way.

Roots of Terror Briefly and Some Avenues Now Apparent

This project illuminates some very human ills that we and our children face. From what we now know, questions posed have or can find answers. It is that simple yet that complex in implementation, for no culture on earth has the ready answers, only partial ones.

So far, human violence correlates with three genetic tendencies evident in the natural world from which we sprang. These are instincts for fierceness, domination and herding. Each genotype promotes survival. Most importantly, these inborn traits are manifest in the Authoritarian Personality, AP, so ably identified and described by Adorno, Milgram, Burger, Zimbardo, Altemeyer, and Dean.

To these consistent works, Martha Stout provides insight into the most extreme of the extreme, the sociopath. Robert Hare describes the psychopath, hardly different from the sociopath. Justin Frank takes it to the highest, most powerful office and describes in detail how it was Mr. Bush came to his dysfunctional world view that materially endangered office, nation and world community he claimed to be saving. The terms sociopath, psychopath, a narcissistic personality are so similar in definition, it matters little which they are. Each lies at the extreme of the extreme Authoritarian Personality.

About four percent of all of us are sociopathic in one way or another. That's one in twenty-five--on average, one on every street! These people leave wrecked lives in their wakes at best. At worst, they leave corporations, religious sects, even nations in the same boat.

There is also extensive historical evidence that the effects of the AP can be muted in various ways. Muting the AP can explain why Tokyo, El Paso, and Honolulu are multiples less violent than Washington DC, Baltimore or Detroit. All three cities are either integrated racially or are racially homogeneous.

Reading recorded history is a heavy trip. Through all of it, terrorism, wars, and genocide recur again and again. Like rows of dominoes, each event seems to trigger further events. The worst expressions of the AP seem to be brought out by industry, monotheism, and politics. While these histories repeat themselves, they do so only in the large. An objective read of history finds organized violence (terror, war, genocide) often concentrated in monotheistic cultures. Following these ancient scripts, the AP marches into the 21st Century.

One basic problem seems to be our inborn genetic potential for fierceness in gaining and defending territory and resources in competition with other species as well as our own. Offsetting this tendency to some extent, the herding instinct seems to survive and form the basis for family and tribal units that go on to organize fiefdoms and nation states as civilization matures and societies homogenize. Dominance, also a leftover from our evolutionary heritage, adds a third exacerbating component, an all-important hierarchical one. We have evidence from Milgram that something like 65-85% of all of us express the AP personality. This is our heritage, our nature. Milgram provides possible reasons for the obedient behavior exhibited my most of his subjects.

This is not to say that anyone in power today is actively thinking in Hitlerian terms. If such behavior is not in our genes, why are our leaders today acting like it? The observations of Adorno , Milgram , Burger, Zimbardo, Altemeyer, and Dean support just that interpretation.

It is the Authoritarian Personality at root. It is at once aggressively dominant and submissive in the same individual. Seemingly incompatible traits do co-exist and are explained by the typical person's need for rigid hierarchy. For this reason, people with AP tendencies readily fall in line under dictators. Milgram showed that well over half of his subjects (Americans from New Haven) were authoritarian inclined to various degrees. Burger has confirmed Milgram's findings. Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prison Experiment on prison guards showed that the behavior of American guards at Abu Ghraib is typical of our culture, and not at all exceptional. The abominable behavior Zimbardo observed arose spontaneously.

Nurture also matters within societies. The cultures of El Paso, and Honolulu certainly differ from those of Washington DC, Baltimore or Detroit. You see the same effect among nations: Japan, Norway and Portugal are role models compared with the United States in terms of violence within their societies. As for capital cities, Tokyo is multiples more peaceful than is Washington DC. There is more to violence than the human genome. Grass-roots societal changes are needed everywhere to counter Extremism and its offshoot Fundamentalism, each of which nurtures conditions that radicalize the susceptible.

Radicalization is not the only route to terrorism, some four percent of all of us are full-blown sociopaths according to the works of a lifetime by Martha Stout. Sociopaths are natural-born terrorists. Since they look and even act much like everyone else they are not immediately recognized for what they are. An inordinate number of sociopaths reach high office or stature because what matters most to them is to win; win at all costs. They are the ones that hijack movements, organizations or worse. An inordinate number also end up in prison--tripped up mostly because of their lack of conscience and impulse control. Nature has saddled humanity with sociopathic genes, for their organism can survive hard times by doing whatever it takes. Whether they are a type distinct from Adorno's definition of the Authoritarian, we do not yet know.

The frequency Stout reports for the sociopathic fringe fits Milgram's extensive studies. Virtually every cohort of 25 or more subjects Milgram studied, had at least one "queer duck" to use his term, meaning they were not like typical subjects. These people applied maximum pain, the top shock voltage, whatever the other conditions were. They were not just obeying, they seemed to enjoy hurting someone else. One even laughed his way to the top shock voltage. To his credit, this person recognized his laughter was an aberration. Others just coolly stated they felt no guilt. We now see the sociopath [including the psychopath and narcissistic personalities, which behave similarly] as a primary block on the road to peace.

Sociopaths consistently leave destruction in their wakes. Since they themselves rarely seek therapy, their characteristics are known indirectly--from the havoc they have wrought. In many, if not most cases, the sociopath is the one who hijacks the innocent and naive. Hitler and Stalin were sociopaths. So was Pol Pot and Idi Amin. Early signs of sociopathology include cruelty to animals to a significant degree. In adults, look for a person who uses others, seems to be without conscience, and above all has to WIN.

In one of its most modern forms, terror is largely monotheistic in character. The basic issue is whose god is God. Bin laden declared it is so, and innumerable Mullahs of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and other countries endorse his fatwas. Not all do, of course. Some have issued a fatwa against him. But a fatwa by nature can advocate violence, depending on the circumstances. The current U S Government, pushing empire and religion as it does, plays into the (either / or, black / white) polarization that gives the other side not only moral advantages, but economic ones as well, not to mention legitimacy. Each side is possessed by the AP.

For more on the question of whose god is God (central to terror in our times) see: Terror In The Name Of God, The Battle For God, and Monotheism and Violence

Given the distinct tendencies some of us have to lean toward an AP, it is no stretch to see why some of us are so susceptible to radicalization. This happens most often in unstable societies that have access to at least some wealth. The very poorest or very richest of societies rarely produce individual terrorists. But when one does, we can learn from them. Bin Laden is such an example to be learned from. He states his case Thusly:

  • First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.
  • Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, in excess of 1 million... despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation.
  • Third, if the Americans' aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews' petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there.

Authoritarianism manifests itself as bigotry in too many cases. Rosa Parks provided the spark that turned around Southern-state bigotry. Today, integration has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of those oppressed.

Ashutosh Varshney has shown more insight into that event. He paired eight cities in India in four groups of two by size and ethnicity. In each case, the paired cities exhibited great differences in violence between them. After studying their make-up and functioning, he discovered that the major determinant for peacefulness was the degree of ethnic integration in all aspects of society, governance, industry, services or what have you.

Since some nations, cities and people manage to live peacefully in our times, there are some good reasons for hope.

For a longitudinal summary of our research, visit the story beginning on: Peace Via Nature's Way.

For a broader, more comprehensive, view, see: Build our Future | Hope | Locus of Control | Solutions

Still other aspects are discussed comprehensibly by Edward O Wilson: On Human Nature, The Future of Life, and Consilience.

Ancillary perspectives are available on Site Information Hub.

What We Can Do From What We Know?

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