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Let’s start with the obvious: bad thingshappen.
When they do, it’s often
in our best interest to have an open discussion about
why they happened.
But, some things are so bad that mainstream culture deems them unspeakable.
These are the acts that you don’t even want to imagine doing.
Maybe, you don’t believe your capable ofdoing them.
These acts are what one might call evil.
Like many people, you might think
that evil emerges out of a psychopathic or sadistically nature.
But, unfortunately, this just isn’t so.
The world witnessed evil during WW2 and, morespecifically, the Holocaust.
When Adolf Eichmann –
one of the main figures responsible for organizing the systematic
killing of millions – was put on trial, hesaid that he was just following orders:
this thought is frightening.
This statement makes you rethink the ideaof evil.
It transforms evil from being the work
of a small minority to a product of the vast majority.
Perhaps, evil is what happens
when people stop thinking for themselves and just obey
the orders of others.
If so, the capacity for evil lies within allof us.
This is the context in which Stanley Milgram conducted his renowned experiment on obedience;
it’s a chilling experiment that reminds us
that with the ability for great good comes
the ability for great evil.
To really understand the Milgram experiments,
it helps to split it into two tests:
the fake one and the real one.
Let’s start with the fake one.
There are 3 participants:
the experimenter,a teacher, and a learner.
The subject that Milgram was studying was always given the role of teacher.
The learner was an actor that was in on theexperiment.
The actual study was disguised
as a fake study that was said to be testing the effects of
punishment on learning.
Specifically, they were testing the effects of administering electric shocks
on a learner’s ability to memorize a list of word-pairs.
For example, green-flower or couch-potato.
The subject was tasked with teaching the learnerthis list.
The subject would go
through the list once and then read off one of the words in a pair.
If the learner guessed the word correctly,
the subject would move on to the next pair.
However, if they guessed incorrectly,
the subject was supposed to administer an electric shock.
Shocks went up in 15V increments all the way up until 450V.
There were also corresponding labels
indicating the intensity of shocks
ranging from slight shock to simply XXX.
The real test underlying this fake one was
to see how far subjects would be willing to
go in administering shocks before they stopped.
At the shock level of 300V,
the subject would hear the learner pounding on the wall and
begin refusing to answer.
A second pound was heard at 315V.
This test was designed to put the subject
in a tug of war between obeying their own
morals and obeying an authority figure.
If the subject began hesitating,
the experimenter used 1 of 4 prods to get him to continue.
They ranged in intensity from simple requeststo orders.
The results of the test were shocking:
65% of participants administered the maximum level of shocks.
All participants obeyed until 300V.
Various forms of Milgram’s
experiment have been replicated several times and continue
to produce similar results.
Although, modifying different conditions seemsto produce varying levels of obedience.
After going through a lot of the literature,
the question isn’t do we obey,
but when and why?
I think the best place to start is
with Milgram’s interpretation of the experiment.
But, before you can understand it,
you have to understand his view of obedience as a natural phenomenon.
Milgram believed that humans evolved the
capacity to organize into social hierarchies because
it was a huge survival advantage.
Instead of competing as individuals, we could work together as a powerful group.
In order to create these hierarchies,
humans must be capable of giving up control to an
external source: this could be another personor an idea.
If two independent people give up control to a third person,
the third person can coordinate the entire group.
For example, imagine a group
of cars giving up control to the commands of a traffic cop.
By giving up their personal autonomy,
traffic can flow in a more coordinated fashion.
However, if they all act on their own,
traffic will flow less efficiently and accidents are
more likely to happen.
There are social hierarchies all around you.
When you enter a hierarchy,
Milgram believed that you’d undergo a critical shift in mindset
from that of an autonomous individual to thatof an agent.
When you enter a hierarchy and become an agent,
you no longer feel responsible for your actions
but responsible to the one above you.
This new mindset is known as the agentic state.
To understand this state, it helps to separateit into a few components:
the capacity for agency, why we become an agent,
the features of an agent,
and what keeps us from exiting the agentic state.
Milgram argues that the agentic state has been socialized
是被家庭 学校 工作固化的
in us through family, school,
and work because these environments value obedience,
reward us for it and punish us for disobedience.
So, why would you choose to become an agent?
Imagine that you’re taking part in thisexperiment.
You walk into the room.
What do you do?
If you want to the experiment to run effectively,
you need to cooperate with the group.
Recall that one of the most effective ways
to coordinate a group is to designate a leader.
Someone has to be in charge, right?
Since this is a new hierarchy that you’re entering into,
you know that you’re not in charge.
You assign that role to the experimenter
because you perceive them to be a “legitimate authority”.
You willingly enter this hierarchy
because it has a guiding ideology that you believe
in and would be willing to further:
progress & science.
Lastly, the experimenter makes demands
of you that are appropriate for the hierarchy that you’re in.
He makes demands with regards to the experiment and not unrelated things.
He doesn’t tell you what you eat for dinner.
All of these factors combined allow you to willingly
accept the role of an agent.
Now that we have become an agent,
what does this shift in mindset entail?
When we are in the hierarchy we tend
to value the word of our superiors more than our inferiors.
Continuing our example,
you’re not going to take advice from the learner on how to
conduct the experiment.
That’s because you see him
at an equal or lower position on the hierarchy.
We also reinterpret our actions with regards to the mission of the hierarchy –
Keep in mind that we have willingly entered this hierarchy
as an agent with a belief in its guiding mission.
This leads to the most important feature of being an agent:
we no longer feel responsible for our actions
but responsible to carrying out the wishes of the one above us.
However, once we’ve entered the agentic state, what keeps us there?
If we hear the pounding and feel we are doing something morally wrong,
why can’t we leave?
Milgram’s first reason is consistency.
To admit that our current action is wrong would mean
that we have to admit that all
of our actions leading up to this point werewrong.
That is a very tough pill to swallow
and most people would rather not do it.
The second reason is that we feel an obligation to the experimenter.
We already made a commitment to help him and we want to uphold it.
The third reason is
that all participants entered and began this experiment under a
specific situational definition:
we acknowledged that the authority was legitimate,
knew what he was doing,
and deserved to be higher up in the hierarchy than us.
Violating this, or any,
socially agreed upon situational definition produces feelings of
awkwardness and discomfort
because we aredisrupting the social order.
Lastly, there are feelings of anxiety
associated with disobeying an authority figure.
We have been socialized to respect authority figures
and anticipating that we may have to disobey
and disrupt the social order makesus anxious.
However, alternative studies shine light ondifferent aspects of Milgram’s studies.
Some studies suggest something along the lines
of a trusted expert that motivates subjects
to continue obeying.
They believed that they could trust
that the scientist knew more about the experiment than
they did or that they could trust that a scientist would act responsibly.
Based on an individuals life experience,
these would be reasonable beliefs to hold.
The experimenter had even told participants
that the shocks were “painful but not dangerous”.
So, the real reason they continued was
because they didn’t believe that the learner was
actually in any real danger.
Other studies suggest that participants continued to obey
because they believed that they were
agents of a worthy ideology.
Specifically, one study found that of the four prods that Milgram used,
the one most resembling an order was the least effective and
the one most resembling an appeal to science was the most effective.
In this case, it would seem that subjects are actually motivated by the belief that
their actions were for the benefit of science.
In both alternative explanations,
participants would believe that they were doing the right thing.
Alternatively, some people believe
that Milgram’s experiments were nothing but theatre and invalid
as a scientific experiment.
On the otherhand,
many believe that Milgram did stumble upon something significant but
there isn’t universal agreement over exactlywhat that is.
We can’t make a jump
from Milgram’s results to explaining the actions of those involved
in the Holocaust.
The experiment itself was conducted
in a lab setting and so we have to be careful about
interpreting those results with regards toreal life.
However, it does provide us with a lot
of food for thought about how different situations
can affect the actions we take.
Milgram’s experiments serve
as a critical reminder that a potential monster lies deep
within each of us
and it would be in our best interest to be mindful of that.
But, let me know your thoughts.
Why do you think we obey?
Speaking of authority figures,
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is to have a legitimate knowledge and competence in a field.
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Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.