Bedrock of a Free Society

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Here is an excerpt from a post written by Joel F. Wade at The Daily Bell on Feb 1:

A research study was done years ago by Professor Stanley Milgram on Obedience to Authority, which was a fantastic study on the dramatic impact that a person acting with integrity can have on others.

This was the study where subjects who thought they were helping an experimenter were told to ask a (fake) subject questions. If the fake subject answered incorrectly, the real subject was to shock that subject with higher and higher voltages of electricity – up to and beyond a clear danger zone, and in the face of screams, pleading and then silence from the fake subject.

When Milgram asked audiences to whom he presented how many of them thought they would go all the way up the voltage scale, very few hands would raise. I’m sure you think that you would never go along with such a directive yourself. I know I don’t think I would.

But fully 65% of subjects did just that, illustrating the extent to which we can be drawn to obey an authority figure against our own beliefs. I know people who have participated in this experiment, and you would be surprised at the strength of character and will these people possess – and yet under the right circumstances they did what they wish they hadn’t. I’ve had my own less dramatic run-ins with getting drawn into regretful situations. It’s sobering to know that we can all be susceptible to such pressures.

But here’s the powerful lesson from a little known part of Milgram’s experiments: When subjects watched another subject refuse to continue before they themselves participated, the number of subjects who then went on to administer shocks all the way up the voltage scale themselves plummeted to a mere 10%!

One person acting with integrity can have a huge impact on other people; in this case, lowering the compliance with inflicting cruel physical pain from two-thirds of subjects to one-tenth of subjects.

Imagine if Hitler or Stalin or the current purveyors of inhuman coercion could only count on 10% of people to actively or passively go along with their evil plans. Imagine if 90% of the population of America refused to comply with the fascist directives and regulations coming from our government.

That would be a much different world than the two-thirds compliance we would otherwise expect, based on Milgram’s experiment.

That is the power of living with integrity. That is the impact that you can have on others when you stay true to what you know and believe, even in the face of pressure from authority or seductive peers.

Living with integrity is fundamental to owning your own life, and to living your life well. It is also the most powerful stance to take in life, and it forms the backbone of national character that we need to regain our freedom.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Imagine if Hitler or Stalin or the current purveyors of inhuman coercion could only count on 10% of people to actively or passively go along with their evil plans. Imagine if 90% of the population of America refused to comply with the fascist directives and regulations coming from our government.

    Gail, I doubt that there was a cost for refusing in the Milgram experiment. So, if the person who refused to administer shocks was then observed being punished, I doubt that the percent of compliant subjects would have fallen to 10%. There’s always a cost for disobedience.

    • Good point. And it would have made the experiment more interesting, too. You could seed the subjects with fake responders who were “punished” — see how big an effect that had on the real subjects’ willingness to inflict pain. The him-or-me question.

      Probably be too inhumane to do that, though — to cause what might be true anguish of conscience.

    • Mikehell, you have to impress on the would-be tormentors that there is a price for what they are about to do. It’s interesting that in the former Soviet Union, the secret police had a high percentage of suicides, alcoholism and mental illnesses as noted by Lobaczewski. He pointed this out to some of his captors and they released him. People that “go along to get along” and “push the button” or otherwise torment someone else, suffer for it in myriad ways for a long time. Other than the roughly 6% that are genuine psychopaths that is.

      I read recently that drone operators are suffering serious job related stress issues. I bet they are. It’s real easy to get fired up at the time and send a Hellfire missile in to take out some “rag-head” teenagers that MAY become “radical Islamists” someday. After all, they’ll try to justify it in their minds like Col. Chivington did when he said (in part) “nits make lice”. That was right before he had U.S. troops wipe out all those “filthy injuns” at Sand Creek (mostly women and children). It’s quite another thing to go home that night and have it dawn on you what you’ve actually done.

      I can scarcely imagine what a lot of those former young GI’s that tortured people at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib are going through now faced with those memories after a little more age and life experience. It takes a lot of alcohol to suppress memories like those. Sitting on the side of one’s bed with a revolver barrel in the roof of one’s mouth because you’re so depressed over the things you’ve done is a very high price indeed.

      • Sitting on the side of one’s bed with a revolver barrel in the roof of one’s mouth because you’re so depressed over the things you’ve done is a very high price indeed.

        One can only hope. I suspect more of them will take the other route, and become “Law Enforcement Officers”…to bury their guilt with bullying.

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