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The Origins of Evil

PHIL 205 Ethics

Quan Jin

on 24 January 2013

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Transcript of The Origins of Evil

When "good" people do bad things Origins of Evil Stanley Milgram “The Perils of Obedience" The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

——Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience” The Power of Authority Milgram's Obedience Experiment, 1961 Short Documentary Full Original Version Derren Brown’s reproduction (BBC) This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

——Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience” Physical absence of experimenter;
Conflicting authority figures paralyzes action;
Rebellion of others undermines authority. Factors that undermines authority: Conformity to the group The Pressure of Peers Soloman Asch's Conformity Experiment (1953) --Yeah right, did you see what other non-conformist are doing? How trivial matters in life determine whether or not you're going to help How Good a Samaritan Are You? The Parable of the Good Samaritan
…whether you are in a hurry or not (John M. Darley & C. Daniel Batson, 1970);

…or, whether you happen to be in a good mood, e.g., whether you happen to have found a dime in a phone booth (Isen &Levin, 1972);

...or, Whether you’re a good Samaritan or not depends on …whether there are people around and whether they will help. The Apathy of Bystanders The Bystander Effect Experiment John Darley & Bibb Latane, 1968 The roles you play The Force of Situations Philip Zimbardo, 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment BBC Documentary Official Website http://www.prisonexp.org/ The Holocaust Who was responsible? "Every arm of the country's sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process. Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish; the Post Office delivered the deportation and denaturalization orders; the Finance Ministry confiscated Jewish property; German firms fired Jewish workers and disenfranchised Jewish stockholders."

——Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know The universities refused to admit Jews, denied degrees to those already studying, and fired Jewish academics; government transport offices arranged the trains for deportation to the camps; German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria; detailed lists of victims were drawn up using the Dehomag (IBM Germany) company's punch card machines, producing meticulous records of the killings.

——Wikipedia, "The Holocaust" Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi bureaucrat:

“Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a ‘monster,’ but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown…. He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law.” (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil) Hundreds of thousands of “little Eichmanns” (John Zerzan):

those who participate in society in a way that, while on an individual scale may seem relatively innocuous even to themselves, taken collectively create destructive and immoral systems in which they are actually complicit. Are we capable of being good? --But I am a non-conformist!
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