The American public thinks it has well-formed opinions on moral, ethical, legal, social, and religious issues, despite there being a general lack of formal education as to how to form such higher-level semantic judgments in the public school system. This study demonstrates that the need to conform to peer attitudes will cause the public to ignore facts, dismiss evidence, and believe in rumors in order to substantiate their view. The majority of Americans will not change their views, after they are formed, even when presented with direct facts to the contrary.

This article explains the basis of the opinion, summarizes scientific research, and presents a new case study illustrating that a significant proportion of Americans (10%) will even murder, despite being given knowledge that their actions constitute murder several times, and will defend their right to murder regardless of law.

INTRODUCTION

In the need to reduce social friction between multiple races and ethnic groups, the American school system indoctrinates children with the need to conform with and accept peer-group opinions. Simultaneously, and again in a need to reduce racial and ethnic tensions, controversial issues such as religious belief and philosophy are not taught in public schools.

While this has been mostly successful in reducing racial and ethnic conflict in the schools, the corollary and resultant effect has been that the American public, in totality, has no real educational background in evaluating moral, ethical, legal, and religious views.

Perhaps swayed by the success of the American culture in enabling a better quality of life, children are led to believe that the primitive and naive opinions which they form as part of social groups have some elevated status of superiority,even though they have been given no formal education in how to formulate higher semantic judgments.

The consequence is a general tenacity by the public to hold opinions as being self-evidently true, and to resist views contrary to their own, often with extreme emotion. This resistance is often contrary to fact, and moreover, leads to violence, unjustified war, and even torture. Moreover, such negative consequences are mostly ignored, even when faced with direct physical evidence that they are occurring and that they are wrong.

BACKGROUND RESEARCH

The first objection to the above statement is that it is simply fabrication. Therefore this topic describes empirical evidence demonstrating the extent and depth of the resulting inability to form higher-level judgments by the majority of the American populace.

Early Research in Social Psychology

A number of early important experiments conducted in social psychology have been somewhat forgotten in the mists of time, but still bear relevance to the modern day.

  • [1] Asch (1951) was the first to suggest that people will act irrationally rather than disagree with a group. He established this to be true in a neutral situation, simply by showing people three lines of obviously different lengths. If all the other people except the person under test answered the wrong line was the shortest, the subject almost always agreed with the group rather than believe his own senses and say the rest of the group was wrong.
  • [2] Milgram (1961) proved that people will typically obey a leadership and even torture a person to apparent death simply by being told that they don't need to be concerned about it and should do what they are told. Moreover, they will do so even if the authority figure telling them to torture someone else is not present. Even if the person they are told to hurt is saying they have a bad heart condition and may die, they will choose to obey the authority rather than act compassionately.
  • [3] The 'Stanford Prison Experiment' (1971), proved, if guards were left to their own devices in controlling prisoners, without supervision, the guards would use increasingly violent force, up to and including torture, to maintain authority.

Contemporary Research

More recent sociological research has refined the above observations and quantified their general effect on public opinion.

  • [4] Dunning and Kruger (1999) found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Americans failed to recognize their own lack of skill, failed to recognize genuine skill in others, and failed to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
  • [5] Haidt (2000) posits "a collection of psychological mechanisms that dispose individuals selectively to credit or dismiss evidence of risk in patterns that fit values they share with others," rather than scientific fact. His experiments intend to demonstrate the truth of his hypothesis.
  • [6] Prasad et al (2009) said "We form emotional attachments that get wrapped up in our personal identity and sense of morality, irrespective of the facts of the matter." This notion of ‘motivated reasoning’ is supported with experimental results in artificial settings.
  • [7] Nisbet and Garrett (2010) presented subjects with a detailed rebuttal to the claim that "Feisal Abdul Rauf is a terrorist-sympathizer." Yet among those who were previously aware of the rumor and believed it, fewer than a third changed their minds.

The above seven citations are considered sufficient to corroborate the hypothesis, and so far no reasonable objection has been made to it.

CASE STUDY: DELUSION AS TO RIGHT TO MURDER

One of the most disturbing results of this American Delusion is the resultant increase in homicide, and the resistance of those determined to kill against purely legal fact. To investigate the extent this delusion is leading to murder, I performed a few case studies of public opinion on Facebook.

Tea Party, on the Right to Murder

In one week I exchanged 400 messages with members of the Tea Party, on the topic: "Would you deliberately shoot to death a thief, simply because he broke into your home?".

  • 250 responses said "you must be a f***ing liberal, of course we would kill them, you idiot," or similar.
  • 57 stated outright that if someone enters their home, they may unquestionably shoot them to death without equal threat, and without trial, simply because they are allowed to protect their property and bear arms. Over half of them cited the second amendment (the right to bear arms) as proof they were allowed to kill.
  • 12 responded that if someone breaks in, of course their real intent is to hurt someone, so the only thing to do is to kill first.
  • 2 responded that blacks just deserve to be killed outright, and its a probably a black person, so they should just be exterminated.

I pointed out 15 times that the courts do not impose the death penalty for simple theft. So, if a homeowner shoots someone to death who was doing no more than stealing, he is putting his self above the law.

I pointed out the philosophical defense for putting oneself above the law is the concept of Ubermensch, which was used to justify nazism and fascism in the 1930s, but is not part of constitutional law In this republic.

Not one of 61 people who responded to that were capable of agreeing or admitting I have a point. On further debate, none of them countered the theory I presented, but simply repeated prior statements with minor additions, such as repetitively accusing people who refuse to kill as cowards. All of them reinforced they believed they had every right to kill someone simply for breaking and entering. I wont go into details, but some of the arguments were incredibly long.

Not one person in now >400 messages bothered to look up the law. Here is the exact law as to what is permitted in self defense, and it is certainly not allowable to use deadly force just because someone is stealing.

On a federal level, self-defense is legal only in response to "An affirmative, unlawful act reasonably calculated to produce an affray foreboding injurious or fatal consequences. The definition of legal self-defense on a state level often varies significantly from this definition and from other states, but each state makes an important distinction between the use of non-deadly and deadly force.A person may use non-deadly force to prevent imminent injury; however, a person may not use deadly force unless that person is in reasonable fear of serious injury or death. [8]

Even after sharing this, two people argued that the 'CASTLE EXCEPTION' in 15 states gives them the right to kill simply because someone broke into their home, if they happen to live in that state (several in Texas argued,but were aware that Texas has no castle exception to federal law). After overcoming the absolute horror that these Tea Party members are really so keen to kill that they want to argue even after being told the law that, I provided this, from the castle exception:

States with justifiable homicide provisions in pertaining to one's domicile, do not in themselves authorize indiscriminate violence therein—the mere fact that one is trespassing is no defense per seto justifying homicide.
~ The Castle Exception [9]

And EVEN AFTER THAT, someone wanted to argue with me that they could kill a stranger simply for breaking and entering, because the act of breaking and entering is itself violent.

I had felt I had been sufficiently patient, but at that point, I finally lost it and called him a homicidal maniac Despite presentation of all the facts contrary to the right of an individual to kill merely for breaking and entering, not one of the 400 responses changed their mind.

Philosophy Group, on Right to Murder

Here it was indicated to read the above provided section before responding. Most refused to read it and simply stated their opinion. In two hours, 23 responses were as follows

  • Argued extensively for right to murder despite law: 3
  • Stated a belief in right to murder: 8
  • Would shoot without intending to kill: 10
  • Would call the police: 1
  • Don't own anything worth stealing: 1

When people argued for the case of killing someone merely for breaking and entering, I reiterated that the law does not permit killing simply for breaking and entering seven times. Not one person said thank you for explaining the law or for discussing it with them. Of the three people who argued extensively for the right to murder, one refused to read any law at all, one resorted to insults upon being told the law, and one person claimed the castle exception still permitted killing simply for breaking and entering, and continued to argue that the law was wrong.

From prior experience with the Tea Party group, it seems fairly demonstrated that the hypothesis is correct. Conjuncted with experience with the philosophy group, an estimate of 10% as the proportion of Americans who believe they are entitled to murder is conservative. A formal statistical analysis with a questionnaire to the general public would be likely to show a higher percentage.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is a conservative estimate that one in ten Americans believe they have a right to murder someone merely for breaking and entering, despite clear law to the contrary, and maintain this belief even after rational reasoning, and then after actually being shown the law. Of those, half cite the second amendment ('the right to bear arms') as primary proof that they are allowed to kill by law.

This research substantiates the current view of "cognitive dissonance," that a person will believe something irrational rather than experience the discomfort of believing something unpleasant, to extreme levels one would not intuitively believe possible. [10]

In sum, together with other research, this corroborates the concept that the American need to conform to a peer group, and obey authority, is so powerful that we will choose to deny direct visual proof that the truth is otherwise; that in order to conform socially; that we will torture someone to the point of death merely because we are told we should do so; and we will commit acts of violence as a group up to the limit possible to maintain authority, without moral doubt; and that these tendencies to violence, encouraged by uneducated peer groups, must lead to a significant increase in killing.

These facts about typical American behavior are true across all social strata, regardless of sex, age, income, race, creed, or color.

The need to conform will cause the public to ignore facts, dismiss evidence, and believe in rumors in order to substantiate their view. the majority of Americans will not change their views, after they are formed, when presented with facts to the contrary.

Recommendation

For reformation of such views, all Americans should, at a minimum, be familiar with the following information, especially if they are convinced that their knowledge of law is correct in giving them the right to murder:

  • Plato's Gorgias ~ on the meaning of justice and refutation of justice as rule of the strong
  • Aristotle's politics ~ To understand the difference between ideal and real-world politics, and why democracy is the last-worse of real-world systems
  • The bibilical covenant ~ To understand the basis of judgment, justice, and forgiveness in Christian culture
  • Augustine's City of God ~ To understand how morality is considered the basis of ethics and law in civilization
  • Hobbes Leviathan ~ At least briefly, to explain how fear was advocated and rejected as the basis of law
  • Locke's Treatise of Government ~ To explain the basis of the social contract in America, and in the Declaration of Independence
  • Montesquieu's Spirit of Law ~ To explain the separation of powers, so as to understand what constitutes a decision that can be defined by congress, by the administration, and by the supreme court
  • Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation ~ To explain the utilitarian concept of punishment proportional to crime
  • Mill's On Liberty ~ To explain why liberty is considered necessary and its limits
  • Mill's Utilitarianism ~ To explain legislation based on rule utilitarianism
  • Emerson's Politics ~ To provide an understanding of the ideal of minimal law
The above would be considered some necessary texts, at a minimum, for a citizen of this nation to be able to formulate valid moral, ethical, and legal judgments at higher semantic levels; and that Americans should be taught, if they are not familiar with these principles, that the value of their opinions, as to what law should be, is for all real purpose, irrelevant.

I state this latter recommendation after being faced by the outright rejection of any authority as valid over individual opinion;and furthermore, not the least to mention, the extreme hostility and vehemence of those defending their opinions as superior over law, up to and including threats of personal retribution.

"Never mind the "laws" of a state/nation or the "rights" afforded by them, I think the part that I'm most disturbed by is the idea people have that it's somehow "ok to" justify the act. As if owners of guns are just WAITING for the opportunity to use them. "Give me a reason, and I WILL shoot you" seems to be mindset."
~Noah DiNoia

REFERENCES

  1. Asch conformity experiments:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments
  2. The Milgram experiment:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
  3. The Stanford Prison Experiment:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment
  4. "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," Kruger and Dunning, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77 (6): 1121–34. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1121
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect
  5. "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment," Jonathan Haidt University of Virginia
    http://www.motherjones.com/files/emotional_dog_and_rational_tail.pdf
  6. "There Must Be a Reason”: Osama, Saddam, and Inferred Justification," Monica Prasad, Andrew J. Perrin, Kieran Bezila, Steve G. Hoffman, Kate Kindleberge, Kim Manturuk2and, and Ashleigh Smith Powers. Sociological Inquiry, 29.2, pages 142–162, May 2009
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090821135020.htm
  7. "Belief in rumors Hard to Dispel: Fact checking easily undermined by images, unrelated facts," Erik Nisbet and Kelly Garrett, Ohio State University
    http://www.comm.ohio-state.edu/kgarrett/FactcheckMosqueRumors.pdf
  8. Self defense (American Law)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-defense_(United_States)
  9. The Castle Exception:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine
  10. Cognitive Dissonance
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
  11. The Gorgias, Plato (380 BC)
  12. Politics, Aristotle (360 BC)
  13. The biblical covenant
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_(biblical)
  14. City of God, Augustine (400 AD)
  15. The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1668 AD)
  16. Second Treatise of Government, John Locke (1689 AD)
  17. Spirit of Law, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1748 AD)
  18. Principles of Morals and Legislation, Jeremy Bentham (1781 AD)
  19. On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1859 AD)
  20. Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill (1863 AD)
  21. Politics, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1844 AD)