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Analysis of the underlying social psychology
The hate and prejudice that began the Holocaust went hand in hand with a political agenda that was fueled by the frustration aggression theory.(1) Hitler blamed the Jews for the loss of World War I and thus, instead of targeting political aspects of the Jewish community, he displaced his aggression towards ALL Jews, even the helpless.
This, combined with religious anti-Semitism prejudice that had been present in Germany for 1500 years and the theory of "eugenics", was the political and instrumental center of Hitler's political campaign.(5) He used a system of 'elimination of freedom', which he felt was necessary in the conditioning the German people to follow him. This meant that he would slowly change the rules, allowing him to gain more and more control over his people. New laws preventing rebellious attempts to overthrow his government and the elimination of non-supporters that would possibly dissent, (disagree with his plan)(1), gave Hitler complete control over what happened within the country's boundaries.(5)
He further conditioned the Germans to accept the program for the 'final solution' of the Jews with the constant onslaught of misleading propaganda. Propaganda is the dissemination of ideas and information for the purpose of inducing or intensifying specific attitudes and actions.(4) This misleading information conditioned the German people to stereotype all Jews as evil and thus most of them became prejudice. This was an effect of what is called the availability effect.(1) That is, they made stereotypical judgements based on the information available to them. Many of the Germans had been raised under the influence of this propaganda and it was all that they knew about the Jews, thus, the only available information with which to make judgements by.
Under the umbrella of ethical relativism,(2) these judgements were ethical in relevance to the German culture at this time, and thus, widely accepted by the German people. The German people, especially the soldiers, bonded under what is known as the self-esteem theory of prejudice. Even though being a soldier was what they may have had in common, these men bonded under the belief that they were better than people in other groups, namely the Jews.(1)
What is even more frightening is that it was not a well thought out plan, but rather a process with premises to subtly induce men to perform acts that would have ethical consequences that would cause great dissonance or uncomfortableness.(1,5) The soldiers were given information that coerced them into an "us vs. them" state of mind, the realistic conflict theory. Due to the propaganda that they were bombarded with, they felt that they were competing with the Jews for resources.(1) This may not have been an organized plan, but it was a step by step journey that led ordinary men from acceptance of the 'final solution' to perpetrators of it.
At first, the soldiers accepted the prejudice due to all of the previous theories noted and followed orders to kill. They may not have enjoyed it and not all of them may have complied, but enough did.(4) As soon as they had killed once, cognitive dissonance set in. That is, they had conflicting emotions about murder and following orders.(1) Since they could not change the act that they had committed, they had to change their attitude about the act they committed, thus decreasing the amount of dissonance, or discomfort that they felt due to conflicting feelings. Once they had reached that point, they were on their way to being completely desensitized, and then the committance of murder in the name of their government, culture, and way of life was justifiable.
The German people that made up the bystanders in this tragedy may not have been guilty of cold- blooded murder, but they were not innocent either. They were also victims of cultural ethical relativism,(2) believing that if their government thought that this was ethically relative behavior in their culture, then they should comply. In cultural relative behavior, rightness and wrongs vary from place to place, and in this place,
Names mentioned in this term paper
Hitler, Elliot, Tom, Malka,
Organizations referenced in this paper
Locations talked about in this research material
the Germans, Poland.,
Health Conditions talked about in this research material
Keywords mentioned in this research material
cognitive dissonance, German people, bystander effect, Jews, moral, moral philosophy, ordinary men, ordinary people, myself, ethical relativism, these things, Moral Courage, this mad world, Hitler, cultural relativism, the bystander, Eighth Edition, Final Solution, heroes, frustration aggression theory, Social Animal, behavior, realistic conflict theory, stereotypical, ultimate attribution error, his people, stereotypes, the rescuers, information, political agenda, first one, pluralistic ignorance, virtue ethics, religious anti Semitism, social psychology, New laws, vicious cycle, blind eye, everyday life, inner core, a lifetime, concentration camps, complete control, World War, Jewish community, a single, perpetrators, large group, the final solution, Malka,