Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Milgram's shock experiment

A quote from Cover's "Violence and the Word" about the psycho-sociology of how we shift our view of our own actions from "autonomous" to "agents" in different situations. This is in re the meta-experiment where people told themselves it was okay to shock a student during a professor's learning experiment.
The most developed part of the theory relies heavily on the
distinction he draws between acting in an "autonomous" state and
acting in an "agentic" state. Milgram posits the evolution of a human
disposition to act "agentically" within hierarchies, since the members
of organized hierarchies were traditionally more likely to survive
than were members of less organized social groups. Concurrently, the
"conscience" or "superego" evolved in response to the need for
autonomous behavior or judgment given the evolution of social
structures. It is this autonomous behavior which inhibits the
infliction of pain on others. But the regulators for individual
autonomous behavior had to be capable of being suppressed or
subordinated to the characteristics of agentic behavior when
individuals acted within an hierarchical structure.

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