“How many poets have written poems punning on feet?”
– Walking on Knives
With the recent events of the Orlando Massacre, I can’t help to think back to how Adolf Hitler became the prejudiced human being he was. I catch myself picturing how his narrative developed into the monstrosity it turned out to be.
And I visualize an example in Hitler’s narrative related to operant-conditioning – a process in which the probability of response occurring is increased or decreased due to reinforcement or punishment. Perhaps young Hitler ran into some dark-haired female of Jewish descent in his younger years, and let’s say this woman completely scolded his Christian predicament or something related to his adamant Christian belief. He felt his belief to be somewhat “punished” by her reaction. He then could have developed an aversion to individuals that differed from his belief.
Then, let’s think a little harder and imagine that he, Hitler, was offended by the non-belief in Jesus of this Jewish female, when suddenly a young, blonde haired, protestant Swiss female came, listened and agreed with him. He felt his belief to be “reinforced”. It followed then that Hitler developed a strong liking toward people with his own belief.
Of course we know that this is a fictional scenario, that it would take more than one single exposure of young Hitler before a conditioning becomes effective. And we would have to consider the dominant ideologies that pre-existed the birth and development of Hitler – dominant ideologies that socially and historically also conditioned the way in which his experiences would be interpreted – interpretation that is also inevitably mediated by an ideology that surpasses the personal psychology of the individual. Be it Adolf Hitler, Omer Mateen or any other individual.
Nonetheless it would be a similar sort of operant conditioning that occurs in all those who are part of a prejudiced community – they are exposed to scolding and feelings of aversion towards individuals that are different from them – being “reinforced” when agreeing with those in their in-group and “punished” when disagreeing with them. Thus, being self-confirmed when they see their in-group as better and the others as lesser – until the prejudice becomes a reflex and not a cognitive decision.
Dominant ideologies that as we see haunt us today. We are all walking on knives. “How many have done so while their days were numbered?”