Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiment

Virginia Hefferman at the New York Times watched segments of the famous experiments on Youtube, and wonders if perhaps they don't prove what popular wisdom says they do.

Now, imagine what would have happened had she carefully watched the whole film, or perhaps even read the book. She might have been forced to reject the accepted wisdom altogether. Rightfully so.


Lydia McGrew said...

I don't claim to know much about this, having merely been exposed to pretty much the accepted wisdom. But I thought your comment in the thread was a lot more important than her comments in the article. Your point seems entirely reasonable concerning going home and coming back the next day and continuing doing this--that the analogy to the Holocaust is badly overblown and unhelpful.

But her points seemed to me rather juvenile. For example, she makes this big deal about how the person giving the shocks was reassured that they were not life threatening. Then she goes into this weird spiel about training a dog with a stick. Hello? It's maybe morally okay to torture people with electric shock to "train" them (to do what?), so long as it doesn't do them permanent harm? And then she made too much, it seemed to me, out of the fact that the person being tested was in a small room with the person pressuring him. What exactly is her point supposed to be? That he thought the guy telling him to proceed was going to threaten him physically? He couldn't say no? Sure, I understand some psychological pressure was applied, and that was morally mitigating. But not all that mitigating. Her statements just sounded like special pleading to me.

But I'm not speaking out of a wealth of information here, by any means.

aiwac said...

Perhaps you could elaborate on this point? What is the difference between the popular perception of the Milgram expirements and the actual book/movie? I'd really like to know.