I was listening to a BBC podcast today on the Islamic State called Bureaucracy and Brutality. In one segment, a former jihadi called Aimen Dean talks about a friend, now an ISIS judge, who delights in handing out sadistic punishments (dismembering, crucifixion, lashings, beheadings) in the ISIS occupied territories (the new Caliphate).
A sense of elitist isolationism. It is that isolationist, elitist mentality which liberates the psychopath within.
There are many people in this world who have that small psychopathic tendency at the back of their mind, but it is guilt and conscience that basically stops them from hurting other people.
However, if you tell someone that “you will be able to behead, to kill, to lash, to burn a village, to do of whatever you like while serving a cause and you will be rewarded for it by God in the afterlife”, it does wonders in terms of liberating the inner psychopath.
And therefore they do not see themselves as part of the world, they see themselves as a part of a new world, a purer world.
A perfect description of the standard issue true believer extremist who is blind to the ironies of their extremism. Think of the “anti-racist” who chides us for our hidden biases and lack of tolerance but who vehemently hates the “haters”, celebrating violence against them and spending all their time posting grossly offensive stereotypes about the supposed “oppressors”. but it also immediately reminded me of a contemporary scourge:
It also reminds me of what I call the the iTartuffes, those smarmy PC platitude posting faux-moralists who team up with the zealots to form the pitiless digital pitchfork wielding mob bullies of social media. You know the type, they are everywhere. Think of those male “feminists” who say all approved gender neutral things, but who come across as creepy and insincere, looking more to score ladies than defeat the patriarchy.
I am not talking about the “political” friends we all have on Facebook. Those people with earnest if predictably strong positions on world events. Nope, iTartuffes are moral posers: PC, smug and in your face with their finger wagging moralism. They are quick to judge, demand apologies for the slightest offence and almost always fraudulent hypocrites.
here is something faintly disgusting about them, like a waft of BO or flatus. There is a vague but disquieting feeling that the iTartuffe does not believe their own words, because, well, they don’t. We groan when we see their Facebook posts shamelessly repeating the right-on platitude of the day. There is something awkward and forced about their style. They are fronting and we can tell. Since human hate deception and coercion, we end up hating the iTartuffes too. They end up in echo chabers with fellow iTartuffes each striving harder than the next to prove their loyalty and ideological purity.
In isolation the iTartuffe is a nuisance, at worst an irritation but numbers, and led by trie believers, however, these cowards are dangerous, as any mob can be. Their inner psychopath is let off the leash completely. All the conditions of cruelty are there: They are serving their cause which licenses the punishment of ideological enemies, and they will be rewarded with social approval and moral smugness in the new, purer word, purged of the intolerant/the male/the pale skinned/the rich or whatever hated class of oppressor they are targeting.
The psychology of this is well understood, if not widely known. The best description of the psychology is in the Kindle single “Trial by Fury: Internet Savagery and the Amanda Know case”. Here is an excerpt from a Salon article based on the book:
The answer to this human behavior lies, as many such answers do, in evolutionary biology. Experiments show that when some people punish others, the reward part of their brain lights up like a Christmas tree.
It turns out we humans avidly engage in something anthropologists call “altruistic punishment.”
What is altruistic punishment? It is when a person punishes someone who has done nothing against them personally but has violated what they perceive to be the norms of society.
Why “altruistic”? Because the punisher is doing something that benefits society at large, with no immediate personal gain. Altruistic punishment is normally a good thing. Our entire criminal justice system is based on it.
In our evolutionary past, small groups of hunter-gatherers needed enforcers, individuals who took it upon themselves to punish slackers and transgressors to maintain group cohesion.
We evolved this way. As a result, some people are born to be punishers. They are hard-wired for it.
What does all this have to do with Amanda Knox? Almost all the nasty comments about her follow a pattern. Even though she did nothing to them, they are all demanding her punishment. This is altruistic punishment gone haywire, in which the anti-Amanda bloggers have become a cybermob not unlike the witch-hunts of medieval Europe or lynch mobs in the American South.
These mobs form all over the Internet, and not just in the Amanda case, assailing everyone from Anne Hathaway to Katie Roiphe. Everywhere you look on the Internet you find self-appointed punishers at work. Never in human history has a system developed like the Internet, which allows for the free rein of our punishing instincts, conducted with complete anonymity, with no checks or balances, no moderation, and no accountability. On the Internet, our darkest evolutionary biology runs riot.
On the Islamic State
Bullying, Pecking Orders, the psychology of Online Mobs
Two superb books on morality…