Monday, March 22, 2010

It's Time to Beat the Reaper!!!*

*with apologies to the Firesign Theatre.

A little story that lets us all know that, given a chance to say "no" to killing someone, eighty percent of us will probably follow orders and kill someone anyway because someone in authority tells us to.

Ain't humanity grand?

A French TV show (leave it to the French) copied Stanley Milgram's experiments at Yale from the 60s in the guise of a reality TV show, wherein the participants were ordered to push a button, shocking the contestant in the booth when he or she got a question wrong. While the button-pusher couldn't see the contestant, they could certainly hear them. The shocks escalated in strength to a maximum of 460 volts. The poor contestant would scream louder and louder, until finally they stopped responding to the shocks, indicating they were either comatose or dead.

If this seems unbelievable, it's because it was faked, and no one actually died.

The button pushers didn't know that, however. As far as they knew, they were probably killing someone, but because they're on TV, and someone wearing a really nice suit says, go ahead, punish the person in the booth, they do it. Sixty-four out of eighty contestants kept going past the point of no return, including a holocaust survivor.

The reasoning behind all of this is that we are conditioned from birth to obey authority figures, no matter how wrong they may be. Some countries do it better than others. America may think that we're all wild-west, free-thinking, anti-authoritarian types who'd never fall for such a thing, but in reality, in the 60s at least, Milgram's experiments showed us to be at least as complacent as the French are now. Given the chance, most of us are capable of killing another human being, so long as we don't see it happening. We might not be able to shoot someone, but we can certainly ignore the pain of others, as long as we don't have to see it directly.

This is possibly why it's so easy for us as a nation to dimiss the suffering of people in Haiti or New Orleans, as long as the TV news doesn't show us the awfulness. We'll certainly contribute to a fund to help, and heck, we'll even have a bake sale, or something. But as long as no one shows us the consequences of inaction, we'll remain inactive. Plus, we all have our own little hells we live in that we've carefully built, year after year, brick by brick, that only give us a few hours a week to come down from the job, and the last thing we want to do is look at someone else who has it worse off than we do (unless it's a James Cameron movie).

So do a little something...


Anonymous said...

You said, " we all have our own little hells we live in that we've carefully built, year after year, brick by brick, that only give us a few hours a week to come down from the job"...oh Sten, you've read my mind again. We keep ourselves so busy to distract us from not only political involvement, but social responisibility! I am so guilty of this. I'm motivated to change that. Thank you!

stEn said...

Very gratifying to know I've poked someone in the brain like that. Now, if you poke two friends, and they poke two friends, and so on, and so on...