Sunday, December 21, 2008

Milgram: It Can't Happen Again. Or Can It?

I've always been fascinated with the so-called Milgram Experiments, in which ordinary people were coerced into giving ostensibly lethal jolts of electricity to other "participants", at the urging of an authority figure.

The Milgram Experiments happened some 45 years ago, and over the intervening years some of us have gotten fairly smug about the opinion that "that was then, this is now" and it can't happen again.

Guess what? Wrong!

One Jerry Burger, a University of Santa Clara (CA) professor, just two years ago, did what was more or less a repeat of the Milgram protocol, with -- shockingly -- pretty much the same results.

So what does it say about us as a society, us a people, us as the beacon of freedom in the world, that so many of our populace is quite happy to deliver jolts of high-voltage electricity to our peers, simply because "we were just following orders"?

Sadly, to me this does not come as a surprise. The only good sign -- and a surprising one at that -- is that the percentage of people willing to "go the limit" dropped from 84% to 70%. Still way too high, but it does show progress, I guess...