The Social Psychology of Good and Evil

By Arthur G. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

ARTHUR G. MILLER

Rage and disgust can serve for a time to satisfy the transitory ego-defensive needs of tourists and dilettantes; such feelings are melted away from minds that are held in the fires of the Holocaust for prolonged periods. What remains is a central, deadening sense of despair over the human species. Where can one find an affirmative meaning in life if human beings can do such things? Along with this despair there may also come a desperate new feeling of vulnerability attached to the fact that one is human. If one keeps at the Holocaust long enough, then sooner or later the ultimate personal truth begins to reveal itself: one knows, finally, that one might either do it, or be done to. If it could happen on such a massive scale elsewhere, then it can happen anywhere; it is all within the range of human possibility, and like it or not, Auschwitz expands the universe of consciousness no less than landings on the moon. (Kren & Rappoport, 1980, p. 126)

Those who refused to obey the orders of authorities, and came to the aid of persecuted people, were neither saints nor heroes. Rather, their goodness was that of ordinary men and women who were responsive to the victims' manifest need for help…. Our observations confirm one of the most salient features of the accounts of rescuers' actions during the Nazi era in Europe: Helping happened progressively and was seldom premeditated…. Then, gradually, as the helpers became more involved in what they were doing, these initial modest steps evolved into more major, organized undertakings that made it possible to save large numbers of people from arrest, deportation, and murder…. Yes, the chances that evil will be perpetuated are increased when it is rendered banal, but goodness does not disappear in the process of making evil commonplace…. With respect to rescuers, we found that those who aided persecuted people acted in ways best conceptualized in terms of the ordinariness of goodness. (Rochat & Modigliani, 1995, pp. 197– 198)

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