Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Mind of the Political Terrorist by Richard Pearlstein

This book is a fascinating study of the psychological factors that create a political terrorist.  The author sees a pattern in the psycho-histories of a few well known terrorists from the 1970's and concludes that the political terrorist is created out of a narcissistic rage.

Pearlstein explains that the potential political terrorist experiences first a series of what he calls narcissistic injuries and narcissistic disappointments that results in narcissistic rage.  This means that some significant other (a parent or friend) rejects and injures one's ego or circumstances don't go the way one expected and as a result one's ego is sorely disappointed.  These missteps translate into a rage. This rage emboldens the person to enter the political theater of terrorism because there is some sort of psycho-dynamic reward in holding someone hostage or bombing some building which compensates for the narcissistic injuries.

One can not escape the thought that everyone has experienced some sort of injured ego or disappointment, however, the mind adjusts and compensates and one regains one's equilibrium.  The examples of the book profile, however, profound injuries sometimes repeatedly and one feels the pain and anguish that these people suffer, hoping that they would regain their equilibrium.

[One of the cases in the book profiles the Symbianese Liberation Army kidnapping of Hearst Corporation heiress, Patty Hearst.  I relived the moments of gunfire in the streets of Berkeley, CA since I was a student on the same block where she was taken. My roommates and I heard the shots fired thinking that someone was having fun with firecrackers.]

I find the idea of narcissistic rage difficult to fathom: at what point does one become so damaged that one contemplates an act of evil against a stranger?  The relationship between the rage and the terror is odd.  Why should there be a victim of someone else's rage that has nothing to do with one's disappointment or injury?

If Pearlstein is correct in his assessments of political terrorists, then we should appreciate the complexity and fragility of the mind and take a moment to be thankful for one's own equilibrium.

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