We’ve all seen it happen: a mild mannered man gets a promotion and suddenly things change. The once normal employee becomes drunk with power, even if the promotion is a small one. It doesn’t take long before he feels entitled to the control he has and begins to abuse his power for his own personal gain which further inflates his bloated ego. It would be one thing if this story wasn’t so common but chances are that every one of us has known someone who subscribes to the whole “do as I say and not as I do” mentality once they get the slightest bit of authority. The old adage “power corrupts” has been true throughout history and there’s no sign of things changing. What is it that makes people feel that they are superior to others and why do they feel that way?
The Stanford Prison Experiment was a psychological experiment where college students were recruited to play the role of prisoners and prison guards so researchers could evaluate the effects that a prison environment would have on people. Soon after the experiment began the prison guards quickly became sadistic and actively tried to hide the abuse of the prisoners from the researchers monitoring the experiment. The prisoners on the other hand, started to mentally break down in a short time and accepted the treatment that they had received. It didn’t take long before the researchers became worried about the physical and mental safety of the subjects. The experiment was originally scheduled to last for 2 weeks but was abruptly stopped after 6 days when rapid mental degeneration of both the guards and prisoners who were held in the mock jail could not be ignored. While there are ethical complaints about how the experiment was carried out, the findings produced by the study showed the effects of power and stress can have on regular people.
The power of conformity is also a strong factor as to why people act the way they do. When a person is given a role they have preconceived notions of what the duties and characteristics of the role entitle. One of the criticisms of the Stanford Experiment, that the guards and prisoners already had an idea of what they were supposed to do and simply acted out what researchers wanted, proves this point. It doesn’t matter if the person believes that they can be responsible with power, once they are put in a role they quickly conform to what they think the norm of that role is; even if it is against their beliefs.
The majority of people are indeed heard animals, often being compared to sheep, which is what the Asch conformity experiments proved. The Asch experiment was a simple test involving a group of people and some simple pictures of lines. The subjects were shown lines and were told to compare them to everyday objects and other lines. When the subjects were alone they answered all but one of the thirty-five questions correctly on average but the real brilliance of the test was when the subjects had to answer questions in groups. All of the members of the groups were controlled except for one subject. The controlled members of the test intentionally gave incorrect answers to the questions so the researchers could compare how people acted when they’re alone verses in a group. The result was that the subjects were influenced by the members of the groups answers and in turn gave the wrong answer 32% of the time when asked the same question. The need to fit in and group think influenced the answers the subject gave.
Genetics of Superiority
In the past, to maintain their perceived genetic superiority, royalty and leaders have bread with one another so that their families blood line didn’t delude. Today rulers still adhere to the philosophy that states they are genetically superior to people of a lower economic or social class. One simple way to examine this idea is to examine dog breeding where some dogs are bread for different jobs and have different skills than ones of other breeds. The rulers of the world feel that they are somehow a better breed than the rest of mankind.
Once again, in the last few years, the idea of selective breeding is becoming more of main stream. A quick search of craigslist for egg and sperm donors reveals some interesting ads. Most of the ads require that a person has a full medical history of their family, has graduated college and some are ads are race specific but other ads require certain the donor to have certain features like genius level intelligence or be extremely attractive so that those traits can be passed on to the next generation of people. The fertility business is growing by leaps and bounds with the advent of procedures which promise designer babies in the near future. Within our lifetime, parents may have the choice to choose what sex, characteristics and genetic traits that their children will have.
The idea of selective breeding isn’t anything new and was extremely popular in the United States prior to World War 2. The theory stated that certain groups of people were genetically inferior to others and brought forced sterilization policies of native and poor populations throughout the United States. These ideas quieted down after World War 2 after Hitler gave eugenics a bad name when he attempted to create a master race but sterilization programs still were secretly active until the late 1978.
Books like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, written in 1931, have predicted a similar picture of what the future of mankind would hold. The New World was one where the human race had been genetically manipulated depending on what their place in society. The most important groups of people were of course genetically superior to the less useful members of society whose development was stunted so they remained content with their duties. Due to the way the citizens were bread, a utopian society was created complete with the use of drugs and genetic manipulation. The BBC, as if inspired by Huxley’s vision, recently released a story which stated that in the future mankind will be split into two species one of which would be a dimwitted underclass.
Scientists today still secretly debate if there are races which are genetically superior to others and envision a world where certain genetic traits can be eliminated. Scientists like James Watson, who discovered DNA, have come under fire for stating that black people are inferior to whites, that homosexual people can be eliminated with genetic technology and through screening science would eliminate inferior traits. Dr. Watson caused a media frenzy with his comments and as a result has retired from his job as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory after working there for almost 40 years.
The Mall Cop Mentality
Perhaps of the most common reason for abuses of power is something I like to call the “Mall Cop Mentality.” This disorder occurs when people who have been shunned, oppressed and abused suddenly gain a small level of authority over other people. As soon as they achieve that authority they automatically think that they are part of the system and are therefore better than their peers. As part of the system they are entitled to special privileges, so they think, because their job is to maintain order. There are countless examples of this ranging from people who get a big promotion at work and become abusive; to police officers who use their taser on people who dare to disagree with them(even if they are children or crippled).
This mentality is magnified in politics. With our current political system that is based strictly on party lines and not performance it’s nearly impossible to be kicked out of office. Career politicians wield tremendous power without having to worry about being held accountable for their actions. With this kind of power, it doesn’t take much imagination to see why most people in power don’t work in the public’s interest. The main reason why politicians do what they do is not because they believe something is right or wrong, it is because they want to keep hold of the power and entitlements that they have; for without those they are just like everyone else.
The people affected by the Mall Cop Mentality, even though they are part of the system, generally don’t realize that the power they have is only temporary and is given to them by others. Think for a second about who funds politicians, it isn’t the people it’s corporations and Wall Street. Police get their power from politicians who are at the mercy of private interests. All of the power and entitlements that they achieve throughout their career can be stripped from them in an instant which is why despite the pubic calls for change, society stays the same.
What would most people do if they had great authority without oversight? Now combine what would happen if that authority is in place over generations. Would people become so corrupt to think that they are an entirely different race than other people? Would these people want to be able to control the path of human evolution itself? Looking at the history of royal families throughout the world and comparing them to psychological experiments, one could definitely see how those beliefs manifest.
Even with genetics factored in, the authority people have gotten is due to power and privilege instead of having superior genes. The bottom line is that people are all generally the same genetically and mentally. It’s the entitlements, authority and the beliefs that people are raised upon that make them feel they are separate them from the lowly homeless man on the streets.
The United States founding was based on resisting powerful interests who wanted to subdue, tax and control the world and those powers have now come back stronger than ever. Just like in the past there’re always those gullible people hungry for power that will be taken advantage since they don’t understand that once they’re no longer useful they’ll endure the same treatment as the people they oppress. Our politicians and public servants are hopelessly corrupt and without the public demanding change they will continue to infect the country and spread their corruption on every level. There is absolutely no reason for anyone not to be held accountable for the way they wield their power and it is the public’s job to keep authority in check.
Will the people of the United States stand up to those who seek to control every aspect of life or will it fall to the power hungry dictators who we overthrew during our founding? Sometimes it depresses me when I ponder this question and look at what America has become. How could we possibly stand up to the web of oppression that bombards every aspect of our life? People still believe the propaganda that the people in power have told us trough our news and TV shows. In times like this we all need a reminder of where we come from and what made America a great nation. I like to read the Declaration of Independence for inspiration, which is quite possibly one of the most beautiful documents in our history, when I have doubt about what the future holds.
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “