The Potential for NASTY

Last week I attended the movie THE EXPERIMENTER out of interest since it featured what appeared to be Sociological content. My background of teacher training many moons ago included learning of some of the experiments which, I was to discover, were covered in the movie.

I couldn’t call it ‘entertainment’, and in fact people ahead of me in the ticket queue were warned that some had walked out of the movie out of boredom. As soon as the narration got to the main experiment — one I’d never read of– I realised that there was only one ‘subject’: the person with the power to inflict Pain. And I was astonished at the lengths that almost all of the subjects were willing to go to, because it was expected of them, and ONLY because it was expected of them…

… unless humankind is a great deal nastier than I thought.

I walked out of that theatre thinking “We blame the Nazis for atrocities, but are we potentially any better?”

We like to belong. We don’t feel comfortable being too different from the crowd. We are sometimes willing to give up independence and critical thinking in favour of belonging to a group. We appreciate the benefits and the contacts of others with (seemingly) like mind. We might have a strong faith in authority and humanity, and we are certainly carried along by a tide of collective enthusiasm.

We welcome the prestige of belonging (as, I expect, do terrorist-trained suicide bombers). But too often we don’t know enough about what drives those who are doing the leading. We accept what we may later realise is dangerous, but what can then be done? Unsure of our own stance if no others speak out, fearful of the stigma of being a nay-sayer, we find it hard to go against the tide.

I’m strongly reminded of the novel THE WAVE by Todd Strasser which, I am glad to see, is an English text at our local High School. The story about a real-life college experiment in 1969 shows how readily humans can get nasty. And why? Because of the Group’s ‘norm’: because of what was expected of them. Why did so many join the Hitler Youth movement? Probably for the same reasons as above.

Modern society badly needs its whistle-blowers. Keep a lookout for them: even if you disagree with them, they may help you retain the power of critical thinking. Modern society needs God more than ever: actively seek him, follow the right impulses that his morality teaches, and help reduce the ‘nasty’ that has crept into human life.

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