February 09, 2005

An Ego of Death, and the Death of an Ego.

I have been haunted by the images given me by Romeo Dallaire's book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. The images Mr. Dallaire depicts of mutilated, dismembered bodies laying at the side of every road and polluting every river have left me chilled and sick at heart.

I began to wonder about inhumanity, depersonalization and the transformation of one person into a psychotic killing machine, and the transformation of another person into an inert lump of dead material.

Here are my brief (and slightly disjointed) thoughts, from two opposing though related points of view...

The Ego of the Attacker

What level of manipulation, desperation, and disassociation is required to turn one person against another in such a systematic, programmed method of eradication? What part of the human psyche finds the spilling of blood or the dismembering of a living being to be acceptable? What kind of frenzied, pack of vultures mentality permits this or encourages it?

Must the ego of the attacker turn it's victim into a faceless, soulless target in order to destroy it? What psychology and other factors lie behind a genocide?

The Ego of the Victim

How does a victim of fear, pain, rape, torture, and murder cope with the last few moments? How does the human mind comprehend the reality of becoming disassociated from the physical body? How does the mind process the shock and horror, the bewilderment of being killed - of being literally made into disparate pieces laying by the side of a dirt road?

In one moment, we have a whole being - a person, with a past, present and future - a mind full of memories and a body that has been formed and grown from experiences in the world. In the next moment, we have something which is perhaps not a "being" anymore - just a body, or a collection of parts or material.

Does the ego of the victim recede further inward as external parts are removed or as functions fail? How does one's identity disappear during death? When is a person no longer a person? Is there a point at which human rights cease to apply for that dying being? Where is the line between alive and dead, and what are the ethical issues?

Through propaganda, hatred, depersonalization and systematic butchery, 800,000 men, women and children were reduced to food for wild dogs and vultures over the course of 100 days. Dallaire reminds the world that after World War II, many said "Never again." How did we forget?

Here's an article on the web site of the American TV show "FrontLine", which deals with the state of Rwanda today.

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