As @iluvcows mentions, following authority is integrated into every part of society. As kids we are taught to obey parents and teachers, as adults we have bosses, and we constantly defer to experts in other fields such as doctors and scientists. As long as those we defer to have good intentions, I think this is a good thing, as it keeps society moving forward. We also theoretically take the best overall course of action as a society when people with the most experience and knowledge surrounding a topic advise our actions relating to their area of expertise. However, Milgrim’s experiments clearly show that one should never blindly follow and should always keep in mind their own judgement and morals.
Agreeing with @BLStudent, what I found Milgrim’s experiments to demonstrate most about humans is that if we are not careful, all of us are capable of doing appalling things without even fully recognizing it. I assume if you had asked the teachers before performing the experiment what they thought of electrocuting someone with an amount of voltage of unknown danger to them, 100% would say that this is terrible and that they would never do it. Yet a shocking 65% of the teachers in Milgrim’s experiment administered the full 450 volts. Although it's true that they were told the voltage was not dangerous, they blindly believed this information. If the teachers knew this action was not morally right, what drove them to do it anyway? I agree with @Fruit Snacks that this was partially due to the fact that the teachers did not recognize the responsibility they had over their actions. From the video in class, we saw that the man continually told the experimenter he wanted to stop, because he did not want to take responsibility for the learner’s health. Then, during the interview after the experiment, he kept deflecting blame and responsibility to the experimenter, who was telling him to continue. If this scenario were “real”, although I believe the experimenter would have responsibility too, the teacher would definitely be culpable, as it was still his decision to continue, and nobody was threatening or forcing him to continue. However, as Meyer brought up in his idea of “agency”, it seems that we often do not perceive ourselves as responsible for carrying out actions that other people tell us to do, especially if we realize they are morally questionable. I think it is tremendously important that no matter the external circumstances, we all realize the responsibility we have over our own actions, rather than deflect blame and make excuses.
Milgrim’s experiment also provided insight into the sheeplike mindset we fall into when faced with authority. The percentage of people who administered the full voltage changed quite significantly when the location of the experiment was moved to a less academic setting, and also when the test administrator was only communicating via telephone. This demonstrates that the teachers were quite influenced by the aura of power, control, or validity that came with the Yale experiment administered by a man in a lab coat. Although I think at face value all of the teachers would recognize that the test was morally wrong, because they fell into a subordinate mindset of following orders, they left behind their own judgement, morals, and reasoning. Again, this is a very dangerous human behavior. While I think it is important to be able to listen to others, take advice, and under the right circumstances, follow orders, we should never follow unquestioningly, and we should always be strong enough to defy authority when their orders do not fit out judgement of right and wrong. However, it is clearly very challenging to speak out against authority, even when we realize they may be wrong. As seen when there was a second experimenter arguing with the first, and in the Ash conformity experiments, having support from even one other person makes it a lot easier to speak out. In a societal context, I think this shows that being the strong, brave, first person to speak out is incredibly important, as it can lead to many others sharing their views and opinions, preventing a group from taking a bad course of action.
I think Milgrim’s study can help to explain many day to day and larger, more important behaviors. As, @ernest. mentioned, this homework assignment can be looked at as an example of conformity and our willingness to speak out. Someone must have not been blindly following Ms. Freeman’s rules and thought her expectations for us to finish this were unreasonable. They then had the guts to be the first to speak out about it, and many others with the same opinion with this support were willing to speak out as well. Obviously, this is a much less important scenario, but I believe the human behaviors were similar in some ways. Many people have brought up Trump’s presidency as being related, but I disagree. My main takeaways from the Milgrim experiment were the ideas of blindly following, authority, conformity, and responsibility. However, I do not see most of these qualities as being relevant in the amount of support Trump has. Firstly, because as we have discussed earlier, I think that there is a second soul of America that many of us in our liberal bubbles struggle to understand and believe in. I do not think most of Trump’s support comes from a fear or submission to authority or a need to conform. I do think that many Trump supporters will blindly follow what he says, but in many cases, I think there really is a commonality in ideals and policy. Also, I see this situation as different because Trump supporters do not think their actions as morally wrong, but most of the teachers in the Milgrim experiment had doubts because they did think their actions were questionable.
Assuming the situation of the United States were somehow the exact same as Germany during World War 2, I do unfortunately agree with @Fruit Snacks, we could find sufficient personnel in any American town. What I take that to mean is that there was nothing different about the people in Germany that led to the atrocities of genocide. Ultimately, I think the situation in Germany after World War 1 and the rise of Hitler and Nazis created the seed for genocide, and the people in Germany, whether they were perpetrators, bystanders, or the few upstanders, were no different than the people in any part of the world. However, I do not think Milgrim’s experiments can necessarily explain what happened in Germany because of the complexity of the history and tremendous scale of genocide compared to the experimentation of a few hundred people.
To address @yvesIKB’s questions, I think that our transition from a place of trust to skepticism and admitting we are wrong is fluid. We should always be checking authority and things we are told to do with our own judgement, and when/if our “orders” cross the line, then we should argue against authority, and if necessary, admit we were wrong to trust. This is no doubt difficult, but an important thing to do. Again, I think this thought process is the only way to explain August Landmesser’s actions. We must always keep in mind our own morals and judgement rather than blindly follow, take responsibility for our actions, and choose whatever course we deem most “right”, regardless of conformity and authority. My question is, what main factors do you think influenced the differences in the teachers responses during Milgrim’s experiments?