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Wednesday, 17 January 2007

It's ok, don't be scared

It's funny what power there is in symbols, isn't it? When I saw the film O Brother Where Art Thou for the first time, the scene with the flaming cross sent shivers down my spine. The fictional parallel of the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter books made more sense to me than ever. And chances are, even seeing this swastika on my blog shocked you.

The reason I've got this particular symbol on my mind is that last night I got to thinking about a friend of mine. He's very tall, strong, with blond hair and blue eyes. He's intelligent, confident, a good leader and a political thinker. He's fiercely devoted to his country and believes in fighting for a greater cause. Another time, another place, who knows what he could have become? How quickly he could have risen through the ranks?

I'm not saying this to indicate that I think any less of him after this realisation. I still love the boy for all I'm worth. It just made me think that maybe the line between 'good' and 'bad' people isn't as solid as we like to think. After all, murderers and rapists are as human as the rest of us; a fact we all like to ignore whenever possible. Is it unreasonable to suggest that, in different circumstances, we might have made the same choices as these people? You might argue that some people are inherently bad, in which case there must have been a lot of inherently bad people around in Nazi Germany.

This reminds me of the time my history teacher told me about an experiment carried out where people would be asked to deliver increasing electric shocks to people every time they made a mistake. It wasn't really a person being shocked, just a tape player making scream sounds, but the study found that almost everyone would keep going until the 'person' died. Because men in white coats told them to.

I'm scared.

1 comment:

  1. the study you're referring to was a famous one conducted by milgram in 1963. he told the participants that they would be taking part in a test to see how people learnt. they were told they would either be given the job of the teacher or the learner randomly. actually it was rigged so the participants were only ever given the teacher's job, and the learner was a confederate, an insider. the teacher would then ask questions to the learner, and each time the learner got a question wrong (pretty much all the time) the teacher would give them an electric shock. these shocks started at 15V and increased by 15V per wrong answer until they reached the level of 450V, which they were told truthfully was potentially lethal. in truth, the confederate was receiving no such shocks and was merely making painful noises from the other side of a screen.

    it was found that everybody gave shocks of at least 300V before deciding to stop, and 65% gave the full 450V. most of the participants showed extreme signs of tension, including trembling, sweating, stuttering and groaning, and three people had uncontrolled seizures.

    the test was to see if these people would disobey the authority figure over them and take the moral high ground, and whilst it seemed that everybody wanted to, not many actually did.
    nowadays of course, such a study is illegal for countless reasons.


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