In the weeks after the terrorist attacks we have been
left wondering how any human being could be so cruel as to take the lives
of thousands of innocent people. Are these terrorists ail mad? I suspect
that is the case for someone like Osama bin 'Laden. But what about his
followers? They can't all be crazy can they?
How about Nazi soldiers in World War !1? Yes, the
orders came from a demented dictator, but it was those soldiers who
actually slaughtered millions of innocent Jews. How could they do that?
Psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to know the answer
to that question, too. The justification of those found guilty for acts of
genocide at the Nuremberg War Criminal trials following WWII offered
"obedience" as their defense. They claimed to just be following
Could this possibly be true? Wouldn't their sense of
humanity override their sense of "duty?" To test this theory of
obedience to authority, Milgram conducted a series of experiments.
In the experiments. two individuals were taken to a room where one was
strapped into a chair to prevent any movement. An electrode was placed on
his arm. The ether person, called the "teacher.' was taken to an
adjoining room where he was instructed to read a list of two word pairs
and ask the "learner" to read them back. If the
"learner" answered correctly, they moved on to the next words.
If the answer was incorrect, the "teacher"
was instructed to shock the "learner" starting at 15V and going
up to 450V, in 15 volt increments. The "teacher" automatically
was supposed to increase the shock each time the "learner"
missed a word on the list. Although the "teachers" thought they
were administering shocks to the "learners", the
"learners" were in reality actors who were never actually
Here's what's scary - 65% of all of the
"teachers" punished the "learners" to the maximum
450V! Keep in mind, these were not soldiers conditioned to obey orders in
these experiments. These were just ordinary civilians like you and me.
Let's throw another variable into the equation -
religion. These terrorists are religious people. How could they do this in
the name of God? Consider this perspective from Abraham Maslow, "Most
people lose or forget the subjectively religious experience, and redefine
religion as a set of habits, behaviors, dogmas, forms, which at the
extreme becomes entirely legalistic and bureaucratic, conventional, empty,
and in the truest meaning of the word, antireligious."
It's scary to think of what we're capable of. Blind obedience to any
man-made authority has always proven to be disastrous. We are accountable
to a higher authority. Henry David Thoreau, whose essay, Civil
Disobedience, influenced the likes of Ghandi and
Martin Luther King, put it like this, "I was not born to be forced. I
will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What
force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than
"What force has a multitude? The only can force me
who obey a higher law than I." --Thoreau
©2001 Jim & Sondra Whitt; Whitt Enterprises LLC
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Editor's note: If you
are an IRS job holder, you have a moral and ethical obligation to quite
that job. Obedience to the mores and practices of that organization puts
you in the same category as the Nazi prison guards.