Social Psychology

The Ambiguity of Resistance: We’d KNOW If We Were Living in Fascist Amerika, right?

We’re now embroiled in the outrage du jour: should we tolerate child torturers in our midst? After all, it is just politics the hand wringing both sides pundits would have us believe. It is a disagreement between honest brokers of opposing political philosophies and policies. Or is it? How do we KNOW that calling out people who are complicit with torturing children is the correct response? Here’s the psysplainer for y’all!

You’d KNOW, Right?

If you were born in Nazi Europe, you’d be against Hitler and the Nazi’s, right? You’d be Schindler, right? You’d be a bomb throwing heroic member of the Resistance, right?  A kick ass hero of the time, right?

After we saw the pictures of the survivors of the holocaust, we all were appalled enough to question how Nazi Germany could happen. And, our conclusion often is that it was those bad people over there. They did it because they were bad. I would NEVER do anything like that.

If you were in a burning building, you’d get up and leave, right? You’d know, right? You wouldn’t waste any time questioning whether the building was ACTUALLY on fire because that would be stupid, right? A burning building is obvious, right? You don’t need to be told that the building is on fire and you should leave, right?

If small children were being irreparably harmed, you wouldn’t stand by and let it happen, right? You’d fight like hell to stop it, right? No one wants to see children irreparably harmed, right? You would NEVER do anything to hurt an innocent child, right?

The answer to all those gawd awful scenarios is that you wouldn’t stand for them, if you recognized them as the disasters they were as they unfolded. Unfortunately, the world is never as clear in reality as it is in our imaginations. And, things that we think would be crystal clear, are often not clear at all.

Have a look at the smoke-filled room study. Would you have sat in the room even if everyone else (a) just sat there and (b) when you questioned it, they all said to wait.

But it is a smoke-filled room! The bloody smoke alarm went off and everything! You’d have to be an idiot to sit in a room filling with smoke. But, yet, people do. Why?


The participants in the room all saw the smoke at about the same time. When the participant was alone, they all left immediately. When the room had other “participants” in it, they stayed. So, why was it so clear to the single person and not clear to the person in the group?

The ambiguity came from the inaction of the others. They were not behaving as predicted. They just sat there while the smoke alarm went off, the room slowly filled with smoke, and no one in authority came in to investigate the alarm.

You’d know if the building were really on fire, right? You’d know if children were really being harmed, right? And, you’d do something. The right thing.

The Ambiguity of Family Separation

The problem with the family separation policy is that the harm to the children isn’t obvious. Even with footage of unattended children crying themselves to sleep in their wee little cages. But, two-thirds of us oppose the policy, so good for us, right? We’re done here, right? We’ve done our part. We hate this harmful policy, so history cannot harshly judge us, can it?

How do we oppose such cruelty? How do we as individual citizens push back on such policies? We can go to protest rallies. We can vote. We can write letters to the editor of various and sundry publications. We can call our Congressional folks. And, we have.

Shunning and Shaming Admin Officials

But, with this policy, we’re directly harming real people. And, that kind of egregious harm calls for a stronger response than normal.

So, Sarah Fuckedabee Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, and Stephen Miller have all had their dinners disrupted. Maxine Waters, hero of the Resistance, has called for civil disobedience and not given any member of the administration a moment’s public peace.

The right and the both sides punditry are clutching their pearls over the incivility of it all. But, you remember the Asch line study, right? The participant would give the same WRONG answer as the majority… well, at least 75% of them did at least once.

The real question is why. Why would people go against their better judgment and give an answer that most knew was wrong? They did it because they didn’t want to risk the scorn of the group. They didn’t know why all these other guys were giving a wrong answer, but it didn’t matter, they went along with it.

The scorn of the group, being ostracized is a terrifically big threat to human beings. We evolved to work in groups. It is how we survived the savannas as hunter-gatherers. It is how we’ve developed all of our technologies and advanced civilizations. We need to belong to the group.

Fear of ostracization drives conformity to our shared values. Without it, we are free to act as we choose. This administration has so violated our shared American values that they need to fear ostracization. It may be the only thing that puts a limit on the abuses that they’re willing to perpetrate. It is the correct response to this outrage.

8 replies »

  1. Perhaps, just long shot perhaps, a few Trump supporters would get the message, get uncomfortable and question that support instead of doubling down to defend the Great Leader and his minions. Is it nice, is it civility to loudly and publicly call out one of those minions in the marketplace for their defense of the indefensible or their complicity? No, it isn’t nice. There’s a song about that, sing it Judy:

    Liked by 1 person

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