Blasts from the past

This post is a series of “blasts from the past,” updates on previous posts.  Here goes:

Recently, I’ve written some about the psychology behind the “revolutions” in progress in the Middle East (see my posts “Taking Responsibility Back,” dated 2/19/11 and “‘Get Off the TV’ Comment on Friday Night’s Nancy Grace,” dated 1/29/11).  While they’re being touted as “democracy” movements, I fear they’re really just coups, replacing one form of tyranny, relatively-secular dictatorship, with another, Islamic fundamentalist theocracy.  (And before I go any further, let me say again that I’m not an advocate for either — I’m saying that I’m not seeing a good outcome in most of these countries one way or the other.)  Keep in mind that pure “democracy” means mob rule, tyranny of the majority, no protection for the rights of minorities.  That’s not what we believe in or practice here in our country.  Ours is a republic, with checks and balances on power, protection of basic and minority rights, etc.  I’ve spent time in Middle Eastern countries, and I haven’t heard, then or more recently, much interest in the “republic” idea there (outside of Israel).  So, about a month ago, I was explaining how the leaders of Islamic fundamentalist movements tactically employ religion to spur restless, disaffected, direction-less, disenfranchised, angry young Muslim men to violence (see my post “Arizona Shooter in Court and Terror Bombing in Moscow,” dated 1/24/11).  Since then, I’ve been asked why I think that works, given my opinion that these young Muslim men often don’t start out much more religious than the average young person in the western world.  Good question.  I think it’s because the leaders of these movements connect religion to empowerment, painting a picture of nations (and ultimately a world) governed by Islamic law, in which the “soldiers” of Islam will hold power (not really that different from how the leaders of communist movements in South America, where most people are Catholic, inspire impoverished young men to violence in the name of empowering the poor; the old Marxist “Workers of the world, unite!” mantra; and yes, socialist ideals are being promoted in these Middle Eastern revolts as well, but only secondarily to religious ideals).  So, why does religion seem to be a more effective motivator in the Middle East than elsewhere?  I think it’s because, among the world’s major religions, Islam is the only one that still has significant numbers of vocal practitioners advocating the use of force to impose the religion, and its accompanying civil (“Sharia”) law, on nonbelievers.  Now, I’m not a theologian, so I can’t really tell you what Islam clearly does and doesn’t advocate and/or condone.  I’m a psychologist, and as such, I can tell you that if a restless, disaffected, direction-less, disenfranchised, angry young man were looking for a reason to lash out at an institution or a nation, and someone with some ostensible religious authority told that young man that it’s not only morally permissible but morally imperative, there’s a good chance the young man might embrace that and act on it.  Of course I believe that this in no way absolves the young man of the obligation to use his intellect to discern right from wrong independently of what anyone, religious or secular, tells him, so he remains fully responsible for his actions.  It just helps us understand the psychology behind the frightening footage that we’re seeing from throughout the Middle East these days.  It’s important to keep in mind also that Christians have been spurred to violence in the name of religion at various times in our history (e.g. the Spanish Inquisition), as have Jews (e.g. crucifixions of early Christians) and practitioners of other major religions, and that the actions of subsets of groups don’t necessarily reflect the attitudes of the larger groups.  The difference, I think, is that there’s no longer an appreciable subset of Christians, or Jews, or any major religion other than Islam, rallying anyone to violence in the name of their religion (e.g. there’s no group out there with any real visibility or credibility arguing that Jesus wanted anyone to be forced to convert to Christianity at knife/gunpoint and live according to Christian tenets or face death).  It’s important to keep in mind also that Islam is the youngest of the world’s major religions, some 600 years younger than Christianity and thousands of years younger than Judaism, so hopefully, in time, a similarly-indisputable consensus will evolve within Islam against forced imposition of that religion and its tenets on others (which of course is not to say that we should just sit back and wait a few hundred years for that to happen) and be unmistakably disseminated throughout the Islamic world (if such a consensus exists now, then I’m not hearing it resonate as loudly as I think is necessary to clearly and effectively marginalize those who advocate otherwise).  After all, it’s only logical.  Aggression in the name of religion is really no nobler than aggression in the name of wealth redistribution or any number of other motivations.  It makes no sense to attack another person or nation because that person or nation doesn’t share your religious beliefs.  If you truly thought that you knew how to get to Heaven, and you told the other person/nation, and that person/nation didn’t embrace it, what would you care?  More room in Heaven for you.  Unfortunately, history has shown us that it often takes large groups of people a much longer time than it would take a single, smart individual to realize, embrace, and do the logical, right thing.  (An example in American culture would be what I think is a very-slowly-evolving consensus on abortion — while many still cling to self-serving/affirming and emotion-driven yet illogical positions on that issue, logic really supports just one position, and I think/hope that a vast majority of us will get there eventually.)

Shifting gears now, you might recall that back in September, I wrote about the suicide of NFL player Kenny McKinley (see my post “Football Suicides May Be Linked,” dated 9/22/10).  I told you about something called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a brain syndrome brought about by serial relatively-low-grade traumatic brain injuries which is thought to produce both physiological and psychological disorders (perhaps including psychotic and suicidal depression) over time.  Well, sadly, another former NFL star, Dave Deurson, has committed suicide, but get this.  He did it by shooting himself in the heart instead of the head, which is quite unusual.  Why?  He left a note explaining that he thought his problems were due to CTE and pleading with researchers to study his brain for the benefit of others who might be similarly at risk.  Apparently, Duerson’s desperate last wish will be carried out by researchers at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which hopefully will help us get to the bottom of causal relationships both between injuries and CTE and between CTE and suicide.

And rounding out these “blasts from the past,” the oldest one.  You may (and if you do, props to you) recall that back at the end of 2008, I wrote about a study claiming that teenagers were engaging in self-mutilation (self-cutting, puncturing, burning, etc.) at alarmingly-increasing rates.  I was suspicious, so I looked into it and found that the study in question was based on just nine cases (see my post “Another Non-Epidemic,” dated 12/3/08).  Well, there’s a new study out claiming that YouTube videos posted by self-mutilating teens are increasing the likelihood that other teens will experiment with self-mutilation.  I doubt it.  The videos could potentially give a few young people ideas for non-serious attempts to garner attention with some pseudo-self-mutilation, and if there’s child abuse of any kind (self-inflicted or otherwise) on YouTube, then YouTube should remove it and give all possible identifying information to local authorities immediately for the protection of the child(ren) involved.  But as I said back in 2008, self-mutilation is a sign of very serious mental problems (usually indicating an effort to convert emotional pain into physical pain, sometimes but not necessarily accompanied by suicidal intentions), and it usually takes more than a YouTube video to cause those.  (Of course if you know any underage person mutilating him/herself in or out of a video, I’d report that immediately to the local authorities, and if your teenager seems to be interested in watching other teenagers mutilate themselves on YouTube, that in itself is cause for concern and further investigation!)

(P.S.  This isn’t an update of an old story, it’s new, but while I’m here:  Wisconsin physicians reportedly are writing bogus “excuse” notes for perfectly-healthy teachers in that state who are striking in violation of their contracts to protest cuts to their benefits.  If they’re doing that, then those physicians are committing fraud, violating medical practice regulations, and should face serious discipline by Wisconsin’s medical licensing board.  I’m often an expert evaluator in medical-ethics cases across the country, and I can tell you that the falsification of medical records in the name of politics is unequivocally unethical and should be intolerable in a system that requires the public to rely on the integrity of health-care professionals.)

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