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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

tractable man

Photo: gajitz

“In what he later called an ‘incandescent moment’, [Dr. Stanley] Milgram became more interested in the control than the test. He wondered how far people would go to follow his orders, and so he shifted the experiment’s focus from conformity to obedience. He planned to try it on Americans in New Haven, after which he would perform the experiment in Germany to see how the two compared. But once he saw the first results, Milgram knew the German comparison wouldn’t matter.
     “You probably already know the story: the subjects were far more obedient than they were expected to be, in both frequency and intensity. Milgram surveyed other psychologists before he ran the experiments, and his consulting group guessed about a tenth of one per cent (.125) of subjects (only sadists and psychopaths) would max out the voltage before refusing. Instead, 65 per cent of subjects hit the 450 volt button – labelled ‘XXX’ instead of ‘lethal’ in the final model – three times before Milgram cut them off. All subjects reached 300 volts, which meant they believed they had administered 20 distinct shocks.
     It was a successful experiment. Too successful. Cross-cultural comparisons were beside the point if most Americans were already Nazis just waiting for the right orders.”
— Malcolm Harris, aeon

“[…] Hitler ran a totalitarian dictatorship, and it was done through coercion and orders from above. What Ian shows so beautifully is that, in fact, Hitler is not a hands-on micromanager. Things don’t run simply by coercion and orders from above, but lots of people below are taking initiative and seeking to figure out what’s expected of them. That helps us normalize the regime in an important way, to understand the process of policy-making. It was not fundamentally or radically different from the political policies of other regimes.
     I was reminded of this in the middle of the Iran Contra hearings in the U.S. in the late 1980s. One of the men responsible was asked whether he had an order to do this. He said, 'Well, no.' Then he was asked, 'Did you disobey orders and do this on your own?' and he said, 'No.' So his questioners asked, 'Well then, how do you explain this?' and he said, 'I knew what the president wanted.' It was as simple as that. Governments work because people don’t wait for orders; they are given the general outline, and they’re supposed to be go-getters who make things happen. This is not unique to Nazi Germany.
     […] In the hearings that were going on recently in Washington for the new chief justice, several of the answers given by Judge Roberts were in fact just that. He said, 'Well, I knew what the president wanted,' rather than saying it was an order, or it was law. He said he followed the law; but in fact, he knew that was the way the president wished these things to happen."
— David Hulme in discussion with Christopher Browning, Sir Ian Kershaw, Steven Ozment and Arnold Schwartzman, Vision
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