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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  December 2008

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE December 2008

Subject:

Re: The Migram & Asch experiments and political relevance (Part 1)

From:

mart <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 23 Dec 2008 09:15:42 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (375 lines)

another example might be why non-slaving owning southerners, and 'hillbillies', would be willing to fight for sometimes wealthy slave owners, usually for some idea of 'southern pride' or 'white supremacy' (when they were viewed as 'white trash' often by their leaders);  the same goes for KKK types who were the 'shock troops' used by wealthy elites to try to stop integration in the south.   i guess chomsky might call this hume's paradox.  there are other kinds of examples, like the people who 'believe the hype' about the financial analysts and their hard work, which the working class must conform to unquestioningly  ("i need a cab, prostitute, convention center, housing market...).  There are also the 'NIMH scientist' types who go along with flawed research ideas unqeustioninlgy---"shut up and grow a cell culture".
the cross cultural comparisons are interezsting;  supposed universals often turn out not to be, except for, for example, 'orientalists'.    


--- On Tue, 12/23/08, Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> From: Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: The Migram & Asch experiments and political relevance (Part 1)
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Date: Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 6:36 AM
> Interesting stuff, I look forward to Part II.
> 
> In addition to understanding the dynamics of conformism in
> the United
> States, it would be interesting to explore the dynamics
> that led thousands
> of Communist revolutionaries active in the Russian
> Revolution to later
> conform to the dictates of Stalinism, and thousands more
> American Communists
> and other leftists to do the same over many decades. Thus
> not only "would-be
> leftists," but actual leftists, fell "for the
> official lies over and over
> again" and "end[ed] up relying upon (and thereby
> reinforcing) the authority
> of the government and media" of former Communist
> states. Are the dynamics of
> conformism implicated?
> 
> MB
> 
> On Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 8:26 AM, Mitchel Cohen
> <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
> 
> >  The question of following a leader's (or
> experimenter's) orders (Milgram)
> > -- even to the point of some people succumbing to
> pressure to inflict severe
> > pain on another person -- is similar to the question
> of conformity (Asch).
> > In fact, both studies are nicely boxed with studies by
> Latney-Darley, and by
> > Zimbardo. These four sets of studies are staples of
> social-psychology, in
> > which we try to understand how it is that most of us
> in the U.S., despite
> > sharing an overwhelming distrust of government,
> corporations and media,
> > nevertheless in times of crisis fall for the official
> lies over and over
> > again. Why? What makes us so susceptible to them?
> >
> > Why is it that in moments of manufactured crisis, even
> many would-be
> > leftists end up relying upon (and thereby reinforcing)
> the authority of the
> > government and media?
> >
> > In the 1950s, Left social psychologists Solomon Asch
> and Stanley Milgram
> > devised what would become infamous experiments in
> attempts to show that the
> > individualism that runs deep through the mythology of
> the American persona
> > would keep people from goose-stepping to the same
> orders as the population
> > of Germany under the Nazis. They were leftists, and
> were stunned to find the
> > opposite of what they had hoped. They found that when
> Americans are
> > isolated, afraid and anxious they seem willing to
> engage in activities
> > leading to harming others and even in some cases
> causing their deaths, much
> > more so than their counterparts in Scandinavia, for
> example. (1)
> >
> > Why would there be such a difference between
> countries? Isn't "human
> > nature" universal? The answer is, "No."
> It does not play out similarly in
> > other countries.
> >
> > In the U.S. we unconsciously go through the following
> sequence of
> > mediations: something happens that creates a
> dissonance with our way of
> > experiencing the world around us. That dissonance
> begets disorientation;
> > disorientation begets insecurity; insecurity begets
> fear and anxiety; and
> > fears and anxieties beget neurosis. But -- and
> here's the key question --
> > why should insecurity beget fear and anxiety in the
> U.S., but not so greatly
> > in other cultures? Furthermore, when that link is
> broken or bypassed, that
> > is the moment in which a different way of experiencing
> one's own life is
> > possible – but it also is the moment in which all of
> the conditioning we
> > have undergone since we were infants asserts itself to
> complete the
> > ingrained sequence, to make us fearful and anxious.
> >
> > In the face of cataclysmic and widespread social
> unhappiness, awareness
> > alone ­ without a change in conditions ­ is
> insufficient, and sometimes even
> > a hindrance, to enabling us to purge ourselves of
> pervasive and
> > self-sabotaging unhappiness and alienation. One's
> fears will not dissolve in
> > response to calls to an individual to "overcome
> your fears," any more than a
> > neurotic person will respond positively to a
> psychiatrist barking: "Stop
> > being neurotic!," unless one is at the same time
> involved in transforming
> > the conditions that produce those fears. As Marx
> wrote: "Mankind thus
> > inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able
> to solve, since closer
> > examination will always show that the problem itself
> arises only when the
> > material conditions for its solution are already
> present or at least in the
> > course of formation." (2)
> >
> > Freedom Will Not Make You Free: The Asch Conformity
> Studies
> >
> > Among those who have explored this phenomenon in the
> laboratory was social
> > psychologist Solomon Asch. In 1951 and 1956, Asch ran
> a series of
> > social-psychological studies which found that many
> Americans conformed to
> > social pressures despite their vaunted "rugged
> individualist" self-image. In
> > fact, the rates of conformity were unexpectedly
> greater in the U.S. than in
> > other countries (such as Sweden) where the experiments
> were also performed.
> > But amid all the conformity, we find a critical note
> that most commentators
> > on the study have ignored: Some people exhibited a
> surprising and stubborn
> > resistance to such pressures. We need to understand
> this facet of the study
> > as well, for it is this resistance that holds out
> enormous possibilities for
> > organizers.
> >
> > Asch showed a card to a group of people. On the card
> was a line drawn part
> > way up its length. Three other cards had a line on it,
> but only one card's
> > line was exactly the same length as the initial one;
> the lines on the other
> > two were very obviously different than the one shown
> in the beginning.
> >
> > The group was made up of a number of people who all
> appeared to be equally
> > "naive" -- that is, equally "off the
> street." But in reality, only one
> > person -- the "subject" -- was being tested;
> he or she didn't know that all
> > the others (let's call them "aides")
> were in the employ of the experimenter.
> > Each aide, in turn, "guessed" which card was
> the same as the first.
> > Unanimously, they each chose the same incorrect card,
> as they had been
> > secretly directed to do by the experimenter. When the
> turn came for the
> > individual -- the sole subject (without knowing it) of
> the experiment -- to
> > select the correct card, in an unexpectedly high
> number of cases the subject
> > also gave the same incorrect answer.
> >
> > The experiment was performed over and over again.
> Varying numbers of aides
> > unanimously gave the wrong answer, as instructed,
> before it came the turn of
> > the person being tested. The number of aides
> didn't make much difference.
> > Each person was subject in 12 trials, plus six
> additional "control" tests.
> > In fully 1/3rd of the tests the person being tested
> gave the same wrong
> > answer as the experimenter's aides!
> >
> > How are we to interpret this study? According to a
> report on the Asch
> > studies by Marxist social-psychologists Ron Friend,
> Dana Bramel and Yvonne
> > Rafferty, "Asch created a situation that pitted a
> `minority of one' against
> > a unanimous and erring majority."(3) These
> critics and, indeed, Asch
> > himself, take pains to point out that in almost 2/3rds
> of the trials the
> > subjects answered correctly. Furthermore, they say, 25
> percent of the
> > subjects were able to resist the peer pressures and
> always answered
> > independently and correctly ­ a fact peculiarly
> omitted from most
> > examinations of the study.
> >
> > Friend, Bramel and Rafferty noted that most U.S.
> textbooks differed
> > significantly from foreign texts not only in their
> focus but in the
> > conclusions they drew from the Asch study. Beginning
> in the 1960s in the
> > U.S., most of the reflections on the Asch study
> focused on the mindset of
> > those who bowed to the pressure to conform. Surely,
> they must have known on
> > some level that their answer was wrong. Furthermore,
> in U.S. texts, those
> > very conclusions changed (for the worse) over time. So
> Friend, Bramel and
> > Rafferty set out to examine the way American social
> scientists have
> > interpreted the Asch study, exposing the hidden biases
> and ideological
> > underpinnings that pass for objective truth in social
> psychology and other
> > sciences.
> >
> > According to Asch, a significant number of people did
> indeed resist the
> > pressure to conform. In fact, observe Friend et al.,
> 95 percent of the
> > subjects at one time or another refused to give in to
> the pressures of the
> > incorrect majority, a statistic they use to
> counterbalance the bourgeois
> > emphasis on conformity. They write (page 7) that
> "in contrast, only 5
> > percent went with the erroneous majority without
> exception. That is, five
> > times as many were consistently independent as were
> consistently yielding."
> > Why, they ask, do social scientists dismiss or refuse
> to acknowledge the
> > existence of such resistance to domination?
> >
> > Many bourgeois social scientists as a group ­
> liberals and conservatives
> > alike ­ deride the subjects' "lack of
> independence" and say their wrong
> > answer was caused by "group pressure to
> conform." Often we find the study
> > used by those in one form of authority or another to
> warn against
> > participating in mass-movements for social change
> (which many "experts"
> > label "mob mentality"); to protect against
> that, they argue for hierarchical
> > decision-making instead of participatory democracy.
> These interpretations
> > run contrary to Asch's own assessment which, over
> the years, has been
> > forgotten in the ensuing turmoil and which Friend,
> Bramel and Rafferty do
> > well to unearth.
> >
> > But in so doing, they unnecessarily minimize the 36.8
> percent of trials in
> > which subjects did indeed "conform." Also,
> as we are all too aware,
> > statistics can be deceiving. Had each subject been
> given a few more trials,
> > more would have ­ if only just once ­ sneezed up the
> correct answer. Then,
> > out of 12, or 14, or 100 tests, every subject would
> have "resisted" group
> > pressure once or twice, and Friend et al. could point
> to 100 percent of the
> > subjects having resisted at least once. So what? Of
> course, if all subjects
> > were able to resist such pressures at least once, then
> there is hope for
> > that to occur in society at large; radicals need to
> investigate the
> > circumstances in which they were able to do so.
> Nevertheless, apart from the
> > ideological intentions of bourgeois social scientists
> rightfully exposed by
> > Friend, Bramel and Rafferty, the larger problem still
> holds. This can be
> > broken down into three questions on the study itself:
> >
> > 1) Why did seventy-five percent of the subjects in the
> Asch study go along
> > with the unanimous majority and give the wrong answer,
> even if just once?
> >
> > 2) Why, in more than 1/3rd of the trials, did the
> subjects answer falsely?
> > and,
> >
> > 3) Why did several subjects agree with the erring
> majority every time?
> >
> > Were those people afraid of "bucking the
> group"? Were they "pressured" to
> > conform? Did they really believe that the wrong
> answers they gave were the
> > right ones? How is it that so many people could make
> incorrect judgements
> > about the world around them so much of the time,
> judgements that in another
> > context they would themselves find ridiculously
> obvious?
> >
> > If we conclude that pressure was the prime motivator
> in their giving the
> > wrong answers, what kinds of anxieties and fears did
> it play off of to make
> > them unable to respond to the problem truly? What
> compelled them to give a
> > response they must have known, at some level, to be
> incorrect? Were they
> > psychologically stampeded into conforming to the
> prevailing ideology against
> > their own judgement? What can the Asch and Milgram
> studies reveal about
> > internalized social pressures and the mechanisms by
> which they work?
> >
> > END PART ONE
> > ----------------------------------------
> > NOTES
> >
> > 1. See Mitchel Cohen, *The Whole World is Watching ...
> Television,* for a
> > discussion of the Asch and Milgram experiments and
> their importance for
> > Leftists in developing revolutionary strategy in the
> U.S.*.
> >
> > *2. Karl Marx, The German Ideology.
> >
> > 3. Ron Friend, Dana Bramel, Yvonne Rafferty, "A
> Puzzling Misinterpretation
> > of the Asch `Conformity' Study," SUNY Stony
> Brook, 1988.
> >
> >
> 
> 
> -- 
> ******************************************
> Michael Balter
> Contributing Correspondent, Science
> Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
> Boston University
> 
> Email:           [log in to unmask]
> 
> Website:       michaelbalter.com
> Balter's Blog: michael-balter.blogspot.com
> ******************************************


      

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