Introduction: In our book, "Addictive Ideologies," we have received numerous letters from individuals concerned about their loved ones who have become entangled in damaging ideological frameworks. These individuals witness the withdrawal, anger, and resentment exhibited by their family members, who form new problematic friendships. This blog post aims to explore the question of what can be done when someone we care about is being drawn into an ideology that is harmful to them.
Understanding Addictive Ideologies
"Addictive Ideologies" delves into the world of genocide, terrorism, and political extremism, posing essential questions about how seemingly "normal" people participate in horrific events. The book asserts that addictive ideologies associated with violence tend to separate people into oppressed and oppressor groups, leading individuals to associate primarily with like-minded individuals who share the same ideology. This isolation can breed more violence. Traits of addiction are observed in individuals who continue to engage in harmful behaviors despite the negative consequences they inflict upon themselves and their loved ones.
Approaching Ideological Addiction
While addiction is often associated with substances and behaviors like smoking, alcohol, and gambling, it is less commonly associated with ideology. However, considering extreme ideological organizations as addictive entities can offer valuable insights into understanding and helping those caught in their grip. Like other addictions, ideological addictions involve an inability to cease engagement with harmful thoughts and behaviors, even when they harm oneself or loved ones. The obsession with ideology can be measured using the obsessive passion scale, which reveals a correlation between obsessive thoughts and support for violent extremism.
Addiction as a Coping Mechanism
Similar to substance use disorders, ideological addictions can emerge as a form of self-medication for individuals attempting to cope with emotional or mental issues. These addictions often arise from a desire to fill a void in one's life, overcome a sense of insignificance, meaninglessness, or powerlessness, and effect prosocial change. Loss, grief, and trauma can trigger existential questions, leading individuals to question their identity and search for a sense of belonging. In this process, individuals may experience insecurity, uncertainty, and a detachment from their former support systems.
Factors Influencing Radicalization
Jocelyn J. Belanger's book, "The Three Pillars of Radicalization," identifies three primary factors that drive radicalization and can lead to violent extremism. These factors include the individual's need for personal significance, the narrative or ideology that guides their quest for significance, and the network or group that validates the narrative and rewards adherence to the doctrine. When ideological groups create a victim mindset, it dehumanizes others based on group affiliation, justifying abusive behavior without moral obligation. Individuals construct a new worldview based on the ideology, leading to resentment, hatred, and potentially violent acts. As they become more involved, they distance themselves from loved ones and gravitate toward individuals who share their ideology.
The Impact on Society
Social conditions and a loss of identity can contribute to an overemphasis on national pride, as seen in historical examples like post-World War I Germany. In diverse societies, challenges to identity can cause vulnerability and insecurity across various religious, gender, age, and racial groups. Marginalized groups, such as white men or blue-collar workers, may be susceptible to ideological recruiters who exploit their feelings of powerlessness and invisibility. By validating their grievances, recruiters offer a sense of relevance and belonging. Individuals may overlook flaws and immoral acts committed by these leaders, justifying their loyalty and involvement.
Satisfying the Desire to be Right
The desire to be right is inherent in all of us, and winning an argument triggers the release of hormones like adrenaline and dopamine, creating a feeling of exhilaration. Ideologies provide a set of values, ideas, and beliefs that can offer individuals a sense of identity and purpose. When ideologies are structured around oppressor versus oppressed narratives, they can foster dehumanization and a victim mindset. These narratives enhance self-importance and provide an addictive rush similar to that experienced with substances or behaviors.
The Path to Violence
While many individuals may be drawn to extreme ideologies, the path to violence remains a minority experience. Psychological needs frustration, coupled with the failure of other strategies for social mobility, can push individuals towards violence as a last resort. The process of goal-shielding occurs when individuals minimize the value of other goals, allowing ideological pursuits to override moral constraints. Ego-defensiveness also plays a role when individuals tie their self-worth exclusively to the ideology, making them resistant to information that challenges their worldview.
Helping individuals who are drawn to extreme ideologies requires understanding the underlying vulnerabilities they may have. Individuals attracted to these ideologies are often isolated, stressed, or emotionally vulnerable. Online platforms, particularly gaming communities, have become fertile ground for recruitment due to the anonymity and emotional bonds formed. Recruiters employ manipulation tactics and the dark triad of personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) to seduce individuals. Engaging credible sources and community leaders can have limited impact on individuals already deeply embedded in addictive ideologies.
Addressing the issue of addictive ideologies is complex and challenging. It requires a multifaceted approach involving early prevention, education, psychological support, and community resilience-building. Recognizing the signs of ideological addiction, understanding the underlying factors that drive radicalization, and providing alternative avenues for meaning and belonging are vital steps towards helping individuals break free from the grip of extreme ideologies. By offering support, empathy, and understanding, we can play a crucial role in reclaiming the lives of our loved ones and preventing further harm to individuals and society at large.
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