Monday, December 22, 2008

In Which I Carefully Avoid Puns on "Shocking"

I don't know if I can do this justice.

The Milgram experiment was ground breaking for many reasons. It was one of the first social experiments that opened the door on the fact that humans do not occupy some special or exalted position in the natural order. Most people assume the existance of some Platonic, indeliable substance that makes up the "true" them. That if you altered every detectable outside quality, there'd still be an inherent "Bob"-ness or "Jane"-ness to them. That no matter how circumstances change "they" will remain. Though this is starting to get into the philosophical, the point I'm trying to make is that we are as susceptible to primate dominace structures and Pavlovian conditioning as our ancestors, if not more.

I think I first read about the famous experiment the year after I graduated high school. This was a time of exploration and self discovery for me. Now free of arbitrary goals and restrictions, and having just recoverd from my life's first big emotional upheaval, I wanted to know who this new human would be.
I think I began to understand, at that time, how much I hate falsehood, and lies. And that the world we interact with is really an internal construct, that does not necessarily represent the real world very accurately at all. If we do not test our assumptions, then some day a foundation that you've always trusted could easily betray you.

So all this ran through my mind, and slowly accreted, killing who I once was, and creating who I was then.

But I think the real take away message is actually about other people, rather than perceptions. It's a little easier to empathise with people when you don't think of them as inherently jerkass. So the next time some asshole does or says something to you inducing apoplectic fury, remember that you might be as stupid, had you not had the benefits of your conditions.

Echoing the article: "When we see people acting out of character, the first thing we should ask is: 'What's going on in this situation?'"

Which reminds me of something I've always kept near and dear to my heart (ooo, hoity-toity-ness max!) :
"Whenever you feel like criticising anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had."
Fun as it is to quote The Great Gatsby, I really think it'd be a much better world if, as we went about our lives, we kept something like this in mind.