Law School Discussion

The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

Re: Serial Killers and Mass Murderers
« Reply #60 on: April 18, 2007, 02:03:44 AM »
Indeed, K 9!

Terrorists, serial killers, and mass murderers can be phenomenologically described as narcissists in a constant state of deficient narcissistic supply. The "grandiosity gap" - the painful and narcissistically injurious gap between their grandiose fantasies and their dreary and humiliating reality - becomes emotionally insupportable. They decompensate and act out. They bring "down to their level" (by destroying it) the object of their pathological envy, the cause of their seething frustration, the symbol of their dull achievements, always incommensurate with their inflated self-image. They seek omnipotence through murder, control (not least self control) through violence, prestige, fame and celebrity by defying figures of authorities, challenging them, and humbling them. Unbeknownst to them, they seek self punishment. They are at heart suicidal. They aim to cast themselves as victims by forcing others to punish them. This is called "projective identification". They attribute evil and corruption to their enemies and foes. These forms of paranoia are called projection and splitting. These are all primitive, infantile, and often persecutory, defence mechanisms.

When coupled with narcissism - the inability to empathize, the exploitativeness, the sense of entitlement, the rages, the dehumanization and devaluation of others - this mindset yields abysmal contempt for the narcissist's victims. The overriding emotion of terrorists and serial killers, the amalgam and culmination of their tortured psyche - is deep seated disdain for everything human, the flip side of envy. It is cognitive dissonance gone amok. On the one hand the terrorist, or serial killer derides as "false", "meaningless", "dangerous", and "corrupt" common values, institutions, human intercourse, and society. On the other hand, he devotes his entire life (and often risks it) to the elimination and pulverization of these "insignificant" entities. To justify this apparent contradiction, the mass murderer casts himself as an altruistic savior of a group of people "endangered" by his foes. He is always self-appointed and self-proclaimed, rarely elected. The serial killer and the mass murderer rationalize and intellectualize their murders by purporting to "liberate" or "deliver" the victims from a fate worse than death.

The global reach, the secrecy, the impotence, and growing panic of his victims, of the public, and of his pursuers, the damage he wreaks - all serve as external ego functions. The terrorist cut pasted and serial killer regulate their sense of self esteem and self worth by feeding slavishly on the reactions to their heinous deeds. Their cosmic significance is daily sustained by newspaper headlines, ever increasing bounties, admiring copycats, successful acts of blackmail, the strength and size of their opponents, and the devastation of human life and property. Appeasement works only to aggravate their drives and strengthen their appetites by emboldening them and by raising the threshold of excitation and "narcissistic supply". Terrorists and killers are addicted to this drug of being acknowledged and reflected. They derive their sense of existence, parasitically, from the reactions of their (often captive) audience.

Erich Fromm suggested that both Hitler and Stalin were narcissistic mass murderers. Hitler and Nazism are often portrayed as an apocalyptic and seismic break with European history. Yet the truth is that they were the culmination and reification of European history in the 19th century. Europe's annals of colonialism have prepared it for the range of phenomena associated with the Nazi regime - from industrial murder to racial theories, from slave labour to the forcible annexation of territory.

Germany was a colonial power no different to murderous Belgium or Britain. What set it apart is that it directed its colonial attentions at the heartland of Europe - rather than at Africa or Asia. Both World Wars were colonial wars fought on European soil. Moreover, Nazi Germany innovated by applying prevailing racial theories (usually reserved to non-whites) to the white race itself. It started with the Jews - a non-controversial proposition - but then expanded them to include "east European" whites, such as the Poles and the Russians. Germany was not alone in its malignant nationalism. The far right in France was as pernicious. Nazism - and Fascism - were world ideologies, adopted enthusiastically in places as diverse as Iraq, Egypt, Norway, Latin America, and Britain. At the end of the 1930's, liberal capitalism, communism, and fascism (and its mutations) were locked in mortal battle of ideologies. Hitler's mistake was to delusionally believe in the affinity between capitalism and Nazism - an affinity enhanced, to his mind, by Germany's corporatism and by the existence of a common enemy: global communism.


The human race needs desperately to become human. We need to end violence and demonstrate that we have really civilized. Let's make peace. Let's develop a culture of peace, as opposed to the culture of war that dominates the world nowadays. It is easy to isolate the cause of the problem as being people's greed for money and power. But beyond that, it is the very basic condition of the human being -- namely, the powerlessness in front of nature, the fear of death -- that makes humans wage war against one another. We do not want to acknowledge or recognize the fact the inevitable fact of life, death; instead, we try to find some sort of "meaning" in things, which pursuit only augments and intensifies our suffering and alienation from ourselves and Mother Nature.

If people would think it through, they should live in harmony and peace precisely because they will die some day. In reality, however, the "solution" we have found to the problem is creating illusions to reassure ourselves of our "immortality." The illusion of power, of the power of money, the illusion of the enemy, the battle, the victory. The illusion of the state, the nation, the group. And when we wage war and our enemy dies, we feel powerful, we transcend death (for a moment) because the enemy died in our place. However illusions are just that -- illusions. Soon we wake up and figure that no matter how sizeable our bank accounts, and despite our fervent patriotism or ideals-chasing, we remain those who have long been. Human beings.

Today the world is not a better place to live than it was centuries ago. Despite the technological advances that should have raised substantially the level of happiness, people feel just as insecure and threatened as they did before. As long as humans do not understand themselves and fully appreciate their condition -- as they happen to be in the world -- they will simply attempt to use whatever inventions to perpetuate a culture of violence, war and suffering. It is only by means of honest and genuine insight into themselves that people will come to make peace with themselves and each-other. Self-realization that life is a game that one can not but win; that everyone gets to make of one's life whatever one can, want, or will. As people we fashion answers to those difficult "why"s, with each and every one of us being individuals living not only in a physical world, but also in a world of dramas and illusions we create. The issue is whether we will understand the latter and set a self-chosen course, or will submitt to them fatalistically, accepting whatever they bring for us.

It is only by awakening that "why" behind each decision and action we take that we come to accept responsibility for things we create and live by and with. When doing so we come to the point where we do not look anymore at ourselves as objects IN the world, but as subjects transforming the world we are WITH. Try to find out what is like to be. You would be coming back from seeing the world for the first time. After that moment when all that was was that moment. When all your senses came all together into one and you could be you and not you at the same time -- you that was being looked by you, with all the reasons for being you having been rendered irrelevant. At that moment you cannot even imagine having some kind of need to rely on illusions to justify your place in the world. That is all is needed from every human. Simplicity. It goes a long way towards resolving many issues, that of violence and war included.
The new law of evolution in corporate America is survival of the unfittest.

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #61 on: April 18, 2007, 02:34:18 AM »


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Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #62 on: April 18, 2007, 08:30:14 AM »
unfortunately, easier said than done :-[

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #63 on: April 19, 2007, 01:23:02 AM »
Which one ?

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #64 on: April 19, 2007, 02:06:30 AM »
Well said!

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #65 on: April 19, 2007, 03:51:16 AM »

The Myth of Sisyphus is an extended essay by Albert Camus, published originally in French in 1942 as Le Mythe de Sisyphe, and published in English in 1955. The essay's title comes from a story from Greek mythology. In the essay, Camus discusses the question of suicide and the value of life, using the myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for life itself. In doing so he introduces the philosophy of the absurd, which holds that our lives are meaningless and have no values other than those we create. Given such a futile world, he asks, what is the alternative to suicide?

Sisyphus was a character in Greek mythology who was lauded as one of the cleverest, yet most devious men in history, with a propensity for flouting the traditions of Greek hospitality by murdering his guests. He was eventually condemned after deceiving first Death himself and then Hades, Lord of the Underworld, in order to escape his inevitable demise. As punishment for his audacity, he was sentenced to be blinded and to perpetually roll a giant boulder up a mountain to the peak, only to have it inevitably roll back down the mountain into the valley.

Camus develops the idea of the "absurd man", the man who is periodically conscious of the ultimate futility of life. The lingering memory of this realization forms a basis for perception without the unjustified infusion of meaning. This notion directly opposes the idea of faith which is characteristic of most religions (and even of existentialism, which Camus therefore did not fully accept). The search for truth is seen as futile, as modes of perception are constantly changing due to fluctuation of their axioms, which may be manifest as a consistent set of beliefs directly conflicting with those once thought irrefutable. Drawing on numerous philosophical and literary sources, and particularly Dostoevsky, Camus describes the historical development of absurd awareness and concludes that Sisyphus is the ultimate absurd hero.

Camus presents Sisyphus's ceaseless and pointless toil as a metaphor for modern lives spent working at futile jobs in factories and offices. "The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious."

A major difference between Sartre and Camus is that the latter suggests that some things and situations are out of human control (for example, death), whilst the former believes everything can be changed and manipulated, regardless of the situation or individual.

Camus has written another interesting piece on the subject. Meursault, in Camus's "The Stranger," appears to be the quintessential nihilist. A man mentally at odds with the entire universe, he plods through life knowing no certainties and caring for nothing. Despite certain characteristics in common with existentialism, another philosophical school sharing nihilism's rejection of established views, but placing emphasis on responsibility and participation in life, it must be said that because of Meursault's denial of objective truth, and rejection of laws and institutions, he is first and foremost a nihilist.

The first and most significant pointer to Meursault's nihilistic tendencies is his denial of any objective basis for truth. This fairly hard to ascertain, because due to the ambiguous nature of the narrative, very little is actually established as 'true'. But it is nonetheless an obvious characteristic of Meursault, as can be established through his attitude toward his own life. After all, that life itself exists, and is purposeful, is one thing that nearly everyone considers to be true. But Meursault treats seemingly important decisions with great indifference, and indeed takes little or no interest in anything. If nothing exists and it is impossible to know anything (because anything you think you know is completely subjective), why bother doing anything? Early in the book , when his mistress Marie asked him about marriage, he said he would marry her, but that he didn't love her, and more significantly, that "... it didn't make any difference to me." He had no emotional attachment to her, or any person for that matter, and he only associated with her because of his physical needs. There is no objectively provable reason to do anything, and people may or may not exist. So why should he care about anyone?

Then, after another, even more serious act, the senseless murder of a friend's enemy, when asked if he regretted the action, he said merely "I felt kind of annoyed." People don't matter, dead or alive. He could have killed someone, or he could have done nothing, or neither of them could have ever existed. There is no reason for him to take any interest in it, from his standpoint. The event was no more than an annoyance. Naturally he takes a similar attitude towards his own life when it is endangered. "Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. So did he. Throughout the whole absurd life I'd lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people's deaths or a mother's love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we're all elected by the same fate, me and billions of privileged people like him who also called themselves my brothers."

This is the complete acknowledgment of nihilistic ideas. He totally resigns himself to the irrelevance of his own existence. He says that nothing matters, that life, death, and love are all totally meaningless and potentially nonexistent things. However, does not this evidence also point to Meursault as an existentialist? Existentialists, at least non-religious ones, maintain that the universe is meaningless, and human existence serves no purpose. From this standpoint would not his actions and attitude towards most things have been roughly similar? He doesn't care for people because their existence is pointless. He commits murder and then shows no emotion over it, because again the life served no purpose, and furthermore, as an existentialists, he believed in his own absolute free will and rejected all morals. Additionally, in the above quote, Meursault hints about his ideas of fate, as though the universe was behaving as an uncaring, irrational entity, as existentialists believe it does. Ultimately Meursault cannot be an existentialist, however. Because while existentialists believe that life is meaningless, they also emphasize the responsibility of people for forming their nature, and they emphasize the importance of personal decisions.

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #66 on: April 19, 2007, 03:51:38 AM »
Furthermore, they do have a morality of sorts, one centered around positive and active participation in life. Meursault took no responsibility for anything. He avoided decisions and did not see them as at all significant. And instead of being a positive, active participant in life, he was merely a bored, disillusioned spectator, and one not above killing a man for no reason. An existentialist would have to care about all of these things. But Meursault did not. As a person totally disinterested in everything he must be considered nihilistic. Another nihilistic quality demonstrated by Meursault is his total rejection of established laws and institutions. Mostly nihilists tend to refer specifically to two institutions, the church and the state, as being inhibitive. Meursault lashed out at both during the course of "The Stranger." The religious establishment figured quite prominently in Meursault's trial and imprisonment, and at every juncture he showed extreme contempt for it. The magistrate who initially questioned him asked him if he believed in god, and Meursault commented that he found religion " ... very hard to follow." Later on the chaplain came to him, after he was condemned, in an effort to help him come to terms with death. Meursault was so annoyed by his persistence that he attacked the man. The church, of course, was an institution founded on silly, unprovable ideas, and no rational person would believe in its dogmas, as Meursault saw it. In reference to the chaplain (and thus all religion), he said "None of his certainties was worth one hair on a woman's head." If Meursault was interested in anything, it was physical, tangible reality. Something that didn't exist was less than the most insignificant thing. He does not take the legal processes surrounding his trial terribly seriously either, remarking at the sight of the interrogation room that it "All seemed like a game to me."

But existentialism is also opposed to established institutions, as existentialists consider them an impediment to free will. Religion in particular is disliked. Meursault's contempt for religion can be explained in existentialist terms as well. After all, religion only exists to control people, so the truly free person does not accept established religion. A person involved in organized religion effectively forfeits control over a given aspect of their own thought, and is considered contemptible by existentialists. As for his contempt for the tribunal, he was simply affirming his ultimate freedom, and opposing an attempt to control him and his actions. By lashing out against religion, and showing contempt for the legal processes surrounding his trial, Meursault was more than expressing his free will. He was completely rejecting the institutions that were constraining him. Meursault may have shown some existentialist tendencies in his defiance of the system, but it is clear he is not doing it for some overriding, symbolic purpose, but for the same reason any nihilist does reason. There is a persuasive argument for labeling Meursault as an existentialist. In many of his actions he shows tremendous freedom of thought, and does resist those institutions impeding his freedom. Does the fact that he made one mistake and killed a man necessarily mean he has no morals? Does that fact that he did not cry at his mother's funeral mean he does not care for any other people? Not necessarily. But is he an existentialist? The answer, from any perspective, is no.

As has been established, Meursault did not merely make a few mistakes. His behavior was indicative of his general attitude toward life. Maybe an existentialist could excuse a few mistakes, but not the complete disinterest in life and society. These are the sole domain of nihilism, and nihilism only. It could be said that, in the closing moments of the novel, Meursault's attitude changes. Could he have, at the last moment, made an intellectual transformation? Nietzsche, often called an existentialist, labeled nihilism as a stage in the moral development of mankind, an intermediary between the renunciation of the old views and the creation of the new. Meursault did at the last minute begin to appreciate life. He saw pleasure where there had once been only pain. At the same time he re-affirmed his denial of established views. Did he become an existentialist? At this point such terminology becomes meaningless. When one resigns one's self to life, but allows themselves to enjoy it, and participate in society, and take responsibility for one's actions, one can still be a nihilist, but their nihilism is existential. So if Meursault truly believed in his deathbed revelation, he was perhaps everything at once: an opponent of false truths and institutions, but a person willing to live his life and make a difference, rather than descend into disillusioned oblivion.

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #67 on: April 28, 2007, 10:04:54 PM »
Le jeu de l'acte gratuit selon les punks. Marcher dans une avenue et donner un coup de poing "comme ça", sans raison, dans la figure de la vieille dame. Entrer dans une fête populaire et "comme ça" commettre un acte de pure provocation. Mais nous pouvons chercher plus près de nous, avec une moindre provocation : quand nous prenons une décision écervelée "comme ça", sans raison, nous procédons comme Lafcadio. "je choisis cela, comme çà, après tout je suis libre de faire ce que je veux, de faire tout ce qui me passe par la tête". Cette attitude se rencontre dans la vie quand nous disons "faire n’importe quoi".

Alors apparaît quelque chose d'étrange et de monstrueux : le jaillissement de l'absurde. L'absurde de la liberté se donne avec une sensation enivrante de vertige. Comme si la vie était suspendue au dessus de l'abîme et que nous nous donnions au jeu de l'absurde d'une choix gratuit. Cette sensation de vertige traverse bien des textes de la littérature existentialiste, dont La Nausée de Sartre. Si l'existence n'est vue que comme une déréliction absurde, alors elle est gratuite et sans raison. Elle n'est que l'improvisation perpétuelle d'une liberté qui se recréée à chaque instant, surgissant de rien pour aller vers quelque chose qui est son projet et son but. L'homme qui dispose d'une telle liberté doit, quand il revient sur lui-même éprouver ce vertige: c'est terrible, je peux faire ceci ou cela, et rien ne me donne une direction, toute décision est gratuite. D'où l'importance de l'angoisse, car dans l'angoisse la liberté s'angoisse d'elle-même, parce qu'elle n'est déterminée par rien, parce qu'elle est vide. L'homme qui s'hallucine devant sa télévision en essayant de tuer le temps, ne fait que dériver son angoisse. Il éprouve tout aussi bien le sentiment qu'il aurait pu faire autre chose; sa décision de s'enfoncer dans le canapé et de rester là est gratuite, elle ne relève que de lui, de son choix, de sa responsabilité.

Dès lors, le vertige de la gratuité ne laisse qu'une porte de sortie, l'engagement. Il faut donner une forme à la liberté, il faut en faire un projet, il faut lui donner un sens, et ce sens signifie poser sa motivation par rapport aux autres. En fuyant vers les autres pour me donner un rôle, je me donne une consistance momentanée, puisque dans la conscience abyssale de la liberté, je ne suis rien et que ma liberté n'est qu'une gratuité laissée à elle-même. C'est aussi pour la même raison que l'ennui me guette : si rien ne me détermine du fond de moi-même, je suis obligé de tout tirer de moi-même et si ma volonté reste sans mouvement, je retombe aussitôt dans l'ennui qui est la liberté désœuvrée.
No matter how many draughts of forbidden wine we drink, we will carry this raging thirst into eternity.

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #68 on: May 01, 2007, 05:24:47 AM »
English please!
Don't hate me cuz I'm beautiful.

Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« Reply #69 on: May 03, 2007, 04:18:50 AM »
I don\'t really know French, equation, but I think it discusses \"acte gratuit.\"