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The Cancerous Stories We Sometimes Live By (part 1)

  • Broadcast in Psychology
Stories We Live By

Stories We Live By


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Like many others I am horrified by the lastest activities of those justifying the mass murder of innocents in the name of Islamic Jihad. As a psychologist I feel compelled to try and explain such behaviors believing that only understanding can lead to preventing both the atrocities themselves and fear driven, irrational responses to the perpetrators. I will employ the medical metaphor of cancer to structure my own story to explain the current wave of violence across the middle east and now "metasticizing" into Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. The philosopher Daniel Dennett suggests that many ideas and other products of human imagination refered to as "memes" can be compared to their biological counterparts, the genes. Genes that add to human adaptibility tend to spread in the population while those that fail to add to human health and adaptive success die off and disappear. Similarly ideas and inventions (Psychoanalysis and cell phones for example) expand rapidly to the degree that people who come in contact with them find them helpful in their adaptive struggles in life. Genes can become damaged and create cancers that spread and if not contained can destroy the lives of those so suffering. So too can ideas, stories and other inventions lead to the destruction of lives, whole societies, and I believe to civilization and our species itself. Just as cancer can be found all over the planet and in every historical epoch so to can cancerous stories be found. The Crusades, Nazism, malignant Communism,and hundreds of other political, religious and nationalistic movements prove that Islamic Jihad is not unique and is not merely a product of the Muslim faith but is to be understood as innate to human social functioning as is cancer to our biological existence.