Chapter: 9 CRUELTY
The scars that aggression has left on the face of the past are indelible. Wars and rumours of wars, class struggles, clashes between religious denominations or racial and ethnic groups, rivalries for place and power in politics or business, the hatreds generated by nationalism and imperialism, the ravages of crime, the confrontations of private life from marital discord to family feuds - all these and more, offer persuasive testimony that aggression has supplied most of the fuel for historical action and change.1
The above quote opens Peter Gay's important historical book on `The Cultivation of Hatred'. Although competitive aggression has undoubtedly been an anvil of history in this chapter I shall argue that cruelty cannot be fully understood by analysing contest-competitive aggression alone. We would like to think that approval and attractiveness are given for attractive things and behaviours, hard work, being a good friend, looking pretty but this is a mistake The ways in which our archetypal potentials for cruelty and sadism are activated are complex but they are inflamed by the approval and excitement of those around them who endorse them.
History is replete with stories of atrocities and cruelty, enacted by individuals against individuals, groups against groups, nations against nations and religions against religions. Whether it be the sexual or psychical abuse of children, rape and others crimes, slavery, torture, war and ethic and religious conflicts there are no shortage of contexts for us to demonstrate our capacity for cruelty.
Some see acts of cruelty as related to an aggressive drive2, but the notion that aggression in any sense is a drive is an outdated view and basically incorrect.3 Violence, aggression and exploitation are used for many reasons, they are strategies not drives.4 They are increased in some contexts and reduced in others. But this chapter will not focus on violence as such, but on cruelty and, of course, some forms of cruelty may not be violent. A key theme of this argument is that in order to act cruelly we must (usually) be numbed to the suffering of others. Indeed, there is now evidence that a preparedness to hurt others can increase as empathy decreases.5 It is this inhibition and numbing of caring and some of the many reasons for it which are the main focus of this chapter. Without care and compassion we can be (and often are) a cruel species. Cruelty (and the numbing of our caring psychology) can stalk the justifications for punishing the guilty, the need for discipline, the fear of defections, pleasure, self-defence and war. It is our cruelties (and the inhibitions of caring) that drive many of us crazy.
My concise Oxford dictionary defines the word cruel as: "1. indifferent to or gratified by another's suffering. 2. Causing pain or suffering deliberately." It is probably only at the human level that the concept of cruelty has much meaning. Only humans, as far as we know, are able to empathise with the suffering of others - to know that others suffer and have some sense of what might stop such suffering. There is, therefore, as the Dalai Lama6 points out, something special about human beings for only we can reflect on our actions and know them to be cruel and lacking in compassion. Indeed, it maybe our ability to reflect and see the depths to which cruelty can sink that directs our attention to the need to change. Chapter 12 explores how we may come to appreciate the other as subject, with feelings, and to be motivated to act towards the other with care and compassion. In this chapter we explore the social contexts and beliefs that act to reduce caring.
Forms of Cruelty
Aggression can be and has been classified in various ways. We can distinguish between predatory, fear-induced, frustration-induced, instrumental (goal orientated), status/rank related, group and territorial and so forth. Although cruelty often involves aggression it does not always do so. There are many, not mutually exclusive, forms of cruelty; that is behaviours which either cause suffering or allow it continue. These include:
Retaliation: The archetypal and most universal forms of cruelty can be seen in relationships based on retaliatory aggression or vengeance. To offer an extreme case to make my point, if someone were to torture or rape my children I have no doubt that I would be flooded with enormous sadistic retaliatory fantasises and possibly even behaviour, and I suspect this is a fairly universal reaction. Some people can be very disturbed by awareness of their own sadistic fantasies. On the other hand one source of enjoyment of violent films comes from seeing others (usually the good guys) get revenge. Vengeance can be pleasurable. Indeed many wars and conflicts are inspired by appeals to both the threats posed by an enemy and mobilising strong desires to retaliate.
Deterrents: One way to prevent conflicts comes from the capacity to punish and harm - the potential to harm acts as a deterrent. To deter requires that one has the power to retaliate against those who break the rules or threaten in some way. From an evolutionary point of view the capacity to have a robust (aggressive) deterrent has been around for many millions of years -without it individuals are defenceless.
Exploitation: Many forms of cruelty are not derived from retaliation or deterrents. There may be many advantages in being actively cruel and it is usually intentional, even if not labelled as cruelty. The most common one is exploitation (or greed) where `the other' becomes simply an object to be used (e.g., in slavery, sexual abuse and various forms of economic exploitation). Hurting others may get us closer to a goal. We may speak of the ambitious (individuals, groups and nations) who are prepared to harm any who get in their way. We simply ride rough shod over others as suits our own needs. People may or may not recognise their behaviour as cruel and hurtful, or they may have various justifications for their behaviour, but often they are numbed to the suffering they cause.7 Seeing others suffer may offer a sense of power and control. In law one can get a divorce on the grounds of `mental cruelty.' Usually this refers not to specific violence but to constant criticising, shaming, putting-down the partner, having affairs that cause mental pain to the partner, or neglect. Although recognised in law psychological cruelty has been seriously neglected in research.
Passive: We may be passive and allow cruel behaviour to flourish for many reasons: Fear, helplessness and ignorance seem the most common. We may fear intervening, not wanting to get involved, speaking out, or rock the boat, or fear breaking with conformity. We are bystanders. We may feel that the problem (e.g., the Chinese treatment of Tibetans) is too big and we are helpless to stop it. We may say this is how it has always been and can't be changed. We may say this is human nature and it will always be the same. We may be genuinely indifferent, in part perhaps, because of ignorance or because we have never really thought about whether certain behaviours or value systems are cruel (e.g., only recently have there been protests about veal calves and until now many would enjoy their veal without much thought of where it comes from). We can be passive because we simply are unaware of the exploitations and cruelty inherent in our way of life. It may also be that we are not biologically disposed to worry over much about the starving millions or the ghetto life of the poor.
Neglect/Withholding: We may know that others suffer and know that we could help but that the costs to us are too high; it's too expensive to help. We withhold help not because we are frightened or ignorant of the suffering of others but because our own self-interest wont allow us to make the necessary sacrifices - to give aid in resources, time, medicine, etc. One commentator recently noted that we had spent so much money on third world problems that it was pointless spending more because they clearly could not get their act together (it was their own fault) and famines seemed incurable. Why, the argument goes, should we try to help those who do not seem able to help themselves? Some are more worthy of help than others - regardless of the degree of their suffering. Despite various charters in human rights, we may have values of `non-interference' even when we know that cruelty is being enacted in families or other countries. Sometimes this is because we do not wish to challenge those who are allies. Or we may turn a blind eye to a country's cruelties because we have good trade relations with them. At other times we simply do not want to `take them on;' its not our problem.
Virtue: As in shame (chapter 6), where destructive behaviours are given positive values - so too in cruelty. Harming others is not just about retaliation, ambition, exploitation, fear, helplessness, ignorance, cost, or indifference but can become a virtue. Destroying and harming are seen as good. Many religious wars and political persecutions are seen as the actions of the virtuous. Also the need for discipline and order may lay behind ideas of the value in the use of threats and harms. Indeed, as we shall see, many forms of cruelty flourish because they have been turned into virtues.
Our Potential for Cruelty
Although it is common for us to see cruelty as properties of individuals, this allows us to keep hidden our collective, cultural values and exploitations whose cruelty acts at a distance. Hence, I will suggest that our indifference to the suffering of others (for whatever reason) is also a cultural problem. I believe that it is not so much power and individualism (the focus of so much political and sociological theorising) that are our most serious problems - but cruelty. Moreover, it does not matter whether we look at societies which are individualistic or those that seem more collective and cooperative, neither of these of themselves operate against cruelty (at least to outsiders). Cruelty is only halted when there is both awareness of it, and desires for it to cease are translated into community discourses and actions. It is extraordinary how much cruelty has escaped the attentions of those interested in a compassionate, fair and just society. Cruelty is rarely the focus of analysis. In my view power and individualism are more likely to become problems when their effects are cruel.
Understanding and owning our own potential for cruelty (recognising our indifference to the suffering of others) is probably one of our most painful but important tasks.7 If we are to overcome our craziness then this may be a first step towards developing a more compassionate society. Freud saw compassion as a reaction formation to sadism. Sociobiologists suggest that our concern for others relates to altruistic strategies and these are (relatively) limited to genetic relatives or reciprocal relationships, especially when the chips are down. Both may be correct (to a degree) but it is possible to recognise that cultural values and practices can do much to either promote cruelty or work against it. To illuminate cruelty we need to explore our justifications for it and the social-historical contexts that allow or encourage it.
Historical and Social Contexts of Cruelty
There are some researchers who believe that the variation in violence between African and white-Americans are to be found in the genes. Clearly, these people do not study history.3
If we go back just three hundred years (and, of course, we could go back much further) the historical record shows that much of life was intensely cruel and brutish. As Beattie9 notes:
There is good reason to think that violent physical conflict and physical abuse were commonly experienced in seventeenth - and eighteenth century society. The family was the scene of much of it, for family discipline was commonly maintained by physical force. With society's concurrence, men controlled their wives and children by beating them for their transgressions. Children at school and young adults in service were similarly subject to what was widely accepted as the necessary persuasion of the rod. Physical intimidation within the household was matched and sustained by a broader acceptance of violence in society, and by the expectation that disagreements among men might reasonably be solved by physical means, or an insult redressed by fighting. On the whole such matters would have been regarded as private, not something that should normally engage the attention of the authorities. Men and women in the eighteenth century were not repelled by all forms of cruelty or violence in everyday life. This is plainly revealed by the large number of popular recreations and sports in which physical damage was either the consequence or indeed the point.
Perhaps even more revealing of the general attitude towards violence and the violent temper of society is the use of terror and physical intimidation by the State in combating crime. What has been called "judicial violence" was at the heart of the system of criminal justice. Hangings and burnings and floggings were witnessed by crowds of thousands, of all ages, all over England. (74-75).
In other words the dominant (husbands, parents etc.), were free to control and retaliate to disobedience as they saw fit, more or less. The acceptance of life as brutish and cruel has in fact been endemic throughout much of our European history, as Hobbes well observed, and it was only with the enlightenment that the acceptance of cruelty began to change.10 The kind of life we see in the inner cities and ghettos (and claimed to have racial or biological causes) is not new. What is new is the availability of guns, the huge profits from drugs, deceitful notions of equality, and a media that excites rage-shame and envy. But it is important to note that the way a culture and society understands, accepts and perpetrates violence and cruelty, via its institutions, values, systems of justice and means of economic segregation and disadvantage, has a considerable impact on the psychology and general orientation of people to each other. Without social prohibitions on cruelty, discourses that illuminate cruelty, social fairness and education of a compassionate psychology - the prosocial archetypal propensities for care and compassion cannot flourish. It is, therefore, important to recognise the cultural and social beliefs and conditions that maintain violence and cruelty.
The Justifications for Cruelty
Few would accept their behaviour as cruel without also offering justification for it. Gay11 points out that throughout history people have been well aware that life was brutish and cruel. However, by the nineteenth century there were various justifications to not only ignore the plight of those who suffered but also to accept it. These justifications, Gay suggests, centred around three key, interconnected ideas. The first was that competition, although having unfortunate side effects such as producing many losers, is nonetheless good, for it hones efficiency and produces progress. The industrial revolution would never have got off the ground without the elite justifying their exploitations via appeals to higher virtues such as progress and wealth creation. And, moreover, competitive advantage was considered to be the real measure of success and prestige - relatively regardless of how it was won.
The second justification was scientific; the incorporation of new biological theories of evolution which were used to support the idea that the natural order of life was competitive (nature red in tooth and claw) and losers don't survive; and beneath the veneer of civilisations all were potentially enemies of each other. Moreover, people like Herbert Spencer held that helping losers, such as the poor or mentally ill, was in the long term cruel, and not the natural order. Allowing those who could not keep up to fall by the wayside was a "purifying process" and efforts to help them, the actions of "spurious philanthropists" 11, p.41, for such unfortunates could be nothing but a burden to the more able.
The Social Darwinists, as they become known, where able to use Darwinian theory to support the idea of the inherent superiority of some groups over others, and make it a virtue that the superior should triumph over the inferior, be these races, ethnic groups, religious denominations, or even women. Anti-feminists of the nineteenth century appealed to "the scientific evidence" that women's brains were smaller and that women bleed once a month and therefore could be conveniently prohibited from positions of power within universities or the State - they simply weren't up to it.
The third justification came from the appeal to aristocratic manliness, which was the standard by which the superior should be known and judged. Thus, as Gay11 says:
Varied as this menu of self-justifications proved to be, all provided collective identifications, serving as gestures of integration and with that exclusion. By gathering up communities of insiders, they revealed- only too often invented- a world of strangers beyond the pale, individuals and classes, races and nations, it was perfectly proper to contradict, patronize, ridicule, bully, exploit, or exterminate. All three rationales had the same effect; they cultivated hatred, in both senses of the term: they at once fostered and restrained it, by providing respectable pleas for its candid exercise while at the same time compelling it to flow within carefully staked out channels of approval. (35-36)1
So, as we have seen so often, the claim on superiority, be this God given, self-invented or culturally proscribed to one's group, works to justify indifference to or at least acceptance of the perpetration of exclusion and cruelties. Once justifications are in place they may rarely be questioned. And, moreover, we are able to use various self-serving rationalities and justifications to be indifferent to the suffering of others because within such notions of superiority are also notions of deserve - not only deserving of the hardships suffered, but more often than not, undeserving of help.
They Deserve It: Group against Group
It is very common to find the use of violence, revenge (retaliatory aggression) by the State, nations and groups with ideas of `they deserved it'. Here one group decides that another group should be invaded, controlled or even exterminated. Various justifications for group enacted cruelty are needed. These may include religious or moral justifications. Those worthy of attack are seen as a threat. Hitler had various reasons for why the Jews deserved what the Nazis' did to them; and indeed in any war situation there has to be a way of justifying actions of cruelty (the infliction of suffering) and in this way see the suffering caused not as cruelty but as justifiable behaviour.
Toady the `international community' can decide who is worthy of help and to what degree, and who deserves punishment. New methods have been found to impose punishments. For example, the increasing economic interdependency of nation states makes possible the use of economic sanctions. In the case of Iraq, few dispute that Saddam Hussein is a brutal tyrant, but to inflict intense suffering on a whole people via sanctions, and in a way blame them for not removing him, is problematic. In fact, the West has actually undermined their rebellion and failed to support the opposition.12 Such cruelty is hidden by the usual justifications. The use of international sanctions seems more humane than outright war - but does it matter if you bomb people or starve them to death? It is a worrying development because sanctions seem to be more humane than war but the consequences may not be.
The point is, of course, that cruelty is never spoken of in such situations. It is hidden. And societies can adopt behaviours that can inflict intense suffering on others; cruelty is not just a problem of individuals. The sociobiological explanations for such behaviours is ethnocentricism where one group attempts to gain superiority over another or even destroy them (see chapter 5).
They Deserve It: The Individual
If we see others suffering we can construct many forms of justification for their plight. The help we give and our sympathies are effected by our attributions and justifications. If we explore how people respond to (for example) rape or mugged victims a common question is to find out where it happened. If the victim tells of walking in a bad area of town, late at night, or keeping unsavoury company, then there is the common "well what did you expect?" This is then a justification to be less caring to the victim because she/he was clearly foolish and why should we bother with foolish people? Whether someone was wise or not is irrelevant to the suffering experienced. If there is a way to blame the victim and reduce our sympathies we invariably do so.
When it comes to giving punishments, how many of us have not had the thought, "they had it coming to them." Our belief in a `just world' depends on judging those who deserve punishment (the bad) and those who deserve reward (the good).13 The sense of deserve lies behind the allocation of rewards and punishments - even though nature seems to care not at all for such things. So our sense of deserve and justice are human inventions which depend on human definitions. And because they are inventions both the nature of a crime and the type of punishment deserved varies from culture to culture and historically.
They Deserve It: The Group against Individual
Many forms of cruelty involve a group acting against individuals. These `cruelties' are socially endorsed agreements designed to maintain adherence to social rules. The group (or at least those with social influence) agree on the forms of punishment and for which types of (rule breaking) behaviour. In the seventeenth century many petty crimes (especially against property) could get the death penalty. At one time there were over two hundred potential death penalty crimes in Britain - although courts often did not enforce the death penalty for the less serious ones. Nevertheless, the fact that often these crimes, especially against property, were born from poverty and desperation did not deter the judge passing the sentences they felt the criminal deserved.14 The social construction of crime and punishment can be noted by the fact that stoning is a penalty for adultery in some countries but many in the West would not think such actions deserved stoning.
In the battle of the sexes outright cruelty has never been far away and Burford and Shulman15 have given a comprehensive review of the many and vicious punishments melted out to women over previous centuries. In addition to the whipping, burning and drowning there was a mental muzzle device, called a branks, which could be fitted over the head of a women. This has also had a metal bit inserted into the mouth to stop the poor woman from speaking. It was punishment for nagging or insulting verbal behaviour. As Burford and Shulman note:
For this punishment was not merely humilation. Over the years the branks was developed into a veritable instrument of torture by refinements to the tongue plate which could be serrated or fitted with small sharp spikes, or even a spiked wheel, ensuring the slightest movement of the tongue tore the flesh and caused dreadful pain, sometimes even leading to death through blood poisoning15 (p 55).
So the social definitions of crimes and the invention of punishments which must also be associated with a sense of deserve have produced many horrendous cruelties. Of course, society must have a way of enforcing rules, no-one disputes that. But crimes and punishments are inventions. Both the forms of crime and the types of punishment vary cross culturally. Honour killing is accepted in some parts of the world but not in others. In fact research suggests that the way people conceptualise and explain rule breaking and crime has a major effect on what they think the punishment should be. As with stoning for adultery (which usually the woman has to take the blame for) punishments are socially proscribed.
The notion of Karma in Buddhism right through to the beliefs that those in poverty lack moral character, and our insensitivity to rape victims, are examples, where at some level we believe that `they' suffer because they have done something wrong, or are lacking in some way - it is their fault.
Cruelty as a Punishment and Deterrent
Punishment is, of course, an exercise in "the making of suffering," be this by inflicting injuries to the body or mind, or by robbing people of things they value (e.g., their freedom, status or sense of worth etc.). We can behave cruelly for many reasons, but a common one is to punish (retaliate) so as to control the actions of others, and by example, to deter. Behaviourists have long argued that punishment is an unreliable form of control for while people may learn how to avoid punishment they will not necessarily do it in the way intended. They may simply become skilled at deception and avoiding detection. Nevertheless, authorities often wish us to believe that deterrents are necessary and helpful. If you have rules you must have penalties for rule breakers.
The use of threats and punishment to control and deter others are, of course, the commonest tactics of most animals. From an evolutionary point of view punishment, threat and aggression have been in business a long time. And we learn the power of punishment in childhood. Indeed, it has long been the case that violence and threats against children have been viewed as necessary to control them. It is called discipline. In fact, discipline has various meanings. It can refer to perseverance (e.g., the discipline to stay in training and not be distracted). It can also apply to structure and order. But as Foucault16 has made clear, punishment is usually about control and is often discussed in the context of discipline. Discipline is usually to force obedience to, and compliance with, the ruling/dominate elite's goals and interests. Discipline relates to the enforcement of rules and compliance by those who have the power to discipline (those who can make others suffer for not obeying - to discipline them).16
Although threat and violence are evolved strategies, the experience of cruelty in childhood is where to find the first beginnings of the idea that threat and force are the main agents of social control. Better to be the threatener than the threatened. Many of us are fearful that without the means to constrain others (and at times one's self) with the use of fear of punishment, all would be chaos. Cruelty (the power to make suffer) can be seen to be in the service of order, compliance and stability. In the case of children, research suggests that mild punishments that do not break affectional bonds and are given with clear explanations can be useful in helping children understand rules and internalise them. However, harsh and unpredictable punishments, without explanations of why a certain behaviour was wrong often lead to a poor internalisation of empathic values and good contact.
In society in general, punishments and deterrents can help to maintain order. However, these punishments may be far from mild. All forms of public execution, from crucifixions, cutting off hands, stonings, whippings, beheadings and hangings have been used as deterrents and punishments for many centuries. The IRA were well known for their knee capping and baseball bat attacks. The fear of such things happening to oneself and seeing it happen to others is suppose to deter. Of course, once a person has been hanged it is hardly a deterrent to that person. The problem with a focus on deterrents is that one may not be too interested in why a person broke the rules, for this might only offer excuses. Also, as my colleague Michael Cox pointed out, public executions were often used to prove that justice had been done as much as for deterrents.
Do They Work?
Whilst driving home one evening I caught a debate on the radio about deterrents. A member of parliament stated that he had spoken with some men who had committed a violent crime. They'd told him that if hanging had been in force they would not have carried guns. Although it is commonly believed that criminal behaviour has become more violent and vicious in the last thirty years or so (compared to the previous thirty years) this is probably as much to do with changes in society (especially the profits from drugs and gun availability) as it is the lack of the death penalty. In fact, there is little evidence that hanging works as a deterrent. For example, pick pocketing was a hanging offense in the middle ages, but the most common crime at such public gatherings of execution was pick pocketing. In Henry the V111's reign it is estimated that over 72,000 people where hung with no noticeable effect on crime rates. In London, at a famous spot for hanging, Tyburn, at least 50,000 and probably more were hung. Yet for all the hanging and institutionalised violence that was going on, these are not regarded as particularly low crime times. Indeed, there were some areas of the country that were regarded as quite dangerous to travel through. Of course, what constituted a crime was much more varied than it is to today, but even taking just murder and theft there is no evidence that vicious retribution (e.g, hanging) lowers these crime rates. Indeed, this was apparently obvious even in the eighteenth century. Beattie9 quotes from an article that appeared in the Gentlemen's Magazine in 1790. Commenting on the unjust laws of England the writer notes:
for the most part they are cruel, unjust and useless. The number of our fellow-mortals hung up so frequently like the vilest animal is a terrible proof of their cruelty; the same punishment inflicted on the parricide and the man who takes the value of three shillings (or less) on the highway is a proof that they are unjust; and the frequency and multiplicity of crimes is a proof that they are useless..... (p. 630)
Indeed, in a remarkably short period of time the ground swell against capital punishment (because it was cruel, unjust and useless) was such that by 1827 many laws had been passed that reduced the death penalty for many offenses. As Beattie notes, given the long period of time when such laws had been socially accepted this change was quite rapid. When Nicholas Ingram was electrocuted in the U.S.A, State of Georgia in April of 1995, we had the opportunity to peer into a system that keeps murderers on death row for years, in rooms like cages and then kills them in a most horrendous way. Hillman,17 who has studied and compared various means of execution, believes electrocution (introduced in New York in 1890) is one of the most inhumane.
The degree of cruelty the state is prepared to use is in part related to the perception of threat that crime (and disobedience) is seen to pose to the "order of society," especially from the subordinate classes. It is not surprising, therefore, that in North America, where the are huge underclasses and major drugs problems, some states have re-introduced capital punishment. But it is also not surprising (as history shows all too clearly) that it does not work. The violence on American streets is a bad as ever it was. Rural Britain has murder rates hundreds of times lower than some American inner cities and the reason for this is not because of our better deterrents. We don't have a death penalty. Only an uniformed person could believe in the value of such deterrents - but then maybe this was only a justification, not to be taken seriously. What is really at stake are illusions of control and opportunities for revenge.
Despite what our member of parliament thought or was led to believe it is simply wrong. Epstein18 recorded this view from two rapists who were speaking about their behaviour:
.. Both rapists said they felt badly about what they had done ... They said that in their normal state of mind they could not comprehend how they could brutalize another human being, but they knew that they would do it again if they were in the same emotional state of frustration and anger that preceded the rapes.(p.240)
... when asked if a more severe penalty for rape would have deterred him, one of the rapists said that considerations of punishment would have made no difference because, when he was in the state that led him to rape, nothing could stop him. He pointed out that after rape he wept and despised himself for having brutalized another human being, but before the rape, concern for the victim's and even his own welfare never occurred to him.(p.241)
Not all rapists feel remorse, of course. And it would be incorrect to believe that some people are not deterred from breaking the rules out of fear. But whether or not these are the same people who are at risk of committing serious crimes is unknown. We do not know whether making rape easier to bring to court and convict will reduce it, especially if certain male sexual attitudes and pathologies remain untouched by changes in the law. And there may be personality differences in the susceptible to fear induced deterrents.11 We know that drugs and alcohol are major factors in many violent crimes and in these changed states of mind deterrents are unlikely to be effective. We also know that an early history of abuse, and certain cultural contexts (e.g., poverty and alienation), reduces people's capacity for empathy and can make adherence to social rules less likely. Those who want simple solutions are more concerned with punishment and cruelty for vengeance rather than understanding the real causes and ways of prevention.
Not only are deterrents part of an internal justice system, and common to how many approach the problem of `discipline,' they are also used to support a vast expenditure on armaments. Externally directed deterrents take the form of parades, testing bombs, military exercises and so forth. The retaliatory message here is clear: `Threaten us and we will be extremely violent to you'. This is a kind of group based ritual agonistic behaviour; a (reptilian) display of power.20 The crucial thing about such displays is the capacity to be tough and violent. Although such displays and capacities may keep the peace, they tend to escalate leading to an arms race. And be it in the napalm or cluster bombs, this race is to find better and more effective ways to inflict injury. Modern war in an exercise in indiscriminate killings, despite modern claims of the use of smart weapons. It is rare indeed that these means are seen as forms of cruelty, but in so far as we must remain relatively indifferent to the suffering of those on whom our bombs fall, then according to the definition of the word, this is indeed a form of cruelty.
Although, for a mega-state, deterrents may work and stop others from attacking it, small nations may not be able to resist the big nations. So history shows that deterrents may work only when nations are reasonably equally matched (and even then this is unclear). Big nations can impose themselves on the weaker ones in various ways. According to Chomsky21 America and the West have certainly used their military might in various ways to protect and advance their own interests.
Religious Deterrents and the Creation of Hell
The desire to maintain order and compliance through threat and punishment is at the heart of so many of our human activities. The brutalization of life is, as we have seen, very much part of our social history but it is important to reflect that the encouragement of this was not only from the economic conditions, and the growth of exploitation, but is embedded in religious ideals. We might hope that religions would set values which would offer us a way out of our brutalities; they would make clear our power structures and cruelties and how to overcome them. Many have tried, but often failed.22
Indeed, religious authorities (mostly male dominated ones, of course) through the ages, using (supposedly) the word of God, have been keen to utilise cruelty to deter and cajole. Not only that, but they have been able to use even more terrifying images and threats of hell and damnation. The eternal fate of a person's soul seems terrifying stuff to me. At times, especially in the middle ages, painters and writers fell over themselves trying to create, in their imaginations and ours, as an unpleasant a hell as possible. So a new dimension was added by those who believed in the after-life. A person could be burnt, eaten and ripped limb from limb only for his/her body to be resurrected and the same to happen over and over again for eternity. These people had invented, in their minds, Nazi-like death camps without end. There was apparently not much thought of rebelling against such ideas. Few dared to question the morality of such a system. But what is important is that what the Nazi's actually came to do to people has been believed to be a real possibility (after death) for centuries. The desire to viciously harm, mutilate and humiliate was not invented by the Nazis. The idea of an industrial system of torture (hell) existed long before.
On a recent television program on stigmatics (a strange, hysterical condition where people bleed from the hands - although nailed crucifixions where through the wrists) a particular sufferer told of her visions. She had seen Jesus who filled her with love - that sounds okay - but then he took her to see bodies burning in a sea of flames and mud where they would be for time eternal. She believed this to be the real fate of those who did not love God. She could not recognise this as a kind of craziness that was indeed interesting, but thought it was real. And she seemed such a nice, ordinary lady too. So did her local priest who believed her. This, to me, shows how sadistic fantasises can live powerfully in the unconscious as archetypal potentials, and are relatively easily brought into consciousness. Nevertheless, their forms are also embellished via sharing them in social interactions. At times it is as if we compete to come up with the most terrible punishments.
The sheer terrors that humans have created in their minds around the notions of hell are appalling. The artist Goya was very good at it, but could not distinguish a human creation from a metaphysical possibility. Instead of realising that hell creations are in us and we (not God) can bring them to life at times like the Holocaust, we project them onto our God images. In doing so we completely fail to take control over these images and so support the making and selling of arms that will indeed be a kind of hell for those who are on the receiving end. So there is no doubt that hell is real enough, and our history should warn us of that, but we don't have to suggest some hellish other metaphysical place. There is only one reason for doing that and that is to get power over others and control them through fear.
As Harvey23 notes, incidently, even Buddhism is not free from a belief in hell. It is perhaps incredible that people could believe in such things and still do. But in a way this is an amplification of an archetypal theme in our minds; the fear of being totally powerless in the face of a hostile dominant. A belief in hell is born from projection of our own sadism and terror.
We will looked at religion more fully in the next chapter but we can note that when any group becomes interested in power and control it can be contaminated by all the old-primitive archetypal forces in the psyche, but sold as virtues. When I learnt about the crusades at school they were presented as something heroic. Even today films of Richard the Lionheart depict him as a noble character when in reality the crusades were nothing short of organised barbarism - a glorying of walking in blood.
Some cruelties come from simple greed encased in beliefs of superiority. Much has been written on the cruelties visited on the North American and South American peoples of the late middle ages as those from Europe, with their grandiose and inflated sense of themselves and their Gods, plundered gold and other resources. Spreading the word of God has been used often and tragically as a justification for many cruelties that are no more than old primitive forms of exploitation. Now sociobiologists may well explain these cruel conquests with various explanations of our genes,24 but one should not ignore historical and social factors or play one explanation off against another.
Although those in authority have often used the threat of pain and suffering to force compliance religious groups have been keen to do likewise. In Europe the most notorious system for religious control was the inquisition and witch finding.25 At its height these are believed to have put over three million (mostly older women and the mentally ill) to death by burning. The tortures visited on those thought to have been influenced by witchcraft were hideous. Duckings, brandings, having flesh pulled out with hot pinchers and so forth were relatively common. People of science were not at all immune from it either and many a scientist was threatened with the inquisition if his/her theories threatened the order of things. At times such was the zeal that false evidence was knowingly used simply to allow the torture to go ahead.
So as it has been for many centuries, and in many other societies, fear and the ability to inflict suffering were the major deterrents to maintain adherence to the power hierarchy of the church. That the church may have got itself into a state of severe craziness, trapped in the fear of a dominant, potentially punitive, male is still, to this day, unrecognised. The demands of some, so called, religious people have been for God to punish the sinful. This is nothing more than a desire to have God act as torturer on our behalf (although he does not actually carry out the punishments - this is the role for the Devil). The reason religion is important here is that it is a major shaper of values and highlights the way cruelty can become so profoundly important even to a religion that claims it is about love and peace. After all, if God can act sadistically then so can we; it isn't disallowed, especially if we are doing his works. Even Hitler appealed to the leader in the sky when he wrote:
And so I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the almighty creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord (p 28).26
Notice how the appeal to the defense of something is used to sanction cruelty; again not an uncommon appeal. One can say, however, that one of the key changes that happened with the enlightenment was that science and philosophy began to struggle clear of the religious grip of fear and hell. It was a slow process but by the eighteenth century, for many reasons, religious threats had become a spent force. Two hundred years earlier and Darwin would almost certainly have been burnt at the stake. Some, on the religious right would like such threats to make a come back however - heaven forbid.
Cruelty to Separate the Guilty from the Innocent.
Humans have sometimes felt slightly squeamish about acting cruelly to those who might be innocent of a crime - and therefore did not deserve punishment. Thus various forms of legal system have been devised to try to sort the guilty from the innocent - the deserving form the non deserving. In the fourteenth century if you were accused of witchcraft you could thrown in a pond. If you sunk you were innocent. If you floated the devil had been at you. So you either drowned anyway or were burnt.15 If you didn't survive, well maybe you were innocent and your soul went to heaven.
Stoning in the middle east seems one particularly appalling way to kill someone.17 But according to Abbot27, right up to the eighteenth century, Britain had a way of dealing with people who stayed mute and refused to plea in court. (No, it wasn't the Criminal Justice Bill, that's recent). The person was tied down with a sharp stone in their back and heavy stones where placed on top of them until the rib cage was slowly fractured and crushed. It was called Peine Forte et Dure. After its invention, various ways were invented to make the process more painful. The difference in methods between crushing and stoning hardly seems important.
Obtaining confessions have always involved threats. Torture (which comes from the Latin word Torquere, meaning to twist27) has been a key means of extracting confessions. Indeed, in many parts of the world torture is still the main way of extracting confession and convicting. With a confession we seem more at ease with our cruelty because of the belief, "if guilty, they deserve everything that's coming to them." Public qualms can be put aside because people confess or are `proved' guilty. In this situation torturers usually have an escalating aspect. Just as animals will fight and escalate their fights until one backs down and submits, so humans, like animals, will escalate threats to achieve the same. Submitting here is about confessing.
It is in the tactics of escalating cruelty that the real inventiveness of humans come to the fore. In some religions which use confession for sin, the idea has been if you don't confess and repent you will be off to the fires. No wonder males have always blamed females for sexual improprieties! The purpose of the escalating threats to exact confessions can be various. At times it is focused on the actions of the person, to admit having done something. Here the purpose is to locate a badness in another, e.g., having sex with the devil. Indeed, sexual behaviour and sexual thoughts remain, to this day, the focus of many religious confessions (sociobiologists would explain this as control of sex behaviour). At other times confession is seen as essential to be able to pin down a crime perpetrated against others. For example, still-birth and illness were sometimes explained to be the product of witchcraft and a culprit needed to be sought. When bad things happen to people they want to be able to blame someone and then act our their rage and vengeance.
Psychoanalyst's believe that those who are very concerned to `root out evil' may actually be projecting a good deal of their own nastiness (their shadows or Mr Hyde selves) onto others and then attacking them. Some of those who vigorously pursue evil and crime can be rather vicious authoritarian individuals. Thus, both needing someone to blame and scapegoat, and also projecting our own badness onto others are powerful sources of our cruelties to others, and forcing them to accept their (our?) badness.
Because one is seeking out culprits, tactics for eliciting confession can seem justified. Mild forms might be food deprivation, long hours of questioning, inducing exhaustion and other general means of disorienting people to "break down their defenses." Even today the police are sometimes accused of practices that are aimed to weaken a person in order to extract a confession. Thankfully, in this country as least, the reliance on confession as evidence is losing its power. But in addition to finding someone to blame, confession can also be seen to enforce subordination, which when achieved gives the dominant a sense of pleasure and reassurance in his/her power. If the dominant has paranoid tendencies, especially of betrayal or defection then the need for confession is a form of need to gain submission. Here things can get really nasty indeed. Abbot27 has listed the many and various tortures used to extract confessions in the Tower of London. These include, crushing various parts of the body, from thumbs to limbs, burnings, slicing, piercing and ripping flesh, beating, inserting hot objects in various cavities, stretching and dislocating limbs, placing in small cages and roasting; these are only the most common. To these can be added threats and torture of loved ones.
More recently, (although not in the Tower as far as we know) there has been some concern to find tidy and less bloody ways of torture such as electric shocks. And both psychologists and medics are not spared from having helped in such things. Medics are sometimes used to revive victims or help set the limits so the victim is not accidentally killed.
At times confession can only hasten death; the only benefit the person will get from offering a confession is a speedier exit from life. Submission and confession serves no other purpose. And so history is replete with millions who, having confessed, were then taken out and hung, beheaded, burnt or shot. Because this is all about subordination and submission it should not surprise us that at times the dominant seems not to worry too much if the confession is accurate. The confession, as a statement of submission, is what is really wanted. Miscarriages of justice can occur because we are more concerned with having someone to blame (and vent our anger on) than actual justice.
Those who do not confess and submit can drive the torturer into extreme forms of narcissistic rage. Abbott27 tells us that the Stewart kings, James the 1 and 11 were both known for their sadistic personalities and were regular visitors to the torture chambers. At times they even joined in. Both could have rages if they could not break the spirit and force submission from their victims. Indeed, a failed submission usually brought greater terrors.
Fear of Defections
Some researchers believe that fear of defection powers male violence to women - it arises from sexual jealousy. That may well be true, and certainly the control and subordination of women, for which they have paid heavily, may be fuelled by various male reproductive strategies.28 But sexual or otherwise, one of the things that the dominant elites fear and hate most of all is defections. Even threatening a cherished theory in academia can bring wrath and shaming from the dominant's and demands for your exclusion! It's called heresy. Science is not always the free debating place it pretends to be and those who defect from the common view can be threatened.
But in politics and the military the idea that subordinates or previous allies might defect can be met with hideous reprisals. Indeed, treason has remained one of the crimes that is most likely to bring the establishments' vengeance.29 Throughout history some of the worse cruelties and public demonstrations of power are those which have been given to treason or planning to counter-attack the dominant elites. Insurrectionists beware! This is where the more paranoid qualities of mind come to the fore. Moreover, in this scheme the names and addresses of accomplishes are also needed and the fear of detection and false accusation can spread through the populace. Russia in the 1930's went through a terrible time where no-one felt safe from false accusation, as the paranoid fears of the leaders wrecked terror on their citizens. China experienced similar problems under Mao. To a lesser degree Macarthyism in the States was derived from the same psychology. Paranoia can be infectious.30
So there is a very primitive archetypal fear that others will rebel against (dominant) authority and/or form alliances to attack the dominant elite or at least not conform to the social rules. They may gang up with enemies, undermine the state or destroy the moral order. When shaming and ridicule (the common, everyday controls of non-violent coercion) are not enough to bring the wayward back in line, stronger means are called for. What is salient here is that via identification with the power elite, the accusor, torturer and those put in the role of detecting and uncovering defections may experience the treason, plotting or simply a wish to follow other life styles, as plots against themselves, their own values, identities and ways of life. The process of interrogation and torture is then not just a job to be done, but a personal crusade against others who threaten the self. It may become a virtue. Equally, our own demands for cruelty to others can be heightened if we believe the other has put us under threat. Then the mob bays for blood.