Before I go on with my thoughts on the use of persuasion by demagogues like Donald Trump, we need to understand how powerful a system of obedience can be. There are two past studies that this writer recommends which get to the heart of the use of obedience to shape an individual’s behavior. The earliest one is the Milgram Experiment (1963) conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, followed by the one conducted by a former classmate of his, Philip Zimbardo ,in the Zimbardo Prison Experiment (1971).
Searching the web I found two great reports on both said experiments from the website SimplyPsychology.org Let’s look further into these two experiments; First the 1963 Milgram Experiment:
Volunteers were recruited for a controlled experiment investigating “learning” (re: ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional, from the New Haven area. They were paid $4.50 for just turning up.
At the beginning of the experiment, they were introduced to another participant, who was a confederate of the experimenter (Milgram).
They drew straws to determine their roles – learner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate was always the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a gray lab coat, played by an actor (not Milgram).
Two rooms in the Yale Interaction Laboratory were used – one for the learner (with an electric chair) and another for the teacher and experimenter with an electric shock generator.
The “learner” (Mr. Wallace) was strapped to a chair with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the “teacher” tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.
The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).
The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose), and for each of these, the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock, the experimenter was to give a series of orders/prods to ensure they continued.
There were four prods and if one was not obeyed, then the experimenter (Mr. Williams) read out the next prod, and so on.
Prod 1: Please continue.
Prod 2: The experiment requires you to continue.
Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
Prod 4: You have no other choice but to continue.
65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e., teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.
Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).
Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.
People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school, and workplace.
Milgram summed up in the article “The Perils of Obedience” (Milgram 1974), writing:
The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous import, 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’ [participants’] 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.
As one can see from the results of this experiment, regular people, people like you and me, can be almost transformed into vehicles of mental and physical aggression.
Now we turn to the 2nd experiment, the Zimbardo Prison Experiment:
In 1971, psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues set out to create an experiment that looked at the impact of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Known as the Stanford Prison Experiment, the study went on to become one of the best-known in psychology’s history.
Zimbardo, a former classmate of Stanley Milgram , was interested in expanding upon Milgram’s research. He wanted to investigate further the impact of situational variables on human behavior.
The researchers wanted to know how the participants would react when placed in a simulated prison environment.
“Suppose you had only kids who were normally healthy, psychologically and physically, and they knew they would be going into a prison-like environment and that some of their civil rights would be sacrificed. Would those good people, put in that bad, evil place—would their goodness triumph?” said Zimbardo in one interview.1
The researchers set up a mock prison in the basement of Stanford University’s psychology building and then selected 24 undergraduate students to play the roles of both prisoners and guards. The participants were chosen from a larger group of 70 volunteers because they had no criminal background, lacked psychological issues, and had no significant medical conditions. The volunteers agreed to participate during a one to two-week period in exchange for $15 a day.
The Setting and Procedures
The simulated prison included three six by nine-foot prison cells.
Each cell held three prisoners and included three cots. Other rooms across from the cells were utilized for the jail guards and warden. One tiny space was designated as the solitary confinement room, and yet another small room served as the prison yard.
The 24 volunteers were then randomly assigned to either the prisoner group or the guard group. Prisoners were to remain in the mock prison 24-hours a day during the study. Guards were assigned to work in three-man teams for eight-hour shifts. After each shift, guards were allowed to return to their homes until their next shift. Researchers were able to observe the behavior of the prisoners and guards using hidden cameras and microphones.
Results of the Stanford Prison Experiment
While the Stanford Prison Experiment was originally slated to last 14 days, it had to be stopped after just six due to what was happening to the student participants. The guards became abusive, and the prisoners began to show signs of extreme stress and anxiety.
While the prisoners and guards were allowed to interact in any way they wanted, the interactions were hostile or even dehumanizing. The guards began to behave in ways that were aggressive and abusive toward the prisoners while the prisoners became passive and depressed. Five of the prisoners began to experience severe negative emotions, including crying and acute anxiety and had to be released from the study early.
Even the researchers themselves began to lose sight of the reality of the situation. Zimbardo, who acted as the prison warden, overlooked the abusive behavior of the jail guards until graduate student Christina Maslach voiced objections to the conditions in the simulated prison and the morality of continuing the experiment.
“Only a few people were able to resist the situational temptations to yield to power and dominance while maintaining some semblance of morality and decency; obviously, I was not among that noble class,” Zimbardo later wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect.2
What Do the Results of the Stanford Prison Experiment Mean?
According to Zimbardo and his colleagues, the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrates the powerful role that the situation can play in human behavior. Because the guards were placed in a position of power, they began to behave in ways they would not usually act in their everyday lives or other situations. The prisoners, placed in a situation where they had no real control, became passive and depressed.
Those aforementioned experiments connect with this ‘ Trump Phenomena’ which rifled into A) The Michigan situation whereupon a group of far right wingers planned to abduct and possibly execute the governor. This is blended with the group of Trump Supporters who marched last Spring to the Michigan statehouse… armed to the hilt! B) The Weds January 6th Trump induced insurrection rage at the Capitol Bldg, with many participants wearing Neo Nazi and Anti Semitic regalia… along with, of course, the red MAGA caps. The right wing terrorists were yelling for the heads of the VP and Speaker of the House Pelosi as they trashed one of the most historic buildings in the world.
I channel surfed last evening and caught a bit from BBC America. They had a reporter in Arizona who was visiting a Mexican restaurant to speak with the owners, BIG TRUMP SUPPORTERS. This Mexican- American couple sat there and categorically stated that the violent protestors on January 6th were Antifa instigators! Of course, they were positive that the election was stolen from Trump (One wonders if the couple and other die hard Trumpers knew about the 2000 and 2004 elections? You know, the two that the Republicans stole? In Florida, Black citizens were wrongly taken off the rolls as being ‘ Felons’. Tens of thousands! Bush won by much less than this number. In 2004, in Ohio, the exit polls revealed how Kerry had won easily. Yet, the Diebold programmed ‘ No Paper Trail’ machines seemed to be flipping votes from Kerry to Bush). There was anger… even rage, but never what last Weds. revealed. In ’04 the story goes that late on election night, when they were announcing Ohio for Bush and the result was such, It was VP candidate John Edwards who was imploring Kerry to not concede and to demand an investigation. You see, when you are ‘ knee deep ‘ in the empire, there is a time to back off and regroup.
We have been controlled since childhood. As a baby boomer I can recall my Middle School years in what we called ‘ The Cunningham Prison’. There was a morning lineup outside, with thugs chosen by the teacher who ran the Marshal Program to ‘ police us’. They cajoled, yelled and threatened us each AM. When you got inside the school you found that the corridors had a thick white line down the middle. If you needed to go from one classroom to another, right across the corridor, you had to go all the way around. Teachers were assigned to stand by their doors making sure we all obeyed the rule. God forbid if you crossed that white line! You were spoken to as if you just robbed their home! Graduating to high school was like being freed!
Regressing back to my elementary school years, as a baby boomer I can still hear the loud alarm ring sounding, as I visualize us being rushed out into the hallway to lay by the concrete walls on the cold floors. Some kids, the ones in prior ‘ Cold War’ years, they had to do ‘ Duck and Cover ‘ drills under their own desks. (One wonders if a nuclear bomb dropped by the Russians would be thwarted by the school desk). Of course, by 1960 we all had to deal with the ‘ A-Bomb’ threat and the newest development ‘ The Fallout Shelter’ (Check out the fine Rod Serling ‘Twilight Zone ‘ episode on this subject). The great ‘ Fear Card ‘ was played so much during the Cold War. The highest level of citizen fear and anxiety came during the ‘ Cuban Missile Crisis’ in October of ‘ 62. Things got so heavy that I can recall going nightly to our Catholic Church for a Novena for Peace. It honestly felt like the ‘ cold ‘ would quickly become ‘ hot’. Living in NYC added extra anxiety to my fear, as we would be some of the first to go.
Getting back to Trump, as hesitant as I am about mentioning this, there are similarities between Hitler’s reign and that of Donald the Terrible. Hitler was a master at speechmaking… so is Trump. Hitler would start off slow in delivery and then climb the ladder of intensity and volume. Trump does it more like a carnival barker, being ‘ Cute and witty ‘ and always playing to the anger of the crowd. Hitler would really be addressing them rather than talking down to them. He was them! Trump uses the same ‘ Us against them’ style and loves to lower his voice before shouting. Both men were obvious narcissists and sociopathic megalomaniacs. The clinker is how both men got those who believed in their rhetoric, lies, disinformation and half truths and ( the crux of this whole column) Ordained Mission to follow them blindly! Look how Germany wound up due to this. Now, look at our nation and how it is cut into two due to Trump’s divisiveness. The banners, bumper stickers and signs all over one’s home and car have not subsided… yet. Perhaps after last Weds. more and more followers will finally begin to ‘ Get it’. Alas, so long as Trump keeps up the rhetoric with instructions the more the mob will OBEY!