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Kamis, 24 Oktober 2013

Heath & Potter: The Banality of Evil

Kamis, 24 Oktober 2013 22.33 No comments
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..In the early 1960s, a psychology professor from Yale, Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments which for many people confirming their deepest fears regarding the link between facism and modern democracy. As it prescribed by the name of his project, Milgram interested in “The Obedience and Personal Responsibility”. It’s object was to observe how obedient a common citizen in front of a regime of domination and authority. He conducted this quite simple experiment: two people entered his laboratory, and were told to take part on a certain study about the memory and learning. One of them was assigned to be “the disciple”, while another as “the lecturer”. The disciple got into a certain room, and was tied into a chair. An electrode was then installed upon his wrist. While, the lecturer sat in front of a giant machine named Shock-Generator ZLB-Type. In front of that machine, there were a row of electric switches named, from left to right, “Low Electricity”, “Medium Electricity”, “High Electricity”, until the “Danger: High-Voltage Electricity”, and the last two switches, only labelled by an explicit “XXX”. The disciple was then told that he was asked to memorize some word pairs, and everytime he made mistake, the lecturer would press the short electricity, forwarding in a step-up intensity.

This trial, was apparently an intentional role play. The object of this experiment was actually “the lecturer”, and the true purpose of this experiment wasn’t to examine the impact of a punishment toward the memory, but to observe how far a common citizen would be willing to hurt an innocent victim and yet struggling to get loose. The disciple (who was actually an actor) was just pretending to get hurt, and it was just a fake electricity.

The result was quite astonishing. Regardless the fact that the disciple was oftenly indicating that he was hurt (by screaming painfully, and often sighing about his heart), the lecturer kept asking questions and electrocute him, sometimes even when the disciple was giving no response at all. Milgram himself got stunned: more than a half of the citizen of New Haven, Connecticut, were likely to be willing to electrocute his fellow citizens until they got fainted, and even died, only because a man in a white lab coat told them to.

When the result of this experiment were publicized, many people got mad, partly inflicted by the matter of legality (until this day) regarding how ethical this experiment be. But apart from that, Milgram had sent “a high-voltage electricity” toward our standard assumption about the human nature and the evil character. He deduced this conclusion from his experiment: “common citizens, purely by assigning their duties, and without any particular hatred inside them, could be the agents of a horribly destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive impacts of their workings were clearly visible, and they were asked to accomplish some actions that went against the basic morality standard, only a relatively few of them had the source needed to stand against the authority”.

This resembled the conclusion written by Hannah Arendt on her book on 1963, Eichmann in Jerussalem. This book contains a series of astonishing observation about the mind frame of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi bureaucrat who was responsible in conducting “the final solution”. While covering Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker, Arendt stated on how the attorney’s effort of depicting Eichmann as a sadistic monster was basically wrong. Eichmann was nothing more than a boring, neat bureaucrat, who was sitting on his desk, writing the documents, assigning his tasks. In other words, he was just a docile. Milgram conducted his experiment as a way to examine Arendt’s thesis on what she referred as “the banality of evil”.

At that time, Arendt herself was condemned everywhere for daringly saying a Nazi like Eichmann wasn’t the incarnation of the devil. Milgram’s experiment had a high contribution in silencing those critcs, and brought “the banality of evil” as a part of a general comprehension about the human nature in our culture. Milgram also drew the similarity, as many people did, toward facism and the US “mass society” sensible. Obedience quickly become a new sin of our society..

–translated from the indonesian translation of The Rebel Sell by Heath and Potter.

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