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The Five Steps to Tyranny: The Blame Game


The Five Steps to Tyranny: The Blame Game

With the continued rise of the Fascist parties in Europe, this article and film is more relevant than ever. The film was shown back in the year 2000 and we can see the way the “Out Groups”, those who are different in some way, are being portrayed in the mainstream media.

The joke that the only person who has appeared in the BBC Question Time programme more often than the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, is the host Dimbleby, is a cause for concern. The license fee paid State Television constantly gives coverage to UKIP, without questioning their rhetoric or their policies. The NHS is a constant concern for the British Public, but when Paul Nuttall MEP and Deputy Leader appears on the BBC, he has never been asked why he wants to destroy the NHS?

The constant refrain becomes those against the “Out Groups” , the outsiders consisting of “Benefit Scroungers” and Immigrants. Constant debates about those subjects, but never about the underlying causes? Why have the 400 richest individuals, in Britain, become even richer since the Banksters’ Crisis? Why are there five people who are richer than the bottom 12 million population in Britain?

Are the problems of society due to the poorest people and the disenfranchised of society? Or is there a reason to blame the powerless?


Out-group - those people who do not belong to a specific in-group.

The Blame Game. Crossposted from the Guardian, by Tim Radford. Tuesday 19 December 2000 02.17 GMT

We may think we know right from wrong. But tonight, the BBC’s Five Steps To Tyranny demonstrates how the most ordinary people are capable of the most monstrous acts. By Tim Radford

Adolf Hitler did not invent the idea of Nordic supremacy: the German Society for Racial Hygiene dates from 1895, and was not – originally – intended as an anti-Semitic force. It was concerned with maintaining the vigour of a racial group. Its founder ranked the Jews along with the Aryans as two of the world’s premier civilising forces. The implication, however, was that the Jews were separate. Forget about people ever being separate but equal. When people become separate, they become “them”. When they become “them”, they tend to become unacceptable. Once they become unacceptable, any bad things that happen to them do not matter.

Bad things have happened, since 1900, between Turk and Armenian, Russian and Jew, German and Jew, German and Slav, Hindu and Muslim, Boer and Bantu, Chinese and Tibetan, Iraqi and Kurd, Hutu and Tutsi, Serb and Bosnian, Serb and Kosovan. In each case the willingness of ordinary humans to debase and murder their neighbours has left a smear on the outgoing century. There is a lesson in how such things could come about in Five Steps To Tyranny.


Five Steps is a politics lesson, conducted by Sheena McDonald and based on a series of academic experiments, some of them so shocking they have never been repeated. In one of the most notorious, a psychologist asked volunteer interrogators to administer increasing electric shocks to a victim – an actor, of course – shrieking and begging for mercy in another room. “Do I have to do this? It hurts him”, they would say, and the experimenter would answer “Do it. I will take responsibility.” And most of them did it, apparently because a man with a white coat and a calm voice told them to do so. They were, after all, only obeying orders. (The Milgram Experiment)

In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, an Iowa school teacher suggested a game for her third-year white, middle-class infants. Imagine, she said, that they were really two groups, one blue-eyed, one brown-eyed. The blue-eyed kids were good, smart and privileged, and the brown-eyed ones were stupid and naughty and would never get anywhere. Within a day or so, she had effectively recreated apartheid in the playground; one group was cock of the walk and one group was cowed and weeping. “He called me names,” said one tearful child. “What did he call you?” “He called me brown-eyed.”
In the most shocking example of all, in the 1970s, an American experimenter randomly divided his student volunteers into two groups, gave one epaulettes, clubs and reflector sunglasses and the other prison uniforms, and told the first group to guard the second. Each set of students proceeded to adopt their entirely fictitious personae with such terrible conviction that the three-week experiment had to be ended after five days.

There have been more limited experiments which underline a preparedness to divide into “us” and “them” and outlaw “them”. In one recent demonstration, a psychologist films unwary adult, responsible Manchester United supporters as a jogger collapses nearby. When the jogger wears a Manchester United fan club shirt, the passer-by rushes to help him. When he wears a Liverpool shirt, he is left to fend for himself. There is also a somewhat less convincing experiment on what looks like a Connex South East train, in which a polite but slightly menacing male asks passengers to surrender their seats to him, for no reason other than that he asks. Many of them do. When he is accompanied by a silent figure in uniform, all of them do. This could be evidence of the kind of social compliance that led ultimately to some of the century’s most terrible crimes. On the other hand, it may be a desire not to upset the sort of slightly menacing nutter to be found on Connex South East…

But there is no doubt about the programme’s bottom line: tyrannies happen because ordinary people are surprisingly willing to do tyranny’s dirty work.

Programmes like this can show such things with great vividness – and there is news footage from Bosnia, or from Rwanda, or from Burma to back it up with terrible clarity. It isn’t clear why the majority is so often compliant, but the implication is that democracy should always be grateful to the protesters, the members of the awkward squad, the people who challenge authority.

But don’t take it for granted that the awkward squad must be a force for good: in Germany, in the 1920s, Hitler was an outsider, a protester, a member of the awkward squad. When he came to power in 1932, he found that German medical professors and biologists had already installed a racial ideology for him, one which had already theorised about the elimination of sick or disabled German children, and the rejection of Jewish professionals as agents of pollution.

People had theorised in similar ways in Sweden, and the United States. But Hitler turned ideas into action, and ordinary people were soon directing the trains to Dachau, and Auschwitz. The lesson, driven home by eight decades of movie newsreel and television reportage, is that appalling things can happen anywhere. The only comfort is that it remains possible for other people to be appalled.

• Five Steps to Tyranny

Social Identity Theory – Ingroups and outgroups

The Milgram Experiment
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. They measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.

Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View


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