Only Obedience or the Beginnings of a Cult?
In a magazine article titled Obedience to Authority, published in 1974 by Harper’s magazine, Dr. Stanley Milgram studied the effects of authority on “ordinary” people. His findings were astonishing. The obedience to authority figures, with no threat of repercussion, was not only underestimated, but unimaginable. The constant willingness to comply with what was asked of them reminded me of the cult led by Charles Manson, specifically the Sharon Tate murders. Dr. Stanley Milgram administered an experiment in which he took subjects and asked them to be the “teachers.” Next, he hired actors, without telling the teachers, to be the students or learners. After watching the learner being strapped into place, the teacher was then seated before a shock generator. The generator panel consisted of thirty switches, labeled with voltages that ranged from 15 to 450 volts. Before the experiment was started the learner was given a “shock” of 45 volts, to strengthen the teacher’s belief in the genuineness of the generator. The teacher was then instructed to read a list of word pairs. If the learner was not able to remember the second word of the word pair when the first was read, the teacher would then have to give the learner a shock. As the test progressed the shock values intensified. Before the experiment started, Dr. Stanley Milgram obtained predictions as to how far the teachers would go before disobeying the orders given to them in the beginning. The predictions were that virtually all subjects would refuse to obey the experimenter, especially when the voltage was at a high level. Those predictions were undeniably wrong. When studies were done all over the world, 60%-85% of the time the teachers went all the way to 450 volts, even when the learners were screaming, thrashing in pain, and expressing concerns about having heart conditions. The chief finding of the experiments was established to be an “extreme...
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