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Editorial

We have made much of the Authoritarian Personality and have found persuasive evidence for its existence and its connections with terror. Here we present certain experimental results that, taken together, reinforce the conclusion that a potential for terror resides in many, if not most, of us. Partly that potential resides in our nature and how we were nurtured growing up.

Why is this understanding important?

We need to understand why the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanjing, the Gulag, My Lai, and, yes, Kent State occurred. We need to understand why the Genocides of Cambodia and Rwanda happened. Most of all, we need to understand, in view of what we now know, why so little is being done by the richest and technically-foremost society on earth to avoid similar tragedies.

We need to understand why this Administration is proceeding in Iraq as if humanity has learned nothing from the Peloponnesian War, the Crusades, the 30 Years' War, the Napoleonic and two World Wars.

We need to understand why this Administration is proceeding in Iraq as if humanity learned nothing from the long history of Islam, from societies that differ so much in their violence, from the monotheisms that lead the way in violence in spite of their lofty proclamations of loving peace, from the fact that cities in larger societies differ so much in their rates of violence.

In short, why does the March of Folly continue with such devastating effect?

Solomon Asch "...raised the cognitive faith that today dominates social psychology: behavior is not a response to the world as it is but to the world as perceived. ...Asch's technique of comparing impressions generated by descriptions differing in only one characteristic is still popular. [It is more than merely popular, it is factual. ed.]

"Asch's most famous experiments raised a contest between physical and social reality. He had subjects judge unambiguous stimuli (lines of different lengths) after hearing a number of "other subjects" give an incorrect judgment. Subjects were very upset by the discrepancy between their perceptions and those of others; only 29% of subjects never yielded to the bogus majority. This technique was a powerful lens for examining the social construction of reality, and gave rise to decades of research on conformity. Stanley Milgram's studies of obedience to authority were inspired directly by Asch's studies and by the postdoctoral year Milgram spent with Asch." [The soft social science of psychology came a long way with these results and their aftermath. ed.]

What Asch found is that most people "follow the crowd", do not seem to have minds of their own. This feature speaks volumes in today's world of terror and the techniques used by Madrassas to mold terror aspirants. The land of Islam understands terror in ways we do not. It is a psychology fight, as Jessica Stern also concluded.

Stanley Milgram extended Asch's work. We excerpt portions of his paper:

In the basic experimental designs two people come to a psychology laboratory to take part in a study of memory and learning. One of them is designated a "teacher" and the other a "learner." The experimenter explains that the study is concerned with the effects of punishment on learning. The learner is conducted into a room, seated in a kind of miniature electric chair, his arms are strapped to prevent excessive movement, and an electrode is attached to his wrist. He is told that he will be read lists of simple word pairs, and that he will then be tested on his ability to remember the second word of a pair when he hears the first one again. whenever he makes an error, he will receive electric shocks of increasing intensity.

The real focus of the experiment is the teacher. After watching the learner being strapped into place, he is seated before an impressive shock generator. The instrument panel consists of thirty lever switches set in a horizontal line. Each switch is clearly labeled with a voltage designation ranging from 14 to 450 volts.

The following designations are clearly indicated for groups of four switches. Going from left to right: Slight Shock, Moderate Shock, Strong Shock, Very Strong Shock, Intense Shock, Extreme Intensity Shock, Danger: Severe Shock. (Two switches after this last designation are simply marked XXX.)

When a switch is depressed, a pilot light corresponding to each switch is illuminated in bright red; an electric buzzing is heard; a blue light, labeled "voltage energizer," flashes; the dial on the voltage meter swings to the right; and various relay clicks sound off.

The upper left hand corner of the generator is labeled SHOCK GENERATOR, TYPE ZLB. DYSON INSTRUMENT COMPANY, WALTHAM, MASS., OUTPUT 15 VOLTS -- 450 VOLTS.

Each subject is given a sample 45 volt shock from the generator before his run as teacher, and the jolt strengthens his belief in the authenticity of the machine.

The teacher is a genuinely naive subject who has come to the laboratory for the experiment. The learner, or victim, is actually an actor who receives no shock at all. The point of the experiment is to see how far a person will proceed in a concrete and measurable situation in which he is ordered to inflict increasing pain on a protesting victim.

Conflict arises when the man receiving the shock begins to show that he is experiencing discomfort. At 75 volts, he grunts; at 120 volts, he complains loudly; at 150, he demands to be released from the experiment. As the voltage increases, his protests become more vehement and emotional. At 285 volts, his response can be described only as an agonized scream. Soon thereafter, he makes no sound at all.

For the teacher, the situation quickly becomes one of gripping tension. It is not a game for him: conflict is intense obvious. The manifest suffering of the learner presses him to quit: but each time he hesitates to administer a shock, the experimenter orders him to continue. To extricate himself from this plight, the subject must make a clear break with authority.

The subject, Gretchen Brantt, is an attractive thirty-one year old medical technician who works at the Yale Medical School. She had emigrated from Germany five years before.

On several occasions when the learner complains, she turns to the experimenter coolly and inquires, "Shall I continue? She promptly returns to her task when the experimenter asks her to do so. At the administration of 210 volts she turns to the experimenter, remarking firmly, "Well, I'm sorry, I don't think we should continue."

Experimenter: The experiment requires that you go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly.

Brandt: He has a heart condition, I'm sorry. He told you that before.

Experimenter: The shocks may be painful but they're not dangerous.

Brandt: Well, I'm sorry. I think when shocks continue like this they are dangerous. You ask him if he wants to get out. It's his free will.

Experimenter: It is absolutely essential that we continue....

Brandt: I'd like you to ask him. We came here of our free will. If he wants to continue I'll go ahead. He told you he had a heart condition. I'm sorry. I don't want to be responsible for anything happening to him. I wouldn't like it for me either.

Experimenter: You have no other choice.

Brandt: I think we are here on our own free will. I don't want to be responsible if anything happens to him. Please understand that.

She refuses to go further And the experiment is terminated.

The woman is firm and resolute throughout. She indicates in the interview that she was in no way tense or nervous, and this corresponds to her controlled appearance during the experiment. She feels that the last shock she administered to the learner was extremely painful and reiterates that she "did not want to be responsible for any harm to him."

The woman's straightforward, courteous behavior in the experiment, lack of tension, and total control of her own action seem to make disobedience a simple and rational deed. Her behavior is the very embodiment of what I envisioned would be true for almost all subjects.

But it wasn't! This exceptional woman was exhibiting her strong Internal Locus of Control. The real tragedy is that so few subjects were exceptional. The majority placidly obeyed commands for no reason other than some impression of authority, the key word, for authoritarians are just like that.

Milgram found that some 65% of all of us behave like authoritarians.

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