Are Islamic Terrorists Crazy, Evil, or Developmentally Arrested?
But is there a specific psychological mode or mechanism that provokes a man to murder because the victim drew a picture that offended the murderer? Yes, but psychological causation is complex and systemic, rarely linear, one-way, or fully intentional. When I say "intentional," I mean we often (thankfully!) do things without really knowing why, nor do we (or could we) calculate each and every consequence.
Many people correctly observe that yesterday's terror has something to do with Islam. Certainly the terrorists think so. It is only liberals who deny the connection, in a way that varies with their ignorance of the subject. For example, Howard Dean has obviously never q'racked a Q'ran:
"I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They’re about as Muslim as I am. I mean, they have no respect for anybody else’s life, that’s not what the Koran says.... I think ISIS is a cult. Not an Islamic cult. I think it’s a cult."
Or Ezra Klein: the murders "can only be explained by the madness of the perpetrators, who did something horrible and evil that almost no human beings anywhere ever do, and the condemnation doesn’t need to be any more complex than saying unprovoked mass slaughter is wrong." Could his ignorance of man's bloody history be more complete?
Perhaps you've noticed that leftists either make an issue more simple or more tendentiously convoluted than it actually is. In this case, they take the simplistic path: Islamic terror has nothing to do with Islam. These men are cultists, Donny.
I think we can agree that Islam is not a sufficient cause of the terror, but nor is it a necessary cause. That is, there are obviously Muslims who are not terrorists, and terrorists who are not Muslim. But most terrorists at this time do happen to be Muslim, and the Koran contains ample justification for their crimes. Does that make the Koran a cause, or just a pretext?
Here I think we need to widen our lens and take into consideration the sorts of cultures that have been shaped by Islam. There are what, 49 Muslim majority countries, each one a shithole to varying degrees. Starting with the As, there are Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, and Azerbaijan, followed by Bangladesh, Brunei, and Burkina Faso. Given the choice, no one would freely choose to live in these places unless they already have no idea what freedom is. In other words, in order to choose those cultures, one has to have already assimilated the repressive culture and its illiberal values.
This subject is very much relevant to our discussion of Inventing the Individual, because the whole point of the book is that something occurred in the Christian west that did not occur anywhere else in the world. We can argue whether it was a good or a bad thing, but we cannot argue that it is a Muslim or Buddhist or American Indian thing. Rather, that is the essence of the nub of the gist: a "clash of civilizations" with entirely different value systems.
But "civilization" is an abstraction that tells us little about the individuals of which it is constituted. And since human beings develop in time, some civilizations are more developed than others. This is an example of a simple truth that the left has attempted to convolute over the past century, to the point that they can no longer see the obvious (or are not permitted to see it).
Howard Dean and Ezra Klein are far from the only ones who are auto-blinded by ideology. Here is a tweet yesterday from a NY Times bureau chief: "Some call for an extreme use of force to respond to Paris attacks, but school shootings in US have killed more and US leaders do nothing." This guy equates the Paris attacks with Jerry Falwell suing Hustler magazine for libel. Yes, those two things would be exactly the same if the terrorists had sued the magazine and Falwell had murdered Larry Flynt.
However, it would never occur to anyone in the Christianized west that an absence of taste merits the death penalty. But the post-Christian west is indeed coming back around to the pre-Christian point of view. They don't necessarily murder, but political correctness has destroyed innumerable lives, careers, and reputations.
The world into which Christianity inserted itself was every bit as violent as the one inhabited by contemporary terrorists: after the fall of Rome, "Habits of violence, lack of foresight and the ingrained pleasure of leading an unregulated life meant that betrayal and murder were commonplace in the ruling families of the new kingdoms" (Siedentop). But ever so slowly, "Christian insistence on the equality of souls" began to nurture "a new image of reality."
Interestingly -- and this goes to the question asked in the second paragraph of this post -- it took quite a while for a more abstract understanding of Christianity to emerge from the concrete. This is a critically important idea, because this "entry" into a more abstract world is a stage in human psychological development. Nowadays we take it for granted, but for most of human history man has been more like a child in the concrete operational stage of cognitive development.
I look at it from a slightly different theoretical perspective than Piaget. I've discussed in the past the difference between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, the latter being more mature than the former. Back to the news of the day, what happens if a Muslim person in the paranoid-schizoid (PS) position is confronted with a cartoon that offends him?
First, let's discuss some of the characteristics of the PS position, courtesy psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden. These ideas are quite relevant to the Invention of the Individual; for example, chapter three is called The Depressive Position and the Birth of the Historical Subject.
In short, it seems to me that Ogden is discussing on a personal/individual basis what once occurred on a historical/collective basis. Without a change in the culture, there would have been no network of developmental support -- no matrix -- for the development of the individual. This is an idea I have been unable to eliminate from my head for at least 25 years, but for some reason no one else puts these two together, i.e., the individual and the historical.
Some of this is a little technical, but consider the following: PS "is a phase of development wherein the self exists primarily as object." Such a person is concretely "lived by his experience" in such a way that "thoughts and feelings happen" rather than "being thought or felt."
It's a subtle difference, and no one is entirely free from PS thinking. Rather, in the healthy person there is a dialectic between PS and D, through which we are able to reflect on the content of experience and distance ourselves from it, and thus live in a "freer" space -- free, for example, of simply acting on our impulses or emotions without insight or reflection.
A key point in living this way (in PS) is that it creates historical discontinuity. Or, to be more precise, the attainment of historical continuity is a developmental achievement that is impossible in PS. It is impossible because there is no autonomous "self" (or a very weak one) above the impulses and emotions. What we are really talking about is two different ways of organizing the content of experience, one more passive (which goes to modern victimology as well), the other more active and volitional.
I recall that Theodore Dalyrmple describes the identical pattern in his Life at the Bottom. For the developmentally stunted people he encountered in prisons, experience simply happened to them. It is as if they are bystanders to their own lives, like "I don't know what happened, Doc. The gun just went off and then she had a hole in her chest."
Likewise, Ogden writes of how, in the PS state of being, "things simply happen." Which, when you think about it, goes directly to Muslim theology, doesn't it? For occasionalism is a theory whereby Allah is the direct and unmediated cause of everything, to which we are simply passive witnesses. Which is why Islam means surrender. Might as well, since you have no choice anyway.
And as to why someone would commit murder over a cartoon, consider the following: "In the PS position, the predominant mode of symbolization is one in which the symbol and symbolized are emotionally indistinguishable since there is no interpreting self to mediate between symbol and symbolized. There is no sense that one attributes meaning to one's perception; events are what they are, and interpretation and perception are treated as identical processes."
In such a situation, a person who experiences rage upon exposure to a cartoon is unable to distinguish the rage from the object or its author. And this experience will be equated with "truth." Then, "the present is projected backward and forward, thus creating a static, eternal, nonreflective present." Which might go to why the Islamic world has been in a kind of static and unevolving present for the past 800 years or so. Which only makes them angrier.