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Prisoners Of Our Minds

link:  22.2: Milgram’s Studies On Obedience To Authority – Social Sci LibreTexts

It’s a curious time as we observe all of the puzzling responses by people to naked attacks on their natural freedoms.  If you were to ask a random sampling of individuals, the concept of ‘freedom’ likely lands near the top of the list when itemizing the desirable attributes of a given society.  In reality, the  actual practice of freedom is quite abstract when compared against the reality of societal living.

We know of course that there are specific rules of behavior required of people to live in a civilized society.  Of course, there are explicit rules as dictated by formal laws, but there are also non explicit rules which are dictated by cultural conventions.  These unwritten rules are more critical and are embedded in our psyches as we live in a society since they form the the backbone of our moral value systems.

In the optimal scenario, explicit laws should be very minimal if the value structure of a society is strong enough to rein in undesirable behavior.  As an example, consider Japanese culture;  In that society, the constrictions dictated by personal morality are so high, that transgressions are deemed reprehensible and never even to be considered.  Dishonesty and theft are critical personal and shameful failings there.  The notion of theft is as abhorrent to most Japanese as the idea of cutting off a finger would be for those in our society.  However, here in the west, those traits are actually vocational skills required in politicians.

Unfortunately the West does not have such a resolute value system.  Instead, we are dependent on an ever expanding net of rules and laws to reign in ‘undesirable’ behavior.  The sinister part of this reality is that a very small part of any society is very aware of the willingness of people to abide by almost any rule, written or unwritten by those in positions of power.   This is not conjecture.  Scientific studies have demonstrated exactly this and people who attain influence are quite aware of it.  The question is, why do people put up with rules which are counter to their moral code or in the worst case, against their own well being?

The link above outlines the sociological experiments by Dr. Stanley Milgram in the mid 1970’s.  His research provided some fascinating but very frightening revelations about the proclivity of people to defer to obedience under the persuasion of someone notionally in a position of power; without regard to actual reality.  The revelations and conclusions of his work should be stark warnings for all citizens of a governed nation.  Instead, the veracity of his experiments are being played out in ever greater scale in all societies.  This explains the various regimes that we consider to be rogue around the world, but the realities are relevant to our own society.

Milgram’s revelations are dovetailing with another psychological condition which afflicts people and that is, Stockholm Syndrome, wherein a captive begins to empathize with his captors as time goes on and becomes a willing and perhaps participating victim.  We can see the intersection of these two human phenomena in the activities surrounding two very critical current events.

The first of course is the aftermath of the US presidential election last November.  In the face of irrefutable evidence and mathematical logic, over 300 million people have acquiesced to the narrative offered by ‘those in charge’.  There has been only very ineffective push-back from small groups protesting against the blatant manipulation.  The most fundamental right of individuals to choose who governs them, has been taken from at least half the nation without sufficient indignant outrage.  Try declaring blackjack against a dealer showing 20 without showing your cards and see how that goes.  People have rolled over to accept the results because someone told them to.  Most have acquiesced with the attitude of ‘we’ll get ’em next time’ which is illogical because the same outcome will happen again with the same input.

The second and perhaps more sinister manifestation of compliance are the on-going edicts concerning Covid-19.   A year of lock-downs, masks, social distancing and quarantine measures are still being imposed upon a gullible public.  In some regimes, notably North Canadia, governments are imposing mandatory incarceration protocols upon travelers trying to enter the country.  This, despite a year of data from medical scientists which disproves most of the claims made by politicians during this time.  If the extreme suppression of personal freedoms hasn’t worked to quash a condition which was supposed to take two weeks…. a year ago, then why continue them after a year?  The scientific method appears to have been abandoned for political theater.  Even more damning is the evidence of entire societies and nations that did not subject their residents to extreme measures and yet did not result in the human disasters sold by the alarmists.

There’s a favorite scene of mine from the film, Intolerable Cruelty, starring George Clooney.  I will paraphrase the conversation he has as a lawyer to his client and apply it to what we see now in the Covid space:

“You mean to tell me that in the face of blatant oppression of the citizens and demonstrable ineffectiveness of your controls that you want to impose even more pain and suffering??”

“Can you do it?”

“It’s a challenge”.

In another fascinating set of experiments in 1971 at Stanford, Phillip Zimbardo created an environment in which student volunteers were divided into two groups, one half would be prisoners and the other half to be the guards.  This experiment was to run two weeks in an enclosed environment. It was intended to measure the effect of role-playing, labeling, and social expectations on behavior over a period of two weeks. However, mistreatment of prisoners escalated so alarmingly that principal investigator Philip G. Zimbardo terminated the experiment after only six days.  The subjects were taking on extreme behaviors according to their assigned roles, such as the ‘guards’ using fire extinguishers on the prisoners.

Here is a description from Britannica.com:  In keeping with Zimbardo’s intention to create very quickly an “atmosphere of oppression,” each prisoner was made to wear a “dress” as a uniform and to carry a chain padlocked around one ankle. All participants were observed and videotaped by the experimenters.

On only the second day the prisoners staged a rebellion. Guards then worked out a system of rewards and punishments to manage the prisoners. Within the first four days, three prisoners had become so traumatized that they were released. Over the course of the experiment, some of the guards became cruel and tyrannical, while a number of the prisoners became depressed and disoriented. However, only after an outside observer came upon the scene and registered shock did Zimbardo conclude the experiment, less than a week after it had started.

Note the last sentence.  This only stopped because an outside observer was shocked at the events.  If only we had outside observers in real life.



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