Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
From August 7th, 1961, through the end of May 1962, in the basement of a classroom building at Yale University, Stanley Milgram conducted more than 20 variations of his infamous obedience to authority experiments. He shocked the world with data on how readily people would punish others when cajoled or intimidated by an experimenter. This was a pivotal point in psychology because it was empirical evidence of man’s inhumanity to man — something no one, then or now, really wanted to hear.
The experiments began only months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who claimed he was only acting on orders. Milgram wanted to know why people would obey an authority figure. In the experiment, Milgram told subjects to deliver electric shocks to a subject who gave a wrong answer to a question. What he found disturbed the psychological community, then the rest of humanity.
In the most well known of these experiments, no shocks were actually delivered, but the subjects thought they had been. An unseen confederate of the experimenter would yell out when the increasingly strong “shocks” were given. At one point, after excessive screaming and begging for mercy the confederate went silent, as if they had lost consciousness or died.
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