The Stasi test

Posted by – May 10, 2009

Grudgingly I have come to accept that family is important. It’s nicer to think that the people you choose to associate with are way more important than a group of people you’re born into, but it’s just not true. There are ways in which friends matter more: they will often have similar interests so you have more to talk about, they’re more likely to understand and accept you as an individual because they’re probably similar to you anyway, they won’t try to control you or make you feel guilty because they don’t think they have any particular authority over you etc. But there’s another important sense in which family seems to win hands down. I call it the Stasi test.

I remember asking my mother as a child about how she’d react if I were suspected of murder, in particular if the evidence seemed to overwhelmingly suggest that I was guilty but I nevertheless claimed to be innocent. In other words, I wanted to know whether she would be biased towards me. She said she guessed she would “have to believe” me. This is the essence of the Stasi test.

In the Stasi test I imagine that I’m living in a “thought control” state in which certain beliefs are punishable and generally considered to be reprehensible and disgusting (or that I’m living in a society that’s even more like that than this one). Let’s say I hold those immoral beliefs and assume that everyone else sincerely considers my beliefs to be evil just like the secret police does. Think 1984. The question is this: which people could I safely reveal those beliefs to, ie. which ones wouldn’t turn me in to the secret police?

I’d like to think that some of my friends wouldn’t, although it’s hard to say which ones. Not necessarily some top slice of closest friends, because there are some pretty morally conscious people among them. They would be able to rise above their affections towards me as a friend in order to fulfil the greater good. But some close friends who generally care more about practicality, immediacy and loyalty than abstract moral values would pass the Stasi test (I am thinking of three people in particular, I wonder if they guess who they are).

But for some reason family doesn’t work like this. No matter what they thought, I just can’t see my immediate family throwing me to the wolves because of my immorality in this situation. Not only does family have this “ultimate bond” characteristic, but it’s very long-lasting and enduring: even when people have been apart for decades they will often recognise each other as family and therefore bonded. The knowledge that you share lots of genetic material with someone overrides a lot of preferences in your brain and makes you care about them and protect them.

I recognise this in myself too: hurt to people I’m genetically invested or vice-versa feels a lot like hurt to me personally. This is about as intrinsic a part of human nature as you can get.

1 Comment on The Stasi test

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  1. Bess says:

    Love you, too : )