Nov 5, 2011 `
On social psychologists on the origins of evil
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
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 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:
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)
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
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:
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
that you can find under the link in pdf format. The introduction to the article has this first paragraph
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
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
quoted, after which Haslam and Reicher try to make it seem plausible that
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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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
In August 1979, I penned the following in that awful text-book:
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
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
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:
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:
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
Mind you, the social psychology professors Haslam and Reicher do need research subsidies, for they continue their Totally-NewTM questions cited above as follows:
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:
P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):
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.
See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.
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