Thursday, November 13, 2008


Websters defines "doppelganger" as "a ghostly counterpart of a living person." Different from a ghost because the individual is still alive. The doppelganger is a psychic double or distinct separate entity from the individual. This metaphor has been used throughout literature and is deeply ingrained in the psyche of Western Civilization. The astrological sign of Gemini comes to mind. Also the sign Pisces, with its twin inverted individuals. The god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking forward, the other back. Popular culture is repleat with intances of "evil twins." The novels and stories of Joyce Carol Oates and the films of David Lynch explore this theme tirelessly.

Dr. Robert J. Lifton, in his book The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Pyschology of Genocide suggests that psychological doubling was the means by which such individuals as Josef Mengele (to name only the most infamous) were psychologically capable of being loving family men on the one hand, and ruthless mass murderers on the other.

In Dr. Lifton's view, the psyche doubles. This process is distinct from splitting, the effect of which is usually dissociation. The result is that the split personality is numb or catatonic. On the other hand, the psychological double experiences no loss of efficiency.

Says Dr. Lifton:

Doubling is part of the universal potential for what William James called the “divided self”: that is, for opposing tendencies in the self. James quoted the nineteenth-century French writer Alphonse Daudet’s despairing cry "Homo duplex, homo duplex!” in noting his “horrible duality” — as, in the face of his brother Henri’s death, Daudet’s “first self wept” while his “second self” sat back and somewhat mockingly staged the scene for an imagined theatrical performance.9 To James and Daudet, the potential for doubling is part of being human, and the process is likely to take place in extremity, in relation to death.

I have experienced this phenomenon when performing on stage, also watching myself perform from the audience. George C. Scott, the actor, also reported having this experience (as well as many other performers). Dr. Lifton's theory though, is that psychological doubling occurs under duress. The duress is the ego's rejection of the moral depravity of mass murder on the scale of Auschwitz. Thus the ego "doubles" or allows a separate and distinct personality to emerge that has no moral scruples.

Dr. Lipton states that for the Nazi doctors, the turning away from their previous code of ethics and moral equalibrium was a kind of psychological stress fracture. Their individuality had been pummeled into submission by the fuhrerprinzip. The Nazi hierarchy was entrenched and intractable. It allowed for no deviation, no dissent, and no disagreement. The alternative to utter submission to the will of the fuhrer was death. So yes, the psychological doubling of the Nazi doctors was in effect a Faustian bargain, which allowed them to survive as participants and organizers of the horror of the concentration camps and in particular the medical "treatments" and experimental procedures they imposed. That the resulting holocaust was so extreme is testament to the very nature of the SS Nazi "cult" they were all desperately trying to function within, coupling intense fear of death or reprisal with a desire to please one's superiors. None of this emancipates one from ethical responsibility, of course.

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