Human Paleopsychology

MensNewsDaily Column 11

  
 
Kent G. Bailey.    Return to Primitiveness in Attack on Theo van Gogh: Phylogenetic Regression, the Enlightenment View of Man,                                   and the Hawk-Dove Distinction.  MND, July 16, 2005.
 
     In a recent column, Charles Krauthammer described the brutal, animalistic murder of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who made the fatal mistake of making a short film about the Muslim oppression of women  (Richmond Times Dispatch, July 15, 2005).  As his reward, van Gogh was shot six times, his head was virtually severed with a butcher knife, and, as a final desecration, a five-page Islamist manifesto was impaled on his chest.
 
     Now on trial in Holland, the killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, is a second-generation Pakistani who was Dutch-born and thus raised in one of the most liberal and progressive countries of Europe.  Yet, as Krauthammer tells us, Bouyeri is unrepentant and, in fact, glories in his heinous and animalistic act.  For the "enlightened" American or European, Bouyeri is some kind of exceptional, deviant terrorist from hell whose insane behavior requires no explanation, but, rather, just the right nefarious label.  Just call him an "insane terrorist" and the enlightenment view of man and its numerous tributaries of progressive theory remain safe. 
 
     After all, the ultimate goal is not to save lives,  but to circle the wagons around liberal and progressive ideology when a really mean and inhuman creature comes along.  We cannot have people thinking that there are truly bad boys out there.  Most of all, we absolutely cannot entertain the notion that the human brain, as a whole, is far more ancient and primitive than it is civilized, modern, and inclined toward the progressive.  Worse still, we are repelled by the idea that the ancient and animalistic impulsions of the human brain readily rise to the surface under circumstances of privation, stress, and provocation, and often completely overwhelm the thinking and moral centers. 
 
     For over 30 years, I have written extensively on this process of "phylogenetic regression" whereby ancient and ego-alien drives, motives, and behavioral tendencies occasionally  take control of the personality...many times with disastrous outcomes.  Krauthammer gets very close to this reasoning in his column on Bouyeri- "One of the reasons Westerners were so unprepared for this wave of Islamist terrorism...is sheer disbelief.  It shockingly contradicts Western notions of progress.  The savagery of Bouyeri's...is a RETURN TO PRIMITIVENESS that we in the West had assumed a progressive history had left behind" (my emphasis).
 
     Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that calculates the pay-off matrix of various strategies used in hypothetical conflict situations.  The simplest and most well known game is that between "hawks" (who attack rapidly and inflict injury) and "doves" (who act assertively at the outset but retreat under attack).  The fundamental outcome of this game is-  all things being equal- doves always lose to hawks. 
 
     When extended to the political sphere, I suggest that naive political liberals afflicted with the enlightenment obsession ("doves") are always going to lose when pitted against an opponent or opponents of the unenlightened warrior classes ("hawks").  The former try to reason with their attackers, they try to "talk it out" with their enemies, they shower the bad guys with love gifts in hopes of softening them up, and sympathize with the plight of imprisoned combatants, as at Gitmo.  Such warm, fuzzy largess only serves to excite and empower the terrorist, the predatory criminal, and other bad guys,  who feel nothing but disdain for the liberal minds who counter their animalistic violence with soft words of sympathy and conciliation.
 
     I have seen a single male rapist hold an entire campus of enlightened idealists hostage for over three weeks and we have all seen the physical, emotional, and psychological damage that very small cadres of terrorists have wrought in New York on 9/11, in Madrid, in London more recently, and on the streets of Iraq every day.  Yet, for the liberal dove, these warrior hawks really do not exist...these are just inherently nice boys who have simply lost their way for a time and can be brought back on track with TLC and understanding.  There is no ancient animal nature to be recovered; there is no primitive, irrational side to man; the brain is just there for art, learning, and objective thinking; and, there is no truly bad boy.  If the liberal dove is wrong about these things-  and I am sure they are- then the future of the West look bleak indeed. 
 
      Just remember the final words of Theo van Gogh just before Bouyeri began his fatal, monstrous, and literally inhuman attack: "We can still talk about it! Don't do it!"  In my view, there is no amount of dovish talk or rational appeals that will dissuade a male warrior hawk in a phylogenetically regressive, murderous state of mind hell bent on the total annihilation of real or imagined enemies. 
 
Kent G. Bailey is professor emeritus of clinical psychology. His major focus is on how ancient evolutionary processes affect current human affairs. His major monograph is Human Paleopsychology: Applications to Aggression and Pathological Processes. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1987.
 
 
 
 
 
  
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Kent G. Bailey [email protected]