Political Psychology Has Always Been, Research Proposal


A change of leadership and divisive social forces might pressure such hatreds into re-erupting, but these hatreds are still historical 'products.' A balance between history and psychology is needed to fully understand why mass political atrocities occur. A diffusion of responsibility during the action such as a war or a collective lynching can be a facilitating factor, but the social and historical context must be acknowledged. An authority that validates the atrocity, as in the case of Hitler or Milosevic can legitimize terror, but the people's responsiveness to that figure has its roots in culture and collective psychology. Furthermore, distance from authority can also create a sense of validation -- although lynching was never part of the official justice system of the South, it was obvious that the authorities were willing to ignore lynchings, provided they was done under the cover of night. The repercussions for protecting African-Americans and treating African-Americans in a just fashion were great in the South, while the consequences...


A system of laws that mandated racial segregation further underlined the idea that discrimination was normal and protected by the authorities' consensus. However, looking the other way when mob violence occurred on a social level was just as powerful a facilitator as the actual laws that kept Jim Crow in place.
After World War II, many theorists suggested that some societies were uniquely conformist in their orientation: it was said that Germans had a particularly authoritarian mindset, and combined with anti-Semitism, this produced a toxic combination. However, the example of the American South, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda all indicate that sadly there is nothing special or unique about scape-goating. The national histories of these nations may be different, the names and psychologies of the leader may vary, but genocide has sadly not vanished with the eradication of the Axis powers, so long as there is a polarizing view of a group defined as beyond the pale of humanity within the society.

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