Friday, December 27, 2013

The Creativity of Denial

Never Forget Srebrenica, by Scott McIntyre. A Bosnian Muslim man makes his way past the caskets of those killed in the Srebrenica genocide of July 1995.

Horrible, unspeakable memories will forever haunt the psyches of many survivors of war, genocide, and other atrocities. But what is behind the systematic denial of crimes against humanity?

The Science of Hatred

What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers. Is anyone listening?

By Tom Bartlett

The former battery factory on the outskirts of Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia, has become a grim tourist attraction. Vans full of sightseers, mostly from other countries, arrive here daily to see the crumbling industrial structure, which once served as a makeshift United Nations outpost and temporary haven for Muslims under assault by Serb forces determined to seize the town and round up its residents. In July 1995 more than 8,000 Muslim men, from teenagers to the elderly, were murdered in and around Srebrenica, lined up behind houses, gunned down in soccer fields, hunted through the forest.

This stunning article in The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses on studies of intergroup conflict, in particular the work of Sabina Cehajic-Clancy, a Bosnian social psychologist. “It is unbelievable the extent and amount of creativity that people possess when it comes to denying,” she said.

Sadly, this sort of research is seriously undervalued in psychology:
Studying conflict can be a draining, thankless endeavor. Government officials rarely turn to social psychologists for advice on how to end war or cool simmering tensions. Within psychology, research on intergroup conflict is not a speedy route to professional acclaim. The fieldwork can be arduous and expensive. Funds are hard to come by, and so is publication in top journals. You’d be better off surveying undergraduates about their dating preferences or dietary habits.

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At December 27, 2013 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This mechanism of denial also seems to play an underappreciated role in our political process.

At December 28, 2013 4:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There may be a strong evolutionary reason (sure, this is probably another "just so" story...). If humans were not capable of denial, then we would all be committing suicide right now. Think about the big picture, and how insignificant we all are, including our esteemed Nobel Prize winners and the Bill Gates of this world. You can only live and be productive by denying in any way you can that nothing really makes sense and that life has no discoverable meaning in the end. Such denial may involve all sorts of distractions and drugs, as well as more basic cognitive tricks.
OK, back to default denial mode :-)


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