Today we visited the “Terror Museum” in Budapest. It’s housed in the former offices and torture headquarters of the Fascist Party (WWII) and the Hungarian communist “KGB” (1945-1990).
As half my family are Hungarian refugees (the other half are Polish refugees), I came to Budapest to explore my roots and see whether ancestral memories or trauma would be stirred up by my visit.
I did end up getting “all fired up” but I don’t think it was anything to do with ancestral trauma. What upsets me is government invasion into our lives and the fact that people allow it to happen.
Today’s blog is about my own (blinkered and biased) view of recent history, including the torture and murder of my grandparent’s family, and why we allow this to happen. In my view there must be something in our psychology that creates this, and I believe that tools like RPT can help us to understand – and ultimately change – human behavior.
A brief biased history of freedom lost
From my perspective, the history of government invasion into civil liberties is generally a step-by-step approach. Overnight military uprisings are very rare; these things take years to develop as the government entrenches its power.
Rather than overnight uprisings, the history of persecution could be described as a series of unfortunate events. (Author Lemony Snicket would surely agree.)
For instance Hitler didn’t come to power overnight and start killing Jews. It took him many years to entrench his power. The campaign of persecution of Jews increased in tempo over a several year period before the German borders were closed. A small number of Jews (thousands out of millions) saw the writing on the wall and left Europe before it was too late.
Only 1 of my 4 grandparents escaped Europe before the war. Three of them remained, feeling they had no choice, even though many of their brothers and sisters emigrated to South America, Australia or the USA in the 1930s.
The fundamental question here is why did they stay behind? What were they thinking?
Many had fear of change, or assets or businesses that couldn’t be left behind. Above all else there was a belief that things couldn’t get much worse. At every step along the way they were sure that things would improve. No one could believe the horror of Auschwitz even when told about it. In psychology this is a form of “normalcy bias.”
In other words, in my own logic: people value what they know (comfort, security) more than freedom (which is risky).
Similar to the Nazi takeover of Europe, Communist control over Eastern Europe did not occur overnight. The Budapest Terror Museum contained a frightening history of intimidation and electoral fraud that enabled the Communists, over a period of years, to gain total control over Hungary and subjugate the people to Soviet control.
The question to ask yourself is “why didn’t people get out when they could?”
There are lots of answers – they would lose their houses, they didn’t speak any language other than Hungarian, they had already lost too much in WWII and couldn’t afford to leave. Etc. Etc. Etc. The one thing we can say for sure is that if they had known what the communists had in store for them, they would have left. But they didn’t.
This is a pattern repeated all over the world. The Jews didn’t leave Germany, the East Berliners didn’t escape before the wall was built, Cambodian intellectuals didn’t flee Pol Pot. It’s still happening before our very eyes, like the white South Africans who aren’t trying to emigrate before Nelson Mandela dies (when it’s widely understood that the “peaceful racial amnesty” ends).
Triune brain model and Freedom
The answer seems to be deeply ingrained in our psychology – in the R-complex or Reptilian brain. We are hardwired to seek security. As much as freedom is important to us (at least intellectually), we feel safer with what we know.
There must be a part of our brain (R-complex) that tells us that it’s safest to stay close to our roots, near to where we were born. Animals will consistently return to their home grounds rather than seeking greener pastures.
This isn’t just “less intelligent” animals like reptiles (think turtles that keep laying eggs on a beach that is no longer safe). Large intelligent mammals do the same.
For instance elephants that are being culled in over-populated Kruger Park are driven thousands of kilometers to Mozambique and return to Kruger so quickly that they actually beat the trucks on the return journey! Humans, for all our supposed brains, seem to have the same instinct – “home = safe.”
[Note for new readers - for more information on the triune brain model and its significance in RPT seem some of these old posts: Introduction to Triune Brain Model (Feb 2010) and Animated Video on healing with Triune Brain (May 2010).]
The point I hope you take from today’s article is this: Freedom is neither the natural state of government nor (apparently) the natural state of our biology.
The natural state of government is power – the empowered crushing the weak. This applies in the natural world (think about dominance displays in just about any animals), and in human politics.
The natural state of biology – for humanity and other animals, is to seek safety. For the vast majority of people this means allowing oppression. This can be perfectly summarized by the life motto of my Jewish ancestors as taught to me in my childhood: “better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t know.”
Combine these two factors together and you have, in my view, an ability to understand why human history is shaped by so much cruelty and oppression. People, or “Sheeple” as I’ve recently heard them called (sheep people), feel safer to stick with what they have than to confront the unknown and flee oppression.
This explains why so much injustice is allowed to occur. This is the only explanation I can see for what I learned in the Terror Museum, or for why my ancestors didn’t do more to escape the Holocaust.
Continued – tomorrow
Wow, that Torture museum got me all fired up… from torture to histories to elephant brains. I’m going to have to adjourn till tomorrow.
In tomorrow’s blog I will encourage you to ask some difficult questions like how different your country really is to early communist Hungary. How different are your rights and freedoms really to Jews in early Hitler German (before the exterminations began)? These are difficult and controversial questions.
And most important of all, I will keep coming back to the million dollar question of “what can I do about this?”
Until then – don’t forget that your comments and questions here are your exchange, your “payment” for enjoying the blog. Hit the “Like” button and make your contribution.