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Podcast

Mikhail Lyubansky Varieties of Evil, Varieties of Justice

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Broadcast 4/21/2010 at 23:59:41 (0 Listens, 2 Downloads, 1 Itunes)
Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show Podcast

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Mikhail Lyubansky  

Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D., is a managing editor at OpEdNews and a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he teaches Psychology of Race and Ethnicity and Theories of Psychotherapy.

His research and writing interests focus on conditions associated with changes in social identity and beliefs about race, ethnicity, and nationalism, especially in immigrant and minority populations. He is a regular contributor to edited volumes on popular culture, including Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and House MD, published by BenBella and recently co-authored a book on the Russian-Jewish diaspora: Building a diaspora: Russian Jews in Israel, Germany, and the United States. An autobiographical essay of his interests in race relations and basketball is available here. His Psychology Today blog about race is called Between the Lines.

Follow Mikhail on Twitter.

VERY rough interview notes

Evil
Mikhail doesn't like the word and would rather not use it. Evil implies intention to harm. But sometimes people are harmed even when no harm is intended.  The intent is not irrelevant, but I want to have a broader discussion that includes all behavior that harms others, regardless of intent.  Another reason I don't like the term "evil" is that it's very subjective. Depending on your politics, you might have considered the Bush Admin or... the Obama admin evil. I don't want to have a political debate.  I want to talk about behavior that is harmful to others and how society can address or respond to such behavior.


Rob: Evil is such a core part of just about every culture. Can't we define what is really evil, or is the word abused. 

In some types of evil, like psychopathy, there IS intention , and people are generally most comfortable talking about Evil in the context of Psychopathy.  But just one percent of the population meets criteria for psychopathy, and there is a lot of harmful behavior that is perpetrated by the other 99%.

Not psychosis, psychopathy.

Mikhail provides differentiation between psychosis and psychopathy. 

Rob: I recall, from when I worked in emergency psychiatry team-- there's Looseness of association, auditory hallucinations... and inappropriate affect (think hebephrenic or bizarre)

Mikhail: Psychopathy is a personality disorder-- A Psychopath hurts people and doesn't feel bad about, no remorse, no regret, doesn't feel emotionally aroused during that kind of behavior, doesn't even necessarily feels pleasure from inflicting pain (not necessarily sadistic). Antisocial, violent behavior... the Joker, in in the latest version of Batman, is a psychopath.

Rob: that makes about 3 million Americans are Psychopaths.

Mikhail: You can be a psychopath without engaging in really severe behaviors. Some people are psychopaths in their interpersonal relationships but they don't engage in criminal behavior.

Rob: there are at over two million people in US prisons. Where are the rest of them? Oh yeah, Washington.

Mikhail doubts that most politicians are psychopaths.  Psychopaths can be charming, in a superficial way, but politics is a long term endeavor that requires empathy...some amount of perspective-taking, in order to close a deal.

Mikhail lists ways psychopaths are impaired. 
  • perspective taking
  • empathy
  • self centered focus
  • don't care
  • don't get aroused emotionally
  • resistant as kids and adults to punishment. It isn't aversive to them. 

The Psychiatric DSM manual doesn't use either term, instead using "Antisocial personality disorder.
Based on behavioral manifestations of the psychopath-- behaviors that go against societal norms, like violent crime, hurting others

Characterizes psychopath as gene-based and sociopath as formed by society, but most psychologists are not particularly interested in this distinction.  The research data suggests that genes and environment are both involved in the formation of the psychopath/sociopath.

If you want to study psychopathy, go to a prison. 

Life expectancy of psychopaths is lower. 

The criminal justice system is designed to deal with this kind of person. it And this may be a reasonable societal response, particularly as psychopathy is a condition we really do not know how to treat. 

Rob: I mention my interview with Thom Hartmann, last year, where he suggested that to be a CEO of a megacorporation, you almost have to be a psychopath.

Mikhail: I don't know any CEOs and don't know how top-level decisions are made, but I suspect that they are made by committee and that there is a lot of diffusion of responsibility involved in making decisions that have known harmful consequences.



Mikhail wants to discuss Unintentional evil-- with unintended consequences, collateral damage--
Cites Toyota and the people hurt by car flaws as example.


We discuss restorative justice
  • don't assign blame
  • don't punish
  • Restore things to the way they used to be. 

Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa, following Apartheid as example


Cultural Evil

Slavery and racial segregation (Jim Crow) as historical examples of cultural evil.  There is cultural evil now, though we may need the benefit of hindsight to see it.

In the future, we may ALL look at eating meat, factory farming, treatment of Gazans as evil. 

Rob: How does it happen? How is it stopped? How is it healed?
Mikhail: these are the kinds of questions asked about the holocaust. Here are some factors:
  • there were scapegoats, 
  • ordinary people allowed it to happen, 
  • ordinary people put into inordinary circumstances, 
  • Pressure to follow orders, 
  • Conformity pressures-- you don't want to be the one who sticks out. 
  • put a uniform on people and the act differently
  • poverty, financial need

We discuss Stanley Milgram's and Phillip Zimbardo's studies-- subjects shocking "subjects" until they scream, and subjects acting as guards who become cruel.

Rob: So, what's the corresponding justice to this kind of evil?

Mikhail: Agitation for policy change that addresses it.  The abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement were two examples of structural justice.  The current fight for universal health care can be seen through this lens too.
We then talk about some other varieties of justice to deal with these evils--
Traditional Justice
Vigilante Justice
Structural Justice
Restorative Justice
Compassionate Justice and
Zen Justice

Mikhail (in conclusion): Imagine a world with two systems of justice, instead of one.The system we have now-- the criminal justice system, and another system, a system of restorative justice, which can be accessed by anyone who wants or needs it to deal with any type of conflict at all, from marital disputes to the TRC in South Africa and Sierra Leone.  This is what I'd like to see.





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