Sunday, August 18, 2013

Psychopathy, religion, and the hunter-gatherer culture

In my previous article I wrote about the links between the ancient hunter-gatherer cultures and the economics of Capitalism, and how psychopaths are hard-wired to thrive the most in these two environments. While I gave some examples of hunter-gatherer societies from history, I neglected to mention how two ancient nomadic (and hunter-gatherer) societies from the Middle East have had a huge effect on creating two of the world's most influential monotheistic religions, and have a massive influence on the world to this day: the Jews and the Bedouin Arabs.

The origins of the Jews and the Arabs is from the desert. Indeed, they are both ethnic Semitic tribes (which makes the term "Arab anti-Semitism" a contradiction in terms, but that's another story).

Humanity's perennial survivors

Much of the Jewish identity stems from being the perennial "victim", from ancient times to the present day. From the Jewish exile to Egypt, to exodus with Moses; from persecution by the Babylonians to that of the Romans, Jews have been forced to spread into a huge diaspora across the civilised world. Through the Middle Ages, it was the Muslim Caliphates (and later, the Ottoman Turks) that were most tolerant of the Jews, while they escaped intermittent persecution and pogroms throughout most of Christendom.
The European paranoia of the Jews peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century, culminating in the holocaust. And also by this time, paranoia towards the Jews had bled into Muslim Arab psyche as well, with the resulting violence that had plagued Palestine and the Middle East since the Balfour agreement of the First World War.

So it is no surprise that the modern Jewish psyche is delicate and overly-defensive, especially Israeli Jews, whom a disproportionate number descend from (East European) Holocaust survivors.

The nomadic nature of Jews that was habitual from ancient times became enforced later, in order to escape bouts of persecution. Jews by temperament are people of the desert. Their God ("El" or "Eloah") found in the Talmud is a perennial tester of his followers; punishing them for slights and stretching their patience and beliefs to the limit.
The God of the Old Testament in Christianity, as with that found in the Talmud and the Koran, is not a pleasant and forgiving master. If he was a person in real life, could he even be called a potential psychopath? From The Fall Of Man after Genesis and the role of woman in original sin, this is a God who seems intent on setting man and woman against each other from the start, creating a patriarchal society, as well as ensuring that self-inquiry and knowledge are suppressed where possible.
With a "teacher" like this, coupled with a "victim complex" and a nomadic, hunter-gatherer psychology, it would not be surprising if such a society created a disproportionately-high number of psychopaths; due to the cultural environment, natural selection (as I've said before) and the enforced need for social adaptation. The stereotype of Jews being some of the most successful Capitalists may then have some grain of truth in it, when considered in this light.
While not wanting to indulge any conspiracy theorists about the links between Jews and Capitalism, Jews becoming successful tradespeople and merchants across Europe and the Middle East in the Middle Ages seems like an example of simply learning social adaptation. The more Jews have been persecuted and forced into a semi-nomadic existence, the smarter and more adaptable they have been forced to become; such an environment not only benefits psychopaths, but makes them more likely to appear in that population as an evolutionary survival technique.
So by the time of the end of the Second World War, Palestinian Jews were utterly unapologetic about the ruthless manner of creating the state of Israel on the back of the Holocaust, and to the detriment to the Palestinian Arabs. To these Jews, Israel was their ultimate form of guaranteeing their survival, with the backing of the USA and its Jewish lobby. The wars that Israel has fought since then are a direct result of the collective psychology of Israel's Jewish population. When you continually feel you are the "victim" (and therefore, like a psychopath, that nothing is ever your fault), war against your enemies is the logical expression of your identity; and you need little reason to start one.

Capitalists Chosen by God

Like the Jews, the Bedouin Arabs are desert people by nature, nomadic and hunter-gatherers. Before Mohammed and the founding of Islam, they knew little of the world outside Arabia. Islam changed all that, and gave them an impetus to channel their nomadic way of life into a divine purpose. The result of that was the fastest expansion of an "empire" in recorded history; the nearest comparison is the Mongol Empire, which was another society of nomadic hunter-gatherers that spread across Eurasia in a matter of decades.

In the early centuries of Islam, part of the reason for its rapid spread was using the same methods later used by the Mongols: any "infidel" societies it encountered were offered the simple choice of submission (no pun intended!) to their rule, conversion or death. This meant that in those early centuries, a significant proportion of those under Muslim Arab rule were non-Muslims (and Jews) who lived in a tolerant and open social environment (in some ways similar to that of the Venetian Republic) that encouraged innovation and trade. The Caliphate of Cordoba is an example of this. In other words, while the Jews had to adapt to become innovative and nomadic Capitalists to survive, the Arabs had to accept a tolerant social structure to maintain power over their vast empire. The benefit of this was a culture of innovation, as the later Mongols ruled their vast empire along similar lines.

The Arabs therefore became Capitalists almost by default (due to the need for an open social environment), while the Jews became successful Capitalists for survival. Once they had a vast empire, their nomadic nature had to adapt as they would not have had the natural social skills for controlling the many civic societies they had conquered. Like the later Mongols, they had to incorporate some aspects of the local populations, diluting the "essence" of Arab culture into a hybrid. Islam became the one thing that the various populations across the Caliphates had in common, in spite of linguistic and ethnic differences.

What went wrong?
While the Arab Caliphates of the West were gradually eaten up by the burgeoning Spanish kingdoms, in the East the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols was a devastating blow, wiping out Islam's biggest and most sophisticated metropolis. Later, the Ottoman Turks (also originally nomadic hunters like the Arabs and the Mongols) swept down into the Middle East from Anatolia, meaning that the Arabs became second class citizens of a larger Ottoman Empire. Like the Jews, this experience gave them a reason for a "victim complex".
It was also during this time that the Arabs "re-discovered" their religion, such as the Wahabbi and the Salafi movement. In this way, being a "victim" of being ruled by "inferior" Ottoman Muslims, gave them the environmental factors necessary to create extremism. By the time of the First World War, their "victim complex" had become almost a "jihad" against all infidels; Christians and Jews regardless.
The Arabs used their temporary alliance with the British to gain independence from the Ottomans, only for most of the Arabs to be betrayed by the Europeans in the Sykes-Picot Treaty that divided up all of the Middle East, barring the rump of the peninsula. In this situation of perceived betrayal and trauma, it is not surprising that the religious extremists won the battle for control of the geographical and psychological heart of Islam.

It was from this traumatic birth in the modern age that the current mindset of the Arabs stems from. The discovery of oil soon after this gave the likes of Saudi Arabia even more reason to feel that had been blessed by Allah after all their centuries of perceived persecution. The Saudis and other Gulf Arabs, the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the desert and second-rate citizens in their own land for centuries, soon became the rich, all-consuming Capitalists of the present day; albeit, with their extremist religion giving them an even greater sense of righteousness. Those of the peninsula must be the chosen ones; the infidels were there to be exploited or worse - for historical revenge, or because they simply deserved it, it didn't matter.

This is much of the basis of the psychopathy of Islamic Fundamentalism.

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