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View Diary: Milgram - Obedience vs Humanity (20 comments)

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  •  The implications for civilization (4+ / 0-)

    would seem to be that the quality of a society will depend primarily on its leadership, not the people themselves.

    This might be especially true in a democracy, since if there are always more than 50% willing to obey authority no matter how evil, evil can be more easily legitimized through the democratic process. More people might be willing to obey an evil regime that was democratically elected, rather than an evil regime imposed by force.

    Anyway, thanks for the diary. T&R.

    The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

    by Eric Stetson on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 10:47:11 AM PDT

    •  If the people of a society understand the (3+ / 0-)

      necessity to question authority, then evil leadership will not have the conformity necessary to carry out their nefarious plans. The Milgram experiments and the Stanford prison experiments must be taught widely and early - not just to adults in college sociology classes.

      I think if most of humanity questioned authority, the world would be a much better place.

      •  I agree. The problem is, most people are wired (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Neon Vincent, too many people

        to obey. It's probably more about innate psychological types rather than education. JMHO.

        Creatives, questioners, free-thinkers and so forth have been in the minority in every society in human history. This is why progress is so grindingly slow most of the time, since the people who blindly follow authority are usually in control because of their sheer numbers in the population.

        I hope I'm wrong though and that the population ratio of questioners vs. obeyers can be significantly shifted through education.

        The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

        by Eric Stetson on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 11:13:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's why authoritarian and dictatorial regimes... (4+ / 0-)

          ...almost inevitably go after 'intellectuals' (i.e. people who think). In Spain, during the Civil War of the 1930s, Franco's fascists would arrest and execute people who wore eyeglasses (on the basis that they were most likely 'intellectuals' and therefore 'troublemakers'.

          Lightly Seared On The Reality Grill

          by Retroactive Genius on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 02:13:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think that's the point Jaxpagan & 2manypeople (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          david78209

          are trying to make; free will gives us the choice, but we have to have some self awareness that there is a choice to make.

          The results of the test have been steady over time, (with naive participants). I think you could substantially alter that ratio by drawing from two other groups: one who had been aware of the experiment and saw reactions of others condemning the obedience, and one group who had awareness, but had been exposed to others reinforcing the obedience. I think that would change the innate response significantly, showing that education and free will are both significant factors, they just have to be engaged.

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
          ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

          by FarWestGirl on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 09:51:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  unfortunately, civilization is a team effort (4+ / 0-)

        Eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns where teaching reflexive questioning of "authority" and defaulting to noncompliance diminishes your ability to accomplish collective goals ... especially if you're ideologically committed to consensus decision-making (the defiant ones will gain power to set the group's agenda or motivate their own suppression for the sake of the group's interest), and especially if at the same time you paradoxically insist upon "We are one!"  You can't talk like an anarchist and govern like a fascist any more than you can talk like a fascist and govern like an anarchist.  Either coercive methods of organization re-emerge out of necessity, or the whole thing just vanishes in a blaze of a million egos.  You see it in young democracies all the time where the group who lost an election rejects the idea that they have to fall into line behind the winner.

        Humans are altruistic only within well-defined and powerfully cohesive groups that fiercely compete against each other.  We're egalitarian only where equality is seen to exist rather than simply being declared on the basis of shared "humanity": something so vague as to be meaningless.  Our physical brains do not allow us to know more than around 150 people as complex and autonomous individuals: beyond that, group identification takes over and does so at a much smaller scale than anyone here would be comfortable with; the only way to build larger groups is hierarchically.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 02:58:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, humans are very tribal. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FarWestGirl

          And noble attempts to turn the whole wide world into one tribe that we can all belong to -- the "tribe of humanity" -- have fallen far short of their goals.

          Doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying, however. But we need to learn the lessons of utopian ideologies that have started out broad-minded and degenerated into new forms of tribalism.

          The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

          by Eric Stetson on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 04:01:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  ideology itself may be the trap (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            too many people, FarWestGirl
            But we need to learn the lessons of utopian ideologies that have started out broad-minded and degenerated into new forms of tribalism.
            Once you root your politics in something outside and above people, it becomes necessary to force people to fit into the mold: i.e. coercion - universalizing the particular.  If you reject coercion, then it may not be possible to have politics or society beyond where people already agree on everything ... in which case why would you need politics in the first place?  It's like the incompleteness theorem: there is no universal political/moral system that can accommodate all goals of all people in all places, times, and situations; try and you just arrive at anarchy from the other direction.

            The mundane truth is that "humanity" as something common to all people in all places, times, and situations lies far closer to biology than it does to philosophy.  What would a politics based purely on objective biological fact look like?

            The way out may lie in the possibility that the goal of "oneness" is only a means to the end of peace.  But muddy water is cleared by leaving it alone.  Renounce ideology, renounce universalism, accept tribalism as a fact, and count on the fact that - if not for the universalist/messianic impulse that saviors as well as conquerors are motivated by - everything we fight about would be self-limiting. The valley tribe has no reason to fight the hill tribe and vice versa, since their societies don't work outside of the places that formed them, and neither do they want or need what the other has.

            Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

            by Visceral on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 05:16:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  This account does not explain how people (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eric Stetson, FarWestGirl

      assent to authority. Milgram pointed out in his book that in the experiment, volunteers came primed to obey in the interests of scientific discovery, on top of whatever forms of obedience came naturally to them or had been inculcated in their upbringing, churches, military training, or elsewhere. But gaining political assent is a much different business, having to do variously with campaigning, propaganda, or in the worst case force.

      The most notable political fact of the last several years has been the systematic denial that President Obama has any authority at all, specifically that he actually is not President. Add that to denial of government authority since Ronald Reagan on the grounds that

      Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
      on top of claims of government tyranny and illegitimacy going back to the Civil War and even the Whiskey Rebellion under George Washington.

      On the other side, it was widely held that George Bush was not elected President, and that he was a tyrant and a usurper of the Constitution. I took part in the Impeach Cheney First movement.

      Civil disobedience and attempts at nullification are fairly common. We have had two temporary government shutdowns in two decades.

      So, no, we do not have 50% of the population agreeing with government authority all the time. We have enough assenting, particularly in the police and military, to keep a lid on dissent, mostly, but once in a while we vote the rascals out, or otherwise get up on our hind legs, or they vote more of them in.

      I have a nearly-completed Diary draft for publication on Monday about the Milgram experiments as described in his book Obedience to Authority, Milgram's analysis of obedience, and some of the consequences. The Monday after that I will Diary John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, which applies the Milgram theory of obedience and the Robert Altemeyer theory of several kinds of authoritarian personality to Republican ways of thinking and to specific shenanigans over several decades, going back to when Dean was White House Counsel for Richard Nixon, and spilled the beans about Watergate. Milgram invited Dean to speak at a conference about his experiences in refusing orders after Dean wrote Blind Ambition in 1976.

      My Monday Diary series for the Readers and Book Lovers group is called Grokking Republicans.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 01:25:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your diary series. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FarWestGirl

        I've been reading some of them lately and getting a lot out of it.

        I wonder if perhaps liberals would be more likely to push the button to inflict an electric shock if a scientist or government official told them to, whereas conservatives would be more likely to do it if a religious leader or corporate CEO told them to? Liberals and conservatives seem to respect very different authorities.

        As for the police, I think too many people in general have a knee-jerk tendency to believe police officers and respect their authority, even when there's plenty of evidence that they lie just as much as anyone in any other job and that there are many notorious examples of abuse of police authority. But conservatives are probably more likely to support the police no matter what, compared to liberals.

        I think in general liberals are more respectful of authority based on intelligence, whereas conservatives are more respectful of authority based on tradition and/or power. It would be interesting to see an experiment done to confirm or deny that hypothesis.

        The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

        by Eric Stetson on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 02:02:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is indeed fortunate that both sides (0+ / 0-)

          respect legal authority, including the Constitution, on nearly all matters, and that we are all willing to pretend that the Supreme Court should have the final say on most matters that come to it, even while all sides attempt to game the system to get Justices who agree with them.

          We have a short list of issues where civil disobedience and nullification are widely supported, including abortion rights, guns, and Creationism in the schools. Unfortunately, the list where undermining authority is held to be legitimate on the Right includes everything to do with war, human rights, science denial, taxation, and regulation.

          Milgram's theory gives various reasons why so many people surrender their consciences to various forms of authority, and how authorities do everything they know of to inculcate and enforce obedience. We could easily apply it to every tyranny and oppression in recorded human history and legend, and to every military atrocity since the Greeks bragged about murdering or enslaving the entire captive Trojan royal family, men, women, and even infants. There is no shortage of recorded data on intentions and methods, as in Plato's two manuals of oligarchic tyranny, The Republic and The Laws, in which Plato taught that nobody except the rulers should ever do anything except on orders.

          I will cite only the abuses of Eugenics, a cause of both the Left and the Right in the last century, where in part each wanted to breed out the existence of the other.

          Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

          by Mokurai on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 10:10:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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