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THE RIDDLE OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

Defendants At Nuremberg Trials

On November 20th, 1945, twenty-four leaders of the defeated Nazi regime filed into Courtroom 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice to be tried for some of the most reprehensible crimes ever committed. Over the next ten months, the world would be shocked to learn of the depth and extent of the Nazi regime’s mechanised horrors. By the end of the trial, twelve of the defendants would be sentenced to death, seven would be sentenced to periods of imprisonment, and three would be acquitted.

Contrary to what one may believe, the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not psychopaths, sadists, or otherwise psychologically disturbed individuals. Rather, their actions arose, as psychologist Gustave Gilbert (1911 – 1977) concluded, from a culture which valued obedience. The observation that mass-horror is more likely to be committed by normal men and women influenced by social conformity would later be categorised by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) as the ‘banality of evil.’

This shouldn’t be as too much of a surprise. After all, human beings are hard-wired to obey orders from people they deem superior to themselves. In 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933 – 1984) carried out a famous experiment which explored the conflict between authority and personal conscience. Milgram’s experiment was inspired by an interview with the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (1900 – 1947). Höss was asked how it was possible to be directly involved in the deaths of over a million people without suffering emotional distress. Chillingly, Höss answered that he was merely following orders.

The process of the experiment was simple. Two participants, one who whom was actually a researcher, would draw to decide who would take the role of teacher and who would take the role of student. (The system, needless to say, was rigged to ensure the actual participant took the role of teacher). The teacher and student were then separated, and the teacher was taken to a room with an electric shock generator consisting of a row of switches ranging from fifteen to four-hundred-and-fifty volts.  Supervising the teacher was an experimenter in a grey lab coat (an actor in reality). Through the experiment, the teacher was to ask the student questions and administer an electric shock every time the student got a question wrong. As the experiment continued the student would deliberately give wrong answers. As the shocks got more and more severe, the student would scream and beg for mercy. When the teacher expressed concern, however, the experimenter would insist that the experiment continue. By the end of the experiment, Milgram had concluded that all participants would continue to three-hundred volts whilst two-thirds would continue to full volts when pressed.

The Nazis were able to create such obedience through a well-calculated propaganda campaign. Hitler outlined the principles of this campaign in Mein Kampf:

  1.  Keep the dogma simple. One or two points only.
  2.  Be forthright and powerfully direct – tell or order why.
  3.  Reduce concepts down to black and white stereotypes
  4.  Constantly stir people’s emotions
  5.  Use repetition.
  6.  Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
  7.  Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
  8.  Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.

Similarly, Hitler’s speeches also followed a very specific and calculated formula:

  1. Hitler would unify the crowd by pointing out some form of commonality.
  2. Hitler would stir up feelings of fear and anger by pointing out some kind of existential threat.
  3. Hitler would invoke himself as the agent of a higher power.
  4. Hitler would present his solution to the problem.
  5. Hitler would proclaim the utilisation of the solution as a victory for both the higher power and the commoners.

In essence, the Nazi propaganda machine facilitated feelings of group identity and then used conformity to gain control over that group. They gambled that the majority of people preferred being beholden to a group than identifying as an individual.

If there is any lesson which can be derived from the Holocaust it is that the distance between good and evil is shorter than we like to believe. As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is fond of pointing out, if the Holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary people and you’re an ordinary person, the only logical conclusion is that you too are capable of horrendous evil. It is not enough to be critical of those in powers, eternal vigilance means being critical of our own need to conform and obey. Our freedom depends upon it.

JUSTICE AND MERCY

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This is our weekly theological article.

It is a common complaint of the media that criminals are not given an appropriately severe punishment. An article in The Express, SNP Plot to Scrap Short Jail Sentences Could See Thousands of Criminals Avoid Prison, argues that plans to introduce a “presumption against” sending people to prison will mean that thousands of people convicted of serious crimes will avoid prison. In another article, this time from the Herald Sun, prosecutors in Australia complained that the sentences criminals received were not in line with community standards.

Of course, this represents the common misconception, perpetuated by the media, that the judiciary exists to serve the standards of the community. It does not. Rather, the Justice System exists independently of both public opinion and politics. It bases its decisions on equality before the law and justice for all.

Much of the media’s rhetoric is designed to feed off of our very human desire for revenge based justice.  When we read about a rape or child murder in our daily newspapers, often our first reaction is to wish all kinds of cruel and inhumane punishments to be exacted on the criminal guilty of those crimes. Our indignation turns us into barbarians, not civilised people.

In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II warns of how justice can quickly devolve into cruelty and hatred when it is not tempered by mercy:

“It would be difficult not to notice that very often programmes which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfilment among individuals, groups and human societies,  in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice,  nevertheless experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice,  such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.”

God tempers His divine justice with mercy.  If He were to judge us purely on our thoughts and deeds we would surely be condemned to hell. But in his mercy and love for us, He allowed his only Son to suffer and die on the Cross so we may be freed from the shackles of sin and death.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” It is precisely this idea, that justice ought to be tempered by mercy, that should drive the way we treat those who have harmed us. As Isabella tells Antonio in Measure for Measure: “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but tyrannous to use the strength of a giant.” We should never forget that the person who has wronged us is a human being who is as loved by God and as deserving of His forgiveness as we are.

TRUMP THREATENS A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

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Tuesday – President Trump has threatened to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill that includes financing for the US-Mexico border wall.

Trump stated at a political rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump stated:

“The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it, but believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.”

Trump went on to remind the crowd that he had been elected to bring down illegal immigration and boost national security.  He then accused the Democrats of hurting national security and putting American lives at risk, stating:

“Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security: you are putting all of American’s safety at risk.”

Trump’s immigration policy has received support from conservatives in the congress. House Freedom Caucus Chairman, Republican. Congressman from North Carolina, Mark Meadows, stated:

“I applaud President  Trump for his leadership on this issue and for his relentless commitment to keeping a promise that was central to his campaign. Congress would do well to join the President and follow through on our own promises by  including funding for a border wall in upcoming spending bills–anything less will show that we are not serious  about keeping our word to the American people.”

Similarly, Republican Congressman from Virginia, Dave Brat, stated in support:

“The American people placed their trust in the President and Republicans in Congress last November with the expectation that we would finally take action to secure the border. Our country is the melting pot of the world and I support legal immigration, but legal immigrants and American workers should not have to compete with illegal aliens for jobs. Our country was founded upon the rule of law and it is important that we hold to those principles. It is time for Congress to step up and keep the promises we made to the American people  by joining with the President to fully fund construction of a border wall and ensure the U.S. Border Patrol  has the resources they need to secure our border.”

Whilst, Republican Congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmer, urged the United States to work with Mexico to end illegal immigration:

“The best thing we can do for BOTH the United States and Mexico is to secure our border. Thankfully, we have a President who understands and is committed to that. A nation founded on laws that apply to everyone, where neither rich nor poor or supposed to be above the law, must have the law enforced to maintain its integrity,  fairness, justice and opportunity. If we secure and enforce our border properly, Mexico’s drug cartels are reduced dramatically, which reduces corruption and lawlessness in Mexico, and, thereby, helps Mexico finally achieve its place as one of the top economies and vibrant countries in the world.

A good neighbour would help Mexico in this way, which also returns America back to being a nation where the law matters and where we can continue to allow more lawful entries into the United States than any other country in the world. Thankfully, we have a President who not only understands the importance of security  and the rule of law, but is doing all he can to make such security, propriety, and opportunity a reality.”

MORE INFORMATION ON THE CHARLOTTESVILLE TRAGEDY

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Americans are recoiling from the tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. The tragic succession of events, which saw violence between the Unite the Right protesters and counter-protesters and culminated in a vicious car attack,  left nineteen people injured and thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer dead.

On Monday, President Trump bowed to pressure to name and shame those whose ideology inspired yesterday’s hate crime.  Trump stated:

“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK,  neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as  Americans. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”

Political reactions have been swift and damning. Michael McCaul, Republican Congressman from Texas and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, tweeted:

“We must condemn the hate fueling the violence in #Charlottesville. It does not define us as Americans. Those affected are in my prayers.”

Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, meanwhile, has called for the Department of Justice to investigate the events of Charlottesville as an act of domestic terrorism. Cruz stated:

“It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed.  Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in  Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably,  but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society. The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies,  bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car  deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately  investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

At a press conference on Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas claims police had planned to move the Unite the Right protesters to the rear of Emancipation park. The protesters had originally agreed to cooperate with police. However, police were forced to alter their plans when protesters began entering the park at different locations.

The perpetrator of the attack, James Alex Fields, Jr., a self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler, has been charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in death. He has been denied bail.

SELF MASTERY

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This week for our theological article, King Alfred Press will be exploring the quest for self-mastery and its importance in living a pious life.

For years, “living in the moment” has been popular advice among self-help gurus. No need to learn from history, no need to think about the consequences of your behaviour, the only thing that matters is satisfying present desires.

However, there is a fundamental problem with living in the moment: it causes you to act impulsively.  You become a slave to circumstance. You end up becoming the sort of person who engages in unhealthy, short-term relationships, you become the sort of person who spends without thought and rack up massive credit card debts.  Compulsive eaters have been known to literally eat themselves to death, and there is little need to discuss the relationship between crime and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

The rational antidote, then, to living in the moment is to orientate yourself towards self-mastery. By doing so, we can live pro-active, Godly lives. God expects us to be diligent with what we have and where we are before we move forward with our lives.  As it is written in the Gospel according to Luke (chapter sixteen, verse ten):

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are
dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities”

Self-mastery helps you achieve mastery of your own emotions, affections, likes, and desires.

So, how do you go about achieving self-mastery? Well, I cannot pretend to have the answers. However, it is eminently obvious that changing your daily habits is a good place to start.

First, engage in daily prayer. It will help you quieten your mind and communicate with God.  Read your Bible or Torah. Remind yourself every day of what God expects of you. Second, practice self-denial. Third, do things deliberately, with purpose – act as though everything you do matters. Fourth, don’t lie – especially to yourself. The only way to overcome your problems is by being honest about them. Fifth, take care of your mind, body, and your surroundings. As Professor Jordan B. Peterson famously advises: “clean your room!” Keep your workspace clean and tidy, put everything where it belongs, make yourself orderly.

VIOLENT PROTEST IN VIRGINIA LEAVES ONE DEAD, NINETEEN INJURED

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A thirty-two-year-old woman has been killed, and nineteen others have been left with minor to life threatening injuries in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a day of protests between white nationalists, calling themselves “unite the right”, and counter-protesters culminated in violence.

The counter-protesters were reportedly celebrating driving the white supremacists from Emancipation Park when the attack occurred. Video footage shows a Dodge Charger accelerating into a crowd of counter-protesters. One witness claims the car was travelling at forty-miles-per-hour (sixty-four-kilometres-per-hour). Another witness, Brennan Gilmore, told NBC news:

 “It was very clearly intentional. From the far end of the street, it accelerated, slowed down right before the crowd and then slammed on the gas through the crowd sending bodies flying. And then it reversed back into the street dragging bodies and clothes.”

After the incident, the driver reversed the car at high speed and fled the scene.

President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, and First Lady Melania Trump have all condemned the violence.  Speaking at his private golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump stated:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. There’s no place in America (for this). What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

Trump also stated on twitter:

“We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”

Vice-President Mike Pence tweeted:

“I stand with @POTUS against hate & violence. U.S is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us.”

First Lady Melania Trump also tweeted:

“Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes  from violence.”

Governor of Virginia, Terry McAullife, declared a state of emergency around Charlottesville which began at noon. Police, meanwhile, are treating the incident as a criminal homicide investigation. They have arrested the driver of the car, James Alex Fields, Jr., and are holding him on a variety of charges, including second-degree murder and malicious wounding.

McAullife directed a statement to the white supremacists, saying:

“You came here today to hurt people. And you did hurt people. My message is clear: we are stronger than you.”

He went on to say:

“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today:  My message is go home. You are not wanted in this Commonwealth. Shame on you … You are anything but a  patriot.”

Police Chief, Al Thomas, has backed this up, stating that “premeditated violence that our community experienced today was completely unacceptable.”

MILLENNIALS LOVE SOCIALISM, HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS

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Fifty-three percent of Americans under the age of thirty-five believe socialism is a good idea, with a further forty-five percent admitting they’d support an openly-socialist Presidential candidate, a 2016 report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has found.

The report, entitled Generation Perceptions, concluded that many millennials lacked a basic understanding of socialism and were completely unaware of its impact on history. Many of those surveyed failed to identify key socialist figures, including Joseph Stalin (18%), Karl Marx (32%), and Mao Zedong (42%).

The implementation of socialism has led to the imposition of crime, terror, torture, famine, mass deportations, and massacres.  Despite this, only twenty-percent of millennials, and only twelve-percent of Gen X, was able to correctly identify the number of people killed by communism (around ninety-four million).

Much of this unawareness stems from an education system which fails to educate students on the realities of history. Those who wish to educate themselves on this subject should read the Black Book of Communism and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.