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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.

UPDATE ON ISLAMIC TERROR AROUND THE WORLD

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SPAIN

A pro-ISIS media outlet has warned Spanish unbelievers that terror cells remained in the country and that jihad “has not been fought and gone.”

PAKISTAN

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has put Pakistan “on notice“, informing them they will lose their status as an American ally if they don’t stop harbouring terrorists.  Tillerson told reporters at the State Department:

“We are going to be engaging with them in a very serious and thorough way as to our expectations and the conditions that go with that.”

Tillerson also didn’t rule out US air strikes on the nation:

“We are going to attack terrorists wherever they live. And we have put people on notice that if you are harbouring or providing safe haven to terrorists, be warned, be forewarned.”

JIHAD WATCH

Pay Pal has prevented Jihad Watch director, Robert Spencer (not to be confused with the white nationalist Richard Spencer) from accepting online donations through their service.  The organisation has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center due to its “extreme hostility towards Muslims.” Ironic considering Islamic extremists have been known to murder those who don’t agree with their religious and political views, persecute non-Muslims who fall under their control, revile non-believers, pillage, and engage in mass rape and sexual slavery.

TERRORIST ATTACK IN BARCELONA

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A terrorist attack in Barcelona has left at least thirteen people dead and more than fifty others injured.

The attack occurred when a white van careered onto the historic Las Ramblas Street street and drove five-hundred metres down the busy walkway. One witness told the BBC that the van was “weaving left and right, trying to hit people as fast as possible.” People ran from the area in fear of their lives.  The driver fled the scene leaving victims covered in blood and writhing in pain from broken limbs.

Marc Espearcia, a twenty-year-old student living in Barcelona, told the BBC:

“There was a loud noise and everybody ran for cover. There were a lot people, lots of families [at the site], this is one of the most visited sites in Barcelona. I think several people were hit. It was horrible, there was panic. Terrible.”

Another witness, Aamer Answer, said:

“I turned around and people were screaming — I could see a woman screaming with her kids —  people started running and jumping into shops. I ran for about 50 or 100 metres and stopped to see what was happening. The police were very quickly on the scene and getting people to move back. I could see chaos right at the top area and I spoke to a shopkeeper who had run down and was screaming. He was Bengali so I spoke to him in Urdu and he said a van had driven  into a crowd and he thought there were five to six people very seriously injured.”

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Catalonia’s Regional President, Carles Puigdemont, two suspects have been arrested in connection to the attack.  Josep Lluís Trapero,  chief of Catalonia’s regional police, confirmed Puigdemont’s statement, but was quick to point out that the two men arrested were not the perpetrators of the attack:

“Two people have been arrested in relationship with this crime. That doesn’t necessarily  mean they carried out the attack in Barcelona but, yes, they are linked to the incident.”

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has condemned the terrorist attack.  President Trump, tweeted: “The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough and strong, we love you.” Similarly, King Felipe of Spain tweeted: “They are murderers, simply criminals who are not going to terrorise us.