From Truth Out: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/19050-the-experiment-requires-that-you-continue-obedience-to-corporate-state-authority-in-an-increasingly-dangerous-consumer-society
By Yosef BrodySunday, 29 September 2013
Fifty years ago this month, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram published a groundbreaking article describing
a unique human behavior experiment. The study and its many variations,
while ethically controversial, gave us new insight into human tendencies
to obey authority, surprising the experts and everyone else on just how
susceptible we are to doing the bidding of others. The original
experiment revealed that a majority of participants would dutifully
administer increasingly severe electric shocks to strangers - up to and
including potentially lethal doses - because an authority told them that
pulling the levers was necessary and required (the "shocks," subjects
found out later, were fake). People who obeyed all the way to the end
did so even as they experienced tremendous moral conflict. Despite their
distress, they never questioned the basic premise of the situation that
was fed to them: the institution needed their compliance for the
betterment of the common good.
Milgram was driven by the need to comprehend Nazi horror, and today
his research is rightly recognized as a warning of how easily things can
go wrong if people obey authority uncritically and systematically. Yet
its social contribution is only rarely understood to have here-and-now
implications. We urgently need to update our appreciation of the perils
of obedience to accommodate our contemporary global situation.
The most powerful authorities today make demands that can appear
pretty reasonable on the surface - yet are driving us toward oblivion.
Climate scientists have reached consensus that our behavior, if unchanged, is likely to result in social and environmental devastation, including mass species extinctions and human suffering on an unprecedented scale. Will our society continue to pull levers until we administer catastrophic doses?
The Milgram experiments offer a potentially helpful metaphor for our
current predicament, one that I will expand on below. But first a few
words on obedience and disobedience more generally.
Universal Experience, Social Construction and Personal Choice
Obedience and disobedience are universal social experiences. All
human beings know what it feels like to obey - with varying degrees of
enthusiasm - and we all know what it feels like to disobey. Each of us
has plenty of experience with both, and we are always capable of one or
the other at any given moment. Every individual with the capacity for
independent thinking and action makes multiple daily decisions about
whether to obey or disobey various laws, rules, wishes and suggestions
of others, whether we are aware of these decisions or not.
Modern societies are largely founded on the seductive idea that
valuing obedience over disobedience will bring personal success and
social cohesion. We are taught from an early age that even minor
disobedience will sharply increase the likelihood of scary prospects
like personal failure and social chaos. These emotionally powerful
messages are drilled into us at home and at school, cultivating the
necessary habits for powerful interests to function effectively, from
parents and teachers to state institutions and large multinational
When it comes to the nature of obedience-disobedience, there is
nothing we could accurately call normal. While obedience can be a
particularly strong habit to break, humans (in contrast to other primates with
more hard-wired social behavioral programming) are born neither
obedient nor disobedient. We have strong tendencies to engage in both
types of behavior across cultures and generations, in rational and
irrational ways. Whether to obey or disobey in any given situation is a
personal choice. Human social reality is extremely variable and complex.
As long as we remain social creatures, we must deal with the
Continue reading at: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/19050-the-experiment-requires-that-you-continue-obedience-to-corporate-state-authority-in-an-increasingly-dangerous-consumer-society
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