Human or Monster?
Finding Our Ethical Bearings Amidst Ominous Transitions
Psychoanalyst, Ladson Hinton, M.D. • Anthropologist, Alexander Hinton, Ph.D.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Swedish Cultural Center
9:00 am – 1:00 pm (Registration from 8:30 – 9:00 am)
Two eminent scholars engage us in an urgent dialogue for our times. Join us in welcoming our own Ladson Hinton and his son, Alex Hinton, for this unique and important event.
Hindemith later expanded the symphony into an opera based on the life of Mathias Grunewald – the plot revolving around an artist’s ethical duty to follow his vision regardless of political pressures. The opera was eventually premiered in 1938 in Zurich, Switzerland.
We live in a world in which bigotry, hate, and lack of consideration for others appears to be on the rise. Images of the black flag of ISIS and the bombardment of Aleppo fill our screens. Particularly after the rise of Trumpism in the 2016 U.S. elections, racist, anti-Semitic, and other bigoted language and behavior appears to be increasing, even in our schools. The White Nationalist movement–replete with recent Nazi salutes in Washington, D.C.–has even found new ground.
Amidst these events, the tone of collective discourse has rapidly degenerated, damaging the forms and rituals that give coherence to lives and cultures. This situation has evoked powerful emotional reactions.
In this seminar, we do not want to merely repeat the sounds of alarm that are already being voiced. Our desire is to nourish a spirit of reflection. What might be a stance of integrity, one that can evoke new perspectives amidst trauma and panic? In order to explore that question we will present material from the stories of two men: one who was part of the collective extremes of human behavior at a Khmer Rouge torture and extermination center in Pol Pot’s Cambodia; the other a personal tale in a novel embodying a crisis of the sense of duty, and the vicissitudes of a search for a new ethic in changing times.
In these presentations, we seek to step back from the present situation and see what insights might be gleaned from reapproaching the current moment through the lenses of history, anthropology, psychoanalysis, and literature. Along the way, we will consider issues like shame, trauma, self, and other, seeking a perspective that can help us find our footing as we step into the future.
Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer
— with Alex Hinton
During the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign in Cambodia during the mid-to-late 1970s, a former math teacher named Duch served as the commandant of the S-21 security center, where as many as 20,000 victims were interrogated, tortured, and executed. In 2009 Duch stood trial for these crimes against humanity. While the prosecution painted Duch as evil, his defense lawyers claimed he simply followed orders. This was just one of a number of parallels between the Duch trial at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) and the Eichmann trial This presentation focuses on arguments in my recent book, Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer (Duke, 2016). Specifically, I will reconsider Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil in terms of “the banality of everyday thought” and “effacing conviction.” In doing so, the presentation will unpack reductive understandings of the perpetrator, including cultural reductionism, and illustrate how perpetration is enmeshed in a broader political, economic, social, and historical context — such as the one that inflected Duch’s decision to join the Khmer Rouge revolution and actions at S-21. His trial offers us lessons, including the importance of an ethics of “afacement” today as we confront situations and dynamics that parallel in troubling ways those that have occurred in places like Cambodia and Nazi Germany.
Alexander Hinton, PhD
Alexander Hinton is Director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, Professor of Anthropology, and UNESCO Chair in Genocide Prevention at Rutgers University. He is the author of the award-winning Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide (California, 2005) and nine edited or co-edited collections. His most recent book, Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, was just published with Duke University Press. In recognition of his work on genocide, the American Anthropological Association selected Hinton as the recipient of the 2009 Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology. Professor Hinton is also a past President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (2011-13) and was a Member/Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (2011-13). In 2016, he served as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
(email@example.com; webpage link: http://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/center-study-genocide-conflict-resolution-and-human-rights/alex-hinton)
Trauma, shame and shifts in ethical consciousness:
Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim – with Ladson Hinton
Lord Jim is the story of Jim, an idealistic young officer on the Patna, a rusty steamship carrying pilgrims to Mecca. It strikes the hulk of an old wreck in the night and he impulsively abandons ship along with a cowardly group of the ship’s officers, leaving the pilgrims to their fate. However, the ship does not in fact sink, but is discovered and towed to shore by a naval vessel. Jim’s dereliction of duty is traumatic and deeply shameful for him and his profession. The containing structures of existence seem lost, and ‘the heart of darkness’ looms..
Jim seeks redemption, and the resolution of his shame. He is driven to understand the enigma of his flight. Stein, a wise and experienced man of good will, cites a butterfly as an example of something perfect and beautiful, knowing exactly what to do with its life, but therefore unfree. In contrast, the human being is not a beautiful butterfly, a complete work, but thereby has an element of freedom. His piercing advice for Jim is, “In the destructive element immerse!” This is the fulcrum of the story. Jim eventually develops an ethos of personal responsibility that is not dependent on mere duty, but on free choice. However, such freedom has a shadow side, and his community is almost destroyed by a shameless psychopath.
In our own times we seem to have lost not only a clear sense of duty, but even basic decency, and shame has become diffuse and largely unconscious. There is an ominous undertone to things. Jim’s example provokes material for deep reflection on some of the dilemmas we face.
Ladson Hinton, MA, MD
Ladson Hinton, MD, is a member of the Society of Jungian Analysts of Northern California, the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles, and a founder of the New School for Analytical Psychology in Seattle. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Analytical Psychology and practices, consults, and teaches in Seattle. Shame & Temporality: Anguish and Awareness at the Crossroads, co-edited with Hessel Willemsen, will be published by Routledge in 2017. His recent interests are in the areas of French psychoanalysis, truth and shame, temporality, and the philosophical and historical grounds of psychoanalysis.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Excerpt from William Butler Yeats, ”The Second Coming”