The hateful and the cruel

11 February 2018

It’s everywhere. It’s at the office and even in your home. It’s beamed at you every day by the media. It’s the hateful and the cruel. In its mildest form it creates unhappiness which undermines wellness and productivity. At its worst, it kills and it maims and it threatens our survival. But what lies at the core of this hatred and cruelty? For if we do not engage and apply our collective minds to understanding this dark side of our nature and implementing appropriate interventions, we are doomed to suffer eternally.

The hateful and the cruel represent one of the more perplexing neuropsychological pathologies which is seemingly intractable to conventional modalities of clinical intervention. Available statistics indicate that the success rate of rehabilitation for these individuals is no more than 10 – 15 percent. Having a special interest in this condition, I undertook a case study analysis of a sample of the hateful and the cruel using my own NeuroSurge application.

Common to many afflicted individuals is a history of significant nurture deprivation, often with elements of abuse. The early narrative emerging from this environment incorporates elements of loneliness, low self-esteem, distrust, the belief that they are born to serve the needs of others at the expense of their own as well as anhedonia –the inability to experience personal joy and gratification. This usually impacts negatively on the ability to form personal relationships and predisposes to a hopeless-helpless outlook on life in general.

The chemical configuration that parallels this state is one of low dopamine (dopamine is associated with personal gratification, fulfillment and motivation), low serotonin and raised pro-inflammatory cytokines – the mediators of inflammation (which underpins many illnesses including cognitive deterioration and possible degeneration into Alzheimer’s Disease). However it is when the narrative includes an element of ‘why should I be the only one suffering’ that the foundation is laid for schadenfreude hostility. Schadenfreude is defined as deriving personal joy from the suffering of others. Studies have indicated that this individual derives a dopamine boost from schadenfreude thoughts and behavior! Thus the condition is perpetuated chemically. It is in fact this element which makes the condition so intractable to intervention – they are deriving high levels of dopamine (personal gratification) from schadenfreude-based cruelty.

The second element which contributes to the intractability of intervention in this condition, results from the compromised function of the pre-frontal cortex, the neurological place of reasoning. High levels of deprivation negatively affect cognitive development (in the pre-frontal cortex). High levels of deprivation also result in raised levels of cortisol which again, negatively affects the development (myelination) of the pre-frontal cortex. The overall result is a marked deficiency of cognitive integration required for effective reasoning. This is compounded by the fact that raised cortisol levels together with raised inflammatory mediators, negatively affect the function of the hippocampus – the place of short term memory.

Interestingly MRI studies show that in the chronic situation many of these individuals have larger amygdalae (seat of fear, anxiety, panic and rage) with smaller or atrophied hippocampi when compared to the low deprivation sample. In fact in children that have experienced high levels of deprivation, the amygdala/hippocampal ratio is significantly enlarged – a possible prognosticating index.

Loneliness and distrust result in low levels of oxytocin. Conversely, becoming part of a group sharing a belief in the same values (hatred, racism, cruelty), boosts levels of oxytocin which also results in raised dopamine levels and collective gratification. Add to this the collective deficiency of reasoning and you get a schadenfreude-driven wrecking machine which feeds on itself. It visits its hatred, terror and cruelty upon a vast spectrum of humans and animals. The terror and cruelty incorporates a need to control and dominate, probably originating from nurture deprivation and self-esteem issues. These traits further contribute to the driving momentum.

There is no current lasting clinical ‘cure’ for this destructive neuro-degenerative condition other than radical psychosurgery. Ethical and logistical challenges however preclude this modality of intervention becoming a viable consideration at this time (even though there are a good number of amygdalae that we’re just itching to excise!). The logical ‘civilized’ intervention includes initial instruction and mentoring with emphasis on the negative consequences of hateful and/or cruel behavior. This should be underpinned by the provision of authentic facts and the neutralization of intrinsic biases and prejudices (elimination of deletion, distortion and generalization of information).

Failing this, prescribed appropriate behavior with violation penalties/punishment becomes the next level of intervention – the carrot has failed and only the stick remains. But when all else fails, there is no alternative for unrehabilitatible, repeat offenders other than banishment to remote workcamps! The hateful condition however is inevitably unstable and self-limiting. If contained and left to its own devices it ultimately consumes itself through its own hatred and cruelty.


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