There is something decidedly wrong with the Biden presidency and this is most certainly not a normal administration. They intentionally and openly divide the American people, and policies are enacted with a high degree of retributive malice, prosecuted with evil glee. You can almost hear the Wicked Witch of the West (VP Kamala Harris) cackle, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too!”
In my opinion, “President” Biden lacks legitimacy – not because I have reservations about how he gained the presidency but because, in my view, any president who affirmatively states “No Amendment is absolute” is an exhibition of a disqualifying level of anti-constitutional malevolence, enough that it is a direct violation of the Presidential Oath to protect and defend the Constitution. To me, such a statement is tantamount to a resignation from the Office of the President, rendering any who follow him are usurpers who should be removed from office.
Last night, while mulling over Biden’s unsurprising, yet shocking, statement in my mind, I thought about illegitimate authority and where my limits of obedience might lie. I thought about the controversial “obedience” experiments of Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. Back in the 60’s, Milgram’s experiments revealed how hardwired humans are to be obedient to authority. Milgram became interested in the concept of obedience by studying the events of the Holocaust, especially the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal who oversaw the Holocaust.
Milgram designed a series of experiments to test the willingness of a subject to obey an authority figure who instructed subjects to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. The experiment included an “experimenter”, a “teacher”, and a “learner” – the “experimenter” and “learner” were ringers in on the experiment, the only variable was the “learner”, men randomly selected from a diverse range of backgrounds and occupations and with varying levels of education. The “teacher” and “experimenter” were separated from the “learner” by a wall and the “teacher” was led to believe that for each wrong answer, the “learner” was receiving electric shocks and that the shocks would progressively range from mild to a dangerous 450 volts. He was given enough of a shock from the generator to create a frame of reference for the level of pain he was allegedly administering.
But there were no real punishments – the “learner” set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator that played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level.
Forty “teachers” were selected for the first round of these experiments, in this round every single “teacher” administered shock of at least 300 volts and fully sixty-five percent administered the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock. The “teachers” exhibited physical signs of heavy tension and stress and some were even having nervous laughing fits or seizures, some said they would refund the $4 per hour they were paid for participating if they could stop. Every participant paused the experiment at least once to question it but most continued after being assured by the experimenter. In subsequent rounds of the experiments, it was found that around ten percent would not continue with the experiment once they believed they were harming the “learner”.
Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article “The Perils of Obedience”, writing:
“Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”
The long and short of it is that we are hardwired to obey authority.
While Milgram’s research focused on obedience, it also provided insight into tactics people can apply to change their behavior and be better able to stand up against arbitrary or unjust authority. The American Psychological Association summarizes four specific preventive actions people can take to resist unwanted pressures from authorities:
- Question the authority’s legitimacy. We often give too wide a berth to people who project a commanding presence, either by their demeanor or by their mode of dress and follow their orders even in contexts irrelevant to their authority. For example, one study found that wearing a fireman’s uniform significantly increased a person’s persuasive powers to get a passerby to give change to another person so he could feed a parking meter.
- When instructed to carry out an act you find abhorrent, even by a legitimate authority, stop and ask yourself: “Is this something I would do on my own initiative?” The answer may well be “No,” because, according to Milgram, moral considerations play a role in acts carried out under one’s own steam, but not when they emanate from an authority’s commands.
- Do not even start to comply with commands you feel even slightly uneasy about. Acquiescence to the commands of an authority that are only mildly objectionable is often, as in Milgram’s experiments, the beginning of a step-by-step, escalating process of entrapment. The farther one moves along the continuum of increasingly destructive acts, the harder it is to extract oneself from the commanding authority’s grip, because to do so is to confront the fact that the earlier acts of compliance were wrong.
- If you are part of a group that has been commanded to carry out immoral actions, find an ally in the group who shares your perceptions and is willing to join you in opposing the objectionable commands. It is tremendously difficult to be a lone dissenter, not only because of the strong human need to belong, but also because-via the process of pluralistic ignorance-the compliance of others makes the action seem acceptable and leads you to question your own negative judgment.
Who will be in the ten percent who will not submit?
Something to think about. It now seems inevitable a choice will be forced upon us.