PIECES OF THE PUZZLE: Authorities Exploit Failings Of Human Nature

If a government authority, say the police, told you to do something that you knew (or should know) is a violation of the law and of another individual’s rights, would you do it?  Those who know human nature know that the chances are you would.  In fact, a sociology study demonstrated the chances are close to 30% that you would not only break the law and violate another person’s rights because someone in authority told you to do so, you would go so far as to kill that person – because you were told to do it.  Here is a story in the news that will help illustrate this failing in human nature:

‘You Could Never Anticipate This Happening in the United States of America’

I am not interested in the role of the police in this story.  That the police routinely violate the law is a given today, so there is no need to look at another example that proves this fact.  What I want to focus on is the behavior of the medical ‘professionals’ in this case.  Not only did they violate their Hippocratic oaths, they most likely violated laws that govern their conduct as medical professionals.  I cannot speak to New Mexico, but, had this happened in Florida, it would have violated the law governing medical ethics and professional conduct.  So this story clearly demonstrates that people, even supposedly ‘educated professionals,’ will willingly violate the law and the rights of a fellow citizen simply because the police told them to do so.

Now, let me tell you about that sociology study I mentioned.  When I was earning my sociology degree in the mid-1990s, we covered a study that was conducted to test the willingness of people to obey authority.  They took test subjects and told them they were helping to study how much force it took to get people to answer certain questions correctly.  The test subject was put in a room where they could not see the person they thought was being tested (in other words, they did not realize they were the test subject).  They were placed in front of a dial with a meter.  They were told the dial administered an electric shock to the person they were “testing.”  The meter had several areas marked, the highest being marker “lethal” in red.  The real test subject could see the entrance to the room where the person he/she thought was being tested was supposed to be strapped in to the shock chair.  The test subject could see the light flicker in the room as he/she turned the dial to administer the shock, and they could hear the person in the room screaming and apparently suffering from the shock.  In reality, the person in the other room was part of the test.  They were just playing a role designed to make the person delivering the shock believe they were hurting someone.  I hope you were able to follow this.  Now, here is what happened.

The people conducting the test would ask the person who was “getting shocked” to answer a question.  If they did not like the answer, they told the test subject to turn the dial and shock the person in the other room.  This would go on with the person conducting the study telling the test subject to increase the current more and more as the questions went on.  Each time the dial was turned up higher, the actor in the other room would react as though they were being hurt more and more with the increased shock.  What the test discovered is that 30% of those people told to do so would turn the dial and keep uit there until they believed the person in the chair had died.  Many of the test subjects would protest, cry and even sob, but they would comply with the command to continue the shock until the person in the chair stopped making noise.

What we must understand is that the test subjects knew that the people conducting the test were part of a sociology study group.  They were not part of the government or law enforcement.  They were just wearing white lab coats, yet that was enough of a sign of authority to coerce 30% of those tested to deliver what they believed to be a lethal shock to a person they did not know and could not see.  Now, given that they believe they are using ‘science’ to more efficiently administrate society, do you think the people in control of our government and other social institutions know about the results of this and other, similar studies?  And, if they know about it, do you think they would willingly refuse to exploit this weakness in human nature just because they do not want to be unjust?  Or do you think it more likely that they would not only exploit it, they would incorporate it I their normal method of operations in governing the people?

I’ll leave you to decide, but I will point you to the story above once again.  What would you do?  Would you do what the police told you to do no matter what the law said and in spite of the fact you were violating another person’s rights?  Or would you refuse and risk losing your job and even being charged with a crime, yourself?  Or maybe I should ask it this way: would you help the government round up the people who are causing all of our nation’s problems and put them on a train, or would you refuse and risk being put on the train with them?


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