Monday, March 12, 2018

Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement among Upper Level Cult Authorities

Drawing from... 

Bandura, A.: Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement

in W. Reich (Ed.), Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind (pp. 161-191),  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 

(Bandura's article can be seen in its entirety at Bandura is one of the biggest names in behaviorism and behavior modification during the mid-to-late 20th century.)


2) Eric Hoffer's observations in his classic book, The True Believer,

3) Robert Altemeyer's research on the mechanisms of authoritarianism at the U. of Manitoba, 

4) Lawrence Kohlberg's six stages of moral reasoning

5) Stanley Milgram's famed work on submission to authority, and

6) Otto Kernberg's notions of personality and organization thereof

Bandura's submission to Reich's Origins of Terrorism neatly ties together the dynamics of rationalized abuse of the "Gluttons for Punishment" and "Willful Slaves" at levels seven and eight of the pyramid by the "Willful Slaves" and "Cynics" at levels eight and nine via cultic thought reform and careful manipulation of the reward, reinforcement and punishment schemes of Pavlovian "classical" and Watsonian-Skinnerian-Banduran "operant" conditioning and behavior modification by the "Cynics" and "Sociopaths" at levels nine and ten.

Quoting Bandura:

"A number of social factors affect the ease with which responsibility for one's actions can be surrendered to others. High justification and social consensus [or "social proof"] about the morality of an enterprise aid in the relinquishment of personal control. The legitimacy of the authorizers [repeatedly conditioned, socialized and normalized at the lower levels on the cultic pyramid... and well established once cult members have reached level seven] is another important determinant. The higher the authorities, the more legitimacy, respect and coercive power they command, and the more amenable are people [on the levels below] to defer to them."

"Obedient functionaries... tend to be conscientious and self-directed in the performance of their duties. It requires a strong sense of responsibility to be a good functionary. In situations involving obedience to authority, people carry out orders partly to honor the obligations they have undertaken. It is, therefore important to distinguish between two levels of responsibility, duty to one's superiors and accountability for the effects of one's actions. Self-sanctions operate most efficiently in the service of authority when followers assume personal responsibility for being dutiful executors while relinquishing personal responsibility for the harm caused by their behavior. Followers who disowned responsibility without being bound by a sense of duty would be quite unreliable."

"The deterrent power of [common culturally socialized] self-sanctions is weakened when responsibility for culpable behavior is diffused, thereby obscuring the link between conduct and its consequences. This is achieved in several ways. Responsibility can be diffused by the division of labor. Most enterprises require the services of many people, each performing fragmentary jobs that seem harmless in themselves. The fractional contribution is easily isolated from the eventual function, especially when participants exercise little personal judgment in carrying out a subfunction that is related by remote, complex links to the end result. After activities become routinized into programmed subfunctions, attention shifts from the import of what one is doing to the details of one's fractional job (Kelman, 1973).

"Group decision-making is another common bureaucratic practice that enables otherwise considerate people to behave inhumanely, because no single individual feels responsible for policies arrived at collectively. Where everyone is responsible no one is really responsible. Social organizations [cults included] go to great lengths to devise sophisticated mechanisms for obscuring responsibility for decisions that will affect others adversely. Collective action is still another diffusion expedient for weakening self-restraints. Any harm done by a group can always be ascribed, in large part, to the behavior of other members. People, therefore, act more harshly when responsibility is obfuscated by a collective instrumentality than when they hold themselves personally accountable for what they do (Bandura, Underwood, & Fromson, 1975; Diener, 1977; Zimbardo, 1969)."

"Most organizations involve hierarchical chains of command in which superiors formulate plans and intermediaries transmit them to executors, who then carry them out. The further removed individuals are from the end results, the weaker is the restraining power of the foreseeable destructive effects. Kilham and Mann (1974) set forth the view that the disengagement of personal control is easiest for the intermediaries in a hierarchical [or pyramidic] system -- they neither bear responsibility for major decisions nor are they a party to their execution. In performing the transmitter role they model dutiful behavior and further legitimize their superiors and their social policies and practices."

Thus, the the "Willful Slaves" and "Cynics" at levels eight and nine who have been de-conditioned to societally "normal" moral standards in the service of "getting the job done" (e.g.: "saving the world") for the "Cynics" and "Sociopaths" at levels nine and ten can order the "Gluttons for Punishment" and "Willful Slaves" at levels seven and eight of the pyramid to abuse the "Lab Rats" and "Gluttons for Punishment" at levels six and seven with both a) rationalization of the order-giving and b) reduced sense of responsibility for their actions. For the agendas of "Cynics" and "Sociopaths" at levels nine and ten, it's hard to think it could work any better.

In addition, a childhood path of having been conditioned, socialized and normalized to dichotomous, "either-or," "all-or-nothing," "entirely-right-or-entirely-wrong," and "all-good-or-all-evil" thinking (as is so often seen in morally perfectionistic, fundamentalist religiosity) is a fine set-up for the psychological "splitting" of morality and ethics seen in upper level cult members and leaders. Splitting is the bedrock of what Otto Kernberg called "borderline personality organization." And is is that, it seems to me, that one sees in the "Willful Slaves" and "Cynics," though the "Sociopaths" at level ten seem fully "integrated" (to use Kernberg's term) to fully rationalized, malignant narcissism. 

Bandura's References

Bandura, A,; Underwood, B.; Fromson, M.: Disinhibition of Aggression Through Diffusion of Responsibility and Dehumanization of Victims, in Journal of Research in Personality, Vol. 9, 1975.

Diener, E.: Deindividuation: Causes and Consequences, in Social Behavior and Personality, Vol. 5, 1977.

Kelman, H.: Violence Without Moral Restraint: Reflections on the Dehumanization of Victims and Victimizers, in Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 29, 1973.

Kilham, W.; Mann, L.: Level of Destructive Obediences as a Function of Transmittrer and Executant Roles in the Milgram Obedience Paradigm, in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 29, 1974.

Zimbardo, P.; 1969, quoted in Zimbardo, P.: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, New York: Random House, 2007

Commentator's References

Altemeyer, R.: The Authoritarian Specter, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Altemeyer, R.: The Authoritarians, Charleston, SC: Lulu, 2006.

Bandura, A.: Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1997.

Hoffer, E.: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, New York: Harper and Row, 1951, 1966. 

Kohlberg, L.: The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. 

Milgram, S.: Obedience to Authority, London: Pinter & Martin, 1974.

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