A reflective consideration of the dysfunctional thinking that results in acts ranging from verbal abuse on the personal level to mass murder on the societal level, as well as suggestions for remedying these problems.
Known as the father of cognitive therapy, Beck, professor emeritus of psychology at the Univ. of Penn. School of Medicine, finds parallels between violent reactions of troubled individuals to presumed wrongs, bombings by extremist militant groups, and acts of genocide perpetrated by states. In his psychotherapeutic work with patients, he observed a pattern of thinking that he describes as “hostile framing,” that is, perceiving the person one is in conflict with as dangerous and evil and the self as right and good. Such thinking locks the mind in a “prison of hate” in which a false image is mistaken for the real person. Beck calls such cognitive distortion “primal thinking” because it occurs in the earliest stage of information processing and also in the early developmental stage of children. When primal thinking pigeonholes adversaries as evil, even subhuman, creatures who deserve to be punished, the moral code against killing is weakened. Beck demonstrates how such cognitive errors have led to wife-beating, group rape, the Salem witch trials, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Holocaust, and genocide in Cambodia, Turkey and the Soviet Union. The cognitive distortions that led to WWI get special attention. There is hope, however, says Beck, who argues that war is not inevitable and asserts that humans have an innate capacity for altruistic behavior to override hostile tendencies and for rational thinking to correct cognitive distortions. He argues that an understanding of individual psychology can provide the tools for developing corrective political and social programs, and he describes how these might operate in preventing child and spousal abuse, juvenile delinquency, and ethnopolitical violence.
A provocative and most timely report in this era of ethnic cleansing abroad and high-school shootings at home.