Tag Archives: James Gilligan

Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others

Note from Amy:

If you’ve spent much time on this Diary of a Predator website, you’ll know I am a big fan of James Gilligan‘s work, especially his book Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemicwhere he presents case studies from his 25 years of working in prisons in an attempt to understand the causes and motivation of violent behavior.

We share that same goal, which is the entire reason I wrote the book Diary of a Predator: A Memoir, and why I have this website. If we don’t understand the complex causes of violence, how can we prevent it? We need to focus on prevention at its source–the perpetrator–instead of simply telling young women they need to walk in pairs after dark.

Now Gilligan has released a new edition of his latest book, Why Some Politicians are More Dangerous Than Othersand if you truly care about the prevention of violence in the U.S., it’s worth reading with an open mind.

From the Back Cover:

Politicians and the political process, even in ostensibly democratic countries, can be deadly. James Gilligan has discovered a devastating truth that has been “hiding in plain sight” for the past century – namely, that when America’s conservative party, the Republicans, have gained the presidency, the country has repeatedly suffered from epidemics of violent death. Rates of both suicide and homicide have sky-rocketed. The reasons are all too obvious: rates of every form of social and economic distress, inequality and loss – unemployment, recessions, poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness also ballooned to epidemic proportions. When that has happened, those in the population who were most vulnerable have “snapped”, with tragic consequences for everyone.

These epidemics of lethal violence have then remained at epidemic levels until the more liberal party, the Democrats, regained the White House and dramatically reduced the amount of deadly violence by diminishing the magnitude of the economic distress that had been causing it.

This pattern has been documented since 1900, when the US government first began compiling vital statistics on a yearly basis, and yet it has not been noticed by anyone until now except with regard to suicide in the UK and Australia, where a similar pattern has been described.

This book is a path-breaking account of a phenomenon that has implications for every country that presumes to call itself democratic, civilized and humane, and for all those citizens, voters and political thinkers who would like to help their country move in that direction.

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Three Words That Triggered a Final Spree of Violence: “You Little Punk”

Brent Brents often told me his greatest fear was not of being killed, or tortured, or injured in any way–but of being shamed.

“Please don’t make me look stupid,” he would repeatedly say to me regarding publishing his writings, and when I asked him why the fear of humiliation held so much power over him, he didn’t have an answer.

The very first time I interviewed him, Brents told me his final crime spree-where he raped three women and two children over the course of a weekend–was triggered by a police detective talking smack to him on the phone in an effort to get Brents, who had a warrant out for his arrest, to turn himself in. I write about it in Diary of a Predator: A Memoir.

“He called me a little punk. ‘Tell me where you’re at. I’ll come get you, you little punk,’” Brents told me. “I said, ‘Fuck you. Come get me.’”

Then, he said, “I worked myself into this rage, walked out of the coffee shop . . . [thinking] ‘You wanna play games? I can play games, too.’”

At the time, I thought it was a ridiculous excuse, and merely a way for Brents to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. And while he is indeed responsible for his actions, today I now understand the deep motivation that shame and humiliation play in inciting violence.

“I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo this ‘loss of face’–no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death,” writes James Gilligan in his excellent book, Violence: Reflections On a National Epidemic.

“The purpose of violence is to diminish the intensity of shame and replace it as far as possible with its opposite, pride…”

The more trivial the matter, Gilligan says, the deeper the humiliation: “…their very  triviality makes it even more shameful to feel ashamed about them.”

Men who feel this way and act on it become violent because they feel they have no nonviolent alternative to boost their self esteem, Gilligan says. Also, with their sense of self threatened to be overwhelmed by shame, they lack the emotions of love and guilt that would normally prevent someone from becoming violent.

Again, it doesn’t excuse Brent Brent’s behavior–but it does help explain it.

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little tortured boys don’t just disappear

Note from Amy: I got a very thoughtful email last year from a woman who is working on her master’s in counseling psychology. She had seen me on the Paula Zahn show on Investigation Discovery about the Brent Brents’ case, and wrote to offer her support of my work.

Now she’s doing some work of her own, through an excellent blog called The Feminist Rag–and I offer praise of it not just because she recently wrote a very nice blog about my work on Brents, but because she has insightful and interesting things to say. I began reading James Gilligan’s book Violence on her recommendation, and have learned so much from it. That book articulates so well the underlying causes of violence in our culture and why conventional solutions have failed to stem its tide.

Since the author of The Feminist Rag doesn’t give her name on her website, I won’t reveal it here. Below is an excerpt of what she wrote about her reactions to Diary of a Predator: A  Memoir, in addition to some very kind things about my ongoing work which were gratifying to hear.

From The Feminist Rag:

Reading Amy’s book is not for the light-hearted; it took me on an INTENSE emotional roller coaster that had me wrestling with all kinds of conflicting feelings like disgust, terror, empathy and despair as I learned of  Brent’s childhood, which was filled with unspeakable child abuse which, unsurprisingly and all too commonly, resulted in a full blown sadistic, out of control, violent, sociopathic man.

Alongside my disgust, despair, and terror, I also found myself feeling empathy for Brent because little tortured boys don’t just disappear, they slowly morph into violent adult men.  This is not to say that ALL abused boys turn into sadistic men, but some do, it’s simply how life works — everyone copes differently with the inner hell such a childhood creates. Read more

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Gods Green earth is fair Game

I’m including an except below from serial rapist Brent Brents’ journal that’s in my book, Diary of a Predator: A Memoir, because of its chilling self description.

But first, something from James Gilligan: “The living dead.”

-That’s a term for violent men from the book, Violence: Reflections On A National Epidemic, by James Gilligan, M.D., and it resonates with me because it’s similar to how Brent Brents describes himself.

Gilligan, who directed the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School, is the former medical director of the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane and was director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system.

To call violent prison inmates “the living dead” is not a metaphor he invented, Gilligan says in his book; rather, it’s a summary of how the men describe themselves, that they cannot feel anything, that their souls are dead.

He goes on to write, “They have dead souls because their souls were murdered. How did it happen?”

The answer, Gilligan says, was “a degree of violence and cruelty…in childhood…so extreme and unusual that it gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘child abuse.'”

Which is exactly how Brent Brents was created–horrific and habitual child abuse. And it doesn’t excuse his actions, but it certainly helps explain them, and understanding violence takes us one step closer toward preventing it.

As for the self description written by Brent Brents, I begin the start of nearly every chapter of  Diary of a Predator: A Memoir with an excerpt from one of his letters or from his journal (which is also featured in large portions throughout the rest of the book). This is at the start of chapter One, A Hunter at Work:

I could easily be Bundy i think he had the same fucked up
brain the release was never Achievable. What realy hurts me
deep is that there are a few things and people I can sincerely
care for and love and would never hurt but the rest of Gods
Green earth is fair Game. I am truly a fucked up dangerous
person and were the opportunities to present themselves I
would act. It hurts me to admit this. I am sorry for hurting
all those other people, Truly but how can i be any kind of
Good or decent if i cant stop my mind from Working Like it
does. I look back to when i was a kid and i realy think i went
crazy. Death is the only solution to this.
—From Brent’s journal

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the violence of everyday life

A reader suggested I read the book Violence: Reflections On A National Epidemic, by James Gilligan, M.D., and I am so glad she did.

Gilligan directed the Center for the Study of Violence at Harvard Medical School, is the former medical director of the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane and was director of mental health for the Massachusetts prison system.

His book is brilliant and thoughtful. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but there are parts of it already worth quoting, such as this:

“…even the most apparently ‘insane’ violence has a rational meaning to the person who commits it, and to prevent this violence, we need to learn to understand what that meaning is…The psychological understanding of violence requires recognizing how much method there is in violent madness, and how much psychopathology there is in the violence of everyday life.”

It articulates better than I ever could why it’s important for us to learn from someone like Brent Brents.

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