Fanaticism and Brain Damage

FanaticalWhen I look around I see a lot of anger and hatred in the world and yet there are relatively few people going out and murdering as many others as they can. There is certainly the perception that such attacks are on the rise but I wonder if statistical evidence supports this idea?

What I really want to look at in this topic is if people who do such things have actual brain damage. The textbook case for brain damage leading to mass murder happened in 1966 when a former marine named Charles Whitman climbed a tower at the University of Texas in Austin. An autopsy later revealed a highly aggressive brain tumor.

However, Whitman was court martialed from the marines, suffering from familial stress, abusing drugs, and suffering pain so it’s not clear that the tumor played a role in the attacks.

There does not seem to be a correlation between traumatic brain injury and violent behavior. There have been documented cases of behavioral changes but no particular bent towards violence. There isn’t even a correlation between schizophrenia and violence despite popular culture’s claims.

There are actually several studies that suggest interpersonal violence has decreased in modern society.

I would conclude that the targeted violence we see today towards people of one particular party, religion, or country in the form of terrorism, school attacks, work attacks, or other such behavior is largely not the fault of brain damage. It is the fault of failure in thinking mechanisms.

Wikipedia’s article on violence includes a prevention section which mentions several things that make sense. Children who are well nurtured by parents or caregivers are far less prone to violence. Children who learn coping skills to deal with stress are likewise less violent. There is also a very important intervention component. When someone sees a person starting down the road of fanatical violence an early intervention can do much to prevent it.

I’m of the opinion that this intervention can be very subtle. When a person is heading towards fanaticism simply conversing with them in a non-violent way and offering alternative points of view can be helpful. I talked about this concept at length yesterday so I don’t want to repeat myself too much.

I guess in conclusion; we can’t blame brain injury for fanatical violence. People who are raised in violence are prone to act in such a way and they’ll find a cause to support their insanity one way or another. There also seems to be a correlation with drug or alcohol abuse.

I’m left with the idea that what drives people to such madness is lack of critical thinking skills. Certainly violence in childhood, learned hatred of other groups, and drug abuse play their role but I’m of the opinion that if we can teach strong reasoning skills that we’d reduce such violence. Maybe I’m a dreamer.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Fanaticism and Brain Injury

Is there is a correlation between people who raise relatively normal fanaticism to an extreme and violent level and potential brain injury? I’m not totally conversant with the subject and perhaps some of my friends will chime in to critique my analysis tomorrow. My goal is to look at some of the murderous maniacs in history and compare them to the mindset of terrorists today.

Is murderous fanaticism actually a brain malfunction rather than a learned behavior? Perhaps it is a tragic combination of the two. Come back tomorrow and you’ll get to explore the topic with me.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

The Road to Fanaticism

FanaticalToday I want to talk about how people become fanatical.

I do want to make it clear that I’m not talking about a light-hearted fanatic behavior. Perhaps someone is “fanatical” about a particular sports team or clothing designer. This use of the term has roots in aberrant fanatical behavior but there is an important distinction.

Someone who is passionate about a particular team or food or author is not to the point of killing someone who likes another team or food or author. Although, sports fanaticism can rise to the level of violence. I want to be clear that liking something passionately does not meet the criteria of fanaticism that I’m talking about here. Also, to be very clear, I’m not talking about religious people. It’s more than possible to be deeply religious and not be fanatical. Fanatics transcend the sport, religion, or other thing to which they profess their fanatic love. They are violent, they are unthinkingly loyal, they are certain that those who oppose them mean to destroy their way of life.

Finally, I also want to state that people who rise to violent fanaticism are not forced into it by any of the things I describe below. They, and they alone, are responsible for their actions. I think people who commit actions like this have brain damage of some kind. I just think, as I’ll talk about, that an environment that emboldens such maniacs can be limited through our own behavior and educational methods.

We see fanaticism currently in Anders Breivik who argues that his murder of seventy-seven children was self-defense because they represented a threat to his way of life.

This pathology shows us the means and methods of becoming a fanatic.

A fanatic is convinced that they must act to preserve their way of life. The way to achieve this conviction is to simply stop thinking about the possibility that you could be wrong. This is the very definition of Faith Based Thinking. I believe it is true and therefore it is. Without this, there is no fanaticism. So, how is that people can be convinced they need not look at evidence that doesn’t support their theory of the world?

Again, I don’t want to seem to be picking on religion in this post because, for once, I’m not. Fanatics transcend the religion they often, but not always, use to fuel their fury. They latch onto something and that something is often religion but it doesn’t make religion the villain. It comes from a mindset that looks at things in a very black and white fashion. I’m right, you’re wrong. There is no reason to consider your point of view, your feelings, your right to live.

So, how do we get people who think like this? How do we end up with fanatics who were “such nice, quiet boys” just a few weeks ago. Who are loving family members, good friends, contributors to society? People who “we could never imagine would do such a terrible thing?”

We fill them with faith-based ideas and more importantly fail to school them on critical thinking skills. That’s the road to fanaticism. All of you, my most religious friends, you don’t use faith-based thinking when it comes to the next big purchase. You use critical thinking. You don’t use faith-based thinking when it comes to an important work project, you use critical thinking skills. Everyone is capable of doing it but when we encourage people to ignore facts, to ignore science, to yell down those who disagree, to insult them, to attack them, then we teach fanaticism.

The talking heads on media are trying for ratings but are actually laying the foundation of fanaticism when they shout down and ridicule those with different opinions.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Even with encouragement most people don’t turn into fanatics. Most people maintain their critical thinking skills well enough to know not to kill a bunch of other people. But, the more we teach people to laugh at, ridicule, attack, and belittle those of opposing points of view the more we are fueling fanatics. Words like Repukicans, Libtards are vicious attacks against those we disagree with. You mean them as harmless verbal jousting but there are people out there who don’t see it that way.

I’m not blaming you. I’m not blaming me. Nut job fanatics have only themselves to blame but can’t we try rational discourse to set an example?

Next time someone espouses a position you disagree with try asking them this question: “What facts do you have to support that position?” And, here’s the crazy part, listen to their answer and think about it. Even if they don’t convince you at least you’re setting an example for those around you and I think we all know how important it is have good role-models.

The guy sitting next to you when you launch into a diatribe about how President Bush/Obama is destroying America might not be as rational as you imagine. They might not be a “nice, quiet guy”. They might find fear in your words. Fear of losing their way of life. This fear might embolden them to act.

So, I say stand up for critical thinking. Listen to the other side. Be a shining example to your family and friends. If everyone did that I suspect the world would be a better place and isn’t that the goal of any rational person?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Fanatics Week – Fanaticism

FanaticalI’m going to spend a week talking about fanaticism because the trial of the self-righteous murderer Anders Breivak is in the news. I’m not going to focus particularly on that case but on the nature of fanaticism and some of the psychological factors that play into it. I’m going to start off with a simple look at what fanaticism is and why it is so dangerous. And, believe it or not, I think my opinions here will be disputed by a great number of people. Read on and see for yourself.

Ok, back to fanaticism. Wikipedia defines it as a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby.

For those of you follow me regularly I hope you can see where I’m going to have a problem. Involving uncritical zeal. The key word being uncritical. The very nature of fanaticism is tied up in Faith Based Thinking with a complete absence of Critical Thinking. It’s important to understand that Faith Based Thinking is not merely the belief in god or some particular religion or another. It is a method of thinking that is dangerous.

I think that it is largely impossible to behave like Anders without faith-based thinking. It is impossible to become a fanatic without faith-based thinking. It is impossible to become a monster without faith-based thinking. It is this abandonment of critical thinking that leads to much ill. I’m certainly not saying that those who engage in faith-based thinking are destined to murder seventy-seven children on a camp retreat but I am saying, loudly and clearly, that those who abandon critical thinking and embrace faith-based thinking are going to make mistakes in every aspect of their lives.

Fanaticism largely stems from giving into your fears. When you fear something completely; you are willing to abandon reason and allow the violence that swirls beneath the surface to emerge. We all have that violence. It is important to understand the capability for humans for violence. I could, at any moment, kill my cat. I could easily grab a child around the neck and throttle him. I could push a pedestrian in front of a moving bus. We have that in us at all times and it is our reasoning, critical thinking skills, and rational fear for our own safety and well-being that keep us from doing it.

Here is where someone will say it is fear of eternal damnation or faith in god that keeps us from doing violent things. I disagree. If I behave violently, if I kill seventy-seven kids on their camp retreat, the odds are I will face terrible repercussions immediately. My freedom will be lost, my friends and family will abandon me. The only reason I can do such a thing is if I feel my situation is without hope, that I’ve given into fear and turned off all rational thought. fanaticism.

I’ll be doing a deeper examination of fanaticism, good and evil, and right and wrong as the week progresses but I think it’s important to understand that the root of this thing is the abandonment of reason and of critical thinking. While fanaticism might be born of fear and utter hopelessness it is driven to action by faith-based thinking.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist