The strange duality of people

This morning, trying to squeeze past a truck in a shopping center’s parking lot, I got stuck in a snowbank, and my wheels spun freely both forward and backward, digging me in deeper. After trying for a while to dig myself out with a scraper, I went to the supermarket to ask if they had any snow shovels. They didn’t, but a guy nearby overheard my request and explanation and offered to help me. When pushing didn’t work, he used his snowplow truck and tow chain to extricate me. I gave him a business card and offered help with Mac stuff if he ever needs it, and I’ll give a free plug here to the business name on his truck, Alliance Landscaping in New Hampshire.

As individuals, people can be very helpful and generous, yet when they engage their group loyalties, they can approve of horrible things. Most of the population is indifferent to, or actively approves of, increasingly barbaric actions by the US government. People whom I once considered reasonable, even if I disagreed on them on important issues, now accept outrageous acts authorized from Washington; yet I’m perfectly safe alone with them, even if they know what I think of their views.

When people are directly interacting with each other, face to face in a non-threatening situation, their best tends to come out. When they’re following a leader and don’t feel personally responsible for what’s happening, they’re often at their worst. I realize there’s nothing new about this observation, but some of my recent experiences have really driven it home. The people who cheered Hitler and went home to be kind to their (non-Jewish) neighbors were just a more extreme case of that duality.

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