The Problem With Lies

The problem for most people with lies is that when they are believed, usually based on some kind of desire within the recipient, they concede a kind of mental ground to the lie that most people lose track of even after the lie has been proved false. Placing momentary credence in a lie becomes a problem when the shoddy bookkeeping practices of the human mind misplaces the paperwork on the loan, or credit, it lent to the lie in the first place. The problem isn’t hearing lies, or even that you try them out to see how you like them, it’s that they take things from you—elements of reality—that most people have no idea how to take back.

Institutions, People, & Evil

Most of us would hesitate to place any significant level of trust a random stranger, yet many people passively demonstrate massive levels of faith in institutions. We consider, sometimes, how organizations, government agencies, and corporations impact people and communities but we rarely investigate, or even consider, how these institutions are themselves shaped by individual human beings–i.e. random strangers.

Large institutions, through their basic operations, create powerful situation forces and these forces shape the institution’s individuals. In turn the people shaped by the agency, for example, themselves become factors in the ethical output of the institution for which they work. The Stanford Prison Experiment teaches us that evil is a demonstration of power to control and dominate individual lives, especially in creative, unique, and absolute ways. When large corporations acquire incredible influence over individual human beings, how are the people who hold the reigns of control affected?

Given how power, control, and the opportunity to dominate others affects individual human beings, clearly immoral but seemingly frivolous behaviors like NSA agents routinely sharing private citizens’ nude pictures become evidence of the presence of exactly the kind of situational forces that propel people into substantially more egregious acts of evil.

What this tells us is that CIA torture, like Abu Ghraib before it, is not the case of a few bad apples. It’s the case of a large and correspondingly bad barrel.

The Danger of Obedience

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

The above quote is taken from an article called The 14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism. Over the past 13 years, since the probable false flag known as 9/11, the American people have witnessed a variety rights stripped away. The Patriot Act, NDAA, and Citizens United have all made being an actual person in America worth less. Corporations have the rights of people but are subject to nearly none of the same penalties for crime. A U.S. president, no matter who he or she might be, can arrest and detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without charges. Faceless government employees and identity-less private contractors have access to nearly everyone’s private text messages, emails, and phone calls. And now, with the revelations surrounding Ferguson and Eric Garner, we know that government authorized agents can shoot and kill unarmed citizens without so much as being accused, officially, of a crime.

Johanna “Hannah” Arendt was a German-born political theorist who hated being called a philosopher, even though she was. She was also a Jew from pre-WWII Germany who’d witnessed the rise of Hitler and the politics that resulted in the Holocaust. In 1963 Arendt published her thoughts on the trial of a Nazi lieutenant-colonel named Adolf Eichmann. Arendt’s findings were controversial because most people couldn’t handle the fact that a person responsible for the deaths of thousands of human beings had been driven mostly be a desire to advance his career.

In her work centered on a concept called the “Banality of Evil” Arendt investigated how a totalitarian state turns ordinary citizens into criminals. She set out to debunk the stereotype of the demonic Nazi because this image prevented people from understanding the “total moral collapse” that had led to war.

Arendt showed that when combined with a general lack of empathic imagination (the ability to imagine how other’s feel) basic obedience could create terrifying results.

The “central phenomenon” in the atrocities carried out by the Nazis was the individual who rejected the notion that anything external should have an affect on his/her actions. Abstract concepts like “human rights” and “dignity” were completely disavowed by Eichmann, as he ignored what French philosopher Sartre described as a fundamental part of what it means to be human:

A gesture, a breath, a thought may suddenly alter the sense of the whole of the past—such is man’s temporal condition.

Eichmann just kept doing what he had been doing, which was what he was told–no matter how immoral or harmful those instructions became. “Those few who were still able to tell right from wrong,” Arendt concluded, “went really only by their own judgments, and they did so freely; there were no rules to be abided by”.

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

~Martin Luther King Jr.

Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments where average people were instructed to administer electroshocks by authority figures. The experimenters found that normal people were willing to administer near-fatal dosages of electricity to their fellow human being just because they’d been told to.

“After witnessing hundreds of ordinary people submit to authority in our own experiments, I must conclude that Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil comes closer to the truth than one might dare imagine” said Dr. Milgram. He continued:

“…ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”

The hyper-militarization of local police forces all across America is a terrible sign of things to come. One heeded by the courageous individuals who already have and who will take to the streets for a better world.