Re: Henson on the Nazi meme

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 27 Mar 2005 - 20:08:56 GMT

  • Next message: Bill Spight: "Re: Henson on the Nazi meme"

    At 02:52 PM 27/03/05 +0100, Kate wrote:
    >Keith Henson wrote:


    >>If you want to read Ron Jones' excellent story:
    >>Keith Henson
    >This story is certainly fascinating - and terrifying, if true, in its
    >depiction of how swift and thorough the students' indoctrination was.

    There is no doubt it is true. A dramatized version of "The Wave" has been read by German high school students for close to two decades. How much good this has done (if any) is unknown.

    "Ron Jones, the American teacher who conducted the Wave experiment at Palo Alto's Cubberly High School in 1969 ó and still finds it scary ó has himself complained that the novel is over-romanticized. The idea that a couple of teenage lovebirds could effectively challenge fascism, he wrote to Ernst Klett Verlag, one of the German publishers, "was not true in my classroom, and is not true historically." Fair enough. Few teachers would claim that 'The Wave' contains any sort of sure-fire anti-fascist vaccine. Few could deny that it's simplistic. But so was Collodi's 'Pinocchio', even as it helped teach kids not to lie. "

    It happened to *be* an experiment in the true sense of the word, but it was intended only to be a teaching experience where Ron Jones was trying to answer a question:

             "The Third Wave. Well at last it can be talked about. Here Iíve met a student and we've talked for hours about this nightmare. The secret must finally be waning. It's taken three years. I can tell you and anyone else about the Third Wave. It's now just a dream, something to remember, no it's something we tried to forget. That's how it all started. By strange coincidence I think it was Steve who started the Third Ways with a question.

             "We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people. How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage. How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren't there when it happened. it was a good question. I didn't know the answer."

    The experiment answered the student's question of "how" with a demonstration. The terrifying answer? "It's easy!"

    The deeper question of *why* this is a psychological trait of humans can't be answered within the narrow frame work of memetics. You have to dig into evolutionary psychology and the hunter gatherer tribal environment in which the hominids that led to humans evolved for millions of years.

    >I'm left wondering what it can tell us about the sort of environment in
    >which memes best spread - and in this instance this seems to mean that
    >they spread without being questioned.

    It's a subject that's been discussed for years. Here is one such thread.

    >>>After all, the ultimate result of training your children in bullshit
    >>>detection is that they will eventually call you on your own bullshit.
    >>>This is a Good Thing--but many (if not most) parents would disagree.

    >>Sad as I am to say so, there may be limits to how much you can train
    >>in BS detectors. They may be partly wired right into the genes.
    >>If they are, we are not very far from getting control over genes--and
    >>who would want to raise kids likely to be sucked into a ball snipping
    >>cult like Heaven's Gate?

    >Because the same "gullibility" that makes a good ball-snipping
    >Heaven's Gater is the same thing that (in a different setting) makes a
    >good Rotarian--willingness to go along with the herd.

    >The rise of the Nazis (and the movie "The Wave") go to show that a
    >large percentage (if not the overwhelming majority) of people will do
    >any evil, insane or stupid thing imaginable if "everyone else is doing

    For at least ten years I though a worthwhile research project would to find the kids who were in that class and interview them and a control group to see if the experience changed the course of their lives. Now I am not so sure you would find anything useful by groping in the dark without a theory to guide such an investigation.

    An evolutionary psychology theory for why these kids picking up this meme would be rooted in the hunter gatherer world.


    >A lot to digest . . .


    Keith Henson

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