Table of contents:

Why is compromise dangerous?
Why is compromise dangerous?

Behind the reluctance to help in an emergency is something more difficult than indifference.

Why to be silent means to become an accomplice in a crime: why is compromise dangerous?
Why to be silent means to become an accomplice in a crime: why is compromise dangerous?

Will you stop the person standing at the edge of the bridge? After witnessing a crime, will you help the victim? After receiving instructions from your superiors that run counter to ethical requirements, will you refuse to comply with it? The answer is not so obvious.

Lifehacker publishes a fragment of the chapter “And I didn't say anything. The Science of Conciliation”from the book“The Psychology of Evil”by University College London psychologist Julia Shaw by Alpina Publisher. In it, the author talks about the nature of conciliation and its dangers using the example of the Nazi regime in Germany, terrorism and crime.

When Hitler came to power, he had many supporters. Among them was an ardent anti-Semite - Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller Garber, M. ‘“First They Came”: the poem of the protests’. The Atlantic, 29 January 2017. Over time, however, Niemöller realized the damage Hitler was causing, and in 1933 he joined an opposition group made up of representatives of the clergy - the Extraordinary Pastors' Union (Pfarrernotbund). For this, Niemöller was eventually arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where, in spite of everything, he survived.

After the war, he spoke openly about citizens' complicity in the Holocaust. During this time, he wrote one of the most famous protest poems, which spoke of the risks of political apathy. (Note that the history of the text of the poem is complex, Niemoller never wrote the final version, naming different groups depending on who he spoke to, and I give one of the supposedly modified versions).

First they came for the socialists, and I said nothing -

After all, I am not a socialist.

Then they came for the union members, and I said nothing -

After all, I'm not a union member.

Then they came for the Jews, and I said nothing -

I’m not a Jew.

Then they came for me - and there was no one left, to intercede for me.

This is a bitter statement. In my opinion, it shows how dangerous it is to pretend that we are not concerned with the problems of society. It speaks of complicity, which goes hand in hand with indifference. And it makes us wonder why we are often inactive when people around us are suffering.

We can answer hypothetical ethical dilemmas with moral resentment. We may think that if a violent xenophobic leader tries to come to power, we will defend our values. That we could never get involved in the systemic oppression of Jews, or Muslims, or women, or other minorities. That we won't let history repeat itself.

A million accomplices

But both history and science question this. In 2016, breaking a 66-year-old vow to remain silent, Joseph Goebbels' 105-year-old secretary told Connolly, K. ‘Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary’. The Guardian, 15 August 2016.: "People today say they would have opposed the Nazis - and I believe they are sincere, but believe me, most of them would not." Joseph Goebbels was the propaganda minister of the Third Reich during Hitler's time, and he helped fuel the Nazis' war. Goebbels simplified the implementation of actions that were considered evil in almost the entire world; when it became clear that the Second World War was lost, he committed suicide with his wife, having previously killed his six children - by poisoning them with cyanide potassium.

Monstrous deeds committed by people led by ideology is one thing, but the complicity of “ordinary” Germans in the Holocaust was beyond anyone's understanding.

Scientists decided to investigate how the entire population of the country could be involved in the nightmare. Milgram came up with his famous experiments (which I discussed in Chapter 3) after the 1961 trial of one of the people responsible for making the "final decision." - Approx. ed."SS Obersturmbannfuehrer (Lieutenant Colonel) Adolf Eichmann, who became famous for claiming that he was" just following orders "when he sent Jews to their deaths - just like other high-ranking Nazis during the Nuremberg trials a few years earlier.

“Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? - asked Milgram S. Submission to authority: A scientific view of power and morality. - M.: Alpina non-fiction, 2016. by the question of Milgram. - Can we call them all accomplices?

Who was included in this "million accomplices"? And was it just a million? In discussing the complexities of life in Nazi Germany, we must highlight the different behaviors that allowed those serious crimes to come true. Among those who perpetrated the Holocaust, the largest group was made up of observers: those who did not believe in ideology, were not members of the Nazi party, but saw the atrocities or knew about them and did not intervene in any way.

The observers were not only in Germany, but all over the world.

Then there are those who succumbed to fiery speeches, judged that ethnic cleansing would help make the world a better place, and acted in accordance with their convictions. Finally, there were those who did not believe in the Nazi ideology, but saw no choice but to join the party, or believed that this decision would provide personal advantages. Some of those who behaved inappropriately to their beliefs, "following orders", killed others, but many did not act directly: they were administrators, propaganda authors or ordinary politicians, but not directly murderers.

Milgram was most interested in Milgram, S. ‘The perils of obedience’. Harper's, 12 (6) (1973). the last of all these types, he wanted to understand "how ordinary citizens could harm another person just because they were ordered to." It is worth recalling briefly the methodology described in Chapter 3: the participants were asked Milgram, S. ‘Behavioral study of obedience’. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67 (4) (1963), p. 371. to shock a person (as they believed, another volunteer sitting in an adjoining room), intensifying the blows, as it seemed to them, to the point of killing him.

Milgram's experiments may be a hackneyed topic in popular psychological books, but I am bringing them here because they fundamentally changed the way scientists and many others view the human ability to compromise. These experiments and their modern versions demonstrate the powerful influence that power figures have on us. But this research has been criticized. Because they were too realistic, and because they were not realistic enough. On the one hand, some participants may have been traumatized by the realism of what is happening, believing that they killed someone. On the other hand, individual subjects might have guessed that the pain was not real, given that they were participating in the experiment, and perhaps went further than they would in real life.

To overcome these problems, researchers have tried several times Burger, J. M. ‘Replicating Milgram: would people still obey today?’ American Psychologist, 64 (1) (2009), p. 1; and Doliñski, D., Grzyb, T., Folwarczny, M., Grzybała, P.,. … … & Trojanowski, J. 'Would you deliver an electric shock in 2015? Obedience in the experimental paradigm developed by Stanley Milgram in the 50 years following the original studies'. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8 (8) (2017), pp. 927-33. partially reproduce Milgram's experiments and succeeded in this: each time they received similar results in the field of submission to authority.

If you think we have learned our lesson today and are better able to resist dangerous instructions, unfortunately you are wrong.

According to Caspar, E. A., Christensen, J. F., Cleeremans, A., & Haggard, P. ‘Coercion changes the sense of agency in the human brain’. Current Biology, 26 (5) (2016), pp. 585-92. neuroscientist Patrick Haggard, who partially repeated Milgram's experiment in 2015, people who were instructed accordingly were more likely to shock (and did not pretend) the other participant. “The results suggest that those who obey orders may actually feel less responsible for the outcome of their actions: they don't just claim to feel less responsible. People seem to distance themselves in some way from the consequences when they obey the instructions ‘Following orders makes us feel less responsible’. UCL News, 18 February 2016. ". An understanding of seeming unrestricted obedience to authority and compromise can explain large-scale disasters, but should never justify them.

We must be careful not to delegate our morality to outside sources, we must confront the authorities that require us or encourage us to do what seems inappropriate. Another time, when you are expected to do what seems to be wrong, think about it and judge whether you would find it appropriate if no one ordered you. Likewise, whenever you find yourself agreeing with a culture that severely degrades the position of a select group of people, speak up and resist the urge to do what everyone else is doing.

Kill Kitty

Let's think about what it means to be an accomplice in a bad deed, and not an active agent. What would you do if you saw a person about to jump off a bridge? Or standing on the edge of a skyscraper roof? Running towards the train? I'm sure you think you would help. We tried to convince you. How we respond to social manifestations of violence, real or expected, tells us a lot about human qualities.

In 2015, anthropologist Francis Larson gave a lecture in which she traced the development of public acts of violence, mainly beheadings. She reported that public beheadings by the state, and more recently by terrorist groups, had long been a spectacle. At first glance, when the viewer observes this event, he plays a passive role, but in fact he mistakenly feels that he has been relieved of responsibility. It may seem to us that we have nothing to do with it, but it is we who give the cruel act the desired meaning.

Theatrical performance cannot achieve its intended effect without an audience, and therefore public acts of violence also need spectators.

According to LaMotte, S. ‘The psychology and neuroscience of terrorism’. CNN, March 25, 2016. by criminologist John Horgan, who has been studying terrorism for decades, “This is psychological warfare … Purely psychological warfare. They do not want to scare us or provoke us to excessive reactions, but they want to always be present in our consciousness so that we believe: they will stop at nothing."

In a chain of declining responsibility, every link is important. Let's say a terrorist causes some kind of damage and makes a video about it, with a specific goal - to get attention. He broadcasts videos to the media that publish him. We, as viewers, click on the link and watch the message. If a certain type of video becomes especially popular, those who made it understand that this is what works best (attracts attention), and if they want our attention, then they should shoot more of that. Even if this is the hijacking of planes, the ramming of a crowd with a truck or a savage display of force in conflict zones.

Are you a villain if you watch this on the web? Maybe not. But, perhaps, you are helping the terrorists to achieve what they want, namely, to widely disseminate their political message. I advise you to be a conscientious consumer of terrorism reporting and understand the real-life impact of increased views.

Failure to prevent or discourage harmful acts can be as immoral as doing them directly.

This is directly related to the bystander effect. His research began in response to the 1964 Kitty Genovese case. Within half an hour, Genovese was killed at the door of her house in New York. The press covered the murder extensively, claiming that there were about 38 witnesses who heard or saw the attack, but did not intervene to help the woman or call the police. This prompted scientists to seek an explanation for Dowd, M. ‘20 years after the murder of Kitty Genovese, the question remains: why?’The New York Times, March 12, 1984. This behavior has been called Genovese syndrome or the bystander effect. The New York Times, the newspaper that reported the story, was later accused of grossly exaggerating by reporters McFadden, R. D. ‘Winston Moseley, who killed Kitty Genovese’. The New York Times, 4 April 2016.number of witnesses. Nevertheless, this incident provoked a curious question: why do “good” people sometimes do nothing to stop evil deeds?

In the first research paper on the subject, social psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latane wrote: “Preachers, professors, and news commentators have looked for reasons for this apparently shameless and inhuman non-intervention. They concluded Darley, J. M., & Latané, B. ‘Bystander intervention in emergencies: diff usion of responsibility’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8 (1968), p. 377-83. that it is either 'moral decay', 'dehumanization provoked by the urban environment', or 'alienation', 'anomie' or 'existential despair'. " But Darley and Latane disagreed with these explanations and argued that "it is not apathy and indifference that are involved, but other factors."

If you took part in this famous experiment, you would experience the following. Without knowing anything about the essence of the study, you come to a long corridor with open doors leading to small rooms. A laboratory assistant greets you and takes you to one of the rooms, puts you at the table. You are given headphones and a microphone and asked to listen to instructions.

Putting on the headphones, you hear the voice of the experimenter, he explains to you that he is interested in learning about the personal problems faced by university students. He says that headphones are needed to maintain anonymity, as you will be communicating with other students. The researcher will look at the response notes later and therefore will not hear participants take turns talking about themselves. Everyone will have access to the microphone for two minutes, during which time others will not be able to speak.

You hear other participants share stories of how they got used to New York. You share yours. And now the turn of the first participant comes again. He utters a few sentences and then begins to speak loudly and incoherently. You hear:

I … um … I think I need … someone … uh-uh … help uh … please me, um-me … serious … trial-b-blam, somebody, och-h -I beg you … p-p-because … ah … um-me su … I see something and-and-and-and … I really n-n-need help, please, p-p-p -help, someone-n-n-some, help oo-oo-oo-oo … [gasps] … I'm oo-oo-oo-dying, s-oo-u-udorogi [chokes, silence].

Since it is his turn to speak, you cannot ask others if they have done something. You are on your own. And although you don't know it, the time for your thinking is being counted. The question is how long will it take for you to leave the room and call for help. Of those who thought that only two were involved in the experiment (himself and the person with the seizures), 85% went for help before the end of the seizure, an average of 52 seconds. Among those who were confident that there were three participants, 62% helped until the end of the attack, which took an average of 93 seconds. Of those who thought the tape heard six, 31% helped before it was too late, and it took an average of 166 seconds.

So the situation is extremely realistic. (Can you imagine how the scientists had to persuade the ethics committee?) Experts write: "All participants, whether they intervened or not, believed that the attack was real and serious." Yet some did not report it. And it’s not apathy at all. "On the contrary, they appeared to be more emotionally agitated than those who reported an emergency." The researchers argue that inaction stemmed from some kind of paralysis of will, people stuck between two bad options: potentially overdoing it and ruining the experiment, or feeling guilty for not responding.

A few years later, in 1970, Latané and Darley suggested Latané, B., & Darley, J. M. The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help? New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970. A five-step psychological model to explain this phenomenon. They argued that in order to intervene, a witness must 1) notice a critical situation; 2) believe that the situation is urgent; 3) have a sense of personal responsibility; 4) believe that he has the skills to cope with the situation; 5) decide on help.

That is, it is not indifference that stops. It is a combination of three psychological processes. The first is the diffusion of responsibility, where we think that anyone in the group can help, so why should it be us. The second is the fear of judgment, that is, the fear of judgment when we act in public, the fear of embarrassment (especially in Britain!). The third is pluralistic ignorance, a tendency to rely on the reactions of others when assessing the severity of a situation: if no one is helping, it may not be needed. And the more witnesses, the less inclined we are usually to help a person.

In 2011, Peter Fischer and colleagues reviewed Fischer, P., Krueger, J. I., Greitemeyer, T., Vogrincic, C.,. … … & Kainbacher, M. ‘The bystander-eff ect: a meta-analytic review on bystander intervention in dangerous and non-dangerous emergencies’. Psychological Bulletin, 137 (4) (2011), p. 517-37. research in this area over the past 50 years, which included data on the reactions of 7,700 participants in modified versions of the original experiment - some took it in laboratories, and some in real life.

Fifty years later, we are still affected by the number of witnesses. The more people near the crime scene, the more likely we will ignore the victims.

But the researchers also found that in cases of physical threat while the perpetrator is still in place, people are more likely to help, even if there are many witnesses. Accordingly, the scholars write: “While this meta-analysis shows that the presence of witnesses diminishes the willingness to help, the situation is not as dire as is commonly believed. The bystander effect is less pronounced in emergencies, which gives hope of getting help when it is really needed, even if more than one bystander is present."

As with Kitty Genovese, the non-intervention of witnesses is understandable. But doing nothing can be just as immoral as harming. If you find yourself in a situation where you see something dangerous or wrong happening, take action. Try to intervene, or at least report it. Do not think that others will do it for you, they may reason the same, and the consequences will be fatal. In some countries, failure to report a crime is considered a separate crime. I think the idea behind the mandatory reporting law is correct: if you know about a crime, you may not personally commit it, but that doesn't mean you are above suspicion.

Julia Lowe "The Psychology of Evil"
Julia Lowe "The Psychology of Evil"

Julia Shaw is a Criminal Officer in the Department of Psychology at University College London. She conducts training workshops for police and military personnel and is a founding member of Spot, a workplace harassment reporting company. In her book The Psychology of Evil, she explores the reasons people do terrible things, and invites them to speculate about issues that are usually silent.

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