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Ethics or Obedience?

by Jim Witt

All Personal Growth Articles


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 orders.

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 harmed.

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 I."

"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

Reproduction or retransmission without written permission is strictly prohibited. To subscribe or for more Information on our books, tapes, consulting services and speaking engagements cell 918-494-0009 or 800-874-4928.

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.

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