First, a few words about The Stanley Milgram Experiment1
Stanley Milgram had done it to investigate the causes of World War II, to try to understand why the citizens of Germany had obeyed Hitler.
So he had designed an experiment to investigate obedience, to see if Germans were, for some reason, more liable to obey harmful orders from authority figures.
First he'd run a pilot version of his experiment on American subjects, as a control.
And afterward he hadn't bothered trying it in Germany.
Experimental apparatus: A series of 30 switches set in a horizontal line, with labels starting at '15 volts' and going up to '450 volts', with labels for each group of four switches. The first group of four labeled 'Slight Shock', the sixth group labeled 'Extreme Intensity Shock', the seventh group labeled 'Danger: Severe Shock', and the two last switches left over labeled just 'XXX'.
And an actor, a confederate of the experimenter, who had appeared to the true subjects to be someone just like them: someone who had answered the same ad for participants in an experiment on learning, and who had lost a (rigged) lottery and been strapped into a chair, along with the electrodes. The true experimental subjects had been given a slight shock from the electrodes, just so that they could see that it worked.
The true subject had been told that the experiment was on the effects of punishment on learning and memory, and that part of the test was to see if it made a difference what sort of person administered the punishment; and that the person strapped to the chair would try to memorize sets of word pairs, and that each time the 'learner' got one wrong, the 'teacher' was to administer a successively stronger shock.
At the 300-volt level, the actor would stop trying to call out answers and begin kicking at the wall, after which the experimenter would instruct the subjects to treat non-answers as wrong answers and continue.
At the 315-volt level the pounding on the wall would be repeated.
After that nothing would be heard.
If the subject objected or refused to press a switch, the experimenter, maintaining an impassive demeanor and dressed in a gray lab coat, would say 'Please continue', then 'The experiment requires that you continue', then 'It is absolutely essential that you continue', then 'You have no other choice, you must go on'. If the fourth prod still didn't work, the experiment halted there.
Before running the experiment, Milgram had described the experimental setup, and then asked fourteen psychology seniors what percentage of subjects they thought would go all the way up to the 450-volt level, what percentage of subjects would press the last of the two switches marked XXX, after the victim had stopped responding.
The most pessimistic answer had been 3%.
The actual number had been 26 out of 40.
The subjects had sweated, groaned, stuttered, laughed nervously, bitten their lips, dug their fingernails into their flesh. But at the experimenter's prompting, they had, most of them, gone on administering what they believed to be painful, dangerous, possibly lethal electrical shocks. All the way to the end.
It was dangerous, to try and guess at evolutionary psychology if you weren't a professional evolutionary psychologist; but when Harry had read about the Milgram experiment, the thought had occurred to him that situations like this had probably arisen many times in the ancestral environment, and that most potential ancestors who'd tried to disobey Authority were dead. Or that they had, at least, done less well for themselves than the obedient. People thought themselves good and moral, but when push came to shove, some switch flipped in their brain, and it was suddenly a lot harder to heroically defy Authority than they thought. Even if you could do it, it wouldn't be easy, it wouldn't be some effortless display of heroism. You would tremble, your voice would break, you would be afraid; would you be able to defy Authority even then?
If you were given a glass half-empty and half-full, then that was the way reality was, that was the truth and it was so; but you still had a choice of how to feel about it, whether you would despair over the empty half or rejoice in the water that was there.
Milgram had tried certain other variations on his test.
In the eighteenth experiment, the experimental subject had only needed to call out the test words to the victim strapped into the chair, and record the answers, while someone else pressed the switches. It was the same apparent suffering, the same frantic pounding followed by silence; but it wasn't you pressing the switch. You just watched it happen, and read the questions to the person being tortured.
37 of 40 subjects had continued their participation in that experiment to the end, the 450-volt end marked 'XXX'.
One may decide to feel cynical about that.
But 3 out of 40 subjects had refused to participate all the way to the end.
They did exist, in the world, the people who wouldn't hurt others just because authority told them to. The ones who had sheltered Gypsies and Jews and homosexuals in their attics during the Holocaust, and sometimes lost their lives for it.
And were those people from some other species than humanity? Did they have some extra gear in their heads, some additional chunk of neural circuitry, which lesser mortals did not possess? But that was not likely, given the logic of sexual reproduction which said that the genes for complex machinery would be scrambled beyond repair, if they were not universal.
Whatever these people were made from, everyone had those same parts inside them somewhere...
...well, that was a nice thought but it wasn't strictly true, there was such a thing as literal brain damage, people could lose genes and the complex machine could stop working, there were sociopaths and psychopaths, people who lacked the gear to care. Maybe the instigators of atrocities had been born like that, or maybe they had known good and yet still chosen evil; at this point it didn't matter in the slightest. But a supermajority of the population ought to be capable of learning to do what Hermione and Holocaust resisters did.
The people who had been run through the Milgram experiment, who had trembled and sweated and nervously laughed as they went all the way to pressing the switches marked 'XXX', many of them had written to thank Milgram, afterward, for what they had learned about themselves. That, too, was part of the story, the legend of that legendary experiment.
Some people are able to resist this kind of coercion. Enough to think they are not weird mutants, but normal enough that we could all be like them, if we learned how to. It is in human nature to give in, and it is in human nature not
to give in: human nature is flexible
. It's only a matter of figuring out how
With a population that is trained to resist this (rather than accept it
, such as in countries that have conscription), dictatorships, ocupations, and other exertions of power by force would have a hard time subjugating the country without exterminating the natives and replacing them with docile colonists. Because people would simply refuse to obey
, rather die
than obey, and dictators and opressors would find themselves powerless
as no-one listens to them.
Of course, it is not in the interest of governments (or authority wielders in general) to promote this kind of knowledge. And so the Stanley Milgram Experiment or the Stamford Prison Experiment aren't taught in school, and children aren't taught to disobey their parents and teachers when their consciousness tells them it's right to. And I'm not suggesting there's a conspiracy to censor this, simply a natural reluctance and resistance to propagating it.
I'd also like to quote Aldous Huxley
let me quote Aldous Huxley
In their anti-rational propaganda the enemies of freedom systematically pervert the resources of language in order to wheedle or stampede their victims into thinking, feeling and acting as they, the mind-manipulators, want them to think, feel and act. An education for freedom (and for the love and intelligence which are at once the conditions and the results of freedom) must be, among other things, an education in the proper uses of language. For the last two or three generations philosophers have devoted a great deal of time and thought to the analysis of symbols and the meaning of meaning. How are the words and sentences which we speak related to the things, persons and events, with which we have to deal in our day-to-day living? To discuss this problem would take too long and lead us too far afield. Suffice it to say that all the intellectual materials for a sound education in the proper use of language — an education on every level from the kindergarten to the postgraduate school — are now available. Such an education in the art of distinguishing between the proper and the improper use of symbols could be inaugurated immediately. Indeed it might have been inaugurated at any time during the last thirty or forty years. And yet children are nowhere taught, in any systematic way, to distinguish true from false, or meaningful from meaningless, statements. Why is this so? Because their elders, even in the democratic countries, do not want them to be given this kind of education. In this context the brief, sad history of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis is highly significant. The Institute was founded in 1937, when Nazi propaganda was at its noisiest and most effective, by Mr. Filene, the New England philanthropist. Under its auspices analyses of non-rational propaganda were made and several texts for the instruction of high school and university students were prepared. Then came the war — a total war on all the fronts, the mental no less than the physical. With all the Allied governments engaging in "psychological warfare, " an insistence upon the desirability of analyzing propaganda seemed a bit tactless. The Institute was closed in 1941.
But even before the outbreak of hostilities, there were many persons to whom its activities seemed profoundly objectionable. Certain educators, for example, disapproved of the teaching of propaganda analysis on the grounds that it would make adolescents unduly cynical. Nor was it welcomed by the military authorities, who were afraid that recruits might start to analyze the utterances of drill sergeants. And then there were the clergymen and the advertisers. The clergymen were against propaganda analysis as tending to undermine belief and diminish churchgoing; the advertisers objected on the grounds that it might undermine brand loyalty and reduce sales.
These fears and dislikes were not unfounded. Too searching a scrutiny by too many of the common folk of what is said by their pastors and masters might prove to be profoundly subversive. In its present form, the social order depends for its continued existence on the acceptance, without too many embarrassing questions, of the propaganda put forth by those in authority and the propaganda hallowed by the local traditions. The problem, once more, is to find the happy mean. Individuals must be suggestible enough to be willing and able to make their society work, but not so suggestible as to fall helplessly under the spell of professional mind-manipulators. Similarly, they should be taught enough about propaganda analysis to preserve them from an uncritical belief in sheer nonsense, but not so much as to make them reject outright the not always rational outpourings of the well-meaning guardians of tradition. Probably the happy mean between gullibility and a total skepticism can never be discovered and maintained by analysis alone. This rather negative approach to the problem will have to be supplemented by something more positive — the enunciation of a set of generally acceptable values based upon a solid foundation of facts. The value, first of all, of individual freedom, based upon the facts of human diversity and genetic uniqueness; the value of charity and compassion, based upon the old familiar fact, lately rediscovered by modern psychiatry — the fact that, whatever their mental and physical diversity, love is as necessary to human beings as food and shelter; and finally the value of intelligence, without which love is impotent and freedom unattainable. This set of values will provide us with a criterion by which propaganda may be judged. The propaganda that is found to be both nonsensical and immoral may be rejected out of hand. That which is merely irrational, but compatible with love and freedom, and not on principle opposed to the exercise of intelligence, may be provisionally accepted for what it is worth.
This is from a derail in the Arab Spring thread, starting here
and ending here
. We were trying to make sense of some atrocities Assad's soldiers performed (shooting babies in the head point-blank, for instance), compared it to other atrocities Saddam did that would make The Joker
proud, and it got me wondering whether it's possible to devise a training and a protocol that would equip people to deal with this kind of coercion, so that they can overcome their instinctual fear of authority and choose according to what they think is right, unimpeded by blackmail or other forms of terror that are only effective if you let them
So, what do you
think? Is Anti-Obedience Training Either Necessary or Possible?
In the Milgram Experiment, the subjects were told that they were participating in an experiment about how pain affects intelligence. Actors were set up as fake subjects, answering multiple choice questions. The actual experiment's subjects were set up as "teachers" and their role was to give an electric shock by turning a knob in a machine that they had been shown, always increasing the strength of the shock with each wrong answer. Most of the subjects followed the instructions all the way, relying on the authority of the people doing the experiment. They even gave lethal doses of electricity to the actors. Of course, the machine didn't really give electric shocks to the actors; this experiment was about whether or not someone would obey instructions against their own morality.
edited 4th Sep '12 9:35:12 PM by BestOf
"You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours." Yogi Berra.