Psychology is a fascinating subject. Have you ever wondered why a person behaves this way or that, or why a person thinks that way or this? It’s an interesting facet of psychology, this study of personality.
A person’s attitudes, values and ideals are largely a product of his environment. The culture in which he lives–home, school, community and socioeconomic status–is a factor in the development of personality. Now one of these social factors is the need to belong to or identify with a community.
Nobody likes to be alone, and very few people live like hermits. This need to identify with a community and what a person perceives it stands for, determines a person’s values and his behaviour. In identifying with this community there is a cohesion, like birds of a feather flocking together.
Let’s say that one day, this community or someone in this community behaves out of norm. Putting this in a larger perspective, let’s imagine this person to be Japanese or German, belonging to the community of a nation, Japan or Germany. Now one of their leaders decides to murder people. As we all know from an historical context, this happened when Hitler decided to exterminate the Jewish race and under Hirohito, the Japanese massacred the Chinese in Nanking. So members of these communities went along with the ideas of their leaders, but there were also those who did not, for they recognised that the atrocities committed were abnormal behaviour.
Here is where the paradox comes in: Those who agreed with the atrocities will later deny that these atrocities were ever committed. They idealised the community to the extent that they believed in whatever values the community decides. And here lies a paradox in the psychological make-up of man. When the mind thinks that something is so incomprehensible, he denies the reality of it. It’s a psychological form of defence called suppression.
Knowing this, we understand the thinking behind the textbook revisions of Japanese history with regards to the Nanking massacre. It’s a form of denial. We also understand the thinking behind the Holocaust denials. According to Deborah Lipstadt, “Holocaust denial is a form of virulent anti-Semitism. But it is not only that. It is also an attack on reasoned inquiry… If this history can be denied any history can be denied.”
Robert Jensen also tells us that America should face the past honestly and recognise America’s genocide of the native American Indians. He states that: “The United States was built on the backs of non-white people. The Europeans and their descendants who created this country stole land and crushed souls. They killed and enslaved. These policies weren’t accidents but conscious decisions of people out to enrich themselves at the expense of others.”
Stanley Cohen analyses the ability to deny as an “amazing human phenomenon… a product of sheer complexity of our emotional, linguistic, moral and intellectual lives.” Some people cannot stand too much reality, but denying reality allows injustice to remain and to continue.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” — Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)