to the same circumstances is not significantly different. A theory behind these results is known as the “sunk cost effect” which states that “a person who complies with a small request is more likely to comply with a larger request later,” (____). By using a similar technique and gradually increasing his demands, Hitler was able to convince large groups of people to commit unthinkable acts. It began with a simple oath of obedience and transformed into the slaughtering of 11 million human beings. If Hitler were to begin his campaign by asking his soldiers to commit mass murder, most likely the great majority would object. However since he began by asking of them smaller tasks and working his way up to “the final solution”, soldiers felt more obliged to continue complying with his demands. Social pressures can sometimes be so powerful that it causes a person to lose all aspects of their self in order to fit in with the group. One of Hitler’s major influences, Le Bon, summarized it as this: “the fact that they have been transformed into a crowd puts them in possession of a sort of collective mind which makes them feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from that in which each individual of them would feel, think, and act were he in a state of isolation,” (___). Le Bon claims that a crowd can be such a potent weapon that all individuation is lost and the members subsequently conform to the rest of the group’s actions. It is a form of control in which the individual in a group “is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will,” (____). The point made by Le Bon is that anyone is vulnerable to this type of mind control and that there is a point where free-will
Allen 8 theoretically becomes extinct. The human species may be much more vulnerable to genocide and acts of terror than universally recognized. Bystanders have enormous power in influencing events, but by doing nothing, they are advocating for the actions that are taking place. Maybe silence could have been justified for the onlookers out of fear for their lives, but “rarely were they jailed or hurt for refusing to say “Heil Hitler.” It goes much beyond fear in this situation, people want to have a sense of belonging and will do almost anything to avoid having to stand in isolation or be ostracized. It is striking that “1969 psychology experiments administered by Latane and Rodin found that while 70 percent would help a woman in distress when they were the only witness, only about 40 percent offered assistance when other people were also present.” There were millions of witnesses to the Holocaust, yet very little was done to oppose the Nazi regime due to the fact that when more people are exposed to it, the individual is perceived to be less accountable. If all of the disproval from the bystanders was voiced, the genocide may have been prevented or at least would not have persisted for so long. An explanation for this phenomena is twofold; people have a tendency to adhere to social norms, and also “the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility,” (____). An individual’s behavior bases itself off others in the group, so “when other observers fail to react, individuals ofen take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate,” (____). There is certainly power in numbers, but bystanders tend to abandon this power and remain aloof from the situation at hand, believing that surely someone else will take care of it.
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- Fall '09
- Writing, Haley Allen