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Archive for March, 2012

Exposing the undercover scoundrel

There was once a dilemma among the left-leaning pollyanna hippy crowd on how to square their utopian wishes for a tree-hugging kum-bae-ya Avatar-esque society with the readily observable historical cases of surpremely nasty human behaviour such as the Japanese invasion of Manchuria or the German invasion of Eastern Europe. How are we to run a lentil-eating organic collective society without nasty things such as laws, police, and armies unless people are themselves very kindly natured?

In true left-wing fashion the dilemma was buried. Some people came out with the “Germans are different” hypothesis to explain why literally millions of German citizens were able to enthusiastically support, or at least turn a blind eye to, a reign of terror in the East. It’s their Teutonic blood, or their Prussian militarism that leads them to follow orders no matter how foul etc.

The Guardian newspaper stages a rally

To address this question Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments on the influence of authority in making normal people commit murderous crimes. He recruited random participants to play the role of teacher in a learning experiment. This was a cover. The real experiment was in how the participants follow clearly immoral orders. An excerpt:

“Teachers” were asked to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to the “learner” when questions were answered incorrectly. In reality, the only electric shocks delivered in the experiment were single 45-volt shock samples given to each teacher…. Shock levels were labeled from 15 to 450 volts….. In response to the supposed jolts, the “learner” (actor) would begin to grunt at 75 volts; complain at 120 volts; ask to be released at 150 volts; plead with increasing vigor, next; and let out agonized screams at 285 volts. Eventually, in desperation, the learner was to yell loudly and complain of heart pain.

At some point the actor would refuse to answer any more questions…. Teachers were instructed to treat silence as an incorrect answer and apply the next shock level to the student.”

What percentage of teachers, if any, do you think went up to the maximum voltage of 450?

“Results from the experiment: Some teachers refused to continue with the shocks early on, despite urging from the experimenter. This is the type of response Milgram expected as the norm. But Milgram was shocked to find those who questioned authority were in the minority. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the teachers were willing to progress to the maximum voltage level.”

Zimbardo carried out a similar experiment in which two groups of participants were randomly assigned roles as “prisoner” and “guard” for a two-week simulation of a prison. The experiment had to be abandoned because the fakr guards quickly became violently abusive to the fake prisoners. The simple takeaway from these experiments is thus:

Despite all the outward signs of normal decent behaviour, a huge proportion of people will rapidly display brutal behaviour when situations either pressure them or make it advantageous to do so.

That next-door neighbour of yours who smiles and nods at you but you don’t quite trust? In 1990s Bosnia he’d be denouncing you to the secret police in order to steal your house. That co-worker who is unhesitatingly polite in meetings but seems to always dodge the unwelcome projects? In 1930s Soviet Union he’d petition the NKVD to send you to the gulag so he can take your job. So how can you spot these snakes in normal stable society? I have a few rules of thumb all of which involve paying close attention to the dropping of the mask.

A russian commissar at heart

1. Observe them in moments of discomfort. Even the most despicable scumbag can maintain his mask of civilisation when comfortably housed, fed and employed. It is when their comfort is disturbed and suddenly a gap opens between the right thing to do and the thing that restores comfort, that’s when you watch. That’s why you learn a man’s character in the boxing ring when you spar him. I’ve had partners bite, scratch, run, and worse show a sadistic gleam in the eye when getting the better of a weaker opponent. These are the concentration camp guards of the future. Watch your friends when you are talking to girls they fancy and those little things they do to try to slit your throat. Watch momentary hesitation as they calculate if they can get away with something selfish.

2. Watch how they treat the little people. Most scoundrels will act with due decorum and politeness when dealing with equals whose responses can affect their quality of life. It’s a rational selfish calculation. Those same scoundrels change when dealing with people who are unable to present them with consequences to their actions. How do they deal with serving staff, or secretaries, or call centre salesmen? How do they talk to a helpdesk employee when they are complaining about a problem in their service? Be very careful of those people who treat the little people as subhuman.

3. Let them talk about taboo subjects when they think you agree. Don’t stop and disagree with them, just let them talk. Scoundrels will often unleash a torrent of envious negativity and in particular will betray a habit of assigning certain groups to the collective bin of “subhuman” and then propose mistreatment. For example, the Left will often look to classify a rival as “racist” and then strip them of their right to a job, a social life, and their freedom. The vindictiveness of their persecution is something to behold. For evidence, just follow any news story when a public figure utters a non-PC statement. The only thing stopping such scoundrels from sending thought-criminals to the gulags is that we live in 2012 Britain not 1935 Russia. However, don’t mistake this with profiling based on collective factors. It is one thing to point to an observable, defendable fact (e.g. “95% of interracial rape is black men raping white women” or “almost all terrorism against the UK is commited by Islamists or Irish”) but quite another thing entirely to strip blacks, muslims and Irish of individual human freedoms simply because they belong to these identity groups.

4. Link patterns of improbable coincidence. I once met an English guy in Tokyo who had several fistfights with drunken Japanese on the last train home after drinking. I knew the wife of a friend who kept quitting / being fired because every one of her bosses was an arsehole. In each case, consider the wild improbability that these sequences were coincidence. Bad people frequently get into trouble and they can be skilled in rationalising each isolated event as not being their fault. Don’t buy it.

None of these methods are infalliable. People are complex creatures and while someone may be an arsehole at the “retail” level (never buying drinks, spouting hate etc) they may suddenly show strong moral character at the “wholesale” level (when the shit really hits the fan). Nonetheless, don’t be lulled to sleep by the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

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Lessons from The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas’ serialised novel The Count of Monte Cristo (Hereafter ‘TCMC’) caused a sensation upon it’s 1844 release. As relayed by Luc Sante:

“The effect of the serials, which held vast audiences enthralled … is unlike any experience of reading we are likely to have known ourselves, maybe something like that of a particularly gripping television series. Day after day, at breakfast or at work or on the street, people talked of little else”

Should you read it’s 875 pages of dense type you’ll see why. Few novels are so able to maintain a fast pace, wide scope, deep characterisations, and also suck you into their period through details. This in itself would be enough but it is also chock full of life lessons. I first heard about the book while watching Dr Paul’s “Deep Inner Game” dvd series. He used the plot as a metaphor for the rites of passage from boy to man. In bare bones:

ze Count

Boys have not yet taken the weight of responsibility upon their shoulders so they are carefree and looked after by their elders. As they advance through puberty they must develop the leadership and direction of manhood. This is not easy so most traditional societies structure the transformation with a symbolic rite of passage. The boy is metaphorically killed and the man rises from those ashes. Note there is no equivalent process for women – simply reaching physical sexual maturity is sufficient for a girl to become a woman. For men, effort and sacrifice is required.

TCMC is a literary rite of passage for the lead character Edmond Dantes as he opens the novel a wide-eyed precocious teenager full of love, trust and naivete. He is promptly betrayed by jealous rivals and locked away in a dungeon for 14 years. During his incarceration he befriends the wizened Abbe Faria who bestows upon him a full renaissance education and faciliates his escape. The now “man” Dantes dedicates his next twenty years to exacting a cunning revenge on his persecutors. Read this way, TCMC is a blueprint for masculine development and this strongly recommend to those of my readers who wish to style themselves renaissance men.

A different theme that intrigued me is that of revenge. There’s no question this is primarily a revenge fantasy and Dantes dedicates fourteen years of incarceration to plotting it then another twenty years exacting it. His net of retribution, although tightly aimed, enmeshes many bystanders who the book takes care not to position as “innocent” but are not among his persecutors. Towards the conclusion Dantes ruminates on whether he was justified in his actions (he ultimately concludes “yes”) particuarly in how he ruins the live of his faithless fiancee and also indirectly causes the death of a small, though wicked, boy.

Rollo Tomassi wrote an interesting juxtaposition advising against the cold flame of vengeance. To paraphrase he suggests the emotional energy and resources directed towards carrying out revenge would be better disposed of in making your life better i.e. living well is the best revenge.

“For so long as you consider revenge, no matter how petty, you’ll still be attached to the emotions of that rejection. Accept the rejection, move on, rejection is better than regret… beware the ‘Well-lived’ life spent in pursuit of revenge. Revenge should never be the motivation for success. Even the time and mental effort needed to consider some appropriate way of making her aware of how she made you feel are resources better spent on meeting new prospective women who will reciprocate your interest. The root of confidence is developing, recognizing and acknowledging as many personal options as possible. Any effort you’d expend on revenge is a wasted opportunity to better yourself. Indifference to detractors and personal success are a far better revenge than any one sided injury you could inflict on them in return.”

Dante’s revenge is not a buffer against rejection but rather is a settling of accounts against men who have deliberately wronged him. Also, the pain suffered by Dantes is several orders of magnitude higher than the type Rollo considers. Initially it is difficult to see why Dantes didn’t merely declare the vendetta and assassinate his persecutors at the earliest opportunity, sticking a knife in their ribs in some dark alley rather than the laborious public ruination that he actually inflicts. The reason is Providence. Dantes comes to believe he is chosen by God to punish the wicked (due to the sheer improbability of how he is furnished with the means to exact revenge) but it must be accomplished slowly to give the wicked ample opportunity to repent and thus be spared. Because of his mission he does not consider his efforts in exacting revenge to be wasted.

Personally, I’d have just murdered my enemies and then moved on to other things. A man should not allow others to take what is his. When jackals transgress the rule of law and hurt you, you are required to exact revenge in order to maintain your boundaries. Allowing the cold streak of cowardice into your heart will hobble you for life. This does, of course, assume you were significantly wronged. Having your pint spilled in a pub doesn’t count.