”Experience proves that it is rather the so-called “intelligentsia” that is most apt to yield to these disastrous collective suggestions, since the intellectual has no direct contact with life in the raw but encounters it in its easiest, synthetic form — upon the printed page”
(Albert Einstein, in his letter to Sigmund Freud, 1932).
People from the intellectual sphere, once actively involved in the social and political life, include themselves very easy into one of the opposing camps – they antagonize with people that have different opinions, they approve campaigns of discrimination, stigmatization and identification of “the enemies”. In other words, intellectuals can become promoters of hatred and violence.
Not only the 20th century, but also the 21th century is full of examples related to this mater. The impression that through intellect we can control the instincts is misleading; frecvently, especially in situations that have a strong emotional charge, reason complies to irrational motivations and impulses, not vice versa.
Personalities of a brilliant intellect, a high culture, are subject to instinctual, inner influences, almost as much as those whose education is rudimentary. It is true that, in some people, the tendency to exhibit aggressive and xenophobic behavior is more pronounced, while in others the self-control and tolerant attitude is more predominant, but even these differences are due not so much to the culture, as especially to genetic dowry, which significantly contributes to behavioral modeling.
Intelligence and instinctive promptings are not mutually exclusive categories; there have been great intellectuals who have manifested detestable behavior, according to biographers, at primal instinct’s levels, as well as philosophers who supported the Nazi and racist ideologies, including their active personal involvement [Johnson, 1999; Arendt, 2006].
Moreover, some intellectuals have a special fascination for the aesthetics of evil and fight, for the heroism of the warriors, things which actually served as inspiration for many artistic creations since antiquity (only Homer’s works weight a lot).
The inclination to admiring contemplation of what is terrible, destructive, is perennial, has withstood the test of time and is ingrained in the psyche of contemporary people. It can take the most perverse and hideous forms. In the 1960s, the artists of the so-called Wiener Aktionismus stood out, who were organizing scenes of violence and destructiveness, presenting them as “art”. They were performing ritualistic animal killings, bathed in blood and their droppings, were showing their nude bodies etc; these actions were seen as a kind of catharsis, as a way of realeasing the inhibited instincts by society . At a closer look, we would find the germs of violence and destructiveness at the origin of many other contemporary literary and artistic trends.
The act of unleashing violence delights. Six days after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2011 in New York, Karl Heinz Stockhausen, a famous German composer, shocked the newspapers’ readers by confessing the pleasure he experienced when he contemplated the towers of Manhattan on fire, the mastodons of modernity demolishing, enveloped by black and red smoke. For him, the events of 9/11 were “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos” .
And he’s just one of those who have had the courage to externalize their emotions. His externalized thoughts are perhaps more sincere and less malicious than the tacit, unspoken satisfaction, which has been experiences at those moments by many others, perhaps millions of people. Death, especially the violent one, has always attracted not only looks, but also a sadistic curiosity. As the American lawyer Clarence Darrow said in a famous witticism: “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” The innocence of human nature is a myth. There are studies which show that overall, 80% of people have thought at least once of the murder of a neighbor, on grounds of revenge or hatred [Buss, 2005]. Certainly, there were intellectuals among them.
The Russian Ethologist Anatoly Protopopov proposed the term of “primative”, in order to describe those individuals who, regardless of their level of intelligence or culture, show a higher predisposition towards agonistic manifestations, dominance and hostility. After Protopopov, the high degree of “primativity” (not to be mistaken with primitiveness) reflects the higher degree of manifestation of instinctual programs at the individual level . [Протопопов, 2003]. Although the meaning of the term is ambiguous and superficial, the idea that some people are more emotional and sensitive to stimuli that trigger the instinctual programs is worth taking into consideration; it could be due to some specific genes or to a distinct hormonal and neurological status.
According to some interpretations (which are, actually, a little bit risky and speculative), among intellectuals, the “primativity” would rather be a feature characteristic to people with humanistic and artistic inclinations, because those areas of the brain, which are responsible for affective-emotional reactions are more active, while the representatives of the exact sciences are more “temperate” in the manifestation of their affection .
If we are to analyze the protest movements during the creation of nations and identity affirmation of 18th–19th centuries, we do see that the propagators of ethnic exclusivity are mainly the representatives of humanistic environment. In the Czech Republic, for example, those who organized “The Czech revival” were called “buditel” (in Czech – the ones who were awakening); these people were mostly writers and scholars. The same with the Panslavists, who affirmed themselves during “The Spring of Nations”, in the mid 19s, were men of letters, just like the slovak poet and philologist Ján Kollár or the supporter of the Slovenian national movement – the lingvist Fran Miklošič. In Turkey, the dominant religious identity of the empire, which was Muslim, was, under the influence of some nationalist writers like Ziya Gopkalp, transformed into a virulent and exclusivist form of nationalism, leading to the genocide of Armenians in 1915 [Rae, 2005, p. 55].
The involvement of cultural people was practical for almost all protest movements, including those that had a chauvinistic nature, which occurred in the 20th century. The social energy for the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has been fueled by Armenian and Azerbaijani cultural elites – poets, writers, actors, painters etc. In Russia, the modern movement of affirmation and promotion of Russian nationalism that emerged in 1960-1970s had, at its origin, important representatives of the Russian intelligentsia – writers like V. G. Rasputin, V. A. Solouhin, Vasily Shukshin, the painter I. S. Glazunov and others [Платонов, 2011, p. 447]. By setting the Slavic values higher that the values of internationalism, it was exactly the activity of these important members of the Russian humanistic intelligentsia that influenced the political reform of USSR and the declaring Russian sovereignty, acts which favored the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union.
Let us recall that in former Soviet republics, the vindictive nationalist elites were mainly composed of writers, poets, journalists, such as the musicologist Vytautas Landsbergis in Lithuania, the philologist Yviad Gamsakhurdia in Georgia, the poet Abulfaz Elcibei in Azerbaijan. In Republic of Moldova, the national revival movement of the late 1980s was also enlivened and maintained by people of culture, by poets, writers, artists. Now, it is difficult and risky to explain by the means of „primativity” the closer connection of these people (from the letters and the arts spheres) with the national traditions and values. Maybe its their working fields that makes them more sensible to idiological and identity phenomena. However, whatever the real cause of their combative tone would be, the conclusion is that the intellectuals are subject to emotional affects and instinctual impulses as well as the other members of society are.
In our times, the calls to homicide from the intellectuals are not uheard of. We all saw how the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has divided intellectuals from those countries into opposing camps. They put forward a hateful rhetoric and bellicose messages, with calls for the military intervention and death sentences. It was really bewildering to hear from a proeminent intellectual, the russian sociologist and philosopher Aleksander Dugin, direct exhortations for violence and homicide in the context of identity crisis in Ukraine. In one of his video appearances, in 2014, Dugin called for systematic killing of Ukrainian nationalists and urged the pro-russian combatants, explicitly, to: „Kill! Kill! Kill! Other discussions can not be. I believe so, as a professor” .
On other meridians, in Egypt, in the summer of 2014, the academician Nassar Abdullah stood out of the crowd. The fact that he is a professor of moral and political philosophy, and a recipient of the state award in arts in 2009, did not prevent Abdullah to suggest… that police could kill street children to clean-up streets and eradicate the problem of crime in the country from its roots. The rehabilitation of juveniles is too expensive, therefore a more radical measure is more appropriate, the professor explained .
Even doctors and social psychologists can engage themselves voluntarily in actions that lead to physical or mental damage to other individuals. Not every time Hippocratic’s principle of “do no harm” is respected by doctors. During the Nazi regime, some doctors consciously have done horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners (and we can not explain it only by obedience to the Nazi system pressure).
In modern times, some social psychologists develop methods of investigation and torture against detainees in prisons. In December 2014, a raport of US Senate reveal to public that in the secret CIA prisons complex tortures were applied to detainees, with specification that methodology of tortures was developed by two American psychologists, who had been inspired by various researches and theories about human psychology . This is an example when things have been presented to public, but how many other abuses occur daily in various courts, prisons and asylums, from medical or scientific staff, it’s hard to imagine.
Unfortunately, clergymen, dedicated moralists, distinguished intellectuals, all fall victims to their own propensity for aggression, hatred and destruction. In other words, they are suffering from a kind of “Dugin syndrome”, when they do not tolerate opposite manifestations and behavior forms, when they don’t agree with “other’s” being around. They react aggressively, especially in situations of discomfort and frustration. And the education, culture, religion, traditions of hospitality, diplomacy – these social shields in front of human violence – didn’t have enough power to suppress the aggressive instinct when circumstances “justified” its unleashing.
In the face of calls for violence and hatred, under the impulse of instinctive impulses, cultural and religious precepts and all kinds of appeasement rituals were frequently declined. Therefore, overall, the relying on civilization, culture and intelligence is not fully justified in the attempt to reduce the instinct’s manifestations. Heritable behavioral programs can’t be suppressed infinitely, and an intelligent person often does not even notice that his emotional reactions and behavioral motivations are not so much a product of the will, as an instinctual expression or an inner reflex.
We all have a native tendency, an immanent enthusiasm to compete with each other (at the level of individuals, groups, ethnicities, religions, parties, ideas and ideologies). And maybe we divide into camps not as much from ideological reasons, as from the motivation to have an opportunity for confrontation; tribal rivalries of prehistorically people have taken today the form of ideological debates carried by well dressed men. The instincts are basically the same, only the form and the context of expression differs. Few were able to rise above these struggles and rivalries. They were the exceptions that confirmed the rule.
© Dorian Furtună, ethologist
Photo: Alexander Dugin / http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2013/12/alexander-dugin-the-eurasian-oracle-part-1-of-2/
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