So as part of the conference this past weekend, Francisco and I and went to see the documentary “The General and the Judge” (www.pbs.org/pov/judgeandthegeneral) which is about the atrocities which were committed during military dictatorship in Chile during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Literally thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ which is to say they were secretly kidnapped by the military and murdered with no record kept of what happened to them. The documentary follows Judge Juan Guzmán as he meets with the family members of the victims and hears their stories as part of the investigation of the dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. It was not the type of movie you walk out of thinking how beautiful the world is.
I so start wondering, how can all this human suffering take place? How can people be so awfulto each other? So utterlyinhuman.
And then I remembered that classic psych study, the Stanley Milgram Shock Experiment (www.experiment-resources.com/stanley-milgram-experiment.html ) in which the researchers essentially proved that every day, ordinary people will follow directions given by an authority to the extent that they will shock someone to until it appears that the person has died. This was shocking to people of the day, because it was right after WWII, and all us Americans thought we were so morally superior to the Nazis; but no, mothers, businessmen, old people and just about everyone behaved the same way.
And then there is another classic psych experiment (I was a psych major back in the day, could you guess?), the Stanford Prison Experiment (www.prisonexp.org), where researchers got college students to be part of this role play in which they were randomly assigned to be either prisoners in a mock jail, or guards. But after only a few days, the “guards” became so sadistic in their treatment of the “prisoners” (who remember, were real life classmates only a few days before) that they had to cancel the experiment early.
So, essentially, what I’m trying to say with these examples is that when I ask, “How can people be so awful to each other?” I can’t ask it from some sort of place of moral superiority. Because most likely, given the right set of circumstances, I would do the exact same thing. We all would. There are precious few of us who would have the moral strength to stand up and do otherwise.
And we do cause horrible amounts of suffering every single day, through our inaction. We all know about the misery that’s taking place around the world. I don’t need to give you stats about starving children or people working in sweat shops. You know it’s a bad world out there. But every day we choose to shut our eyes and just go about our lives. Which is exactly what happened in Chile during the dictatorship. People, such as Judge Guzman, knew what was happening, but choose to do nothing.
This blog entry isn’t meant to be me on my moral high-horse or just sermonizing away at the world; rather, its much more of a self-accusation of my own failures. Clearly I don’t know the solution to all the world’s problems. I just know that inaction is not it.
Someone once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”