Friday, January 14, 2011

Are we Evil? Part 2

In 1963, Stanley Milgram shocked the scientific world with the publication of his experimental results. In the experiments, Yale undergraduates were given a role by an authority figure that involved administering an electric shock to another seeming participant (Click here for more information about the studies)
Before Milgram ran the experiment, a survey of his psychology students predicted that may be 1% students would continue in the experiment to the very end. Unfortunately, 64% of the students actually administered the full extent of the seemingly harmful shocks in obedience to the authority figure. In a variation of the experiment, 92% of the participants completed the entire experiment when someone else was given the job of pushing the button to administer the shocks. 
The results suggest that normal people are capable of being abnormally cruel when they are given a role, and when they are separated from the actual application of cruelty. 

M.Scott Peck used an example of the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam war to describe the potential evil in specialization. As a member of a congress-appointed task force investigating the matter, Peck reported that no one would take the blame for what happened. The soldiers said they were “following orders.” Those at the pentagon said they were simply enacting policy. The policy makers likely saw themselves as simply representing the interests of their constituents who were afraid of communism.
A similar evil is described in Mark 14 and 15. The members of the Sanhedrin knew they did not have the authority to kill Jesus, so they would not have his blood on their hands. They deferred that responsibility to the Romans. The Roman governor, Pilate, deferred his judgment for the fury of the crowd. He also knew he would not be physically pounding the nails into Jesus’ hands. The soldiers who actually did pound the nails, were again just following orders.
The scary part of these scenarios is that you cannot put a face on the evil. It seems to be an ominous force which exists within and between people, like a deadly virus or a corporation. I think Christians need to be vigilant of the capability of evil in specialization, but how do we fight it?

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