Stockholm Syndrome

On August 23, 1973, Jan-Erik Olsson attempted to rob one of the largest banks in Stockholm, Sweden. He botched the job and could not escape. Instead, he took four hostages and, with a companion, held them for a week in the bank’s vault.

Remarkably, upon their release, the hostages not only would not cooperate with the police and testify against their captors, they also began a fund-raising effort for their defense. The phenomenon was attributed to a kind of “brainwashing” in which the captives came to empathize with and defend their captors during a brief, but overly tense, period of time.

Today the popularly recognized “Stockholm Syndrome” is characterized by four components:

1. Positive feelings of the hostages towards their captors
2. No previous relationship between the hostages and the captors
3. Refusal to cooperate with those who criticize or prosecute the hostage takers
4. Failure of the hostages to see their captors as a threat

It occurs to me that our culture may be experiencing eerily familiar symptoms of the Stockholm Syndrome, since many seem fully to agree with our ongoing captivity, defend the captors, refuse to consider any criticism of their practices, and don’t see them as a threat, but rather have bonded with them.

We certainly can be excused for initially believing that all we were being told was scientific, and the isolation and universal lock downs were for our own good. No doubt it was all well-intended.

But after a year, it’s difficult to see the justification for repeatedly failed measures, a ruined economy, and a traumatized culture.

Just this week I passed two little boys riding their bikes in the nearly 70 degree sunshine-soaked fresh air, wearing masks. I had to wonder, since there is no objective science behind that, it must be a fearful parent. I hope so. I’d hate to think that the eight-year-olds themselves have lived so long in captivity that they accept it as normal.

“The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him.”
Proverbs 18:17

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