In 1974, in an experiment/art performance called Rhythm 0, Marina Abramović placed 72 objects on a table in a room and stated that she would not move or resist for 6 hours, no matter what was done to her. The results are perhaps shocking to some but not to me. Abramovic allowed random people to do anything they wanted with her and as soon as they realized that there would be no resistance or repercussion no matter what they did to her, they got increasingly aggressive. Some cut her neck with a knife and drank the blood. They placed her naked on the table and put the knife in her vagina. Someone loaded the gun with the available bullet and put it to her head.
Initially, Abramović said, viewers were peaceful and timid, but it escalated to violence quickly. “The experience I learned was that … if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed… I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”
This experiment is proof that if people are allowed to act with impunity, they will take it as far as they possibly can. It is not necessary to be directed to this behavior and there is no one – no one – who is immune to it; it is human nature. It is the reason things like Nazi Germany are able to happen, and the reason regular everyday citizens turn into brutal torturers as we saw in Nazi Germany or into dangerous mobs (link very NSFW) as we see in many areas to this day. The culprit is not religion. It is not a charismatic Führer or other politician. People do not become this way because they are forced to or because of any other reason than the simple fact that they want to. They want to hurt and subjugate those who are weaker, just like any other animal. Humans in general are uncomfortable with this fact; they are quick to point out things they consider to be mitigating factors, such as differences in culture, race, time period and anything else they can but these things do not make it any less of a fact. That is why Nazi Germany stands alone as such a perfect example. It obliterates these mitigating factors. There were no cave-dwelling barbarians in Nazi Germany. These were not an uneducated Third World people reacting to superstition and shamanism. These were white upper, middle and lower class people just like you and me. They became monsters because they were allowed to become monsters and underneath of it all, that is what we all want to be.
This is why the much-beloved idea of anarchy cannot work and why all these Brave New World and Evolved Consciousness concepts are just so much hot air. Humans will never be able to rule over themselves without a system of repercussions. It has failed every time it has ever been tried. I hate the government with a passion that many probably regard as borderline fanaticism but even I recognize that this is so. In fact, I hate the government because of this, because of what they become after being allowed to act with impunity for so long. As much as we all want to believe that we have evolved beyond this basic nature, we have not. You think you are an evolved, civilized and cultured being who uses logic and reason instead of violence. You are not. You think you have conquered your primitive nature and have risen above the mouth-breathers who cannot or will not do this. You have not. You think you are concerned and compassionate about the world around you, a shining beacon of Evolved Man’s triumph over his nature. You are not. You’re none of these things and all it would take is the application of the right circumstances to prove this to you.
We see it in history repeated over and over again when any person or population is permitted to act with impunity upon another person or populace. The end result is subjugation, violence, torture and murder. Always. You see this very clearly in children before they are taught the responsible and acceptable way to behave in society. Empathy, generosity and compassion are not innate. They are learned. And they are easily-forgotten. That is, perhaps, the true legacy and importance of The Third Reich: it stands as the single greatest example of what people are capable of if they are allowed to act with impunity. It may be one of the single greatest lessons in history that we as people need to learn.