This item on Gazans reduced to eating grass seems to be a more timely
parallel to the Milgram experiment than the ones discussed below.
On Tue, 23 Dec 2008 12:36:02 +0100, Michael Balter
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>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
>and other leftists to do the same over many decades. Thus not only "would-
>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
>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
>> 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
>> 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
>> individualism that runs deep through the mythology of the American persona
>> would keep people from goose-stepping to the same orders as the
>> of Germany under the Nazis. They were leftists, and were stunned to find
>> 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,
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> as well, for it is this resistance that holds out enormous possibilities for
>> Asch showed a card to a group of people. On the card was a line drawn
>> 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
>> "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
>> also gave the same incorrect answer.
>> The experiment was performed over and over again. Varying numbers of
>> unanimously gave the wrong answer, as instructed, before it came the
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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.
>> 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
>> 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?
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> response they must have known, at some level, to be incorrect? Were they
>> psychologically stampeded into conforming to the prevailing ideology
>> 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
>> 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.
>Contributing Correspondent, Science
>Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
>Email: [log in to unmask]
>Balter's Blog: michael-balter.blogspot.com