"the people who are figuring out why we fight and how to make us stop"
February 3, 2015 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Tom Bartlett writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Science Of Hatred
What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers. Is anyone listening?

UNUTRA/INSIDE by Namik Kabil

Silencing the Past: Effects of Intergroup Contact on Acknowledgment of In-Group Responsibility by Sabina Čehajić and Rupert Brown, Social Psychological and Personality Science April 2010 vol. 1 no. 2 190-196 [PDF, Academia.edu]
[Dr. Sabina Čehajić-Clancy,] What was the research for which you won your SPSSI award?

On a general level, my research addressed the question of how people come to terms with their past marked by collective and gross human rights violations (e.g., mass killings, genocide, torture, etc.) with the goal of identifying socio-psychological processes and conditions which would, in turn, facilitate sustainable intergroup reconciliation. On a more specific level, I have examined antecedents and consequences of two processes important in any post-conflict setting: the process of acknowledgment of responsibility of one’s group crimes, and collective emotions of guilt and shame (which might rise as a consequence of knowing and acknowledging that one’s group has committed grave harm towards others). I have investigated these questions mainly but not exclusively in a post-conflict environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina where intergroup relations have not only been damaged by the recent war but are characterized by lack of meaningful contact and high levels of mistrust.
Dehumanization of the victims - "Sabina Čehajić-Clancy shows that a focus on collective responsibility for mass atrocities, which is indispensable in terms of provoking a positive psychological reaction - such as empathy and support for reparation policies, brings about negative reactions as well, such as victim dehumanization."
Coming to terms with the past marked by collective crimes: Acceptance of Collective Moral Responsibility as a predictor of Reconciliation and Peaceful Future, Sabina Čehajić
From collective victimhood to social reconciliation: Outlining a conceptual framework
Daniel Bar-Tal and Sabina Čehajić-Clancy
Affirmation, acknowledgment of in-group responsibility, group-based guilt, and support for reparative measures.
Čehajić-Clancy, Sabina; Effron, Daniel A.; Halperin, Eran; Liberman, Varda; Ross, Lee D.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 101(2), Aug 2011, 256-270
Further articles by Dr. Sabina Čehajić-Clancy on Google Scholar. Her husband, Tim Clancy, writes at TheBosniaGuy, and writes about The War and The Peace
Reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Perspectives from Social Psychology

Anger, Hatred, and the Quest for Peace: Anger Can Be Constructive in the Absence of Hatred - Eran Halperin, Alexandra G. Russell, Carol S. Dweck, James J. Gross, Journal of Conflict Resolution April 2011 vol. 55 no. 2 274-291 [PDF]
Resolving Intractable Intergroup Conflicts: The Role Of Implicit Theories About Groups [PDF], Eran Halperin, James J. Gross, Carol S. Dweck
Promoting the Middle East peace process by changing beliefs about group malleability. Halperin E, Russell AG, Trzesniewski KH, Gross JJ, Dweck CS., Science. 2011 Sep 23;333(6050):1767-9

On Accountability: The Tragedy of Srebrenica
Life in the Valley of Death
Ravaged by War
Trading Truth For Justice? South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
posted by the man of twists and turns (13 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I never thought there was any mystery about it. Back in the tribal days, if a member of the tribe was killed by an animal, all the men in the tribe would grab their weapons and hunt and kill that animal, even at the cost of more tribe members.

That is a very powerful form of evolutionary pressure on other animal species: any predator which kills a human dies forthwith, whereas those who avoid humans survive. It didn't happen that way on every possible predator, of course, but it did on most of them. About the only exceptions are tigers and polar bears; everyone else steers clear of humans if they can.

Over the long term, therefore, a species tendency to revenge is a powerful survival trait. But it's also one deep foundation of war, because we do it to each other too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:47 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

How to Apologise for Genocide
The Hardest World
The power to kill- "The media are fundamental to the reconstruction of broken societies and can have a critical impact"
all via Omnivore, and more.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:55 PM on February 3, 2015

Is that an argument in the scholarly literature, Chocolate Pickle? It sounds plausible, but also a little like an evolutionary just-so story, and I'm not sure where your explanation comes from. I'm also skeptical that humans have always hunted down animals that kill their fellow human group members, but am willing to be convinced by evidence.
posted by col_pogo at 12:44 AM on February 4, 2015 [20 favorites]

Back in the tribal days...

You can't have children with animals, but you can with the women of other groups after you kill their men, so it's quite a different scenario. And revenge is a good tactic if you will be re-playing the interaction, according to game theory, but again it's a wild animal, not a group that will remember your steadfastness. So I don't think your analysis is relevant to human inter-group strife.
posted by alasdair at 3:38 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks--outstanding read, substantive and very compelling researcher.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:46 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of links. So from the first article, The Science of Hatred, and edited:
One theory [behind inter-group violence] is the male-warrior hypothesis, the idea that men evolved a capacity to dehumanize and slaughter members of other groups ... Wiping out competing tribes protects your women and therefore your current and future offspring, gives you access to more resources, increases your safety. Dead men don’t raid villages. Altruism benefits members of the same community, as numerous studies and books describe, but altruism may prove a detriment when dealing with so-called out-groups.


[But] if hate is part of our evolutionary heritage, then perhaps there are paths toward peace that apply universally


One such method is called intergroup contact theory ... More contact between groups reduces prejudice. But there’s more to it than that. The contact must meet a number of conditions ...
  • The status of the groups must be respected as equal.
  • Those in authority must be supportive.
  • The contact must be more than superficial.
[This] remains the foundation for a great deal of conflict research.

A meta-analysis of 515 studies involving a quarter-million subjects concluded that intergroup contact fosters “greater trust and forgiveness for past transgressions.” The effects are evident regardless of gender, age, religion, or ethnicity. They seem to hold even when the contact is indirect—that is, you are less likely to be prejudiced against a certain group if a member of your group is friends with a member of that group.
posted by alasdair at 3:49 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Timely post for me, having just watched Shoah for the first time in my life. It makes the questions roil around in one's head for a while afterwords.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:24 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oxytocin is a hell of a drug.
posted by srboisvert at 6:10 AM on February 4, 2015

I believe that the technologies that make it possible for us to hear/ see/read each other all over the planet will finally convince us that we are all the same. Nationalism, religious fanaticism, ethnocentrism, and militarism will become archaic.

Thank you for putting up so many great links.
posted by mareli at 6:16 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not so sure that psychology is the proper discipline for understanding the roots of group violence:

Does Chimp Warfare Explain Our Sense of Good and Evil?
A groundbreaking ten-year study on the behavior of chimpanzees, reported in Current Biology, reveals that humanity's closest living relative expresses a propensity for human-like warfare. The nature of chimpanzee war, in which males patrol their group's territory and violently annex the territory of other groups in pursuit of land and resources, is startlingly similar to the warfare that has consistently emerged throughout human history. The study had led many to conclude that war is an innate behavior with genetic roots extending millions of years. But it may reveal more than just the genetic roots of warfare. The propensity for warfare in chimps could help explain the human conceptions of "good" and "evil" that define our laws, our social norms, and our morals.

The chimp warfare described by this study, and previously by famed primatologist Jane Goodall, includes all the behaviors that we as humans consider to be the very worst: killing, torture, cannibalism, rape, and perhaps even genocide. The adult males of a social group, which usually number about 30 to 50 in size, daily patrol the edge of their group's territory. They will often kill any male or young chimpanzees they find, sometimes eating or physically brutalizing their victims in a manner that some researchers liken to torture. In some instances, one group will "invade" and annex the territory of another, killing all but the adult females, who are forced to incorporate into the dominant group. The idea of chimp genocide may sound strange, but they are one of only three animals that has been observed wiping out entire social groups. The other two are wolves and humans. Given that humans and chimps are so closely related, and our genocidal records so pronounced, it stands to reason that this common behavior may be more than just coincidental.

Jared Diamond argues in his 1992 book, The Third Chimpanzee, that these ugly behaviors have stayed with us as our common ancestor divided into chimp and human lineages seven million years ago. What else could fully explain their constant recurrence throughout human history and across vastly different human cultures? After all, we share 97.3 percent of our genes with chimps. That common biology likely provides the genetic foundation for our shared behavior. A primatologist once told me that she refused to study chimpanzees because their remarkable humanness made her too uncomfortable and self-conscious to remain objective.

There are often valid and important reasons to go to war. But it's worth considering that humanity is ingrained with a genetic inclination that steers us, both as individual actors and as political institutions, toward warfare and worse.

posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 6:32 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

sort of re: pinker...
Democide ~ genocide, politicide and mass murder in the twentieth century:[1,2,3]
  • The twentieth century has seen more brutal and more barbaric tyrannies than any previous century--and its tyrannies have had their origins in economic discontents and economic ideologies
In this century governments and their soldiers have killed perhaps forty million people in war: either soldiers unlucky enough to have been drafted into the mass armies of the twentieth century, or civilians killed in the course of what could be called military operations.

But wars have caused only about a fifth of this century's violent death toll. Governments and their police have killed perhaps one hundred and sixty million people in time of peace: class enemies, race enemies, political enemies, economic enemies, imagined enemies. You name them, governments have killed them on a scale that could not previously have been imagined. If the twentieth century has seen the growth of material wealth on a previously-inconceivable scale, it has also seen human slaughter at a previously-unimaginable rate.
also btw from an interview with joshua oppenheimer on 'the act of killing':
Interestingly, the most recent example Anwar gives of movies influencing his behavior was an Elvis Presley movie, he talked about dancing out of the cinema and killing happily, drunk not on alcohol but by the cinematic identification with Elvis. This is a film about the effects of denial. About the corrupting effects of denial, about what happens when we build a normality on the basis of violence... I think that Anwar, somehow the real issue then is about escapism and denial and fantasy and how we use stories to escape from our most bitter and painful truths, how we lie to ourselves to justify our actions...

Most viewers who see the film come away thinking these men were greedy and they were rewarded with money and maybe power and that's why they did it. If you cut past all the lies that they've forced on society and clung to themselves so they can support their actions, why did Suharto take power? For power and for money. And why did the gangsters agree? Not because they were ideologically committed anti-Communists. The people they were killing weren't Communists and they knew that, because they knew some of the people they were killing. Everybody who I filmed who was involved in the killings killed for power and money and I think that's true all the way up the chain of command. Anwar and his friends were killing as hit-men before, not on this scale. In that sense, if you ask someone why they killed, they will tell you, invariably, the excuse they've clung to. The trick is to get beyond that.
[This] remains the foundation for a great deal of conflict research.

time to start thinking:
America’s ability to reverse her fortunes could come about only through being admired around the world, rather than feared, Alpha said. There was a thin line between being feared and being mocked. “Should we be seen as a hegemon that imposes its will on others, or as a beacon?” he said when I asked whether the US should regain its appetite to promote democracy overseas. “The best thing we can do for democracy around the world is to change our act here at home.”

Alpha’s group had recommended lifting the foreign aid budget by $30bn a year, entirely at the expense of the Pentagon. “We know there’s no lobby in Washington for foreign aid,” he said. In a poll by World Public Opinion a few months earlier, the American public estimated that a quarter of the US federal budget was spent on foreign aid. In fact, Washington spends little more than a dollar on aid for every 99 dollars it spends on something else. The gap between perception and reality is occasionally stunning. In practice, and given the patchy record of the aid industry around the world, it is unlikely more money would buy the kind of goodwill that Alpha’s group would expect for the US – development is a complicated business. But that seemed beside the point. What I took from Alpha and his colleagues was a visceral concern about America’s future.
oh and re: "changing beliefs about group malleability"
-Civil War: Political Violence and Robust Settlements [4]
-The Price of Altruism [5]
posted by kliuless at 7:21 AM on February 4, 2015

It's quite reasonable to posit that the opposite of war is not peace, but trade, and you can certainly see that the extremely common predecessor to a state of war is an impairment to ordinary trade relations (refusing to export or import, seizure of the persons or property of foreign traders, etc.) You have more peace than war not because people abhor war but because the risk-adjusted wealth creation of trade is usually far better than the risk-adjusted returns of war. You'd probably only invade someone happy to trade with you if their economic set-up offers minimal comparative value (to say the least of absolute value) for trading and their defensive capabilities are so low as to make the risk-adjusted value of war quite high.
posted by MattD at 8:31 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Scarcity of resources is not a cause, just one of several triggers. Mans most challenging and feared predator is other humans. By killing each other endlessly, honing our fighting skills against the cleverest opponents, our species has evolved to maintain a competitive edge over all other animals. However, not being strong enough to survive purely as individuals against natural disasters, or to conquer creatures that are much stronger/faster than us, we also evolved the need to co-operate and help each other. These conflicting strategies balanced themselves out in the group vs group model. Over time, growing intellect and generational knowledge transfer have helped us resist group purging and shift that balance slowly towards co-operation, but the barrier is a tenuous one that still falls easily.

We will never achieve global peace until we can genetically excise the bloodlust from our DNA.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:28 AM on February 4, 2015

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