States of Denial by Stanley Cohen
Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering

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Synopsis

Blocking out, turning a blind eye, shutting off, not wanting to know, wearing blinkers, seeing what we want to see ... these are all expressions of 'denial'. Alcoholics who refuse to recognize their condition, people who brush aside suspicions of their partner's infidelity, the wife who doesn't notice that her husband is abusing their daughter - are supposedly 'in denial'. Governments deny their responsibility for atrocities, and plan them to achieve 'maximum deniability'. Truth Commissions try to overcome the suppression and denial of past horrors. Bystander nations deny their responsibility to intervene.

Do these phenomena have anything in common? When we deny, are we aware of what we are doing or is this an unconscious defence mechanism to protect us from unwelcome truths? Can there be cultures of denial? How do organizations like Amnesty and Oxfam try to overcome the public's apparent indifference to distant suffering and cruelty? Is denial always so bad - or do we need positive illusions to retain our sanity?

States of Denial is the first comprehensive study of both the personal and political ways in which uncomfortable realities are avoided and evaded. It ranges from clinical studies of depression, to media images of suffering, to explanations of the 'passive bystander' and 'compassion fatigue'. The book shows how organized atrocities - the Holocaust and other genocides, torture, and political massacres - are denied by perpetrators and by bystanders, those who stand by and do nothing.

 

About Stanley Cohen

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The American biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Stanley Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of Brooklyn College, he received his M.A. from Oberlin College and in 1948 his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Soon after, Cohen became a researcher at Washington University, where he began collaborating with Rita Levi-Montalcini. Cohen's biochemical background enabled him to help isolate the nerve growth factor (NGF) in the area of Levi-Montalcini's own research, namely, the neurogenesis of the growth of nerve cells and fibers. Working with Levi-Montalcini from 1953 until 1959, Cohen discovered another cell growth factor in chemical extracts. Through experiments, he showed that this growth factor caused the eyes of newborn mice to open and their teeth to emerge several days sooner than normal. He labeled this substance the epidermal growth factor, or EGF, analyzing its exact chemical properties and the mechanisms by which it is taken into cells and acts upon them. Continuing his research, Cohen demonstrated that EGF influences a great range of bodily developmental processes. In 1959, Cohen was appointed professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University. In 1986, he shared the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine with Levi-Montalcini.
 
Published May 2, 2013 by Polity. 360 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Law & Philosophy, Crime, Health, Fitness & Dieting. Non-fiction