July 21, 2008


Salem witch trial, courtesy of wikipedia.

It would be nice to think that people who have experienced violence, oppression or discrimination would ever thereafter sympathize with people in similar situations. Sometimes it works out that way, but it could just as easily have the opposite effect.

El Cabrero has often shown the PBS documentary A Class Divided to sociology classes and other groups. It showed how elementary school teacher Jane Elliot tried to teach a group of white children what discrimination was like by segregating them on the basis of eye color. One day students with blue eyes are given top status and extra privileges, while the brown eyed students were marginalized.

On the next day, the roles were switched. One might hope that those who had been unfairly treated would refuse to treat others in the same way.

Not a chance. They couldn't wait to claim top status. It was only after a period of debriefing that students could begin to process the experience and learn from it.

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo in The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil puts it like this:

...what are the deeper lessons to be learned from such situations? Admire power; detest weakness. Dominate, don't negotiate. Hit first when they turn the other cheek. The golden rule is for them, not us. Authority rules, rules are authority.

These are also some of the lessons learned by boys of abusive fathers, half of whom are transformed into abusive fathers themselves, abusing their children, spouses, and parents. Perhaps half of them identify with the aggressor and perpetuate his violence, while others learn to identify with the abused and reject aggression for compassion. However, research does not help us to predict which abused kids will later become abusers and which will turn out to be compassionate adults.

Thus it is that in history the children of the oppressed can quickly become the oppressors and persecuted groups sometimes persecute others in kind when the opportunity occurs.

DEEP IN DEBT. The NY Times had an interesting item about the nation's debt crisis. Here's an excerpt:

Just two generations ago, America was a nation of mostly thrifty people living within their means, even setting money aside for unforeseen expenses.

Today, Americans carry $2.56 trillion in consumer debt, up 22 percent since 2000 alone, according to the Federal Reserve Board. The average household’s credit card debt is $8,565, up almost 15 percent from 2000.

College debt has more than doubled since 1995. The average student emerges from college carrying $20,000 in educational debt.

Household debt, including mortgages and credit cards, represents 19 percent of household assets, according to the Fed, compared with 13 percent in 1980

SELF HELP NATION. Also from the Times, here's an entertaining item about the burgeoning self help publishing industry.

OPPOSING THE NEXT WAR. People around the country are mobilizing to prevent a possible war with Iran.

STATE OF THE UNION. A new book makes the case for how labor unions strengthen working families. But the author says we need to help the general public connect the dots.


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