Spanning hundreds of years, discrimination, oppression, torture, brutality, and tyranny remain all too common features of the human condition. This nearly ubiquitous barbarism surfaces in cultures consistently across the globe. Why is oppression so hard to eliminate? What is our own human capacity to torture?
These are just a few of the questions that we tried to answer while doing research and surveying for our project on the essentiality and existence of dominance in our society.
Our group believes that people’s morals are in direct correlation with their views on torture and dominance. In order to prove this hypothesis we surveyed over 150 people to see how moral or immoral they thought certain subjects were, ranging from littering to war crimes to committing adultery. We hope to prove that what individuals think is moral and immoral is a direct reflection of what society has deemed right and wrong. Along these same lines we also hope to prove that dominance (and the acts that go along with it, such as torture) are not only necessary in our society, but that human beings are very capable of assuming this role.
As animals, we all have the capacity to be either dominant or submissive. However, in human society, dominance and submission become much more complex than genetics. Genocide, prejudice, and torture do not exist in the animal world, nor do the motivations behind them. Although there are similarities, dominance in modern human society is no longer restricted to competition for resources/wealth/mates. Often times, it is the product of ideologies, values, rationalizations, and beliefs. These belief systems are built into the infrastructure of human societies (laws, rights, religion, socio-economic status, education, etc.), and are used by the people at the top to keep other people at the bottom in submission. Advances in technology and weaponry have also radically changed our ability to dominate and destroy. We believe that dominance is highly situational, which would mean that it could be both controlled and induced. We are interested in examining what in our biology allows us to be so malleable, so capable of becoming the oppressor or the oppressed. In conjunction with avenues of social control, this is a scary combination, which can have horrible implications. We will examine specific cases where the dynamics of the culture determines where one stands and who prevail. We will do a case-study analysis of honor killings in Pakistan and Nazi concentration camps and see how the maintenance of and motivations behind the dominance differs from that in the animal world. This research is interesting because the question of how humans are capable of committing unimaginable atrocities against one another remains unanswered. Does our increased capacity for intelligence bring with it an increased capacity to justifiably harm and manipulate others?
"Dominance is almost invisible in human affairs and yet arguably present everywhere." (Conniff, p. 1) It is very true that dominance, as well as submission, can be found in absolutely every situation, and is therefore, essential to our world. Although there has never been any scientific research done on the subject of dominance, scientists have come up with several qualifications for identifying the dominant animal within in social groups (including humans). These criteria come from and article by Richard Conniff, "I want to be boss? (The Psychology of Dominance)" in Discover magazine:
1. The one that can beat everybody up – but doesn’t necessarily need to
2. Displays the most aggression
3. Who the others pay the most attention to
4. The one who gets first pass at resources
By using these principles to determine whether or not there is an existence of dominance scientists found that some form of social hierarchy is present amongst children as early as age three, and it continues to mature as individuals grow older. This helps to reinforce the hypothesis that social hierarchy is necessary for groups to function properly, and it helps to smooth social interactions. Although it seems that scientists think that once dominance is established the dominator becomes less aggressive, evidence shows that it is not so. Viktor E. Frankl, in The Politics of Pain, shares with us that authorities use torture as a way of control amongst a big group, one of the most extreme form of aggressiveness. By looking at the history of devaluing the Jews we can find a prime example of this societal predisposition towards group violence. A brief overview of the relations between the Nazis and the Jews is listed below, and serves as key evidence in demonstrating the social hierarchy of the Holocaust and how by using torture members of the Nazi party meet all criteria for being dominators.
The first thing that the Nazi party did to win submission of the Jews was to restrict their living quarters to designated ghettos. These ghettos consisted of a community of houses that were cut off from their surrounding neighbors and given too little food to live off. Then the Nazis mandated that a Jewish council be established, this group was then held responsible for implementing and enforcing the Nazi’s orders. This is the beginning of when some members of the Jewish population went from being in dominant positions to submissive ones. One of the orders that the Jews had to follow while living in the ghettos was to eliminate all public religious practices. This was one of the biggest ways of making the Jews submissive because it was their faith that had kept them motivated and hopeful. Through this demoralization of the Jews remained submissive in the ghetto settings, which added to the domination of Hitler.
In Behind Barbed Wires, Barker discusses how this is one of the first occasions where prisoners were utilized as workers. Sometimes this work was farming or factory working, but on many other occasions it was simply to move something from one side of the field to the other and then back again. If the Jews failed to follow any order they would be severely beaten, if not killed. An example of this horrid torture was a man whose job it was to cook the meals for the officers. If they did not like what he had cooked that day they would hold his head under water until he almost drowned. This kind of torture was a highly frequent occurrence in concentration camps because it was a way for the Nazi soldiers to exert as much power as possible. If the Jews were not submissive then they faced even worse torture than was mentioned above and, most likely, death.
As can be seen by the information provided above, members of the Nazi party meet, and exceed, all of the criteria to be considered a dominant group. They had definitely proven that they could beat everybody up. Of course, they didn’t "beat" people up using their hands, but bullets from guns and poisonous gas coming from showerheads. They also displayed the most aggression by using physical force to overpower the already frightened and submissive Jews. The Nazi guards had the most attention than anyone at that point of time because, not only did they have the attention of the Jews, but the rest of world as they were trying to stop this torture. Most of all, they were the ones that got the first pass at resources. While the Nazi party was busy enjoying lavish meals, heated dwellings and driving cars, the Jews were eating small rations of bread and broth, sleeping on 3-foot square beds of hay in the cold and doing forced labor. As you can see, the Nazi’s had complete dominance over the Jews, and this does not just include torture, but all aspects of the attitude and function of the Hitler party.
RELEVANCE OF RESEARCH QUESTION:
There are numerous existing theories behind social dominance. Although there are profound differences between societies there are also elements of social power shared between societies. It has been social scientists that have tried to construct a theoretical understanding of these phenomena. We will be looking at psychological theories, social psychological theories, social structural theories and evolutionary theories of oppressive behavior; all of these theories approach different aspects of oppressive behavior. We will try and answer two main questions: Why do people from one social group oppress and discriminate against people from other groups? What elements interact and reinforce each other to produce and maintain group based social hierarchy? Each case study speaks of a different type of dominance and therefore demands its own explanations and research.
After researching we developed a survey in order to gauge people’s feelings on what dominant activities are moral and which one are immoral. It also questions the person how dominant the person feels they are. This was since we believe that people who are more dominant will feel that more of the acts where someone is being dominant over another are moral. Our survey is accessible here. This survey was then distributed around Miami University’s campus.
The results were then added up and the results of males and females were separated. The results were entered into StatView 5.0 and contingency two-way tables were constructed. This information was then entered into Cricket Graph III and horizontal graphs were produced from this graphing package. We then analyzed the graphs.
The first question was How Dominant are you?
The second question was: "How moral is killing someone to protect your family?".
The third question was: "is Eating meat moral?".
The fourth question was: "Is inserting genes into animals moral?".
The fifth question was: "Is it moral for companies to use sweatshops for labor?".
The sixth question was: "Is it moral to knowingly purchase products from companies who use sweatshop labor?".
The question for number 8 was: "Is sexual domination (S/M) moral?"
The question for number 9 was: "Is torture moral?"
The Question for number 10 was: "Is torturing someone for information that would result in saving lives moral?"
The question for number 11 was: "Are War crimes moral?"
The question for number 12 was: "Is being a bystander (not intervening on someone else’s behalf moral?"
The question for number 13 was: "Is cheating on your significant other moral?"
The question for number 14 was: "Is stoning an adulterer moral?"
The question for number 15 was: "Is littering moral?"
The question for number 16 was: "Is not recycling moral?"
The question for number 17 was: "Is dominance essential to our world?"
The possible answers to this question were either yes or no. The majority of males, 83% and females, 72% responded that yes dominance was essential to our world. Only 17% of males and 28% of females thought that dominance was not essential to our world. There was very little difference between the males and female’s response to this question and the chi-squared p-value was .1512 which shows there was not significant difference between males and females and the question fails to reject the null hypothesis.
The question for number 18 was: "Are you capable of assuming the role of torturer?"
The focus of our project was to look at what people do to be on top, to have the most power. We looked into behavior that is obviously harmful and destructive to other human beings, animals, and nature.
Prevalent international and national political, economic, and social systems of our world thrive on inequality; the only way that these grave inequities exist is due to the perpetuation of power relationships between various actors. One way to for the powerful to protect their interests is to by controlling the moral standards, deciding what is viewed as right and wrong, punishable or not punishable. Generally, people in the society therefore modify their behavior according to these moral codes. The United States has been and continues to be an important and influential actor in the global scene; the majority of the decisions made by the government and forces are designed to maintain our hegemonic global status and standard of living. The majority of persons that took our survey lived the majority of their lives in the United States; any exceptions resided in one of three countries for the remainder of time (Germany, Canada, and England), all of which have similar value systems and moral standards. In terms of interactions with other countries, the United States is a powerful, dominant country; military and economic wealth allow the U.S. to exert a large amount of control over other actors. These dominant, most often exploitative, relationships allow the citizens of the United States to maintain a high standard of living. Therefore, as we expected, the response to our question "Is dominance essential in our world", over 75% of the respondents answered yes. However, there was a significant difference between the male and female respondents. While only 17% percent of males answered no, 30% percent of females said that dominance was not essential to our world. This difference can easily be explained by the fact that within the public and private sphere, power structures are mainly patriarchal, and this leads to the marginalization of women’s interests and welfare on many levels. As this global system is maintained by a domination of women, and is one that is not beneficial to women, it is not surprising that there is a gendered difference between the responses. Reponses to question 18, "are you able to assuming the role of a torturer", were also showed a p-value of less than .05. While 52% of males responded no, the no response for females was 90%. Stereotypes for appropriate violent behavior for males and females allow men to engage in and admit to more violent behavior than women. Women are more often victims than perpetrators of violent behavior, and are consequently socialized into thinking they are not capable of assuming this role. This socialization of women is beneficial to a patriarchal system as they are less likely to challenge or break out of their "submissive" role. This same concept of acceptable violent behavior was also exhibited in the responses to question 2, "Killing someone to protect your friends or family". 30% of males responded always moral, 41% almost always moral, and 22% sometimes moral, sometimes immoral. The female response looked more like a bell curve, as the 50% of females answered sometimes moral, sometimes immoral. These responses showed that males definitely found killing someone in this situation as an unquestionably acceptable and moral action. Also, in a patriarchal society, the male is responsible for the welfare of the women and children, as it is assumed they cannot take care of themselves. Therefore, because this role of protector is a valued characteristic of a father/provider, it is likely that more males would readily identify and see themselves engaging in this behavior.
The most disturbing results we found pertained to questions of infidelity. Cheating on your significant other was the single most offensive and immoral act that one could commit. For males and females on Miami’s campus, over 85% felt it was absolutely or almost always immoral to cheat. This response was shocking, especially in comparison with some of the other offenses on our survey. People actually felt that it was more moral to stone an adulterer, torture, kill, and commit war crimes than to cheat on their significant other. In most incidences, stoning targets women who have committed or are accused of cheating; it was disturbing to see that 15% of the female respondents felt it was sometimes moral to stone a person (who is usually female) to death for such a petty offense.
We really did not know how people would respond to the morality of sexual domination (S &M). The responses of males and females were almost exactly identical: everyone pretty much saw it as moral. The fact that this type of dominance is assumed to be voluntary and perhaps just playful role-play probably means it is inherently less harmful for the individuals involved. Therefore, it is not unusual for people to view it as moral. Additionally, this response usually sparked a humorous response from those that were taking the survey.
The responses for torture were exactly as expected. Torture was overwhelming viewed as an absolutely immoral act by both sexes, as it is involuntary and is extremely harmful for certain individuals involved. However, the very next question, which asked if torturing someone for information that would save lives, was overwhelmingly found to be sometimes moral/sometimes immoral. Suddenly the welfare of the person being tortured was not of so much concern. This could be due to the fact that the torture would only affect one person, but could save multiple lives, so it would be a sort of tradeoff. Also, if the torture could save lives, the person withholding the information could possibly be looked down upon, and it is our prediction that people would consequently be less sympathetic to their plight. This corresponds to our question pertaining to bystanders, as less than 1% of all the respondents felt it was moral to not intervene on someone’s behalf.
The results from question 7, "a parent spanking a child", were somewhat surprising. 97% of the female responses fell in two categories: sometimes moral, sometimes immoral and almost always moral. The response of males showed that on average, they found spanking a child more immoral than females. One explanation for this data could be that women are more often responsible for child rearing and consequently are exposed to more incidences of disobedience or situations that would require disciplining. Therefore, if this were an action they see as necessary, they would be more likely to view this as acceptable behavior.
On a campus where there are not too many vegetarians, it was not surprising that over 90% of males and females responded that eating meat was pretty much moral. As meat in a significant and enjoyable part of our diet, it was expected that most people would not think too much about this treatment of animals could possibly be unethical. However, the response to whether inserting genes into animals was moral or immoral roused a different response. Overall, males and females found this type of behavior to be immoral. It could be because inserting genes into animals is a more direct and manipulative act. Most people that eat meat are very far removed from the actual killing and preparation of the meat, and are therefore less likely to associate the actual eating of meat with devious or violent behavior towards animals.
The results from questions pertaining to sweatshop labor were also very interesting. There were no differences between male and female responses: overall, companies using sweatshop labor was immoral, but to buy products from companies who use sweatshop labor was not quite as wrong. This was ironic because if people really felt strongly about the immorality of sweatshop labor, they would (in theory) not support companies who used it. However, we live in the most advanced consumer society ever to exist, where people are constantly purchasing products. Corporations operate in highly competitive markets; and to maintain profit and competitive edge they employ low cost, exploitative labor. Based on the survey results, people place more importance on their ability to freely purchase goods and services. They do not see the issue of sweatshop labor as their responsibility.
The question pertaining to trash disposal was specifically designed to question the domination of nature. On average, 50% of the people felt that it was sometimes moral/sometimes immoral to recycle, and 30% said that littering was sometimes moral/sometimes immoral. Basically, people do not find it immoral to be irresponsible with their trash; sometimes it is ok to throw it on the ground, although we are unsure what that situation could be. This fits in with our society’s disregard for the negative effects that our actions could have on nature and wildlife. As a consumer society we produce an insane amount of trash, but people must not view this as a pressing problem. This could be skewed by the fact that Miami has an extensive clean-up crew that takes care of much of the trash that is left on the ground, and Miami students are not accustomed to cleaning up for themselves.
Our conclusions for the project support our hypothesis. Actions that are beneficial to the individual (or the system) are considered to be moral; things that could harm or threaten them are considered to be immoral. This can be very detrimental, as the powerful groups in society are able to set the moral standards within a society. People like to view themselves as moral individuals and therefore will not be apt to engage in "immoral" behavior because of what others may think. If people have ascribed even a small aspect or ends to their actions as moral, it makes the domination seem necessary and justifiable; therefore, the welfare of those that are being dominated is not of concern. The destructive nature of the action goes unnoticed or unquestioned by the individual if they view it as moral. Although our physiology makes our behavior malleable, people’s perceptions of own their behavior is that it is unlikely and difficult to change. Additionally, people have unrealistic perceptions of their capacity to harm other human beings. By assuming that they would never do such a thing, it is easy to condemn perpetrators of these horrific actions.
It might have been more beneficial to not survey people in-groups, as certain individuals could have been swayed by the responses of their friends to the questions. Certain people did not answer many of the questions, usually the ones pertaining to torture or killing. It also would have been beneficial to survey people of different age groups and backgrounds.
Barker, A.J. "Behind Barbed Wire"
Sidanius, Pratto. "Social Dominance"
Forrest, Duncan. "A Glimpse of Hell: Reports on Torture Worldwide"
Bryant, David M. and Newton, Anne V. "Dominance and survival of dippers Cinclus cinclus"
Nol, Erica & Cheng, Kimerly & Nichols, Cathleen. "Heritability and phenotypic correlations of behavior and dominance rank
Of Japanese quail"
Khazraie, K. Campan, M. "The role of prior agonistic experience in dominance relationships in male crickets"
Hoysak, Drew J. & Ankney, C. Davison. "Correlates of behavioral dominance in mallards and American black ducks"
Suedfeld, Peter. "Psychology and Torture".
Conniff, Richard. "I want to be boss? (The psychology of Dominance)." Discover.
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