June 12, 2006 at 4:23 pm

You didn’t offend me at all, Lee. I just thought I get in on the discussion and offer my 5 cents worth. I agree that acts of racism or other excesses don’t occur in a vaccuum. We often allow it by keeping quiet, sometimes out of fear or other times because of indifference.

When groups get out of control there is another factor that comes into play, that is group think. Individuals feel less responsible for their actions, the anonymous group takes over responsibility. The individual would never perform the act were he or she alone. By the same token, group think can also apply to opposite situations when people do not take action perhaps in cases similar to your example of the “stupid cowboy” had he not retreated.

You are perhaps familiar with this:

Here another aspect that can apply to atrocities based on racism that have been committed in Nazi Germany: obeying m authority performing actions against one’s own moral values. A guy by the name of Stanley Milgram performed now famous experiments at Yale in 1974 which exposed a darker side of human nature. Objects were told to train people in the next room by administering light electric shocks whenever a mistake was made. They could only communicate via microphone and loudspeaker. They were told by an authoritarian acting experimenter in a white coat to keep increasing intensity of the shock. Most obeyed when ordered to do so even though they could hear the moans(fake) from next door. Many times they continued turning the dial to the point where it said “Danger”. What’s scary about this is the fact that these experiments were done with Americans, people like you and me.

Milgram wrote this:

[I]”The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.”