Headlines Belie the Psychology of Killing

What happens in the mind of a politically-motivated killer? In an interview with a former IRA paramilitary assassin we can see shades of other conflicts and the psychology of nationalism, religious hatred, and difference:

Historical parallels are inevitably flawed. But a recent flurry of horrific bloodletting — the attack in Nairobi that left 60 dead, the execution by Syrian jihadis of bound and blindfolded prisoners, an Egyptian soldier peering through his rifle sight and firing on the teenage daughter of a Muslim Brotherhood leader — raises a question as old as Cain and Abel: Do we all have it in us?
Many experts think we do. For Mr. O’Callaghan, it was a matter of focus. Via Behind Flurry of Killing


5 thoughts on “Headlines Belie the Psychology of Killing”

  1. It’s an uncomfortable thought when the article said that we are all capable of these type of horrific things, and that it is dangerous to assume that only monsters can create monstrosities. In history, we have seen groups of people, who are not all psychos, commit such crimes. It is most apparent with the Nazis, and I liked the interview with a man who fled the Vienna during the Nazi regime. He said that in these cases, we are dealing with human behavior reacting to certain circumstances. It is hard to understand sometimes how this can happen, but until we are put in this situation, we cannot even begin to know how we would react.

  2. I remember hearing about a study that tried to determine why the Nazis were capable of such atrocities. They told program participants that when they pressed a button a subject in another room (whom they could hear) would be administered a gentle shock (they weren’t actually wired up or anything.) They were directed to slowly ramp up the shock to higher levels. Though it became increasingly painful for the one administering the shock, the vast majority of the participants administered shocks that were at a (as far as they knew) lethal level when told the experiment must go on. Only a tiny percentage of them stopped at a self-drawn line.
    So yes, I think that given time, conditioning, and authority telling us it’s right, most of us could. It is a very uncomfortable thought.

  3. I think this is an uncomfortable topic because it comes down to an argument over which is dominant: survival instinct or human nature? We like to think that we are separate from other living things, that we live on a higher plane of thought and reason and emotion. There’s plenty of evidence to support this; you don’t see dogs and cats inventing iPads and building highrises. However, the ability to kill a member of your own species seems to fall below that higher plane, and yet it happens daily. It threatens our conception of ourselves as beings of higher intelligence. You would think that the ability to recognize and appreciate creative thought and ingenuity would be accompanied by a greater respect for life in all forms. All evidence to the contrary, as demonstrated by recent examples of mass taking of human life.

  4. This is an ancient discussion. Even Cain had to be convinced that killing his brother would be an acceptable act and that the benefits of committing the atrocity would be greater than to not commit said crime. However, today we see killings happen daily: inside and outside of war. In war i believe that by obeying your superior commanders with orders to kill is acceptable, if it is in your defense. I believe that when pressured all of us have it in us to kill, unfortunately. It comes down to the will to survive.

  5. People can do monstrous things. This article shows that. But it also illustrates the goodness and conscience people have as well. We are capable of great evil, but we are also capable of great good.
    What I found most interesting in this article was the comments about dehumanizing victims and how that’s the way human beings can bring themselves to kill others. Mutual understanding, tolerance, respect, and love would prevent this from happening. Raising awareness, creating discussions and opportunities to learn would help prevent atrocities from continuing to happen. It sounds simple, but of course it isn’t. Different cultures have different levels of tolerance. Some countries are completely closed of from the world. And I also have to wonder if non-western countries would be willing to allow idealiogies of tolerance and acceptance into their own society. People, nations, and states are different and some people are more willing to listen then others.

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