by Joseph Secrève
If one were to take a bird’s eye view of the changes that took place in Western nations over the past sixty years, one could only muse at the rapid shifts that have occurred in this short time. The dust of war had hardly settled and an invisible war on the Western soul has taken its place. In small increments, we have been fed slivers of violence, less dialogue and more action through the national media and entertainment industry. A sense of higher purpose has been clouded and narcissism has taken over. Remember the Cold War spy dramas where pistol-wielding protagonists held lengthy dialogues with their enemies at gunpoint? Especially in the case of Ian Fleming’s immortal superspy, a clear shift could be seen if one compares Connery with Craig. More often the use of violence has been promoted as a means of solving disputes and debasement has become acceptable under the guise of an ‘alternative lifestyle’.
In stark contrast to today, Truman Capote’s famous non-fiction novel In Cold Blood caused a national stir when it was first released in 1966. The book recounts the killing spree of two rogues who killed a Kansas farmer and his family after it was rumoured that they had a substantial amount of cash in their home. The killers got away with only a modicum of dollars, but the carnage they left behind traumatised a large section of rural America. To quote Capote: “Of what were they frightened? It could happen again.”
The intensity of Capote’s research in today’s terms would seem slightly out of place. Such levels of violence and cruelty have become an almost everyday occurrence, and in rural South Africa there are even multiple cases of torture, often leading to murder, with on average one murder per week. This carnage has spread like an inkblot over South Africa, fuelled by the “Kill a Boer, Kill a Farmer” slogan, and there appears to be no end in sight. Every subsequent president under the ANC is less reserved in either chanting or defending this bloodcurdling invective. In Capote’s interview with the accused Perry Edward Smith, the latter revealed that he had felt a deep sense of shame as he slit the throat of Mr. Clutter. Nowadays the mutilation of people and deliberate desecration of corpses unveils a motive of a different kind: sheer hatred! The intentional destruction of human life has become a goal in itself, especially when one considers that these savages…uhm…I mean “robbers” seldom steal anything valuable. Usually no more than a cell phone gets stolen to prevent the victims from calling someone or their car gets taken as a getaway vehicle, only to be abandoned a few kilometres down the road.
Our Marxist-inspired intellectuals and ideologues are eager to help defend these offensive acts, often rationalising the chaos away with their usual outmoded Freudian frustration-aggression or deprivation theories. This is their version of ‘supporting the oppressed’. Strangely enough, many people still buy it. The more savagery the murderers cause, the more warranted their grievances are held to be, especially from people who have no knowledge or experience of these communities. Filling their knowledge gaps with presuppositions then becomes a reality.
Fortunately our understanding of human psychology could help us show the way. In many respects the Arendtian concept of the ‘banality of evil’ clears matters up a bit. The everyday nature of these acts of cruelty makes them appear normal. Hannah Arendt however faltered in believing that people were entirely nonchalant when it comes to the killing of others. Research has shown that there is always an element of ideology present in these levels of appalling behaviour. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo demonstrated this in his Stanford Prison Experiment, which was later to be elevated to the ranks of classic psychology experiments. In this experiment a makeshift prison was erected on the university premises and student participants were randomly assigned to the role of prisoner or warden. It was the intention to run this experiment for a fortnight, but after six days the severe levels of abuse from the warden participants on the prisoner participants compelled Zimbardo to pull the plug prematurely. In fact, Zimbardo himself was moderately blinded by this experiment, and only started seeing the trees from the forest when a new participant entered the experiment and pointed out how badly abusive the wardens had become.
This convinced Zimbardo how easily a fabricated reality could alter the perception and behaviour of people, regardless of their deeper understanding that this ‘reality’ is only play-acting and not for real. What was more astonishing was the level of docility of the prisoner participants. Having to go to the bathroom with a bag over their heads and their ankles in chains; or having to do push-ups with one hand behind their backs were humiliations they fairly readily accepted.
In this sense, South Africa – like many communist-run countries – is a collection of all the evil psychology experiments raked together from times past. Farmers and other whites are considered to be fundamentally to blame for all social ills that have visited South Africa. The stoic acceptance of the fate of whites is further exacerbated by calls from intellectuals, with the likes of leftist author André P. Brink who mentioned that his people deserved to disappear. The reason why is not really important. The daily reality is clouded with the notion that they are unwanted to the extent of being outlaws. One doesn’t need to control human behaviour directly, as this would likely meet up with resistance. The better option would be to control the mental climate, ie. cast a stage where the actors are told to live this reality, and then slowly turn up the heat. By letting this severe debauchery creep in slowly has the additional benefit to cause confusion and paralyse the victim even more. Had the approximately 4 000 South African farmers lost their lives in, say a week or a month instead of twenty years, this would have been a sure-fire cause for war.
Unfortunately our powerful leaders, our presses and public intellectuals have the habit of denying certain aspects of daily life such as the abominable state of cruelty we have fallen into. Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker claims that we are living in a higher state of peace in the West than ever before. The impending genocide on white South Africans is primarily expounded by a small group of bloggers who are constantly facing a wall of denial or ridicule. Especially regarding South Africa, they are having a tough time in dealing with this frustrating Cassandra Complex.
As for communism, there were always the frontrunners who were obsessed with their brave new world ideology and who were capable of turning a blind eye to all the evils they personally witnessed. The Romanian communist leader Ana Pauker is a prime example, as she saw to the deportation of her own husband who later died in the gulags under Stalin’s orders, but did not shed a tear. Not to mention how cannibalism was justified and even rewarded with top jobs under chairman Mao’s command in certain Chinese provinces. Yet, all the while, the promised utopia did not materialise. The only real change that took place was to turn the situation awfully grim and harden people’s attitudes further, effectively closing themselves off from truly seeing each other.
If we want to understand this process in full, we would be misguided in believing that this sadism is due to some form of repression and is now undergoing a cathartic release. The reinforcement to do evil comes from outside and acts on the devil inside.
To return to the example of Capote: How many murderers in South Africa and elsewhere feel a sense of shame for their barbaric deeds? Probably not many, especially within the climate dictated by the media that such murders are not crimes but belated reactions to “suffering” from decades ago.
If Capote been alive and in South Africa, I’m sure he would have quoted instead: ”Of what were they frightened? It will happen again”.
Joseph Secrève was born in South Africa but lives in the Netherlands. He is a psychologist by training.