Study: Encouraging Obedience Considered Harmful

byMBlume9y14th May 201029 comments

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A while back I did a couple of posts on the care and feeding of young rationalists. Though it is not new, I recently found a truly excellent post on this topic, in Dale Mcgowan's blog, The Meming of Life. The post details a survey carried out on ordinary citizens of Hitler's Germany, searching for correlations between style of upbringing, and adult moral decisions. 

Everyday Germans of the Nazi period are the focus of a fascinating study discussed in the PBB seminars and in the Ethics chapter of Raising Freethinkers. For their book The Altruistic Personality, researchers Samuel and Pearl Oliner conducted over 700 interviews with survivors of Nazi-occupied Europe. Included were both “rescuers” (those who actively rescued victims of persecution) and “non-rescuers” (those who were either passive in the face of the persecution or actively involved in it). The study revealed interesting differences in the upbringing of the two groups — specifically the language and practices that parents used to teach their values.

Non-rescuers were 21 times more likely than rescuers to have been raised in families that emphasized obedience—being given rules that were to be followed without question—while rescuers were over three times more likely than non-rescuers to identify “reasoning” as an element of their moral education. “Explained,” the authors said, is the single most common word used by rescuers in describing their parents’ ways of talking about rules and ethical ideas.

For anyone interested in rational and ethical upbringing, I really cannot recommend  Meming of Life  strongly enough.