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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Day 474: Honour Amongst Thieves

Humans, as a species, are not very honourable creatures. We do things to each other and to other beings that requires a level of cruelty no other species possesses. Sure, only a few of us end up doing these horrible things - but have you ever considered what it would take for you do some of the despicable things that others have done?

Have you ever heard of the obedience experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram? Or Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment? What about Marina Abramović's Rhythm 0? Or how about something a little more infamous: the Holocaust.

Humanity's willingness to follow orders has long been used to achieve the ends of the powerful few - but what of these tendencies in our day-to-day lives? How do we, being apparently autonomous and independent beings, live this part of our nature while we are doing normal things that we do on a daily basis? How are we quietly tricked into doing things that we don't agree with?

Here's an example: A government is considered as a complete and autonomous entity consisting of desires, drives, goals and intentions of its own. When we think this concept through rationally and apply a little bit of common sense, we start to realise that that definition of a government is entirely irrelevant to the actual nature of a government. A government is a platform created by people, managed by people, directed by people and maintained entirely by the human element - there is no "entity" that is controlling a government, causing it to "be corrupt", or "invade our privacy", or "violate our rights". When we say that the government is, or has done something, what we actually mean is that a group of people are, or have done, something. These people may not necessarily believe, trust or agree with what they are doing - but most of them would like to keep their jobs, so they do these things anyway. In reality, there is a small group of people in positions of authority who implement their own views, beliefs and/or interests in the name of the government - but because it is perceived as being an action carried out by the government, no one will question it - or the societal concept of the "government" as an all-powerful and malevolent entity is enough to cause any who dare to question its actions to shy away in fear for their own life and those of their family's.

There is another interesting concept that plays a role in all of this: Cognitive Dissonance. The desire for people to maintain the integrity of their self belief/concept. For example: an employee of the government who is forced to carry out order which he/she does not necessarily agree with, that person may actually change their self concept so that he/she now will agree with the action which he/she previously disagreed with - just so that he/she does not see him/herself as a hypocrite.

Now in a task such as changing the world from its current state of abuse, exploitation, survival of the fittest, etc into a world that supports all beings and provides each with a dignified life - we are faced with the challenge of getting the human to recognise the tendency for dishonesty, because we are so good at it. We are so very good at making ourselves believe that we are good people and that we are doing "enough". We are so good at making ourselves believe that those naughty little things we did were actually OK because of whatever "good" reason we had. We are exceedingly good at making ourselves believe that we are entitled to do whatever we're doing - that we deserve it. We are so good at believing that we have no control over our actions, or that the judgements of other people are more important than maintaining our commitments, integrity or self discipline.

The task we face is enormous. It is enormous because we must first grapple with our own tendencies before we can hope to effect change in another. It is enormous because we must each face our own demons, so to speak, and we are just so very good at making ourselves believe...

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