Social Psychology: The Milgram Occupation


Every encounter with authority is a Milgram experiment. You are subject to influence which is either congruent with your principles or incongruent. If it is incongruent, how much incongruity are you willing to bear?

In my last post I shared a speech I had written for Toastmasters regarding an exchange between a figure who claimed authority through seniority with a figure who claimed authority through democracy. The latter reached a point where the seniority figure could no longer be tolerated and refused to surrender any further authority. Through Machiavellian machinations the democratic figure was robbed of his post.

The story of the Toastmaster’s speech happens every day. Businesses are not democracies and employees are directed to perform unethical actions in many of them daily. Is delivering fatal carcinogens through cigarettes any different than delivering fatal electrical shocks by the flipping of a switch? Not at all.

Authority figures use a broad array of tactics to divorce us of our free will well beyond the simple scope of the Milgram experiment. But the fundamental instrument is fear as wielded by the authority figure in one hand and comfort as wielded by the authority figure in the other. “Don’t be evil” takes on more onerous tones in this context. “Evil” according to whom?