Stanley Milgram – “The Perils of Obedience”

Stanley Milgram gives a great example of a dystopia in his writing, “The Perils of Obedience”. Milgram believes that “obedience… is a requirement of all communal living”, which is true, but in slight opposition to de Waal’s idea of community (154). De Waal leans toward the act of reconciliation of others to solve issues, but there is another side of our primitive state. The dark side of our primate instinct towards reconciliation, according to Milgram, us humans have an inherited “submission to authority”, whether that power is of sound mind or bad blood (154).

A series of experiments were conducted that tested the obedience of several groups of people. There were discrepancies as to who to choose for the experiment, but in each test, there was a learner (an actor) and a teacher – the teacher being the main focus. A set of words were given that the learner was supposed to recite back. If a word was forgotten, the teacher would administer a shock. At first the shocks’ intensity could be chosen, but on other tests, the voltage had to be increased. It is noted that “the subject was not ordered to pull the lever that shocked the victim but merely to perform a subsidiary task” (167).

In the first experiment, free will was mentioned several times. Yes, “teacher” figure, was there at their free will, but they were also acting upon their own free will. Some experiences great discomfort throughout the experiment, yet they still continued administering the shocks, while knowing that. Just because they were told to do something, although it mean the possible pain/death of another, shows that there are minimal “resources needed to resist authority” (164). How far will our “possess[ion] [of the] capacity for obedience and compliance to a central idea… [be] at the expense of violat[ing] another [person’s] value” (162)? Will we let society break our responsibility as a human?


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