Monday, February 17, 2014


        I have often been puzzled by the over-reactive response to injustice whether that behavior is justified or not.  In the Biblical tradition that comes about several times.  First is Adam and Eve’s sin of eating a forbidden fruit.  The punishment involves aging and death to all future humanity (along with wearying toil for men and the pain of childbirth for women).  A similar response for a single misdeed involves Ham laughing at his drunken naked father (Noah). All of Ham’s descendants will serve (presumably as slaves) his siblings’ descendants. During the era of 18th and 19th century slavery in the United States that was frequently used to justify slavery. It’s not just the Bible that does this.  In Greek mythology, Pandora’s curiosity in opening a forbidden box, unleashed all sorts of misery and disasters (only hope was left in the box). Back to the Bible again, God tells Moses to kill all Amalekites including their wives and children because they hectored the Jews as they left Egypt.  It is not just religion that practices overkill response.  Nazi ideology sought to kill all Jews for what?  Trying to make a living as doctors, lawyers, professors, or merchants thereby depriving “real” Germans from earning a living?  Death for people who lived there for 1000 years or more?  That genocidal mentality was seen among those who settled the western territories and starved, deported, or killed Native Americans leaving the few survivors in isolated reservations.  What was their crime? They wanted to live as their ancestors did on their hunting grounds or their own farmlands and European descendants who came to North America felt that the land was theirs because they were civilized and Native Americans were savages to be chased away. Fortunately humans are diverse and some choose diplomacy over war, some choose an appreciation for diversity rather than a wiping out of anything but sameness whether that sameness is religious creed, ethnicity, race, or political ideology. On a smaller level we see it in the response to anger.  Some choose a lawsuit and sue for damages.  Some individuals settle for a bar-room brawl. Some (in this age of easy access to guns) come back with guns blazing for insults (loud music, an insulting phrase, being “uppity,” not being deferential).  In a vague way we try to understand but not justify that overkill response if a person is psychotic as seems to be the case for our mass murders in schools, theatres, or churches.  But so many people end  up in court cases for attempted or realized killing of others and use rationalizations to defend their horrible actions (eating Twinkies did it;  spoiled by excess wealth; used stand one’s ground laws; self-defense; couldn’t stand it anymore; substance abuse weakened my judgment; loyalty to a gang’s ethical code, family honor demands it).   Most people, fortunately, do not respond with excess violence to their sorrows real or imagined. What we do not know is the brain physiology that allows one person to “lose it” and most people to find less violent ways to find justice.  Whether it is genetic, viral, epigenetic, hormonal, or induced during gestation by yet unknown factors we do not know.  That is a much needed area for basic research.

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