Why Hitler was Right (and why we get things so wrong)

I’m busy writing my last essays for my MA at the moment and I am beginning to despair. I’m getting worse, not better! Just when I think I’ve researched something pretty well, my tutor takes a look at my draft and points out all the places I’ve made unjustified assumptions and subjective remarks. It seems I struggle academically to tell the difference between fact and opinion.

When I read Make Wealth History the other day (an excellent blog, by the way, written, judging by the UK, by a fellow Brit), I found I’m not alone. I’m just a pretty normal Briton, by the looks of things.

The post: Public Perception vs The Facts really shouldn’t have surprised me or shocked me. Yet I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m a keen amateur psychologist and I’m most fascinated by Social Psychology, yet it seemed unbelievable to me that people can be…well, so dumb, if I’m honest.

I’m going to assume, for once, that the statistics are correct. If the Royal Statistical Society can’t get such things right then we’re all screwed and I don’t think the blog author here could twist and contort the findings too much. So I’ll let the blog speak for itself. Have a read of it now.

Public Perception vs The Facts

Read it? Good.

So we’re left with the awful evidence – which is not far from what I’ve always found – that the British just believe, without thinking, what they’re told. And what they’re told is largely told by the gutter press. It makes me wonder if we should actually ban certain newspapers on the grounds of stirring up racial prejudice!

Source: Daily Star

But it’s not just us Brits, of course. I’m certain it’s the same all over the world. Americans are often ridiculed (sometimes unfairly) for some of the things they believe are true. I’ve had more than one tussle with some who refuse to even consider Global warming as a real problem, for instance. I’ve also seen such gullibility in Bangladesh, where it can turn pretty violent. If I tell you that earlier this year, the face of one of the men convicted of war crimes was reportedly seen plastered across the moon, you might laugh and wonder how anyone could have believed it. But believe it they did and people went on the rampage around the country as a result, believing it a sign from God.

The fact is, we tend to believe what people and authorities we trust (like our daily newspaper) tell us – especially if we’re told it every day. And it’s that fact Adolf Hitler relied on. For years (I may have told you this before) I had the following quote on my classroom wall for all my students to read:

“What good fortune for those in power that the people do not think”

And he was right – people don’t.

Maybe, instead of Citizenship and Personal and Social and a bunch of other titles given to lessons in school that are universally hated by kids being taught stuff most of them already know, maybe instead we should teach them basic social psychology and train them in simple statistics? Imagine if we had a world where people could no longer be turned on a whim, on a headline, on a text or post gone viral? What if we had a world where even the humble worker in the field in somewhere like Bangladesh would raise and eyebrow when someone says something they purport as a fact. What if they put down their tools, whip out their mobile phone and say “I’ll just check the facts of that online…”

What a power for good that could be.

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11 Responses to Why Hitler was Right (and why we get things so wrong)

  1. It’s not that people believe what they read / hear, it’s more that they only read/ hear the stuff they want to believe. For every ‘fact’ there’s always someone out there contradicting it, and that’s what my MA tutors were always looking for, but without the MA there’s less incentive to bother about the counter arguments. Sometimes statistics only tell a small part of a story too so I take stats with a pinch of salt. The more I learn the less I know and a good dose of scepticism about any claim is always a good idea in my book. But belief is sometimes nothing to do with facts or evidence. It’s just what makes sense to me, no matter how many people tell me I’m wrong.


    • I agree with most of what you say Karen – thank you. I can’t go entirely with you on your opening premise however. The Sayedee incident I mention in the post is proof of ordinary people whipped up into a frenzy by a simple hoax. The way Hitler operated (and the same as the Golden Dawn, EDL and UKIP now) was by playing on people’s fears and gradually turning them to their ideals or giving them reason to ‘ignore’ the more sinister ones because the group seem to press enough of the right buttons in other places. Here then, memberships and support increase. Unless you suggest that those who join always secretly thought like that anyway, you’re faced with people being persuaded by what they read and what they are told.

      I have to admit for myself, that the amount of discussion about immigration had me convinced it was at least ‘an issue’. These stats reveal that just isn’t the case – or at least isn’t the case a lot of people claim it to be. I think we can be safe to assume I’ve not had some secret axe to grind against ethnic minorities! But if enough people tell you the king is wearing new clothes…


      • My reply was a quick one and my first comment was directed at your comments about the UK public, not meant as a sweeping statement about all humanity.

        It is my view that we (in the UK at least) have choice as to what newspapers / websites we read and select our chosen sources based on what roughly matches our own ideas (and fears….) I think that tabloids are written to affirm the opinions of their buyers, I am not sure that the tabloids are propaganda to brainwash an unthinking public but may be I am wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time!)

        Also only a few people bother to read around the news to get a broader view, mainly because we like what we are choosing to read. When the Guardian affirms my own believe that Gove is an idiot, I don’t bother finding out what the Telegraph says about his education reforms. I automatically distrust anything the Daily Mail writes about immigration, regardless of the where they get their facts from.

        In countries where news comes from a narrower range of sources it is obviously different and I saw some of that myself in Nepal where most if not all newspapers were government controlled at the time.

        Incidentally, at my school they do exactly what you describe above – in PSHE lessons!


        • I’ll respond backwards to your comment Karen!

          Great to hear your school is getting it right. That makes it, for what it is worth, officially the FIRST school I’ve ever heard of to do so. Fabulous to know it is teaching basic social psychology skills to students.

          If your reference to countries with ‘narrower range of sources’ was referring to Bangladesh then be careful. There is a full range of choice here with over 30 newspapers in English and even more in Bangla. They’re not totally free of Government interference, to be fair, but it isn’t the Government causing issues referred to in this post. There was a hint in your comment that Bangladeshis are more gullible and I don’t think that’s fair (apologies if I misunderstand you) but they do tend to live in community hierarchies and in such situations what the man above you tells you to believe, you believe.

          I get and agree with much of your initial comments though we’ll have to agree to disagree about the brainwashing. I am certain that all newspapers carry their own propaganda – as do we ourselves – and the academic world is beginning to come around to realising this. The days of writing essays in the third person are almost over as the appreciation that every writer writes from his own bias and has his own ‘axe to grind’ is growing. The need to be honest about this is coming back in to academic writing.

          The problem with the newspapers is that a minority of views (the journalists) inspire and encourage views already there (as you say, correctly) but that then makes them grow and gives them validity (your personal view now becomes a case of ‘everyone is saying it’) which then fuels a supposition which the papers then write even MORE about.

          The issue of immigration and this whole post is exactly on this point. For years I saw papers like The Sun, The Express and the Daily Mail moaning about the wrongs of immigration. That has fuelled public opinion and in the last few years has become a major Governmental issue. Yet, the actual facts tell a completely different story. We all spread propaganda which makes Orwell’s nightmarish Big Brother state all the more scary. It wasn’t a Government that started this: it was us.


  2. You are correct sir. Sadly, but correct. I’ve learned the hard way.


  3. The key to all this is to educate children at both primary and secondary schools about politics, it would solve a lot of these problems.


    • That’s an interesting idea Arthur but I disagree simply because it is impossible to talk about politics without speaking from personal bias. Even if teachers worked hard to be neutral (and those genuinely passionate about Politics just simply wouldn’t) they can’t avoid a bias in one direction or another. The result would be children indoctrinated through another media. They need to be taught to think for themselves and taught how the environment affects them even when they don’t know it. It isn’t just politics – psychology is at work with us everywhere. For instance, you could change a huge amount of wrongs in this world simply by teaching kids about the Halo effect and how to recognise it when it happens to us.


  4. I’m terrible at retweeting things without checking the facts first. It’s a good lesson, thanks!


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