In his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram discusses in detail the findings of his now famous experiment. Milgram demonstrated just how easy it is to convince an ordinary person to commit torture and murder under the instruction of an authority figure.
Intrigued by the role of Nazi military personnel in concentration camps during WWII, Milgram wanted to know how much coercion people needed in order to willingly inflict harm on another person.
He asked volunteers to deliver an electric shock to a stranger. Unbeknownst to the volunteers, there was no shock—and the people they were shocking were actors pretending to be terribly hurt, even feigning heart attacks. Milgram found that most people would keep delivering the shocks when ordered by a person in a lab coat, even when they believed that person was gravely injured. Only a tiny percentage of people refused. [Source]
The suggested conclusion is that people are inherently unable to think for themselves when given a subordinate role in some authoritarian hierarchy, such as the role of the ordinary citizen in a State-controlled world. A documentary of this experiment can be seen here.
The Milgram study was controversial in that some felt the results were skewed in favor of a predetermined bias. In the fifty-plus years since the experiment, there have been no other major research studies to confirm Milgram’s findings. Nevertheless, the presumption that normal people will go as far as to commit murder if they are relieved of responsibility by an authority figure feels inherently truthful in a world of so many organized atrocities.
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