THE EPIDEMIC OF NUCLEARISM:
A CLINICAL PROFILE OF THE GENOCIDAL MENTALITY

Ashis Nandy

Nuclearism is the ideology of nuclear weaponry and nuclear arms-based
security. It is the most depraved, shameless, and costly pornography
of our times. Such an ideology cannot be judged only by the canons of
international relations, geopolitics, political sociology, or ethics.
It is also a well known, identifiable, psychopathological syndrome.
The following is a brief introduction to its clinical picture,
epidemiology, and prognosis.

Nuclearism does not reside in institutions, though it may set up,
symbolise, or find expres-sion in social and political institutions.
It is an individual pathology and has clear identifiers. Many years
ago, Brian Isley argued in his book, Fathering the Unthinkable, that
nuclearism went with strong masculinity strivings. Isley was no
psychologist, but the works of Carol Cohn's and others have endorsed
the broad contours of Isley's analysis. They show that not only the
lan-guage and ideology, but the entire culture of nuclear weapon--ry
is infiltrated by hard, masculine imageries and those participating in
that culture usually suffer from deep fears of emasculation or
impotency. Indeed, that is the reason they participate in that culture
with enthusiasm.

Such masculinity strivings or drive for potency usually goes with
various forms of authori-tarianism. Even people ideologically
committed to democratic governance may vicariously parti-cipate in
subtler forms of authoritarianism associated with nuclearism. There is
support for this relationship outside psychology, too. Robert Jungk's
work on the nuclear state shows that secrecy, secur-ity, surveillance,
and police state methods invari-ab-ly accompany the nuclear
establishment in every country. In that sense, the culture of
nuclearism is one of the true "universals" of our time. Like Coca-Cola
and blue jeans, it does not permit cultural adaptation or edited
versions. It is the same in Paris and Pokhran, Lahore and Los Alamos.

Nuclearism is framed by the genocidal mentality. Eric Markusen and
Robert J. Lifton have systemati-cally studied the links. In their
book, The Genocidal Mentality, Markusen and Lifton make a comparative
study of the psychology of mass murderers, in Nazi Germany, in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and among the ideologues of nuclear-ism today
and find remarkable continuities.

In the genocidal person there is, first of all, a state of mind called
"psychic numb-ing"-a "diminished capacity or inclination to feel-and a
general sense of meaningless-ness". One so numbs one's sensitivities
that normal emotions and moral consider-ations cannot penetrate one
any more. Numbing "closes off" a person and leads to a "constrict-ion
of self process". To him or her, the death or the possibility of the
death of millions begins to look like an abstract, bureau-cratic
detail, involving the calculation of military gains or losses,
geopolitics or mere statistics. Such numbing can be considered to be
the final culmi-nation of the separation of affect and cogni-tion-that
is, feelings and think-ing-that the European Enlightenment sanctioned
and celebrated as the first step towards greater objectivity and
scientific rationality.

The genocidal mentality also tends to create an area protected from
public respons---ibility or democratic accountability. Usually such
responsibility is avoided by re-conceptualising oneself as only a cog
in the wheel, advancing one's own bureaucratic or scientific career
like everybody else, by taking and obeying orders from superior
author-ities faithfully, mechanically, and with-out thinking about the
moral implications of the orders. The Nazi war criminals tried at
Nuremberg at the end of World War II all ventured the defence that
they were under orders to kill innocent people, including women,
children and the elderly, and could do nothing about it.

The other way of avoiding accountability is to remove it from
individuals and vest it in institutions and aggregates. As if
institutions by themselves could run a death machine without the
intervention of individuals! After a while, even terms like the
mili-tary-industrial complex, fascism, imperialism, Stalinism, ruling
class, or American hege-mony become ways of freeing the actual,
real-life persons from their culpability for recommending, ordering,
or committing mass murders. In a society where geno-cidal mentality
spreads, intellectuals also find such impersonal analyses sooth-ing;
they contri-bute to the creation of a business-as-usual-ambience in
which institutions are ritually blamed and the psychopathic
scientists, bureaucrats and politicians who work towards genocides
move around scot-free.

In acute cases, the genocidal mentality turns into necrophilia, a
clinical state in which the patient is in love with death. Indeed, he
or she wants to sleep with the dead, in fantasy and, in extreme cases,
in life. Saadat Hassan Manto's famous story, 'Cold Meat' or 'Thanda
Gosht' is, unknown to the author, the story of an 'ordinary' murderer
and rapist who, while trying to satiate his sexual greed during a
communal conflict, confronts his own with necrophilia and is
devastat-ed by that. Those interest-ed in more authoritative case
studies can look up Erich Fromm's The Anatomy of Human
Destructiveness.

Nuclearism does not remain confined to the nuclear establishment or
the nuclear commun-ity. It introduces other psychopathologies in a
society. For instance, as it seeps into public consciousness, it
creates a new awareness of the transience of life. It forces people to
live with the constant fear that, one day, a sudden war or accident
might kill not only them, but also their children and grandchildren,
and everybody they love. This awareness gradually creates a sense of
the hollowness of life. For many, life is denuded of substantive
meaning. The psychological numbing I have mentioned com-pletes the
picture. While the ordinary citizen leads an apparently normal life,
he or she is constantly aware of the transience of such life and the
risk of mega-death for the entire society. Often this finds expression
in unnecessary or inexpli-c-able violence in social life or in a more
general, high state of anxiety and a variety of psycho-somatic
ailments. In other words, nuclearism begins to brutalise ordinary
people and vitiates everyday life.

Studies by the likes of William Beardslee, J. E. Mach and Eleonora
Masini show that these traits express themselves even in adolescents
and children. Even children barely eight or ten years old begin to
live in what they consider to be a world without a future; they are
fearful and anxious about their life, but unable to express that fear
and anxiety directly, because in a nuclearised society the fear of
nuclear death is made to look like an abnormal psychoneuro-tic state.

Many neurotics and psychotics at first look like charming eccentrics.
To start with, nuclearism may appear a smart game and the partisans of
nuclear weaponry may look like normal politicians, scholars, or
defence experts. After all, the Nazis killers, too, were usually
loving fathers, connoisseurs of good music, and honest citizens.
However, beneath those facade lies a personality that is insecure,
doubtful about one's masculinity, fearful of the interpersonal world,
and unable to love. The mindless violence such a personality
anticipates or plans is a pathetic attempt to fight these inner
feelings of emptiness, and the suspicion and the fear that one's moral
self might already be dead within. You father the unthinkable because
you have already psychologically orphaned your-self. You make
contingency plans to kill millions because you fear that your
inner-most core has already been cauterised against all normal
feelings and human relations. Acquiring the power to inflict the death
on millions, and by living with the fantasy of that power, you
pathetically try to get some confirmation that you are still alive.
However, that confirmation never comes. For in the process of
acquiring that power, you may not be not dead physically, but you are
already dead morally, socially and psycho-logi-cally.


Ashis Nandy
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies 29 Rajpur Road Delhi 110 054, India

Tel: (91 11) 294 2199, 23 1190, 252 1151 Fax: (91 11) 294 3450
In case of difficulty try (91 11) 338 8155
Email: csds@del2.vsnl.net.in
[In case of difficulty try sscsds@ren.nic.in]



Return to the home page of SOUTH ASIANS AGAINST NUKES