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Nov 5, 2011      `

On social psychologists on the origins of evil

   I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...
   -- Allen Ginsburg

So far, this month I have been mainly writing about social psychology, what with the massive scientific fraud of Dutch social psychologisy Diederik Stapel, and then about fraud in science and "science", in which one my conclusions was that fraud in the sciences or "sciences" of psychology and psychiatry

would not be much of a real problem if most psychological and psychiatric researchers were honest, did know some real science and methodology and statistics, and wrote clearly, honestly and rationally about what they do in fact know and don't know.

Today there is more on both social psychology, indeed relating to fraud, namely the origins of evil, and in particular the theories and experiments of Milgram and Zimbardo


     1. My personal interests in the problem of the evil that men do
     2. Social psychologist professors Haslam and Reicher
     3. Historian Overy

1. My personal interests in the problem of the evil men do

I stem from a rather extra-ordinary family: Both my parents were members of the Dutch Resistance against Nazism; my father and grandfather were arrested, by collaborating Amsterdam policemen, after being betrayed by Dutchmen, for reason of being involved with organizing the February Strike, as members of the Dutch CP, and were convicted, by collaborating Dutch judges, in a collaborating Dutch court, as "political terrorists", in consequence of which my grandfather was murdered and my father survived more than 3 3/4 years of German concentration-camps as a political prisoner.

See e.g. here for my family-background, including a personal testimony of my father about German concentration camps:

Three documents: My father's story + my story +  my Human Rights

Then again, I myself gave up communism and socialism age 20, in 1970, after having been disillusioned by the student riots of 1968 in France and 1969 in Amsterdam; remigrated from Norway to Holland in 1977 to study in the University of Amsterdam, and then, in Ginsburg's words (though he talked of something else entirely)

I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness...

for it seemed that the great majority of my student generation had turned marxist, as indeed was in their own personal interest in the Dutch universities between 1971 and 1995, when these universities were ruled in a sort of Soviet mock-democratic style, with the whole university and each faculty electing each year new parliaments for the universities and faculties, from the members of the scientific staff, the students, and the non-scientific staff, in which elections each participant, say a student, a professor, and a cleaner, voted on the 1 man/1 vote principle, which led to parliaments of faculties and of the university where members of the Dutch Communist Party and Dutch Labour Party had the solid majority each and every year, and effectively ruled the university, mostly in the interests of the members of the Dutch Communist Party and Dutch Labour Party, and with their political ends and slogans as well.

But I was one of the very few at the time who was abhorred by this - hardly had I escaped what seemed to me the nonsense and the very bad prose of the Dutch CP (in 1970) or I found myself (from 1977 onwards) amongst - literally - thousands of students and hundreds of staff members who embraced varieties of neo-marxism, communism, maoism, feminism and postmodernism with a truly fanatical dedication, and who in vast majority maintained that I, who dared to publicly deny Marx was a great philosopher, must be "a fascist" for that reason, and eventually denied me the right of an M.A. in philosophy, and of a Ph.D. in psychology, and removed me repeatedly from the University of Amsterdam, knowing full well I was ill, but enjoying it, and specifically because I dared to criticize the teachings, the political ends, and the bad education my generation of students received at the University of Amsterdam.

The story is told with some detail in ME in Amsterdam, mostly in Dutch, though some of the material I published at the time has been meanwhile translated into English

     - 39 Questions
     - Spiegeloog-columns

It should also be remarked that my protesting the university education I was offered (against which very few students protested, if only because since 1970 IQs of at most 115 have become quite capable of acquiring a Ph.D. in social psychology, paedagogy, or sociology, which is what the majority wanted: an academical degree and an academical income without academic interest or intellectual qualifications) was complicated by two additional factors: First, I was an am ill with ME/CFS since 1.1.1979, like my ex-wife, who also studied psychology; and second, I was involved in years of threats with murder by my landlord and his drugs-dealers, permitted to deal illegal drugs by the mayor of Amsterdam from a socalled "coffeeshop" on the bottom floor of the house where I lived, and who were protected to do so by the municipal police and by the mayors and aldermen of Amsterdam, very probably because the police, mayor and aldermen have been corrupted by the Amsterdam drugsmafia, that turns over a cool 10 billion or so in illegal drugs each year, in and around Amsterdam.

This is also told in detail in ME in Amsterdam, in Dutch, and has never been contradicted, though it is - if false - slander and defamation of the Amsterdam mayor, aldermen, advocate-general, municipal police, judges, district attorneys, and bureaucracy, whom I each and all have asked for protection of my human rights, and who each and all refused to help me, to maintain my rights, to protect me, or indeed to answer my letters, my mails, and my phone-calls: I could be gassed or murdered for all the Amsterdam authorities - mostly leading members of Dutch Labour, the Dutch CP and later of Dutch GreenLeft - cared, and the sooner the better as far as they were concerned, for I was a lone dissident.

Indeed, other Dutchmen didn't care at all what happened to me and, like their parents and grandparents during World War II, for the most part, quietly, obediently, and quite often also proudly, collaborated with the authorities of the moment, looked the other way while I was threatened with murder by drugsmafiosi protected by the mayors of Amsterdam, and while my health was systematically destroyed because I could hardly sleep because of the noise of the drugsdealers and others, with no noise only between 03.00 and 07.00.

This was also much like the more than 1% of the Dutch population that was arrested, transported and gassed, between 1941 and 1945, for being of an inferior race, while most of their countrymen looked on or away, and did nothing if they did not help or support the Nazis.

The difference was that the mayor of Amsterdam who let me be gassed and threatened with murder by the drugsdealers he protected knew my parents superficially, and bleated every day, in front of cameras of the media, if he got the opportunity, that he personally governed Amsterdam as a mayor "in the name of the ideals of the February Strike", because he claimed to be Jewish, which he only is in Goebbel's racial sense, for he does not have that faith, nor do I, though I have been circumcised.

In fact, he ruled for the Amsterdam drugsmafia, whom he protected to the hilt, probably for a percentage, that will make his children and grand-children very rich people, on secret accounts, or in terms of hidden bars of gold - is my guess, for I am not a believer in the excellence or morality of mayors who let me be gassed, threatened, and my health destroyed, knowing very well this went on and on, and doing nothing to help me maintain my human rights, having had my letters asking this from 1989 onwards and never responding to them, never receiving me, and protecting the Amsterdam drugsmafia during his whole political career.

I have several times attempted to explain what had happened to me, what had happened in the University of Amsterdam, and what had happened with the mafia in Amsterdam in terms that explicitly appealed to Milgram's work on obedience to social authorities, and to Browning who explained the collaborators and willing executioners of Nazism in terms of obedience to social authorities, groupthinking, and the lack, in ordinary men, of the wherewithall to be personally responsible and accountable, and of their inability to say "No" to demands by leaders that they must know are immoral:

     - Milgram
     - Kohlberg
     - Zimbardo
     - Browning

Earlier today I found that two English professors of social psychology, Haslam and Reicher, and an English professor of history, argue by implication thay Milgram, Kohlberg, Zimbardo, Browning, and myself must be mistaken, if these eminent postmodern - I fear - scientists in these great sciences of social psychology and history are right.

So let's consider their arguments.

2. Social psychologist professors Haslam and Reicher

Professors Haslam and Reicher, who teach social psychology at two English universities published an article in The Psychologist in January 2008, that they open by telling the reader is based on "the 2007 Argyle Lecture", entitled

Questioning the banality of evil (pdf, 79.1 Kb)

that you can find under the link in pdf format. The introduction to the article has this first paragraph

There is a widespread consensus amongst psychologists that tyranny triumphs either because ordinary people blindly follow orders or else because they mindlessly conform to powerful roles. However, recent evidence concerning historical events challenges these views. In particular, studies of the Nazi regime reveal that its functionaries engaged actively and creatively with their tasks.

I have meanwhile learned that where in social, psychological, or psychiatric "scientific" prose the word "evidence" occurs this tends to occur because there is no such evidence, but the writers want to "suggest" (is the common term in such contexts) that "researchers" (tends to be the strongly preferred unquantified unqualified term), of their very own postmodern kind, have found "evidence" (nearly always merely claimed, not given), that would convince the reader, if he had gotten it, that the "narrative" (is the right and often used word in contexts like this) they tell is really politically correct in the latest understanding.

It is the same here, it seems to me: While the reader of Milgram, Kohlberg, Zimbardo and Browning will have found references to blind obedience to authorities, none of them used these as the only factor in their explanations, whereas the suggestion that recent "studies of the Nazi regime reveal that the functionaries engaged actively and creatively with their tasks" is misleading because this was clear from the start, and e.g. explained, with a lot of evidence, in Eugen Kogon's "Der SS-Staat" (first published in 1946, by a survivor of the concentration-camp Buchenwald): The extent and the enthusiasm of the collaboration with the Nazis differed with the persons collaborating. But it certainly was not because they "blindly follow orders" or "mindlessly conform to powerful roles", for they all did whatever they did based on their personal appraisal of the situation they found themselves in, e.g. as soldiers of the ordinary German army at a time of major war, in what was a national socialist dictatorship.

But then I have read the authors Haslam and Reicher refer to, and a lot more that is related to the subjects of the causes of the second world war and of totalitarianism - and it seems to me that Haslam and Reicher have turned to a flashy subject to make social psychology and socal psychologists look good and important.

The epigraph and the first paragraph of their article are these, with links supplied by me to terms in my Philosophical Dictionary

Us and them

And, after all, we’re only ordinary men.
Me and you
God only knows it’s not what we
would choose to do.

Pink Floyd, Us and Them

It is relatively rare that the ideas in psychology texts become so well known that they influence popular culture. However, as the above lyrics attest, one such idea maintains that if you put ordinary decent people in groups and create a division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ then they will descend mindlessly into brutality, to the extent that they might even be prepared to commit mass murder. And in a world where the brutality of groups is as apparent as ever, this idea continues to have widespread appeal.

One of the tropes (meme as they themselves probably say: cant) of postmodernism is to link up everything with "popular culture", as happens here. And while I would suppose Pink Floyd did get inspired by e.g. Milgram's writings, directly or indirectly, Pink Floyd is not really relevant for real science.

Again, the term "mindlessly" is quite misleading, if only because the "brutality" engaged in tends to be based on a whole ideology that stresses the differences between Us and Them, and thus seeks to influence the minds and acts of ordinary men: It's a fallacy of false opposition.

In the next few paragraphs, Milgram's and Zimbardo's experiments are listed (the links are to descriptions of these) and Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem" is mentioned, and her phrase about the

‘fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil’.

quoted, after which Haslam and Reicher try to make it seem plausible that

According to Arendt, Eichmann and his fellow bureaucrats became obsessed with the technical details of genocide (e.g. timetabling transport to the death camps) and, in so doing, they lost sight of the larger picture. They had no awareness that their acts were wrong. They simply followed orders mechanically, unimaginatively, unquestioningly.

I do not myself think Arendt - with whom I don't agree but I have read several of her books - thought so, or only to make it plausible how they tried to think and how they tried to appear to others: Not as people who "followed orders mechanically, unimaginatively, unquestioningly", as people who were good citizens, who followed their leaders, and after the war tried to blame it on them.

Haslam and Reicher continue the above quotation thus

When Milgram sought to make sense of what had happened in his own obedience studies, he explicitly adopted this explanation, noting that ‘Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth than one might dare to imagine’ (1974, p.23).

It seems to me that Haslam and Reicher either do not understand what Milgram and Arendt meant by that phrase about "banality of evil" or write as if they don't:

Clearly, "banality" means the ordinariness of evil, and that again is justified not primarily by what the Nazis did, but by human history at large, which is full of wars, crusades, civil wars, pogroms, religious persecutions, mass-murders of the unfaithful, ever since the dawn of history:

That is what requires an explanation, and the only feasible type of explanation is that ordinary men and women do follow their leaders, and do as they are told to do, on average, and with exceptions, and easily understood human-all-too-human reasons too:

Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor =
I see the good I approve of, I follow the worse (Virgil)

and namely because doing the right thing is more dangerous, less popular, or less well-paid than doing the wrong thing, in the circumstances ordinary men are trying to survive in.

And indeed, it must concern ordinary men, on average, and mostly, simply because most of the wars, persecutions, pogroms, mass-murders etc. have been done by ordinary men, indeed also as it were for the most part ordinary men who, for over four centuries on end, visited the Roman circuses, for the joys of seeing their fellows thrown ad bestias, or slowly and cruelly killed, rather like these days people go to the movies or play a video-game with a lot of killing.

Haslam and Reicher see it differently, or try to make it seem different to make social psychology seem more interesting:

Until recently, there has been a clear consensus amongst social psychologists, historians and philosophers that everyone succumbs to the power of the group and hence no one can resist evil once in its midst. But now, suddenly, things don’t seem quite so certain.

I am sorry, but I do have university degrees in psychololgy and philosophy, but I never saw any sign of the claimed "clear consensus". On the contrary, I know there have been several extended debates on how to best understand totalitarianism and Nazism, among historians and among others, relating to Goldhagen's notions.

Nobody, to my knowledge, claimed "everyone succumbs" nor that "no one can resist evil once in its midst": Clearly, some did, though equally clearly, they were in a minority; and clearly, what e.g. Browning was writing about was not what everybody did - indeed, he makes a point of showing clearly not everybody obeyed orders and let himself be pressurized into killing hundreds of people because of their supposed inferior race - but that, statistically speaking, the majority of Germans did execute the orders of the Fuehrer and the Nazis, either because they were more or less blinded believers in the Nazi ideology, or because it was too dangerous, in their estimate, to refuse to execute the orders they received.

Then Haslam and Reicher turn to Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, that was intended to be an experiment in Milgram's sense, but had to be terminated after a week because the persons playing guards were really maltreating the persons playing prisoners. There is a link to it, and Haslam and Reicher say this about it:

These ideas were later taken even further by Zimbardo. He argued that the sense of obligation and duty to which Milgram referred was not dependent on the presence of strong authority figures. Instead, he suggested that people can be led to perpetrate atrocities not because they blindly follow orders, but because they conform blindly to what is expected of them as a group member.

Not so in my reading and understanding: Zimbardo was also interested in the powers of groupthinking and roleplaying, but indeed these are supplementary to the power and influence of social authorities, and again groupthinking, roleplaying and leaders are effective not because of their followers do "conform blindly to what is expected of them", but because members of a group are amenable to influence and orders by leaders of the group and to values and ideas that belong to the ideology of the group.

Haslam and Reicher also succeed in suggesting Milgram and Browning thought along the lines Haslam and Reicher claim them to have followed, which I did not see in their texts, but then I am not a social psychologist, nor do I make money as a professor of psychology.

Haslam and Reicher point out that Eichmann was more than a mere pen pusher, which indeed is quite correct, but was known long since, at least outside the ordinary media.

In fact, that is what seems to me to be amiss with them, as it did seem to me to be amiss with quite a lot of social psychology: What is presented is what is or may be in the media, because some journalists choose to summarize something they heard or read in a certain way, and that then is taken up by (social) psychologists, to this effect, from the end of the article, after having skipped rather a lot I might have cited to similar effect:

Changing the mantra

Until recently, psychologists and historians have agreed that ordinary people commit evil when, under the influence of leaders and groups, they become blind to the consequences of their actions. This consensus has become so strong that it is repeated, almost as a mantra, in psychology textbooks and in society at large.

I stopped reading "psychology textbooks" as soon as I could, for I found most of them really awful, and indeed found of the books I had to study to get my degree "Social Psychology", Second Edition, by Lawrence S. Wrightsman, University of Kansas, in collaboration with Stuart Oskamp, Mark Snyder, John O'Connor, Carol Sigelman, Kay Deaux, and Eric Sundstrom (776 p.), the most awful.

Here is a quote about it, with links and all, that I cite from a Dutch Nederlog I wrote in January 2009, when professor Stapel was still professor, and professors Haslam and Reicher published, in that same month, the text I have been quoting and commenting.

In August 1979, I penned the following in that awful text-book:

General note to this book

Sofar I am at p. 221. It is mostly very bad: The style is awful - conceited, jargon-ridden and talking down, without any enthusiasm & totally serious in a cramped way - the reasoning horrible: especially the use of logical words & definitions are very bad, while of course all quantifiers and articles (*) are suppressed in most contexts.

The contents are very odd: What you would expect under "social psychology" is treatment of topics as: religion, ideology, family, education, groups, organizations, war, media, leisure & work & such items.

But none of these is treated (sex is, but in a superficial way). I mean: One wants to know how & why people form groups & societies; how and why people cooperate & oppose each other; what happens when people communicate; what people believe & for what reasons; how distinct social &/or ideological &/or economical group thinks & act on average etc. etc.

(*) I mean the articles "the" and "a", that trained social psychologists seem to - I learned from both the book and at the University of Amsterdam - systematically avoid, except when they don't matter logically speaking.

So... it may be that the misrepresentation of Haslam and Reicher of the work of Milgram, Arendt, Zimbardo and Browning indeed is "a mantra" in all the "psycholog textbooks" I have managed not to read and not let my mood be upset by, but it is a misrepresentation, apparently with this end, for Haslam and Reicher continue

However critical scrutiny of both historical and psychological evidence – along with a number of new studies, e.g. Krueger (in press); Staub (in press) – has produced a radically different picture. 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.

Presumably, that is what social psychologists are for: To misread what sociologists and historians and philosophers wrote; to tell the world they meant something else than they wrote; and that their very own colleagues (in press, in press), like themselves, no doubt, have at long last discovered what was known by Thucydides and the writers of the Old Testament, to name but two sources, outside many others, namely that

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.

Bless social psychologists and their Science! They know how to find out what has been known for thousands of years, but they do it in Modern Scientific Learned Journals! Indeed, they continue the above thus:

As we have suggested, this raises a whole set of new questions: Who identifies with such groups? When does identification become more likely? How do genocidal ideologies develop? What is the role of leaders in shaping group ideology?

See? This "raises a whole set of new questions": Messrs. Milgram, Zimbardo and Browning and Ms. Arendt were totally incapable of seeing these "new questions", as were Thucydides, Suetonius, Livius, Tacitus, Machiavelli, Mosca or indeed Orwell, who all must have missed all of this, if messrs. Haslam and Reicher are right, to be sure.

Indeed, it is totally incomprehensible, given the teachings of messrs. Haslam and Reicher, how a man who did not even study in a British University, such as George Orwell, could have conceivably arrived at something like this:

"Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no outrage - torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonments without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians, which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side." (The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol 3, p. 419, written in May 1945.

That is, this was written while World War II still was going on, and while no one as yet knew what Haslam and Reicher and their social psychologist colleagues would discover ca. 2009 A.D. viz. that, unknown to Thucydides, Aristotle, Suetonius, Plutarchus, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hume, Mandeville, Leibniz, in brief anybody not blessed with a postmodern education in social psychology, that

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.

Mind you, the social psychology professors Haslam and Reicher do need research subsidies, for they continue their Totally-NewTM questions cited above as follows:

We do not pretend to have a full set of answers to these questions. But we do insist that, unless one asks the right questions, any answers will be of little use.

Personally, I'd suggest they can find something close to "a full set of answers" in authors I have mentioned, though it is true, I must admit, these authors might be rather difficult for those who were fit to be educated as social psychologists. In passing I should also like to remark one can get quite far by asking the wrong questions, provided one uses logic on the answers one gets. But I admit logic and social psychology seem to be incompatible on such evidence I was forced to consume to pass my examination in social psychology.

Here, at last, is the last paragraph of Haslam and Reicher:

Our complaint against the old consensus is that, for far too long, it has asked the wrong questions and led us to seek the key to human malevolence in the wrong place. Cesarini’s study of Eichmann led him to conclude that: ‘the notion of the banality of evil, combined with Milgram’s theses on the predilection for obedience to authority, straitjacketed research for two decades’ (2004, p.15). We agree. As John Turner (2006) argues, it is time to escape our theoretical prisons.

I never heard of either Cesarini or Turner, but kindly presume them to be colleagues of messrs. Haslam and Reicher. If it is true that  ‘the notion of the banality of evil, combined with Milgram’s theses on the predilection for obedience to authority, straitjacketed research for two decades’, then presumably this is because social psychologists are among the most cognitively challenged of postmodern "scientists", who do not even read the historians, philosophers and sociologists closest through their own supposed science, or if they do, they manage to misunderstand and misrepresent them grossly.

3. Historian Overy

The above discussed piece by social psychology professors Haslam and Reicher is from 2009, but last September both gentlemen were still busy laying the groundwork for getting the research funding for answering the questions any reading of Machiavelli or Orwell should easily answer, though it is also true that neither is a living social psychologist who could assist living social psychologists in getting research funding.

So Messrs Haslam and Reicher interviewed an English historian, one Richard Overy, again so locally famous that his existence escaped my knowledge till today, and they published the result again in Psychology Today:

     - Milgram and the historians (pdf, 1.8 Mb)

This takes the form of an interview, with questions and answers, and I shall quote and comment some of it. Professor Overy's first answer starts thus - and he seems well-trained by social psychologists:

Once historians began to look seriously at issues of perpetration in the Holocaust, and wider perpetration of National Socialist terror, the Milgram experiments became of special importance. This was partly because historians generally lacked the tools to be able to interpret social psychological situations effectively

As it happens, I read more history than I read psychology, and did so  especially because the great historians - Thucydides, Livy, Suetonius, Tacitus, Plutarchos, Machiavelli, Guiccardini, Hume, Gibbon, Burckhardt, Huizinga - seem to me to be a lot more intelligent, much better writers, and usually also with much better explanations for human actions than psychologists. My original motives for studying psychology was to learn more about human reasoning and more about what it is to have a human nature. The science of psychology, as I was taught it, was of no use whatsoever to answer these questions. (But I did get a brilliant M.A. in it, and I do like William James's Principles of Psychology, but then I'd read the latter before studying psychology academically, which was a loss of time and a waste of good will).

So... I suggest professor Overy is pleasing his social psychologist friends, and I insist that social psychology taught me absolutely nothing about human beings, except if they were social psychologists: Ever since reading Wrightsman, mentioned above, I believe that a "science" with textbooks like that is not a a real science, but mostly posturing and pretending.

In answer to a second question, professor Overy tell his social psychologist professorial colleagues among other things that

Christopher Browning’s 1992 work on Police Battalion 101 and the ‘final solution’ in Poland did not rely entirely on Milgram, but it created a paradigm for understanding atrocity which relied heavily on situational psychology. This view of perpetrator behaviour has been repeated often since and is a stock-in-trade of most student analyses of how ordinary Germans could become extraordinary killers.

I have read Browning, and don't like to be disqualified, at my 61 years, as being capable of no more than using "stock-in-trade of most student analyses". In any case, Browning makes a good case for the thesis that most - not all - ordinary men do as they are told, especially in dictator-ships and situations of war - which seems plausible, and no more than is necessary to explain the statistics of the known facts: Most Germans collaborated with the Nazis and fought in the German Army when ordered to, even if they did not admire Hitler or Nazism, and did so mostly because of peer pressure, groupthinking, and the danger of not obeying the orders of Hitler and the Nazi-party officials.

And lest you are taken in by social psychologists suggesting otherwise: ALL of these explanations were available even from before World War II, and indeed were in part developed to explain the rise of Nazism.

In answer to the third question, professor Overy is quoted as saying this:

Arendt has been used sparingly by historians, partly because of strong objection to the idea that the evils perpetrated by the Third Reicher were in any sense ‘banal’, or that those Germans who ordered and organised the Holocaust could be remotely regarded as simple pen-pushers, a mere ‘transport official’ as Eichmann characterised himself.

I doubt Arendt - who also wrote, among other books, a thick study on the roots of totalitarianism, and not just about Eichmann - "has been used sparingly by historians", but then I have no statistics, though I suppose professor Overby doesn't have them either.

What he says may be true, but what he says about "the idea that the evils perpetrated by the Third Reicher were in any sense ‘banal’" is simply false, for Arendt did never claim they were: What she suggested was that not that these evils were ordinary evils, but that these extra-ordinary evils were committed, for the most part, by ordinary men.

Also, while Arendt may have been taken in some by Eichmann's antics in Jerusalem during his trial, she certainly was not so naive as to regard him to be what he claimed to be.

Now Messr. Haslam and Reicher move in with a question that seems to be important to them:

So the ‘Eichmann-men’, in the Gestapo department that masterminded the death-camps, were not ‘ordinary men’ in any sense?

Well, many had a visceral anti-Semitism, or were sufficiently unscrupulous and ambitious to use Jewish deaths to help their own career. Milgram makes much more sense for Browning’s group of overage reserve policemen from Hamburg, some of whom might have been persuaded that this was a shrewd career move, some of whom may have had an intense hatred for the Jews, but for most of whom the mass murders seem to have been an unpleasant day’s work.

This seems mostly a correct answer, though something is missing, namely the awareness that "a visceral anti-Semitism" was quite normal in their Germany, and that the Germans who collaborated, for the most part, also were trying to survive as soldiers in a world war, where the side they fought for also was a dictatorship. That is, they were not and had not been living in what were for them "ordinary circumstances" - and indeed, ever since 1914, Germany was not the Germany it had been the fifty years leading up to that year.

One last question and - partially quoted - answer:

How can psychology contribute to our understanding of the Holocaust, and do we need to move on from Milgram in order to exploit psychology more effectively?

Many recent studies of perpetration in the Holocaust have relied on social psychological explanation to help elucidate not only the behaviour of the ‘ordinary men’ involved but to try to come to terms with the wider question of how collective behaviour (exclusion, discrimination, genocide) might be explained in social-psychological terms. The focus on what the psychologist Hans Askenasy once called ‘collective madness’ can be explained in straightforward historical terms – the charismatic appeal of Hitler, for example – but it is evident that the mechanisms which permit an educated and technically advanced population to endorse and, in some cases, actively participate in genocide are beyond conventional historical explanation.

Let me first observe that professor Overy's own subject - history - is not a science either, in the way physics and chemistry are sciences. This is not a fault of professor Overy, and is, as is the case with psychology and psychiatry, at least in part because the subject-matter - human beings, their ideas, ideals, fears and feelings, and all things, events and institutions these may depend on - is very complicated, complex and layered. (%)

Secondly, my answer as a psychologist to the question whether or indeed how "can psychology contribute to our understanding of the Holocaust" is that I see no special reason whatsoever that it can:

Human action is best understood by human beings who know the humans acting and understand the situation they are acting in, but psychology, psychiatry and sociology are here of far less relevance than are a clear mind, a lack of prejudice, levant knowledge about the human beings and the situation, and honesty to know and say what one does and does not know.

Thirdly, professor Overy's concluding statement, starting with "it is evident" is not evident to me at all, since in fact the whole human history is full of carnage, mass murder, persecution, extermination, genocides, enslavements and horrors, and it seems to me that some of the best explanations for these human-all-too-human awfulnesses have been given by some of the great historians and also by some of the great playwrights, such as Sophocles and Shakespeare.

Anyway... I wanted to write this out because I have spend rather a lot of time myself trying to understand the Holocaust and the many horrors of human history.

What I have found is that (social) psychology and psychiatry are, in the state they are in, mostly both useless and misleading, which is not to say that The Holocaust is not either a fair or a sexy academic subject (bound to raise attention and shock a few!), nor to say that it and other awful historical events cannot be explained in commonsensical terms, for dictators, persecutions, cruelty, enslavement and abuse are of all times in human history.

And I have also found that such explanations of the Holocaust that I have read by psychiatrists or psychologists or indeed philosophers tended to be a lot worse and more pretentious than the explanations of historians that I read.

By and large, man's inhumanity to men needs no explanation: It's of all times; it is in the human heart and human nature; and sadism, indifference or exploitation for gain are also quite understandable in commonsensical human terms, as are stupidity, deception, ignorance, wishful thinking, terror, fear and propaganda.


(%) Also, it seems to have passed by all of these three English academics that, Ms Arendt was called "Hannah" rather than "Judith" (as occurs in one of the questions).


P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.  Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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