A very bright Scottish Psychoanalyst [Ronald Fairbairn] made a simple observation back in the middle of the 20th century – these simplified characters are in our minds even if we haven’t seen a scary action movie. They’re in our dreams. They are, in fact, the stuff of dream life. And more, they are the characters in the delusions of people with extreme mental illness – evil characters motivated by nothing more complicated that just being bad. It’s what they do.
But it’s easy to confirm such things. Just think about the scowling guy that cuts you off in traffic while talking on his cell phone. You don’t think, "I wonder what has that poor fellow so upset. Has he just been told that his beloved mother was raced to the hospital?" No. You think, "That asshole!" – a simplification of what might be a perfectly fine human being.
We just saw an example of this phenomenon in recent weeks. The terrible, evil Iranians turned out to be blue jeaned people just like us, longing to be free. Two years ago, Cheney and Bolton almost convinced us that they were monsters in need of a good bombing. Well, we saw that wasn’t true [in spades]. They even twitter.
Which brings me near my point. We simplify people in our minds into good and bad objects. They’re easier to deal with that way. And one of the things one can do when that happens is force people to have an actual encounter with real people. I live in a heavily Republican, mostly white, Religious Right leaning part of the world. Most of the people here are lovely folks – no demons. I like to think that having some Democrat lefties around with Obama stickers on our cars helps them not simplify and discount people like us [I’m pretty sure it works].
Now to my real point. I’m reading The Dark Side about the techniques used at Guantanamo, some thought up by psychologists, and I’m not only appalled by the barbarism and illegality of it all. It was absolutely doomed from the start – just plain stupid. Those Arab fighters had been given a picture of Americans as the "Great Satan." Had our interrogators acted in a humane and gentlemanly way, it would have undone the whole mystique of their mindset. That was proven over and over by the FBI Agents who used "conventional" techniques.