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Believing the Unreal


In reading The Wisdom of Crowds, I came across an interesting experiment.

A guy named Solomon Asch conducted an experiment on conformity...

The participants - the real subject and [eight] confederates - were all seated in a classroom where they were told to announce their judgment of the length of several lines drawn on a series of displays. They were asked which line was longer than the other, which were the same length, etc. The confederates had been prearranged to all give an incorrect answer to the tests.

Many subjects showed extreme discomfort, but a high proportion (33%) conformed to the erroneous majority view of the others in the room, even when the majority said that two lines different in length by several inches were the same length. Control subjects with no exposure to a majority view had no trouble giving the correct answer.

He later held a similar experiment, but gave the subject an ally who would tell the truth. What he found was that even if the subject had only a single ally, the subject would stick to their personal perception and not conform to the group.

After finding Asch's experiments on Wikipedia, I found a guy named Milgram, who conducted a really fiendish experiment.

A slip of paper is given to the participant, another to the confederate. The participant is led to believe that one of the slips says "learner" and one says "teacher" and that he is randomly given one of the slips. The actor claims to have been assigned as "learner," so the participant is led to believe that the roles have been chosen randomly. In actuality both slips say "teacher," while the actor just misreports what is on his slip; no element of randomness is involved.

The participant chosen as the teacher is given a sample 45-volt electric shock from the electro-shock generator, as a "sample" of the shock the "learner" will supposedly receive during the experiment. The "teacher" is then given a list of word pairs which he is to teach the learner. The teacher begins by reading off a list of word pairs to the learner. After reading through the word pairs, the teacher will then only read the first half of the word pairs, and read 4 possible answers. The learner will indicate which second word he believes to be correct by pressing a button (1 through 4) corresponding to the teacher's choices. If incorrect, the learner will receive a shock, increasing by 15 volts with each wrong answer. If correct, the next word pair is read.

The teacher believes that he is actually giving shocks to the learner participant. In reality, there are no shocks being given to the learner. Once the learner was separated, the learner set up a tape recorder, integrated with the electro-shock generator, which would play pre-recorded tracks at certain shock levels. At 135 volts the learner's pre-recorded pleas of agony begin. After a certain number of level increases, the actor starts to bang on the wall that separates him from the teacher (subject). After banging on the wall and complaining of his heart condition (which he talked about at the beginning of the experiment), the learner gives no further response to the questions and no further complaints.

If, at any time, the subject indicates his desire to halt the experiment he is given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, such as: "The experiment requires that you continue. Please go on." If the subject still wishes to stop after four successive verbal prods, the experiment is halted.

This experiment in authority pressure, very twisted in nature, had some amazing results.
In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65 percent of experimental participants administered the experiment's final 450-volt shock, though many were quite uncomfortable in doing so. No participant stopped before the 300-volt level. Variants of the experiment were later performed by Milgram himself and other psychologists around the world with similar results. Apart from confirming the original results the variations have tested variables in the experimental setup.
(Emphasis mine.)

If a terrorist group shows themselves an ally to an individual's initial prejudice and hate, and stokes that with alliance, Milgram shows us that it wouldn't take much authority to "coerce" people to hurt others.

One participant in Milgram's study said this:

While I was a [participant] in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority.
It doesn't take much to turn a normally peaceful person to hurt others in a desire to obey authority.

What would have prevented this participant from dealing these severe 400+ volt shocks? What if one person had been there to question the authority?

This is why it's going to take a profound effort on the part of Muslims to push back hard against these violent leaders and their teachings. There must be someone there to openly question these teachings and tether the would-be terrorist to humanity to prevent these attrocities. Otherwise, it's only going to be endless violence.

We in the West may not be able to able to reach the terrorists, but we can exert pressure on the local/national Muslim community to put pressure on those within their midst. Media won't help with this because they only know that if it bleeds, it leads.

It's going to take a more activist role on the part of individuals. This is everyone's fight because anyone can become a victim of it.

What can you do? Supporting the troops is good and necessary, but beyond that - what can you do? How can you help to reduce their necessary fight?


Tags: terrorism
by Brett Rogers, 7/23/2005 8:20:52 PM


Very interesting.
If someone is a born leader and someone is a born follower it's not hard for a leader to get hundreds of thousands of followers. Add to that the followers have absolutely nothing to lose from joining the leader in what ever cause it may be. Add to that the followers have no money, no real hopes of making any money to support their family or there isn't any hope or desire to start a family because there is no hope.
Many people are baffled by the female suicide bombers. What is so baffling about this? Because they are female? Many (females) have been cast aside by their families, either because their husbands left them, they were brutilized by their families and now the family will have nothing, and I do mean nothing, to do with them, or the same family or husband burned them (almost always on the face) in some very brutal manner and now the female can never remarry because no man wants her and her family will not have anything to do with her because she has brought shame upon them; therefore she has no way to support herself and she has no support network or friends therefore what does she have to lose by joining a terrorist group?
Actually, she has everything to gain. She gains friends and she now has a support group (much like any gang). Plus, by willing to die for your country or cause you are now a martyr and seen as a hero by your leader, friends, and country. If you were in the same situation what would you choose? Die alone, penniless, and live the life of a begger and shunned by everyone. Add to that; female and therefore you are less than the dirt you sit on. Or, have a place to live, food to eat, friends, support, and die a hero.



Posted by Anonymous, 7/25/2005 9:52:04 AM

Female bombers... great point. I wonder what the ratio is of male to female murderers?

I'm also surprised that American feminists aren't far more vocal in seeking rights for women in suppressive countries/societies. These women certainly need that from everywhere around the globe where support can be voiced and changes demanded.



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 7/25/2005 10:04:07 AM

That would be interesting to find out. I just may try and find that today.

I think slowly American women are beginning to realize the plight of women around the world, and not just in Muslim communities, but all over the world. Slavery is still going on here in America and it's happening right next door. Women are being brought in from other countries to be sex slaves and domestic workers by good old Americans

It is suprising to me, having Women's Studies as a minor, that there have been times where I am more aware of what is going on around the world than my teacher is. I know more about feminist magazines and issues than my teacher does. (scary)
Also, not to sound like a commercial, but it takes very, very little to help a women over in another country try and better herself. Sometimes something as little as a letter just to let her know there is someone out there who cares.
There are several great orginizations however, Women for Women International is one of the best. Instead of giving women money over and over again they give women skills to better themselves. Instead of giving a woman money to open a store of her own, they give her a loan. (Sort of the, if you give a man a fish he eats for a day, you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime approach) Their website is:

I am now off my soapbox.



Posted by Anonymous, 7/25/2005 10:29:59 AM

Thanks for the link - I'll check that out later. Sounds cool.

And yes, if these women knew that they had allies to stand up to barbarous treatment, they might do exactly what American women did in fighting for the free exercise of their rights and freedoms.

That's worth fighting for and shouting about.



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 7/25/2005 1:37:10 PM

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