How ordinary people are turned into demons

Throughout the ages, violent regimes have always understood this truth: people are not wolves who are tied down, they will bite when they just let go of the chains. Therefore, tyrants and warmongers are always deliberate, planning for a long time, comprehensively, and working hard. They need to do a lot of work over a long period of time to train and maintain their killers, so that they can overcome what Arendt calls “animal compassion”-normal people will suffer from it when they see others suffering or hurting. influences.

So, what does the political movement need to do to create the demons they need?

In vivo differentiation
Every scholar agrees that you must put them in a group. Group identification is not just a protective shell, it can make people feel safe in social turmoil, it is also a kind of laissez-faire. Niebuhr and many others have argued that group behavior will cut the moral covenant to a minimum.

The anonymity of group actions is one of its main moral hazards. In a groundbreaking study of anonymity and aggressiveness, Philip Zimbardo asked some female college students to give other women electric shocks that they knew would cause pain. The results showed that the shock intensity of students wearing hoods and loose overcoats was twice as strong as that of students with recognizable faces. Zimbardo concluded from this experiment that this means that after “de-individualization” we will be more likely to perform reckless behaviors, and self-focus or self-awareness will be reduced. Other further studies have shown that almost any item that makes people feel deindividual will increase the probability of anti-social behavior.

The identity of a group member not only promotes deindividualization, but sometimes also promotes the so-called “differentiation within the individual”—the moral self will be subdivided at the psychological level. In the state of “differentiation within the individual”, your ego will not expand, spread out, and merge into the general aspects of the masses. On the contrary, it will shrink, become rigid, and partition into self-sufficient units, and partition into narrow, incommunicable or even conflicting functions. “De-individualization” promotes impulsive cruelty, while “individual differentiation” promotes deliberate cruelty—more precisely, it promotes the rationalization of cruelty, so that the parties do not think it is cruel.

Eichmann, who executed the Nazi Holocaust, is a good example of “differentiation within the individual,” but Arthur Applebaum believes that a better example is Charles-Henri Sanson, the Paris execution officer during the French Revolution. Some people see Sang Song as a cold-blooded demon, and some see him as a “tragic figure trapped between emotion and responsibility”, but Sang Song himself considers himself a professional who is no different from a lawyer or a doctor.

If society determines that it is necessary to have an execution officer, an execution officer will exist, and if you happen to be an execution officer, you have the responsibility to do your own job. And is it one of the prerequisites to be a good person to do well in one’s own affairs? Being a responsible execution officer certainly requires you to do some typical things that have nothing to do with virtue. However, “you don’t call a surgeon’s behavior as stabbing someone with a knife, or a lawyer’s behavior as robbery. Don’t call the prosecutor’s behavior a kidnapping, right?” We do these things not as individuals, but as role players. So we are not killing people, we are not ignoring pain, we are not lying. We just execute, treat and provide another alternative theory. Therefore, even though lawyers are always “deliberately misleading”, they are not deceiving.

Create demons
However, the existence of different social roles is not enough to achieve anti-social behavior. The law provides the minimum authorization, and the personality provides the maximum resistance. Both will say: enough is enough. To create war criminals, demons and evil spirits, as the Japanese veteran interviewed described himself, you need the opposite combination: maximum authorization and minimum personality.

You must erode the self-identity of the person who executed the killing order for you, whether it is a soldier or a torturer, by systematically humiliating them and tearing away all their normal family identities. Collectivize their self-awareness: straighten their heads, wear identical uniforms, and force them to eat, sleep, and perform exercises together. Isolate them from family, friends, and the everyday world. Put them under systematic physical stress and sleep deprivation, under a dominant system that encompasses harsh and arbitrary punishments and occasional rewards. Almost every veteran I interviewed pointed to the powerful effects of peer pressure, and mentioned bullying and humiliation, especially being beaten or slapped in the face. They also emphasized the importance of their superiors’ willingness to bear all consequences for their actions.

In addition, to create demons, those in power must also make good use of the human impulse to obey and socialize—the same nature can also be used to promote group altruism and group morality—and lead it to violence.

But creating demons requires not only training, but also narrative. In those war criminals who do not repent, you usually see an unrealistic self-pity to help them maintain a sense of self: doing these things makes me suffer. Robert J. Lifton saw this narrative template in the Nazi doctors in Auschwitz-they knew what they were doing was terrible, but they thought it was a self-sacrifice for the “immortal Germanic nation” The “serious test”. Whether in Germany or elsewhere, this self-absoluteness is made possible by the historical mission and utopian vision put forward by charismatic leaders. It is a psychological entrance into abstract time and even mythical time, which obscures the individuality of behavior.

War confused us
So, the best way to think about violence and social roles is probably as follows. The problem is not to reduce people to specific roles that are allowed to use violence, but that these roles are still not specific enough. In the war, everything is full of weirdness. The topography is unfamiliar and looks very unreal; we are separated from the reference group on which we have made moral judgments since we were young; nothing is familiar; there is no reality check to remind us not to take it for granted. The war bewildered us. In this confusion, we begin to create a new moral reality.

Psychologists distinguish two different types of “conformity”, one is “cognitive conformity” (subjects will doubt their own judgment), and the other is “regular conformity” (subjects know that the opinions of the group are wrong, but do not want to It seems abnormal because of objections). But in either case, these experiments show how easy it is for people to deny their basic beliefs.

This sad truth is a great revelation given to the world by totalitarianism in the 20th century. Based on Arendt’s research, a scholar wrote: “We may desperately want to believe that there is something about people that cannot be shaken, and something about the depths of the person: the voice of conscience or responsibility is indispensable. Destructive. But since we had totalitarianism, we can no longer hold onto this type of belief. This is the ghost that still haunts us to this day.”

But perhaps even more frightening is that totalitarianism is not a necessary condition for brutality. Put a group of badly trained young people in an unfamiliar and terrifying environment, and give them unclear roles and lighter or simply unconstrained. In this way, every slight injury committed by them in the confusion is The behavior will inevitably make the next behavior look more normal. Give them time, and they will eventually shed their original moral identity. But this is not because they are inhuman. They will do that precisely because they are human.