Monday, December 29, 2008

Submitting to Authority

A column by Adam Cohen from today's New York Times:

In 1963, Stanley Milgram, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale, published his infamous experiment on obedience to authority. Its conclusion was that most ordinary people were willing to administer what they believed to be painful, even dangerous, electric shocks to innocent people if a man in a white lab coat told them to.

Now, 45 years later, that experiment has been repeated by Prof Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University--with the same results. Read the entire article at

Cohen concludes his column saying:

An instructor at West Point contacted Professor Burger to say that she was teaching her students about his findings. She had the right idea — and the right audience. The findings of these two experiments should be part of the basic training for soldiers, police officers, jailers and anyone else whose position gives them the power to inflict abuse on others.

Let's add to that list jurors, who all too often unquestioningly accept what authorities say despite the tragic consequences a wrongful conviction brings.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Newmiller,

Sadly, very true.

I am no psychologist or psychiatrist, but I can't comprehend how so many people can be intimidated to the point of criminal behavior, and void of real spiritual guidance. The knowledge that so many are willing to genuflect to other men puts religion in question. Religion is not necessarily spiritual. Spirituality comes strictly from within. It is never an outside source. Unfortunately, the great majority of people equate their religion with having spirituality. This excuses many from having any self-responsibility. What is disturbing is the level so-called authoritarians know they can control the masses. The type of manipulation comes in many forms and is being applied today, especially in the news networks. It is absurd to accept everything that is being told to us without question. This creates a mob mentality that easily turns into criminal activity even if the individual (ex: legal system) is being set up as the scapegoat suspect. It works. This is all that matters to those in powerful positions. Criminal minds, for the most part, are walking among us without any concern for consequences. (This includes politicians, prosecutors, detectives and judges.)

I think about your son often. True justice must prevail. People NEED to care and become more involved. It could be them or their family members next.

William Newmiller said...

Thanks for your support. It's very true that what has happened to us could happen to anyone. Recently, I received an email from Glenn Loury. He's a former under-secretary of Education and currently a professor at Brown University. His voice is a strong force opposed to mass incarceration. He is a frequent guest on the Bill Moyers' Journal on PBS. Dr. Lourey wrote in part:

"I write to request your permission to share our correspondence with my undergraduate class on “the political economy of punishment” – a course which I teach here at Brown University under the auspices of the public policy program. By way of explanation, my goal is to remind my students (15 seminar participants who are juniors and seniors) in as graphic a manner as I can of just how closely does this behemoth of the criminal justice apparatus hover over all of our lives – including their own. No one – not you, not I, and not privileged sons or daughters of the Ivy League like themselves – is exempt."