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In November 2008, Mumbai was the focus of a serious terrorist attack which was a shock to India and the world. Amongst the multitude of commentaries on the incident, perhaps the most insightful was that by Arundhati Roy (Mumbai was not our 9/11, The Guardian, 12 December 2008):
The only way to contain (it would be naïve to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror.
This is an exploration of possible learnings to be obtained from the worldwide intensive coverage of the trial of Josef Fritzl in Austria -- convicted in March 2009 for incarcerating his daughter for 25 years, frequently raping her, bearing children by her, and failing to take a newborn, sickly child to hospital - resulting in the child's death. In the week preceding the trial, Germany was witness to a horrific school shooting resulting in 15 deaths, also in March 2009.
The mystery on which many have focused in such cases is "why?".
In the same period (March 2009) there has been coverage of the historically unprecedented Ponzi scheme, involving $65 billion, operated by the esteemed financier Bernard Madoff -- and the disastrous consequences for those who had confidence in him over decades (including his co-religionists). But simultaneously there has been intensive debate and public anger, notably in the USA and the UK, over the contested efforts to remunerate exorbitantly those in major corporations whose disastrous financial management had necessitated unprecedented bailouts from government. Little, if any, effort has been made to indict those who might be considered complicit in the associated financial crisis and its consequences -- despite the widespread loss of livelihood, housing, pensions and life savings, with more to come.
In such a confusing context it is understandable that the case of Josef Fritzl can be considered a huge relief. Here is someone about whom uncontested universal agreement can be experienced. He is clearly completely guilty (by his own admission) and totally bad (given his reprehensible actions) -- if not purely evil. There are few issues of global significance on which such a degree of consensus has been achieved, or can be anticipated.
But beyond "he bad" therefore "me good", as characteristic of binary logic, is there more to be learnt by considering such individuals and the consensus they evoke? The question here is not whether any degree of sympathy should be envisaged for them. Rather it is a question of whether the universal consensus and judgement distract from other learnings -- perhaps much more inconvenient, but of greater potential significance in relation to other global issues.
Hence the value of following Arundhati Roy in an effort to look at the "monster in the mirror". What is to be seen there? Who is "Josef Fritzl" ? With respect to terrorism, as one writer confirmed:
I have seen the enemy and it is us (Joan Chittister, Pogo may have been right, National Catholic Reporter, 17 June 2003).
The most intensive media coverage of Fritzl has been on television and video-clips -- enhancing impressions through print media. As a metaphor of modern communication, it is however curious that television and computer screens do not have a "reflective" mode to their displays. In fact eliminating "reflection" is a feature of screens of higher quality in faithfully reproducing an image. Such screens might be said only to "refract" the image they display -- perhaps distorting it to some degree for convenience (shifting the colour values, brightness, etc).
The speculation here is with regard to what might be seen if such screens became "reflective" -- in a metaphorical sense. What if the characters portrayed, and their behaviours, were to be "tagged" in some way with one's own characteristic behaviours -- in those psychological modes of which one may not choose to be frequently conscious? Tagging is a term familiar to computer users, enabling them to identify a document by keywords.
The question for such an advanced display -- not technically impossible -- would be to what extent is a given characteristic of Josef Fritzl a feature of my own behaviour?
This recalls the function of the magical mirror of which the witch periodically asks:
As with "one way" glass, in cases like Fritzl, it could be argued that visual displays are now used in a somewhat similar manner -- except that their potential "polarization" is typically locked into a reversed mode. As normally used now, they are not polarized to function as mirrors but in order to see "through" them. So called polarized glass filters out certain types of light waves, notably as used on many LCD visual displays. In this metaphor, it is filtering out "insight waves" that would offer self-reflexivity.
The witch asks her question in order to trigger a switch in polarity -- but only if there is an inconvenient truth to be learnt.
As currently used however, by portraying something unquestionably evil, the screens reaffirm the (ethical and moral) "beauty" of the beholder. For clearly one is much "fairer", and less "ugly", than the Fritzl person who is displayed. In this case, for the user, the display is not understood as a "reflecting" mirror. It is not in the "reflecting mode" in which it normally functions for the witch. The image is of someone else and elsewhere -- the "other" -- seen "through" the mirror.
As research has shown, people do not need the mirror to function to reflect who they are. There is no "consumer demand" for that modality. They readily assume that they are "fair", if not the "fairest of them all":
As is characteristic of national self-esteem, and personal self-confidence, it is implicitly assumed that there is no need to ask:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who is the greatest of them all?
The answer is taken for granted. We know who is the greatest and may be vigorous in asserting that truth to others -- enhancing divisiveness. Those such as Fritzl perform the unique healing function of confirming this impression, but for world society as a whole, by use of the "see-through" modality into which the mirror is locked in answer to
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who is the baddest of them all?
There are however twinges of doubt as indicated by the following:
How might things appear to me if the polarization of the display is switched into "mirror mode" in relation to Josef Fritzl?
The witch's mirror reports on those at a distance, elsewhere.
Initially it would appear that none of "us" is in any way associated with the behaviors of Josef Fritzl. He is conveniently and hygienically bracketed off as pure evil -- elsewhere.
The delicate question is how such distancing is achieved and maintained. The challenge is to be seen in the experience of passing a beggar in the road. The person may be close -- even too close -- but one is quickly habituated to reinforcing every possible sense of distance. The person may be ignored or framed as socially far from one's own space. Cognitively they are transported outside one's comfort zone -- if not one's own world.
This is a simple example. More complex is exposure to a mugging in one's immediate proximity. Again one can define the dynamic as "not my problem" -- whatever the degree of violence. This may be true of domestic violence overheard in a neighbouring apartment -- however violent. Who wants the hassle of being a witness?
Clearly the more "distance" one can build into the relationship with such events, the greater one's lack of implication and the greater the justification for inactivity -- and the better one's comfort zone is protected.
It is unreasonable to consider that one is in any way responsible for the pain and suffering inflicted in the abattoir "over the hill", in the vivisection laboratory "down the road", or the torture practiced in "Guantanamo Bay". Animal slaughter, vivisection, and torture are all done hygienically on my behalf -- in ways which avoid offending my sensibilities. After all it is for my own good -- citing necessary nutrition, potential medical advances ("saving lives"), and "national security" respectively -- trump cards all of them.
Whilst the media may offer images of the otherwise unimaginable conditions of poverty and deprivation in slum areas "across the tracks", or of analogous conditions in distant continents, none of these would one choose to visit or consider relevant to the education of one's children. No school visits to abattoirs, vivisection laboratories, prisons or slum areas.
Does such insulation imply lack of implication? Out of sight and sound, underground, out of mind? Just how many steps are we really removed from such contexts -- physically, socially or psychologically? The literature on small world networks (as popularized by the six degrees of connectivity to Kevin Bacon), and the associated small world experiment, come to mind (cf Albert-László Barabási, Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life, 2003).
Josef Fritzl was implicated in repeated incestuous rape, sequestration over an extended period, and withholding aid to a person in danger. To what extent are "others", seemingly without any involvement in such practices, nevertheless potentially implicated in them? Meaning me.
Johan Galtung (Violence, Peace, and Peace Research, Journal of Peace Research, 1969) makes a vital distinction between physical violence and structural violence. Physical violence is for the amateur, using weapons in order to dominate. For Galtung, structural violence is the tool of the professional employing exploitation and social injustice to achieve domination. In addition to "structural violence", Johan Galtung (Cultural Violence, Journal of Peace Research, 1990) has defined "cultural violence" as any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure.
It is within such a framework that the "mirror" may then show us to be implicated in what is most horrendous about Frizl's behaviour. Exactly how "professional" am I in Galtung's terms? Fritzl was convicted for:
Withholding aid: It was the death consequent upon this
failure to act that led to Fritzl being subject to a murder charge. To
what extent are those in industrialized countries to be seen as withholding
aid to those in developing countries? This has been a characteristic over
decades -- with the degree of inaction highlighted most dramatically in
the past months (whilst awaiting the conviction of Fritzl) by the billions
(if not trillions) of dollars suddenly made available to corporations.
Such sums have never been considered as available to either developing
countries or the impoverished and marginalized in any developed country. The
aid made available has now been proven to have been token -- having been
framed as "sufficient".
How many have died as a consequence? How many sickly children have been displayed on television -- with a voice-over commentary to the effect that the child died "later on the same day"?
Has this affected the actions of the international community beyond token gestures and unfulfilled promises? More importantly, in viewing that child, has it affected my behaviour -- beyond token gestures, if anything at all?
One of the intriguing factors about the Fritzl case is the circumstance under which others became aware of his behaviour. Had he then withheld aid his activity might never have been revealed. Presumably there are others in this situation.
Enforced sequestration: Sequestration for 25 years is
unthinkably evil. Curious, however, how many in developing countries, and
in the slum areas "across the tracks", are effectively "sequestrated"
by inaction in which I am complicit. Curious also is that on the same day
of Fritzl's conviction, Sean Hodgson was freed from incarceration in the
UK -- after 27 years imprisonment arising from police complicity in a miscarriage
of justice (Sandra Laville, Miscarriage of justice
victim served extra 11 years due to 'lost' evidence, The
19 March 2009).
Television often provides video coverage of slum areas and refugee camps -- of the hovels in which people live out extended periods of their lives, and of the filthy water which serves for drinking, washing and waste disposal. In Fritzl's case, much is made of the fact that his children never "saw the light of day" or even a patch of grass. What kind of "light" do those in polluted slum areas see for most of their lives? And grass?
Would it not be more appropriate to acknowledge that such people have been effectively placed (by me) in an "underground bunker" -- out of sight, out of mind? In a strangely perverted manner, television crews go into the bunker to provide us with some insight into its conditions. Somehow this serves to reinforce the fact that this has nothing to do with us? We are not implicated? We can all agree on that?
Why then is Fritzl's behaviour so shocking? Is it "closer to home" in some way? Potentially more threatening for that reason, even though we are even more confirmed in the sense that it in no way reflects our own complicity in such behaviour?
Whether separately or combined, the question is the extent to which we are complicit in the toleration of these behaviours -- even engaging in them indirectly, enabling them, or "turning a blind eye". Clearly the appetite for experiencing them vicariously through the media and "adult movies" suggests that we are implicated to some degree.
But the key question, in the light of Galtung's identification of "structural violence", is whether our distancing of ourselves from direct involvement is not to be considered like any distancing from physical violence. Just as the latter is for "amateurs" in Galtung's terms, is my implication in such activity more "professional"? As with the head of any crime syndicate, do I get others to perform my "dirty work"?
Has the "Josef Fritzl" in me constructed an "underground bunker" to contain those I see so frequently in slum areas of industrialized and developing countries?
But beyond the latter, acting behind the scenes (and adjusting the scenery) is surely the conceptual violence of the super-professional, using disinformation and psychological operations (military psy-ops) -- and the associated processes of brainwashing. Examples of conceptual violence include use of category euphemism to inhibit or numb recognition of other dimensions of an experience. This is typical of business and military jargon (bodycount, collateral damage, etc.) but even of reference to body processes (washroom, etc.) -- reinforcing an insidious form of experiential denial.
Worldwide exposure to the conviction of Josef Fritzl, or to that of Saddam Hussein, is therefore indeed a marvellous relief. How wonderful to be able to celebrate the universal sense of togetherness, community and agreement -- on this issue at least.
It is a relief from the absence of effective agreement on anything else, notably on that which might constrain our behavior in response to unemployment, housing shortages, inadequate funds for daily life, climate change, environmental pollution, territorial disputes, etc.
The rapid trial of Fritzl contrasts so satisfactorily and transparently with the inability either to convict or constrain those rewarded so munificently for their complicity in engendering the financial crisis and its economic consequences. No question that they might be imprisoned for life -- however many they have forced into prostitution, for example. Ironically, in fact, it is the level of anger against them which has precluded revelation of their identities -- in the interests of their safety and that of their families.
The identification of a person, like Josef Fritzl, who is so uniquely "bad" is a unique confirmation and guarantee of my relative "goodness" -- even my "purity".
No reasonable person could disagree that that behaviour was absolutely "bad" and "evil" and therefore those of us -- not so convicted -- must necessarily be "good" and "pure", relatively at least, if not absolutely, for we would not do anything like that. Curiously the worse I can "make" Josef Fritzl to be, the better I can make myself -- relatively at least.
The forensic psychiatrist, Heidi Kastner, who inteviewed Fritzl (Emine Saner, 'Do I feel sorry for Josef Fritzl? A small part of me does', The Guardian, 21 March 2009), states that evil is a fascination for us:
...it helps focus all the evil outside on a specific person. That's the one that's bad; we're the good ones. So it helps you to feel good and it serves some atavistic need in all of us. This is probably why executions were - and in some cases still are - public.
It is intriguing how the identification and exposure of isolated cases like Josef Fritzl, Bernard Madoff, Saddam Hussein -- or members of the clergy engaging in sexual abuse of "their children" -- is increasingly recalling the traditional evocation of scapegoats for the health of the community. The scapegoat provides a means for the community to dissociate itself from the behaviours which can be identified with the scapegoat -- and for which the scapegoat can be appropriately condemned, as with public hanging in the market place.
How the scapegoating "works" can perhaps be usefully illustrated by a completely unusual documentary (on French public television some years ago) of a "black mass" held in a French hotel. The officiant gave a pin to every participant and invited them to project their most negative thoughts into that pin. Then he requested that they bring them to him and stick them into his body. Exposure to the image of Fritzl offers a somewhat similar "magical" possibility of projecting one's negative thoughts into it.
It remains curious the extent to which many require a periodic dose of participative vicarious engagement with the behaviours for which Fritzl has been condemned -- as experienced "through" the magic mirror.
In this respect, somehow the "mirror" might be said to have a third mode -- which maybe its primary mode -- distinct from that of framing what is "not me" or potentially offering an image of "me" for reflection. The third mode is the one in which I engage vicariously and unconsciously with aspects or facets of myself in the widest spectrum of entertaining dramatic presentations. I am hero or villain, lover or loved, wise or foolish, etc. The interplay of roles allows me to explore aspects of my identity -- framing some as "me" and others as "not-me".
Each night I engage with myself through villains, of the most horrific characteristics imaginable -- whether real or imagined -- and relish their violent annihilation having participated vicariously in their actions. Or I may simply indulge in the "adult movies" available in every respectable hotel -- exploring every variety of interaction through every orifice, without consciously registering my involvement in the roles so presented.
The forensic psychiatrist, Heidi Kastner, describes Fritzl as "very ordinary". He was not to be considered insane. In that sense he indeed resembles many of us. Before any consideration of "why" he engaged in the reprehensible behaviour, it is therefore useful to consider "how" he did so. But in considering "how", the issue is not the logistics of the physical construction and maintenance of the bunker as a living environment but rather how the cognitive bunker was constructed and maintained.
It is from this that it is possible for me to learn about how I might have constructed such a bunker. As Saner report he account:
Kastner points to his ability to block out the parts that didn't fit his version of the truth.
With regard to any stress he might experience in living his double life for so long, Kastner indicated:
You would imagine, but he had this ability to block things out. He said that as soon as he locked the door down there, he locked a door in his brain too. He would have barbecue parties in his garden and he said, "You wouldn't have thought I would be able to have parties with them just under the garden there, but I never thought about them".
How difficult is it for any of us to "block out" facts that do not fit our own cultivated version of the truth? It is often recognized that we have "parties" without thinking of those elsewhere -- even those whose cheap labour may have furnished the ingredients of the meal.
But am I not far more "professional" than Fritzl? The full array of NATO forces in Afghanistan is acting there "in my name" -- shooting up wedding parties, etc. I block that off with the greatest of ease. Then there are the pilots of the drones increasingly deployed in that arena -- possibly with their remote pilots back in Kansas or elsewhere, and indeed able to go off to a barbecue after a session without the slightest qualm. Surely, in Galtung's sense, it is Fritzl who is the "amateur"?
Why: With every new media focus on such as Fritzl, school shootings, massacres, or the like, the anguished question is "why?". To what extent is that naive?
It would seem that the answer to the "why" is not to be found in the entertaining dramatization that one mode of the mirror offers. Nor is it to be found in its mode of transmitting an image of what is so clearly "not me".
Who: As noted above by Arundhati Roy with respect to "terrorism", the only way to comprehend it is "to look at the monster in the mirror". Rather than the entertainment mode, is this the real third mode of the mirror -- a "third way".
Which: Curiously the "witch" has the expectation that her question will trigger any necessary switch of mode on the part of her magical technology. The "remote control" of a television only offers the capacity to "switch channels" -- to choose "which" channel is most meaningful.
In this sense our incapacity to switch modes may be due to the fact that, in cognitive terms, we are effectively "bewitched" -- as in many fairy tales. We are indeed "enthralled" by what we see in the mirror in the mode into which it is normally locked. As a "cognitive technology", it is perhaps appropriate to reframe one of Arthur C. Clarke's "laws" of prediction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Just as we celebrate our "civilization" by contrast with the horrors of the past, will those of the future relish the total evil of the withholding of aid in our epoch in an analogous manner -- safely framing themselves as models of appropriate behaviour by comparison? In a similar manner we view with horror the mass human sacrifices of past civilizations, as being incomparably evil compared to the civilized manner in which we engage in and condone mass slaughter within our own times. Such slaughter is of course continuing at this very moment in East Africa. The international community has expressed its concern.
Where the "distance" we use in relation to Fritzl, or to those in any "living hell", is a physical one -- ensuring lack of proximity -- for those of the future, their "distance" would then be one of time.
Our civilization, with all we are doing to the planet and each other, might then serve as the "Fritzl" for a future civilization. One might hope, however, that such binary logic will be transcended in times to come. More specifically -- in any more advanced understanding of "vision" as a metaphor through which to "envisage" their place in the flow of history (Metaphor and the Language of Futures, 1992). Hopefully they may refine the "optics" of the cognitive mirror described above.
Of interest in that respect are the subtleties emerging from neurobiology as summarized by Paul Broks (Mirror, mirror on the wall, is there anyone there at all? The Times, 20 September 2005). Potentially even more interesting is the value of the mirror in the self-recognition test for consciousness -- as it might be applied then, or to humanity by extraterrestrials (Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criterion of species maturity? 2008).
A fruitful clue as to how the future might then enhance the "optical system" is offered by Kinhide Mushakoji (Global Issues and Interparadigmatic Dialogue: essays on multipolar politics, 1988) as discussed elsewhere (Noonautics: four modes of travelling and navigating the knowledge "universe"? 2006). Beyond binary logic (A, not-A), he stresses the importance of a quadrilemma as valued in some Eastern logics (A, not-A, A-and-not-A, neither-A-nor-not-A). The question is whether the "reflective" modes of the mirror might then be understood as offering insight in those terms (Me, not-Me, Me-and-not-Me, neither-Me-nor-not-Me) -- suggesting the possibility of a fourth mode for the mirror. This suggests a more systematic distinction between the modes.
|Fig. 1: Mirror modes in the light of the quadrilemma of some Eastern logics|
|Fig. 1a: Represented in the light of the logic of representation on the complex plane with "real" and imaginary" axes||Fig 1b: Representation as a polyhedron associating the cognitive conditions with governance challenges (of Fig. 2a)|
The diagrams above raise the question of what any fourth mode might be. Presumably it might be that associated with "stepping into the mirror" as variously explored in traditional tales and science fiction (Stepping into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns, 2009). Understood in Lewis Carroll's terms as a "cognitive rabbit hole", the implications of a "fourth cognitive dimension" have been explored elsewhere (Engaging with Globality through Knowing Thyself: embodying engagement with otherness, 2009). In the diagrams below, these modes (as labelled and colour coded in Fig. 1b) are tentatively related to the governance challenges of: problematique, resolutique, imaginatique and resolutique.
|Fig. 2: Mirror modes associated with the challenges
of global governance
reproduced from Imagining the Real Challenge and Realizing the Imaginal Pathway of Sustainable Transformation (2007)
|Fig. 2a: Represented in the light of the logic of representation
on the complex plane with "real" and imaginary" axes
|Fig. 2b: Interrelating problematique, resolutique, "imaginatique" and "irresolutique"
The mirror metaphor explored here has a long tradition in Buddhist culture, notably in China, in terms of the "mirror of the mind". It is notably associated with contrasting views as to whether enlightenment is to be achieved "suddenly" or "gradually" (Paul Demiéville, The Mirror of the Mind. In: Peter N Gregory (Ed), Sudden and Gradual; approaches to enlightenment in Chinese Thought, 1991). The contrast has been the focus of strudies of "subitism" versus "gradualism". In terms of the latter understanding, the mirror has to be "polished", removing "dust", to enable it to function appropriately. In terms of the former, this is quite unnecessary (see discussion in Creative Cognitive Engagement: beyond the limitations of descriptive patterning, 2006). Within such a Buddhist framework, there is the additional sense in which the elaboration of the Me/not-Me distinction (through the quadrilemma) may be fruitfully associated with an analogous elaboration of the Attachment/Detachment distinction.
This contrast might be used to enrich the operation of the magical mirror above. In the case of a television, the ability to switch channels is instantaneous. For the witch, switching modes was also not a problem. However it is possible that mode switching may be more akin to the "fade-in" of slide representations -- with which many are familiar. In that sense, during the (possibly lengthy) transition, there is necessarily uncertainty as to which mode one is in -- even implying a form of cognitive uncertainty priunciple.
The relevance of the mirror metaphor to governance is illustrated in a remarkable account by the Studies Coordinator in the Lessons Learned Center (Office of the US Director of National Intelligence) Josh Kerbel, Lost for Words: the Intelligence Community's struggle to find its voice, US Army War College Quarterly, Parameters, Summer 2008). Kerbel introduces his commentary as follows:
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq intervention, most of the national security components of the US government have had some -- mostly overdue -- introspective moments. Such reviews can only be considered healthy. For as Sun Tzu, the Chinese military and intelligence theorist, said, Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. The fact is, however, that many of those governmental components did not necessarily like what they saw looking back at them from the mirror. This result was particularly true of the intelligence community, which found its own self-identity issues staring back with an unnerving intensity. To be blunt, the intelligence community, which for the purposes of this article refers mainly to the analytic component, still does not 'know itself.'
The challenge of mirroring continues to be explored in fiction. In a commentary by William Astore (Aboard the Imperial Star Ship Ameriprise: Heading for the Final Frontier, Tomdispatch.com, 26 March 2009) the role of such fiction is highlighted in its effect on the imagination -- and potentially on the credible framing of appropriate governance as currently experienced.
He develops his argument in the light of the Mirror Universe (MU), a fictional parallel universe in which the plots of several episodes of the widely distributed Star Trek television series take place -- notably with respect to the episode entitled Mirror, Mirror (1967). In this barbarous universe the USS Enterprise -- otherwise representing a positive mindset embodied in much of the self-image of the American culture -- some characters (as the result of a "transporter" accident) find themselves having switched places with their evil twins, aboard a mirror vessel, the