Monday, December 22, 2008

Things we probably don't want to think about around Christmas

Back in the 60s, a man named Milgram conducted an experiment to see how people responded to pressure from authority. The results were... not exactly nice. The experiment has been recently repeated, with pretty much the same results. BoingBoing covered the story, and included some related links. Not a shining endorsement of humanity. I can't say I'm surprised, though. And people really should think about it. The worst atrocities aren't committed by monsters who do it deliberately, they're often committed by ordinary people who are just under pressure from the people above them to get results. This should be taken into account when, for instance, looking at the current prosecutions for torture in intelligence-gathering in the War On Terror. The higher-ups say "Don't prosecute us, we didn't do it. Prosecute those evil soldiers who actually did the dirty work.". These results pretty graphically demonstrate that the "But we didn't do it!" plaint from the people at the top shouldn't fly. The people at the bottom of the chain of command very likely wouldn't have done those things if the people at the top hadn't been applying the pressure to get results in the first place, and sending the message down that anything that got results was OK.

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