One of the descriptions of Adolf Hitler (pictured at right) that I hate to hear people use is that he was crazy, a maniac, insane, mentally ill, demented, a lunatic, mad.
That language lets him off the hook, effectively relieving him of responsibility for the evil of the Holocaust and the rest of World War II that he began by ordering German troops to invade Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.
But what do we call and how do we explain fanatics like Hitler, who have opened their brains and hearts so that terrible ideas can drill down deeply into them and turn them into monsters, into demonic lords, into mass murderers?
It's an old question, but now University of Missouri School of Medicine researchers are proposing use of a new term as a way to classify non-psychotic behavior that leads people to commit criminal acts of violence.
Those scholars are suggesting that when psychotic behavior can be ruled out, a helpful term to explain such acts of violence is "extreme overvalued belief.” They came up with this term after studying the case of mass murderer Anders Breivik of Norway, who in 2011 killed 77 people in a car bombing in Oslo and a mass shooting at a camp for youth.
As the press release to which I've linked you notes, Dr. Tahir Rahman, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Missouri School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said, “Sometimes people think that violent actions must be the byproduct of psychotic mental illness, but this is not always the case. Our study of the Breivik case was meant to explain how extreme beliefs can be mistaken for psychosis, and to suggest a new legal term that clearly defines this behavior.”
It strikes me that the term "extreme overvalued belief" might be a useful way to describe Islamist terrorists but also such people as adherents of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. As a rule they don't commit physical violence but their commitment to bizarre ideas leads them to do hateful, repulsive things. So perhaps the term could be stretched to include nonviolent offenders.
In any event, one of the inevitable and sad tasks of human beings throughout history has been to explain how and why people make terrible, often violent choices and how to find ways to stop all of that. Sigh.
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YOUR LONG WAIT IS OVER
Another sign of the apocalypse: The "Emoji Bible" is here. If you think I'm now going to use an emoji to describe my feelings about that, you're wrong, IMHO.