Monday, June 18, 2018

Stanford and Milgram redux


     I don't know the provenance of this account but I have no suspicion that it's fake. If you can read this without wanting to cry, if you can rationalize visiting the nightmare of us taking by force children from their parents for what amounts to a misdemeanor offense, then you can just stop reading right now. But we are no longer the United States envisioned by the Founding Fathers. What was once a functioning democratic republic is now just a husk long since hollowed out by and now stuffed with criminals, psychopaths, oligarchs and kleptocrats. Trump was incredibly stupid to do this in an election year. So remember this in November.
     It's one thing to allow kleptocrats into our government. Our standards have sunk so low this past century that, like mouse droppings and rat hairs in our hot dogs, we'll allow a certain percentage of our government to be infested with such people. But money and power is one thing- Now, these kleptocrats are stealing children from families who commit, at most, a misdemeanor offense of approaching the southern border without documentation.
     What we're seeing there is a giant, economy-sized version of the Stanford Experiment from 1971. The results of this experiment were so swift and horrifying that it became virtually the only ground-breaking psychology experiment that was never seen to fruition. For those of you who don't know what this was about or had never heard of it, here's a brief rundown:
     Funded by good old Uncle Sam, specifically the US Office of Naval Research, it sought to define and document the effects of both perceived power and the lack of it within a controlled environment. The introduction in the Wikipedia article states, "The results of the experiment have never been successfully replicated." This is patently and palpably untrue. We see it replicated in everyday life, especially in the government. But I'm putting the cart before the ox.
     Using ordinary college students, the Stanford Experiment randomly divided the subjects into two groups- Prisoners and guards. The "guards" were instructed by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo to use psychological control methods on the "prisoners." Disturbingly reminiscent of the Milgram Experiment a decade earlier, Stanford and Zimbardo took the first tentative steps toward understanding how easily humans could abandon their moral belief system and become absorbed in roles thrust upon them by even fake authoritarian figures. (In fact, Milgram was inspired by the Jerusalem trial of Adolph Eichmann that was taking place at the same time).
     Within 36 hours, things began to fall apart in the Stanford Experiment. One "prisoner" had begun to act "crazy", in the appallingly imprecise language of Dr. Zimbardo and eventually had to be released. The prisoners began to rebel, turn on the others for not accepting the harsh and even cruel psychological measures exerted, under Zimbardo's direction, by the "guards." One such "guard" had been labelled as having "genuine sadistic tendencies".
     As the days wore on, the "guards" had resorted to measures such as rewarding compliant prisoners with better food and giving inferior food to non-compliant ones, forcing them to urinate and defecate in buckets, taking away mattresses, attacking rioting "prisoners" with fire extinguishers and solitary confinement. The unethical experiment was eventually terminated when Zimbardo's girlfriend and future wife Christina Maslach informed him of the unethical nature of his experiment and his own absorption in his role as "warden."
     Shockingly, and tellingly, out of more than 50 people who'd audited the experiment, Maslach was the only one who'd objected to the experiment's morality.
     The point I'm making here is that every government in the world has psychopaths and sociopaths who are thrust into real situations in which they are forced to do the unimaginable to their fellow humans. And some don't have to be forced. The United States is certainly no exception as Abu Ghraib, Iraq and many other instances have shown us. And we're seeing this cold-hearted compliance and even zeal that was typical of Eichmann and the Nazis in our kidnapping of children at the border.
     What stuck out the most for me in those screengrabs that were put on Facebook was when one of the flight attendants, seeing tears streaming down a terrified six year-old girl's face, then returned her hug in a futile but heartfelt gesture of hope, "much to the scowl and comments from the adult escort."
     In this fascist bubble populated by very real guards with genuine sadistic tendencies in an ultimately uncontrolled environment, noncompliance even by those not assigned within that bubble are growled at and warned off by the real-life guards. That's what stuck out for me most of all. That these men who could have just as easily have been part of Eichmann's staff are now taking children from their parents while others escort them hundreds of miles from their parents and belligerently protest any semblance of compassion shown to their frightened charges.
     These are the new Nazis, the kind excused time and again by the man who leads them, Germanic strongman Donald John Trump. They would easily have become the many people in Milgram who would have administered allegedly fatal electric shocks to helpless subjects under the guise of "just following orders."
     Such people have no soul and no conscience, which makes them perfect for these jobs. There is nothing than can be done about them. The pilots who would bomb civilian villages or the men who would shoot women, children and babies in My Lai, the men who would herd the Jews into the "showers" and the ones who would drop the Zyklon B are all cut from the same rotten piece of wholecloth. These authoritarian personalities identify so strongly with their roles of conferred power that they forget what identity they once had, if they ever did, and will do absolutely anything and everything to indefinitely retain that power.
     They will always be among us, these quasi-pod people that look and act human outside of their workplace and are exactly the wrong type of people who should have any contact with children.
     We will always be afflicted with dead-eyed psychopaths in our government from Steven Miller all the way down the 15 year Border Patrol agent who senselessly murdered Claudia Gonzalez in Texas just for approaching him.
     The problem is the bar for moral and immoral behavior, what is acceptable and what is intolerable can be set very low very quickly as Stanford proved. And the sooner we get in front of this kidnapping scheme of Trump's, the sooner we can reacquaint ourselves with our true north.

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