Psychology of State-Sponsored Violence
State-sponsored violence has led to some of the most horrendous human right crimes such as genocide and torture. These crimes are often under the constant fire of debate as scholars try to reason as to why they occur. However, the debates of genocide and torture are not exclusively attributed to the fact that they occur, but also, as to why people participate in these acts to begin with. Contrary to popular belief the majority of participants in state-sponsored violence are often not radical extremists, but rather, ordinary people. In instances, such as the genocide in Rwanda, participants were average everyday people, often neighbors of the victims, who carried out many of the killings. Also, in cases of torture the soldiers who perform the acts are referred to as “ordinary Joes”. If it is the case that ordinary and regular people are involved in state-sponsored violence, why do they participate in the first place and what are the continuing effects they have because of their participation? In order to answer these pressing questions one must examine the sociological and psychological factors that guided people’s actions. There are different psychological features that come into play such as individual thought and how it is affected by group dynamics and authority. Moreover, the psychological features are further expanded when coupled with sociological attributions which animate the reasons behind participation in state-sponsored violence.
In certain state-sponsored violence, like torture, the “average Joe” is sought after as opposed to a rebel for the reason that an “average Joe” can ]easily be psychologically developed to be a torturer. The psychological transformation involves a restricted environment where the prospective torturer is put under the command of an authority figure. The psychological transformation process will lead to “an angry, desensitized, but obedient servant” (Schulz 304). This obedient servant complies with what they are told because of a sense of impunity, which is the belief from the participant that they will not be held accountable for their actions because of the presence of an authority figure. The authority figure serves as a scapegoat to the participant because they inherently lift the burden of accountability.
The role of sociological deviance also comes into play in the psychological development of a torturer. Deviance can be seen as the movement away from norms however, this ideology can cause a dilemma when determining whose norms to follow. In the case of a torturer deviance comes into play when the participant is taught to differentiate the familiar versus alien, or in other words, they develop an ideology of us versus them. The ideology is then further developed through the feeling that the different or alien is threatening, unpleasant, intolerable, or merely somehow disturbing. When a torturer is developed they are manipulated to believe that their victims are...