text/video collage text taken from works by Hannah Arendt (Origins of Totalitarianism, Eichmann in Jerusalem, essays)
read by Eva Hausteiner
The Origins of Totalitarianism - Hannah Arendt
Milgram's Obedience to Authority Experiment & The Stanford Prison Experiment - At least one essential feature was not studied here - namely, the intense devaluation of the victim prior to action against him. Systematic devaluation of the victim provides a measure of psychological justification for brutal treatment of the victim and has been the constant accompaniment of massacres, pogroms, and wars. In all likelihood, our subjects would have experienced greater ease in shocking the victim had he been convincingly portrayed as a brutal criminal or a pervert.
Once having acted against the victim, these subjects found it necessary to view him as an unworthy individual, whose punishment was made inevitable by his own deficiencies of intellect and character.
A commonly offered explanation is that those who shocked the victim at the most severe level were monsters, the sadistic fringe of society. But if one considers that almost two-thirds of the participants fall into the category of "obedient" subjects, and that they represented ordinary people drawn from working, managerial, and professional classes, the argument becomes very shaky. Indeed,
it is highly reminiscent of the issue that arose in connection with Hannah Arendt's 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Arendt contended that the prosecution's effort to depict Eichmann as a sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong, that he came closer to being an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job. For asserting these views, Arendt became the object of considerable scorn, even calumny. Somehow, it was felt that the monstrous deeds carried out by Eichmann required a brutal, twisted, and sadistic personality, evil incarnate. After witnessing ordinary people submit to the authority in the experiments,
We must conclude that Arendt's conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth than one might dare imagine. The ordinary person who shocked the victim did so out of a sense of obligation - a conception of his duties as a subject - and not from any peculiarly aggressive tendencies.
This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.
The Nazi extermination of European Jews is the extreme instance of abhorrent immoral acts carried out by thousands of people in the name of obedience. Yet in lesser degree, this type of thing is constantly recurring: ordinary citizens are ordered to destroy other people, and they do so because they consider it their duty to obey orders. Thus, obedience to authority, long praised as a virtue, takes on a new aspect when it serves a malevolent cause; far from appearing as a virtue, it is transformed into a heinous sin.Catégorie


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