You’ve probably heard about a literally shocking experiment in the 1960s – when Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale concerned about excessive obedience to authority in Nazi Germany, tested how big a (supposed) electric shock people were willing to give other people when told to do it by an authority figure.
All study participants administered “shocks” at significant indicated voltage levels, though some started to have doubts as the voltage rose and the reactions they saw got worse. But experimenters had four escalating responses to “prod” them into going on . . . and in the end, 65% of people continued even though they were disturbed by the experience, and even when the shocks they thought they were giving could have been fatal.
But there were some variations on the experiments. One, highlighted by author Bruce Levine in a recent article, tested whether the results would be different if the subjects saw others refuse to obey instructions to deliver a shock. With that example for tacit support, only 10% of subjects continued on to the “fatal” shock. (In the opposite variation, when subjects saw others giving the shocks too, their obedience rose to almost 100%.)
Levine notes that Milgram saw in this the basis for drawing a sharp distinction between dissent (protesting the instructions) and disobedience (actively refusing to follow them). Certainly there could have been big differences for the victims, had the shocks been real. Faced with examples of courage from others who had apparently decided that the authority of the experimenters was invalidated by the extreme actions they were ordering, many more of the test subjects gained courage to live up to their own convictions – and stepped up from passive dissent to active disobedience.
My modest proposal is that we test this overlooked conclusion – tomorrow.
We know from years of polling (by Gallup roughly every month since 2004) that more of us voters consider ourselves independent of both Democrats and Republicans than identify ourselves with either. So there are plenty of us to make a difference . . . if we vote to make a difference. And in states like Michigan where voters don’t have to register by party, the independent share may well be even higher.
For that matter, we don’t know as much about how many of us who stay with Republicans or Democrats do so only for lesser-evil reasons, and would really rather vote for someone we can truly support – because the pollsters don’t ask that as often. (Gallup polls on that only every year.) They tend instead to ask independents which of the Titanic Two they “lean” toward. In effect, they’re pressuring those who dissent from the duopoly myth to obey it anyway.
But the most recent polls do show at least some persistent dissent. Even when “leaned” on, 12% of voters surveyed still rejected the only-two-choices fallacy. And there are other signs, too. For example, last October the AFL-CIO passed a resolution on “exploring new directions for labor in electoral politics”, including “stud[ying] the viability of independent and third-party politics”. (Though my personal outreach to area unions to walk the Labor History Walk in Marshall – three times this year – didn’t turn up many explorers.)
But as that resolution says, “continuing to follow the same model, expecting different results, is not an effective strategy”.
So I call on my fellow voters in the 63rd District, Michigan, and the nation. Let’s take inspiration from those who have refused to harm their fellow human beings – in Milgram’s experiments and in the all-too-real-life equivalents. Let’s summon up our own courage, and move beyond dissenting from the duopoly to active disobedience. Let’s stand up for our principles by standing up to be counted as voting for candidates because they share those values.
If enough of us do this, we can start “en-couraging” others to do the same in the future. Sooner or later, we can give a real shock to the powers that be – the ones who have Michigan dead last in state government accountability. Perhaps the shock will even be big enough to revive government BY the People FOR the People.
Bruce Levine article on political implications of the Milgram experiment:
Gallup monthly party-affiliation polling history:
Gallup 2018 annual poll on the need for a third party:
AFL-CIO Resolution 48 (2017-10-24):