Prisoners of Hate by Aaron T. Beck - A recommendation

I've been meaning to suggest the book Prisoners of Hate: The congnitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence by Aaron T. Beck for some time now. If you click on the Barnes & Noble link above, you will be able to read some professional book reviews. I found it to be a convincing and engaging read -- though better in the diagnosis of problems than in their solution.

The scope of this book is vast and almost beyond summarizing -- finding a common thread between barroom brawls, domestic violence, terrorism and war. Along the way, it answers the question asked by so many -- why can't the people who hurt me see that I AM RIGHT AND THEY ARE WRONG?

Here is the table of contents for the book, which gives you a flavor of what Dr. Beck argues:

ch 1 The Prison of Hate: How Egosism and Ideology Hijack the Mind

ch 2 The Eye ("I") of the Storm: The Egocentric Bias

ch 3 From Hurt to Hate: The Vulnerable Self-image

ch 4 Let Me Count the Ways You've Wronged Me

ch 5 Primal Thinking: Cognitive Errors and Distortions

ch 6 Formula for Anger: Rights, Wrongs, and Retaliation

ch 7 Intimate Enemies: The Transformation of Love and Hate

ch 8 Individual Violence: The Psychology of the Offender

ch 9 Collective Illusions: Group Prejudice and Violence

ch 10 Persecution and Genocide: Creating Monsters and Demons

ch 11 Images and Misperceptions in War: The Deadly Construction of the ENEMY

ch 12 The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Attachment, Altruism, and Cooperation

ch 13 Cognitive Therapy for Individuals and Groups

ch 14 Perspectives and Prospects: Applying Cognitive Approaches to the Problems of Society

The chapters dealing with war and genocide warn that assuming that all of the good is vested in your group and that all of the evil is vested in the other side only leads to tradegy. He doesn't pretend that people never mean harm, only that retaliation will never lead to peace, but will only strengthen BOTH SIDES feelings that they are ABSOLUTELY right and the other side is ABSOLUTELY wrong. They will then redouble their efforts to eliminate the hopeless evil other.

As we gaze across the globe, this message seems true to me. It's put into the terms of cognitive psychology, but it represents thought I believe that Christ and Gandhi would have recognized and endorsed. It's worth a read.

Comments

A cavil

The chapters dealing with war and genocide warn that assuming that all of the good is vested in your group and that all of the evil is vested in the other side only leads to tradegy. He doesn't pretend that people never mean harm, only that retaliation will never lead to peace, but will only strengthen BOTH SIDES feelings that they are ABSOLUTELY right and the other side is ABSOLUTELY wrong. They will then redouble their efforts to eliminate the hopeless evil other.

I don't think that the notion that "all good is vested in our group" is at all necessary to wage war. Nor does the fact that most supporters of a given war might buy into that false notion make a given war more or less just.

I do think Beck's line of criticism (as I understand it from your summary) is terribly relevant to the question of how we get into wars, just or unjust, since such sentiments often animate in some measure popular support for wars. Because war is such a drastic (though in my mind, at times necessary) measure, we ought to think carefully about how we decide to get into them.

Beck thinks that retaliation will never lead to peace. I wonder how he applies this notion to the Second World War, in which we retaliated against Japan for attacking us, and against the Germans for attacking our allies? We are now at peace with these nations. Does he deal with the possibility that a nation might have implacable (in the most literal sense of the word) enemies? If so, how does he deal with that situation?

This critique by a forensic psychologist of the NYT review of the recent book by David Frum & Richard Perle offers another perspective on the question of violence begetting violence. This is a very complex issue, and I suspect that both Beck & Smith (the psychologist) have something useful to say to us.

Re:A cavil

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Both here and in my entry about Mel Gibson and President Bush.Beck doesn't mention World War II, as you might have guessed, except to address the Holocaust and German treatment of enemy nationals.I'm not sure that WWII would fit his defination of retalition (Though WWI would!). In World War II, we had a specific objective -- liberation of enemy held territory, regime change in the home countries of the enemy, and a determination to build countries into ones that would play nice on the world stage.I would argue that our occupation of Germany and Japan showed that the Allies treated the conquered peoples as human beings.Contrast that to either the Russian-Chechen conflict or to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides claim to have the goal of "peace and quiet" in their own land, believe the other side to be utterly without humanity (not entirely without reason), and that the best solution is either separation from or destruction of the enemy. People dying in an attack from one side are immediately "avenged" by the other side.I also need to say that Dr. Beck is much better at diagnosing international problems than solving them. Most of his suggestions involving giving the United Nations more power, including a standing rapid reaction force. I don't support this because I believe the UN to be a flawed institution. Between the inclusion of many undemocratic and illiberal nations, and the very existence of veto power from the "big 5" on the Security Council, I don't believe that the UN can be an effective tool for settling disputes between nations. Having Syria (or similar countries) running the Human Rights commission undermines UN credibility as an institution that will stand up for human rights, and Big 5 vetoes immunize friends of the great powers from UN actions.

Re:A cavil

I enjoyed your response. You make good points concerning the U.N. I would be much more supportive of the U.N. if it confined itself being a forum for diplomacy and humanitarian efforts, but it seems to want to arrogate to itself the functions of government: legislation, regulation, and adjudication. There is not nearly enough consensus among nations as to the principles and goals of government for it to function meaningfully in this way, unless it imposes its will by force. And that would be a very, very bad thing.

Say, I notice that you are a Gov Docs librarian. Do you by chance know Esther Crawford, head of Gov Docs at Rice University? I used to work with her, and she is one of my favorite people there.

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