Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

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Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun Jul 27, 2014 8:47 pm

Hello.

This thread is to present a very controversial experience in psychology. It is probably the scariest experience I've seen. No one dies or gets physically injured. However, the subject of the experience finds a horrifying truth about itself. A reminder of being on guard with our morality.

This is part 1 out of 3 short videos:

And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sam Vara » Sun Jul 27, 2014 9:17 pm

Those who find the Milgram experiments terrifying can console themselves with several directions for their thoughts.

1) His study has been comprehensively criticised - mainly due to its unrepresentative sample and its lack of ecological validity.

2) A minority of his subjects did not obey and administer what they thought were intense electric shocks. That's good parami. Let us all work hard to cultivate the same, so that next time a psychological researcher offers us a few dollars to take part in an experiment...

3) Some writers (notably Julian Baggini, in his book "The Ego Trick" http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ego-Trick-Julian-Baggini/dp/1847082734) use the studies done by Milgram and Zimbardo (the latter is the "Stanford Prison Experiment", where participants enthusiastically ramp up their role-play to include punishment beatings and arbitrary authoritarian bullying) to support something that looks very much like anatta. Milgram's volunteers were ordinary people. More significantly, after the experiment they returned to everyday life none the worse for having given way to cruel impulses. This suggests that a fixed character is of far less importance than the situation which a person finds themselves in. As Baggini points out, many Nazi concentration camp guards demobilised after the war, and got on with creating the German economic miracle. This included being loving parents and good neighbours. People respond to their social environments. Milgram's volunteers would tend to queue patiently for buses had they been transported to England, and would tend to elbow old ladies aside in other countries where norms are different. In Buddhist monasteries, they might well have generated metta all day. The "situational ethics" which Baggini thinks is suggested by Milgram's findings, sits well with the idea that there is no "self" to be corrupted. Be kind to one another, and put others in situations where they too can be kind...
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Jul 27, 2014 9:32 pm

I remember the original one back in the 1960s. I showed the original version (vcr video tapes) to my classes I taught at uni. I remember some of the actors in the original version literally screaming out in pain, and the participants still continuing to do the shocks.

We'd hopefully be one of the few that would not administer the shocks. From a Dhammic viewpoint, we are all here because we still have some defilements, some things to work out, let's hope violence is not one of them, nor blindly following authority.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Sun Jul 27, 2014 11:02 pm

Dave: ..."let's hope violence is not one of them, nor blindly following authority."


HI, Dave.

I am not certain that "we" would be the ones not to obey orders, even those to act violently. Buddhists' respect for authority may make us even more vulnerable to such violations of good conscience. The only thing we have to protect ourselves from it would be our precepts, assuming we were left alone to interpret them. The best example I can raise is Japanese Buddhists during WWII, and Tibetan Buddhists defending HHDL and The Homeland during the Chinese Invasion when given orders to do so, not to mention Vietnam and Burma in more recent years. What was done in each of those regions and cultures was far from Buddha's message in The Simile of The Saw. :embarassed:

Source for further study: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_violence :reading:
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-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Mkoll » Mon Jul 28, 2014 12:30 am

The experiment shines a cold, hard light on how brutal humans can be to one another. Read this description of one of the subjects in the experiment, from Milgram's original paper, The Perils of Obedience. The last paragraph is the crux of the whole issue, I think.

Stanley Milgram wrote:Duty without conflict

The subjects do not derive satisfaction from inflicting pain, but they often like the feeling they get from pleasing the experimenter. They are proud of doing a good job, obeying the experimenter under difficult circumstances. While the subjects administered only mild shocks on their own initiative, one experimental variation showed that, under orders, 30 percent of them were willing to deliver 450 volts even when they had to forcibly push the learner's hand down on the electrode.

Bruno Batta is a thirty-seven-year-old welder who took part in the variation requiring the use of force. He was born in New Haven, his parents in Italy. He has a rough-hewn face that conveys a conspicuous lack of alertness. He has some difficulty in mastering the experimental procedure and needs to be corrected by the experimenter several times. He shows appreciation for the help and willingness to do what is required. After the 150 volt level, Batta has to force the learner's hand down on the shock plate, since the learner himself refuses to touch it.

When the learner first complains, Mr. Batta pays no attention to him. His face remains impassive, as if to dissociate himself from the learner's disruptive behavior. When the experimenter instructs him to force the learner's hand down, he adopts a rigid, mechanical procedure. He tests the generator switch. When it fails to function, he immediately forces the learner's hand onto the shock plate. All the while he maintains the same rigid mask. The learner, seated alongside him, begs him to stop, but with robotic impassivity he continues the procedure.

What is extraordinary is his apparent total indifference to the learner; he hardly takes cognizance of him as a human being. Meanwhile, he relates to the experimenter in a submissive and courteous fashion.

At the 330 volt level, the learner refuses not only to touch the shock plate but also to provide any answers. Annoyed, Batta turns to him, and chastises him: "You better answer and get it over with. We can't stay here all night." These are the only words he directs to the learner in the course of an hour. Never again does he speak to him. The scene is brutal and depressing, his hard, impassive face showing total indifference as he subdues the screaming learner and gives him shocks. He seems to derive no pleasure from the act itself, only quiet satisfaction at doing his job properly.

When he administers 450 volts, he turns to the experimenter and asks, "Where do we go from here, Professor?" His tone is deferential and expresses his willingness to be a cooperative subject, in contrast to the learner's obstinacy.

At the end of the session he tells the experimenter how honored he has been to help him, and in a moment of contrition, remarks, "Sir, sorry it couldn't have been a full experiment."

He has done his honest best. It is only the deficient behavior of the learner that has denied the experimenter full satisfaction.

The essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred, all of the essential features of obedience follow. The most far-reaching consequence is that the person feels responsible to the authority directing him but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear -- it acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby sattva » Mon Jul 28, 2014 4:27 am

heart heavy, tears well
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sokehi » Mon Jul 28, 2014 8:57 am

Sam Vara wrote:The "situational ethics" which Baggini thinks is suggested by Milgram's findings, sits well with the idea that there is no "self" to be corrupted. Be kind to one another, and put others in situations where they too can be kind...


:goodpost:
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Jul 28, 2014 10:28 am

Mkoll wrote:The experiment shines a cold, hard light on how brutal humans can be to one another. Read this description of one of the subjects in the experiment, from Milgram's original paper, The Perils of Obedience. The last paragraph is the crux of the whole issue, I think.

Stanley Milgram wrote:Duty without conflict
The essence of obedience is that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred, all of the essential features of obedience follow. The most far-reaching consequence is that the person feels responsible to the authority directing him but feels no responsibility for the content of the actions that the authority prescribes. Morality does not disappear -- it acquires a radically different focus: the subordinate person feels shame or pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority.

Here's the antidote:
Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation
"There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five?

"'I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.' This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.
"'I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.' ...
"'I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.' ...
"'I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.' ...

"'I am the owner of my actions,[1] heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.' ...

"These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.
...
"Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir'? There are beings who conduct themselves in a bad way in body... in speech... and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that bad conduct in body, speech, and mind will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker...

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.057.than.html
There are some more good references at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-ditthi/kamma.html

:namaste:
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Mkoll » Mon Jul 28, 2014 5:30 pm

Kim OHara wrote:. . .

Sure, a Buddhist with knowledge of the suttas and the desire to put into practice some of what they say shouldn't have much trouble in refusing to hurt others when asked to do so as part of an experiment. And there are plenty of other good people who would refuse to torture someone else in an experiment, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The point is that there are people who would torture someone else in an experiment if told to do so. There are Eichmanns in this world and even crueller people still. Obviously this is not something to dwell on but it's a fact nonetheless.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sam Vara » Mon Jul 28, 2014 7:52 pm

Mkoll wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:. . .

Sure, a Buddhist with knowledge of the suttas and the desire to put into practice some of what they say shouldn't have much trouble in refusing to hurt others when asked to do so as part of an experiment. And there are plenty of other good people who would refuse to torture someone else in an experiment, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The point is that there are people who would torture someone else in an experiment if told to do so. There are Eichmanns in this world and even crueller people still. Obviously this is not something to dwell on but it's a fact nonetheless.


As I said above, you can see this in a less depressing way; something you can dwell on. Those people who would torture someone else would help and nurture them as well. They are the ones we meet on line here, and at retreats, and maybe even wearing robes. When Milgram arises, this arises; when Sumedho arises, that arises.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Mkoll » Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:15 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Mkoll wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:. . .

Sure, a Buddhist with knowledge of the suttas and the desire to put into practice some of what they say shouldn't have much trouble in refusing to hurt others when asked to do so as part of an experiment. And there are plenty of other good people who would refuse to torture someone else in an experiment, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The point is that there are people who would torture someone else in an experiment if told to do so. There are Eichmanns in this world and even crueller people still. Obviously this is not something to dwell on but it's a fact nonetheless.


As I said above, you can see this in a less depressing way; something you can dwell on. Those people who would torture someone else would help and nurture them as well. They are the ones we meet on line here, and at retreats, and maybe even wearing robes. When Milgram arises, this arises; when Sumedho arises, that arises.

Looking at the sun and looking at the moon... :smile:
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Modus.Ponens » Mon Jul 28, 2014 11:13 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Mkoll wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:. . .

Sure, a Buddhist with knowledge of the suttas and the desire to put into practice some of what they say shouldn't have much trouble in refusing to hurt others when asked to do so as part of an experiment. And there are plenty of other good people who would refuse to torture someone else in an experiment, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The point is that there are people who would torture someone else in an experiment if told to do so. There are Eichmanns in this world and even crueller people still. Obviously this is not something to dwell on but it's a fact nonetheless.


As I said above, you can see this in a less depressing way; something you can dwell on. Those people who would torture someone else would help and nurture them as well. They are the ones we meet on line here, and at retreats, and maybe even wearing robes. When Milgram arises, this arises; when Sumedho arises, that arises.


:)

The problem is that people in authority are not generaly interested in altruism as much as in money and power. If it was the other way around this would not be as worrying.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sam Vara » Tue Jul 29, 2014 10:34 am

Modus.Ponens wrote:The problem is that people in authority are not generaly interested in altruism as much as in money and power. If it was the other way around this would not be as worrying.


Agreed. But the overlooked good news in Milgram's experiment is that there is no "core self" which is corrupted by obedience to authority. The intention to do harm is sankhata and therefore impermanent, and so are the conditions which condition it. Our escape from ill-will is always to hand.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Jul 30, 2014 6:55 am

Orwell.png
Orwell.png (368.8 KiB) Viewed 124 times


A tiny bit off-topic but it just came up on FB and I thought I would throw it in.

:coffee:
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Modus.Ponens » Wed Jul 30, 2014 7:52 am

I think it's completly on topic, Kim. That is my main concern when I think about this experiment. And it's frightening.

The no-self argument is a bit flawed, in my opinion. I think the answers are less pleasant than we would like them to be.
Biologically, we are primates. Primate's social structures usually have an alpha male who has the most power over everything. And it seems that we are programmed to follow orders from the leader without questioning. Plus if this was enough to conclude no-self, we would have to conclude that the 33% of people who did not do that crap have a self. The reality, I think, is far simler and worse than that: the majority of people are spineless when it comes to acting morally. Acting morally seems like a good idea, as long as no trouble at all comes to them.

EDIT: I'm saying them as if I'm completely sure I wouldn't do that. I think I wouldn't do it, but I'm not sure about that.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sam Vara » Wed Jul 30, 2014 5:46 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:I think it's completly on topic, Kim. That is my main concern when I think about this experiment. And it's frightening.

The no-self argument is a bit flawed, in my opinion. I think the answers are less pleasant than we would like them to be.
Biologically, we are primates. Primate's social structures usually have an alpha male who has the most power over everything. And it seems that we are programmed to follow orders from the leader without questioning. Plus if this was enough to conclude no-self, we would have to conclude that the 33% of people who did not do that crap have a self. The reality, I think, is far simler and worse than that: the majority of people are spineless when it comes to acting morally. Acting morally seems like a good idea, as long as no trouble at all comes to them.

EDIT: I'm saying them as if I'm completely sure I wouldn't do that. I think I wouldn't do it, but I'm not sure about that.


To my knowledge, nobody has ever claimed that the fact we follow orders is sufficient to prove the non-existence of a self. Nor is it valid reasoning to conclude that if it were true, then those who do not follow order do in fact have a self.

Baggini's point is that Milgram's and Zimbardo's experiments - and their aftereffects - are supportive of situational ethics over character or virtue ethics. The same applies to what we know of humans who commit atrocities in the real world, rather than experimental situations in the lab. There are no irremediably bad characters; when the conditions for acting badly go away, so does the bad activity. This is, as Baggini is quick to point out (and to enlist Stephen Batchelor as Buddhist support!) is at least redolent of how the Buddha explained our activity. Have a look at the book before criticising this -http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ego-Trick-Julian-Baggini/dp/1847082734

One can of course take a pessimistic view of this, claiming as fact that we are primates, and that primates have certain social structures, and that we are somehow predisposed to do bad things as a result. So is there no escape for any of us, then? My point is that the Buddha shows us a way to escape, and that the mechanism of that escape (anatta and dependent origination) is actually there for us to see in Milgram and Zimbardo's experiments.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Modus.Ponens » Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:13 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
To my knowledge, nobody has ever claimed that the fact we follow orders is sufficient to prove the non-existence of a self. Nor is it valid reasoning to conclude that if it were true, then those who do not follow order do in fact have a self.

Baggini's point is that Milgram's and Zimbardo's experiments - and their aftereffects - are supportive of situational ethics over character or virtue ethics. The same applies to what we know of humans who commit atrocities in the real world, rather than experimental situations in the lab. There are no irremediably bad characters; when the conditions for acting badly go away, so does the bad activity. This is, as Baggini is quick to point out (and to enlist Stephen Batchelor as Buddhist support!) is at least redolent of how the Buddha explained our activity. Have a look at the book before criticising this -http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ego-Trick-Julian-Baggini/dp/1847082734

One can of course take a pessimistic view of this, claiming as fact that we are primates, and that primates have certain social structures, and that we are somehow predisposed to do bad things as a result. So is there no escape for any of us, then? My point is that the Buddha shows us a way to escape, and that the mechanism of that escape (anatta and dependent origination) is actually there for us to see in Milgram and Zimbardo's experiments.


I don't know exactly what situational ethics is, but the furthest I can understand that expression is regarding nazi soldiers _ and that's very far indeed.

But this is nothing of the sort. There is no threat of physical, verbal or psychological violence towards the subject, or the subject's family, friends, etc. There is no disadvantage whatsoever for the subject. They are just told that it's important to continue and they kill a person with no significant resistance. Not even verbaly significant. Sure, no one actualy died. But that's because it was an experiment.

This experiment was one of the most shocking things I've learned about us humans. It really frightens me that 2 out of 3 adults will kill another person without being under any kind of threat.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sam Vara » Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:51 pm

This experiment was one of the most shocking things I've learned about us humans. It really frightens me that 2 out of 3 adults will kill another person without being under any kind of threat.

Well, consider the anatta bit. Is there no escape?

Human beings are strange, aren't they? I myself was in a large group of people (admittedly self-selected, but they were from diverse backgrounds and none of them knew what they were getting themselves into) and 100% of them sat quietly for long periods and tried to send good will towards themselves and others. Nobody demurred. None walked out. And all because a bald man in robes just asked them to. Extraordinary!

As I said above, "When Milgram's experiment is, this arises. With the cessation of Milgram's experiment, this ceases. When Sumedho is, that arises. With the cessation of Sumedho, that ceases".
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby alan » Wed Jul 30, 2014 10:28 pm

Most people are rule-followers. Few people think for themselves.
Independence of mind might be a kammic trait; I'm not sure where it comes from. But for sure it takes a solid degree of self awareness and confidence to look directly at an authority figure and say: No, I'm not doing that.

Is it pessimistic to say we are all primates, and follow social structures established millions of years ago? Not necessarily. It seems to be the most realistic assumption.
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Re: Obedience to Authority - Terrifying Experience

Postby Sam Vara » Wed Jul 30, 2014 10:50 pm

alan wrote:
Is it pessimistic to say we are all primates, and follow social structures established millions of years ago? Not necessarily.


Indeed. And to conceive of a fellow primate who is an enlightened being - who can lead us out of suffering - is extremely optimistic.
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