How can good people become bad?
By Hobie Morris
“If you tell the people lies long enough, they will soon believe them as truth.” – Nazi Germany 1930s
“The rebel is the person who says ‘no’.” – Albert Camus
It is a question that I am struggling to understand. There are so many examples of good people who become bad, evil monsters. Why? I’m scared because I don’t know why. Under the right circumstances, could I become that monster too? I think not, but so did millions of Germans in the 1930s and early 1940s who “Sieg Heil’ed” and lock stepped an authoritarian nation into depravity and unimaginable barbarity. History records many other examples both before and after Germany’s evil empire’s ambitions failed.
Of course, there are many theories as to why and how people can turn into monsters. I try to make some sense from them but I am more confused than enlightened. I sense it needs a far deeper thinker to understand the complicated explanations.
I do think, however, that we should try more than we do to learn how good people can become evil. We live in a very dangerous and unpredictable age: a world of vast problems, highly inflammatory political tensions within and between nations. Simply, our age is chaotic and highly unstable and a clear and present danger to all.
Eric Hoffer has warned that from this instability and chaos there is no telling what people might resort to “in order to give meaning and purpose to their lives”… Hoffer goes on to say “all mass movements breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred, and intolerance – each one of them as capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity, all of them demand blind faith and single hearted allegiance.”
Most authoritarian movements initially appeal most to the poor, insulated, injured, dispossessed, and yes bored. A charismatic leader promises a new hope, a rosy vision, a better life and an escape from a debased life. Dazzled by the glorious times, the movement’s followers will accept crude absurdities and trivial nonsense as the gospel truth.
Authoritarian mass movements also gain power by being unintelligible make believe and unverifiable. The “leader” urges his followers to seek truth with their hearts and not their minds.
As Hoffer notes, “all active mass movements strive to impose a fact proof screen between the faithful and realities of the world.”
As we have seen throughout history and at present, there is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness man is capable of going when freed from fears, hesitations, doubts and the faintest stirrings of decency. When we lose our independence in a mass movement, we find a new freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, and murder without shame or remorse. Good people become evil.
Psychologist Stanley Milgram notes that experiments show how ordinary good people can be turned into torturers. With numbing regularity, good people will knuckle under the demands of authority and do horrible things.
Erich Fromm writes “we produce machines that are like men and men who are like machines.” Immoral conformity, hysterical nationalism, dehumanizing pressures of industrial civilization must be continually rebutted by society’s “rebels” who say no to the forces of lemmings.
We must fight evil doers who view humans as abstractions. When we begin to hate foreigners, it is an indication that America has lost confidence in our way of life. Lost in the authoritarian mentality are tolerance, empathy, good will and love.
America desperately needs more rebels who aren’t afraid to say “no” to the mindless masses and their dangerous leaders, at all levels if democracy and the rule of law are to survive for the future. The die is cast.
But these are just the musings of a simple country man and his wife, Lois, continuing to live free and independent in the hills of rural Brookfield.
Editor’s note: Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.