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Soliloquist
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27 Jan 2022, 6:04 am

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Why are Most People Cowards? | Obedience and the Rise of Authoritarianism

Quote:
“Authoritarianism in religion and science, let alone politics, is becoming increasingly accepted, not particularly because so many people explicitly believe in it but because they feel themselves individually powerless and anxious. So what else can one do…except follow the mass political leader…or follow the authority of customs, public opinion, and social expectations?”

Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself


The American psychologist Rollo May wrote these words in 1953, and in the decades that followed the West tiptoed into tyranny. A mass surveillance state was established, free speech gave way to increasing levels of censorship, statist bureaucracy and stifling regulations invaded ever more areas of life, and tax rates reached levels that in the past would have caused a revolution. However, in recent years this tiptoe into tyranny has turned into a sprint, as some Western countries are flirting with full-blown totalitarian rule. But the existence of power hungry and psychologically disturbed politicians who desire total control is not what makes our situation particularly precarious, for such individuals exist in all ages. Rather, our troubles lie with the fact that very few people posses the one virtue that can turn the tide back in the direction of freedom, that being, the virtue of courage. And as A.S. warned in 1978:

Quote:
“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days…Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart


The pathological conformity that infects the West is generations in the making and the result of a confluence of factors. It is driven by a value system in which social validation occupies a pre-eminent position. It is furthered by the use of social media and the fact that success on these platforms is achieved by virtue signalling and conforming to the moral flavours of the day. It is also a product of of an education system which deifies the democratic ideal and promotes the rights of the majority over the rights of the individual. These factors, combined with others, has created a society of hyper-conformists, and as the psychologist Rollo May explained:

Quote:
“The opposite to courage…in our particular age, is automaton conformity.”

Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself


One of the ways that Western conformity manifests is through a blind obedience and a pathological need to follow rules. Most people believe that to be a good person is to be a compliant person and to do what one is told by those in positions of political power and their lackeys in the media and celebrity culture. In acting with blind obedience, the conformist fails to differentiate between morality and legality and so remains willfully ignorant of the fact that government rules can be immoral, driven by corruption, and that sometimes they pave the way for individual and social ruin. Or as Rollo May explains:

Quote:
“…our particular problem in the present day…is an overwhelming tendency toward conformity… In such times ethics tend more and more to be identified with obedience. One is “good” to the extent that one obeys the dictates of society… It is as though the more unquestioning obedience the better…But what really is ethical about obedience? If one’s goal were simple obedience, one could train a dog to fulfill the requirements very well.”

Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself


To see other people exercise independent judgment, self-responsibility and self-reliance, disturbs the conformist’s belief in the value of obedience and so threatens their sense of self. It is not the case, therefore, that the conformist obeys while permitting others the freedom to make their own choice, rather, as Stanley Feldman explains in a paper titled Enforcing Conformity:

Quote:
“…people who value social conformity… support the government when it wants to increase its control over social behavior and punish nonconformity…valuing social conformity increases the motivation for placing restrictions on behavior…the desire for social freedom is now subservient to the enforcement of social norms and rules. Thus, groups will be targeted for repression to the extent that they challenge social conformity…

Stanley Feldman, Enforcing Social Conformity: A Theory of Authoritarianism


When a majority advocates for the government enforcement of conformity, a society places itself on what the psychologist Ervin Staub called a continuum of destruction. As the government uses coercion and force to punish a non-compliant minority, the majority rationalizes their support of such authoritarian measures by further demonizing the non-compliant, thus leading to increasingly severe government measures.

Quote:
“One psychological consequence of harm-doing is further devaluation of victims…people tend to assume that victims have earned their suffering by their actions or character.” (Staub)

Ervin Staub, The Psychology of Good and Evil


In several countries in the 20th century, such as the Soviet Union, Turkey, Germany, Cambodia and China, government measures such as banning certain minority groups from restaurants, pubs, cafes, and other public spaces, imposing curfews, expelling them from their jobs, forcing them to pay fines, and restricting their freedom of movement and assembly, functioned as the first steps on a continuum of destruction that ended in mass-scapegoating, mass-imprisonment and mass-murder. In his book the Psychology of Good and Evil, Ervin Staub elaborates on the psychological mechanism that facilitates a continuum of destruction.

Quote:
“How does harmful behavior become the norm?…Doing harm to a good person or passively witnessing it is inconsistent with a feeling of responsibility for the welfare of others and the belief in a just world. Inconsistency troubles us. We minimize it by reducing our concern for the welfare of those we harm or allow to suffer. We devalue them, justify their suffering by their evil nature or by higher ideals. A changed view of the victims, changed attitude toward that suffering, and changed self-concept result.”

Ervin Staub, The Psychology of Good and Evil


To counter the continuum of destruction that is a product of too-much conformity and too-much government force, more people need to act with moral courage. Moral courage entails a willingness to encounter risks so as to defy immoral orders, reject authoritarian government control, and to stand up for the disappearing values of truth, freedom, and justice. And as Rushworth Kidder explains in his book Moral Courage:

Quote:
“Where there’s no danger, there’s no courage…Anyone can “endure” security and well-being. The real challenges…arise in the face of hazard… So it is with moral courage, where danger is endured for the sake of an overarching commitment to conscience, principles, or core values.

Rushworth Kidder, Moral Courage


Some acts of moral courage are accompanied by mild risks, such as being ridiculed, insulted or ostracized. If, for example, we speak out against a status quo belief in the presence of a group of conformists, or if we refuse to adhere to social practices or mandates that are immoral or idiotic, we may lose friends or attract choice words from the obedient. But this is a small price to pay in exchange for doing what we believe is right, for as Rollo May explains:

Quote:
“The hallmark of courage in our age of conformity is the capacity to stand on one’s own convictions…”

Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself


However, sometimes acts of moral courage are accompanied by more grave risks including, but not limited to, the loss of employment, physical or financial penalties, imprisonment, or in some cases, even death.

Quote:
“Of all the agonizing ethical dilemmas facing humanity,” writes Rushworth Kidder, “few are more wrenching than the choice between what’s right for the world and what’s right for [you and] your family.”

Rushworth Kidder, Moral Courage


Carl Jung called the men and women willing to confront great dangers in defiance of tyranny “the true leaders of mankind”.

Unless more people can muster up the moral courage to renounce conformity in favour of standing up for freedom and for what is right, and at the very least make a small contribution to combating tyranny, Western societies will continue moving towards what Ayn Rand called the stage of the ultimate inversion. Or as she warns:

Quote:
“We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”

Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal



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Fnord
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27 Jan 2022, 9:20 am

Everyone is a coward, each in his or her own way.  For example, some people get vaccinated because they are afraid of getting sick, while others refuse vaccinations for the same reasons.



theprisoner
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27 Jan 2022, 9:41 am

Genetics? I don't think people understand that's not necessarily a bad thing.....

Cowardice = fear response, fear is rooted in amygdala, destroy fear, destroy cowardice, then you are bold, bold = fearless, 100% fearless = 100% psychopath.


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kraftiekortie
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27 Jan 2022, 9:46 am

Genetics sometimes don't mean a damn thing.....



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27 Jan 2022, 9:49 am

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Carl Jung called the men and women willing to confront great dangers in defiance of tyranny “the true leaders of mankind”


There's apex predators, malignant phenotype, (sociopaths ) usually tyrants and crooks, and those who have enough fortitude to confront them, more benign phenotype, usually end up martyrs, (non-sociopaths, neurotypical, Neurodiverse). I don't disagree with Carl Jung on this point, generally. But these things are genetic, they're distributed traits in the population. And to say genetics doesn't mean anything is just absurd.


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27 Jan 2022, 10:00 am

I didn't make an absolute statement. I just said that genetics SOMETIMES doesn't mean a damn thing.

There are people who have all the best "genes" in the world who end up being total degenerates.



theprisoner
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27 Jan 2022, 10:20 am

Degenerate is somewhat of a value judgment, if you touch alcohol, a Saudi Arabian, might consider YOU a degenerate.

Again, "best genes?", there are only evolutionary useful genes, and genes that die out. Good or bad genes is somewhat a value judgement again.

That fact is genes determine to a large extent personalty characteristics, common or unique traits, and if most people exhibit cowardice more often than it's opposite boldness, it has some evolutionary necessity as a trait, just as its opposite behavioral trait, boldness is also selected for in the population. Ultimately these genes, play a huge role in the social structures that emerge. Since they are the foundation of everything we do on a macroscale. It's starts with microscale of our chromosomes.


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27 Jan 2022, 10:26 am

Sometimes they do....and sometimes they don't.

I don't believe in an over-reliance on genetics. I don't believe people are "stuck" if they don't have "good genes." And they don't "have it made" if they have "good genes."

It might be said that I have "decent genes"---but I didn't fulfill what was supposed to be my fate based upon genetics.

I know people who, supposedly, have "terrible genes," and who have succeeded despite having "terrible genes."

There's too much of an emphasis on genetics on this Site.



magz
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27 Jan 2022, 10:33 am

At the genes' level - our fearless ancestors had greatly increased chances of dropping down from their trees, eating poisonous berries or mushrooms, being crushed by a falling rock, drowning in a river, being eaten by a predator... you get the idea, I guess. People can do different things with this inheritabce but the evolutional pressure has been there all the time and hasn't faded away.

When it comes to state propaganda, fear is indeed used - including fear of state propaganda itself. If it's statistically significant, it can be used, and with some relentless people in the global power struggle, it will.


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theprisoner
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27 Jan 2022, 10:36 am

Genetic determinism versus social conditioning.

Well I agree,on one thing, that internal locus of control is very important. But you can't discount role of genes at the same time.

Obedience itself is a trait that can be cultivated. Domestication of animals, taming.

If there's a rise in authoritarianism, its both social factors and genetic predispositions. The interplay of the two. Fear and propaganda is way of conditioning those primal drives. Those in power, those at the top, always try to control those at the bottom, who outnumber them.


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magz
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27 Jan 2022, 10:41 am

On the other hand, if we made a virtue of disobedience just for the sake of itself, we would fall into anarchy... which tends to lead to rule of warlords.

Societes are complicated.


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27 Jan 2022, 10:47 am

theprisoner wrote:
Genetic determinism versus social conditioning. . .
Genetic predisposition versus social conditioning versus self will.

All three factors influence and person's actions, capabilities, and "internal world".



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27 Jan 2022, 10:59 am

Indeed.....all this is why people shouldn't get hung up on their "genes."