The Situationist

“Ordinary Men” in Evil Situations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 3, 2013

ordinarymenA few excerpts from an outstanding 1992 New York Times book review by Walter Reich of Christopher Browning’s remarkable book, “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland“:

We know a lot about how the Germans carried out the Holocaust. We know much less about how they felt and what they thought as they did it, how they were affected by what they did, and what made it possible for them to do it. In fact, we know remarkably little about the ordinary Germans who made the Holocaust happen — not the desk murderers in Berlin, not the Eichmanns and Heydrichs, and not Hitler and Himmler, but the tens of thousands of conscripted soldiers and policemen from all walks of life, many of them middle-aged, who rounded up millions of Jews and methodically shot them, one by one, in forests, ravines and ditches, or stuffed them, one by one, into cattle cars and guarded those cars on their way to the gas chambers.

In his finely focused and stunningly powerful book, “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland,” Christopher R. Browning tells us about such Germans and helps us understand, better than we did before, not only what they did to make the Holocaust happen but also how they were transformed psychologically from the ordinary men of his title into active participants in the most monstrous crime in human history. In doing so he aims a penetrating searchlight on the human capacity for utmost evil and leaves us staring at his subject matter with the shock of knowledge and the lurking fear of self-recognition.

* * *

In the end, what disturbs the reader more than the policemen’s escape from punishment is their capacity — as the ordinary men they were, as men not much different from those we know or even from ourselves — to kill as they did.

Battalion 101’s killing wasn’t, as Mr. Browning points out, the kind of “battlefield frenzy” occasionally seen in all wars, when soldiers, having faced death, and having seen their friends killed, slaughter enemy prisoners or even civilians. It was, rather, the cold-blooded fulfillment of German national policy, and involved, for the policemen, a process of accommodation to orders that required them to do things they would never have dreamed they would ever do, and to justify their actions, or somehow reinterpret them, so that they would not see themselves as evil people.

Mr. Browning’s meticulous account, and his own acute reflections on the actions of the battalion members, demonstrate the important effect that the situation had on those men: the orders to kill, the pressure to conform, and the fear that if they didn’t kill they might suffer some kind of punishment or, at least, damage to their careers. In fact, the few who tried to avoid killing got away with it; but most believed, or at least could tell themselves, that they had little choice.

But Mr. Browning’s account also illustrates other factors that made it possible for the battalion’s ordinary men not only to kill but, ultimately, to kill in a routine, and in some cases sadistic, way. Each of these factors helped the policemen feel that they were not violating, or violating only because it was necessary, their personal moral codes.

One such factor was the justification for killing provided by the anti-Semitic rationales to which the policemen had been exposed since the rise of Nazism, rationales reinforced by the battalion’s officers. The Jews were presented not only as evil and dangerous but also, in some way, as responsible for the bombing deaths of German women and children. Another factor was the process of dehumanization: abetted by Nazi racial theories that were embraced by policemen who preferred not to see themselves as killers, Jews were seen as less than people, as creatures who could be killed without the qualms that would be provoked in them were they to kill fellow Germans or even Slavs. It was particularly when the German policemen came across German Jews speaking their own language, especially those from their own city, that they felt a human connection that made it harder to kill them.

The policemen were also helped by the practice of trying not to refer to their activities as killing: they were involved in “actions” and “resettlements.” Moreover, the responsibility wasn’t theirs; it belonged to the authorities — Major Trapp as well as, ultimately, the leaders of the German state — whose orders they were merely carrying out. Indeed, whatever responsibility they did have was diffused by dividing the task into parts and by sharing it with other people and processes. It was shared, first of all, by others in the battalion, some of whom provided cordons so that Jews couldn’t escape and some of whom did the shooting. It was shared by the Trawnikis, who were brought in to do the shooting whenever possible so that the battalion could focus on the roundups. And it was shared, most effectively, by the death camps, which made the men’s jobs immensely easier, since stuffing a Jew into a cattle car, though it sealed his fate almost as surely as a neck shot, left the actual killing to a machine-like process that would take place far away, one for which the battalion members didn’t need to feel personally responsible.

CLEARLY, ordinary human beings are capable of following orders of the most terrible kinds. What stands between civilization and genocide is the respect for the rights and lives of all human beings that societies must struggle to protect. Nazi Germany provided the context, ideological as well as psychological, that allowed the policemen’s actions to happen. Only political systems that recognize the worst possibilities in human nature, but that fashion societies that reward the best, can guard the lives and dignity of all their citizens.

* * *

Read the entire review here.  Read more about the book here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Conflict, History, Ideology, Morality, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #19 – Dan Wegner

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 30, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

This is the last of the series, by Dan Wegner himself.  Don’t miss it.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #18 – Jonathan Schooler

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 24, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his fascinating lecture, Jonathan Schooler discusses his fascinating research on mind wandering and meta-awareness and tells the story of how that research was influenced by Dan Wegner.  Pay attention!  The video is below.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #17 – Jamie Pennebaker

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his fascinating lecture, Jamie Pennebaker discusses . . . well, it’s a secret.  Enjoy the function and the content words!

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Cheater’s Buzz

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 14, 2013

exam cheating

From Newswire:

People who get away with cheating when they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty are more likely to feel upbeat than remorseful afterward, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Although people predict they will feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many of them don’t, reports a study published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“When people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that they feel bad about their behavior,” said the study’s lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy, of the University of Washington. “Our study reveals people actually may experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after doing something unethical that doesn’t directly harm someone else.”

Even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn’t cheat, according to results of several experiments that involved more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and England. A little more than half the study participants were men, with 400 from the general public in their late 20s or early 30s and the rest in their 20s at universities.

Participants predicted that they or someone else who cheated on a test or logged more hours than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward. When participants actually cheated, they generally got a significant emotional boost instead, according to responses to questionnaires that gauged their feelings before and after several experiments.

In one experiment, participants who cheated on math and logic problems were overall happier afterward than those who didn’t and those who had no opportunity to cheat. The participants took tests on computers in two groups. In one group, when participants completed an answer, they were automatically moved to the next question. In the other group, participants could click a button on the screen to see the correct answer, but they were told to disregard the button and solve the problem on their own. Graders could see who used the correct-answer button and found that 68 percent of the participants in that group did, which the researchers counted as cheating.

People who gained from another person’s misdeeds felt better on average than those who didn’t, another experiment found. Researchers at a London university observed two groups in which each participant solved math puzzles while in a room with another person who was pretending to be a participant. The actual participants were told they would be paid for each puzzle they solved within a time limit and that the other “participant” would grade the test when the time was up. In one group, the actor inflated the participant’s score when reporting it to the experimenter. In the other group, the actor scored the participant accurately. None of the participants in the group with the cheating actor reported the lie, the authors said.

In another trial, researchers asked the participants not to cheat because it would make their responses unreliable, yet those who cheated were more likely to feel more satisfied afterward than those who didn’t. Moreover, the cheaters who were reminded at the end of the test how important it was not to cheat reported feeling even better on average than other cheaters who were not given this message, the authors said. Researchers gave participants a list of anagrams to unscramble and emphasized that they should unscramble them in consecutive order and not move on to the next word until the previous anagram was solved. The third jumble on the list was “unaagt,” which can spell only the word taguan, a species of flying squirrel. Previous testing has shown that the likelihood of someone solving this anagram is minuscule. The graders considered anyone who went beyond the third word to have cheated and found that more than half the participants did, the authors said.

“The good feeling some people get when they cheat may be one reason people are unethical even when the payoff is small,” Ruedy said. “It’s important that we understand how our moral behavior influences our emotions. Future research should examine whether this ‘cheater’s high’ could motivate people to repeat the unethical behavior.”

________________________________________

Article: “The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior,” Nicole E. Ruedy, PhD, University of Washington; Celia Moore, PhD, London Business School; Francesca Gino, PhD, Harvard University; and Maurice E. Schweitzer, PhD, University of Pennsylvania; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online, Sept. 3, 2013.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Morality | 2 Comments »

Wegstock #16 – Robin Vallacher

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his fascinating lecture, titled “Rethinking Psychological Process,” Robin Vallacher discusses his early friendship and research with Dan Wegner and connects that to some of his intriguing research today on the non-linear, emergent nature of thought processes, and the role of implicit self-esteem.  .

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #15 – Bill Crano

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his thoughtful lecture, titled “Is Dan Wegner a Cook?,” Bill Crano discusses some of Dan Wegner’s very early career, as a graduate student, and then some of his own fascinating research.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #14 – Jerry Klore

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his interesting lecture, Gerald Klore discusses some of Dan Wegner’s books and hobbies and Jerry’s own research on the role of affect as information about the demands on and availability of bodily and social resources.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #13 – John Krosnick

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 26, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In his outstanding lecture, Jon Krosnick discusses the place of social psychology among social sciences.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #12 – Dan Gilbert

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 24, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Dan Gilbert gives another one of his funny and fascinating talks — this one on the psychology of admitting mistakes and the surprising connection between evidence and an denial.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #11 – Thalia Wheatley

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Thalia Wheatley discusses her wonderful work on the universal dynamics of emotions and puppets and balls and music. Watch and enjoy.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #10 – Ap Dijksterhuis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 18, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Ap Dijksterhuis discusses his fascinating work on the role of unconscious cognitions.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #9 – Todd Heatherton

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 15, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Todd Heatherton delivers his untitled talk in which he discusses his research (inspired and influenced in part by Dan Wegner) on “mind imaging” with regard  to self-regulation and mind perception.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #8 – Bill Swann

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 11, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring the late Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We are highlighting individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, through August and September.

In this video, Bill Swann delivers his talk “Now That’s Devotion,” in which he discusses ways in which his life and work were influenced by Dan Wegner.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. To review a collection of posts related to Bill Swann’s work, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #7 – Nick Epley

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 9, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Nick Epley discusses ways in which he “has not recovered” from his encounters with Dan Wegner.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. To review a collection of posts regarding Nick Epley’s work, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #6 – Kurt Gray

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 6, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist friend Kurt Gray discusses his research and how Dan Wegner helped to shape it.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. To review a collection of posts regarding Kurt Gray’s work, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #5 – Henk Aarts

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 2, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Henk Aarts describes a white dog, a red car, his research and how Dan Wegner helped to shape it.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #4 – Tim Wilson

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 29, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist Contributor Timothy Wilson discusses the field and his research and a little bit about his book, Redirect.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. Click here for Situationist posts about Tim Wilson’s research.

Posted in Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #3 – John Haidt

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 26, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, John Haidt describes (quite hilariously at times) his research and how Dan Wegner helped to shape it.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here. Click here for Situationist posts about Jon Haidt’s research.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Wegstock #2 – Susan Fiske

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 24, 2013

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief and are well worth watching.  We will highlight the individual talks, roughly 15 minutes each, over the next month.

In this video, Situationist friend Susan Fiske describes aspects of her scholarship and how Dan Wegner inspired them.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

 
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