In this post I’m bringing together some diverse psychological research. The idea I want to support is that human beings have strong and predictable reactions to power and weakness. Each of these videos alone makes an interesting (and often disturbing) point but together they show what happens to people given “the upper hand” and some of what happens to the people they hold it over. It’s important to me as a foundation for some of the next ideas I’m going to be laying out. This is difficult collection. They are worse together than alone. It feels like a damning indictment of the human race but I’m not looking to scold so much as to understand . The important thing is establishing a clear picture of our native relationship to power and privilege. I think of this post a bit like evidence before the court. I’m going to cite this post in later articles.
There are fascinating and dark things here, but many of these videos are too long for casual viewing. The exception might be the last one, “Money on the mind” which is also very interesting and much cheerier than the rest.
Stanford prison experiment
Phillip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison experiments shockingly revealed the flexible nature of our identity in regard to ingroups and outgroups. It showed how completely uncharacteristic behaviors can be evoked by placing ordinary people, randomly into the roles of Guards and Prisoners. The young men assigned the role of guards quickly fell into astonishingly cruel and harsh treatment of the “prisoners” even knowing perfectly well that they were just their fellow students and hadn’t done anything wrong. It was merely “staging the show” that transformed them into ugly, alien strangers. Meantime the “prisoners” quickly took on the helpless, angry, calculating roles typical of people in that situation. Perhaps our behaviors are almost all situational and generated by context:If so it may be that we gravitate to whatever context feels most natural to us and simply don’t notice behavior being evoked…we just see it as our behavior.
But I see what happened here as evidence of uninhibited “us and them” behavior in an uneven power balance. People have wondered how nice young German men with no background in sadism or abuse could turn into the men machine gunning families in a ditch. Well this is that. This is the cruelty of ethnic cleansing but also of schoolyard bullies. Your childhood memories almost certainly contain a few of these dramas, whatever side you were on. Like all play, it’s practice for adult life.
We know that the roles played in this drama are the main evoker of this pattern, modulated by the level of demonizing toward the victims. It ought to be basic training for anyone headed for such a situation to be aware of this mechanism.
Blue eyes brown eyes
In the Blue eyes/ Brown eyes experiment – “racism” or “class privilege ” is evoked in children within hours…minutes even in this experiment. As one group embraces a sense of privilege and a convenient rationalization for it the other group immediately tastes the bitterness of insults and lower status. Humans like privilege and take to it like ducks to water. That means that they probably maintain an unconscious alertness for people who could be grouped beneath them because privilege rests on that foundation. Furthermore since we are discussing groups as well as individuals, consider how likely it is that “unconscious conspiracies” to pick pariah groups actually take place in cultures around the world.
A high school teacher communicates the truth of Fascist organizing to his history students studying WWII by USING Fascist organizing techniques. The kids quickly respond with a groundswell of support that snowballs out of control.
In this demonstration of the bystander effect various classes and types of people (portrayed by actors) appear to be in a bad way in public, on the street.
- A man appearing to be a drunk lies exposed near a train station for 20 minutes with dozens of people passing and not a single person checks on him.
- The same actor returns after a bit with his hair nicely combed and wearing a good suit. He lies down in the same spot and help arrives in literally 6 seconds. “Sir, are you alright?” paramedics and police arrive shortly.
- Then an actress dressed in middle class, casual clothes lies down appearing unconscious. People pass for 11 minutes before someone checks on her.
- Finally the actor in casual clothing lies down on his side, groaning in pain and calling out “Help, help, please someone help me!” and nobody stops to help.
You probably don’t need to be reminded, but this high profile experiment got some very disturbing results about how ordinary people relate to authority. Mild and civil people caused (what they thought was) grave bodily harm on strangers who were clearly innocent of any wrongdoing simply because authority figures encouraged them to.
Money on the mind
A fascinating study showing how success, even tiny bits, often makes people into insufferable ninnies. Success evokes in people a warm self regard, considering themselves more worthy and deserving than others. It also makes them less generous and more certain that they worked hard for their success. “A small loan of a million dollars” Self entitled bastards.