This Is Powerful Juju You’re Playing With, Here

I’m reminded of the psychological experiment in which a faux psychological test was set up, in which one subject would be hooked up to a machine in one room, the other subject would be given the controls to the machine. The machine was supposedly designed to give varying levels of pain as negative feedback when the first subject did something incorrectly.

The first subject, however, was a confederate of the test-designers, and did not actually feel any pain but merely screamed out as if the pain were real, eventually begging to be released from the machine. The actual subject at the controls, although very much aware that her/his actions were causing pain, would turn up the dial and press the button repeatedly at the instructions of the folks in the white smocks. A percentage of subjects, disturbingly high if you maintain a belief in the innate goodness of your fellow man, cranked the knob all the way up to ten.

This test was designed to show that if the holocaust were an ongoing project here and now, most of us would happily join the crews hauling in the trainloads of enemies of the state, only asking when the paychecks would arrive and how long the lunch hour was.

But as holier-than-thou as the test designers made themselves out to be by coming up with this ethical examination, I think they have a lot to answer for. They showed many people that deep down inside they’re good little nazis. Then what? Any follow-up? “Sir, we have just demonstrated that at the request of authority you are willing to torture your fellow man. Have a nice day. Good-bye.”

18 December 2006

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