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"The highest duty is to
respect authority." - Pope Leo XIII
Integrity versus Authority
L., Paradigms Lost, “It’s in the Genes”,
Avon Books, New York NY
10019, P. 143
NATURE/NURTURE: SENSE OR NONSENSE?
A few years ago, in
one of the most fascinating and disturbing experiments in the annals of
behavioral psychology, Stanley Milgram of Yale tested forty subjects
from all walks of life for their willingness to obey instructions given
by a "leader" in a situation in which the subjects might feel a personal
abhorrence for the actions they were called upon to perform.
Specifically, Milgram told each volunteer "teacher-subject" that the
experiment was in the noble cause of education, and was designed to test
whether or not punishing pupils for their mistakes would have a positive
effect on the pupils.
setup involved placing the teacher before a panel of thirty switches
with labels ranging from "15 Volts (Slight Shock)" to "450 Volts
(Danger—Severe Shock)" in steps of 15 volts each. The subject was told
that whenever the pupil gave the wrong answer to a question, a shock was
to be administered, beginning at the lowest level and increasing in
severity with each successive wrong answer. The supposed "pupil" was in
reality an actor hired by Milgram to simulate receiving the shocks by
emitting a spectrum of groans, screams, and writhings, together with an
assortment of statements and expletives denouncing both the experiment
and the experimenter. Milgram told the subject to ignore the reactions
of the pupil, and to administer whatever level of shock was called for
as per the rule governing the experimental situation of the moment.
As the experiment
unfolded, the pupil would deliberately give the wrong answers to
questions posed by the teacher, thereby bringing on various electrical
"punishments," even up to the danger level of 300 volts and beyond.
Many of the subjects balked at administering the higher levels of
punishment, and turned to Milgram with questioning looks and/or
complaints about continuing with the experiment. In these situations,
Milgram calmly explained that the teacher was to ignore the pupil's
cries for mercy and carry on with the experiment. If the subject was
still reluctant to proceed, Milgram said that it was important for the
sake of the experiment that the procedure be followed through to the
end. His final argument was "You have no other choice. You must go
on." What Milgram was out to discover was the number of subjects who
would be willing to administer the highest levels of shock, even in the
face of strong personal and moral revulsion against the rules and
conditions of the experiment.
Prior to carrying out
the experiment, Milgram explained his idea to a group of thirty-nine
psychiatrists and asked them to predict the average percentage of people
in an ordinary population who would be willing to administer the highest
shock level of 450 volts. The overwhelming consensus was that virtually
all the subjects would refuse to obey the experimenter. The
psychiatrists felt that "most subjects would not go beyond 150 volts,"
and they expected that only 4 percent would go up to 300 volts.
Furthermore, they thought that only a pathological, sadistic, lunatic
fringe of about 1 in 1,000 would give the highest shock of 450 volts.
What were the actual
results? Well, over 60 percent of the subjects continued to obey
Milgram up to the 450-volt limit! In repetitions of the experiment in
other countries—South Africa, Italy, West Germany, Australia—the
percentage of obedient teachers was even higher, reaching 85 percent in
Munich. How can we possibly account for this vast discrepancy between
what calm, rational, knowledgeable men predict in the comfort of their
study, and what pressured, flustered, but cooperative "teachers"
actually do in the laboratory of real life?
excellent description of Milgram's experimental setup and results is
found in the book: Koestler, Arthur., Janus. Random House,
New York, NY, 1978.
Koestler notes the important
variation of the experiment in which Milgram allowed the subjects to
inflict any level of shock they wished as a punishment for a wrong
answer, rather than being compelled to use a level determined by the
leader. In this case, 38 out of the 40 subjects refused to go beyond a
level of 150 volts, the level at which the pupil made his first loud
cry, with the average shock administered a measly 54 volts. Milgram's
own account of these experiments can be found in his 1974 book
Obedience to Authority.
The first imperative of a civilized society is to
nurture and culture its young
men into responsible, honorable humane citizens. If the religious
doesn't foster, nay demand, this, it is a fraud and at best majoring in
What is going on here?
The results of Milgram's experiments are appalling, despicable, and
should be profoundly disturbing. They should be a wakeup call and a
clear indication that something is deeply wrong. While it is minimally
encouraging that the study involving Americans did not produce results
as bad as the other countries mentioned, these are all basically
Christian cultures. I think we all understand that if the studies were
done in non-Christian cultures the results would be even worse.
Nevertheless, this study exposed a widespread breakdown in personal
integrity and autonomy.