Beautiful Souls is the main title of a new book that I’ve just finished reading. The subtitle lets you know more of what the book is about: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times.
The main structure is four case studies of individuals, with theory and perspectives and ruminations and history intertwined. The four are a Swiss border official in the late 1930s who let Jews across, a Serb who saved Croats during the 1990s conflict, an Israeli soldier who came to see the plight of Palestinians, and a woman who led in whistleblowing on the Stanford Group in the United States.
From this last case, a few words seemed worth reporting to Brockers.
Drawing on data collected by the World Value Surveys and other sources over multiple years, the sociologist Claude Fischer sought to measure how sympathetic to rule-defying nonconformists Americans actually are. … Compared with Europeans, Fischer found, U.S. citizens “consistently answer in a way that favors the group over the individual,” confirming Tocqueville’s impression that a powerful current of conformity ran through American life. … As the survey by Fischer showed, a higher proportion of U.S. citizens agreed that “people should support their country even if the country is in the wrong,” than in any other nation. [152-153]
Two men who also contributed to exposing the nefarious activities of Stanford Group derived great strength from sharing their stance, while coworkers and even a spouse thought they were crazy.
Both Stanley Milgram and Solomon Asch discovered in the experiments they conducted: that breaking ranks is significantly easier when a person can draw on some form of “mutual support,” when there is another person who sees things the way you do.