Good vs Evil: Mind Games

angel-devil.jpgA school going kid shot his classmate in Gurgaon and expressed no feeling of guilt or remorse.

A police officer in Punjab paid a professional to murder his own son whom he saw as a hindrance to his multiple love affairs.

A mob of fifty molested a girl in front of I.P College, all of whom ironically had come to give the police services entrance examination.

The above incidents showcase that we, an apparently civilized species, are capable of committing acts which are gruesome to the extent of dehumanizing humans themselves. Be it Kashmir or Palestine where we fight the Holy war; Iraq or Vietnam where we intrude foreign soil and kill the natives under the pretext of saving them; Dafur, Congo or Korea. Everywhere, we have brought out our guns, bombs, planes and missiles and are killing a multitude of innocent people. The reasons given are different but that does not lessen our crime. Yet there are people amongst us who provide us with hope, courage and a desire to live. Those are the people without whom the world would have turned into a gory battlefield. All over the world, across continents and oceans, we humans have shown ourselves to be capable of both extremes.On one side, there are Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama. Compare them with those who belong to the dark side – Osama Bin Laden, Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussain, Napoleon Bonaparte et al.

What is it that makes these people so drastically different from each other? Is it the environment, religion, race, customs and monetary status which shapes the mental character of a person, or is a person’s future behavior determined long before in the womb itself?

These questions can be answered with a peek into history.

In the September of 1848, a railroad worker named Phineus Gage had an accident at work and was left with a rod lodged in the left side of his brain. Within two months, the vegetable that had been Gage returned to the state of normalcy. He suffered no motor or speech impairments. But according to his friends, “Gage was no longer Gage”. There was a drastic change in his personality after the accident. Once a very polite and caring person, Gage was now prone to uncalled for bursts of profanity. Previously energetic and focused, he was now erratic and unreliable. No amount of medical counseling could bring about any change in his behavior. The importance of this incident was discounted as just another stray incident by nineteenth century scientists.130 years after the accident happened, an autopsy was done on Gage’s exhumed body and it was confirmed that the social part of our personality is determined by a part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex, the very part which Gage’s brain which was damaged in the accident. Despite having good physical and mental abilities, what Gage lacked was organized social behaviour.

Though the above incident seems to prove scientifically that the key to our good and evil actions lies somewhere in the brain, it is only at a basic level. How we build upon it depends upon the value systems that we develop. To put all the blame on our mental state and disregard the brunt of moral responsibility is wrong. We may have come a long way from our primitive ancestors in terms of having movable thumbs and larger brains, but we still have a long way to go in learning to use our brains to usher a fully civilized society.

Akanksha Bali

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