With punishing economic woes, frustration and anger had begun to build up in the populace. Fear, worry, and hatred weren’t that difficult to muster for “them” the cause of all of their problems. An inspiring leader known for his rhetoric was able to whip the crowd into a frenzy. He marshalled everyone to action promising them peace, hope, security, prosperity, and in surpassing measure to the good old days that everyone remembered with nostalgia. That was the situation that catapulted Adolph Hitler to power.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says that hate groups and anti-government militias have increased in number and are continuing to rise, coinciding with the increasing presence of fear and hate speech in mainstream politics. Our economy is not the powerhouse that it once was – so for many of us the woes are not over. It’s easy to become frustrated and angry when dealing with government bureoucracy these days. Conveniently, we even have a few choice people groups that can we can label as “them” – illegal immigrants, Muslim reffugees, LGBTQIA populations. All we’re missing is a firebrand of a leader or a charismatic take-charge president promising us solutions for all of our problems.
Having spent the last while watching about Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, I learned that the vast majority of people do not have the tools to resist authority. When the teachers began balking at administiring electric shocks to the obviously unwilling learner, the experimenter would urge them to continue like this: “please continue” “the experiment requires that you continue” “it is absolutely essenial that you continue” “you have no other choice, you must go on”. It was discovered that 65% of people complied with the experimenter to continue administering electric shocks.
Now, it seems, it’s more timely to ask ourselves: “what are the tools one needs in order to resist authority?” The thing is – I don’t know. With the experiment so famous, it’s not as if it can be repeated until we discern a pattern of teachings or beliefs that increase our resistance to amoral authority while continuing to comply with moral authority. So it’s up to each of us to figure out what we can do to increase our resistance to hatred and fear – the two common elements in most past, present, and future atrocities.
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
I know that when people get right down to it, fear is a powerful motivator. We’re afraid what would happen if we didn’t have that gun. We’re afraid what would happen if that border didn’t have a fall. We’re afraid of what would happen if we opened the doors to let those refugees settle among us, if we let them build mosques, if those mosques were fronts for regular people to be radicalized, if those radicalized people orchastrated lone-wolf attacks all the time and killed people we love. We just can’t take that chance that the pregnant refugee is no danger to us because the child might grow up to be something dangerous. Best not to let her in – better safe than sorry. Besides, we don’t want all that violence we hear about in Northern Mexico to be commonplace in the southern states. Maybe a few illegal immigrants are hard-working family-men, but too many are mules for the drug trade trying to secure smuggling routes for the dangerous stuff. They’ve taken enough jobs away from the natural-born citizens or legitamate immigrants as it is. See how easy it is to rationalize our fears?
The wrong leader in office can not only rationalize our fears, but legitimize them to secure the power to do anything he feels is necessary to secure his power. Is this not the lesson of history? I wish I could give better advice than: “figure out how not to give into fear and hatred” but for each of us it’ll be different. None of us can really know what we’re capable of …
That experiment had teachers administering electric shocks to the learner, they could hear him scream, shout, bang against the walls … and eventually silence. They didn’t like what they were doing. They wanted to stop. They wanted to check on the man to see if he was still alive all the while the experimenter would say the same sentences in the same order: “please continue …”.
It might not be that far from now when we have that charismatic fire-brand of a leader who promises us everything we ever wanted if we just keep pressing switches and triggers when he says “Fire!”. One thing is certain, without the tools to resist authority, we will be doomed to repeat history. Hitler wasn’t the first. Atrocities can and still do happen. We have many of the ingredients in place but we don’t have to make the same mistake. Our resistance to amoral authority might not save lives, it’s certain to us killed; but it’s never wrong to do the right thing.