I’ve been thinking about the quote from Montaigne excerpted in the film Experimenter: “We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”
Twisty thing, the mind. Slippery thing, self-image.
The 65% of people who flipped the switch to administer supposedly harmful and possibly fatal shocks to a fellow human in Milgram’s experiments in the 1960s would not have believed themselves capable of acting against their individual moral code at the behest of an authority, apparently causing severe harm to another person at that authority’s insistence. I would like to think that I wouldn’t have been capable. That I won’t be capable, should I find myself in a similar situation. That I don’t have to be frightened of myself.
But I’ve bowed down to authorities. Found reasons to obey. To rationalize or to allow or to excuse or be meek. I know I can fail. And that sometimes I have good reason to be frightened of myself.
The subjects in Milgram’s experiment were told that “the experiment requires” them to comply. The authority in that case was the experimenter and, more generally, science.
Today, in 2017, many people who willfully ignore the authority of science, who mistrust education and the lessons of history, who reject out of hand any claims with which they disagree … these same people with no doubt good reasons to doubt authority now vehemently cede all authority to a man who defies all reason. A man who, with every passing day, shows by his actions that he will gleefully flip the switch on all of us just to make a buck or to inflate his self-image.
Shaky thing, that man’s finger.
Can we flip the script before he flips the switch?