Phillip Meyer “If Hitler asked you to electrocute a stranger, would you? Probably.”
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“If Hitler asked you to electrocute a stranger, would you? Probably”
This paper seeks to prove that human beings have a flaw that points to the tendency to obey authority without question. The answer is evident in the chapter by Phillip Meyer, “If Hitler asked you to electrocute a stranger, would you? Probably.” Naturally a person will ignore the idea that he or she has some weaknesses. It is not common that a person will talk about his or her deficiencies. The reality that everyone has a flaw that is dismissed in most cases is what Meyer reveals by using a study carried out by Stanley Milgram.
The study was carried out primarily to establish obedience levels of the participants. The effect of discipline was also a major concern for the social psychologist in performing the study. Initially, he intended to provide evidence to show that Germans were different from Americans. The hypothesis that would be tested was that Germans have a fundamental weakness revealed in a willingness to obey those in authority without questioning. This would be achieved by carrying out the study in new Haven in the United States and German to compare the results. Also, the researcher carried out the study to mimic the Jews’ execution during the Second World War by using comparable conditions of authority, stress, and obedience. In his essay, Meyer assesses the results of this study (Einwohner, 533).
In the entire book, Meyer reveals critical skills and competence in applying logical appeal of statistics and facts and a weak appeal to emotions to enter the mind of the reader to enlighten and deter us the reader from the unscrupulous ideas. The results of the experiment would not have been analysed better than Meyer does it. The subjects in the study would be given the impression that they shock a person for inaccurately responding to a series of questions, though probably more appealing in the findings from the research.
Initially, the researcher held the belief that under Hitler, obedience in the Third Reich was inexcusable. It is disturbing to think that all human beings had the same weakness, obedience to authority (Hollins and Bull, 181). It was less disturbing to think that only the Germans has it in their genes to obey those in authority without asking questions. The hypothesis would be tested by setting up an artificial lab, “dungeon” where participants. Those taking part in the study were paid $4.50 whether they went through the experiment or opted out. There were two groups, one that was required to answer a set of questions and failure to answer would result in being subjected to an electric shock with increased intensity by the other group. A description of the “experiment is offered by Meyer, “is to find the shock level at which you disobey the experimenter and refuse to pull the switch” (Meyer 241).
By reading the book, it becomes obvious that the deals of the experiment are important to Meyer. The author is effective in entering the mind of the reader as he introduces the concept of doubt and reluctance. As (Haslam and Reicher (29) suggest, no one would believe that he or she is capable of committing an atrocity just because an authority demands. At this point, Meyer is creating denial in the minds of the reader. On considering the actions of the participants of the study, it becomes easier for the reader to point a finger, just like Milgram initially did, suggesting that it was only the Germans who were capable of doing that and not all humans. Like for example, the reader would not believe that he or he is capable of pulling the switch even a single time. However, as seen in the book, these are only beliefs that are completely contradicted by the actual results of the experiment.
The author is effective in making the reader remain hooked up to the story to establish what the results were at the end of the experiment. The reader is keen to find out whether this is “their” weakness or a weakness common to humanity. It is interesting to realise that people volunteered to take part in the experiment after coming across and responding to an ad. This always happens, especially because the participants would be paid, and also the possibility that the people were curious. Despite the experiment’s nature, it remains a puzzle trying to understand why not make objected to the nature of the experiment and that a majority went through with it (Haslam, Reicher, and Millard 4).
From the experiment, Meyer reveals the evidence proving that everyone can do astonishing things following obedience to some authority. Oftentimes one would simply identify these individuals as ordinary folks, just another bystander, not capable of initiating such action unless someone else forces them to it. Then they would choose whether to remain the bystander, perpetrate the acting or become a rescuer or resister. Meyer, applying a logical appeal, provided estimates of the outcome of the experiment. His hypothesis suggests a characteristic “bell curve’ where” a few of the participants would leave at the start, most of them would leave somewhere in the middle and only a few would take it to the end of the experiment.
Besides the logical appeal, the author goes on to throw irregular information into the story. He suggests that prior to the main experiment a pilot study was carried out by Milgram using subjects drawn from among Yale students. “Each of them pushed the shock switches,” Meyer informs, “one by one, all the way to the end of the board” (Hochman,112). The statement serves two purposes. The first one is to cast doubt on the preceding thoughts of denial held by the reader applying the feeble appeal. The other role is to give the reader information to come to an individual conclusion about the human nature and obedience.
Up to a certain point in the explanation given by Meyer, there is still doubt and denial in the mind of the reader as to whether it was possible to perform such horrible acts just because someone made you perform them. The results are not only shocking to the reader, but also to the person who carried out the study. He used a variable in his experiment in which he changed the study to “include some protests from the learner [shockee]” (Meyer 73). But even so, nothing changed in his observations. Obedience remained important to the actions that would be performed by the participants. Much to his dismay, obedience remained greater than his initial assumption.
At this point, Meyer suggests that the situation was becoming somewhat horrid. The author remains keen to appeal to the emotions of his audience. He wants the readers to see the pain that the pain that the participants had to go through and the cruel nature of the experiment. Just by reading the story, the reader is disgusted by the cruel actions of the shocker for not obeying the experimenter. Meyer, blending pathos with statistics and logic, goes further to suggest that regardless of the loud protests from the participants subjected to the shock, the other group obediently continued to increase the intensity of the shock. They believed that the shock was a sort of punishment for being mild-mannered. They kept pushing until the voltage was at the maximum, 450 volts. The author provides the statistic to show the reader how violent the experiment was. This appeals to the emotions of the reader, such that they feel some disgust for being utterly obedient to authority.
The results of the experiment are very exciting. They are not subjective or biased. According to Meyer, it is possible to see and understand both sides of the story, the actions of the teacher and that of the learners. The essay includes the responses of the teacher suggesting that they did not enjoy what they were doing. Just like the learners, the teachers also protested and at some points they suffered from fits of agitated giggling and nervousness. Additionally, Milgram uses the “mental agency” suggesting the mind frame where one views the self as an execution instrument where the other person has to be executed using the wishes of an authority.
Regardless of the feeling that the teachers were being used as instruments of execution, the fact is that they did not resist and went ahead to ‘execute’ the learners. The results are supported by Bierbrauer (67) suggesting that under some conditions, one can do something thought as being extraordinary and still view it as being ordinary. It is hard to view self as acting on personal volition. Use of the theory is important to ease the tension already developing in the reader. It probably helps to understand that some actions are only done out of obedience to authority and is not about the nature of the doer. At the end of the experiment, the hypothesis being tested by Milgram is proven wrong. Being obedient to authority, to a point of killing other humans, is not only in the genes of the Germans.
Use of the experiment by Meyer to answer his question is critical to providing an understanding and probably a justification of the lifelong puzzle; why would people agree to kill other humans? The answer is simple; obedience to authority, something that any other person would probably be willing to do. The essay is informative in nature where more informally the author easily sends a message to the reader of the flawed nature and weakness of humans. This work comes in sort of a self-reflection, thinking about what humans are capable of doing for discipline and obedience to authority. Reading the entire experiment instil an entirely new perspective of looking, not only at humanity but also at the self. It also sheds light on the perception of discipline and in thinking about hypocrisy. As humans we live in an environment where voices are real and due to our weaknesses, we should understand and acknowledge them.
Bierbrauer, G¨nter. “Why Did He Do It? Attribution Of Obedience And The Phenomenon Of Dispositional Bias.” European Journal Of Social Psychology 9.1 (1979): 67-84
Einwohner, Rachel L. “Authorities And Uncertainties: Applying Lessons From The Study Of Jewish Resistance During The Holocaust To The Milgram Legacy.” Journal Of Social Issues 70.3 (2014): 531-543
Haslam, S. Alexander, Stephen D. Reicher, and Kathryn Millard. “Shock Treatment: Using Immersive Digital Realism To Restage And Re-Examine Milgram’S ‘Obedience To Authority’ Research.” Plos ONE 10.3 (2015): 1-10
Hollins Martin, Caroline J., and Peter Bull. “The Situational Argument: Do Midwives Agree Or Acquiesce With Senior Staff?.” Journal Of Reproductive & Infant Psychology 28.2 (2010): 180-190.
Hochman, S.H. Readings in Psychology, Mss Information Corporation, N . Y., 1972
Haslam, Alexander, and Stephen Reicher. “Just Obeying Orders?.” New Scientist 223.2986 (2014): 28-31