Archive for the ‘pig’ tag
The Most Gruesome Photo Album of the Last Century
In 2007, the New York Times, NPR, and other media reported the discovery of a photo album containing what I consider to be the most gruesome photographs from all of the Second World War. But these photos do not depict a single dead or wounded body. They are far more ghastly even than that.
The album belonged to SS officer Karl Hocker, who was assigned to Auschwitz from May 1944 until liberation of the camp by the Allies. The photos show SS guards and their friends frolicking, flirting, decorating Christmas trees—engaging in all manner of activities that a seemingly “normal” human being would do. And all this took place in the shadow of—or in some cases within the actual walls of—a death camp in which these very same frolickers were daily murdering other human beings by the thousands.
Take a moment to recreate the context of these photographs. A man gets up in the morning, has breakfast, kisses his wife, gives the kids a hug, pets the dog on the head, and goes to work—gassing and cooking people to death, that is.
The Banality of Evil
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) grasped the general notion as “the banality of evil” in her breakthrough 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She argued persuasively and influentially that the greatest evils in history, such as the Holocaust, have been perpetrated not by sociopathic demons but by seemingly normal people who engaged unthinkingly in atrocities that were assigned to them by authority figures. The 1961 Milgram experiment at Yale and the 1971 Stanford prison experiment both appeared to reproduce a similar effect.
Compartmentalization: The Walls of Evil
Even if it is true that otherwise normal people—from Auschwitz to Stanford—can be relatively easily influenced to commit gargantuan acts of evil, the question to me that remains is simply this: how is such a phenomenon possible at the psychological level? How did bank teller, husband and father Karl Hocker make the daily transition from these other roles to that of aiding and abetting mass murder?
I think the answer lies in the psychological notion of “compartmentalization”. Compartmentalization denotes the process whereby human minds engage in a form of what logicians call “confirmation bias”. The gist of it is this: we tend to ignore, forget or “wall off” evidence that conflicts with our current views of ourselves.
For someone like Karl Hocker, compartmentalization allowed him to (i) accept evidence that reinforced the view of himself himself as a loving, competent bank teller, community member, Christmas tree decorator and family man and (ii) simultaneously ignore overwhelming evidence that he and his SS friends were completely psychopathic, serial-killing monsters. This is confirmation bias at its best (or worst).
In short, rather than integrate information and accept disconfirming evidence, the person who engages in compartmentalization can live essentially two distinct, disintegrated lives. Such a person is never forced to deal with the crisis of conscience that an integrated person would certainly face.
Compartmentalization is the wall that allows evil to run free within the mind of an otherwise seemingly healthy individual.
If compartmentalization is indeed the grand enabler of evil, the question remains how compartmentalization ever evolved in the first place, since mass murder of one’s neighbors would seem to be a trait that would get an individual quickly weeded out of the gene pool.
Upon close inspection, however, the positive effects of compartmentalization are not hard to identify. We are all fallible human beings, and each of us endures a large number of losses, setbacks, and injuries in our lives. If we were unable to set these things aside—ignore them, at least for a while—and move on, we would all eventually curl up in a fetal position and just waste away. Our first failure at something would be the last time we ever tried to succeed at anything. Our first romance-gone-bad would be the last relationship we ever undertook. Our first loss on the baseball field would be the last game we ever played.
Walling off information that would hurt or destroy one’s sense of positive self-worth can thus be seen generally as a pro-survival trait. Only problem is that this trait, like many other pro-survival traits, may also have dire negative side effects.
Unthinking commission of mass murder probably qualifies as a negative side effect. . . .
The Most Gruesome Photo Album of the Next Century—Starring You
There’s just one more little thing to cover in this article. It’s a photo album that will be discovered and printed in the New York Times in the year 2109. And it’s the most gruesome photo album anyone has seen since that of Karl Hocker.
Interesting thing about this album: just like Hocker’s, there’s no blood. No gore. No death nor even injury depicted. The photos just depict a happy family person who wakes up, kisses the spouse, hugs the kids, pets the dog, and heads off to work. This normal person in the photo album passes a slaughterhouse on the way to work, inside of which thousands of innocent, sensitive and intelligent pigs are being killed everyday. The star of the photo album never once thinks twice at lunch as he or she eats a piece of bacon.
That person is a master of compartmentalization.
That person is you.
Resources: “In the Shadow of Horror, SS Guardians Frolic”
“Confirmation bias” at Wikipedia:
“Self-Structure and Self-Esteem Stability: The Hidden Vulnerability of Compartmentalization ”
Shelley Harrison teaches law, logic, writing and reading comprehension in Los Angeles, CA. Recipient of seven patents, Harrison is the author of Plutonomics: A Unified Theory of Wealth and a former Managing Editor of the Virginia Law Review.