Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Arrest of Matt Lepacek, and the MILGRAM EXPERIMENT

People, ordinary people like you and I, can and will do, horrible things when they are "just following orders". The danger of the fallout of people "just following orders" is magnified exponentially when those "following orders" have guns strapped on their hip, handcuffs on the back of their belt, a star on their uniform, and are operating "under color of law".

People sometimes point to the horrors inflicted on people by the Third Reich in World War II, by Nazi soldiers and henchmen of Hitler , and during the Nuremburg trials, they said they were "just following orders", but the sad but true truth is, you don't have to be a sadistic monster in order to do horrible injustices to your fellow citizens. All you have to be is someone who has a job, or is part of something that has a chain of command, and someone in authority who tells you to do it. It happens in corporations, and yes, even in police departments. If a cop is told to arrest and rough up a reporter like Lepacek, it certainly can happen.

For proof of this, just look at the Milgram Experiment.
"The Milgram experiment was a seminal series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,[1] and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.[2]

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiments to answer this question: "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"[3] Or, put another way, why were there so many "Good Germans"?

Milgram summed things up in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[4]"

Milgram's obedience experiment was replicated by other researchers since then, and has interstudy applicability and authentication.

"Stanley Milgram answered the call to this problem by performing a series of studies on the Obedience to Authority. Milgram's work began at Harvard where he was working towards his Ph.D. The experiments on which his initial research was based were done at Yale from 1961-1962.

In response to a newspaper ad offering $4.50 for one hour's work, an individual turns up to take part in a Psychology experiment investigating memory and learning. He is introduced to a stern looking experimenter in a white coat and a rather pleasant and friendly co-subject. The experimenter explains that the experiment will look into the role of punishment in learning, and that one will be the "teacher" and one will be the "learner." Lots are drawn to determine roles, and it is decided that the individual who answered the ad will become the "teacher."

Your co-subject is taken to a room where he is strapped in a chair to prevent movement and an electrode is placed on his arm. Next, the "teacher" is taken to an adjoining room which contains a generator. The "teacher" is instructed to read a list of two word pairs and ask the "learner" to read them back. If the "learner" gets the answer correct, then they move on to the next word. If the answer is incorrect, the "teacher" is supposed to shock the "learner" starting at 15 volts.

The generator has 30 switches in 15 volt increments, each is labeled with a voltage ranging from 15 up to 450 volts. Each switch also has a rating, ranging from "slight shock" to "danger: severe shock". The final two switches are labeled "XXX". The "teacher" automatically is supposed to increase the shock each time the "learner" misses a word in the list. Although the "teacher" thought that he/she was administering shocks to the "learner", the "learner" is actually a student or an actor who is never actually harmed. (The drawing of lots was rigged, so that the actor would always end up as the "learner.")

At times, the worried "teachers" questioned the experimenter, asking who was responsible for any harmful effects resulting from shocking the learner at such a high level. Upon receiving the answer that the experimenter assumed full responsibility, teachers seemed to accept the response and continue shocking, even though some were obviously extremely uncomfortable in doing so.

Today the field of psychology would deem this study highly unethical but, it revealed some extremely important findings. The theory that only the most severe monsters on the sadistic fringe of society would submit to such cruelty is disclaimed. Findings show that, "two-thirds of this studies participants fall into the category of ‘obedient' subjects, and that they represent ordinary people drawn from the working, managerial, and professional classes (Obedience to Authority)." Ultimately 65% of all of the "teachers" punished the "learners" to the maximum 450 volts. No subject stopped before reaching 300 volts!

Milgram also conducted several follow-up experiments to determine what might change the likelihood of maximum shock delivery. In one condition, the touch-proximity condition, the teacher was required to hold the hand of the learner on a "shock plate" in order to give him shocks above 150 volts.

The most amazing thing to note from this follow-up experiment is that 32% of the subjects in the proximity-touch condition held the hand of the learner on the shock plate while administering shocks in excess of 400 volts! Further experiments showed that teachers were less obedient when the experimenter communicated with them via the telephone versus in person, and males were just as likely to be obedient as females, although females tended to be more nervous."
So, will people do horrible things, even up to and including perceived homicide under the "just following orders" scenario ? Yes. Is it possible for security guards, police, secret service, and others, to violate people's first amendment and civil rights pursuant to being told to do so by someone perceived to be in authority?
Yes, it is possible.

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