Marc Pilisuk and Angela Wong
The suicide attacks on the World Trade Center were the first tragedy of this magnitude to be perpetrated by a small group of individuals. The bombs that exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki claimed many more civilian lives, but until September 11, 2001, one might have taken all the individual mass murderers, all the serial killers the world has known, and found their victims to number in the hundreds. Even with the September 11 event, the more dramatic numbers of victims of terror are killed by sources other than deranged or obsessed individuals or criminal bands. The real mass murderers produce victims by the thousands and tens of thousands, many times dwarfing the tragic losses from the attack on the World Trade Center. These murderers are on the loose. They are called governments.
The behavior of governments is not frequently construed to be the province of psychology. But the ways in which people in the decision-making circles of governments think and act are governed by the same principles that explain behavior in other contexts. The explanatory constructs, to which we will return, are attitudes regarding inequality, relative deprivation, impunity (from the consequences of one’s actions), dehumanization of outsiders (particularly dissenters), the mindset of domination, and the pursuit of interests inspired by decision theory (and unfettered by principles).