‘The Push’ is a reality TV documentary by the mentalist Derren Brown. For choosing its ‘participants’, he shortlists, through an experiment, those who are especially socially compliant, without question. They are then put through a seamless and elaborate series of events, that unbeknownst to them, are staged by many actors. Through gradually increasingly stressful situations presented, their already compliant nature is stretched. Giving in to peer pressure, the climax of the ‘show’ is when imaginary yet credibly presented stakes become very high, while they are asked to push an old man off a roof to save themselves and to ‘save the day’.
To our horror, of the four participants featured, three do eventually do as asked – to commit what in real life would be murder. Of course, no one is hurt, while the big reveals offer great relief to the participants. While this might seem like an incredibly sadistic practical ‘joke’, ‘The Push’ offers important food for thought, just as the famous Stanford Prison Experiment did. When subject to extreme conditions, humans might do the extreme – be it good or evil. This is also a true cautionary tale, on the harm of simply following the crowd, to always be blindly reliant on ‘the wisdom of the crowd’, when it can just as well be ‘the delusion of the masses’.
How is this relevant to Buddhists, or really, to all of us? Just as we must not follow any teacher blindly, we must not blindly ask others to do so too. If not, it could become a tragic case of ‘one blind person guiding many blind persons, to lead one another to enter a fire pit.’ (一盲引众盲，相牵入火坑) Even the Buddha personally requested us to question his teachings. If so, we surely have the right to question every non-Buddha as well, who claim to be teaching the Buddha’s teachings. While right faith based on rational confidence is a virtue, blind faith based on emotional attachment is surely a fault, not what the Buddha would recommend at all!