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Bystanders resent tortured because they make them feel guilty and ashamed for having done nothing to prevent atrocity. The victims threaten their sense of security and their much-needed belief in predictability, justice, and rule of law. The victims, on their part, do not believe that it is possible to effectively communicate to "outsiders" what they have been through. The torture chambers are "another galaxy". This is how Auschwitz was described by author K. Zetnik in his testimony in Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961.
Kenneth Pope in "Torture", a chapter he wrote for "Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and Impact of Society on Gender", quotes Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman:
"It is very tempting to take side of perpetrator. All perpetrator asks is that bystander do nothing. He appeals to universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on contrary, asks bystander to share burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering."
But, more often, continued attempts to repress fearful memories result in psychosomatic illnesses (conversion). The victim wishes to forget torture, to avoid re-experiencing often life threatening abuse and to shield his human environment from horrors. In conjunction with victim's pervasive distrust, this is frequently interpreted as hypervigilance, or even paranoia. It seems that victims can't win. Torture is forever.
Note – Why Do People Torture?
We should distinguish functional torture from sadistic variety. The former is calculated to extract information from tortured or to punish them. It is measured, impersonal, efficient, and disinterested.
The latter – sadistic variety – fulfils emotional needs of perpetrator.
People who find themselves caught up in anomic states – for instance, soldiers in war or incarcerated inmates – tend to feel helpless and alienated. They experience a partial or total loss of control. They have been rendered vulnerable, powerless, and defenseless by events and circumstances beyond their influence.
Torture amounts to exerting an absolute and all-pervasive domination of victim's existence. It is a coping strategy employed by torturers who wish to reassert control over their lives and, thus, to re-establish their mastery and superiority. By subjugating tortured – they regain their self-confidence and regulate their sense of self-worth.
Other tormentors channel their negative emotions – pent up aggression, humiliation, rage, envy, diffuse hatred – and displace them. The victim becomes a symbol of everything that's wrong in torturer's life and situation he finds himself caught in. The act of torture amounts to misplaced and violent venting.
Many perpetrate heinous acts out of a wish to conform. Torturing others is their way of demonstrating obsequious obeisance to authority, group affiliation, colleagueship, and adherence to same ethical code of conduct and common values. They bask in praise that is heaped on them by their superiors, fellow workers, associates, team mates, or collaborators. Their need to belong is so strong that it overpowers ethical, moral, or legal considerations.
Many offenders derive pleasure and satisfaction from sadistic acts of humiliation. To these, inflicting pain is fun. They lack empathy and so their victim's agonized reactions are merely cause for much hilarity.
Moreover, sadism is rooted in deviant sexuality. The torture inflicted by sadists is bound to involve perverted sex (rape, homosexual rape, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pedophilia, fetishism, and other paraphilias). Aberrant sex, unlimited power, excruciating pain – these are intoxicating ingredients of sadistic variant of torture.
Still, torture rarely occurs where it does not have sanction and blessing of authorities, whether local or national. A permissive environment is sine qua non. The more abnormal circumstances, less normative milieu, further scene of crime is from public scrutiny – more is egregious torture likely to occur. This is especially true in totalitarian societies where use of physical force to discipline or eliminate dissent is an acceptable practice.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.