You probably would not expect a comment on the Meditation Blog upon Timothy Snyder: The Bloodlands – Europe between Hitler and Stalin. But there are some interesting psychological perspectives relevant for meditation. Most of the book describes truly awful events, but the shock lies much in the realization that the narrative is probably fairly accurate in its description of the mass murder of 14 million people. The book is a bestseller and has received fabulous reviews from some of the best historians in the world. It is interesting, even when one knows parts of the story. It is intelligently written, but by a truly angry man! In writing the book, I think Snyder reveals a basic drive in the human psyche: The need to understand even what is truly awful. In the will to understand there is hope. The crimes were committed by humans, but they are also investigated to be understood by humans.
In his concluding chapter Humanity, Snyder connects in a way to the reasoning in Dyade 4/08 on feeling vitimized when he points out that two of the greatest self appointed victims in history were Stalin and Hitler: “Stalin and Hitler both claimed throughout their political careers to be victims …. of an international capitalist or Jewish conspiracy.” Then Snyder really drives home his point about victimhood: “No major war or act of mass killing in the twentieth century began without the aggressor or aggressors first claiming innocence and victimhood. … Unfortunately, claiming victim status does not itself bring sound ethical choices.”
I think there is one point lacking in Snyder’s account. Hitler and Stalin were not only paranoid and psychopathic and megalomaniacs – they must also have been truly sadistic. There is no way you can orchestra the murder of so many people without finding pleasure in it. That is also part of it – part of being human! And one of the reasons why meditation is needed, but surely not sufficient when confronted by truly evil people.
In what way can meditation adress sadism?
I don’t think it necessarily can – or ever will be part of the life of a hard core sadist. The ‘typical’ sadist is probably not inclined to take up introspective activities. Hitler and Stalin both were paranoid and megalomaniacs – not your typical participant on a beginner’s course in meditation! – But from a theoretical point of view, meditation should increase your empathy and sensitivity and then make it harder to go on being a sadist. But that is the fairy tale. In the real world, the sadists are not sitting there mediating – they are out there botering people.