In high school Gus got kicked off the football team because he repeatedly beat up players on the opposing teams long after the whistle had blown. In prison, he spent most of his time in solitary for assaulting guards and inmates alike. On a home visit one time, a knock on the front door while Gus and I were meeting together, brought in six Palo Alto police officers with batons at the ready. Six more simultaneously burst in through the back door (This was before the advent of Tasers). They were more than a little familiar with what was needed to deal with Gus. Needless to say, this event highjacked my limbic system Big Time.
Being beaten from a young age shapes the brain in ways that make it difficult to grow enough neurons in the Pre-Frontal Cortex to make sufficient connections with the brain’s Threat Centers. Without those connections, it becomes very difficult to regulate impulse control. This was repeatedly evident with Gus: all he needed to hear was even the hint of a threatening word or gesture, and he would instantly become verbally aggressive and start kicking and throwing punches. Gus “went off” on people.
The 12 Point Narrative
Physical abuse is part of the equation found repeatedly in the backgrounds of people who become tyrants or cruel dictators. With those not emotionally or intellectually capable of leading the masses, such leaders often come to power by feeding a twelve-point narrative as detailed by Joshua Rosenau at the National Center for Science Education, to people like Gus. In order to get such people – already pre-disposed to violence – to do their dirty work, they continually beat the band with these twelve points:
1. We brethren have a glorious past;
2. Modern times are eroding our core values;
3. We are tragically obstructed from achieving our destiny;
4. An illegitimate government is an enemy so evil it can’t be considered human;
5. This intolerable situation demands vengeance;
6. We must achieve our sacred end, and any means is justified;
7. We must use military might to annihilate this evil and purify the world;
8. It is our duty;
9. And we are not to blame for having to resort to violence;
10. Those of us who sacrifice themselves will attain glory;
11. We will by aided in our efforts by supernatural powers; and
12. In the end we will bring ourselves and our allies to paradise.
The Narrative Antidote
The points put forth in this narrative can be effectively countered, and we owe it to kids, culture and country to do so. Here are the components of the counter-narrative: 1. The world is not black and white; it’s extraordinarily complex; moderation in our views and how we express them prevents resorting to extreme measures; 2. We can work within existing structures and take responsibility for our actions; i.e. we can be the change we want to see in the world; 3. We can avoid speaking in military terms outside of narrow military contexts; 4. We will challenge the perception that conspirators are obstructing our group in important ways; 5. While the past may not have been ideal, we can do our part to move forward and positively improve conditions; 6. We adhere to moral and ethical rules even in the service of sacred things; 7. It’s not a proper aim to annihilate global evil or purify the world; 8. It’s unskillful to frame events in terms of catastrophes or calamities; 9. We have little concern for Divine Intervention or commands; 10. We care little about and there is no particular glory in dying for a cause; 11. Attacking or killing others is not a duty, but a source of shame; 12. We have little concern about a utopia or paradise in an afterlife.
Here are the final points Rosenau makes about this counter-narrative:
Such a pattern of thought in some points resembles the rationalist viewpoint of existential psychology; in other points it resembles a quietist, acceptance-oriented philosophy (like that found in Taoism, Jainism, Sufism, or Buddhism, or among the Quakers), and in yet other points it reflects political moderation. If social norms more strongly corresponded to this “antithesis” pattern, they might be expected to inhibit the development of militant extremist movements. Thus, facilitating or reinforcing the antithesis pattern could be a key part of a recipe for reducing the rate of fanatical thinking and preventing destructive militant extremism. Promulgating the antithesis pattern would simultaneously serve to challenge self-deceptions involved in militant-extremist thinking.