In one of the more horrific stories recently in the news (and frankly, that is never an easy competition),
A young woman recently stoned to death in Somalia first pleaded for her life, a witness has told the BBC.
“Don’t kill me, don’t kill me,” she said, according to the man who wanted to remain anonymous. A few minutes later, more than 50 men threw stones.
Human rights group Amnesty International says the victim was a 13-year-old girl who had been raped.
There is much more at the link, but frankly, this time my worst imagination and the story as reported were virtually identical.
One of the burdens of knowing a bit about the experimental study of human social behavior is that I can no longer adequately distance myself from stories like this. Why didn’t people intervene? Darley and Latane explored that question decades ago after the murder of Kitty Genovese. Diffusion of responsibility, the effects of deindividuation, and other well-researched phenomena tell us that we cannot rely on human nature to do the right thing. The men stoning this poor girl to death? Milgram’s research shows us that perfectly normal people can be led by authority to inflict pain, injury, or (potentially) death on an innocent other, with far less coercion than these religious zealots had experienced. (See this review of Milgram’s experiment for an example of both the denial that this is our potential–in the opening post–and many corrections in the commentsl)
Yes, people can be killed in soccer riots–sometimes deliberately. Kent State did not need religion as a motivation to get four students killed. But damn… again and again, religion just seems so good at it.
Those who do not recognize the humanity in monsters are perhaps at risk for not recognizing the potential for monstrosity in themselves. This is us–the batshit-insane human race.
It should, one hopes, be very easy
To look on this and to condemn,
But look at Kitty Genovese–
In some ways, we are much like them.
When crowds make people nearly faceless
It is a certain kind of Hell,
Promoting hate, however baseless–
Religions do this awfully well.
To recognize that this potential
Is human, is my fervent wish;
It can be fought–it’s not essential
(You need not be a cuttlefish)
These people show the worst of us
But us they are, we need to learn;
We share one planet-home, and thus
It’s to ourselves we have to turn:
Belief can spread, just like a cancer
Harmful ones have got to go;
While some believe that God’s the answer
For these beliefs… the answer’s NO.
Hat-tip, of course, to PZ.