[ExI] The Milgram Experiment

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Fri Sep 3 20:44:00 UTC 2010

>From the article:

> Because the ruled always outnumber the ruler, La Boetie wrote, the ruled
> can free themselves at any time "merely by willing to be free."

That's a pretty huge oversimplification.

For one, you don't just have to will yourself free; you have to get enough
people to join in alongside you.  Because most people are afraid of anarchy
and afraid of being failed revolutionaries, they won't want to join you in
pulling support until they think that a big enough group of people is going
to do it as well.  So you have to figure out a way to get the ball rolling,
which can be difficult.

Second, people are frequently willing to submit to an authority because they
believe the alternatives to be the worse of many evils.  So you can't just
pull support; you have to show people that something better will be there to
fulfill the positive roles the authority played (suppressing other violence,
maintaining an economy, insuring that the people have access to basic
resources, etc.).  This effect is especially strong under many of the more
oppressive rulers, because they frequently make sure that their subjects
depend upon them for resources (via state control of resources as in
Stalinism, the ownership setups in feudalism, state welfare in socialist
states, religious authority in theocracies, etc.).

Third, the rulers may always be a minority in terms of number of people, but
(in a point related to the previous one) they frequently have control of the
majority of resources, especially military resources.  A minority with guns
can usually suppress a majority with pitchforks.  So you have to ensure that
you have access to enough technological resources to defend against the
ruling group in case they decide to bring you back under control by force.

Most of this applies even if you're working with a group of perfectly
rational agents.  The Milgram experiment (and related ones) gives clear
evidence that humans are not that rational with regard to their relationship
with authority (which makes sense evolutionarily if you assume that most
people wouldn't think that much about this kind of stuff).  Thus, we have a
problematic situation for even rational agents compounded by our screwy
relationship with authority.

Jebadiah Moore
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