BRAIN MATTERS: Syndrome Evil!

On 17 July, 2018, the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra delivered a 45 page judgement on pleas by Tehseen Poonawalla and Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who had prayed to the court to initiate contempt against states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan for failing to take necessary measures against spiralling mob violence. Expressing its concerns over spiralling mob violence, gruesome lynching’s, apathy of the bystanders and other brutalities, Supreme Court warned both the Central and State Government that if these incidents are not controlled, they would consume the country like a 'typhoon'.

I was assisting my daughter in drafting an essay on Man vs. Animal, the other day. I was gripped with a dilemma as we both had concluded the essay with a remark that human beings are far superior to other living beings on this earth because of our logical thinking power, wherein we can differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong and ethical and unethical. I was wondering now, how and why do we engage in mindless mob violence in the name of religion, cow vigilantism and child lifting based on some fake news, without being rational in seeking the truth and act accordingly. 

The act of mob violence is not unique and limited to India only, it’s a global phenomenon and the history of the world is full of ghastly stories of one group of people inflicting violence on the other groups, even when they are unarmed and non-threatening. In 1994, more than 8 Lakhs Tutsis were massacred by Hutus in Rwanda a tiny nation in the African sub-continent. Exactly after 50 years of World War-II during which Europe witnessed the horror of Holocaust, it witnessed another genocide in the name of ethnic cleansing in erstwhile undivided Yugoslavia wherein more than 1 Lakh people were slaughtered.  Both the above example defies the universal values of peace and harmony.

Neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried of the University of California points that all the mob violence, mass massacres all over the world and throughout the history have common a feature and that is Syndrome E. Characteristics of Syndrome E include obsessive ideation, diminished emotional (affective) reactivity, situational (environmental) dependency, group contagion, rapid desensitization to violence, compulsive repetition, hyperarousal, and failure to adapt to changing information, which allows repetitive acts of violence. From a neuroscientific perspective, it’s not a brain-wide change; brain functions like language, memory and problem solving are intact, but functions involving emotions and empathy gets deactivated or hampered having an adverse effect on social decision making leading to dehumanization of the target group. This neural manipulation can make person to start viewing others more like an object and less like humans.  Once, a particular group of people or individual is seen by many as an object, then the moral/social rules applicable for human beings cease to apply.

To large extent mass application of Syndrome E is instigated when distorted news stories or fake news are circulated as facts through mass communication platform regularly. As per Itzhak Fried genocide or mob violence is only possible when dehumanization happens on a large scale through propaganda.

Is there a way to overcome Syndrome E?

The answer is YES!

Education is only way to prevent dehumanization of others. Education plays a key role in making us aware of the evils of propaganda.

Prakash Prabhu
[ Mr.Prakash Prabhu works for The Manipal Group as a Senior HR Manager with over 15 years of corporate experience. He has been the lead writer and contributor to CHIRP magazine. (An intra-Manipal group monthly employee magazine) An avid reader who devours one book after another, Mr.Prabhu is also a certified handwriting analyst.]

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