States Visited

Friday, January 9, 2009


Wednesday night, after a quick trip to the gym to burn some calories, Melissa and I watched Episode 9 of Band of Brothers. I don't think there is more than three or four gunshots in the entire episode, yet it is one of the most traumatic of the series. In it Easy Company stumbles onto the concentration camp near Landsberg. Intellectually I know that what I am seeing on the screen isn't real, but I also know that it represents something that was very real and very evil. How can so many Germans murder and torture their own countrymen, their neighbors? It is easy to imagine that the Nazi's and the German people were all inhuman, psychopathic monsters, but, except for a small handful, most were just ordinary people that collectively slaughtered millions of innocent men, women and children. Seeing the images on the screen I cannot help but wonder, "How can this happen? How do ordinary people become monsters and commit acts of evil almost beyond human comprehension?"

A long time ago I read something that gives a huge clue as to how this can happen, but I had forgotten about it - until this morning when, by chance, I stumbled onto it again.

About fifty years ago a psychologist named Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment that, literally, shocked the world.

"His experiment in its standard form included a fake shock machine, a 'teacher,' a 'learner' and an experimenter in a laboratory setting. The participant was told that he or she had to teach the student to memorize a pair of words, and the punishment for a wrong answer was a shock from the machine."

"The 'teacher' sat in front of the shock machine, which had 30 levers, each corresponding to an additional 15 volts. With each mistake the student made, the teacher had to pull the next lever to deliver a more painful punishment."

"While the machine didn't generate shocks and a recorded voice track simulated painful reactions, the 'teacher' was led to believe that he or she was shocking a student, who screamed and asked to leave at higher voltages, and eventually fell silent."

"If the 'teacher' questioned continuing as instructed, the experimenter simply said, 'The experiment requires that you go on.'

"About 65 percent of participants pulled levers corresponding to the maximum voltage -- 450 volts -- in spite of the screams of agony from the learner."

Subsequent experiments have yielded similar results - a large percentage of human beings will act against their own conscience when confronted with an order from a person they believe has legitimate authority.

If a controlled experiment involving partcipants with no prior history or preconceived notions about each other resulted in 65% pulling all the levers and shocking an innocent person into unconsciousness, one can only imagine the outcome if the 'teacher' was being cheered on by friends and neighbors, subjected to endless propaganda about the evil and dangers of the person he was shocking (peer pressure), and threatened with his own punishment (self-preservation) if he failed to deliver the shocks.

Here is tangible evidence as to why having an active military unit deployed inside the United States scares me so much.

1 comment:

Aprilsfool said...

Mob Rule is a very powerful thing. It is easy to sit back and say that you would never act the way 'those people' are acting but when put in the middle of a mod and asked to buck the mob mentality, it is easier said than done. I have studied psychology most of my life and this is no new news. People all over the world have slaughtered their own neighbors, family and friends in the name of dominance and mob mentality.
I am sure if you follow the news you will see episodes of this mentally in every story. Gang members, cults, democrats, republicans, church goers, PETA people and hippies....all of these have one thing in common, they are followers. it is much easier to go through life being a follower than a leader. Leaders have to be responsible for their action and the actions of their followers. if you are a follower, you can be mindless, useless and easily led. But you possess the most important thing....blamelessness. You cannot be blamed for being dumb enough to follow or being too scared to say no. You are not held to any kind of responsibility because you were doing what you were told.
It may be a little cheeky but the movie A Few Good Men describes it best. They Marines beat up and killed another Marine because they were instructed to do so. "We are supposed to protect him because he was weak and couldn't protect himself." Again, I wish more people in the world were like this but it takes a responsible mind to be a leader and most people don't want to be bothered with that pressure.