Arthur Koestler writes about an experiment. Meditate over it.
A series of highly original experiments was started by Doctor Stanley Milgram. The purpose of the experiments was to discover the limits of the average person’s obedience to authority when ordered to inflict severe pain on an innocent victim in the interests of a noble cause.
The noble cause was education. It involved three people: the professor, who was the authority figure in charge of the proceedings; the learner or victim; and the experimental subject, who was asked by the professor to act as teacher and to punish the learner each time he gave the wrong reply. Punishment was by electric shocks of growing severity, administered by the teacher on the professor’s orders. The learner or victim was strapped into a kind of electric chair. The teacher was seated in front of an impressive shock-generator which had a key-board of thirty switches ranging from fifteen volts to four hundred and fifty volts. There were also verbal inscriptions on the machine ranging from ‘slight shock’ to ‘intense shock’ to ‘danger: severe shock’.
In fact, the whole gruesome set-up was based on make-believe: the victim was an actor, the shock-generator was a dummy. Only the teacher, at whom the experiment was aimed, believed in the reality of the shocks he was ordered to administer and of the shrieks of pain and cries for mercy uttered by the victim.
The basic procedure was as follows: the learner was given to read a long list of paired words, that is ‘blue box’, ‘nice day’, ‘wild duck’, etc. Then in the examination he was given one test word, for instance, ‘blue’, with four alternative answers, that is ‘ink, box, sky, lamp’, and had to indicate which was the correct answer. The teacher was instructed by the professor to administer a shock each time the learner gave a wrong response, and moreover to move one level higher on the shock generator each time the learner gave the wrong answer. There was a fifteen volt increment from one switch to the next.
To make sure that the teacher was aware of what he was doing, the actor who played the role of the learner uttered complaints which increased in stridency according to the voltage, from mild grunts starting at seventy-five volts, in a crescendo, until at one hundred and fifty volts the victim cried out, “Get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more. I refuse to go on!”
Remember that the teacher believed that the victim too was a volunteer.
At three hundred and fifteen volts, after a violent scream, the victim reaffirmed vehemently that he was no longer a participant. He provided no answers, but screamed in agony whenever a shock was administered. After three hundred and thirty volts he was not heard from… yet the professor instructed the subject to treat no answer as a wrong answer, and to continue to increase the shock level according to the schedule. After three shocks of four hundred and fifty volts, he called off the experiment.
How many people, in an average population, do you think would obey the command to carry on with the task of torturing the victim to the limit of four hundred and fifty volts? The answer seems to be a foregone conclusion: perhaps one in a thousand – a pathological sadist.
Before starting his experiments, Milgram actually asked a group of psychiatrists to predict the outcome. With remarkable similarity, they predicted that virtually all subjects would refuse to obey the experimenter. The consensus of the psychiatrists was that most subjects would not go beyond one hundred and fifty volts, that is when the victim asks for the first time to be released. They expected that only four percent would reach three hundred volts, and that only a pathological fringe of about one in a thousand would administer the highest shock on the board.
In actual fact, over sixty percent of the subjects continued to obey the professor to the very end – the four hundred and fifty volt limit. Remember: sixty percent.
When the experiment was repeated in Italy, South Africa and Australia. the percent of obedient subjects was somewhat higher. In Munich it was eighty-five percent.
The act of shocking the victim does not stem from destructive urges, but from the fact that the subjects have become integrated into a social system which is based on obedience. To prove this point, Milgram carried on a further series of experiments in which the teacher was told that he was free to inflict on the learner any shock level of his own choice on any of the trials. Though given full opportunity, almost all subjects administered the lowest shocks, the mean shock level being fifty-four volts.
Remember that the victim’s first mild complaint came only at seventy-five volts.
In the original experiments, when the teacher acted on orders, an average of twenty-five out of forty subjects administered the maximum shock of four hundred and fifty volts. In the free-choice experiment, thirty-eight out of forty did not go beyond one hundred and fifty volts – victim’s first loud protest – and only two subjects went up to three hundred and twenty-five and four hundred and fifty respectively.
The vast majority of the subjects, far from deriving any pleasure from shocking the victim, showed various symptoms of emotional strain and distress. Some broke into a sweat, others pleaded with the professor to stop, or protested that the experiment was cruel and stupid. Yet two-thirds nevertheless went on to the bitter end.
It is not anger,
which is so dangerous,
but the greatly
valued idea of
We have been taught for centuries to obey – and to obey in the noble cause is a virtue; to disobey is a vice, is a sin. Disobeying any noble cause will create guilt in you. Obeying will make you feel good. and you may even be obeying it in spite of your own conscience. You will see the futility, the stupidity, the cruelty of it.
The man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima slept very well that night, and in the morning when he was asked how he was feeling, he said, “Perfect!” People could not believe it. They said, “Could you sleep in the night? One hundred thousand people have been burnt by you – could you sleep in the night?”
He said, “I slept very well, because I had done my duty. And when one does one’s duty well, one earns a good sleep.”
Truman was the President of the United States when the atom bomb was dropped. When he was asked, “How do you feel?” he said, “I feel great! A noble cause has been served – democracy has won over fascist forces.”
Remember always: big words are very dangerous. And big words have a very hypnotic power in them: democracy, God, religion, Bible… great words have a very hypnotic power over you. They can create a great unconsciousness in you, and you can go on doing things which you would have never even dreamt of doing without those big words.
So remember, ‘noble cause’ is a very dangerous game. Who decides what is noble? Let each individual decide according to his own conscience.
And why in Munich was the percentage the highest? – eighty-five percent. Because Germans are very obedient. That has been their training, that has been their conditioning – and they have been praised for it. That has become part and parcel of their inner mechanism.
The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.
This is now
the greatest danger
to human survival:
the capacity for man
It is very easy to dispense with your responsibility. You can always say, “What can I do? – I have been ordered.” And the higher person can say he has been ordered from a higher authority, and so on and so forth. Even the President can say, “I have been advised by the military experts.” And so on and on, round and round it goes. Nobody is really responsible. Responsibility can always be shoved on somebody else’s shoulders. And a really religious person is a responsible person. He says, “I am responsible. If I am doing something, then I am responsible, and I have to think it over, whether to do it or not. If my own awareness allows it, I will do it; otherwise, whatsoever the consequences, I am going to disobey.”
So obedience is not a value to me at all, neither is disobedience a disvalue. Your own understanding is the value. Out of that, obedience is good; out of that, disobedience is also good.
Morality does not disappear, but acquires a totally different meaning: the subordinate person feels shame and pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority. Language provides numerous terms to pinpoint this type of morality: loyalty, duty, discipline, obedience….
Great words! Beware of them. Always beware of great words: my country, motherland, fatherland, church, temple. Beware of all great words! They can drive you into an unconscious, robotlike behaviour.
This is now the greatest danger to human survival: the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed, the inevitability that he does so as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures. It is not anger, violence, aggression, destructiveness, which is so dangerous, but the greatly valued idea of obedience.
It is ironic that the virtues of loyalty, discipline and self-sacrifice that we value so highly in the individual are the very properties that create destructive organizational energies of war and that blind men to malevolent systems of authority.
Remember, if we want to create a new humanity, we will have to reconsider the whole mind of man. The past has created a very ugly mind – of course, with beautiful labels, with beautiful painted smiles, and behind is great animality.
The individual is
whatsoever he is doing.
My emphasis is on the individual not on the society, not on the nation, not on the religion. My emphasis is on the individual. The individual has to be freed from all kinds of social bondages and slaveries. That’s what sannyas is all about. Become aware… and out of your awareness, obedience is good, disobedience is good. But it has to be rooted in your awareness – then everything is good. And out of unawareness, obedience is bad, disobedience is bad.
Let me remind you: I am not telling you to be disobedient, because if it is out of unawareness, and you say no, it is as bad as saying yes. I am not teaching you disobedience, disorder, indiscipline. I am not doing that kind of thing at all. I can be misunderstood. I am being misunderstood. What I am saying is: I am making you responsible.
The individual is totally responsible whatsoever he is doing. So you have to think, meditate, and act out of your meditations – and whatsoever you do will be virtuous, and whatsoever you do will be moral, and it will be a totally different kind of morality.
Osho, Philosophia Perennis Vol 1, Ch 3, Q 5 (excerpt)