Neo-Nazis and other members of hate groups don’t necessarily require hateful upbringings, according to research by Dr. Gerald Katzman.
When JN Editor Andrew Lapin profiled former neo-Nazi leader Jeff Schoep back in May as part of the publication’s Antisemitism Project, Dr. Gerald Katzman reached out to share his findings regarding what can happen in a child’s development that might lead someone down a similar path of hate.
Dr. Katzman, a resident of Farmington Hills for 35 years, believes the answer may lie in “poisonous pedagogy,” a term that originates from Swiss psychologist Alice Miller in her book For Your Own Good. The term refers to an authoritarian upbringing that sets the stage for malevolence later in life.
Dr. Katzman has had the appointment of clinical associate professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics since 1986. His clinical positions have included director of nurseries at the Toledo Hospital, chairman of pediatrics at Sinai Hospital of Detroit and chief of pediatrics at Detroit Riverview Hospital.
Katzman is retired from clinical practice, but still occasionally lectures to medical students on the topic of promoting benevolent mindfulness, while avoiding malevolent mindfulness during growth and development. An interest in Human Relations Programs for Children in the 1980s for Katzman evolved into a concerted effort to understand the ways children are taught to hate and how such indoctrinations can be prevented.
Katzman has published a number of papers in both neonatology and pediatrics. He says his papers focused on hate are written as an “extracurricular interest” but are all published in peer-reviewed journals. The papers have been published over a 15-year period, starting in 2005.
Although manipulative and violent parenting, potentially including corporal punishment, can be a factor in poisonous pedagogy, they are not the sole factors.
The key principle in both Schoep’s story and Katzman’s findings is that Schoep came from an ordinary, middle-class family. Unlike many practitioners of hate who come from difficult or outright abusive family backgrounds, Schoep claims he found an interest in hate all by himself.
Lack of Coaching
Katzman’s research finds that a lack of coaching on what good behavior is, combined with an authoritarian culture and repressed emotions, can steer otherwise well-adjusted children on a pathway to hate.
“It begins with abuse or neglect in the early years followed by the internalization of false narratives,” Katzman said. “These false narratives provide the target onto which the repressed emotions are projected and subsequently violently expressed.”
Katzman’s motivation for writing the papers is his concern regarding the teaching of hatred to children in many societies, thus compromising their psychosocial and cognitive development. Katzman studied the likes of Alice Miller and social thinker Lloyd DeMause, and drew his findings from those studies as well as his first-hand interaction with children in their early developmental stages over the course of his decades-long career in the field.
Katzman believes that, regardless of someone’s parents having good jobs in a middle-class upbringing, that doesn’t necessarily stop one from being influenced to hate. Katzman postulates on what happens in an individual’s development stages that can lead them to that hate.
“What happens is they’re susceptible to indoctrination, because they haven’t gotten a coaching on what good behavior is and they haven’t gotten any secondary gain from doing good things for other people,” he said.
Turning from Hate
Katzman believes someone like Schoep seeing the light after so many years of hate is genuinely possible, because of a brain’s neuroplasticity: the ability of the neural networks in the brain to change over time.
“Somehow the human brain, at some point, has the ability to realize all those false narratives are really what they are, they’re false narratives,” he said.
Unfortunately, once you’re indoctrinated, it’s the very tiny minority that seems to turn it around in that way, according to Katzman.
Some of the published papers Katzman has written include “A Bioethical Analysis of a Form of Psychologic Abuse: Teaching Hatred to Children” in 2005, “Neurobiological and Psychological Mechanisms Explaining How Hatred is Programmed into the Minds of Children” in 2009, “Genocide: Plotting a Course to Never Again” in 2016 and “Understanding the Paths to Malevolence and Benevolence: A Case Study with Corroborating Evidence” in 2018.
According to Katzman, authoritarian cultures provide opportunity for violent expression of repressed emotions. Those cultures may, again, repeatedly push narratives that promote militancy and dehumanization of other groups.
Katzman theorizes on the climate of hate that led to the Holocaust, and how false narratives implemented in schools by Hitler 100 years ago are still used today.
“I think the best description of what went on in the youth of those people that perpetrated the Holocaust was an extremely authoritarian upbringing, where corporal punishment was the rule of the day as far as disciplining children,” he said.
“Because of the abusive upbringing and the fact that the kids were just trying to survive and get to the next day, there was very little chance of them developing emotional empathy, and if you can’t feel the pain of somebody else, there’s very little hesitation to commit any sort of atrocity.”
Katzman refers to possibly one of the greatest known false narratives ever, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which represented an alleged conspiracy of the Jews for world domination. Hitler made it required reading in all of the schools in Germany. Although debunked in 1921 as a forgery, it has been used to this day all over the world to promote antisemitism.
Emotional Time Bomb
Katzman presents the idea that the current understanding of the fear and anger children endure because of maltreatment is that their emotions become repressed.
“That fear and anger sits as a time bomb that is often ignited at a later time,” Katzman said.
As far as sensical plans to avoid this type of upbringing, which seems to be the perfect storm for hate and violence, attentive and responsible parenting is crucial, according to Katzman.
Katzman also suggests that early literacy, daily readings with stories that have morals, and role models in schools, religious institutions and community would contribute further to a child’s character development. Katzman mentions non-abusive methods of discipline may occasionally be needed, such as “time outs.”
“The hopeful result of this sequence of events is a significant capacity for emotional empathy,” Katzman said. “Promoting healthy child development is work that involves parents, peers and community. There is much that all of us can do to facilitate the process by making sure that support and resources are available to all children. Clearly, as we look at societies today, there is much work to do in this regard.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story named one of Katzman’s publications as “Neurological and Psychological Mechanisms Explaining How Hatred is Programmed” when the name is “Neurobiological and Psychological Mechanisms Explaining How Hatred is Programmed into the Minds of Children”.