Many studies have investigated how to get individuals to obey external authority, as noted in the obedience experiments (Miller, 1986). But next to none have investigated how individuals obey their conscience as they act as members of a group committed to taking nonviolent courageous action in the defense of ethical principles and the public interest. The present study investigates the situational group context and group dynamics that allow individuals to act in concert with others to carry out ethical goals, even at personal cost to themselves.
There is a psychological and sociological phenomenon that is rife in our political and social context today. Scapegoating is a process of social exclusion that begins with the projection of negative attributes and traits onto one person or class of persons with the intent of rejecting their right of membership in the group. Such projection arouses fears of rejection and annihilation in those who are scapegoated. It must be emphasized that scapegoating is always a group phenomenon.
Those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to the study of group therapy and group processes realize the limitations of our work. Group therapists understand that our patients cannot make deep personal changes in a group unless it consists of individuals who are willing to travel with them along an uncertain path of questioning their own beliefs about themselves and the roles they play in their family and culture. Earl Hopper and Haim Weinberg, by editing this book, are challenging readers to do just that: to join with them and explore the unconscious side of the social matrix that influences their behavior in their own culture. The authors speak of this social matrix as a Foundation Matrix that encompasses the social interactions, beliefs, and self-defining myths and folklore peculiar to a people or nation and lays the ground for the social unconscious.
In August of 2022, the Pentagon—in response to articles in the New York Times—seemed on the verge of officially acknowledging the large number of civilian deaths that resulted from the United States air war in the Middle East and Afghanistan since 2014. But the Pentagon did not explicitly do so. They have focused instead on measures to reduce the killing of civilians in future air strikes—not how to relieve the suffering of those U.S. soldiers who did the killing in the past. This reveals a profound ignorance of how moral injury does emotional and psychic damage to individual combatants over time. It leaves those soldiers who did the killing still carrying the guilt for the death of those innocent civilians who perished. The refusal of the U.S. government to admit and accept responsibility for the civilian deaths their air strikes caused only exacerbates the pain felt by those with moral character who cannot forget what they have done—even if their military superiors would like them to.
On the morning following the destruction of People’s Park, I went to the site to bring some shoes I thought some people could use. I found one person—an unhoused woman, badly dressed and pitifully thin, rocking slowly in a chair amid the debris of cut redwoods. Her eyes closed, she seemed to be silently weeping—her breathing barely audible. She was grieving the loss of her home—a place she had been a part of. Without disturbing her, I left the shoes and departed.
For me, she represented the grief felt by those who loved the Park. In 1969, at the time of the student rebellion over saving the Park as a place for trees and flowers, I was a student living in Southern Indiana. I was aware that my generation’s rage at the Vietnam War had spilled over into the capture of this small piece of land from the University. It was a symbolic act of “throwing our bodies on the machinery of society—corporations, government, and universities—that were hell-bent on feeding our US military aggression in foreign lands.