Wednesday, July 25, 2007


“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

My wife is reading a book that I find very interesting and also extremely sad. The book is The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. Dr Zimbardo was actually called as an expert witness during the Abu Ghraib trials. Here is a link to what she has to say about the book so far.
Early on in the book he explains that all you need to make somebody become evil is to convince them that their victim is an animal. As soon as we can look at the enemy and describe them as something less than human we strip them of any dignity and privileges they previously had just because they were human. Early in my life my father explained this to me. In wars, one of the first tasks is to dehumanize the opponent. Frequently this dehumanization takes place in the form of nicknames. Each war seemed to have a newly created name. I’ll spare you the repetition of these profanities on this blog. Once they are no longer people then it becomes easier to kill these “animals”. Almost always these terms are inseparable with the race or ethnicity of the other side. And sadly the names and the bigotry behind them last much longer than the initial conflict.
In church when I was a little kid I learned the song, “I am a Child of God”. I could never understand how somebody who truly believed that we were all children of God could take such conscious and deliberate steps to reduce another person to anything less than that. Unfortunately, far too many people are able to suspend their theological beliefs when it does not support their getting an upper hand on their current opponent.
In the current political book I’m reading the author has already fallen into this pattern of dehumanizing the opponent. Twice so far he has used animal specific terms to dehumanize his Democratic opponents.
I find it deeply troubling that all too often we, as a species, continue in this behavior. I am aware that I have much room for improvement and I am always looking for steps that I can take to change my behavior.
A few years ago, when asked what he thought was the biggest problem facing the world today former President Clinton responded, "The illusion that our differences matter more than our common humanity."
I could not agree more.

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