Thursday, March 02, 2006

Opium of the masses:Hostile Witness Case

On Vivek's blog, we discussed a hypothetical case. Its brief summary is as follows:
Lets say that you are a key witness in a murder case. You saw the accused kill the victim right in front of your eyes. The facts of the case are absolutely clear to you, and fresh in your memory. Now, your testimony is up for tomorrow. You get a call during the night before the fateful day. The caller threatens to kill/harm either you or your wife/your kids/someone-very-dear-to-you. Alternatively, the caller could make you a different offer - that of money. Say Rs. 1 Crore (a little over $200,000). You know for sure that the accused can indeed shell out that much money. The condition is obvious. You must become a hostile witness. What would you do? And why?

Most of the people agreed that they would not take money but if the safety of themselves or their family is threatened they may buckle up.

I think we forgot to discuss a very important third instance. Somehow the reality and frequent occurence of this third important instance has disturbed me and so I am writing this post. What if the murderer himself belong to your own community. Here community may mean one's caste, religion,city, region, company or college etc. He may not be someone we know very closely or have met often but somehow because of a collective link we identify with him. Would we expose the truth?

No, I don't think so. Across the history man has known to hide truth to protect the image of his tribe, religion, society, college or community in short. Somehow we take myopic vision of things and stay calm. Though we know very well that staying calm today may lead to ultimate doom/downfall of that very community. But somehow collective pressure is so high that we go into some sort of collective rationalization. This is not fear, but something greater and darker than fear, an unknown anxiety of not going against the common feeling, however wrong we know it is. We tend to follow a herd mentality. But this thing never benefits a community. It only give further encouragement to the criminal to do such acts. And it initiates other members of community also in the crime.

Many people in Enron must have known what is going on. Perhaps if they have blowed the whistle, company might have been saved. Even many honest Govt officers don't report bribes taken by their colleages. And even if someone gets caught by a brave effort of an individual, they try to protect him and put in their best effort not to report the event to outside ppl. This collective rationalization may also lead to groupthink as in the case of famous Bay of Pigs incident. We become so blinded by our loyalty to the small community that we miss the larger picture. We lay bare our individual morality in front of the collective fraud.

I feel this vague and undefined feeling is a more important factor in keeping shut when witnessing a crime than any tangible thing like money or threat to family. And many crimes and other unpardonable acts remain unpunished precisely because of that.

It is said that religion is opium of the masses. But I feel any community loyalty feeling can become opium and blind the ppl to the danger looming in front of them.

~Please comment on the post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:24 AM  
Blogger Jeet said...

My comment on this post :p

4:57 AM  
Anonymous muebles madrid said...

This won't really have effect, I think so.

12:14 AM  

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