On Saturday, August 12th, 2017, a white nationalist rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia. Counter- protesters were also in attendance and by the end of the day, one woman, Heather Heyer, was dead. James Fields, Jr., an avowed white nationalist, stands accused of her murder. Fields, who was driving a Dodge Challenger, fatally wounded Ms. Heyer when he ran her over.
Donald Trump faced intense criticism for his tepid response to the violence and his failure to indict the white nationalists by name. In the aftermath of this event, citizens of the United States are left to grapple with some difficult questions. Three schools of thought, in the field of psychology, can explain what happened and prevent future rallies from becoming violent in such a way a person dies: behaviorism, humanism, and functionalism. The first school of thought, behaviorism, holds that in order to understand people (and other animals), one must “focus…scientific investigations strictly on overt behavior-observable behaviors that could be objectively measured and verified” (Hockenbury 8). And, more importantly, behaviorism suggests that if we can observe behavior, we can use the environment to modify a person’s behavior.
Given that most scientists tend to rely on and/or believe only that which can be supported by data, it stands to reason that a theoretical orientation like behaviorism would emerge which focused on “…the scientific study of objectively observable data” (16). This school of thought includes, among its members, John Watson, Margaret Washburn, and Ivan Pavlov. Behaviorists believe that living beings (remember, Pavlov used dogs, others used rodents) will respond to an outside stimulus and in doing so, change their behavior. The response to the stimulus will produce “…an action or physiological change…” in the recipient (Schacter 17). In the case of Charlottesville, one could assert that given what is known about the history of fascism and alt-right groups, the city had a chance to negate any possible violent behavior simply by refusing to issue a permit to the protesters. Simply by controlling access to a public space, the group’s behavior could have been modified. While there are those who would argue that the white nationalists would still have protested, even without a permit, the fact remains that had they done so, they would have risked incarceration. In short, their failure to behave according to societal norms would have resulted in negative consequences.
Unlike behaviorists, humanists believe that we all have free will. In addition, humanists assert that if a person’s basic needs are not met, they cannot exercise free will because they are not able to self-actualize. One group present at the rally, who lacked the free will to intervene in any meaningful way was the police.
Protestors were issued a permit by the city to protest and the police had limited ways to act in the event as such violence erupted. Charged, as they often are, with keeping the peace, the sheer number and anger of the protesters put the police officers ability to make choices for the good even harder. As a group, the police could of simply worked better to minimize any negative actions assembled by the protestors. In addition to this, free will does not mean go out and do whatever you feel like doing because there are limits. In the Huffington Post article, “Reactions are spontaneous, empathy and leadership organically arise to meet the moment, producing human, and humane, responses. Thus, what we saw in Charlottesville was the result of all the many, many moments that caused it, that came before, that preceded it,” Dr. Donna Rockwell states.
What is stated here is very important because it tells you what the people there at the rally could’ve done to be prevented. It’s more of a cause and effect. However, another school of thought would be functionalism; stressed the importance of how behavior functions to allow people and animals to adapt to their environment. In the rally, clearly one being James Fields didn’t function right with the other group of nationalist leading to running a woman over. He acted more like an animal then a human being would. His behavior was unacceptable during this time. Like James Darwin stated the importance to environmental challenges (William James 5). Also strangers just walking around had to function differently when the incident came around. Some ran and screamed in panic, others stayed and witnessed what was happening.
In conclusion, these three schools of thought, behaviorism, humanism, and functionalism show that they were implied in the riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. Concludes that the situation was bad even before the rally and that it could’ve been handled in a better manner.