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Hannah Arendt Ducked Out To The Movies

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Hannah Arendt Ducked Out To The Movies
Or something. I really have no idea why she didn't stick around, but apparently, Hannah Arendt only witnessed the opening bit of Eichmann's trial, inspiring her to come up with the notion of "the banality of evil" -- inspired by how utterly, boringly "normal," and like the rest of us Eichmann seemed.

Had she stuck around, she would have encountered a very different man, contend Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher. According to "David Cesarani’s (2004) meticulous examination of Eichmann’s life and crimes," they say Eichmann was:

...a man who identified strongly with anti-semitism and Nazi ideology; a man who did not simply follow orders but who pioneered creative new policies; a man who was well aware of what he was doing and was proud of his murderous ‘achievements’.

Yet, for years, there's been a consensus, Haslam and Reicher write, that regular people do wrong when, under the influence of a group, they are blinded to the consequences of their actions. They correct the myth:

People do great wrong, not because they are unaware of what they are doing but because they consider it to be right. This is possible because they actively identify with groups whose ideology justifies and condones the oppression and destruction of others.

They go into the history, from Arendt, to Stanley Milgram (the shock doc), to Phillip Zimbardo (who did the prison guard experiment), and come to a different, more informed conclusion, which they call "The Ingenuity of Evil":

So from Stanford, as from the obedience studies, it is not valid to conclude that people mindlessly and helplessly succumb to brutality. Rather both studies (and also the historical evidence) suggest that brutality occurs when people identify strongly with groups that have a brutal ideology. This leads them to advance that ideology knowingly, creatively and even proudly. The question we need to address then is ‘What leads people to create and maintain such social identifications?’ We suggest there are three parts to the answer.

1) Individual differences In a simple but powerful study, Carnaghan and McFarland (2007) placed two adverts in a newspaper. The first advert was an invitation for individuals to participate in a standard psychological experiment. The second followed the wording of the original advert for Zimbardo’s Stanford study — calling for people to participate ‘in a psychological study of prison life’. Those who responded to the second advert were very different from those who responded to the first. They were much more likely to believe in the harsh and hierarchical world that exists in prison. This finding suggests that, where there is a free choice, not just anyone would elect to put themselves in a ‘prison’ situation and take on a ‘prison’ role. The simplest way of explaining such choices would be to put them down to personality, level of authoritarianism, social dominance, or some other such individual factor. However, our own prison study (conducted in collaboration with the BBC; Reicher & Haslam, 2006, and www.bps.org.uk/pris) suggests a more nuanced explanation. Here (as in Zimbardo’s study) several of those assigned to be guards refused to embrace this role. The primary issue for these individuals was how an enthusiastic embrace of the guard group membership would impact upon their other valued group memberships. Would tyrannical behaviour undermine their social identities at home, at work, at leisure? This suggests that people will be less likely to identify with groups with tyrannical norms the more that their membership of groups with different norms is salient and the more that they are made accountable to those alternative groups.

2) Contexts of crisis and group failure It may be that there are certain people who, in any given context, are more likely to identify with tyrannical and brutal groups, but equally there are some contexts which make everyone more likely to accept such groups. Perhaps the most surprising finding from the BBC Prison Study was its demonstration of the way in which our participants, who started off holding democratic views and opposing inequality, gradually became more authoritarian as their groups failed to function effectively and the overall system fell into chaos. In such situations, the notion of a strong leader who would forcibly – even brutally – impose and maintain order became, if not actually attractive, at least less unattractive (Haslam & Reicher, 2007b). What we saw here, then, was that authoritarianism – often seen as the key personality variable that explains the dynamics of tyranny – was itself changed as a function of social dynamics.

There are strong parallels here with historical studies of the context in which the Nazis ascended to power (e.g. Hobsbawm, 1995). The Weimar Republic, which preceded Nazi rule, was riven between democrats and those who dreamed of a strong domineering leader. As the republic fell into economic and political crisis, so the middle classes deserted democracy and embraced Hitler as the man who would save them. This process is encapsulated in the words of a school teacher who, writing in 1934, explained why he had joined the Nazis: I reached the conclusion that no party but a single man alone could save Germany. This opinion was shared by others, for when the cornerstone of a monument was laid in my hometown, the following words were inscribed on it: ‘Descendants who read these words, know ye that we eagerly await the coming of the man whose strong hand may restore order’. (quoted in Abel, 1986, p.151)

In other words, in times of crisis, people look for Daddy.

Theoretical and practically, the dynamics through which such views emerge point to ways in which standard personality-based accounts of tyranny need to be radically rethought.

3) Leadership
Whatever is going on in the world, however great the crisis, it is still necessary for people to make sense of events, to explain how current difficulties came about and to have a vision of how they can be resolved. But we do not interpret the world on our own, as many social psychological models tend to imply. Rather, people are surrounded by would-be leaders who tell them what to make of the world around them. For this reason, the study of leadership must be a central component of any analysis of tyranny and outgroup hostility. Indeed, tyrannical leaders only thrive by convincing us that we are in crisis, that we face threat and that we need their strong decisive action to surmount it. In the BBC study, participants as a whole may have become relatively more authoritarian, but it still needed active leadership to exploit this and to make the case for a new tough regime.The role of leaders becomes particularly pernicious when they suggest that ‘our’ problems come about because of the threats posed by a pernicious outgroup. In this way they can begin to take the groups with which we already identify and develop norms of hostility against outsiders. Their role becomes even more dangerous when they tell us that ‘we’ are the sum of all virtues so that the defence of virtue requires the destruction of the outgroup that threatens us. These are the conditions which allow groups to make genocide normative and to represent mass murder as something honourable (Reicher et al., 2006). It was the logic to which Eichmann subscribed when, after the end of the war, he said: ‘If, of the 10.3 million Jews…we had killed 10.3 million, then I would be satisfied. I would say “All right. We have exterminated an enemy”’ (quoted in Cesarani, 2004, p.219).