I took time to watch this yesterday. I was already familiar with the experiment but found plenty to contemplate. Milgram's horrific conclusion was treated superficially, but this is not suprising in a program that has only 42 minutes of content and was designed to be more an entertainment than a catalyst for any sort of deep self-examination. Milgram had to be plenty gutsy to lay it out as starkly as he did:
[...]In a television interview in 1979, Milgram said that he eventually came to the conclusion that "If a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel for those camps in any medium-sized American town."
I don't find this to be any sort of a stretch, though I doubt many Americans would be able to imagine their potential for bad behavior to be so monstrous. I worked in state prisons with convicted felons for 13 years and have seen the good citizens of the community utilize the authority conferred by a uniform as license to repeatedly practice innumerable, unnecessary and even counterproductive mental cruelties simply because they could.
The obedience studies indelibly changed our understanding of the Holocaust. In early explanations of the brutalities, Nazi leaders were demonized as pathological sadists and monsters. Hannah Arendt challenged this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which depicted Adolf Eichmann as a conventional bureaucrat trying to further his career. Milgram, having seen ordinary people submit to authority in his experiments, concluded that Arendt's perspective "comes closer to the truth than one might dare imagine." He argued that "the most fundamental lesson" of his findings was that "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process."[...]http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/milgrams-progress
(Quotes from Robert Levine book review on The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram
by Thomas Blass)
[...]it felt like all in all this show will not and has not any intention of moving popular belief.[...]
I agree. Jane and Joe Average's worldview prevents their envisioning their friends and neighbors--even their families--cheerfully manning the ovens, and that precludes any sort of belief change from watching this video. And, from their perspective, why should they waste a second thinking about it? Normal people don't think about the unthinkable happening, and if you've achieved normality in this reality, your machine's default setting is to serve yourself further by staying normal. Jeff Riggenbach writes in "The Milgram Experiment":
[...]The sociological explanation is that under certain circumstances most individuals abandon any attempt at independent thinking and simply conform to what they feel is expected of them — what they have absorbed, mostly unthinkingly, from the culture in which they have grown up and now live.[...]http://mises.org/daily/4675
My worldview has been decidedly abnormal for a pretty long time and I can easily imagine good old Uncle Ed helping with the corpse-tossing, but I am still occasionally vulnerable to the soothing, alluring call of wishful thinking. Revisiting Milgram's experiment and reflecting on relevent past experiences was a valuable exercise. The world is as it is, not the way I'd like it to be. My friends, neighbors and family are not "good" simply by virtue of my knowing them and, as Milgram proved, probably capable of great disservice to others. I am not "good" unless I choose it and act on it constantly.
Thanks for the post and link Masume and parallel.