I’ve been thinking about the quote from Montaigne excerpted in the film Experimenter: “We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”
Twisty thing, the mind. Slippery thing, self-image.
The 65% of people who flipped the switch to administer supposedly harmful and possibly fatal shocks to a fellow human in Milgram’s experiments in the 1960s would not have believed themselves capable of acting against their individual moral code at the behest of an authority, apparently causing severe harm to another person at that authority’s insistence. I would like to think that I wouldn’t have been capable. That I won’t be capable, should I find myself in a similar situation. That I don’t have to be frightened of myself.
But I’ve bowed down to authorities. Found reasons to obey. To rationalize or to allow or to excuse or be meek. I know I can fail. And that sometimes I have good reason to be frightened of myself.
The subjects in Milgram’s experiment were told that “the experiment requires” them to comply. The authority in that case was the experimenter and, more generally, science.
Today, in 2017, many people who willfully ignore the authority of science, who mistrust education and the lessons of history, who reject out of hand any claims with which they disagree … these same people with no doubt good reasons to doubt authority now vehemently cede all authority to a man who defies all reason. A man who, with every passing day, shows by his actions that he will gleefully flip the switch on all of us just to make a buck or to inflate his self-image.
Shaky thing, that man’s finger.
Can we flip the script before he flips the switch?
History is full of stuff. Choose which parts you want to repeat.
“Come on People Now, Smile on Your Brother,” Youngbloods, Slow Jam, YouTube, RetroDan
Looking for ways out of this gesticulating scream fest, I find it helpful to see what Patricia Roberts Miller has to say. She’s compiled a useful list for times when reasoned argument is possible.
I am thinking of a conversation in Candide:
“The enormous riches which this rascal had stolen were sunk beside him in the sea, and nothing was saved but a single sheep. —You see, said Candide to Martin, crime is punished sometimes; this scoundrel of a Dutch merchant has met the fate he deserved. —Yes, said Martin; but did the passengers aboard his ship have to perish too? God punished the scoundrel, the devil drowned the others.”
How am I feeling today about the state of things near and far? Check my fingernails.
Several students were missing from my Introduction to Public Speaking class yesterday, and the ones who were present asked if I would scrap the lesson plan so we could watch a speech by Trump “to figure out how he got elected.”
The students pick a speech Trump gave in Florida not long before the election, we watch 10 minutes of it, and then they talk.
Student from China: “Why is everyone so upset?”
Someone asks if we can watch “a good speech to compare.” I suggest Obama’s “A More Perfect Union,” his speech about race from the 2008 campaign, we watch ten minutes of that, and then the students talk.
Someone asks for another suggestion, something different in style. We watch the last few minutes of Martin Luther King’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop”, and then the students talk some more.
Obama and King appeal to our better angels, to history and education and inclusivity and progress. Trump, to anger and hate.
Student from California: “Other nations are laughing at us.”
Student from Russia, who is watching one of Hitler’s speeches on her laptop: “No one is laughing.”
I am exhausted. I end class early, and as I leave the room, I realize the lights are off.
We have been discussing in the dark.
Obama’s “A More Perfect Union”
Conclusion of Martin Luther King’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop”
One of my diligent students sent me the following email yesterday.
I apologize in advance. I am not in the state where I am comfortable or able to speak without breaking down in tears. I tried attending my classes today but didn’t stay in any one of them for the full duration. I asked to leave mid-way. As a Muslim immigrant from the Middle East who has experienced hate comments, this election puts me in so much unease and I am completely disheartened. I don’t feel entirely safe as well.
If it is possible, with your mercy, I would like to request approval for my absence tomorrow.
This breaks my heart.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
Worse than Daylight Savings.
Posted in Life
Tagged election, Trump