using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 27 Genocide, totalitarianism, atrocity—psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton studies the worst in human nature to help us bring out the best. Among his seminal works are The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide; Death in Life: Sur- vivors of Hiroshima; Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwash- ing in China; and, most recently, Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the Wo r l d . His reflections on the darkest deeds of modern life—and the values that can help us prevent them—make him an essential moral and political voice in a world frightened about its future. ANDREA MILLER: Has studying the worst manifestations of evil in modern times made you feel hopeless about the future? ROBERT JAY LIFTON: No, I’m not a hopeless person. In con- fronting these issues, I’m expressing the possibility of alterna- tives. I feel we have the potential for evil behavior but also the potential for something better. I never expect quick results, but I feel that a scholar like myself has an obligation to be an activist. So I do these studies as an act of hope. How do you cope emotionally with immersing yourself in atrocities? My way of dealing with it is to not be overly single-minded about it. I say, with some whimsy, to my students and friends, “Don’t read this stuff after nine o’clock,” but I mean it with some seriousness. I need to pace myself like an athlete so that I have some sense of my limits. Another part is having a lot of love around and a life quite removed from the research. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t remain with me and have its costs, but those are some of my ways of coping. After studying Nazi doctors, you said that socializing people to do evil is relatively easy. But I feel I’d never do what those Nazi doctors, for example, did. Am I wrong? You may be right. Socialization to killing is a grave danger, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to resist. It means that resistance takes an exceptional moral imagination, and here and there I’ve encountered that. In the case of the Nazis, much of the dirty work was done by people who weren’t fanatical ideologues. They were people who were brought into and adapted to an environ- ment in which some kind of wrong was the norm. The ability to resist often had to do with understanding in advance what the Nazis were about, and therefore anticipating what an adaptation to them would entail. During World War II you believed that the United States stood for progressive policies and decency in the world. Do you feel that now? I grew up believing in my country and in the integrity and com- passion of its leaders. That is no longer the case. It’s quite the re- verse in terms of our leaders now. A democratic society can’t be absolute protection against extreme ideologies that can appear within it, and that’s what’s happening in our society. Having said that, I still love my country and recognize the opportunities I’ve been given to have an unusual career that could only occur here. I also have great hope for our resilience and for calling upon what Lincoln called “our better angels”—in this case, our more hu- mane institutions to right our moral compass and turn things around. That’s what I try to work for. In your book Superpower Syndrome, you explore how the begin- ning of the twenty-first century is characterized by “apocalypti- cism.” Can you tell me about that? The apocalyptic impulse has to do with destroying much of the Q&A Finding Light in the Darkness ROBERT JAY LIFTON Among his seminal cal he st es ke l voice re. You m but tha an th w ment in wh to resist ofte The gates of Auschwitz PHOTOOFAUSCHWITZBYRODIRVINE MAY 18-41.indd 27 MAY 18-41.indd 27 3/6/08 11:17:13 AM 3/6/08 11:17:13 AM