First, see this.
The Experimenter places front in center two facts about life in western civilization, and how they undermine individual free will.
- We will do anything for “money”
- The framework controls the experiment
Most of us have heard about Stanley Milgram’s experiments in the early 1960s that purported to prove just how cruel humans will behave, despite their conscious values and intentions. Few of us realize just how Milgram went about demonstrating that. This film, which was created in consultation with Milgram’s widow, lays it all out, with devastating effect.
Once again, the facts:
Just how much money controls our behavior has always struck me. I know a number of people, for example, who work for large corporations (including university departments) which depend on military contracts with the U.S. Government. But since these people, and their paychecks, are corralled into niches, “compartmentalized,” they don’t have to know about what their corporation is actually doing: killing other human and other living beings, including the planet. Keeping their heads down, they slave away in their own little cubicles and laboratories, not daring to ask the larger questions. Why would they ask them? Their comfortable lifestyle depends on them not knowing, not recognizing the cognitive dissonance between what they think their values are and what their behavior actually demonstrates. Which leads me to the second fact.
Every human action is taken within a certain framework, or belief system, either conscious or unconscious. We depend on our frameworks to set up rules for making choices. Usually frameworks are unconscious, gradually built up through time, tradition, and conditioning from the time we are small children. How we “hold” our frameworks is crucial. Humans who have not yet seen/felt the relativity and permeability of conceptual frameworks tend to hold their frameworks as foundational, unquestioned. Our conceptual frameworks are like helmets that we wear around, keeping the rest of the infinitely large and ultimately mysterious world at bay. The more “certain” our view of our framework, the more fundamentalist our attitude, the more we tend to “hate” others whose beliefs differ from ours.
Furthermore, whenever the mass frameworks that govern society start breaking down, in other words, whenever uncertainty pervades mass consciousness, then fear — of the unknown, of the future, of, ultimately death itself — steals in. We quest about for a new framework, a new way of making sense of everything, and usually this comes by way of an authoritarian leader, who “tells it like it is.” The big-daddy father figure steals in and clamps a new framework onto our brains. We sigh in relief. Aaah, at last, a new world-view that can make us feel “safe.” A new way of interpreting everything, absolutely everything, so that it all makes sense.
In the Milgram experiments, the experimentees came in, two at a time, as strangers. The person supposedly conducting the experiment, a young man with a direct, authoritative manner, told them the rules for the experiment. But first, immediately, they were issued money, via checks, that, he told them, they got to keep no matter what the result of the experiment. Then he held out his closed fists and told them to choose: one would be the “teacher,” and the other the “student.” The teacher would administer a series of multiple choice questions, via word-pairs that made no rational sense. The only test would be of immediate memory. Could the student remember which word went with which? Incorrect answers would be punished, via electroshock, the voltage of which got higher with each wrong answer.
I’ll leave it at that. You need to watch the movie to know the rest of the story, and to realize just how easily we humans are duped by those who understand the power of both money and frameworks.
This film goes a long way towards helping us grok the current magnetism of Donald Trump. It’s also a very cautionary tale. Who among us does not gravitate towards cognitive frameworks that make sense of everything, and that, if necessary, we will fight others to defend? Who among us has learned to “live with” uncertainty, indeterminacy, the recognition that there is no framework that does not massively simplify and distort the mystery of actual living reality?
I, for one, am always catching myself trying to think that this or that is necessarily “true,” and to “justify” it, accordingly.
Instead, every day, over and over again, I work to center myself upon this good Earth, feet gripping the ground, head open to the stars, arms wide to the universe. Constantly, centering and re-centering, I observe/feel the endless vertical interchange between Above and Below as it swirls through my heart and out to the Other in Love.