Thursday, May 07, 2015

Polling Day....

At the end of WWII scientists went about trying to understand why human beings do really bad things - especially when told to do by authority figures - with a new urgency. 
The psychological tests done then and repeated again and again over half a century have revealed the following with some consistency: When asked to do something morally repugnant by an authority figure, only 10-20% of people take up the offer to be given something else to do instead. 70-80% do what they are asked to do and 10% go a bit further, adding their own customised cruelties to the process. 
I have always taken these results to indicate that around 70% of a given population (or workforce!) will put up with whatever rotten system they are obliged to live under - and occasionally participate more actively therein. The likely combined proportion of the vote enjoyed by the two main Westminster parties as we go into the election today indirectly supports this research. 
Perhaps Russell Brand is in a sense right about the state of our political systems, but wrong in his further explanation and prognosis. Like many Guatemalans he fails to see that the problem is not the political elite in isolation. One has to factor in the self-defeating attitudes and behaviours of a large part of the democratic electorate. 
When it comes to moral responsibility many large companies today operate an individual opt-out system, which, interestingly enough, was pretty much what the Nazis did as well. In 'Ordinary Men', Christopher R. Browning examines the case of some German policemen who were sent to the Ukraine, where they were quickly assigned to genocide duties. These guys were in the main working class social democrats with minimal Nazi sympathies before the war. It was explained to them that if they objected to killing Jews, they could ask to be transferred to other duties. Around 10% did. 
The self-exclusion system does of course effectively pre-empt any questioning of whether the collective itself is on completely the wrong course...

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