Recently Anonymous experienced slightly more than usual edramatica when Presstorm’s Jamie Jo Corne made what have since been totally discredited claims to be “studying” Anonymous based on Stanley Milgram’s experiments of the 1970s, in which researchers were able to coerce subjects into thinking they were delivering even lethal electric shocks to research participants.
Common wisdom of that time said that the American psyche was immune to the influence of authoritarianism. Nothing like the Nuremberg trials would ever be necessary. My Lai shattered that illusory notion, and perhaps as an exercise in national soul-searching, researchers undertook to examine the conditions under which normal people would engage in sociopathic behavior.
A similar project known as the Stanford Prison experiment would also be later roundly criticized on ethical grounds.
In defense of these research projects however, many modern critics may not considering the context in which these experiments were contrived. Turbulent, near-revolutionary conditions were wide-spread on college campuses and urban core areas during the late ’60s and early ’70s, in reaction to widespread social injustices and a growing discontent with the war propaganda and mounting casualties on both sides. Whether or not these experiments should have been conducted, the results were shocking and unexpected; the way Americans viewed themselves would be dramatically altered ever after.
Fast forward 30 years to Abu Ghraib and similar scandals. Good citizens, now conveniently “over” the Viet Nam syndrome, expressed shock and horror that these few “bad apples” (who took the rap for those who gave the orders, and those above them who crafted the torture policy), irrevocably tarnished the image of the United States and compromised the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqi citizens, whose welcome we had worn out long before these atrocities were exposed.
Now, given the overwhelming evidence that most of us just go with the program, whatever that may be, think about how truly extraordinarily unique and precious it is when someone doesn’t.