By Tseng Tan | 2012-4-27 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
AS reported in the Shanghai Daily on April 24 ("Robbers called us Asian Dog"), poor Hsuan Hao was attacked on a train in Sydney, Australia, after a emotional unhappy Caucasian lady gave a commanding order to rob him.
"There were no policemen in the train, but there were many other people and even train crews," Hsuan was quoted as saying. He said no one had offered help.
Without going into the racial overtones of this incident, this process of not helping others in a crowded situation is called bystander apathy by social psychologists.
It is a case of diffusion of responsibility as the more people there are around, as in a city setting, the less likely that one of the onlookers will come forward to help the victim. People are more likely to come to the aid of the injured or victim when they are the only people around.
In the extreme situation, diffusion of responsibility in huge anonymous mass can develop into either cheerful spectators or angry mobs with resulting lawlessness.
Just look at the soccer games on TV, the singing of team songs, swaying in rhythmic trance and wearing of identical tees and team-colored scarves. These individuals sublimate their individuality and forget themselves in the mood of the situations.
Reports of losing team supporters rioting and smashing windows are quite common.
And victory can create unrestrained and unaccountable actions by the celebrating alcoholic supporters that sometimes violate social norms and laws. This state of affairs is called de-individuation.
The reason this occurs is that the individual cannot be pinned down as they perceive that they are cannot be recognized.
Organizations in some cases promote this de-individuation process by enforcing the wearing of uniforms and the chanting of indoctrinating statements, so as to enhance obedience, conformity and allegiance to the organizational agenda and purpose.
History has countless instances of mobs and armies inflicting senseless atrocities on hapless human begins under the "I am following orders" justification.
A sad story that happened on May 19, 1993, in the Bosnia conflict is a case in point.
That day, Bosko and Admira, two lovers born in 1968, decided to escape from Sarajevo and had to cross a bridge between the Serb and Muslim lines. There were gunmen from both sides overlooking the bridge.
No one knows who shot the lovers, but Bosko died instantly and Admira crawled to him and died a few minutes later. As the bodies lay on the bridge, Serbian and Bosnian sides were arguing over who pulled the triggers. After eight days of arguing, the bodies were recovered by Serbian forces in the dead of the night and they are now buried together, side by side in Lion Cemetery.
Fortunately however, not all collective norms are negative, as there have been reported cases of villagers and whole communities coming together to help evacuation and search for the victims in disasters and calamities; as well as individuals disobeying orders to help the weak and the unfortunate.
In the 1965 racial riots in Singapore, I was living in a kampong (Malay term for village) and one night, a mob wanted to enter the village to harm the minority Chinese living there.
Three Malay brothers (volunteers in the army) and an Arab gentleman (a customs officer) went forward to meet the mob and told them that if they were to enter the village they would be beaten up first.
The mob retreated and there was peace. I am alive today filing this essay.
The author is a senior HR consultant in Singapore.