It has been a recurring theme of Desperado Philosophy that explaining violent and sadistic cruelty with reference to normative structures of obedience (Milgram, Zimbardo and many others) fails to account for the fervor of the perpetrators, who incarnate the dark eros of the torturer’s Total Theater. Such theories also fail to adequately recognize or respect the lived experience of the victims, an experience of humiliating and soul-destroying subjugation, often resulting in long term psychological impairment and irreparable damage to the victim’s personality. Further, the situationist perspective sidesteps or marginalizes difficult and complex philosophical issues of ethics and conscience; indeed in some cases, the question of conscience appears to be entirely absent from the scene. Finally, such theories offer a convenient political cover for perpetrators of atrocity, because if evil resides in the normative structure of obedience, then nobody need be held personally accountable.
We recently came across a fascinating essay by philosopher Jerry S. Piven, “Terror, Sexual Arousal, and Torture: The Question of Obedience or Ecstasy Among Perpetrators”. The entire essay is worth careful reading, and is available online here; below, one passage in particular that caught my full attention:
Deeper into the essay, Piven focuses on the mechanism for the displacement of culpability: