Who disobeys?

For some interesting reading check out Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, Copyrights 1984 – 2009. It’s full of insights from fascinating studies.

Many good people do not fear the government. Most probably believe that either their leaders won’t ever order armed personnel to harm them or that even if they are so ordered, those armed personnel will not follow those orders. This might be a good time to re-familiarize ourselves with the experiments done by Professor Stanley Milgram at Yale University. I think everyone reading this must be familiar with the well known story but if not you can google it. If your memory needs refreshing, Milgram asked test subjects (who did not know they were part of a psychological study) to give electrical shocks to other people, and at first the person receiving the shock was a willing participant. Of course no electrical shocks were actually being administered; the people being “shocked” were part of the study. The person conducting the test told the subject to gradually increase the voltage with each electrical shock. Despite cries of “stop”, “this is hurting me” and even “I have a heart condition and won’t make it” from the person being shocked, 65% of the subjects cranked the voltage to the highest level of 450 volts. All of the participants continued to 300 volts.

The results of Milgram’s study is such a horrible statement about human nature that it boggles the mind. I find it hard to accept or believe, but I’ve never heard the validity of this study challenged.

However many people are not aware of Prof. Milgram’s follow up studies. Prof. Milgram wanted to know why his subjects were so willing to provide a harmful electrical shock to a perfectly nice person who they hardly knew. Through his follow up experiments Milgram determined that the subjects were willing to inflict electrical shock on innocent people because of an obedience to authority which virtually all people have.

Milgram performed two simple follow up experiments. In one, he had the person receiving the electrical shock call out to the test subject that he was OK and they should continue, while the “authority figure” (person running the experiment) told the subject to stop. 100% of the subjects stopped the testing. They followed authority.

In the second follow up experiment, the authority figure”, (person in charge and running the test) was the one being submitted to the electrical shocks. When he told the subjects to stop, they stopped. Again they followed authority.

Remember now that this “authority” was someone they had just met, someone the test subjects knew virtually nothing about and someone they had no association with. In light of this it is hard to believe that armed personnel will not harm us if ordered to do so by the authority figures that they have been following for years, and who are responsible for their livelihoods and who they have an on-going relationship with. The experiments make this hard to believe, but we believe what we want to believe and we tell ourselves everything is OK while ignoring objective evidence. We make up excuses as to how things will work out. Similar experiments show that people almost always go along with a group, and once so ordered everyone knows what the group is dong.

We see leaders as parental type figures who will take care of us. How often have organized armed personnel disobeyed their orders? How often do armed personnel follow orders blindly?

If we are not going to strip our leaders of the power, we will have to just sit and hope that the leader never decides to harm us. Those are our 2 choices.

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