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If many people were asked to administer pain to their fellow humans and watch them suffer, very few would agree to commit to such an atrocity. However, this might just not be the case as explained by Stanley Milgram after his observations in a series of experiments after the infamous Holocaust in Germany led by Adolph Eichmann. A Yale professor, Mr. Milgram sought to determine whether people could do bad things to others not because they want to but just because they have been ordered to by a senior authority (McLeod). As was to later appear in his conclusions, people actually have the capability to do things not because it is their intention or in their moral fabric but merely due to the need to go on and obey an authority. He set up an experiment involving teachers and learners whereby the former was told to torture the latter with varying electric shocks as long as they gave a wrong answer to the simple questions regarding memory (McLeod). It is imperative to note that the 40 teachers were not only all male but also were randomly picked over newspaper ads while the students were members of the Milgram team. In addition, there was no real pain in the “shocks” as the students were only meant to act and convince the teacher that they were hurt.
The experimenter gave the following directions whenever a teacher appeared in doubt
“Please continue, the experiment requires you to continue, it is absolutely essential that you continue, and, you have no other choice but to continue.” Surprisingly, 65% of all participants reached the extremely dangerous and highest 450 level while all got to at least the 300 volts mark. Some subjects like Gretchen Brand Jr. refused to go farther on citing that the subject had a heart condition and she couldn’t continue to hurt him despite assurance that she was void of any responsibility. Others like Fred Pozi, a 50 year-old unemployed and seemingly good-natured man, went on to the 450 mark once he was assured that all the responsibility for the student lay with the experimenter. However, there were some particularly peculiar reactions like that of Morris Braverman, a thirty-nine-year-old social worker. On assurance that he could continue with the experiment, he went on to break into wheezing laughter at the pain that he was delivering to his fellow human.
After conducting the experiment 18 times, Milgram came to a few conclusions on what really affected the outcomes. When he conducted in Yale, a respectable organization, the obedience levels were higher than those in run-down offices. This literally means that the more prestigious the authority is, then the more the likelihood of obedience even to evil. In relation to his Agency theory, 95% of the participants reached the 450 mark when the pressing was done by the assistant. This just shows human nature towards evil as long as they didn’t get their hands dirty. When the experimenter wore a lab coat, he was more obeyed than when in casual clothes also giving the notion on the status of the authority. Furthermore, if the authority instructed through the phone, it was less demeaning to the teacher as compared to when the authority was close. Finally, it was also perceived that the rest of the peers also had some effect on the experiment. When there already was a disobedient model, it was likely that the subject followed their steps. Moreover, the presence of friends also increased obedience as compared to a lonesome adventure.
All these are evidences of why Milgram said that “the most common of socially organized evil” in the society is led by bureaucracies. Whenever people are forced to obey, they end up doing evil even when they would not normally do that in a normal context. However, I believe that there were a few gray areas in Milgram’s experiments. For one, the kind of evil in this experiment are not likely to happen in a normal society. In fact, such kinds of conditions are only suitable when discussing a military context. The fact that the response was random also shows that the people could have been volunteers to such evil things. If the theory was to apply to the whole humanity context, then many of the society at the time should have requested to take part in the experiment. Furthermore, the presence of women could have provided a good opportunity to make conclusive evidence of all humans.
However, I do believe that the experiment did prove something about human nature. Intrinsically, not many people would love to see their fellow members of the society in pain and suffering. This can only lead to a question on who then fuels the wars and sufferings in the society. In war, many pick the side of a leader and choose to follow their way and will regardless of the cause. In fact, there isn’t a single war that has a real “cause” behind it. As was observed in the experiment, most of the teachers were really concerned about the student and often asked whether they would continue. On assurance that they were under no responsibility whatever happened, they went on to traumatize the respondents. This is the same thing that happens in the society when an authoritative figure says that the repercussions will not affect the followers in any way. This only leads to a fanatical following and the respondents feel no remorse whatsoever committing the evil.