5 Steps to Tyranny

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A Different Way of Looking at the Five Steps to Tyranny Concept

James Turner

PSY 400


In week 5, we watched a television program called “The Five Steps to Tyranny.” It explained how five different steps that take place can lead to conflict and tyranny. The program used a variety of examples, from the Holocaust to an exercise used in a third grade classroom, to explain these steps and also how they lead to tyranny. When people talk about the “5 Steps to Tyranny” concept, they usually associate it with war. The five steps are, “us and them”, “obey orders”, “do them harm”, “stand up or stand by”, and annihilation. When we think about these different steps and come up with examples for them, we think about the Holocaust and other forms of genocide like Rwanda. It comes natural to us to think that these steps have to do with war and they do make a lot of sense when examples are used to describe the different steps. However, it appears that these steps could be used to describe how conflict occurs in other aspects of life. It is true that some of the steps cannot literally be used to describe certain everyday situations that lead to conflict. What we can do instead is use alternate meanings of the steps to describe situations, such as friendship or divorce between couples that lead to conflict. When we say, “do them harm”, instead of doing physical harm to someone, we may mean that we do harm to someone emotionally. Some people may believe that the “5 Steps to Tyranny” concept should only be associated with war and genocide, but I believe that this concept goes deeper than that. It is pretty easy to find examples from the Holocaust that coincide with the different steps from this concept, but it is very challenging to do the same and use an example, such as friendship to describe how different steps can lead to conflict. I believe that there are other aspects of life that we can apply the “5 Steps to Tyranny” concept to.

In order to show how other aspects of life apply to the “5 Steps to Tyranny” concept, it is very important to show how different aspects of war apply to the different steps of this theory. The first step towards conflict is called, “Us and Them.” The television program “5 Steps to Tyranny” described this first step by saying, “From childhood on, we create out-groups as opposed to our own in-group. We class certain others as underdogs, this can result in prejudice.” (Step One) An example of this was how the Nazis segregated the Jews by pointing out certain physical attributes that made them different and not as good as the Germans. The second step towards conflict is called, “Obey Orders.” In the program, “5 Steps to Tyranny”, it talks about how people are taught to obey orders and do the right thing. People say that they don’t always do as they are told, when in fact, “we often do obey without little questioning.” (Step 2) An example this step was how people in Germany did whatever Hitler wanted them to do without thinking about the consequences. They did not want to disappoint their authority figure, so they bought into all of the propaganda used against the Jews. The third step towards conflict is called, “Do Them Harm.” In the program, “5 Steps to Tyranny”, it describes how authority figures can make us harm others even if we think we couldn’t. (Step 3) An example of this was how Hitler was able to manipulate and make Nazi soldiers and other people in Europe commit terrible crimes against Jews. The fourth step towards conflict is called, “Stand Up or Stand By.” The television program, “5 Steps to Tyranny”, describes how people fall into to two different categories; the bystander or the dissenter. (Step 4) An example of this was how the people of Germany who did not agree with Hitler’s views did not speak out due to fear. If these people had indeed spoke out against Hitler, his power could have been diminished. The final step towards conflict is “Annihilation.” This is pretty...
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