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The Nadir of Human Behavior


Judith Deutsch is a psychoanalyst in Toronto. She is former president of Science for Peace and is currently a member of the Global Palestine Mental Health Network.

Tasnim News Agency, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens


This article comes from my own brush with death, knowing that it pales against the suffering that others experience all over the world. But it motivated me to write what I try to understand about the interplay of the intrapsychic and interpersonal worlds, what I learn practicing psychoanalysis and from my interest in history, particularly the catastrophic refusal of influential people to understand the limits to growth and to life.


My brush with death: I was to have an aortic valve replacement under a local, now a not uncommon procedure for people my age, followed by about 5 hours of observation and then discharge.   Shortly after it started and unbeknownst to me I was put under a general because of a small tear and bleeding, followed by about 5 hours of monitoring, my heart stopping for about 5 seconds, open heart surgery, the ICU, and 8 days of hospitalization. I received state-of-the-art medical treatment ironically at the Munk Cardiac Centre, named for the heartless philanthropist Peter Munk who was CEO of Barrick Gold, perpetrator of racist and environmental crimes all over the world. At the hospital I was treated with extraordinary kindness, often by ordinary people at the bottom of the healthcare hierarchy.


This experience led me to these reflection on the human condition.


 The haywire world is not an inevitable result of “human nature”. These words of wrongly accused political prisoner Leonard Peltier express what it is to be an adult in a social-political world. Not being religious myself, his words touch on the sanctity of life: “You must understand I am ordinary.  Painfully ordinary.  This isn’t modesty.  This is fact.  Maybe you’re ordinary, too.  If so, I honour your ordinariness, your humanness, your spirituality.  I hope you will honour mine.  That ordinariness is our bond,  you and I.   We are ordinary.  We are human.  The Creator made us this way.  Imperfect. Inadequate. Ordinary.    Imperfection is the source of every action.  This is both our curse and our blessing as human beings.  Our very imperfection makes a holy life possible.  We’re not supposed to be perfect.   We’re supposed to be useful.”


Adulthood:  what’s central but often misinterpreted, in Freud, is the capacity to reality test and to have a rational understanding of time, of cause and effect relationships, a capacity to differentiate human from non-human,  and human from inanimate. What does it mean to not comprehend death? Mozart’s Don Giovanni, believing in his limitless sexuality, only entertained the possibility of death as the cold hand of the Commendatore. Freud in his defiant refusal to bow to the Nazis, did not see the real threat of death until it was almost too late to escape Vienna, though he thereby endangered close relatives.



The Palestinian genocide is in a number of ways much worse than other genocides. It is worse in that it is widely publicized so there can be no claim of “not knowing”:  every Israeli massacre of the besieged civilian population of Gaza has met with over 90% public approval, and in Israel everyone serves in the army so everyone knows and participates. In Israel, Jewish people can dissent without fearing imprisonment and torture but there is little dissent about killing Palestinians. These massacres are committed after the Nuremberg Code spelled out the illegality of claiming ignorance about genocidal atrocity and the obligation to refuse to follow illegal orders.                                                             

Unlike other genocides, the Jewish Israeli population is relatively affluent, well-educated and safe with one of the largest armies and a thriving weapons trade.  By contrast, after WWI 750 million people in Germany starved following the blockade imposed by the armistice. Naziism arose under Post WWI living conditions, exacerbated by the postwar Allied blockade (which contravened international law). Public health authorities and medical researchers indicate marked decline in live births and birth weight, increased death rate for children of all ages, pronounced malnutrition and disease [1].                        

            Like the German Holocaust,  the Palestinian genocide is mechanized, technological, and also  sadistic: there is a  widely published photo of Israelis in Sderot sitting on lawn chairs and enjoying the display of white phosphorus dropped on Gaza.  Israel uses Gaza as a showcase of battle-tested new weapons, causing unprecedented internal injuries. [2]


            The Palestinian genocide targets children.  Each Gaza massacre is disproportionate: 2014 Operation Protective Edge 582 Gaza children killed and one Israeli child. Nightly sonic booms over Gaza result in night terrors, bed wetting, hearing loss.  Shooting children’s knees and eyes is described as an “incremental genocide” below the radar of detection, leading to shortened lives. Children are detained and tortured in Israeli military prisons. [3] To me, Prime Minister Golda Meir spoke the cruelest words in history: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.  Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” As a religion, Judaism takes pride in acknowledging  guilt; its  High Holiday  is one day/year dedicated to guilt.[4] 


Norman Finkelstein analyzes uses and abuses of the Holocaust, the rationale behind Jewish exceptionalism,  [5] and Adam Haber and Matylda Figlerowicz  analyze the ahistorical distortion of  the so-called new antisemitism in “ Anatomy of a Moral Panic.” From antizionist scholar Judith Butler, with her postmodern blurring of facts such as questioning the veracity of the Goldstone investigation of atrocity,  comes her  ahistorical idealization of Jewishness as a religion/culture embodying universal humanitarian values. Yet this is very rare historically.  Talmudic argumentation was about finding ways to circumvent the excessive demands of a cruel, jealous, demanding god who would even ask Abraham to kill his own son as a demonstration of faith, so Abraham doesn’t have to ask himself whether he harbors murderous impulses.   Talmudic admonitions to do good applied to treatment of other Jews and not the treatment of gentiles.  [8]                                                                                                                                                     

Three male leaders, each with different psychologies and social histories, similarly idealized militarism. Zionist Herzl, Hitler, and Ben Gurion devoted themselves to creating  a new aggressive military man.  Herzl’s ideal was the Prussian soldier or American cowboy, Ben Gurion the  strong Jew instead of a submissive, easily cowed  ghetto Jew [6]. The beginning of  Mein Kampf: “For the first time, though as yet in a confused form, the question was forced upon my consciousness: was there a difference…between the Germans who fought these battles [of WWI] and other Germans? Why hadn’t my father and all the others fought? Are we not the same as all other Germans? Do we not all belong together? This problem began to gnaw at my little brain for the first time….I received the answer that not every German was fortunate enough to belong to Bismarck’s Reich. This was more than I could understand.”                                                                                                                                                   


Israel’s reaction to October 7 is a regression to a talion Eye for an Eye morality [9] There is still no exact information about how many people were killed or who did the killing or the role of friendly fire, or whether killing civilians was on orders from Hamas or due to individual Palestinian reactions, and if so—what was the background of the perpetrator: was he imprisoned and tortured as a child, had he seen his parents humiliated by the IDF, had he witnessed brutal killing? (Robert Kennedy’s assassin grew up in Gaza and in early childhood witnessed the death and mutilation of family members). What leads Israeli perpetrators to such extreme cruelty and lawlessness? Bob Dylan sings of people “wounded in hatred.”                                                                                                


Law as justice and morality, or defined as rules of behavior using reductionistic Talmudic, Jesuitical originary interpretation.  In the backlash to worldwide antizionist protest, laws conflate words, thoughts, and action, what Freud called magical thinking. Saying Palestine, BDS, ceasefire, is interpreted as if words are acts. Or words take the place of necessary action: as if the ICJ using the word Genocide has not stopped even one murder. The ICJ spinelessly approved  German arms shipment to Israel. Never enforced was the ICJ  opinion on dismantling the Apartheid Wall in Israel or its opinion that even  threatening to use nuclear weapons is a violation of international law.                                                                                                                 

The entire legal edifice is flawed and unworkable, starting with the composition and power of the UN Security Council. Its five permanent members, the first nations to possess nuclear weapons, hold exclusive veto power.  Never enforced are the UN Charter rules on armed intervention, unchallenged is the role and power of non-state sovereign entities (e.g. trade agreements corporations, free economic zones crisscrossing the world). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not cover universal human needs like water, food, medical care, or protection from disasters.                    

I wish to thank political science professor Arnd Jurgensen for his helpful comments on international law. The exclusive veto allows the five permanent members to use the veto in their own interest. “Israel has of course been a major beneficiary of this at least since 1967. This practice of ‘lawfare’ has become considerably more pronounced in the last few years and especially under the Biden administration, which has ceased even to mention the UN Charter, but instead talks of ‘the rules based international order’. This has allowed Anthony Blinken, for example to respond to Russia’s concerns over NATO expansion by exclusively focusing on the “sovereign right of all states to choose their security partners”, rejecting the idea that Russia has a right to a sphere of influence on its borders, while simultaneously accepting the Monroe Doctrine as perfectly legitimate. It also ignores the doctrine of R2P given that Russia justified its incursion into Ukraine at least in part on the basis of the brutal assault on the Russian speaking regions in which an estimated 14,000 had been killed after the 2014 coup in which the elected government friendly to Moscow was overthrown by Ukrainian nationalists with the support of the US and EU. The use of “lawfare” in the context of the Gaza crisis is even more pronounced. The right to defend itself is invoked to justify Israel’s response to the attacks of October 7….The territory has been under effective siege by Israel ever since and any signs of resistance have been met with brutal force, euphemistically referred to by Israeli policy makers as mowing the lawn. While I do not celebrate the resort to force and violence by Palestinians on Oct.7, it was an understandable act of resistance against a brutal, illegal occupation that in no way justifies the genocidal response…                                                                  



Do people in positions of influence think that the masses do not know about climate change, about forest fires, the burning of whole towns, tropical storms and killer heat waves, rising sea levels? Bob Dylan sings that you can’t fool all people all of the time. In the oil patch of Western Canada, there are already 70 forest wildfires and town evacuations. Do experts actually think that people will seriously believe that subsidizing electric vehicles for the affluent or cutting back plastic straws is a “solution” for all these disasters? Or think that genocide and climate change can wait for the ‘longue duree’ of building class consciousness and not also implementing urgent measures to save lives?                                                                                                                                                         

After climate scientist James Hansen testified to Congress in 1988, explaining that it was imperative to reduce global concentration of greenhouse gases to below 350ppm (parts per million), three options emerged: 1)rapidly reduce greenhouse gases to zero emissions, 2)reduce emissions through recycling and reusing, and rapidly develop renewables, recognizing climate injustice through compensating for loss and damage particularly in Global South,  and convergence, transition to  regional agriculture and local food distribution,3) lastly, continue business-as-usual and phase in renewables as they become available.  What was chosen by the powers-that-be was full speed ahead on production, eliminating existing environmental regulations, governmental investment in fossil fuels.  What we now see is unprecedented  (in the Earth’s entire record) rate of temperature increase and of greenhouse gas concentration. Not graphed is human death.                                                                            

What we see is considerable Dumbing Down, reporting one ‘representative’ number that obscures the entire process: e.g. global average surface temperature, new heat records,   inconsistent numbers about target reductions or baselines to reach net zero, ludicrous arbitrary carbon budget. Some facts hidden in plain sight:  the melting of all earth’s ice at CO concentration higher than 350 ppm with eventual resulting in at least 60 meters  sea level rise; current changes in ocean currents and salt water/fresh water layering of ocean; erosion of the major carbon sinks—forests, soil, the ocean; the Kyoto-exempt military/ international shipping and aviation emissions;  externalities and life-cycle  emissions of major industrial production like cement and steel; enormous emissions of  data centers; the un-liveability of the  wet-bulb temperature; health  impacts worldwide; most current research. See Stan Cox on data centers,  wet-bulb temperature  radio ecoshock.  



Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine documents shameless indifference of the entire military and governmental chain-of-command about extinguishing all life on Earth. [10]. In his investigations, Ellsberg found that there is no provision for attacking Russian targets only, but included attacking every major city in China. Both commanding admirals Ellsberg interviewed “seemed genuinely to go into shock” when he raised the possibility of war against USSR alone. “Eisenhower and the Joint Chiefs of Staff shared these views entirely…. I never found anyone in Washington who had any idea that there might be a problem.  No one contemplated a war with Russia alone that spared the Chinese. These were plans for destroying the world of cities, plans that someday might be carried out. But I thought that none of the others reading or writing them had faced up to that.  The shock, for me, was to realize that the Joint chiefs were, after all, aware of it.  Their planning process was not so mindless of overall consequences as I had come to suppose. It was worse. What was beyond surprising – unfathomable – was that they felt they could afford to be so candid about this particular answer, so prompt, responsive, realistic…there was no evident embarrassment, no shame, apology, or evasion: no apparent awareness of any need for an explanation of this answer to the new president….the term ‘genocidal’ was totally inadequate.”  This remains the planned slaughter of hundreds of millions of Russians (and Chinese), twenty times the staggering deaths of Soviet citizens in WWII, “along with an equal number of our allies and citizens of neutral countries! That expected outcome exposed a dizzying irrationality, madness, insanity at the heart and soul of our nuclear planning apparatus”  


in 1961, it was known and accepted that 1/3 of humanity would be killed. It was also becoming clear that nuclear winter caused by blocking out the sun by fallout would result in wiping out global agriculture causing death by global famine. This was approved  by every American president and then imitated by Russia and other countries.  There are many Doomsday Machines.” Ex-president Truman said that neither the prospect nor the actual use of the atom bomb ever gave him a moment’s hesitation or a night’s troubled sleep…”. Ellsberg also found that the decision to launch nuclear war could be made by many soldiers lower in the chain-of-command.                                                                                                     

The psychology of this madness?  Renowned  Manhattan Project physicist Richard Feynman’s reaction to the first atom bomb test at Alamogordo: “the overjoyed inhabitants of Los Alamos gathered in groups all over town to celebrate. ‘There were tears and laughter…. We beat each other on the back, our elation knew no bounds …–the gadget worked!’” “Feynman got his bongo drums out and led a snake dance through the whole Tech Area.”                                                                                                


Ordinary people with ordinary intelligence are fighting back.  Michelle Alexander writes of Martin Luther King “Only revolutionary love can save us now.” He said “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers…. the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”


 Revolutionary love does not rule out indignation and hatred, but it does require fundamental respect for all people, for real people vs  artificial  intelligence(Big Tech) corporate personhood, human security, human resourcesmanaging people, people as elements, numbers, products.  [11]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Hush. African-American spiritual

He's got the whole world in his hands.He's got the whole world in his hands. He's got the whole world in his hands.

He's got the wind and the rain in his hands.

He's got the whole world in his hands.

He's got the little tiny baby in his hands. . . .He's got the whole world in his hands.

 He's got you and me, brother, in his hands. . . .He's got the whole world in his hands.

He's got you and me, sister, in his hands. . . .He's got the whole world in his hands.

He's got everybody here in his hands. . . .He's got the whole world in his hands.


[1] Peter Loewenberg, Decoding the Past: the psychohistorical approach. University of California Press, Los Angeles. 1969.

[2] Jeff Halper War against the people: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification. Pluto Press, London 2015

Antony Loewenstein The Palestine Laboratory: how Israel exports the technology of occupation around the world. Verso. London 2023.

[3] Catherine Cook, Adam Hanieh, Adah Kay, Stolen Youth: the politics of Israel’s detention of

Palestinian children. Pluto Press in association with DCI, London 2004.

[4] Tanya Reinhart, Road to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine since 2003. Verso, New York, 2006.

[5]Norman Finkelstein The Holocaust Industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering. Verso, London 2000.

[6]  Haim Bresheeth-Zabner An Army Like No Other: how  the Israel defense forces made a nation. Verso, London2020

[7] Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf, translated by Ralph Manheim. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1943.

[8] Israel Shahak Jewish History, Jewish Religion: the weight of three thousand years. Pluto Press London 1994. See also Judith Butler. Parting Ways: Jewishness and the critique of Zionism, Columbia University Press, New York, 2012  The Goldstone Report ed Adam Horowitz et al, Nation Books, New York, 2011

[9] James Gilligan Violence: reflections on a national epidemic. Vintage, New York, 1997. Also see Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: a history of settler colonialism and resistance, 1917-2017. Metropolitan Books, New York, 2020.

Sara Roy, Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: engaging the Islamist social sector, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2011.  Eyal Weizman Forensic Architecture, Zone Books, New York, 2019.

[10] Daniel Ellsberg The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner. Bloomsbury, New York, 2017.

[11] C. Wright Mills Power Politics and People. Ballantine Books New York 1939.  Also see Arturo Desimone And Quinn Slobodian Crack-Up Capitalism, on dictatorship by the worst; Metropolitan Books 2023, New York.





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