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Political Process and the Milgram Experiment: Casually Condoning Genocide

In 1961, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate the willing obedience of human beings.

In this experiment, Milgram posed a series of questions, which were to be delivered from the participants, or teachers, to the subjects, or learners.

The participants, men of varying levels of education and professional experience, received guidance from an authority figure, or experimenter, who issued prompts to the individual teachers, who in turn communicated the questions to the respective learners.

After each incorrect response, the participants were advised to administer electric shocks to the learner, with increasing intensity after each additional incorrect response.

Milgram neatly summarized his findings in a 1971 article entitled The Perils of Obedience:

"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."

Yet it appears that the layman, who has become increasingly entangled in the toils of his or her own preoccupation, has hardly the inclination to explore, let alone offer up, any such personal explanation or reconciliation with the steadfast principles of the day.

All too often, it appears that we insulate ourselves from these truths about human behavior to preserve our cozy, convenient narratives on our place in this world.

What's more disturbing is that most of us are victim to the line of thinking which convinces us that from the ornateness of authority, the elegant architecture, the high fashion and lofty language, spawns an equivalence of high civility and greater knowledge of truth and purpose.

Of course, the total of this is completely and utterly false, predicated only upon the cunning and acceptable axioms which have fooled the unwitting and passive masses of persons who could, if they journeyed the effort, distill the drudgery and expose the folly of those convicted evil-doers who operate contemptuously through carefully-penned scripts void of substantive meaning yet bursting with hollow compulsion.

And in these days where bumper stickers and abbreviated tweets and text messaging serve as the preferred mode of learning, the underlying risks of untested beliefs span more widely and more deeply than ever, where righteous-sounding lyrics of a mere lyricist, such as Marshall Mathers, reach a welcoming audience with ears primed and prepared to heed the guidance of such men, and women, who have hardly ever devoted themselves to cogent research, who have instead enjoyed a life steeped equivalently in delusion as fantasy, or likewise far in the annals of poetry, to even gain a glimpse of anything resembling an unadulterated appreciation for the pure state of existence.

As Milgram noted in his 1971 article:

"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."

And so it goes, a perpetual and increasingly violent and divisive whirlwind beating against the pariahs who seek to unveil the naked and less attractive phenomena of life on earth, a series of realizations which would utterly shake us to the core if we could even for a moment grant them admittance into consideration.

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