Chapter 8

When Socialized Adults turn into Deadly Torturers

In previous chapters has been suggested that the child, by virtue of the dyadic organization of the mind, is capable of feeling the lifeform of actual others filling the companion space of the child's virtual other in a reciprocal operational mode of felt immediacy. That which Daniel Stern (1985: 53-61; 156-157) designates as vitality affect, in contrast to expressible emotions, has been related to his disclosure of affect attunement and given an operational meaning in the interpersonal domain of immediate feelings. There is dyadic closure by virtue of the actual other's filling the companion space of the virtual other in a reciprocal mode of immediate or direct operations in the closed organization that realizes itself across the biological boundaries of the participating individuals. As immediate participants in this self-organization each is fulfilling the other in a mutually constituting manner that generates its self-enclosed boundary in the companion space in which they participate. In Buber's and McMurray's terms, there is an I-You unity.
As demonstrated, however, in chapter 8, this is a precarious organization that easily suffers perturbations. There may be collapse of the capacity to feel the lifeform of the actual other and engage in dyadic closure in felt immediacy. Above I used the term "empathologic collapse" for this. It may even come about by virtue of some kind of operational command logic, offered by
the culture or collectivity in which one exists. As the child comes to recognize the other as a culturally mediated other, this also evokes a mode of being distanced and detached from the other. The media of the language and culture in which the participants exist invite them to consider themselves as 'the self' and 'the other', as 'me' and 'you', 'we' and 'they', that is, not as directly sensed participants, but as characters in narratives and as objects for conscious reflection in terms of principles. There may be contexts of control, demanding obedience to authority, that even rules out any acknowledgment of the other as a human being, or redefines the other as a victim.
So, what may happen when the adult socialized individual find himself in a context of authoritarian or collective control which in the cultural medium in which he exists demands absolute submission to a totalitarian perspective by virtue of an operational command logic, preventing any dialogue within or between individuals? In this chapter I shall consider a series of shattering disclosures by Milgram, Christie, and Lifton of cases in which apparently ordinary, socialized individuals with capacity for moral reasoning engage in systematic torture and killing. We shall see how this entails a total collapse of the kind of dialogic and empathic closure described earlier, and how the dyadic mind may lend itself to perversion or dissociation.

Empathologic collapse in obedience to authority

The mode of relating to the actual other in immediate reciprocity differs from the mode of relating to others in a distancing and abstracting mode. As generalized, re-presented or abstracted others, they cannot come to fill one's companion space in a mode of empathic closure. Instead of the particular other that makes his presence felt, the other is turned into an object of symbolic re-presentation and re-construction, shifted from the domain of felt immediacy into the mediate domain of symbolic construction. In the latter domain there is moral conscience, literally together-knowledge. But does it entail and guarantee prosocial and altruistic conduct towards the other?
The rationalistic philosophers behind the program for "enlightening" appeared to believe so. Also the cognitive theories of moral development by Piaget and Kohlberg, to be considered in chapter 10, invite the belief that only through learning to recognize the other as an object and assimilating the moral norms of the society, can the child become prosocial. Underlying the rationalistic philosophy of enlightening is the expectation that the individual who is capable of moral judgement will be inclined to act more rightly in a given situation than the individual who is incapable of moral judgments. This expectation has consequences for views upon the child's moral development, and upon the relation between moral consciousness and conduct. First, when adopted in theories of socialization and moral development, this expectation entails that the infant is unable to conduct himself in a morally adequate manner, since he has not yet acquired the moral standards and symbolic capacity for reflective moral consciousness which only development and socialization can bring about. As we have seen above, however, there appear to be cross-cultural tendencies for children, even infants, to exhibit care and concern for the other in need. Second, the rationalist expectation entails the belief that the socialized ordinary individual, without any severe psycho-pathic character disorder, who has acquired moral knowledge through a normal process of personal and socialized development, will tend to act in a morally right manner.

Milgram's "electric chair" experiments

This belief was shattered by Milgram's "electric chair" experiments, replicated in many countries, including Denmark. As part of what the subject is made to believe is a scientific learning experiment, the naive subject is asked to administer electric shocks of increasing strength to another subject, believed to be sitting behind the wall in an "electric chair".
Submitting to this control contexts, many of the naive subjects appeared to be unable to take a moral stand and object to the inflicting of pains on others. Even the capacity for feeling the victimized other's pain appeared to collapse in many of the subjects. It turned out that more than 60% of the naive subjects obeyed the experimenter in delivering what they believed was a shock of 450 volt to the other person strapped in an "electric chair" behind a wall.1 This study has have since then been replicated in other countries, including Denmark, and with the same startling results. About two-thirds of every sample, across different age, gender, and socioeconomic background characteristics, obeyed the experimenter in giving life dangerous shocks, even when the victim behind the wall previously had been heard to protest or scream.
How is this submittance to the controlling other and the numbing of empathic relations to the victimized other behind the wall possible? In the initial reports explanations have been provided in terms of obedience to authority. But little or no explanation has been offered of the processes by which the authoritarian other may come to exert such a control.
An account may be offered in terms of the naive subject's virtual companion space: In the subject that went to the chock limits, the experimenter, as the subject's actual other, may be seen to fill the companion space of the subject's virtual alter, leaving no room in the companion space for the victim behind the wall. The experimenter fills the companion space of the subject and demands obedience of the subject's ego as executioner of his commands. While 40 % of the subjects refuse go to the limit, leaving room in their companion space for the victimized other, whose protests they can hear behind the wall, six out of ten subjects submits to the experimenter's command. If the present account is accepted, this is not merely a matter of control from the outside, but would have to involve the experimenter's establishing some kind of dyadic closure with the subject that excludes the screaming victim behind the wall. Is this plausible? The self-reflective comments on one of the participants in the Danish replication of Milgram's experiment appear to point in this direction. A scene from the replication (Fig. 8.1) illustrates the way in which she, when approaching the higher shock levels, turns to the experimenter for reassurance.

Somehow, there is a togetherness involved. The dyad constituted by the subject and the experimenter operates in relation to someone external to the dyad. In this scene she asks the experimenter: "If he does not bear it any more, can I hear him if he says "Stop!"." The experimenter confirms that the experiment demands of her to continue. But he does so in a friendly, yet firm, voice; his manner is mild and soothing, not brisk and commanding. This feature of friendliness is emphasised in the experimenter's self-reflective comments:

"In daily life I am not particularly authoritarian in my appearance. And I thought it would be a handicap in the experiments. I was struck by how this made it even more forceful.....I was friendly; hence it was difficult (for the subject) to believe that ........"

Even his features of a mild face with soft long hair may have conveyed this impression of friendliness (Cf. Fig. 8.1). The self-reflective comments by the woman depicted in the above scene after the experimental set-up had been disclosed to her points in the same direction:

"..reflections comes only afterwards when the experiment has been concluded and one learns that the experiment concerns how far one may go in inflicting suffering upon others - quite sits by this instrument, or believes, anyhow, that one is inflicting suffering upon the other, and then.....I felt so badly afterwards because I was thinking one may set oneself on a pedestal.....
I know that the one thing one should absolutely not do is to cause sufferings onto others, and then..I go ahead and do it myself...

("But you offered resistance", the interviewer objects. "Sure, I offered resistance. It is easy to offer resistance....but I did what I was asked to do," she replies. "Can you explain why it was so difficult to leave the chair and say No", she is then asked).

"I think it was because the experimental leader was very, very clever. Because he...I believe that his way of behaving right from the moment when he entered and said Hello.... appeared young, very soft, I felt, right sympathetic and sweet and fine. And one is often led by one's first impression...
and when he could let me go on..
he made much out of the experiment as something I should continue. I must not ruin his experiment. And so I was worried about spoiling his experiment because he impressed me as a sympathetic and sweet man, no?"

Thus, perhaps in this case, the experimenter, as the subject's actual other, may be seen to fill the companion space of the subjects virtual alter, leaving no room in the companion space for the victim behind the wall. A kind of dyadic closure has been established between the naive subject and the friendly authoritarian, excluding the empathic relations with the victim behind the wall.
Irrespective of whether the experimenter was friendly or not, in the base-line conditions, more than 60 % submits to his control, while the others refuse to go to the limit, leaving room in their companion space for the victimized other, whose protests they can hear behind the wall.
When the experimenter, however, under other conditions, established a distance between himself and the subject, such as giving orders through a telephone, or the victim made his presence felt as an actual other through contact, then the proportion of subjects declining increases. For example, when the subject in teacher position has to force the victim's hand down onto the chock plate, only 30 % goes to the chock limit. This is reduced to about 20 % when the experimenter gives directions by telephone only, and to only 2.5 % when there is no order from the experimenter, and the subject is free to choose shock levels.2
These variations suggest, as pointed out by Milgram, that the proportion administrating maximum shock decreases with increased distance to the obedience inducing force, and with increased immediacy with the victim. In terms of the present interpretation, this means that the subject's inflicting pains on the actual other becomes less probable as the larger distance increase to the experimenter. With greater distance to the experimenter, the naive subject is able to listen to her own voice of her moral consciousness. There is also room for a closer relation to the victim, who is otherwise prevented from filling the immediate companion space of the subject by virtue of the commanding or friendly presence of the conductor of the experiment.

The torturer's mind: Nazi war criminals

Milgram's study suggest that the capacity for feeling the victimized other's pain may collapse even in the absence of hypnotic control, and by virtue of an authoritarian command. In the presence of the experimenter, the subject is invited to relate to the victim in a distancing and abstracting mode. As a generalized, re-presented or abstracted other, the victim is prevented from filling the companion space in a mode of empathic closure. Instead of the particular other that makes his presence felt, the other is turned into an object of symbolic re-presentation and re-construction, shifted from the domain of felt immediacy into the mediate domain of symbolic construction. When embedded in a totalitarian ideology, this opens for re-constructing the other in the image of the beast, or the unclean, or the evil.
In the previous chapter we saw how an Aristotelian kind of logic may invite submittance to a model monopoly and turn totalitarian and deadly if combined with a moral cannon about saving the world from evil. We saw how such a logic may come to invite one to differentiate between good and evil people in an absolute and permanent sense, and how, in conjunction with a moral program for freeing the world of evil, totalitarian principles can become murderous. Still, this does not permit comprehension of the way in which apparently "ordinary" socialized persons, even with some moral sense, some of them committed principles of medical science, can turn into torturers and murderers.

From studies of Nazi war criminals

A series of shattering disclosure emerge from interrogations of Nazi criminals who took part in the torture and killing of concentration camps victims during the second world war. Some of these studies suggest that the ordinary man or woman with a common background, without any previous criminal record or deviant scores on personality scales, may come to serve as executioners of torture and killing.
After 275 hours of interrogation of Adolf Eichmann, von Lang and Sybill (1983) describes him as "an average man of middle class origin and normal middle class upbringing, a man without identifiable criminal tendencies".3
The Norwegian sociologist Niels Christie (1972) interrogated prison camp guards who had taken part in the torture and killing of Serbians in Nazi concentration camps in the northern part of occupied Norway 1942-43. With regard to socioeconomic background and personality scale scoring they were found not to deviate from those who did not take part in the torture and killing.4
When Robert Jay Lifton (1986) interviews Nazi doctors who had taken part at Auschwitz in the mass murder of millions of Jewish men, women, and children, he is struck by the "ordinariness" of most of those he interviewed. They did not strike him as the demonic figures which their monstrous acts should lead one to expect.
Independently of each other both Christie (1972:169) and Lifton (1986:503) suggest, respectively, that "others could have turned out like them"; "just about anyone can join a collective call to eliminate every last one of the alleged group of carriers of the "germ of death"." Those analyzed were not seen to deviate from others in background or permanent character attributes, but appeared to be ordinary citizens with some moral knowledge, and without severe character disorders, who had somehow turned into killers.
Reports on the Nazi doctors, on Adolf Eichmann, and even on the Milgram "electric chair" experiment, considered to reveal the so-called "Eichmann effect", leave one with a dark pessimistic outlook. Something about the ordinary make-up of man appears to leave him open to commit such incredible acts, and which need not spring from deviant character traits. For example, when comparing the maximally obedient subjects with the maximally defying subjects on some standard personality tests, Elms and Milgram (1966) found no significant differences between those that complied with and those that resisted the order to deliver chocks.5 Again, when comparing the prison guards that took part in the killing and torture with those who did not take part, Christie (1972) found no significant difference between them in terms of authoritarian personality characteristics or socioeconomic background characteristics.
If they are right, how can this be? How can apparently ordinary, socialized individuals turn into a systematic torturers and killers, when there is evidence that even the infant may feel with and show concern for the actual other in need or distress? We must face this question, then: What is there about man and the nature of his socialization and embeddedness in collectivities and obedience to authority, that makes man susceptible to participate in systematic acts of torture and killing?
Somehow, we may have to search for some kind of comprehension of the incomprehensible in terms of the average or typical or social, rather than in terms of the a-social, abnormal, or monstrous. There may be something about normal organization of the mind and the "civilized" culture in which it is embedded that permit the deadly, impersonal servant to emerge as an executioner of systematic violence.

The Nazi prison guards of Serber concentration camps

The Serberian camp context for the Nazi prison guards that Christie interviewed could be compared to extermination concentration camps. When Christie compares the prison guards that took part in the torture and killing with the prison guards who abstained from participation, he finds no differences with regard to previous criminal records or socioeconomic background. They did not score differently on authoritarian personality scale, nor in terms of measures of attitudes towards other people, except with regard to victims, the Serbians. Those who did the torturing and killing, described the Serbians as primitive, not really human - as intermediary between humans and animals. They were younger than the other prison guards, and probably also more active and susceptible to influence.

But otherwise, most of them (the guards that mistreat and kill in concentration camps) need not deviate from other young people from comparable socioeconomic strata - when subjected to the same ideological training.
They may share the same norms, the may have the same opinions, they might have turned out as other young people. And most important: The others could have turned out like them, if they were in the same situation and exposed to the same pressure. (Christie, 1972: 169).
This compels a return to the question about what it is about the ordinary organization and workings of the mind of socialized individuals with a common background and even a moral consciousness, that enables it to submit to the monstrous demands of an institutional or collective contexts that demand absolute obedience in the performance of killing and torturing others.
In his study of the Nazi doctors at Auschwitz Lifton has uncovered an Auschwitz self that functions as a complex whole.

The Auschwitz Self of the Nazi doctors

When Lifton interviews the Nazi doctors who participated in the mass murder at Auschwitz he is struck by the "ordinariness" of most of them. Neither brilliant nor stupid, neither inherently evil nor particularly morally sensitive, they did not strike him as the demonic figures which their monstrous acts should lead one to expect. So he sets out to search for answers to these questions: How can such ordinary people come to commit demonic acts, and what is it about individual and collective behavior that may transform healers into killers?6
The answer does not lie solely in an external reference to a rationalizing "logic" of Nazi killing for those doctors who believed in the vision of National Socialism as a "world blessing" (Weltbeglückung) and Jews as the "fundamental evil" (Grundübel).7 Lifton finds a key to understanding in terms of what he proposes as a principle of doubling in the psychology of genocide. By virtue of an entire self-structure (or self-process) encompassing nearly all aspects of his behavior, and as distinct from his prior self, the Auschwitz doctor could kill and organize silently, on behalf of the collective project, the machinery for mass murder without guilt feeling.8
The Auschwitz doctor came to be executioner of a collective project and implementor of a "cosmic scheme of racial cure" by means of victimization and mass murder by virtue of his mind being divided into two functional wholes, each of them operating as an entire self. One self allowed him to see himself as a humane physician, husband, and father, conducting himself accordingly in those prior and interpersonal domains. The other self, his Auschwitz self, came to operate functionally, and with an autonomy of its own that took over and connected with the entire Auschwitz domain, a domain antithetical to the Nazi doctor's previous ethical standards.
The Auschwitz self drew from the Nazi ideology and ethos a form of belief and texture of thought in which it cannot think itself wrong, while at the same time depending upon a radically diminished feeling. Lifton calls this "psychic numbing", involving a diminished capacity or inclination to feel anything.9
As an institution and an atrocity-producing situation Auschwitz set the tone also for much of the individual doctor's internal environment. He is involved in a shared psychological process where the group norm demands a self that could adapt to killing without one's feeling oneself a murderer. This group process was intensified by the general awareness that, whatever went on in other camps, this was the great technical centre camp of "the final solution".10
How could the Nazi doctor avoid guilt? According to Lifton he did not do it by eliminating conscience, but by transferring it, by virtue of his Auschwitz self, within the criteria set by the institution and collective norms for what was "good": "duty, loyalty to group, improving Auschwitz conditions"11 as an effective machinery, etc. was the moral in terms of which the Auschwitz self operated. The Auschwitz self came to be an autonomous and connecting process that altered the meaning of murder, but only with respect to the domain to which it connected. The Auschwitz self was disavowed by the other self:

"the Auschwitz self so violated the Nazi doctor's previous self-concept as to require more or less permanent disavowal. Indeed, disavowal was the life blood of the Auschwitz self." (Lifton, 1986: 422).

According to Lifton, in the dialectic between the two selves of the Nazi doctor the Auschwitz self "succeeded" because it came to be an inclusive self that could connect with the entire Auschwitz machinery and the shared group norms, rendering it coherent and giving form and meaning to its various mechanisms and themes. While a transfer of conscience is involved, and a significant change in moral consciousness, this dialectic between the two selves in which the Auschwitz self succeeded occurred largely outside of the individual's awareness.12
Lifton, then, found a key to understanding some of the Nazi doctors' behavior in terms of a division into two functional selves. The formation of an Auschwitz self as distinct from the prior self of the Nazi doctor, came to function as an entire self-process, enabling the Nazi doctor to

"not only kill and contribute to killing but organize silently, on behalf of the evil project, an entire self-structure (or self-process) encompassing virtually all aspects of his behavior."13

Lifton calls this process of division of the self into two functional whole for the process of doubling. The process can include elements that characterizes "sociopathic character impairments: swings between numbing and rage, pathological avoidance of guilt feeling, resort to violence to overcome repressed guilt, and maintenance of a sense of vitality through effectiveness. But in the case of the Auschwitz doctors, Lifton found the process of doubling to be more focused and temporary, occurring as part of a larger collective and institutional structure which encourages it and even demands a particular atrocity-producing and maintaining self. Hence, it is not an antisocial "character disorder" in the classical sense of a life-long pattern.
According to Lifton, the doctor assigned either to the "euthanasia" killing centers or the death camps were probably unusually susceptible to doubling, tended to be strongly committed to the Nazi ideology, and may well have had greater schizoid tendencies and be more prone to numbing than others. But Lifton stresses that this is significant in respect to tendency or susceptibility, and no more. He found doubling to have occurred in people of the most varied psychological characteristics.

"We thus find ourselves returning to the recognition that most of what the Nazi doctors did would be within the potential capacity - at least under certain conditions - of most doctors and most people." (Lifton, 1986: 427)

Perversion of the inherent dyadic organization of the mind?

Towards the ending of his report and analysis of the medical killing and genocide by the Nazi doctors at the Auschwitz, Robert Jay Lifton points out that there is a universal potential for such murderous behavior:

"Nazi doctors doubled in murderous ways; so can others. Doubling provides a connecting principle between the murderous behavior of Nazi doctors and the universal potential for just such behavior. The same is true of the capacity to murder endlessly in the name of national-racial cure. Under certain conditions, just about anyone can join a collective call to eliminate every last one of the alleged group of carriers of the "germ of death." (Lifton, 1986: 503)14

Here it is suggested that just about every one come to join and submit to a collective program of violence and elimination.
One would like to believe that this is not the case. By the principle of "doubling" Lifton means "the formation of a second, relatively autonomous self, which enables one to participate in evil." (Lifton, 1986:6). But while this may apply to the nazi doctors, why should it apply other people?
This principle of doubling may be related to the thesis of the virtual other attributed to the normal human mind. That is, the dyadic organization attributed to the mind may leave itself open to perverting perturbations, when caught in the social forces of collectively shared sentiments mobilized around a collectively shared cause that demands absolute obedience.15
Lifton's dramatic inference points in the same direction as the findings of Milgram and Christie referred to previously in this chapter. Thus, a key to understanding is offered in terms of two selves of the mind, the prior self and the Auschwitz self being formed through the process of doubling.
But what doubles in doubling, or what dissociate in dissociation, or, a commentator asks:

"Why should we invent a special intrapsychic act of splitting to account for those phenomena as if some internal chopper were at work to produce them?" (Pruyser, 1975).16

This is a problem for dissociation theory. Dissociation theory goes back to the work of Pierre Janet and others at the turn of the century. Succinctly stated, it attributes to the mind the opposite capacity of associate or connect. The mind is capable of resolving itself into various disconnected individual mental islands that are dissociated from each other. In his "Principles of Psychology" William James considers networks of the mind in terms of both associative and disconnected nets (Cf. chapter 13). According to Lifton (1986:219-420) involvement in a continuous routine of killing, occurring for one or several years, cannot be accounted for in terms of dissociation. The process of what he terms 'doubling' involves the formation of a holistic functioning second self. But what is its point of departure? Does it emerges from the original prior self? If it does, then some assumption about an "internal chopper" or an internal doubling mechanism must be evoked, albeit operating over a longer stretch of time.
If we attribute, in line with the present thesis, an inherent dyadic organization to the ordinary workings of the mind, then there is no need for any reference to dissociation theory or to some internal "chopping" or doubling mechanism. If there is an inborn complementary companion process (and associated space) that has been termed the virtual other in this book, this, then, is the space that may be filled by a cause for evil or good, as the actualized collective or causal virtual other. When this cause or context demands absolute obedience, and, the virtual other, filled by this actualized collective or cause, may override and passivate the complementary ego process and temporarily abort any internal dialogue. In the case of the Auschwitz doctor, the companion space of his virtual other is filled by the encompassing demonic other of the Auschwitz nazi collectivity. One Nazi doctor, for example, speaks of an immediate sense of community (Gemeinschaft) and common effort (allgemeine Anstrengung) in their Auschwitz activity.17 This becomes his evil Other, his Auswitz Other, ruling out any dialogue with the complementary participant in his dyadic organization of the mind by virtue of the total embeddedment in the institutional and collective setting. And what is more, by virtue of the demonic Auschwitz Other filling the companion space of the Nazi doctor in a total, encompassing manner, there is no room in the companion space for the Jewish victims as actual others. And if it had been room, then the machinery of death would have broken down.
The Auschwitz Other focused the Nazi doctors on their contribution to the "Final Solution" (Endlösung): It stood for mass murder inviting attention to problem-solving, preventing any identification or feeling with the Jewish victims as actual others. The actual others filling the doctor's companion space is the community of the Auschwitz doctors and others united by the common cause and shared feelings of common effort. Thus, even though Hitler's proclamation that the Jews had to be exterminated sprung out of hatred of the Jewish people, the genocide machinery of Auschwitz could not operate upon actualized hate. Because then feelings would have been involved, and with it, acknowledgment of the Jew as an actual other human being. If hatred of the Jewish victims as actual others had been evoked, this would have meant that they be regarded as subjects, as actual others admitted into the companion space of the Nazi doctor. The Auschwitz Other demands loyalty to the cause of extermination and indifference to the victims, the true evil opposite of both hatred and love. The victims are being excluded from being actual others, neither subjects nor objects of hatred or love, reduced instead to countable entities, where only the number makes a difference.
Also in the case of the Serberian Nazi camp, Christies' finding may point in such a direction. Those prison guards that did not take part in the killing and torture, regarded the Serbians as human beings, as actual others, while those submitting to the pressure to exterminate, did not acknowledge their victims as actual other human beings. In the younger guard, the extermination Other filling the guard's companion space left no room for the victims.

Reduced susceptibility and probability of recurrence?

Above I have ventured to consider some aspects of the shattering studies of Christie and Lifton of cases of systematic torture and murders and empathological collapse. The latter identifies a second "Auschwitz Self" of the Nazi doctors whom he studied. I propose to see this as grounded in the virtual other's capacity to be filled with causes for good or evil, when embedded in a monolithic context that demands absolute commitment.
I have referred to the way in which the Milgram experiments revealed how ordinary socialized adults may turn insensitive to the pains that they are asked to inflict upon others, and the disclosure that some of the doctors and prison guards of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps that engaged in the torture and killing appeared to be socialized and seemingly "ordinary" individuals with some moral knowledge, and without any apparent permanent character disorder or previous criminal record. Yet they took part in systematic torture and mass murder.
Such disclosures leave one in deep despair. To attempt to account for such phenomena makes matters even worse. To the survivor of the Holocaust the very act of attempting to explain in a cool manner aspects of mass murder behavior may be seen to revoke again the very spirit that made the mass murder machinery possible: the disinterested observing scientist turned into a torturer and killer in cool detachment that made him indifferent to the individual victims, while sharing with the fellow killers and torturers a common cause. To suggest that perhaps even the ordinary "enlightened" man, when finding himself in similar conditions and sharing a cause that calls for an absolute either-or solution, can take part in systematized killing and torture, appears as a courtroom appeal to excuse the accused of the responsibility for the criminal acts. This is actually what occurred in the case of Eichmann. His defence attorney insisted that the fate of the Jewish people would have been no different if Eichmann had not lived; someone else, another ordinary bureaucrat would have done his job.18
An attempt to explain, however, is not an attempt to excuse. It is rather an unpleasant, and perhaps futile, attempt to uncover and bring to awareness some traits of the human individual and collective nature that make us susceptible to take part in destruction and genocide, in the hope that such an awareness may reduce the probability of recurrence.
Does the dark canvas painted above admit any streaks of light? Does it leave us with any ground for hope? At first, it would appear that there is none. And yet, ground for hope lies in this: Milgram studies of obedience behavior under artificial conditions, and Christies studies of killing and torture in concentration camp conditions, did reveal after all that some people could resist pressure. Even under the standard-line conditions one third of the sample resisted going to the shock limit in Milgram's study. Christie found that the prison guards who did not take part in the torture and killing, were older and had more life experience than the one who did take part.
May one attribute to those who did not obey the experimenter's order or who did not take part in the prison atrocity a higher degree of moral consciousness? Those maintain that there is a close connection between the capacity for making moral judgement and morally relevant behavior of the "enlightened" rational man, may perhaps be inclined to believe so. When Milgram asked, however, twenty undergraduates about how one should act in the experimental situation, all of them considered that one should disobey the experimenter at the shock level of 150 volts, while the average level at which the experimental subjects did disobey, was 360 volts, while most, more than 60 % went all the way to 450 volt.19
It has been suggested that this cannot be seen to come about merely by virtue of their being embedded in a context of authority and collectivity demanding absolute obedience, but by virtue of their being able to re-construct the victims in way that excludes them from their immediate companion space, filled instead by the authority or companionship that demands their negation for the sake of the overriding "cause". As we have seen, in contexts of authoritarian or collective control, the dyadic nature of mind makes it susceptible to a disconnection between the self and the virtual other, the companion space of which may be filled by the controlling agency or the collectively felt cause, to the exclusion of the victimized self or the victimized actual others.
In the Nazi doctors analyzed by Robert Jay Lifton, this perversion of the dyadic mind manifested itself in the formation of what he termed 'the Auschwitz self'. He described by the associated process which he calls "doubling". I have proposed that the dyadic nature of mind provides the ground for such disconnection, and that it involves an empathologic collapse, excluding the actual victims from the domain of felt immediacy, and permitting them to be re-constructed and negated by virtue of the ideological collectivity in which the killer is embedded.
What appears to facilitate the process is the symbolic definition and re-definition that is offered by the other, and which is required in the very process of re-constructing the victim in the name of the "true" cause, accepted as final, literally as endgultig. But the submittance to such cause does not provide any excuse for such atrocities. As Lifton puts it: "To live out the doubling and call forth the evil is a moral choice for which one is responsible, whatever the level of consciousness involved."20
This choice also applies to those administrating the "electric chair" experiments. Actually, the experimenters in the "electric chair" experiments are themselves executioners of torture, albeit of a psychic kind. The acute pain and suffering inflicted on some of the subjects being compelled to administer electric chocks is more than apparent in many participants in the Danish replication referred to above. It is carried out for the sake of scientific knowledge. As the Danish experimenter stated, he felt badly about it at the beginning, but gradually grew accustomed to it.
Above it has been suggested how the inherent dyadic organization of the mind, when unable to permit any internal dialogue about the atrocity committed, will give rise to separate and independent selves, like the two selves of the Nazi doctors uncovered by Lifton. The postulated companion space of the mind appears ready to filled for good or evil by the actual other, re-presented or collective other, who may take total control, preventing any internal dialogue and perverting the companion space in a manner that demands absolute obedience. We have seen demonstrated how this even could entail the exclusion from this companion space of the victims tortured or annihilated for the sake of some authoritarian or common cause.
The process of socialization, providing even moral knowledge, also offer the symbolic and cultural means by which this literal exclusion of the victim is made possible. Can the re-cognition and acknowledgment that each and everyone of us are susceptible to processes and mechanisms through which we may be capable of such monstrous deeds be preventive? It will not suffice. And yet, at least the above attempted account return the moral responsibility to each individual. The controlling authoritarian or collective context cannot be assigned the responsibility. It ultimately rests with the individual who permits the controlling other to enter the companion space and severe of the bonds that connect with the lifeform of others. This severance is perhaps felt by the individual, even though it leads to a numbing of feeling, involving an empathologic collapse. Reference to some compelling cause or authority outside the individual does not suffice to predict, explain, or excuse acts of atrocity. The adult individual has a moral choice about whom to include or exclude as actual companions, filling or being left out of the companion space of his virtual other.
Not so for the child who becomes a victim to sexual abuse and torture. The child is helpless to prevent the intrusion of the abusing adult. The adult who abuse children, literally penetrates the companion space of their victims and force some of them to cope with this injury by breaking off the internal connection with themselves. If the companion space of the child's virtual other becomes a space of abuse and atrocity by an adult intruder that very space may be become separated from the victim's self. The victim's ego may become divorced from the victim's virtual alter, who may become one or several victimized others, divorced from dialogue with the hurt self. To this I shall now turn.


1Stanley Milgram: Behavioral Study of Obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67, 1963, pp.371-278. See also: S. Milgram: Obedience to Authority New York, Harper & Row, 1974.
2R. Brown, op.cit., p.21.
3J. von Lang and C. Sibyll (eds): Eichmann Interrogated. New York: Farrar, Straus and Ciroux, 1983. See also Roger Brown: Social Psychology. The Second Edition, New York: The Free Press, 1986, chapter 1.
4Niels Christie: Fangevoktere i konsentrasjonsleire (Prison Guards in Concentration Camps), Oslo: Pax, 1972.
5R. Brown, op.cit., p.5, referring to A.C. Elms and S. Milgram: Personality characteristics associated with obedience and defiance toward authoritative command. Journal of Experimental Research in Personality, 1966, 1: 282-289.
6R. J. Lifton, op.cit., pp.4 - 5.
7R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.330.
8R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.418.
9R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.442.
10R. J. Lifton, op.cit., pp.425.
11R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.421.
12R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.419.
13R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.418.
14Robert Jay Lifton: The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books, 1986.
15Konrad Lorenz' work on aggression in animals and men, and Erich From's work on the anatomy of human destructiveness, suggest different path in the quest for explanations. The former suggests that there is natural ground for human aggression, while From considers that malignant aggression is specifically human and not derivable from animal instinct. Man can be driven by impulses to kill and torture, and even feel lust in doing so. As From puts, he is the only animal that can be a killer and destroyer of his own species without any rational gain, biological or economic, that is, be malignant destructive in a way that is biologically non-adaptive....ADD... (From, 1973, p.246).
16Paul W. Pruyser: "What splits in splitting?" Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 39 1975, pp.1-46.
17R. J. Lifton, op.cit., p.204.
18R. Brown, op.cit., p.2.
19R. Brown, op.cit., p.4.
20R. J. Lifton, op.cit., pp. 423-424.