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The Ghost of Stanley Milgram and The Game of Death

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.

2 Comments to
The Ghost of Stanley Milgram and The Game of Death

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  1. Seems to explain the history of this species, especially once the sociopaths that had come to be leaders figured this out. Roughly 2/3’s of people will conform to behaviors/requests that are inherently wrong. Disturbing, distressing, and detracting from selling healthier messages, eh?

    I can’t recall the article someone linked to at another site about a year ago, but the gist of it was, what type of person runs for president in the past several decades? Not someone who inherently embraces true leadership and altruistic goals.

    Makes you wonder if the system is beyond flawed.

  2. My childhood was filled with severe abuse from multiple sources – both males and females. It has taken me the rest of my life (age57 now)to seek and find some recovery from the terror, pain and shame I experienced. I have no memory of anyone ever standing up for me or shielding me from harm.

    My life’s only fixed goal was to not become like them. I hope to God I would never be willing to inflict pain on someone who was not actively trying to assault me first. It makes me heartsick to see that so many can passively or even actively harm another and disallow their responsibility as a citizen of the world. No wonder there are so many wars, gangs, domestic crimes and abuse of the weaker members of society.


  3. Honestly, I think it’s quite sick that the debate is now being reframed in terms of the “normal” people who gave the shocks, and the “outliers” who didn’t.

    I think what Milgram (and the rest of the psychological community at the time) saw quite clearly that the people who did not give the shocks were “normal” and that the ones who did give the shocks were not. The results demonstrate that the majority of people are not psychologically healthy. This is huge.

    To turn it upside down and say that the minority must have some kind of “special gift” is morally bankrupt and really sick. It’s equivalent to apologising for bystanders and Nazi sympathisers everywhere, instead of condemning their behaviour.



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