When most of us think about the horrible crimes that Nazis committed we like to believe that if placed in that situation we would never follow Hitler’s orders and kill innocent people. However, Stanley Milgram’s experiment proved that there is nothing that sets the Germans apart from other human beings in terms of obedience. In the original experiment, a shocking 65% of the ‘teachers’ gave the full 450 volts. The subjects of the experiment were typical American men who were told to give shocks to another man in the other room for answering a question wrong. The shocks and the reaction of the students were fake, but the subject of the experiment was oblivious to this fact and therefore was lead to believe that the student had a heart attack because he stopped answering the questions. In the experiment we watched, the teacher protested, but ultimately continued to give the shock treatment because the researcher said he would accept all responsibility. This leads me to believe that people will do things they believe are morally wrong if a higher authority tells them to because they associate the responsibility of the action with the authority figure. If people believe they will be held un-accountable for the crimes they commit they are able to dissociate the action with themselves and then are capable of doing horrible things. In this experiment people went as far as killing another under an authority figure. This helps us understand why so many Germans killed innocent people under Hitler’s authority.
I agree with Gatinho that the scary thing about this experiment is that the subjects were never threatened if they didn’t listen to the researcher. All the researcher said was “we must continue” and after a little protest, the subject did continue. The subject was willing to continue hurting another person for the sake of the experiment even though he was not forced or threatened into pushing the buttons that set off the shock. This shows that most people don’t need that much persuasion to do bad things.
This experiment helps explain why students can be so obedient. If a teacher gives an order/assignment, even if students don’t want to do it, most students follow the order. Although this example does not have to do with violence, it does explain the obedient relationship between teachers or elders and students.
To answer Gatinho’s question, I think the teacher deserves a lot of the blame. Although it was not his idea to deliver the shocks, he was the one who pushed the button. He could have refuse to continue with the experiment if he thought another’s life was at risk, but the teacher decided to listen to the authority figure because he believed he, himself, was not to blame. I think this holds true for the case of genocide. All the people who committed crimes because an authority figure told them to are perpetrators and are guilty.
I think it is interesting that when the researcher gave the orders by telephone, only 21% gave the full 450 volts. This highlights that the direct presence of an authority figure gives more pressure to obey orders. My question is how these results would change today if the orders were given via text or email? Does hearing the voice command of an authority figure differ from a written command?