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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Torture's Clear Lessons Go Unlearned


It would be fascinating to study the 19% who did not carry this experiment to its loathsome end. Were they more independent? Intelligent? Religious? Atheistic? Apolitical? What characteristics made them less likely to do this thing: inquiring minds want to know. An internal moral compass? A lack of herd mentality? Creativity? Whatever characteristics they have in common should be carefully evaluated, and those which are positive should be taught to our children...and ourselves.



Torture is treating human beings as means rather than ends. As objects rather than beings. And such treatment is the beginning of almost all real evil in the world.



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Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

5 comments:

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I went from the Huffington post article to discover that McCain, Lieberman, and 8 other Senators are supporting a bill to permit the indefinite detention of American citizens at the president's whim.

Anonymous said...

"It would be fascinating to study the 19% who did not carry this experiment to its loathsome end."

Yeah, another article I saw quoted some of the 81% but no one in the 19%.

"Were they more independent? Intelligent? Religious? Atheistic? Apolitical? What characteristics made them less likely to do this thing: inquiring minds want to know. An internal moral compass? A lack of herd mentality? Creativity?"

Add to that list: thinking "hey, this looks like the Milgram experiment, when I read about that I told myself I wouldn't shock the so-called subject and now here I am..."?

Steven Barnes said...

Whatever it is, I think that the psychological trait making it possible to do such things must have BIG survival value. Otherwise 81% wouldn't have done it.

Frank said...

Lesson number one we've just begun
To hurt him so
And with lesson two I'll long for you
When lights are low
And we get to lesson three
When he gets down on his knees
And begs me to stop at the door
Just before
He comes apart

Oh, This is the way we make a broken heart

BRIDGE:
Well we laid a trail of tears
For him to follow
And we've thought of every lie
That he might swallow

And with lesson four there'll be no more
For him to bear
And on some dark night we'll dim the lights
On this affair

And he'll find somebody new
And she'll likely hurt him too
'Cause there must be millions just like you and me
Practiced in the art

Oh, This is the way we make a broken heart

-John Hiatt

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

The Milgram experiment focused not so much on what personality traits were tied to choosing to shock or not as on what circumstances influenced the choice. There was actually a whole series of experiments, described in Milgram's book, Obedience to Authority. In the first version, two thirds kept shocking the confederate, but in other variants the numbers shifted a lot. Depending on which condition the subjects were in, you could wind up with either nearly everyone complying, or most not complying.

Things that turned out not to affect whether people shocked the confederate all that much included gender (as I recall, men and women were equally willing to shock - whether men are "more aggressive" than women seems to depend a whole lot on situation and what kind of aggressiveness is being measured), and having the confederate who was pretending to be shocked announce that he had a heart condition.

Things that affected compliance a lot: Behavior of other confederates. If the subject was given a minor task like keeping track of the paperwork, while someone else pretended to be shocking the person who pretended to be in agony, almost everyone complied. If, on the other hand, the subject was doing the shocking, but a confederate protested and quit, many, I think even most, subjects quit. Being able to get away with stopping shocking the person without the experimenter seeing you also reduced compliance. How close the subject was to the person pretending to be shocked had an effect, but a lot of people still shocked the person, no matter how close they got.

This is from memory, and I read the book a long time ago, so I could be forgetting some details.

One person who looked at obedience to authority more from a personality angle was Adorno, who came up with an "F" scale of authoritarianism. I'm not sure how well it predicts behavior, though, and I know that compliance in Milgram like circumstances is so common that it has to extend beyond people with high "F" scale scores.