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Culture or Psychopathy?

Editor’s note: The author is well-known to all Lovefraud readers as “Ox Drover.”

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)

I read an article today that made me start to think about psychopathic behavior in groups of people. About groups of people without empathy, without altruistic thinking.

Looters hamper rescue efforts in tornado-ravaged Alabama

Most of us here in the U.S. have read many stories about the horrible damage done in Japan by both the earthquake and the resulting tsunami which washed over the land, killing tens of thousands, and devastating a large thickly-populated area. We’ve read where people’s life savings, stocks and bonds, and cash were found many miles from their homes and returned to them by the finders who could easily have kept them.

We sat glued to our televisions as the Japanese lined up in orderly fashion for scarce water and food supplies, or lay quietly and calmly in shelters, with the well assisting the ailing, the young the old.

As American, we are “amazed” to read this … while remembered video visions of policemen in storm-torn New Orleans wading through chest deep water with stolen goods held up over their heads are dredged up from our memories.

Only a few days ago a small town here in my immediate neighborhood was demolished by a tornado, and then only a day or so later, huge portions of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia were devastated by huge F-2-3 storms that left paths swept clean for miles wide and tens of miles long, with over 300 deaths known so far … and now the looters move in.

The people of the area, already hit by the horrors of Mother Nature, are now assaulted by the roaming gangs of psychopathic neighbors who troll for unguarded loot to steal. With more storms passing over my area, headed directly to that area with 2-4 more inches of cold rain, these people are having to try to guard what little they have left of their possessions that might be salvageable…and fight the frustration of knowing that their “neighbors” are willing to “kick them while they are down” to rob them of the few things that might have survived the natural disaster.

Why is Japan different, why was there so little looting, so much consideration, so much compassion among this people? What is it about the culture of the Japanese people today that would show such cooperation and yet, in the 1930s and 1940s, this same culture produced some of the most horrific psychopathic-like abuse of prisoners of war and civilians the world has ever seen?

Why do disasters of the magnitude of Katrina and these tornadoes bring out both the most altruistic in people who have come from hundreds of miles away at their own expense to volunteer to help these people, and yet … it also attracts the psychopathic-like vultures who will loot and steal, and destroy some more? Why more in America and less in Japan in the twenty-first century?

I know if my house were hit by tornadoes, my neighbors would come to assist me … people I know and people I don’t know … and in the rural area where I live and where my house is situated it is unlikely that there would be looters, but if I lived in Little Rock, the larger city and capitol of my state, I would expect looters. The hired hand that worked for me and my husband, knelt over my husband at the scene of the aircraft crash, helped direct rescue efforts, also stole my husband’s gold watch off his dying arm.

Tragedy and chaos seem to bring out both the best and the worst in human nature—in individuals and in groups of individuals, countries and cultures.

 



13 Comments on "Culture or Psychopathy?"

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  1. Ox Drover says:

    Not too late,

    I absolutely agree with you about “cultural” psychopathy….and justifying (legalizing) violent and controlling behavior.

    Look at the founding fathers of the US—many of them were slave owners, yet decried the POLITICAL “slavery” they were being forced to by England’s king and fought for FREEDOM, never even once thinking that the very chattel bondsmen they “owned” also had the same rights to that freedom.

    So in that case, the culture was the thing that allowed the founding fathers to behave in psychopathic ways in SOME aspects of their lives…the way I behave in “psychopathic” ways toward the animals I raise to eat….yet my Hindu friends would not behave this way toward animals. So our culture, both the larger culture of the country and the more personal culture of the family and the smaller communities within the larger culture also have a big influence on how we will behave.

    The “Us vs. Them” attitude, where it was noted that one man went to the store to buy bottled water, and there were like 20 bottles and he took 10. He COULD have justified taking all 20 and paying for them, but he left 10 and took 10.

    I hate to admit it, but I would have taken all 20 and been grateful for having found the last ones available. He was more altruistic than I would have been with my “American” culture and “get mine first” attitude….I would NOT have knocked down someone and robbed them of their water if I had been unable to buy those last 20 bottles, and I think if someone else had arrived there at the same time I did I would have insisted we split them 10 and 10 rather than letting them take all 20….but this is again, “situational ethics.”

    Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for meaning” written after his Nazi prison years, talked about the “situational ethics” of his fellow prisoners, some of whom became “stooges” for the Nazis in order to survive. Sir Laurens Van der Post’s writings about his time in a Japanese prisoner of war cam in Java during WWII and his observations of what were probably true sadistic psychopathic officers and guards, versus those who were in a situation where they had to “follow orders” but were themselves not psychopathic and took no pleasure in the suffering of the prisoners.

    The book I read recently on the Batan Death March was framed along those same lines as van der Posts’ and Frankl’s books, looking at the different ways in which some people inflicted and seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on others versus those who may have participated but unwillingly, and those who actually may have been in “command” but knew nothing of what was actually going on

    The chaos of natural disasters mimic war in some ways, and I think brings out both the best and the worst in what might be otherwise components of character that might lie “dormant” or unobserved. The people who might “like” to behave like psychopathic vultures use the opportunity to do so, and those who have more noble and altruistic feelings, are given a chance to express those feelings.



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  2. stillinshock says:

    It is a survival thing also. You have to remember, in Japan, they have a collectivist culture. They live very closely together. If one person is caught stealing or doing something that is culturally frowned down on, they are totally ostracized from the entire community. You have to “play nice” and “fit in” in order to be a part of the community, and basically, in order to survive.

    In America, if you steal, you are frowned upon by some, but really, there are so many people and so many places you can go, and we are such forgiving people, they will be given another chance if they just apologize and say they will do better next time. The Japanese are not so forgiving. Once you are “outcast”, you are done.



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  3. Bob says:

    The leading article is a blanket statement without merit as a journalistic piece. Media in America has always been “if it bleeds it leads”. Local news will rarely report corruption in a police force due to that is who gives them “news”, don’t bite that hand! Eyewitness accounts never all agree and really nothing is ever what it seems.
    Please explain to me how one can find money in a flood and then locate the owner miles away to return it? When a tornado levels your house most of your possessions are gone or destroyed. What is there to protect? Where are the police and National Guard to keep order and stop these mysterious “roving bands of plunderers, killers and rapists” as are so often described.
    Residents were told to leave as Katrina was coming and they did not heed the warnings. Why? If they had no vehicle then walk. The reality is they hung around because they know the government will save them from themselves.
    These are the realities of life. Saying one country is noble and the other is not is myopic and in no way worth contemplating. Mother Nature is a force nobody can fight and win.



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  4. Bob,

    Many of the articles posted on Lovefraud would fall more under the description of an editorial, commentary or a personal column than news reporting. That’s one of the beauties of links—we can link to the original article to provide the news basis, and simply write the opinion that we want to convey.

    I think this article offers a valid observation. Safes full of cash were washing up on Japanese beaches and being turned in to authorities, so that hopefully the owners could be found. Other publications have commented on the lack of looting in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. Apparently there isn’t even a word for “looting” in the Japanese language. Here are some links:

    http://theweek.com/article/index/213154/why-is-there-no-looting-in-japan

    http://www.sify.com/news/no-panic-no-looting-life-in-a-tsunami-hit-japanese-city-news-international-ldns4fgeicj.html

    In contrast, I saw in an article that a sheriff surveying the damage in Alabama from a helicopter flew over his own ruined house and saw people ransacking it. A news article today reported that four men from Florida traveled to Alabama just to loot the properties and were arrested.

    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20110503/article/110509834

    This does point to major cultural differences. Asian societies emphasize community and cohesion, and American society focuses on individualism and competition. This is true. In fact, many experts feel that American child rearing practices – again focused on individual achievement and winning, is breeding more sociopaths. I think we, as a society, have real reason to be concerned.



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