posts 31 - 36 of 36
Posts: 18

To Obey Or Not To Obey

This experiment is going to help answer a question that we've all been trying to face this entire year. How is it possible for humans to enact such atrocities onto other humans? This experiment gives us a more scientific explanation to how such events could occur. And while we cannot define human behavior through one explanation of science, it does provide us with patterns. I think we can learn from this experiment that anyone could be a persecutor even when they don't realize it. We learn that we are accustomed to and follow authority regardless of what we think. But at the same time, although many people gave into the experiment, we see some resistance and worry for other humans. I think it's proof that ultimately we don't wish to hurt other people it may happen because of a misconstrued conception in our mind that we must follow all authority. This is just how people are raised, being trained to always do what you're told to do even if it goes against your belief is. We look to authority figures and we taught not to question it. Obviously this experiment shows that no matter who you are, regardless of social or economic status, you're capable of causing harm to others even if you don't mean to. This experiment shows how easily we are manipulated when we don't know how to speak or think for ourselves. It provides us with a greater understanding of why people served under things like the Nazi regime. The experiment shows how humans deal with authoritative presence and how easy it is to fall under their control. But this experiment also shows that there are instances of resistance and how in certain situations, people are less likely to inflict harm. I see this as optimistic because that means that we are not 100% evil, there are parts of people that will be able to recognize mistreatment and stop. No one in that experiment was causing the shocks purely because they enjoyed it.

If I were to get anything from this experiment it would be that you need to teach people to stand up for others when you believe it is important. We. as a society, need to teach people to not be afraid to speak up and take action if they see something horrible. While it is important to follow certain authorities don't let that make you less of you, and into a perpetrator. This goes to show we need to be more aware of ourselves and our actions and who controls our actions.

This relates to Miss Day’s question, “How can you educate a society to combat basic human instincts? How can we turn these instincts around to better serve us? How can these ideas help dissolve demagogues and practices that relate to them?” My answer to this question would be teaching more analytical and empathetic skills in society. With skills like these, we bring in more free thought, more tolerance, and generally more action against injustice. We need to allow people to think freely and we need to listen to people when they speak up. I wouldn’t call this basic human instinct but rather, our society has developed people into trusting and believing authoritative figures, regardless of the case. There has to be a distinction between adhering to rules and to mindless following. With more analytical skills and self reflection, hopefully people will start looking more into such demagogues and practices. I would hope that this means that people strive to look for the rational elements of things. Now my question is, does the time period make a difference in this experiment? If we were to run the same thing today, would the results be different?
Posts: 20

obeying authority

I think that this experiment shows us the potential that humans have for evil. I was shocked that such high percentages of people continued the shock to the highest voltage in all circumstances. The teachers, after being told that they would not be held accountable, continued on with the shocks. This shows me that people often turn to authority for explanation or to place blame, distancing themselves. However, many of the big authority systems in place are unjust or evil. If people distance themselves from systems of power, than they will continue evil acts- letting the blame fall on someone else.

The chain of evil, smaller acts of evil usually being linked to larger scale evil is responsible for the lack of responsibility we feel and the ability for humans to consciously commit horrible acts. It is easy to commit small acts of evil and feel that we are not responsible, yet we are always apart of some larger system. Unless we can make the connection from our small choices to the larger systems, good or bad, people will easily make decisions they believe do not harm anybody. We live in a society full of different hierarchies and powerful institutions and we rely on this places in our lives. We are willing to obey authority, because we have trust in that authority and give these powers responsibility. One example is the justice system. We abide by laws and the courts, yet we can see that the system is failing certain groups of people. What do we do to fix large institutions that we are suppose to trust? How do we hold these institutions accountable?

Posts: 25


So what do you conclude from this experiment? Does it give you any insight into human behavior? What will humans be willing to do, why they’ll do it, what they are capable of doing and not doing? Putting aside Hitler for the moment, what kinds of behavior does this experiment help to explain, not only in history but in our own times?

This experiment was incredibly eye-opening especially since I don’t know what I would have done given the option. I like to think that I wouldn’t have gone that far into administering the shocks as others but authority holds a little bit of power over humanity as an institution. Authority is something that has been instilled over a period of time. When a person needs to tear down that structure that is so fortified in their minds it is nearly impossible. I think another factor to authority besides the power that they hold is the knowledge. If with knowledge comes power it would make sense for the opposite to be true. Personally I would follow the doctor’s orders not because they are the ones with the power in that situation, but because as doctors they know “best”.

Humanity is a complicated entity. A wise man once said that Humanity is a dichotomy of angels and demons. Each person has a choice of what they want to be. When the test subjects were given that choice more than not they chose to go past the point of return. This signifies many things. Are people easily manipulated and willing to go against their morals with a nudge or is worse than that? Are Humans fundamentally evil and are the people who commit great deeds just anomalies? I personally think that it is possible to go against society as has been proven. One needs to have courage enough to go against what seems to be their own morals.

So can we fix the corrupted institution last that we are supposed to trust? The harder question to answer is how. Since authority is a foundation of society we must replace it entirely. If we were to build self esteem in our civilians then maybe standing up against oppressors, no matter who they may be, might be easier.

My question to the class is Are people fundamentally evil? If they are is there a way to combat this?

Posts: 24

The social costs of obedience

Coming into this class, I believed in people. I thought everyone would react to others suffering with empathy, oh was I wrong. This video that was shown in class really solidified evilness and lack of human empathy. I pride myself in being caring and empathetic and I always tell myself that there are things I would never do, but this study challenged my own morality. Could I really say that I would never kill another or watch in silence as another suffers? The shocking reality is no. The unpredictability

of human behavior does not allow me to make this conclusion.

Milgram said: “It is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences of the action. … No one man decides to carry out the evil act and is confronted with his consequences. The person who assumes full responsibility for the act has evaporated. Perhaps this is the most common characteristic of socially organized evil in modern society. (Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority New York, 1974)” Before watching this experiment, I always questioned why people did what they did or followed the rules of those who wished to hurt others. I could not understand how people could become an agent of evil. I didn’t understand that people’s actions could depend on who bears responsibility for it. This experience helped me conclude that it is complex and difficult to label a person as inherently good or bad. The reality is good people do bad things and bad people do good things. In the case of the

Rwandan Genocide, a woman who survived was able to because of her neighbor. Her neighbor was also the one releasing names of that needed to be killed to the Interahamwe He saved her and he took the money, and her cars from her to continue the killings of more Tutsis. His actions perplexed me. Why did he save her and not others? Could I label him as an upstander for saving one life?

Another aspect of this experiment that is equally important is understanding our response and adherence to authority. We live in a society where everything we do needs to be approved through many levels of authority. This deference to authority is very dangerous as this experiment showed this constructed and full obedience is in action even in committing acts of evil. Therefore, as a society, we need to reevaluate how we teach students and children the correct response to all forms of authority present in their lives. Furthermore, this fear to leave or speak up for someone else is also thwarted because we do not want to face the consequences of those who are above us.

My question to the class is: do you think that showing this experiment to everyone would curb this deference to the authority of evil?

Posts: 24

Originally posted by Miss Day on April 28, 2019 21:37

After taking the time to recover from the initial shock that was witnessing the experiment shown in class for the first time, I was able to take a step back from the events and process. At the time I remember being shocked and appalled. Now I do not feel as such. I personally try to approach psychology through the lense of an evolutionary understanding. It is my firm belief that humanity’s ability to be cognizant is an unfortunate result of evolution, and instead of perishing at a point to allow some more developed life form to become a more dominant species, we stuck it out. As a result, many of the ways we approach situations in society are based on animalistic instincts not designed or developed for the world we live in. When we a re presented with a situation outside our natural abilities, we default upon or primal instincts for direction. For example, humans did not evolve in order to be able to participate in Milgram’s Obedience experiment, yet we are still able to carry it out.

What I saw in this experiment was the instinctual desire for survival taking hold. In herd-based animal communities there are usually a set of animals that become leaders, whether that be a parent or a more dominant animal in the pack, and that the other animals tend to follow such an animal without question due to it helping the larger pack survive. Bringing it back to the human perspective, in the case of the obedience test we see a man, likely a blue collar worker, conduct the test. He has a free will, and independent emotions and perspectives, but we see that he views the examiners as holding the dominant position. They are, to him at a basic level, an individual that is more learned and capable to lead, and thus must be followed. The man repeatedly tries to resist in a situation he has neve encountered, was never evolved to encounter or conditioned in society to face. As such he relies on his subconscious to guide him in which there are 3 conflicting thoughts. The first being “I need to protect others like me”, the second being “I want to avoid death” and third being “the leader shall protect me”. Often times humans will weigh out these choices in their head quickly. I believe we all have an innate sense to help others, and that is clear by the way the man reacted during the test, but we have an equally strong, if not stronger desire to survive. The desire to survive coupled with the desire to follow an individual who may ensure that often times results in the third desire to help others being over-ruled. In the case of Nazi Germany, we have Hitler, a charismatic, dominant figure that promises food, jobs, and stability for the people, with the cost being that of the lives of other humans. In the Rwandan Genocide we see individuals who rally behind dominant figures promising survival again for the simple coast of human lives. You see these three ideas can be combined and constructed into a number for more complex ideas. For example, as is commonly seen in the cases of human disaster and tragedy, often times a charismatic leader, promising survival, uses a person’s desire for survival to highlight how another group of people threaten that through things such as disease, the taking of jobs and food, being lesser and “cockroaches”. This practice used by demagogues, for this reason, is highly successful, and is seen clearly in the events that transpired during the Rwandan genocide and the Milgram test.

There is a difference between what a person is willing to do and what they are capable of doing. Besides the obvious differentiation between these two, I think there is a case to made here based on the experiment for the idea that these two concepts are fundamentally linked. We see in the experiment shown that there were several test subjects that clearly were not willing to continue to “shock” the ‘learner’ but continued to demonstrate that they were capable of doing so. The proper motivation, information, or lack of thereof (in the case of an uneducated population or one that has had information selectively fed to them) can cause virtually anyone to be capable of something as horrific as taking a machete to cut down a neighbor. Humans are gullible, humans are naïve, humans often lack critical thinking skills. Worst of all, humans are terrible at admitting these faults, and trying to work together to overcome these. We’d rather ostracize individuals, “other” them, than put in the effort. Not really out of laziness. I believe again, that it’s rooted in this desire to just live. As much as we want to help others in our metaphorical pack, we do not care for others that reside outside it. Tribal divisions, race, color, ethnicity, language; all dividers in our society that make it easier to shut ourselves off from those who are in need. It was dangerous to stick your neck out for someone else, and it still can be/ Why risk your life for someone or something that does not directly impact the extension of your group’s existence?

In many ways we are quick to label those around us as good, as bad, as a stranger, as a friend. If this class has taught me anything it is that nothing is it seems, and it may be harder than you think to point your finger at someone and place the blame. It’s probably the point. As Ilovechocolate entails, we live in a world of grey, there is no clear distinction here of a good or bad person. We all have our reasons to do things. The truly important thing is however, we must not let those reasons become excuses. We must be aware of our base human nature and work to overcome that. We have randomly stumbled into a world we were never built to handle. Humans have the power to do terrible evil as a result, and even worse things as we can recognize the impact those horrible actions can have. At the same time we should have the power to do many good things as well. It just takes an effort.

In response to Creation-Myth’s question:

In a way I believe schools inadvertently teach disobedience. I was speaking with a former BLS student the other day about something they had realized about the school. They found that every single year, there was always some debate posed about the dress code. Some administrator would push for more conservative rulings, causing the students to lead active protests against the rules. They found that BLS was full of these policies that constantly came in and out of existence and in a variety of forms of intensity, almost always causing some sort of disobedience from the student body. Whether it be intentional or not, this back and forth, they found, highly encouraged students to practice peaceful forms of disobedience and self-thought.

It is like the age old sentiment that without conflict there can be no positivity, there is some sort of balance that must be struck. People forget horrible things and the reasons for why things are the way they are, so they ignore rules based on such events. Others find rules made in times no longer applicable to our own, and seek to destroy such rules or create no ones in their stead.

The problem is, you can’t tell someone to be disobedient! Then they would just be obeying you! It is itself a paradox. Maybe this is why so many schools seem to be so unfair, or unjust. Maybe it is to facilitate this form of disobedience. At the same time disobedience for disobedience sake is pointless and chaotic without reason. Making people believe that everything is terrible will make people forget how to make things good, or how to appreciate and spread good in the world. For now, as we have evolved as a species, most people, myself included, rely on authority and regulations to make society work. Maybe some day in the future things will be different but I simply do not know.

My Question:

How can you educate a society to combat basic human instincts? How can we turn these instincts around to better serve us? How can these ideas help dissolve demagogues and practices that relate to them?

Very thoughtful post. I was thinking that if we shared these experiments and books with others it would help people understand their automatic response to authority and others bearing responsibility. I know for me, I was able to re- question my own morality.

Posts: 28

and they chose to obey...

To obey or not to obey -- this was the question thousands of killers faced throughout history as they were tasked with the elimination of millions of people. Throughout the year, each time we began learning about a new event of ethnic cleansing, mass murder, or genocide, I questioned my own humanity. When reflecting on my own morals and actions, I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine willingly and knowingly carrying out the death of a single person, let alone hundreds or thousands. When the question was raised to the class of if it was a norm or an acceptable behavior, whether we too would be able to murder, and nobody raised their hands. There seems to be an understanding that as human beings, we carry a sense of empathy that allows us to “feel” for other people, and prevents us from intentionally dealing them harm, however, as history would tell, this is absolutely not the case. Today, when we ask ourselves how we will hold the perpetrators of these incomprehensible crimes responsible, the question emerges of who is to blame: the leader, or the troops; the commander, or the pawns. Not everybody can pick up a machete, and hack away at fellow person, let alone a neighbor, at point blank. Not everybody can usher thousands into gas chambers, fully aware of their fates. Not everybody can open fire on innocent worshippers in sacred places, killing with no reservations and no hesitation. To answer this question, we must first attempt to get into the mind of a person mentally compromised to the point that they could kill another, and understand how malleable their morals are. In every major event of mass killings, there has been either a single ruler or a governing body at the top of the chain of command, orchestrating the crimes. Although they have a certain degree of power, considering the heft of murder, this perception of status alone cannot be enough to warrant somebody to want to kill another.

Stanley Milgrim, a psychology professor at Yale University, sought the answer to this question in his infamous and controversial 1961 experiment on obedience. In the experiment, he placed one of two volunteers in a hidden room, locked down and attached to an electric shocker, and the other outside the room, and in control of the shocker voltage. Everytime the “victim” answered a question wrong, the “perpetrator” would shock the victim, while increasing the voltage each time. At the very end, though, there is a lethal voltage, and the perpetrator is asked to administer it, despite the clear signage of danger and possibility of death. Some people pressed it nonchalantly. Others pressed it, showing signs of distress and distraught, but still carrying out the action. Others refused to press it, and stood up in opposition. When we sit and class and learn about these things, I ask myself whether I would have been able to do the same things. Sure, we must acknowledge that we live in a completely different time and environment, met with different norms and expectations, but the one unvarying variable is that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I wouldn’t be able to raise a gun to someone’s head, or hack down someone’s back with a machete. I wouldn’t be able to usher men, women, and children into gas chambers, or toss babies into pits of fire. I wouldn’t be able to force entire families into labor, and see them die with no food or water. No amount of power or command could force me to do these things, and I am confident that I will be able to stand up against any abuse or any oppression. But the results of this experiment frightened me, because it showed people just like me, professionals and students essentially plucked off the street, “killing” with no second thought. There were many who didn’t, and in situations where they were in the same room as the victim, or when the scientist showed hesitation, almost nobody continued the experiment, but the fact that one person would carry out the end is one too many.

I am comforted by the fact that many people “killed” the victim because it was a seemingly controlled environment, with science professionals present, and under the umbrella of Yale University’s prestige. The setting and professionals were credible, and the “killer’s” perception of the commander’s status and position of knowledge was in some way valid. It wasn’t some sketchy operation, but rather an experiment attached to very reputable people and institutions. If it weren’t for this, I am sure more people would have refused. This type of behavior explains every human’s willingness to bend to a higher power, and mindlessly go with the flow of their surroundings. It explains the overwhelming support of recent political figures, despite clear concerns and conspicuous violations. It explains the lack of individuality in something as trivial as popular culture, and it explains the support of heinous events even today (Yemen crisis, Uiygher internment camps in China, Sudan crisis, and every other crisis in the world). There’s no other explanation why or how someone can go against their inner conscious and inherent morals to stand as a bystander or a perpetrator: they bend to authority. So who is to blame for the mobilization of hundreds of perpetrators against millions of innocent victims? Is it the commander, obeyer, or both?

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