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Anatomy Of A Dissenter: Eyal Press On Why People "Break Rank"
Social Change | July 17, 2013

Anatomy Of A Dissenter: Eyal Press On Why People "Break Rank"

"Generally speaking with whistleblowers, they are not doing what comes naturally to them," Eyal Press tells Uprising Radio. "They are doing exactly what, in a sense, violates everything that they grew up believing or thinking." Press is the author of Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People. In the book, he chronicles the experiences of people who "broke rank;" they went against authority or convention in favor of standing up for what they deemed to be morally right. In this particular radio interview, they use the case of Edward Snowden as a jumping off point to discuss why people go against the grain. And, as Press says, how the people who do so are usually not the ones you would expect.

"When we think about these people we often think, in a sense, that they're rebellious types," he continues. Turns out, however, that the opposite is true. "People who go into these organizations with a cynical view are more likely to conform, oddly enough, because they don't expect much," Press argues. Most of the people he profiled in his book didn't get involved with the companies or organizations they worked for to stir up trouble. In fact, they often believe that the work they are doing is for the greater good. A soldier he profiled, for example, believed that the military tasks he was assigned to do were morally conscionable. But, when he found out that the fundamental ideals of his superiors were not in line with his own values, he was forced to object.

These people often take a moral stand even in the face of adversity or risk to their reputation or career. They believe so strongly in the "good" of the system that they react strongly to any fraud or wrongdoing. Using new research from both neuroscientists and moral psychologists, Press delves into the reasons some of us conform to authority—and some don't. Both his stage presentation and award-winning book explore the pervasiveness of the human condition. Press shows us how we respond to ethically taxing situations, and, what our response says about us as people.
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