You are on page 1of 6

Poverty & Genocide: Fueled by

Psychological Distancing
Gang Behavior. Have you ever been a member of a street gang
fighting rival gangs over gangland territory? How about a sports
team gang preparing to demolish the other guys? A corporate gang
fighting labor unions over control of corporate profits and
resources? An ideologically-driven political gang fighting against
rival political parties for control of the government and national
resources? Every adult human and most teenage children have
been affected by gang-related behavior at some point in their lives.
The reality of human existence is that group behavior inevitably
culminates into self-interested gangs, which results in competition
and conflict between in-groups and out-groups throughout all
human societies.

Psychological Distancing. It appears that the human brain has


adapted a feature that allows the human mind to engage in
selective recollection and selective perception, especially when
competition and conflict with other humans emerges. This results in
a phenomenon called Psychological Distancing, which is a
concept first developed by Heinz Werner and Bernard Kaplan
during the mid-20thCentury and later used by Christopher Browning
in his book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the
Final Solution in Poland, to explain how ordinary German citizens
could commit extraordinary human atrocities.
The Manifestation of Psychological Distancing in Our
Lives. Psychological Distancing is what enables soldiers to mutilate
their perceived enemies on the battlefield without remorse. It is what
enabled the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, Roma (gypsies),
communists, Pols, and many other out-groups on an industrial
scale. It is what enables the rich and powerful in many societies to
disregard the needs of the poor and powerless. It is what enables
conservatives and liberals in many countries (especially in the
United States today) to hate and denounce each another without
meaningful regard for the conditions and facts associated to their
respective lives and needs. And it is what enabled ordinary
German citizens to substantially ignore the suffering of Hitlers
human atrocities during the Nazi Holocaust.

Psychological Distancing is a Self-Preservation


Mechanism. Psychological Distancing fundamentally prevents the
human brain from perceiving the full reality of any confrontation or
conflict of interest. It substantially prevents the human brain from
processing the channels of information that originate from the sense
organs (eyes, ears, nose, and touch) and prevents them from
triggering the full spectrum of human emotions (including sympathy
and empathy) that would otherwise be possible outside of
a perceived conflict. This is a self-preservation mechanism that can
be useful when humans are threatened with real existential danger
(e.g., murder, rape, malicious theft and brutality) because it
suppresses many of the instinctual inhibitions that typically
moderate human-on-human violence.
Perceptual Amplification Results in Behavioral
Amplification. In contrast to prehistoric life in the jungle or on the
savanna when humans had to compete for food against non-human
wild animals, in modern societies, the greatest threat that most
humans face is a gradual loss of income, liberty, and/or power due
to tax, labor, regulatory, and social welfare policies. However, those
threats are often perceptually amplified in the human mind into
existential wars over life and property. This is because the human
brain often does not assign accurate or realistic threat levels to
perceived threats. Thus, small threats are often perceived as large
threats. As this threat amplification occurs, the phenomenon of
Psychological Distancing is triggered in our brains, which leads to
over-exaggerated responses to other humans, resulting in out-
group/in-group conflicts and abuses that would not otherwise occur.

When Power Concentrates, Human Brutality is the Rule, Not


the Exception.Nothing in human history can reasonably lead us to
believe that humans, when left to their own devices, will
spontaneously uphold the law, peace, and social stability. Examples
of large-scale human atrocities abound, including the indiscriminate
Nazi purges of Jews, Pols, and Russians in Eastern Europe prior to
and during WWII; the purges on both sides of the Korean DMZ prior
to and during the Korean War; the purges in Stalinist Russia; Pol
Pots Cambodia; Maoist China; and the historical dictatorial
governments in Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Hungary, Indonesia,
Nicaragua, Great Britain in India, Iraq, and many other countries.
American Genocide Inspired Nazi Genocide. The list of large-
scale human atrocities would not be complete without including the
United States, in which the largest purge in human history occurred:
The brutal and systematic purge of 50-100 million American
Indians. In fact, Hitler admired the camps . . . and often praised to
his inner circle the efficiency of Americas exterminationby
starvation and uneven combatof the red savages who could not be
tamed by captivity. Hitler also praised Americans because
they gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred
thousand.1

Psychological Distancing + Self-Serving Rationalizations =


Systemic Injustice. In all those cases, humans with political and
economic power ignored the suffering and needs of large human
populations. They also conjured up self-serving ideologies and
fictitious mythologies to justify their violence and oppression of
others. This process of Psychological Distancing and corresponding
self-serving rationalization is fundamentally no different than the
structural violence that occurs in many countries today as a result of
the forced adoption of Neoliberal economic policies, which claim to
be designed to promote free-market Capitalism. Of course, global
markets today are not free at all when we take into account the way
the global economic system has been engineered to favor the
largest corporations and the humans that control them at the
expense of smaller companies and the general population.
Confusing Self-Interest with National Interest. Confusing self-
interest with the national interesteither consciously or
unconsciouslyis one of the skillful self-deceptions that humans
have evolved to survive confrontations with real and metaphorical
threats. However, a countrys social capital disintegrates when
communities are destroyed by public policies that are perceived to
be the result of poorly managed government; and governments
controlled by a handful of self-serving corporate interest groups will
always be poorly managed. This is because they will always
consider their narrow interests first, at the expense of the broader
interests of society.

A Gradual Slide into Tyranny. When communities are destabilized


and destroyed by special interest groups that take control of the
reins of government power to serve their own interests at the
expense of the broader societal interest, socially beneficial concepts
like fairness, trust, and compassion are systematically and culturally
destroyed and the tenuous bonds of civilized society disintegrate. In
the process, Psychological Distancing desensitizes humans
throughout the society to the long-term consequences of their
actions. This is not usually a conscious choice; rather, it is a gradual
but predictable deconstruction of all the virtues and ideals that
separate humans from other non-human animals, which results in a
gradual slide into abject despotism, systemic injustice, and brutal
tyranny.

Notes:
1. See: Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography and 1491: New
Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

About Ferris Eanfar


Ferris Eanfar has over 20 years of experience in technical, financial,
media, and government intelligence environments. He has written
dozens of articles and several books in the field of International
Political Economy, including Broken Capitalism: This Is How We Fix
It, which provides unique insight into what is wrong with the global
economy and how to fix it. To learn more about Ferris, please visit
the About Ferris page.

Visit Ferris on: and