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  #1  
Old 01-19-2005, 09:26 AM
drhess drhess is offline
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what's the mindset of slave owners, torturers, etc.

This question came about after reading: http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/...re1/zoom3.html

Although people vary and people in varying circumstances (economic, cultural, etc.) vary even more, I'm wondering what research has been done on the mindset or psychological makeup of people engaged in acts most people (even in their own cultural, perhaps not their sub-culture) find horrendous. Examples: torturers, pimps of child beggars and child prostitutes, etc. Are these people different in any general way from others much like them that would not take up such careers?

I guess this is a rather broad question, so please focus on psychological studies of such people and not personal views on them, the ethics of judging them nor the famous studies on making lab participants "torture" people or play "jail cop" to "prisoners."

Thanks.
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  #2  
Old 01-19-2005, 11:38 AM
qubed qubed is offline
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Well, it seems that people can fall into roles very well, even when it's not real. So I don't expect they are fundamentally any different than you or me:

http://www.prisonexp.org/
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  #3  
Old 01-19-2005, 11:44 AM
qubed qubed is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drhess
...not personal views on them, the ethics of judging them nor the famous studies on making lab participants "torture" people or play "jail cop" to "prisoners."

Whoops, maybe I should have read that part. But honestly, aren't these 'famous studies' really a way of studying the mindset of 'these people.'? That if you saw them in any other context, you wouldn't blink twice, because they are, in fact, as far as we can tell, pretty 'normal' in any other aspect.
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  #4  
Old 01-19-2005, 01:30 PM
groman groman is offline
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Without mentioning famous studies, this is reduced to a mere opinion, but I firmly believe that what makes people do things that YOU listed as reprehensible are just results of their environment. Not to say that the environment changes them, quite the opposite, what I'm saying is that whenever any normal person falls into the appropriate circumstance they play the role. Just look at Nazi germany, only a select few weren't really indoctrinated.
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  #5  
Old 01-19-2005, 02:41 PM
drhess drhess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alanak
Whoops, maybe I should have read that part. But honestly, aren't these 'famous studies' really a way of studying the mindset of 'these people.'? That if you saw them in any other context, you wouldn't blink twice, because they are, in fact, as far as we can tell, pretty 'normal' in any other aspect.
I'm thinking there must be studies of peoples' personality, not studies of the social psychological nature of going along with a lab experiment (which has some problems when generalizing to real torture, etc.). I hope the difference make sense.
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  #6  
Old 01-19-2005, 06:21 PM
MaryEFoo MaryEFoo is offline
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They justify and rationalize (sorry, no cites).

"If we weren't exploiting this kid, he'd be far worse off".

"Those other people over there do much worse things."
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  #7  
Old 01-19-2005, 06:24 PM
LindyHopper LindyHopper is offline
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And, of course, the always popular "They're a lower form of human life/they deserve it in some way".
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  #8  
Old 01-19-2005, 08:14 PM
vivalostwages vivalostwages is offline
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I always figured it went with what Lindy said.
I recall reading about a torturer who would go home every day at noon from his "job" to make lunch for his mother.
Then there's always the "I don't want to but I have no choice/I have to do it" rationale.
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  #9  
Old 01-19-2005, 10:52 PM
Mister Rik Mister Rik is offline
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Actually, this is the way we all would probably act, given our natural tendencies (survival instinct, selfishness, "me first"). It's why mankind has established so many codes of acceptable conduct - we eventually realized that we would be better off suppressing our natural tendencies.
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  #10  
Old 01-20-2005, 07:13 AM
astorian astorian is online now
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I don't mean to hijack this thread, but consider this: just as YOU look at slave owners and ask "How could any decent human being possibly do that," there are vegans who look at an ordinary family eating hamburgers and wonder "How could anyone do something so cruel?" And there are right-to-lifers who can't fathom how manyone could do anything as horrible as having an abortion.

More than anything else, it comes down to this: meat-eaters just don't think of animals the same way they think of human beings. Pro-abortion folks just don't think of a fetus as a human being. And slave owners just didn't regard a black African as a human being.

And once you believe that your "victim" is not human, you can pretty much do what you want without too much trouble from your conscience.
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  #11  
Old 01-20-2005, 09:31 AM
felipemcguire felipemcguire is offline
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I think astorian is absolutely right.

In the end...most morality is quite simply a matter of taste...
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  #12  
Old 01-20-2005, 01:28 PM
MaryEFoo MaryEFoo is offline
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How about, most morality is a matter of limits.

Specifying the limits varies with the person's or society's background, and could be called a matter of taste, except that taste is an individual matter and there is no reason for society to agree on whether broccoli tastes good or tastes bad. "There is no disputing about tastes."

But morality requires some overall agreement so society can function.

Without standard limits, there would be endless quarrelling over what the rules should be for everything, as there is for abortion but not theft or murder or slavery, and people would never know when they could trust. And without these standards, a society may undermine itself to the point of destruction.

Uh-oh, this is moving from factual answers (studies about personality) and into philosophy and social controls. /hijack
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  #13  
Old 01-20-2005, 02:55 PM
Ross Ross is offline
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I try not to buy Nike, because the shoes are made in sweatshops. But I have bought Nike products. I did keep going to McDonalds despite the dreadful conditions in which the Happy Meal toys were (are?) made. Etc.

If you do anything comparable (and since it's virtually impossible to live entirely "ethically" in the west, you probably do), just ask yourself how you do it. Lots of people don't know any better. Lots of people tell themselves that if there were anything really bad about it, the government (or someone) wouldn't allow it. Lots of people, like me, simply try not to think about it, and when they are forced (either by their consciences or by social inertia) to make a choice, THEN they choose against buying the unethically-produced products.

It's the same thing, only it's distanced and then very carefully disguised as something else. Probably actual slave-owners don't manage to "not think about it", because it's right next to them, but maybe some do. Probably most genuinely don't care. Ordinary people, people like you and me, are capable of acts of tremendous ugliness, including Tuning Stuff Out.
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  #14  
Old 01-20-2005, 02:57 PM
Ross Ross is offline
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Sorry, for some reason I thought this was IMHO or somewhere like that. Please excuse my opinions.
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  #15  
Old 01-21-2005, 09:52 AM
drhess drhess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phase42
Actually, this is the way we all would probably act, given our natural tendencies (survival instinct, selfishness, "me first"). It's why mankind has established so many codes of acceptable conduct - we eventually realized that we would be better off suppressing our natural tendencies.
Perhaps, but I'm guessing that some people in similar situations would not go along. It might depend on how you are socialized (e.g., slave owners' kids thinking differently about it than non-slave owners' kids in the same community), but if people are largely socialized in similar ways and aren't forced to be cruel to avoid pain themselves (or other survival, me first instincts/rationalizations), why would one guy sign up for the torture detail and another not? Maybe it happens subtly, but I'm thinking that some people "get out of it" when they realize what their job is to be and the head goon zooms in on those potential staff that seem not to mind, or are easily turned to it.

Anyway, I guess this would take sustained psychological testing and study to know.
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  #16  
Old 01-21-2005, 02:43 PM
Evil One Evil One is offline
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I think that desensitization plays a role as well. After ten years in the TV news business I can read information about horrible things and not bat an eye. I think it would be the same for the jobs or tasks mentioned above. Do it enough and it becomes routine. Also, some people have an innate sadism about them.
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  #17  
Old 01-21-2005, 03:36 PM
Crandolph Crandolph is offline
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Allow me to recommend a book: The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat by Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen.
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  #18  
Old 01-21-2005, 07:16 PM
MaryEFoo MaryEFoo is offline
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Quote:
why would one guy sign up for the torture detail and another not?
The studies you are looking for might be grouped under subjects like "sociopaths" or "sadism" or "effects of socialization" rather than "slave-takers". Enslaving and mistreating a kid as per the cite in the OP would be a symptom of the pathology.

Yes there must be a difference between those who would and those who wouldn't, whether it is in the brain's wiring or in desensitization. And then what happens to a person that circumstances pressure into doing these acts, I wonder.
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  #19  
Old 01-23-2005, 09:36 AM
drhess drhess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaryEFoo
The studies you are looking for might be grouped under subjects like "sociopaths" or "sadism" or "effects of socialization" rather than "slave-takers". Enslaving and mistreating a kid as per the cite in the OP would be a symptom of the pathology.

Yes there must be a difference between those who would and those who wouldn't, whether it is in the brain's wiring or in desensitization. And then what happens to a person that circumstances pressure into doing these acts, I wonder.
Thanks, good points. (I didn't know "slave-takers" was a subject word for the library!! )
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  #20  
Old 01-23-2005, 10:01 AM
fighting ignorant fighting ignorant is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian
Pro-abortion folks just don't think of a fetus as a human being.
I've never met -- or even heard of -- anyone being "pro-abortion". That, to my ears, is an insidious slander.
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  #21  
Old 01-23-2005, 10:03 AM
drhess drhess is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crandolph
Allow me to recommend a book: The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat by Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen.
Thanks. It's about individual psychology or a government mindset or ?
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  #22  
Old 01-30-2005, 01:25 PM
Crandolph Crandolph is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drhess
Thanks. It's about individual psychology or a government mindset or ?
Hi, I'm sorry this took so long, I thought the thread went down for the count & I hadn't checked it for a bit.

It's about both how policy can be set which engenders horrors and how the individual can become desensitized in such a system.

There's also the more recent book HItler's Willing Executioners, which is more a look at the mentality of the German people as a whole during the Holocaust.
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  #23  
Old 01-30-2005, 02:01 PM
AuntPam AuntPam is offline
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Starting around 1992, the Algerian government declared war against the moderate Islamist parties who were poised to win the elections. (Check out the CIA factbook on their website; sorry I don't have the URL handy at the minute.)

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were "disappeared" into Algerian military prisons and tortured. In some cases these events took place at police stations devoted to "special security."

Not all of the police officers delegated to stand guard over, or worse, to participate in, the torture were able to stomach it. They fled the country. Some of them wound up in Great Britain, seeking political asylum--which was often denied because they had confessed to participating in violations of human rights. If you have access to NEXIS (the news database of Lexis-Nexis), you can read interviews with them in The Guardian.

These "retired" torturers described feelings of extreme depression, sleeplessness, a sense that they would never again feel themselves to be clean....but they also described the persons who had remained behind to continue the torture in ways that seem eerily familiar. Remember the schoolyard bullies who used to head up little gangs and pick on the smaller kids? Ever had a boss who delighted in public humiliation and intimidation of employees?

When society authorizes torture (say, by writing legal memos to its chief execuitve suggesting that he need not comply with international standards and treaties signed by prior governments), these sociopaths come out of the woodwork, happy to move from minor crimes to truly major ones. And they wind up in charge of places like the Kremlin's underground interrogation rooms, those "special security" police stations in Algiers, the military prison in Petit Goave (Haiti), or Guantanamo. Or Abu Ghraib.

It is correct that part of the mindset of the torturers is that the persons being tortured are not fully human. But in a larger sense, some psychologists think that torturers have a bigger problem: the political ideology, whatever it is, is simply a cover for a psyche that doesn't think ANYONE else is actually human. These sociopaths have learned that they get along better in society by faking the ordinary human reactions, but underneath they simply cannot imagine or empathize with other people. Fundamentally, other people, like the rest of the universe, are dangerous. They must be controlled. Torture controls them.

There are other explanations which may be equally valid. You might like to read the book Trauma and Recovery (sorry, my copy is at work---I can't think of the name of the author---maybe Judtih Hermann?) to understand some of the psychological interplay between torturers and their victims, and how victims are eventually able to recover.
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