By eliminating blind obedience America can rein in its own potential toward violence and regain the moral high ground lost when we shot ourselves in the foot by invoking the discredited techniques of the Inquisition in response to terrorism. By removing the cause for "Blind Obedience" from our psyches, we can bring allies back into the fold, reorganize responses to terror by going to the real roots of the real problem and fixing them.
What can each of us, as individuals, do to fight terror? To be sure the solution is complex and will not come easily. Equally sure, given the intelligence of our species, we can find our way. In fact we must.
In our travels in developing this website we have encountered many opinions, each valuable in its own way. The opinions that most directly and simply address what each of us can do as individuals were voiced by Philip Zimbardo, distinguished Professor of social psychology, in his book " The Lucifer Effect." We hereby paraphrase the hopeful and specific advice he gives by being:
- Able to admit our mistakes and learning from them.
- Aware that even smart people can do very dumb things; therefore we always need to question the wisdom of actions we or others propose before we take them; we must always guard against habitual responses that may have worked in the past but no longer do; we must apply Critical Thinking --avoid the Automatic Pilot of a habit or Hang-up.
- Responsible, for our own actions and those of our group.
- The best we can be.
- Respectful of legitimate authority; resistant to unjust authority.
- Attentive to our independence and individuality as we respect our social group.
- Conscious of reality; wise to relabeling words that sound good as covers for unjust behaviors; slogans; buzz words; propaganda. We must be street-wise to manipulation in other words.
- Watchful for ramifications of our actions; aware that human history often foretells the future, as our own experience does also.
- Aware that giving up freedom for security means yielding to dictatorship; under dictators there is no such thing as security even within the in-group!
- Watchful for systemic (bad barrel) situations that can corrupt the morals of otherwise decent people who happen to be susceptible to "Blind Obedience." At the same time we must stay alert to the truly bad apples, otherwise known as Sociopaths.
The above paraphrasing comes from Pgs 451-456 of "The Lucifer Effect" by Philip Zimbardo, Random House, 2007. Zimbardo is the foremost expert on the power of the system to corrupt good apples--to the point where they collectively become bad barrels. He found, and others have found, this connection exists in all societies to varying degrees. Most importantly, his research revealed great ignorance on this subject. Before experiments showed otherwise, even the most knowledgeable and experienced observers vastly underestimated the power of a social system to corrupt character. As individuals or as a society, we simply do not understand ourselves sufficiently.
We are sitting ducks for sociopathic personalities who are not emotionally bound by the system. To see how it works with cold efficiency, Hitler was the type example, of course. But we Americans have been duped in the same way the German public was when Hitler established the Third Reich. Lawyer Carl Schmitt used his creative legal definitions to free the German chief executive from the bounds of a constitution, which Hitler promptly suspended. In a later day, perhaps havng read about Carl Schmitt, lawyer Alberto Gonzales gave Mr. Bush similar freedom, which he promptly took. American liberties and freedoms have been curtailed to the brink of dictatorship. The mid-term 2006 election likely prevented our collective fall into the abyss, also known as the Oubliette
Three well-known historic experiences in our era demonstrate deep parallels in attesting to the fact that we know too little of ourselves:
- The Holocaust (German citizens went along with genocide);
- The Stanford Prison Experiment (North American college students, psychometrically normal kids selected at random for their roles, in the space of 24 hours were corrupted into feeling and playing the roles of abusive tyrant or crushed prisoner in abject obedience--the first one broke in 36 hours to a basket case needing immediate release); and
- Abu Ghraib (brought on by deliberate, official government policy of the world's greatest democracy. Other military prisons suffered from equal abuse according to the US Government's own investigators.)
In other words:
We Have Much to Fear From Our Own Ignorance. |
We have even more to fear from what
we "know" that isn't so.
Do we want a paint-by-number life,
or are we working on an original?
- Is there any basic reason why America,
as a world citizen, cannot become a leader
in peace, instead of sacrificing young
men and women in cycles of war?
- Would this not be more laudable than
having a leader who brags:
"I am a war president"?
- What has the latter gotten us?
- Would this not be more laudable than
For further readings on this critical issue: