Whether CBC radio host Jian Gomeshi assaulted his dates as alleged or not, we know that there are people who do. A positive that has arisen from Jian’s fall is the ensuing discourse on and off-line about the dark side of human nature. Unquestionably, some of the best journalistic reflections on violence against women have arisen as result of the Q host’s dismissal. I value the discourse, but I think it has a ways to go.
Another current story about disturbing aspects of human nature is that of psychopaths in organizations. Most of us have seen books about them on store shelves, or may have read one ourselves.
It may seem like a big leap, but the Jian story has me thinking again about the book The Nazi Doctors by psychiatrist Robert Lifton, one of my favourite writers of the 20th Century. Before they died, Lifton, an American Jew, interviewed surviving Nazi Doctors about their role in the extermination camps. In the book he seeks to understand, for example, how someone conducting inhuman experiments on others as well as dropping poison gas pellets into chambers full people, can go home and celebrate a nice family Christmas with his wife and children, then return to his ‘work’ a week or two later. The Nazi Doctors documents his findings, which I find to be a fascinating journey into a complex set of circumstances and a very dark side of human nature.
I’ve had a rage experience. I completely lost it with a belligerent teenager one evening about 20 years ago. Tunnel vision, seeing red, time distortion, fragmented memory of what happened, the whole thing. I pushed him on the shoulder as I opened a door, escorting him out of a house. He went to the police and tried to lay an assault charge against me. Although technically an assault, it was too minor to gain any traction. I heard Ken Cloke, prominent mediator and author, say that given the right circumstances, we are all capable of murder. I agree.
A friend that I am out of touch with once asked if I would attend a martial arts movie with him. I did. In the course of driving there, getting something to eat, viewing the movie, etc. he told me something about himself. He explained that part of him loved violence and fighting and that he felt he must honour that side of himself in a manner that prevented it from being acted out in his interactions with others. He dealt with his violent inclinations by viewing a movie about fighting once a week.
Whether you approve of Ed’s approach or not, he definitely made a concerted effort to explore and neutralize a violent side of himself. Whether it is honoring, transforming or another process, humanity needs to address its darker sides in a more earnest, sober, and public manner. We killed one hundred million of our own in the previous century. The form and amount of darkness may vary, but the capacities for violence are in all of us.
It is too easy to feel that one is different from members of groups such as ISIS who are “evil” or “brainwashed” – orientations that we like to think we never would or could be part of. Closer examinations reveal to me that we are part of it: We are viewing manifestations of the dark side of human nature shared by all of us.
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