The Perils of a Chosen Life

In my social psychology class, I came across the word deindividuation, a mouthful yeah? It is defined as …

Immersion in a group to the point that one loses a sense of self-awareness and feels lessened responsibility for one’s actions.

And it hit me, this is the word I am trying to find to describe the atrocities committed in the countries where I used to work.

In Cambodia, a dark era came during the Pol Pot regime where people that are educated, monks, those wearing glasses, foreigners were all sent to their deaths and children were bashed on trees and buried in mass graves. I am sure you will remember the very touching movie “the Killing Fields” recounted by one of the survivor and refugee during those time.

In Sierra Leone, when local militia from another tribe funded by other countries started to rape women and mutilate people leaving behind a population of people without arms and legs, disfigured faces and torn emotions.

In North Korea, until now is still under the impression that the world hasn’t change and only their ideologies are what matters. No one has the courage to go against a regime where it’s easy to send you and your family to hard labor and torture, and still deny it happens.

In East Timor, after receiving their independence from 400 years of colonization was brutally invaded by neighboring Indonesia for 24 years killing people senselessly, by bringing people to cliff in the dead of the night saying they are being led to freedom, but instead they freefall in the pit of the highest cliff in Ainaro. While paving roads, building schools and employing medical professionals from Indonesia.

And even in my own country, the Philippines, insurgents are kidnapping, looting, killing innocents and declaring wars in peaceful fishing village.

I remember crying a river over the movie Hotel Rwanda and getting angry reading Shake Hands with the Devil because it’s very sad that those people have to suffer, to die and to those that survived to live to tell and relive the experience over and over again.

Those era may have passed in those countries, but is still happening in mine. One get to ask why are there people like them — heartless, devoid of emotion, pure evil? but I didn’t think there is an answer, or a name to call it until after one of our lecture. It explains that it only takes one person to incite hate on others and the mob will follow without thinking, would be in a state where they remove their individuality and commit those atrocities.

And in spite of the supposed advent of “technology” and “modernization” still the same situation is happening over and over again in countries where there are group of people that are in the state of deindividuation, who still chooses to terrorize innocents and claim their actions to be blessed by their gods. Take the case of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine etc. How do you counter that without resorting to force? without retaliating? without showing whose mightier? If that happens, then history is repeating itself — more lives are displaced, more wounded, more dead.

My faith taught me to love one another, to do what you want others to do to you – as a golden rule. My family instill in me values I carried working as an aid worker, to be tolerant, accepting and helpful. To be patient and to be open to new ideas. Personally I learned over the years that everything can be resolved by dialogue and that between fighting forces, the people, mostly the innocents are the losers. All that I carry with me while doing the work I like doing the best I can. 





  1. Pingback: Humanity Begins in You and Me | My Decade Long Travels
  2. psychologistmimi · October 12, 2014

    great piece in how you applied de-individuation to the world atrocities.


    • D · October 12, 2014

      Thank you 🙂


  3. Hi. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Do you think deindividuation possibly comes from modernization and technology? You write that “despite modernization…” Perhaps it is because of….? I see globalization as a problem largely contributing to the violence you reference here.


    • Dee · September 18, 2014

      I would not say that because lynching and other of similar atrocities such as witchcraft, genocide and the holocaust happened before the onset of the industrial age and we saw a lot of movements done to stop the intolerance, the senseless killing and we had many wins — the segregation in Americas had been abolished so it slave trade, the East and West Germany had reconciled and many more examples.

      And one would think that because of that history people would have learned their lessons but no, the problem persists in the world — you still hear news of honor killing of women, rape of young girls, kidnapping, beheading, labor camps, torture and even hate crimes in civilized world and that happens in the 21st century, the modern era, the era of globalization where everyone is supposed to be connected, to be talking more even though its through a box but it doesn’t and I think it is largely due to the “person’s character” — when we are emphatic we know how it feels to be the receiving end of the whip so to speak and therefore will do no harm.


      • You make a lot of good points. Although I think a lot of the violence such as witchcraft, is small scale – interpersonal. Whereas a lot of what goes on today is impersonal violence. Bombing other countries for oil or precious minerals. I think it is the level of impersonal violence which has escalated and I find that scary.


        • Dee · September 20, 2014

          Well it has nothing on inter or intrapersonal because the perpetrator is beyond “person” anymore — in the definition you lose your individuality and therefor you act without thinking and just follow the mob such is the case of burning witches in square or lynching mobs during the white supremacy era and still happening in countries where there are a lot of prejudice and intolerance.

          In the case of terrorism such is happening in Iraq and Syria a cleric claiming he’s bestowed with power to rule over believers entice them into thinking beyond themselves and that’s what bothers me because people – educated or otherwise lose their self and become deindividualized, follow and commit acts of violence.

          It is sad and scary, yes, that more people especially the young people are lured into that kind of actions — when they are most vulnerable and still not sure of themselves and how to act in a more globalized world. It also goes back to family and community values to set them in the right directions — in a more emphatic and compassionate directions.


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