Today’s theme is, It Could Happen To You

Exhibit A:

“The question Milgram sought to answer was very simple. What proportion of normal people would continue administering shocks up to the full lethal voltage? What proportion would act as if to kill an innocent person for no better reason than $4.50 and that they were told to by a psychology professor?(emphasis added)

“Before he released his results, Milgram asked a group of psychiatrists what proportion they thought would administer lethal dosages. What did these ‘experts in people’ think? They thought that only one person in a thousand – a ‘psychotic minority’ of 0.125 per cent – would deliver lethal shocks.” The real proportion was 65 per cent. (from The Ecologist, Vol 33 No 5 – June 2003)

Exhibit B:

“In 1971 researchers at Stanford University created a simulated prison in the basement of the campus psychology building. They randomly assigned 24 students to be either prison guards or prisoners for two weeks.

“Within days the “guards” had become swaggering and sadistic, to the point of placing bags over the prisoners’ heads, forcing them to strip naked and encouraging them to perform sexual acts.” (from The New York Times)

Exhibit C:

No, the point isn’t that humans are fundamentally evil, or even that some humans are; the point is, while it’s crass and horrendous to expect something like the Abu Ghraib torturings to occur, it’s also dangerous to assume that it’s the result of either monstrous people or extraordinary circumstances.

(via the Ecologist: “Would you kill for £3?” by Tom Stafford [June 2003]; NYT: “Simulated Prison in ’71 Showed a Fine Line Between Normal and Monster” by John Schwartz [May 6, 2004]; and Washington Post: “The Iraqi Prisoners Controversy”)