Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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or collective spiritual trauma (or both, in the case of the Germans with the First World War); one embarks on a desperate quest for meaning and revitalization; above all, one seeks an individual-psychological cure from the death imagery with which one remains afflicted. A decisive psychological, issue is the extent to which one can envision self-cure in total elimination of the group one sees as perpetuating the affliction or illness. In any case, the genocidal self is impelled by its own struggle with disintegration: indeed, rage directed at victims can derive partially from a displacement of this death equivalent, from rage at one’s own fear of disintegration. Rage can also distance the killer from the act of killing.

Fascist ideology can have particular appeal for the survivor self fighting off disintegration because it holds out, at all levels, a promise of unity, oneness, fusion. It deals with death anxiety, moreover, by glorifying death, even worshiping it. While one’s own death as a warrior is idealized, the self mostly escapes death — achieves the death of death — by killing others. There can readily follow a vicious circle in which one kills, needs to go on killing in order to maintain one’s cure, and seeks a continuous process of murderous, deathless, therapeutic survival. One can then reach the state of requiring a sense of perpetual survival through the killing of others in order to re-experience endlessly what Elias Canetti has called “the moment of power”138 — that is, the moment of cure.

Beyond Nazi or Turkish experience, certain characteristics of the contemporary self and its experience of historical dislocation may render it particularly vulnerable to this genocidal direction. I have in mind such characteristics as exacerbated meaning-hunger due to one’s loss of symbolic moorings, to confusion about the endless images of possibility to which one is exposed, along with one’s intensified struggles with death anxiety having to do with nuclear-weapons imagery of annihilation or even extinction. There can result swings between the Protean style (repeated shifts in the self's involvements and beliefs) and the constricted style (compensatory narrowing of the self's involvements and search for a single path to truth).139 This compensatory struggle against Protean experiment can take the shape of various forms of social purification and can lead to a collective sequence from dislocation to totalism to victimization genocide. 
Alternatives; The Embodied Self 
There are other possibilities. Given life-enhancing environmental conditions, the self can avoid the doubling of the genocidal direction and move instead toward principles of integrity. Our model here can be what I call the “embodied self”: a self that includes a measure of unity and awareness of body and person in regard to oneself and others. The infant’s perception of its own body is crucial to the early development of a sense of self, and we can speak of a sequence in awareness from body to organism to person in the evolving concept of the “I.” With subse- […quent]
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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