Skip to main content

View Diary: Understanding Obedience’s Role in Evil – Conservative Psychological Manipulation (58 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  I don't think that's a completely accurate (15+ / 0-)

    assessment of what happens in the Milgram experiment.  One of Stanley Milgram's observations when classifying the responses of the participants was that there was a class that made their moral choice about whether to shock the (fake) target based on abstract moral thoughts, usually based along some principle like you should never inflict pain on fellow human beings, etc.  

    Most of those people were the ones that stopped early and shook their finger at the authority figure and said no.  But some of the people in that category (those with an abstract moral code of conduct) continued to the very end and justified it on moral grounds of some sort and expressed the opinion they would do it again because shocking the target was the right thing to do.  Part of the grand march of progress or whatever twaddle they had rolling around in their head.

    So we can't jump to the conclusion that obedience to authority and lack of individual conscience is at the root of this kind of evil.  Sometimes it is moral abstraction itself, this kind of conceptual philosophizing about right and wrong, that can create evil.

    In one of Milgram's other categories (and this was mostly women) there were those who couldn't proceed after a certain point because they just felt sorry for the other person, imagining the pain they must feel and how it would feel to them.  The abstraction of whether it was right or wrong was irrelevant to these people.  They didn't really consider any of that, and passed no direct judgment on the experiment.  They just couldn't proceed.

    That provides a stark contrast with the moral philosopher type participants.

    It may be that the ability to imagine and feel other people's pain is a non-intellectual characteristic that some people develop during their life and some people either never do, or they suppress it.  But for these people liberal/conservative ideology are not their guiding principles in their choices.

    Along the same lines, there is a possibly apocryphal study that was made of the people who harbored Jews during World War II at risk to themselves.  They found that one of the common characteristics of these people is that they took in stray animals.  Taking in stray people out of simple concern for their welfare was just a natural part of their individual personal makeup, not part of an anti-Nazi agenda.  

    I would like to believe that is true.  It makes me feel more hopeful about the human race.

    •  I should add... (13+ / 0-)

      In that category of abstract moral philosophizers who justify evil because they believe in it, we can probably add people like John Yoo who wrote the legal torture memos justifying the Bush administrations "enhanced interrogation" policies and still justifies it with no shame.  He's the same guy who said that it was moral and legally proper to crush the testicles of a child to force a parent to testify in the event of a ticking time bomb scenario.  Somebody that can publicly express an opinion like that, even after his name stands sullied by what he has done, is in a special category.  The abstractions of justice and greater good, etc., override whatever better sense they may have of what is humane.

      •  Dumbo, I spent as much time pondering your (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rosebuddear, Dumbo, martyc35

        comments as I did researching the diary.  Thank you

      •  good and evil (4+ / 0-)

        We make the same mistake as others make when it comes to good and evil, black and white.  

        As I noted in my statement about ethics, it isn't always black and white.

        People who commit evil acts aren't doing them out of a desire to do evil.  It is out of a lack of ability to understand and relate their acts and its consequences to others.

        This ability to understand others gets stronger the greater our individual identity becomes.  Being born into a family with parents who cannot express love, either due to their own issues or addictions, can cause attention disorder.  Trauma in adolescent or adult life can also affect a person's ability to connect with others.  

        Basically we start out day one perfect and from that day forward the scares begin to appear.  Some handle life's challenges and get stronger and others do not.  It depends a lot on the "outside support system " we have.  

        Divorce has had as devastating an effect here in America as the state controlled orphanages had in Romania on their  babies. (see reactive attachment disorder)

        Those who would shock and kill innocents may include some participants in the test because of their own issues but that doesn't negate the power of authority to bring that out in people.

        I knew personally someone who was a prostitute and lived on the street.  I can tell you that the same hierarchy you see at the top is also at the bottom of our society.  The authority model trumps ethical values.  

        Even those with resistance can be effected given the right circumstances.

        This economic crisis was fertile ground to plant the seeds.

      •  look at my responses from bottom up (0+ / 0-)

        Apparently the most recent response goes to the top of the list.  My responses were meant to be read in the following order, the bottom one being first.

        1. over thinking the implications of the study  
        2. good and evil

        •  sorry, new to this blog (0+ / 0-)

          sorry, still getting the hang of this.  
          Can't delete my post so have to add.to clarify.

          The order of my response is
          1. over thinking the implications of the study  
          2. good and evil

          disregard bottom up comment

    •  over thinking the implications of the study (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rosebuddear

      I think you might be over thinking the implantation of this study and missing the point.

      It isn't about discerning individual motivations and character.  It is about what influence Authority has on group behavior.  Nine out of twelve willingness to take the test to the extreme indicates the power authority truly has on people. (group behavior)

      A study of individual ethics can be complex.

      The story of the state trooper coming upon a car accident and having to decide between two ethical decisions that conflict with one another is a good example.  The trooper has to decide whether to shoot the acident victim or let him burn to death in the car he is trapped in.  The desire to end human suffering is in conflict with the request of the victim for the officer to shoot him adding the moral dilemma of "thou shall not kill."  

      One could argue that the complex nature of ethics is what opens people up to be vulnerable to authority and outside influence but that doesn't change the fact that people are subject to authority.  "We want others to decide for us that which we cannot decide easily for ourselves."

      As to individual's ability to feel empathy and connect with the feelings of others contributing to their response that might be a valid statement too.  But again it doesn't deter from the overall conclusion of the study as to how much authority affects people.

      Instead of looking at the participants lets consider the observer.  Lets imagine the experiment was actually real and the observer knew his test was inflicting pain and maybe killing people.  Such an observer would probably be defined as a "sociopath".  

      The real point then is how one sociopath can affect so many others by assuming the role of authority.

      Take that point into the arena of politics and the media and ask yourself why despite some of the most obnoxious and disgusting things the Republicans have said and done this election the media still portrays them at an "authority" both morally and in the financial world?

      I'll add some comment about individually in response to your addendum.

      •  Responding to all your replies here (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hmi, toys, opinionated, Panurge
        People who commit evil acts aren't doing them out of a desire to do evil.  It is out of a lack of ability to understand and relate their acts and its consequences to others.

        This ability to understand others gets stronger the greater our individual identity becomes.  Being born into a family with parents who cannot express love, either due to their own issues or addictions, can cause attention disorder.  Trauma in adolescent or adult life can also affect a person's ability to connect with others.

        Actually, I think the point of what I was saying is that the more complex the nature of our ethical thinking is, the more capable we are of truly great evil.  I have no doubt that Hitler thought he was doing the absolutely right thing.  And he was numero uno, so there was no authority figure pushing him.  He really thought that there was some glorious destiny for the German people and that this was so important that all enemies must be crushed in achieving that.

        I remember, one time, the head of the American Nazi party was on a talk show (many years ago) and he praised the Jewish Defense League, even though he opposed them.  His reasoning for this was pretty good, actually.  He believed that the JDL was doing what white Americans should be doing, i.e., protecting their race (btw, Jews are not a race, but that's how these guys think) and pursuing its further benefit.  So he saw it as ethically PROPER for the JDL to do what it was doing... even though he saw Jews as the enemy.  It was a wonderful example of Kant's Categorical Imperative in action, if you think about it: He was able to universalize his position and to be consistent in his willingness to wish the same code of conduct on others.

        A little more background on the Milgram experiment than is available through wiki.  This is how I was taught about it back in the 70s when I was a psych major (that didn't last long).  Milgram theorized FIVE LEVELS of moral development to explain his test.  I'll try to paraphrase them from memory.

        1. Those who obey authority.  This was most people.
        2. Those who objected based out of self-concern.  These were people who complained that the test might be illegal or get them sued.  They pointed to the law as their guiding principle.
        3. Those who balked because they felt sorry for the subject they were shocking.  
        4. Can't remember.
        5. Those who balked (or continued) because of abstract moral principle.

        Milgram's description of LEVELS had some implicit suggestion of higher moral development at level 5.  Many people (and me, in my previous comment) objected to this, though, and thought that the level 3 participants, although less motivated by lofty moral issues, were more attuned to that human compassion that restrains immoral behavior.  To Milgram, their emotional response seemed less important than the abstract response of people at Level 5.  

        That's wrong.  Level 5 contains the Hitlers and the Heydrichs and the Maos, all those people who do horrible, horrible things not out of personal interest but just because they believe in doing crappy things and the human consequences are just part of the cost, some small factor in a more complex mathematical equation.

        Now, I think I pick a nit with your description of conservatives as "not feeling your pain."  That's a poorly thought out conceit.  I don't fool myself that I'm more moral than Republicans.  I might be more moral than Romney and Gingrich, but not more moral than Republicans in general.

        Let me describe my ex-wife for a moment.  She was a member of Operation Rescue.  In fact, when we wed, she was performing community service for having blocked an abortion clinic in L.A. as part of Terry whatshisname's protest back in 1990 or thereabouts.  She was very active in the movement.  She was on the board of directors of Lacuna, one of those groups that had fake pregnancy counseling operations to talk women out of getting an abortion.  I still find "fetus" keychains in old boxes, occasionally, part of the tchochkes of the movement, little plastic models of six-week embryos on keychains.

        Now, imagine me, pro-choice, arguing with her.  I start to tell her about how the government should stay out of people's lives, fetuses aren't people etc.  And she bursts into sobs and angry tears and yells at me, "But they're just little babies!!!!  Little innocent babies!!!"

        Now, you might try to convince yourself that she was part of an authority figure brainwashing.  I thought her concern for those fetuses was wrong, but compassionate.  Whatever labyrinth that her moral and political choices went through, it wasn't purely based on authority, and probably LESS SO THAN MY OWN THINKING.  My own thinking was more abstract and less emotional.  

        You can guess, then, who won those family arguments.  I just gave up and had to calm her down after an argument like that.  

        I could argue that the thinking on the left is very frequently driven by authority and groupthink and echo-chamber than by individual moral development or even compassion.  It's very often abstract.  I've always been impressed by the old saying, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."  I'm particularly wary of abstract arguments on the left made on the basis of consistency.  That's how we get people like John Yoo.  And I don't discount that we on the left are capable of the same level of wrongness, just wrongness in different ways.

        •  From Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance". (0+ / 0-)

          "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

          It does seem to me that the modern Left?'s "groupthink" is at least set to do less harm than the Right's.

          The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

          by Panurge on Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 06:44:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

  • Recommended (140)
  • Community (66)
  • 2016 (46)
  • Elections (39)
  • Environment (37)
  • Media (36)
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (35)
  • Republicans (32)
  • Hillary Clinton (31)
  • Law (29)
  • Barack Obama (29)
  • Iraq (27)
  • Civil Rights (27)
  • Culture (26)
  • Jeb Bush (25)
  • Climate Change (25)
  • Economy (22)
  • Labor (21)
  • Bernie Sanders (19)
  • Science (19)
  • Click here for the mobile view of the site