From the monthly archives: "November 2012"

Every trivia-savvy individual who doesn’t know much about psychology probably at least knows Stanley Milgram’s 1961 obedience experiment and Phillip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford Prison experiment. We also know that the conclusions of said experiments reflect very poorly on human nature; we follow orders from authoritative-sounding people, even if someone is screaming in agony, we fall easily into positions of sadistic power-tripping or cowed submission, even after a few measly days of playing at prison and guard; we’re pretty bad. Obviously these experiments seem to confirm in retrospect the bloodbath that was the 20th century and the millions of people who didn’t protest, and even helped, when dictators brutalized their fellow human beings with the excuse that they were inferior in race, or politics, or purity.

A few days ago The Telegraph had a brief report on new experiments that imply that human nature may be worse still than Milgram and Zimbardo’s experiments suggest. Not only do humans tend to follow the orders of officials in lab coats or death’s heads or what have you, but they also enjoy it, they feel like they are doing right. Even more unsettling is the detail that if orders are given too often, that undermines the feeling that the atrocities are “for the greater good” and therefore are a righteous act the person has chosen to participate in. The best jackboot is the true believer, not the person cowed into submission by an authority figure.

Maybe this isn’t terribly surprising, but at the same time, the article’s connection to Nazism seems somewhat forced. At the start, Nazis depended on converting people freely to their ideology  but after a few years it’s not like there wasn’t an implied, but very real, threat of deadly force hanging over every single German. People seem to jump all too often at the idea that the Germans were very keen on slaughtering all the Jews, and I am sure that’s truer than we all wish it were  but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Yes, certainly the higher-ups in the Nazi regime, like Eichmann, were true believers, would it be any better if they weren’t? Propaganda doesn’t excuse the little guy participating in atrocities or ignoring them, but it makes it so much harder to say no.

But back to Milgram. A 45 minute video of the experiment can be viewed here, and it’s excruciating to watch, but well worth it. In brief, the unknowing subjects are told that they are “the teacher” in a task that will help ” the student” (who is in on the experiment) learn and retain word combinations. The experiment would demonstrate whether electric shocks would help the other man learn the words. Of course, the real experiment was gauging whether the subjects/”teachers” would stop “shocking” and if so, how long it would take them, based on the lab tech building up the pressure on them to continue, culminating — if they hesitated enough — in the command that “the teacher” had no choice but keep on.

Many of the “teachers” took to their task like good citizens, assuming that the guys in labcoats know what’s best, even if they exhibited signs of emotional distress. More painful than the good little drones, though, is the fellow near the very end of this video who keeps protesting and hesitating the louder the fake screams become. He asks questions, he confirms that the lab techs are responsible for whatever may happen; he is so stricken, but he just keeps going anyway. You can see in his face that he knows better, but he cannot bring himself to just say no. I wonder if he is the face of the little guy, who would have been completely average, who ends up helping with mass murders.

But before that, there are two men who diminish the misanthropy-fodder that is the video: first, there’s the man about 18 minutes in. He’s soft spoken, he wears black glasses and a suit. He starts the experiment as he’s supposed to, but as the screams grow more intense, and finally, ominously cease altogether he looks worried, and then he stops. He’s not like the poor bastard later who wants to stop so badly, but keeps waiting for permission that won’t come. “I think 345 is as far as I am willing to go under this condition,” Glasses says, pointing to the dial on the machine that says where the “shocks” become dangerous.

Now the lab tech must build up his pressure; it is essential to continue, the experiment requires it, and finally, Glasses  “has no choice.” He responds “I have a choice — I’m not going to go ahead with it.”

More interesting still is the other man who stops completely — and he  does so at at the (comparably low) level of 150 (pretend) volts of  electricity. The man also has glasses, and he wears a checkered shirt. He seems more confident than the other man. He laughs, somewhat nervously, at the start (this was apparently a strangely common reaction), when the “student” first yells “ouch!”. He chews on his hand a bit, even though he doesn’t seem to be nearly as upset as most of the other subjects.  But as soon as the voice in the other room yells that he wants the experiment stopped and that he has a heart condition, Checkered Shirt ends it. No debate, no waffling. Nobody else, not even Glasses is that self-assured in their decision to end the thing.

Once again the pressure starts, the experiment mandates that you continue, etc., culminating in “you have no choice” but to continue.  “Yes I have a choice,” says Checkered Shirt. ‘Take the check back, I’m not going to hurt the guy…I refuse.” And in the post-experiment interview, when a very relieved Checkered Shirt learns that it was a sham, he coolly take out a cigarette and offers one to the interviewer.

Why did he refuse to keep shocking the “student”?  “The hell with him, who the hell was he?” He asks breezily, in respect to a Mr. Williams, the lab-coated overlord who had been ordering him to push the button. “In my mind I was hurting that guy…To continue to hurt another human being, I don’t believe in it.”

Maybe humans aren’t that great as whole, perhaps the majority are scared, cowed rabbits who turn into wolves when ordered or pressured to tear other humans apart. But no matter how dystopian things get, there are always — always  — going to be more Sophie Scholls and more Oskar Schindlers and more Corrie Ten Booms and more World War Christmas Truces, even if there are never going to be enough of them either.

If I have a religion, it’s this; if the human race is Sodom and Gomorrah then we are saved every day by righteous people like Scholl, and Schindler, and, in a small way, even by Milgram’s exceptions; the soft-spoken guy in glasses who finally said “I have a choice ” and the brash guy in the checkered shirt who so quickly said, “I refuse.”

  •  My RT friend Andrew Blake is covering the Bradley Manning pre-trial. Check out his report.
  • Semi-good news in the Manning case — at least, the possibility of him actually getting out of jail at some point seems to have heightened. 
  • Wendy McElroy has a good piece, a few months old, on the what about the children question when you only believe in negative liberties. Sometimes anarchists are conflicted and confused, too. Even the super-kind like McElroy.
  • Heroic Tracy Oppenheimer-produced Reason TV piece on the National Registry of Exonerations, as well as a mother’s years-long fight to prove that her son wasn’t a robber. Scary.
  • Rand Paul threatens to filibuster the NDAA. Liking a senator feels so deviant, but let’s do this, Rand.
  • I get claustrophobia just looking at this. Is the Trunchbull the one who sends kids in there?
  • Cops as an institution are not good, but this guy is good. It’s a hell of a contrast between him and the officers who killed Kelly Thomas. But, also, this.
  • More women in libertarianism would be great, but I am not sure about this piece.
  • My Dad’s John Steinbeck obsession continues! Please note this here New York Post story by dad, this Reason Hit and Run blog about him, and of course, this here e-book
  • Hey yeah, aren’t we going to need to ask some of these “terrorists” questions sometimes?
  • Two of these politicians will be gone soon…And that’s actually sad.
  • Need moar nukes plz.
  • “A Visual History of Presidents Awkwardly Meeting the Losers They Defeated”
  • The Supreme Court case that may outlaw used bookstores; Or: maybe Stephan Kinsella’s obsession with IP is for good reason.
  • Matt Welch is on Red Eye tonight at 3 a.m., so y’all should probably watch if you have insomnia.  Welch is better than John Bolton, that is the important thing. I think you should watch, I guess because I can’t because it’s a little depressing to watch Reason people on TV still? Also, Red Eye, I love/hate you so, but will I ever be on you? Probably not.
  • John Cusack doesn’t approve of Michael Moynihan’s grasp of history and Oliver Stone’s lack thereof and the actor has taken to twitter to poorly express his outrage. The old cliche that if you don’t agree with me, you were paid off is tiresome. My dad got that a lot when I was growing up, yet we still didn’t have a pool in spite of all that dirty money from oil companies (this is a lie, FYI). Still, nice that the quality of celebrity that Moynihan is annoying is only increasing. I am a little jealous.
  • This is just how I get my news every morning!

A few months ago, the internet was briefly entranced by the hilarious Amazon.com user reviews that appeared on the product page for Bic Pens “For Her.” Because Jesus Christ, people, this is why vaguely feminism blogs like Jezebel should exist, to counter this kind of absurdity and to mock it to death. If pens are not gender neutral, nothing shall ever be.

Today my cousin (in seriousness)  shared a facebook photo of a book called The Night Dad Went to Jail. The cover has a sad anthropomorphic bunny writing a letter to their jailed father rabbit.It is a troublingly cute, troublingly human-looking rabbit which is why it’s sort of funny at first glance. Except when you click on the author’s name, Melissa Higgins, you see that she has also written a book to help children get through their parents getting divorced.  The book, it seems, is meant to be taken very seriously. The subtitle in the other edition I found is What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail.

And why not? This situation has arisen many more times than I can stand to consider. But this reality didn’t stop three quarters of the Amazon.com reviewers from posting fake reviews that joke about soap dropping and soliciting “trannies,” selling drugs and being a super villain as reasons for buying this book for your kids.

It’s a small thing for me to be peeved at, but then again it’s not, if only because of all the propaganda in the air that says if you’re in jail, you’re not like the rest of us, you deserve this, and you are certainly not ever innocent.

I just find it strange that a country with two million people in jail can still so brilliantly get across that jail is what happens to other, bad people. This, and every other sitcom or bro-movie that makes prison rape jokes, is just another reason the state will always win. We should, at least, stop believing this idea and start looking into just who is being caged in our name and with our money.

My photographer friend Emily O’Donnell took this at my parents’ house over the weekend. The clothing was found in the basement, courtesy of my sister years ago, no doubt; the cabbage patch doll, the fake blood, and the World War I gas mask are mine. My mouth tasted like the Somme for several hours after wearing the thing.

Emily was taking the photo for class — the theme was ostensibly propaganda — but I got more of a “Parable of the Old Man and the Young” vibe, as I am wearing furs and am protected from the war, while the child suffers. Also an every God damned war ever vibe, to be fair.

  • io9 on whether end of the world fiction is just a trend that has reached its saturation point. Still, always loved it way more than, say, vampires (the obligatory trend example in most such pieces).
  • Hiroshima, USA.
  • The top 15 nuclear war movies, according to someone. I am very behind.
  • I am currently watching the disappointingly terrible Panic in Year Zero! over here. On the plus side, the helpful youtube user seems to have uploaded a stunning collection of truther, anti-Semitic, and JFK videos, plus other nuclear war movies like Threads (which I gotta finish one of these days), plus a bunch of…Little Rascals episodes. I love the internet.
  • Also, this youtuber has uploaded a bunch of Cold War songs, which I will be bookmarking.
  • This slideshow suggests the best ’80s songs about nuclear war. I don’t know most of them, but the exclusion of “99 Luft Balloons” is not acceptable.
  •  Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov wins the Dresden Award for not nuking the shit out of America in 1986, even when an error made things look like five nuclear missiles were heading for the USSR.
  • This is terrible, particularly the headline — “War with Iran: Real, horrific costs, but what benefits?”
  • Wendy McElroy rhetorically asks in a non-Alex Jones kind of way, “Should You Be Hoarding?”
  • College professor thinks Stalin didn’t commit any crimes, the worst thing might be that half the students clap after his lunacy. Paging: Michael Moynihan, Michael Moynihan.
Any excuse to post this, in the years to come.
  • Radley Balko’s Agitator blog is now hosted at the Huffington Post, so adjust your clicking accordingly.
  • Though my address bar is sad, at least this helped me learn that HuffPo’s 404 error involves crying Dawson, which I still find to be amazing.
  • I’ll always be on Monica’s side over Clinton’s…Even though the scandal taught this then-11-year-old homeschooler some new, exciting terms.
  • My new favorite facebook “like” — Weird Retro.
  • Maybe National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) lobbyists are the only sort who are not going to hell. And the NORML one is very excited about progress in the fight for legalization.
  • Government doesn’t just compete with private charities inefficiency and with your stolen money, it actually elbows them out. Libertarians know this, lefties excuse it, right-wingers pretend it doesn’t happen, here in our free market paradise.
  • Hey, it’s my dad’s Steinbeck Kindle book, now with a much more legit-looking cover.
pulpy pulp