31 July 2011 ~ 0 Comentarios

Pathological evil and ideological evil

By Carlos Alberto Montaner*

(FIRMAS PRESS) The defense of Norwegian Andres Breivik will be based on his alleged insanity. The defense lawyer will try to persuade the judges with a very broad argument: Who but an absolute mad man would be capable of organizing such butchery against a group of innocent people? To that, he might add an additional element that would reinforce his theory: Mr. Breivik took some drugs before committing the murders. Those psychotropic substances affected his behavior.

I don’t know if Norwegian justice will accept such arguments. I hope it will reject them. They are the product of an interested confusion between pathological evil and ideological evil. In effect, pathological evil derives from a disorder of rationality. The mad man hears voices, sometimes accompanied by visions, that tell him to kill. He simply obeys the orders. Usually, this type of madman is classified asschizophrenic. It is even possible that the voices and visions have a positive component: Joan of Arc, among many other "visionaries," probably was aschizophrenic who took up a noble cause.

The ideological villain is something else. He is someone who will do damage without any moral restraint because his beliefs and values authorize him to do so. Hitler was not a madman.He was an ideological villain convinced that he had to exterminate the Jews,the gypsies, the Jehova’s Witnesses and the homosexuals because they werenoxious to the human species. Lenin, Stalin and Mao also were ideological villains. To them, the mass murder of the "class enemies" did not constitute a crime but a necessary task of revolutionary cleansing that adhered to Marxist catechism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

When Hugo Chávez attacked the presidential mansion in 1992, causing the death of hundreds on the streets of Caracas, or when he wrote a letter of solidarity to Carlos Ilich Ramírez,the ruthless "Jackal," the author of innumerable crimes, he was not a victim ofa distortion of reality but of an ethical judgment perverted by ideology.Simply put, the violent death of his adversaries seems to him justifiable. That is why he has no compunction about embracing Ahmadinejad, the Iranian tyrant who sharpens the nuclear sword to exterminate the Israelies.

The assassins in thedrug-trafficking gangs also are ideological villains. Their abominable actions do not derive from political beliefs but from tribal interests and values that generate their codes of behavior. To them, be heading immigrants or extorting workers is legitimate because it generates money and earns them the respect ofthe gang to which they belong and the terror of the society they rule.

In reality, the pathological villains are very few. The fauna that abounds is that of ideological villains. As Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz revealed to us in On Aggression, human beings lack the instinctive brakes that prevent them from inflicting damage on their fellow men, a horrible discovery considering his own lamentable membership in the Nazi party, for which he eventually expressed remorse.

Practically any "normal"human being can cruelly torture or murder someone else if his ideas, beliefs,interests, values and social environment so demand. I always remember my surprise at learning that, near my house in Old Havana many decades ago, there was a sinister 19th-Century building called "the whippery," where honorable people took their unruly slaves to be whipped into submission. Generally, they went to that place after attending Mass at the beautiful Church of the Angel.

We mustn’t be fooled bythe ideological villains. They must be punished with the severity permitted by law and with public scorn for their acts. And we must understand that the only leash capable of restraining the ferocious animal that sleeps in the heart ofour species are the institutions that emerged from the Enlightenment to protect individual rights and to limit and fragment the authority of those who hold power. We are safe from the claws of others when we wrap ourselves in the mantle of institutionality provided by liberal democracy. Beyond that lies the jungle. [“©FIRMAS PRESS]

*The author is a journalist and writer. His latest book, a novel, is titled ‘The Colonel’s Wife.’

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