But the case of the tortured Tracy teen made national headlines. From disbelief to pondering why, the case — though now settled in court — remains unsettled in the minds of many.
Why would four otherwise functioning adults perpetuate such horrors on a helpless victim? To try to read their minds would be nefarious. One can go over the details of the horror over and over without coming to grips with the why. What I can offer is some theoretical frameworks based on scientific principles.
The psychology of violence is as old as man’s own evolution. Man has a rage center in the brain, much like other animals, and if this area is not socialized, it makes man beast. Studies of the brains of violent offenders lend some testimony to the fact that they may have oversized rage centers, which impairs their ability to behave in a civilized manner. However, even in normal human beings who are otherwise functional and show no signs of cerebral impairment, the tendency to hurt others is rather prominent.
In fact, it has been said that man is the only animal that takes pleasure from hurting others for the sake of hurting others. Lesser animals hunt out of hunger and in order to survive, while man tends to perpetrate aggression for the sake of the perpetration, enjoying the act of violence.
This is a disturbing fact, and it displays itself daily in our ordinary lives. From road rage to verbal assault to physical aggression, life is filled with incidents of humans acting aggressively toward one another.
Thomas S. Szasz, a psychiatrist, opined that the entire evolution of modern-day society is based on acts of aggression. He went so far as to say that modern institutions of marriage, society and economics were based on man’s base desire to possess, control and conquer. He gave an outline of the etiology of marriage, saying in the days of yore, when societies were free of man-made social structures, man lived like other animals, in cave-like situations.
He gave the example of a tribal study in which men lived in small patches of grass, drew a line to delineate their space structures, and, if a woman they were cohabitating with crossed over the boundary in her sleep, the man on the other side felt free to “own” her.
The etiology of control and possession was studied in terms of possessing other human beings as personal possessions. When you possess or own something, it is yours to do with as you please. You can hurt it, cage it, cut it up into small pieces.
This analogy translates to the sick act of aggression. If you own a child, and you are angry, you can chain it up, cut it up, kick it — it is yours to do with as you please, because you are now in control.
The act of dehumanization follows the theory of possession and control. Erich Fromm alluded to it in his work, “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.” Being in relationships is not always the evolved process it should be — that is, acts of love and nurturing. There is an element of violence from being controlling, abusive, offensive, even being physically hurtful.
What propelled the four adults in Tracy to hurt an innocent teen? Was it that they were socially backward, pathologically controlling or “got off” on aggression? Why would four adults feel the need to hurt a child to the extent that they did? Did they derive pleasure from his pain? Did they use him as an escape to vent their unhappiness at their own lives?
Were they mere animals who derived immense pleasure from the screams of an object of their aggression? Were they themselves victims of the same growing up and knew no better? Were they otherwise normal people who had a hidden pathology that played itself out in the secret confines of the Tennis Lane home, where they kept the teen locked up like an animal?
Will we ever know what went on inside the heads of these adults? Will the teen who survived this abuse grow up to become a normal, relating individual?
We may never know the exact answers, but it makes it even more imperative to keep asking these questions.
• Samina Masood has lived in Tracy since 2004 and is among a select group of local Town Crier columnists in the Tracy Press. She is a mother of two who has master’s degrees in both journalism and clinical