Thursday, September 30, 2004

In Which I Amble Along a Big, Circular Path Before Returning Back to My Original Topic - Authority

It was over 40 years ago, in 1961, that Stanley Milgram undertook his famous, or should I say infamous experiments in Obediance to authority. It's one of those things you learn about in Psych 101 -- the professor brings in the old, grainy, black and white video (or projector if your professor is super-duper old-school or if you go to a really shitty college) and you watch as unknowing subject upon unknowing subject administers painful electric shocks to a person they cannot see, just hear. The person whimpers in the distance, begging not to be shocked. But a "scientist" insists that the experiment goes on--that the subject keeps adminstering the shocks. Despite obvious discomfort, the subject generally keeps shocking until the shockee is rendered silent.

What they don't know? There is no real electric shock. The guy they think they are shocking is actually just an actor--albeit one who is excellent at whimpering pathetically.

Ethics would never allow such an experiment today, of course. (All the 'good' ones are that way--dammit!) But the implications of it were so far-reaching that, as I said, it's still the stuff of Psych 101 today.

Unquestioning obediance to authority figures (or perceived authority figures) is something I never really bought into, personally. Anyone who knew me as a child can reiterate this for you. I was always as I am now, raising my eyebrow disdainfully at the nuns and refusing to do what my parents asked of me unless they delivered a sensible explanation for why I should do said thing. Respect was, and still is in my eyes, something you earn by your actions, not something I would deliver to you unquestioningly.

I was a pain in the ass that way.

I see this strange "Obey the Authority Figures At All Costs" phenomenon quite often at work. It's crazy, really. How did physicians become an "authority figure"? Somehow, they are. I watch and listen as people's doctors make horrible suggestions, prescribe dangerous drugs, refuse to refer them to a specialist for something far beyond the doctor's personal realm of expertise. The consequences of some of these monumental fuck-ups are, well, monumental. Sometimes the patient is so embarrassed to return to a doctor who made him or her feel stupid that they don't go back. They don't call to ask if they should be having "that" reaction to their prescribed drugs. They sometimes die.

This crap pisses me off. People, your doctor is hired by you. To perform a service. If he or she is not performing up to par, freaking fire him/her already. It never ceases to amaze me that the same people who will pitch a ginormous fit right in a salon over what they perceive as a bad haircut will keep going back to the same crappy doctor who belittles them, doesn't have time for their questions, or makes bad decisions. (Note: telling your fat ass to lose weight already or your smelly ass to quit smoking does not qualify as belittling. Lose some weight, fat ass!)

Note to doctors: Don't do these things to people. When someone tells me you have done one of those things, I will send an ambassador to gently teach you the "right" way to be a doctor. If you don't change, I will fucking fire your ass. Hard to keep a steady patient base when an insurer won't cover you. And my clients deserve good doctors. So there.

All of this discussion about authority figures is kind of a roundabout way to share with you a hypothesis I was bouncing off of Sean this morning as I slurped coffee and he crunched corn flakes (Now with Bananas!). This is often how my hypotheses occur--before either one of us are really bright enough to hold our own in the ensuing discussion. It can get quite messy, really.

(That's the problem with keeping news radio on in the morning--they will mention something about Bush. And indubitably, it will piss me off and I will get all in a tither.)

Anyhow. So. My hypothesis. I was asking, audibly, "Who the FUCK in their RIGHT MIND would vote for Bush? This is NOT a rhetorical question. I REALLY DON'T understand! WHY would anyone DO THAT?"

Then, all of a sudden, I knew. Because he is the president. An authority figure. A major authority figure. And he is saying "Vote for me!". So, it stands to reason that one should. I mean, who is this John Kerry guy saying I should vote for him? He's not the boss of me. The president is the boss of me!

In essence, I believe that people will vote for him simply because he is the president.

There you have it. The power of Authority, as proved by Milgram and Redpanda.

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