Friday, August 8, 2008

It's official. When you cry watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics because things are beautiful or because of a touching story about a little Chinese boy who saved some of his classmates from dying in an're old.

I <3 the Olympics. I especially <3 Michael Phelps. I think we all know why. Haha.

Below is the essay that is the culmination of my Psychology of Ideology class that I took in Germany. My citations aren't the best, I apologize and even feel like a poor scholar in light of that. Had I more time before it was due I would have fixed that up better. The majority of everything really is common knowledge (for a psych major at least). Please also note that my conclusion also needs a lot of work and I am aware of that. :-)

When Worldviews Collide

Thoughts, actions, rationale, and treatment of others are just a few of the components of every day life that are colored by the worldview one has. A person’s worldview is basically the way they perceive everything in the world around them based on their beliefs and values. Obviously, not everyone has the same worldview, and when worldviews collide, conflicts arise. Throughout history the disastrous effects of failing to reconcile differing worldviews can be seen (the Crusades, the Holocaust, etc.). But there are also smaller conflicts that occur between everyday people that still can have highly negative effects on an individual’s psyche.

In the year of 1939, World War II erupted and our world has never been the same since. When Hitler took power and began his crusade to exterminate the Jews, the world got a taste of how horrific it is to stand up against a worldview that refuses to recognize the validity in another. The question is often asked, “How did this happen?” While there are no easy answers, a look at how worldviews develop does shed some light on the issue.

Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist, says evil is about victimization. Accounts of evil are usually from the victims, and there are several accounts of life in concentration camps that come from the prisoners themselves. Victims sometimes tell the story governed by the “myth of pure evil” (which implies that the transgression was purposeless and without motivation). But perpetrators have ‘good’ motives/explanations in their minds, which is where the topic of victimization comes up again.

Two main motives perpetrators have are idealism and that they feel like victims themselves. The motive of idealism has to do with people working with ideals of how the world can be a better place. An example would be the Crusades that occurred during the middle ages. Killing was instrumental; it was a means to an end. This motive allows you to justify violence. The Nazis believed that an ideal world was governed and inhabited only by the Aryan race. They were idealists and were looking to create a Utopia by any means necessary.

Victimization is a motive for perpetrators because they many times feel like victims themselves. This principle often applies to wife beaters and serial killers, etc. Many times a psychological review of these types of criminals will reveal that they were beaten or abused somehow themselves. The Nazis felt victimized by the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty blamed Germany for World War I and it required the country to pay an incredibly large sum of reparations, putting the country into an economic slump. Hitler capitalized on the despondent atmosphere in the country with a Utopian vision.

The psychology of genocide encompasses not only these two motives of idealism and victimization, but it also has to do with the theory of disgust and contamination. There’s three basic pieces to focus on. The first is contact and proximity. If a roach is close or not to a piece of cake determines in our minds if contamination has occurred. The second piece is irreversibility. Once the cake has been contaminated by the roach, it is hard to redeem it. There is a rationale of “once contaminated, always contaminated.” The last piece is dose and sensitivity. A little urine in a bottle of wine will cause a person to not drink the wine.

The psychology of disgust and contamination contributed largely to the Nazi German worldview, but also to the East and West German worldviews that developed after WWII and during the Cold War. This psychology has even lingered and colored worldviews in Germany up to the present day. While the Berlin Wall itself has fallen, there is this concept in Germany called “the wall in the head.” It can most easily be defined as the separations between east and west Germans that still exists in some ways. One such example of the wall in the head is the ampelman. The ampelman is the image on the walk/don’t walk signs at cross walks in Germany. There are the East and West versions of this image, and there’s a bit of a debate on whether they should all go to a standardized image or if the different regions should keep their traditional ampelmen. Of course Westerners think theirs should be the one everyone should switch to, and vice versa. This isn’t just because the different sides are stubborn and want their own way; it comes back to this psychology of disgust. The Westerners and Easterners are still struggling to not be disgusted by one another. This wall in the head is not exclusive to Germans. Republicans and democrats, Christians and non-Christians, whites and blacks, young and old, Americans and immigrants, etc. The wall in the head is everywhere and could be redefined as the German translation of disgust and contamination.

Closely related to dose and sensitivity is the dominance of negativity. A drop of wine in urine does not suddenly make the urine okay to drink in our minds. And the root of causality is always that the negative dominates. A part of the American worldview that reflects this point, is the reaction to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11. This one event has permanently changed the way security is run in the country, how some people perceive others who appear to be of Arabic or Iranian descent, etc. Similarly, all Hitler needed was to convince the Germans that the Jews were the cause for the pitiable condition the country was in, and this negativity would dominate enough to gain Hitler the support he needed.

Hitler employed many different vehicles to convince the German population that the Jews were to blame for the country’s ruin, one of which was censorship. As the proverbial saying goes, knowledge is power. At the book burning memorial across from Humboldt University, tons of books from the university library were burned because they encouraged independent thought. The Nazis knew if people started thinking for themselves they wouldn’t want to go along with the party’s ideas. There’s a famous quote at this memorial that says, “Where they burn books, there they will burn people also.” It was written before the Holocaust began, and is eerily prophetic.

The next ring of disgust is sociomoral disgust, which is the ring that the Holocaust occurred in. This ring of disgust is applied to people and behaviors. Disgust is about putting the disgusting object at a distance. To do this a sort of wall is erected and the person is dehumanized. A person doesn’t want their personal space invaded by the disgusting object/person, so boundaries are put up. Contempt is shown for the disgusting object/person, which makes the object/person more disposable. This same instance of disgust and contamination also occurred in the United States during the segregation and desegregation of the South. White Americans could barely see the humanity in African Americans, and segregation laws were employed to set up boundaries.

The Nazis took this logic and elevated the idea of purity to a worldview. The idea of blood purity was made a national logic. In the end, after capitalizing on this psychology of contamination and perverting the truth, the final solution seemed logical to everyday Germans who felt victimized and vulnerable themselves. This was a way to make life good again. They could envision themselves being a part of the ideal nation, the most pure nation. Interestingly, this is similar to a worldview many Americans hold. Americans see the United States as the most ideal country because it is the most free country in the world. Americans want to “bring democracy to everyone,” regardless of whether or not everyone wants it brought to them.

In Berlin at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, there is one quote from a room that had excerpts from letters people had written is says a person “didn’t have to be revolutionary…[it was] enough to simply be oneself” to end up in a concentration camp. The physical and psychological terror of being imprisoned in a concentration camp simply because you are who you are is a foreign idea to Americans today because Americans have always been free to be whoever they want to be (for the most part; Americans as previously mentioned regarding segregation have imposed terror and restricted the rights of others plenty of times in their past—the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment camps, etc).

The question remains of why the Jews were the ones to suffer. There was a history of anti-Semitism and a need for scapegoats in the wake of WWI. When in need of a scapegoat it seems logical to look at the outsiders. The Jews were achievement oriented and some were very wealthy. Many Germans were not wealthy after the first World War, so it’s easy to see why they would want to remove the Jews who were wealthy from their positions in society.

A startling fact is that it would take 6 or more years to recite all the names of all the victims of the Holocaust. There was a room at the Memorial in Berlin dedicated to reciting the names of the known victims and a short biography of what is known about that person. It is deeply moving to be present there, where these victims finally get a time and place just especially for them, in their honor and dedicated to their memory. Honoring the value of a human life has long been a part of the Western worldview, and after WWII, this had to be reclaimed in Germany as part of their worldview.

Something intriguing that may not be all that apparent is that many Germans have a hard time feeling pride in their country, due to their dark past. In America there are some people who would consider an individual “un-American” if they weren’t proud of the United States. But it’s also not as if America’s past is blemish free. It seems that both Germans and Americans are guilty of attribution errors. Americans are guilty of over-emphasizing personal characteristics of the population as the root and cause of other countries’ mistake, rather than attributing mistakes to situations.

In the summer of 2008, if a person walked down the streets of almost any city in Germany they would observe large groups of people dressed up in red, yellow, and black garb, with faces painted, silly hats on, noise makers in hand, etc. During the Soccer World Cup, Germans came together and rooted their country on at public viewings of the games. It was a time that national pride could be seen in felt. But it was perhaps the only time pride was seen and felt. They really are afraid other countries will misinterpret any national pride that is exhibited outside the venue of sporting events. Germans today seem to be guilty of making at attribution error as well, not allowing themselves to be removed from the past situations that occurred during the reign of Hitler.

At the Nuremburg Trials, held to prosecute those responsible for the Holocaust, many defendants on trial claimed they were just following orders. In the wake of the war, they could see the reality of what had happened: mass murder and attempted annihilation of an entire race. What does a person do when they find themselves in a situation where they are forced to face the fact they have bought into a false system? If they are to survive, psychologically at least, they must find a way to resolve themselves to a new worldview.

One man who found himself right in the middle of colliding worldviews was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Christian theologian who ended up involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. At first, this seems hypocritical, because it would be assumed that most Christians would be against murder. But Bonhoeffer maintained that being evil was worse that doing evil, and that the church was responsible for laying foundation for Hitler. Hitler was making an idol of himself and Bonhoeffer was adamant that the church needed to insist more that Christ is the only way to salvation.

The Christian worldview held by Bonhoeffer was governed by a few seemingly simple truths that in the end, turned out to be pretty revolutionary. He said that real Christianity is sharing pain. For Bonhoeffer, Christianity meant suffering alongside the Jews. His worldview can be summed up in the three ways he said one can stand up to injustice: Ask if state is legitimate, stand with victims, and jam a spoke in the wheel of the state. Bonhoeffer lived out his Christian worldview by telling the world around him that Hitler could not be their salvation, by standing alongside the Jews in their suffering, and by doing what he believed would truly be the best thing for mankind—aiding in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

There is a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that further defines his Christian worldview: “The church is the church only when it exists for others;” indicating that God can’t be owned by one group over another. This quote may not seem revolutionary at first glance. It’s connotation with sacrifice would seem to align it with Christian ideals, and one might assume that of course that’s the only time when church is church (when it’s existing for others).

But what does it meant to exist for others? It seems that existing for others puts a spin on ‘sacrifice.’ One exists twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. A person can sacrifice, on the other hand, for any length of time that he or she wants to.

Whether or not the church today exists for others seems highly debatable. It pulls funds for missions and instead adds on to its building (which is many times a just fine building as is). It gets antsy in its seat when a homeless man walks in on a Sunday morning. It wants its children to not hangout with the “wrong” people (who need Christ, too).

This leads back to the idea that one group can’t own God over another. But when people don’t share God (and sharing God requires sacrifice—time, going outside your comfort zone, etc.), perhaps they are trying to own Him, even if they don’t consciously realize it. And sharing God can be more ministering to people’s needs (feeding them, clothing them, listening, etc.), that just trying to convert them to Christianity. The church is the church only when it exists (sacrifices) for others. And existing 24/7 for others in a “Me! Me! Me!” society is kind of revolutionary.

Bonhoeffer’s life is an example of what can happen when worldviews collide, and worldviews are colliding today, perhaps more than ever. At the most basic level we can say his worldview was that God alone is to be worshipped, because human beings are saved through Christ alone. The Nazis on the other hand taught and believed that Germans needed salvation after WWI because the country was in shambles, and that salvation could be found in Hitler. Worldviews collided here and the result, at first glance, looks like an assassination attempt on Hitler and the subsequent death of Bonhoeffer. But really, the result was some of the clearest and most eloquent theology of our time, and an example that will live on of what it’s like to really pick up your cross and follow Jesus, of how the Christian worldview should be.

Other examples of what happens when worldviews collide can be seen in both The Wall (Peter Sis) and Hitler Youth, which touch on the topics of censorship (of radio, TV, art, print, speech, etc.) and brain washing of young people during the Cold War and WWII, respectively. In The Wall, Sis writes that at home he drew what he wanted, but at school he drew what he was told to. He also tells of how children were encouraged to tell on their parents if they criticized the government, and how phone lines were tapped, and mail was read to keep tabs on people. The communists much like the Nazis in WWII, wanted a nation of people who were identical in political beliefs and in thought. The communists want people to equate democracy and capitalism with people living on the street, so that they will be thankful for the form of government they have. They also have a group called Young Pioneers, which is along the lines of the Hitler Youth (not as violent, I gather). This youth group was a vehicle for the brain washing of an entire generation and probably had the same lasting negative effects on their mental health as involvement in the Hitler Youth did for many Germans.

The Wall and Hitler Youth bring to mind American gang life. In America, the younger generation is targeted by the older when gangs look for new members. They are taught that the gang is their new family once initiated, and that if they stick with the gang they will always be safe. Hitler wanted the Germans to believe that if they followed him, their country would never be weak again. Social proof, which occurs when everyone “jumps on the bandwagon” because everyone else seems to be as well, also occurred daily in WWII Germany. If all of a person’s friends were joining the Hitler Youth, it would seem logical if he or she also joined up, just as a young American might also be tempted to join a gang if their family and friends were in one.

In Hitler Youth the extent to which Hitler brainwashed and depended on the help of the youth that came up out of this group is exposed. Many of the youth had hard times coming to grips with reality after the war ended, because they had been so fully indoctrinated into believing Hitler’s lies. Making a shift from the Nazi worldview to a new one was not easy. For some of them it was years before they could acknowledge and accept their role in the Holocaust.

While on one hand it’s easy to say they were brainwashed, on the other, one must agree with Sophie Scholl (a former Hitler Youth quoted in the book): “We all have a yardstick inside ourselves;” a moral compass, so to speak. At some point, everyone must measure and weigh the options and choose for themselves to do right or wrong. The excuse of “I was just following orders” only gets a person so far. Sophie was a part of the Hitler Youth for a while and she was able to see it for what it really was eventually. The fact that there were those who didn’t remains to point out that the people who went along with it had to have at some point gotten a feeling that what they were doing was wrong.

It’s easy to see how a young person that was formerly a Hitler Youth might find it hard to admit to themselves and others they were a part of something horrendous. But as Viktor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost and how” (Frankl ?). It maybe seem almost too much to bear to have to own up to the mistakes one might have made in the past, but if one wants to live a better life, they can choose to do right even when it’s hard.

A psychological phenomena linked to doing right even when it’s hard is the bystander effect. The bystander effect, which occurs in situations when a person is obviously in need of some sort of aid and no one offers help because no one else is either, obviously was occurring daily during WWII in Germany and other countries were concentration camps were located. Residents of the cities located near the camps knew what was going on and turned the other cheek. There is a zoo at Buchenwald, a concentration camp just outside the city of Weimar that was build for the SS’s enjoyment by prisoners. The prisoners in the camp had worse living conditions that the animals that inhabited the zoo. The SS would bring their wives or their girlfriends to this zoo, and their guests would gladly come and not see anything wrong with the picture. It makes me think of the yardstick Sophie Scholl speaks of in Hitler Youth. Were none of these women bothered by this zoo? Did any of them notice the irony? Did they notice the prisoners on the other side of the fence enough to realize the absurdity of the contrast between living situations? Surely the did. They just said and did nothing because they observed all the SS officers around them with indifferent attitudes, so the guests adopted the same attitudes.

There is a most interesting quote on the wall in the cafeteria they have at Buchenwald. It reads: “Tolerance should really be only a temporary attitude; it must lead to recognition. To tolerate means to offend.” This is a quote of Goethe’s, who was from Weimar, and is the author of Faust. As with many quotes, this could be interpreted many different ways. One thing it brings to mind is how the Jew’s were ‘tolerated’ for a while. They weren’t deported at first, just had their shops torn apart or were asked to do humiliating things in public. Little by little they ended up being one hundred percent not tolerated and the rest is history. Goethe spot on: it is not enough to just tolerate. The humanity, even when different from oneself, in another person must be recognized. If this doesn’t happen, then toleration can turn into something ugly. Toleration must become acceptance.

In Berlin, at the Reichstag there is a memorial for the parliament members who were murdered in the concentration camps after Hitler took over. Hitler and the Nazis talked the parliament into passing laws that gave special powers to the Nazis because of it being a “time of crisis” (the parliament building had been subject to arson). The Patriot Act seems to be eerily reminiscent of this incident. Americans, in reaction to their fear of terrorist attacks, have become so intolerant of intolerance that the line between protection of rights and violation of rights in order to protect them is grossly blurred.

To some degree, bias is natural. Of course individuals will believe their worldview is the most correct or the best worldview to have. But most everyone will at some point in their life call their view into question. What happens when that day comes varies from individual to individual, but most will experience some sort of paradigm shift. Some people are resilient and can make a shift to a new worldview, others cannot and their outcome varies. This begs the question: Is there an ultimate worldview?

There just may be one, but it’s highly doubtful that any human being has ever lived it out perfectly. If people saw the world through the eyes of God, maybe then they could achieve this ultimate worldview. The life of Christ is perhaps the only example the world will ever know of what it looks like to maintain this worldview. It may be impossible to live out this worldview twenty-four seven, but people could aim for the goal of picking up their cross and following Jesus the best they can. Maybe then worldviews would not collide as much, resulting in less conflict and pain in the world.

Works Cited

Bartoletti, Susan (2005). Hitler youth: Growing up in Hitler's shadow. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc..

Darley, J. M. & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 8, 377-383.

Sis, Peter (2007). The wall. Frances Foster Books.

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