| Ordinary men: Ordinary men are those
who are not individually remembered after death, because they are not
and did nothing remarkable, for whatever reason. In terms of statistics, they form 9999 out of
10,000, and in terms of practice, it is they who do the work in any society, maintain its ideology and morals,
protect or elect its leaders, and do
its murderings and persecutions when ordered by their leaders. And no
society can become better than the qualities and shortcomings of the
ordinary men in it enable it to be.
This shows in
principle that ordinary men are quite important in history and society, if not in person but
because it is they who form and maintain and do nearly all in any
society, even though they rarely or never originate its ideas, values, science or religion,
for ordinary men are followers and executioners much rather than
leaders or thinkers.
As defined - in terms of whether or not
one is individually remembered after death,
outside the circle of one's family and friends - ordinary men comprise
the great majority of men, and include most of its intellectuals and
artists, for these too mostly are when known locally in their own
society in their own time mostly forgottten by following generations.
The fundamental problem this poses about
the human state of the world and its possibilities for improvement may
be indicated by a table like the following one.
Mr. Randolph J. Rummel has taken the
trouble of finding out how many civilian persons have been
murdered in the 20th Century apart from the many soldiers that
were killed on battle-fields. He
wrote a book about it called Death
by Government, in which one can find, among other things, the
following table - that lists only civilian deaths and no
military deaths in wartime:
|Josip Broz Tito
When summed, this comes to over 200
million murders - nearly all committed by perfectly ordinary men, for
what they considered to be the best of moral
reasons, from love for Our Fatherland or Our Party or Our Race, and
because those they murdered stood in the way of a better society, or so their leaders claimed and they mostly believed.
What the above table also makes somewhat
credible is that a considerable part of the murdering that ordinary men
do happens especially when they are caught up in totalitarian states,
political ideologies, or religious faiths.
And what the above table is misleading
about is the role of politics: In the
20th Century most murdering on a social scale happened in the name of
totalitarian political ideologies like fascism and communism, but in early ages most
murdering on a social scale happened in the name of totalitarian faiths
like Catholicism, Protestantism or Mohammedanism.
These facts show that the abilities and
inclinations of ordinary men are of fundamental importance to the state
and shape of human societies, and of what is possible and impossible in
it, and suggest a number of questions.
Also, it so happens that next to
Rummel's statistics, there are some interesting studies about ordinary
men and totalitarianism: Browning's "Ordinary Men", Conquest's
"The Great Terror", and Laqueur Ed.'s "The Holocaust
And part of the reasons for the above
table of results of the abilities of ordinary men especially when
combined with totalitarianism can be gleaned from the following table
and quotation that concerns research into the actual moral behavior and
thinking of human beings by the psychologist Kohlberg.
I quote from the "Introduction to Psychology" by Hilgard &
Stages in the
development of moral values
LEVELS AND STAGES
Level I. Premoral
Punishment and obedience orientation
Obeys rules in order to avoid punishment.
Naive instrumental hedonism
Conforms to obtain rewards, to have favors returned.
Level II. Morality of
3. "Good-boy" morality of maintaining good relations,
approval of others.
Conforms to avoid disapproval, maintaining good
relations, dislike by others.
Authority maintaining morality.
Conforms to avoid censure by legitimate authorities, with
Level III. Morality of
self-accepted moral principles
5. Morality of contract, of individual rights, and of
democratically accepted law.
Conforms to maintain the respect of the impartial
spectator judging in terms of community welfare.
6. Morality of individual principles and conscience.
Conforms to avoid self-condemnation.
indicate that the moral judgments of children who are seven and younger
are predominantly at Level I - actions are evaluated in terms of
whether they avoid punishment or lad to rewards. By age 13, a majority
of the moral dilemmas are resolved at Level II - actions are evaluated
in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other people. This
is the level of conventional morality. In the
first stage at this level (Stage 3) one seeks approval by being "nice";
this orientation expands in the next stage (Stage 4) to include "doing
one's duty", showing respect for authority, and conforming to the
social order in which one is raised.
According to Kohlberg,
many individuals never progress beyond Level II. He sees the stages of
moral development as closely tied to Piaget's stages of cognitive
development, and only if a person has achieved the later stages of
formal operational thought is he capable of the kind of abstract
thinking necessary for postconventional morality at Level III. The highest stage of moral development (Level
III, stage 6) requires formulating abstract ethical principles and
conforming to them to avoid self-condemnation. Kohlberg reports that
less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show (...) kind of
"clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)"
And thus we have arrived in principle at
some sort of explanation for the facts and numbers in the previous
table: "actions are evaluated
in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other people. This
is the level of conventional morality"
and "many individuals never
progress beyond Level II", which is that conventional conformist level.
ordinay men: Here are some human all too human weaknesses that -
especially but not only - ordinary men easily fall prone to
- Ordinary men
- engage mostly in wishful thinking (so as to keep themselves "happy")
- are ruled by bias
- do not know real
science, logic, mathematics or philosophy
- do not do unto others as one would not
be done by only within one's group
- are role-players who play by wishful
thinking, make-believe - "The quality or act of pretending;
assuming something is true when in fact one knows it is not" (wiki
dictionary) - and pretension who
normally do not step out of their roles out of self-interest and because of
- are collaborators: They mostly do as they
are told by leaders
- are followers, of fashions
and leaders of all kinds, usually
because it is the fashion and they are conformists
- are levellers: The
only ones who excel are the leaders of the group and what the media
display as excellent
- believe truth coincides with their interests and
prejudices, especially as regards things that involve their or their
groups' supposed interests
- personalize or
animate everything: all manner of abstractions - nations, corporations,
groups, the people - are supposed to will and feel
- do not reason in
terms of quantified terms: Terms
like "Some", "most" are carefully avoided often to infer all from some
without mentioning either: ("Women are emotional", "Germans are no
- cannot reason
abstractly on any high level
- make all manners of fallacies esp. of generalization,
ambiguity and begging the question
- are not independent
individuals with their own ideas and values intentionally gathererd by
their own life's practice
One result, supplementing
Rummel's statistics, is this:
"I fear we
live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the
powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and
increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly
attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which
peer-group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral
norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit
mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to
induce "ordinary men" to become their
"willing executioners." " (Christopher R.
Browning, "Ordinary men", p. 222-3)