Monday 4 August 2014

Tyranny and force of habit

Another trip- I just got back from Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Würzburg and Rothenburg. Heavenly.... but photos will come later. 


Still reading Memoirs from the House of the Dead. Here is an excerpt: 
"I do not know how things are now, but in the recent past there were gentlemen to whom the power of flogging a victim gave a satisfaction resembling that of the Marquis de Sade or Madame de Brinvilliers. I imagine that there was something in those sensations, at once sweet and painful, that made these gentlemen's hearts swoon with pleasure. There were people who, like tigers, thirst for blood. Any man who has once tasted this dominion, this unlimited power, over the body, blood and spirit of a human creature like himself, subject like himself to the law of Christ, any man has tasted this power, this boundless opportunity to humiliate with the deepest degradation another being in the image of God, becomes despite himself the servant instead of the master of his own emotions. Tyranny is a habit; it has the capacity to develop and it does develop, in the end, into a disease. I maintain that the best of men may become coarsened and degraded, by force of habit, to the level of a beast. Blood and power are intoxicants; callousness and perversity develop and grow; the greatest perversions become acceptable and finally sweet to the mind and heart. The man and the citizen perish eternally in the tyrant, and a return to human dignity, to remorse and regeneration, becomes almost completely impossible to him. Besides this, example and the possibility of such arbitrary power act like a contagion on the whole of society; such despotism is a temptation. A society which contemplates such manifestations calmly is already corrupted at its roots. In short, the right given to 1 man to inflict corporal punishment on another is 1 of the ulcers of society, 1 of the most powerful destructive agents of every germ and every budding attempt at civilisation, the fundamental cause of its certain and irretrievable destruction." 
(trans. Jessie Coulson) 

1/ Reminds me of that time when a classmate asked if we thought Nazis were enjoying what they were doing, or only doing their duties. I believed, and still do, that there were people who liked it, who did find pleasure in humiliating, tormenting, inflicting pain upon other people, in having power and control, in knowing that others feared them, in seeing these people cry and beg for mercy.
2/ I don't believe that human beings all are good at heart. Nor do I believe that human beings are basically evil. 
3/ This passage makes me think of VN. E.g, because there's no law that protects people, there's no limit to what the police can do (unless they want to 'touch' the higher officials), therefore, that people die in custody is common. It can be tempting to have such power, with the law on your side, to be able to do whatever you want to someone else, knowing that nothing will happen to you. A system that has no respect for justice, freedom and human rights gives that power to certain groups of people in society, and I believe, in many cases, wakens up and then develops that desire in some individuals who might not be cruel by nature. It affects them, and shapes them gradually. The monstrous acts they do becomes normal and acceptable, and they change. 
That's just 1 example. 
4/ Much as I want to believe in myself, I cannot say with confidence that, having the same kind of power, I would not abuse it a bit. It's like the way in VN everyone gives bribes- to traffic police, customs officers, officials, nurses...; to be accepted into good schools, to make things faster and easier, to bend rules, to reduce discomfort (especially at hospitals)... I have heard some Viet people, after many years living abroad, say that they find it wrong and therefore impossible to gives bribes, but I'm certain that after a short while in VN they would have to do it, force themselves to conform to the unwritten rule and finally get used to it without a bad conscience. We adapt. 
And people who start to have some power (some position in such a society) initially may find it wrong to receive bribes, but they will change and will expect others to do so, then they will speak coldly and meanly and contemptuously as everyone else in the same position does. We adapt. 

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