Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Third Wave

Ron Jones authored a book titled "No Substitute for Madness" where he tells of a social experiment he initiated in 1968 while teaching high school in Palo Alto, California.
When a social studies student asked about the German public's responsibility for the rise of the Third Reich, saying "it couldn't happen here", Jones decided to try and simulate what happened in Germany by having his students "basically follow instructions" for a day. He turned his class into an efficient youth organization, which he called the Third Wave. Some students were informers, and some were told they couldn't go certain places on campus. He insisted on rigid posture and that questions be answered formally and quickly.

The experiment, initially scheduled for one day, stretched into five. "It was strange how quickly the students took to a uniform code of behavior. I began to wonder just how far they could be pushed," Jones wrote.

To his surprise, Jones found that students recited facts more accurately in this authoritarian environment and that he had no discipline problems. One previously lost soul suddenly had a role in the school--he became Jones' bodyguard.

The students got very involved in the Third Wave, many sporting black armbands to signify their membership. Others actively proselyted other students. Banners appeared around the school, and announcements were made over the PA system. "... by the third or fourth day, there was an obvious explosion of emotion that I couldn't control." wrote Jones.

But soon the experiment began spinning out of control. There was betrayal among teens who had been close friends since childhood when one would refuse to conform. Jones wrote "I kept hoping someone would walk in and ask what was going on, so I could point to them and say, 'That's right, look what you're doing, you've become just like fascists' and end it. But it didn't happen."

At a Friday assembly, five days into the experiment, Jones announced, "We can bring (the nation) a new sense of order, community, pride, and action. Everything rests on you and your willingness to take a stand," he told students.

As one, the students shouted, "Strength through discipline!"

After a long silence, Jones began to speak. "There is no such thing as a national youth movement called the Third Wave. You have been used. Manipulated. Shoved by your own desires into the place you now find yourselves."

He showed a movie of Hitler at the Nuremberg rally. The students and teachers saw that they had only too readily adopted many of the behaviors they were witnessing on the screen. They realized the possibility that it could happen here.

Someone recently commented on my blog about her experience in California
"The realization that not only am I a pariah for voting No, but that I'm not allowed to talk about it, "preach what I believe," shook my core foundation. I'm not out to ruin the church or mislead its people. I just really disagree here and it struck me weird that I couldn't talk about it without people telling me I had little faith or I was going against the Prophet."
As I read this, I recalled watching a PBS special dramatizing the events described in Ron Jones book "No Substitute for Madness". And, I find myself wondering if proposition 8 has spawned our own Mormon version of the Third Wave. With everyone shouting "no gay marriage" and "protect the traditional family" as one voice. And, those who are not in lock step with the movement having their faith and commitment called into question, perhaps even being ostracized, with long time friendships and family relationships being torn apart.

. . . something to think about


Lisa said...

That is frightening.

And hits close to home. Of course not everyone reacted that way to me, but one relationship I've held dear for years seems to have...faltered at the very least.

I lost a friend in the girl who introduced me to the church, and my SIL (a once best friend) looked at me as if I had grown two heads. She'll happily testify as to her experience in choosing to vote yes, but she shuts down with a frightened look when I try to explain (again) why I voted no. No judgments on my end at all, just discussion. Just a plea for a strict member of the church, someone I love and respect, to recognize that I could disagree with the Church and still be okay.

My ex-roomie told me she felt darkness when I spoke about it.

Online people were worse.

It all just makes my heart drop into the pit of my stomach whenever I think about it. It opened up a Pandora's Box of waning faith and belief. :(

Thanks for this - interesting indeed.

A.J. said...

I'm not in California but was very much in the no camp. The church has said it is o.k. for members to be against prop 8. I wish they had said it was o.k. before the voting but whatever. Maybe some people at church were kinda fascist about it but not all.

El Genio said...

One of the things that horrified me most about the whole experience, was the "conversion" of members who had been previously opposed to the proposition. At first I was touched every time an individual would approach the Bishop and explain that they just didn't feel right about this. Some members were really willing to go toe to toe with him on this. Much to my dismay they all ended up gaining "testimonies" of how this was so important, and how it wouldn't really hurt the marriages that had already been performed.

Lisa said...

I do know of one girl...well, two who felt very much against the idea and planned to vote no until we received the letter from the First Presidency.

That was enough for them to change their vote. Follow the Prophet, he knows the way.

I do want to give credit where it's due. While my bishop knows very little about me (we just moved back into the area), I did go to him and say "I can't vote for this, please help me understand why I should."

This wasn't easy. He was very good about it and cared more about me wanting to do what was right. So not all bishops were bad about it. I was lucky. That said, I do wonder if he would've been so awesome had he known about my blog. But that's purely speculation.

He did, however, ask me about my testimony of President Monson, especially since he's new. He thought perhaps I didn't have a testimony which leads me to believe that he thought if I did I would've followed the admonitions in that damned letter.

But yeah, the few people I trusted with my thoughts told me that their opinions changed the moment they heard that letter. It was a matter of faith for them; nevermind that I received a "stupor of thought" when I considered following in their footsteps and the biggest relief and peace when I decided to vote no.

Max Power said...

Hey Abe, do you mind if I plagiarize your summary of the book in a blog post on facebook? I haven't stirred up any controversy amongst my friends for a while, and this might just be the ticket.

Abelard Enigma said...

Go for it - it'll be interesting to see what sort of discussion it generates.

Although, to be perfectly honest, much of what I put was plagiarized from other web sites. Although, I did make significant changes to get it to be more concise. Usually I try to include a link to my source; but, I was pulling bits and pieces from several web sites.

invisible said...

This is an amazing post! Wow! It is so chilling. I would have never thought of that connection but says the parallels are striking. My I link this on facebook?

Anna said...

this could be put on boths sides though. For example, the "Mormon Boycott" that has been happening, targeting all of the Mormon owned companies. They have also said to ask your waiter if they are Mormon, and if they are do not tip them.

As i remember well from my WW2 history class in college, the Jews were boycotted right before the holocaust. just something to think about.