2005, issue 2, Mar/Apr
the Milgram experiments
Iranian Youths not pleased with their country’s religious fanaticism
UN General Assembly vote banning cloning
Michel Foucault, philosopher of the quarter
Life, like two sides of a coin, shares its opposite sides with different people at different times. Sometimes you are ‘up’ (motivated). Sometimes you are ‘down’ (demotivated). The latter was my case last week due largely to happenstance around me in terms of religious fanaticism and unclear-headed decision-making.
In Nigeria for instance, for instance, the President, Olusegun Obasanjo bowed to the pressure from the Imams and Ulamas for him to appoint a Muslim co-Secretary for the ongoing National Dialogue. This to me is absolute rubbish! What about the UN Declaration on Cloning? Another ‘thrash’ you will say? There are dozens of these ‘thrashes’ in the past weeks but am however happy that you can still read another edition of IHEYO YouthSpeak!
What more can I desire but to urge you to read on!
Please share your thoughts and opinions with us. You can also send in worthy news materials for publication.
I wish you a good reading with this issue. This summer we will have our fourth annual international conference, but more things are happening! Online you can read now access a summary of IHEYO's activities in the previous year. As to new activities and developments unfolds, I hope we can brief you about this in the next issue.
There are many different Humanisms as well as humanists, although I think one can characterize the diverse humanists with some broad commonalities as to outlook on morality and life (the IHEU Amsterdam declaration that IHEYO uses as definition on humanism is a good summary of that). I think then about respect for human choice and dignity and rational thinking or as I would prefer 'freethinking', the ability to question all in life and come to own reasoned vision.
There are some religious humanists, but sizeable number of humanists are either atheist or agnostics. The issue (and consequences!) of religiosity is quite a lot discussed among humanists. I found on one of the many humanist oriented sites that are around, a funny page on what one could reply as one receives a message with 'God bless you" under it, while one questions the existence of a God
(see: http://www.the-brights.net/gby_replies.htm ). Of course one can reply with a friendly thank you, but there are also other options....I will end with one here.
May the force be with you! (from Star Wars)
Gea Meijers, President, IHEYO
Would you kill for £3?
By Tom Stafford
In the 1960s psychologist Stanley Milgram tested a cross section of ordinary Americans to see if they’d administer potentially lethal electric shocks to a mild-mannered little man, sitting in an electric chair. The findings stunned the world.
Yale University professor Stanley Milgram’s 1960s’ experiments were perhaps the most important ever performed in psychology. He was interested in ‘the dilemma of obedience’, in how ordinary people could be induced to abandon their moral instincts by malevolent authority. While Milgram was specifically motivated by a desire to understand the Nazis, his findings may just as easily explain our complacency about the injustices of the global economy.
The participants in Milgram’s tests were recruited via a newspaper advertisement for ‘an experiment on learning and memory’ that promised $4.50 for one hour’s work. In the waiting room of Yale’s psychology department they met, on separate occasions, another ‘volunteer’ (actually an actor) – a small, friendly, middle-aged man with glasses. Then the stern-looking experimenter would arrive and ‘randomly’ choose the actor to be the ‘learner’ and the real volunteer to be the ‘teacher’. The experimenter would tell the teacher that the experiment concerned the use of punishment on memory; electric shocks would be delivered to the learner every time he answered a question incorrectly.
The teacher was shown the electric shock apparatus: a generator with 30 switches labelled with voltages ranging from 15 to 450 volts. Each switch also had a written rating: the most innocuous voltage had the assessment ‘slight shock’; towards the other end of the scale there was the caution ‘danger: severe shock’; the final two switches were labelled ‘XXX’.
The experimenter and the teacher would strap the learner into the electric chair, which was partitioned from the main room. The experimenter would stand while the teacher sat in the main room by the shock generator. A row of lights indicated the learner’s responses to the test questions.
The teacher would be told to increase the voltage every time the learner answered incorrectly. The learner had a script that involved him getting questions wrong and performing set responses as the teacher moved up the voltage scale. At 75 volts the learner would begin to grunt with pain. At 120 he would start to shout that the shocks were becoming painful. At 150 he would cry out that he had enough of the experiment. His protestations would turn to agonised screams at 270 volts. At 300 he would shout in desperation that he would no longer provide answers (the experimenter would inform the teacher that no answer was a wrong answer). Beyond 315 volts the learner was silent.
Shocking results The question Milgram sought to answer was very simple. What proportion of normal people would continue administering shocks up to the full lethal voltage? What proportion would act as if to kill an innocent person for no better reason than $4.50 and that they were told to by a psychology professor? There was no compulsion on the participants to continue. They were not being coerced in any way except verbally. If they questioned the experimenter he would say that he accepted full responsibility for the experiment. If questioned further he simply said: ‘You must go on.’
Before he released his results, Milgram asked a group of psychiatrists what proportion they thought would administer lethal dosages. What did these ‘experts in people’ think? They thought that only one person in a thousand – a ‘psychotic minority’ of 0.125 per cent – would deliver lethal shocks. The real proportion was 65 per cent.
The moral of Milgram’s research is clear: we must beware evil systems more than we must beware evil men. We all contain the capacity to perform evil acts, and will disregard our moral instincts if put in situations that capitalise upon our normal human weaknesses.
To investigate how different factors influence people’s behaviour Milgram implemented a number of variations to his experiment. He showed how important the proximity of the victim was to denial of responsibility; ‘only’ half as many people (still 30 per cent) would administer seemingly lethal shocks if the victim was in the same room. Another variation showed how being part of a group allowed even greater denial of responsibility; when the volunteer was part of a team of three with two additional actors primed to obey the experimenter until the bitter end, obedience was 93 per cent. (If the confederates refused to obey only 10 per cent of volunteers delivered the maximum shock.)
Any normal person in the experiment would have had doubts, but Milgram showed that people usually put such reservations aside if others conform. The ‘dissenters’ in Milgram’s experiment allowed the volunteers to realise that their doubts were legitimate. When people connect their doubts they begin to realise that they are right to worry and wrong to remain silent. This is why, in an age when an increasingly atomised society is fed by an increasingly concentrated media, forming ordinary, community-level, connections may be one of the most radical things you can do.
The importance of dissent
Professor Charlan Nemeth, of the University of California at Berkeley, has researched the effect of dissent on group decisions for 25 years. ‘Dissent,’ she says, ‘even when wrong, stimulates the kinds of thinking that leads to better and more creative solutions. While people dislike the dissenter, and will give him/her no credit for the influence on their thinking, they are more likely to read more information on all sides of the issue.
‘They will use more strategies in solving problems and they come up with better solutions. When you have no dissent, there is a tendency to disregard opposing information, rush to judgment and to assume unanimity even when it does not exist.’
People who appear to ignore dissent have been found to adopt minority opinions when asked for their views privately, later or in a different form. One experiment showing this asked groups to judge the colour of blue- and green-hued slides. Each group of six volunteers contained two plants who announced that they saw some of the blue slides as green. During the experiment there was a small but significant effect caused by this ‘dissenting’ minority; a small number of people were influenced to announce that they too saw some blues as green. But the most interesting effect was found after the end of the main experiment.
Afterwards, participants were asked in isolation to look at a continuous colour scale and judge where blue turned into green. Sure enough, all participants – even those who appeared not to have been influenced during the experiment – were more likely to judge borderline cases as green. The minority had altered people’s perception, even if it hadn’t immediately altered their behaviour.
Most psychologists interpret this kind of effect within the framework proposed by Serge Moscovici. Moscovici proposed that while majorities tend to influence people by compliance – immediate, public, conformity –, minorities tend to influence people by conversion – slow-acting changes on their private thinking. This influence of minority opinions may be so subtle as to affect people without them even realising it.
Subjects who were exposed to disobedience in Milgram’s studies usually reported that they were not affected by the behaviour of the ‘rebels’. They claimed they would have stopped administering shocks anyway. The results tell a different story: compliance with the experimenter’s orders was 83 per cent higher when other people involved were obedient.
It looks like the task of the dissenting minority will always be a thankless one. Although it influences other people, it is seldom credited for doing so. We’ll never know, for example, the extent to which the dedication of anti-war activists fundamentally altered the plans for the current Iraq campaign.
Conformity, on the other hand, is the dark side of human sociability. Just as it’s natural for us to love, to share, to give support and to look to others for support, so it is also all too natural to take our lead from the majority, to act as others act, to remain silent when others remain silent. Research like Milgram’s demonstrates just how powerful conformity can be. But the same research also contains seeds of hope: when conformity is the norm, the power rests with dissenting voices. So the moral is clear: although it can feel hopeless to be in the minority, you can have a powerful effect. But you’ll never be thanked for it.
Tom Stafford was as at 22/05/03 a final-year psychology PhD student at Sheffield University
Culled from http://www.theecologist.org/archive_article.html?article=427.
IHEYO Annual Report now online!
2004 was an exciting year for IHEYO: organising the humanist conference in Uganda, formally approving the membership application of 18 member organisations, another young humanist leader had her internship, more issues of YouthSpeak! than ever before were published, IHEYO young leaders represented humanist youth at many international events and even more work were done!
Check out http://www.iheyo.org/report2004.htm for full report and summary.
British school uniforms may need review
British schools are known for their strict school uniforms, but that might have to change now. A British court have decided that the schools cannot deny Muslim girls to wear a full length gown called «jilbab» at school without violating their human rights.
The then 15-year-old Shabina Begum informed her school that she intended to wear such a gown, and her school replied by sending her home when she turned up dressed as she preferred. Miss Begum then appealed to the court, accusing Denbigh High School in Bedfordshire of denying her the "right to education and to manifest her religious beliefs"
The court gave her a full victory, and called for British school authority to issue new guidelines on school uniforms that takes into consideration the pupil's human rights. «It is amazing that in the so-called free world I have to fight to wear this attire», miss Begum (now 16) told the BBC outside the court after the ruling was announced.
Anti-Islam conference lists Abbott
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has been listed to appear as the main speaker at an anti-Islamic Christian conference in May. The conference's theme is how Islam is destroying Australia's Christian values.
The Daily Telegraph has learned that the minister, who is pushing a Christian-backed anti-abortion agenda, is listed as the keynote speaker at the fundamentalist gathering. His topics are to include Christian values and abortion.
Majority of Iranian Youths not pleased with their country’s religious fanaticism!
The dream of many young Iranians is to leave the country, and half consider themselves secular. These surprising findings emerged from a newly released study of Iranians aged between 15 and 29, by Iran's National Youth Organization. A total of 44 per cent of young people surveyed wish to leave Iran, and 50 per cent say they are secular and believe that helping others is more important than prayer.
UN General Assembly approves declaration banning all forms of cloning
…declaration frustrates Scientists
The United Nations General Assembly on 8th March, 2005 approved a non-binding declaration calling on all UN Member States to ban all forms of human cloning, including cloning for medical treatment, as incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.
By a vote of 84 in favour, 34 against and 37 abstaining, with 36 absent, the Assembly acted on the recommendation of its Legal, or Sixth, Committee to adopt the text, called the United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning. But some delegates said they opposed banning therapeutic cloning.
The Declaration, negotiated by a Working Group last month, also banned "genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity." It called on States "to prevent the exploitation of women in the application of life sciences" and "to protect adequately human life in the application of life sciences." Those who voted for the Declaration welcomed it as a clear _expression of the ethical norms that should guide scientific research.
The British delegate, who voted against, said the Assembly had missed an opportunity to adopt a convention prohibiting reproductive cloning because of the intransigence of those who failed to recognize that other sovereign States might want to permit strictly controlled applications of therapeutic cloning. Echoing the views of a number of speakers, he said the Declaration was a non-binding political statement, which would not affect his country's position on the issue. China, which voted against, said the prohibitions in the text might be "misunderstood" as covering all forms of cloning and the Declaration had failed to include the different positions of delegates on ethical, moral and religious concerns. It noted that it would maintain strict controls over therapeutic cloning.
Even though the Declaration carries no penalties, many scientists are frustrated because they had hoped that the UN would use its influence to ban reproductive cloning, which no nation advocates.
More must be done to avoid muslim-christian violence in Nigeria
While commendable initiatives have been adopted in Nigeria by both the state and civil society to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians, more efforts must be made to avoid further violence, according to a United Nations expert on of religion. "While the Government of Nigeria has always demonstrated a high respect for the right to freedom of religion, tensions and lack of understanding between the two major religions of the country have led to a number of instances of violence and religious intolerance," the UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, said in a statement yesterday after a one-week visit. "A number of cases of religious discrimination and intimidation have been brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur by both Muslims and Christians. In addition, lack of respect for traditional religions has been reported, which may result in a denial of their participation in mainstream national policies," she added.
While she said she was "positively impressed by the peaceful andharmonious coexistence of different religions and ethnicities, which in many ways is the strength of Nigeria," Ms. Jahangir noted that newly-adopted legal systems based on religion and applicable to members of the corresponding religious community may raise human rights concerns, including vis-à-vis women and other coexisting religious groups.
During her mission, she met with President Olusegun Obasanjo and other Government officials as well as with representatives of civil society, including members of different religious communities and she expressed her gratitude to the Government for its cooperation throughout her visit.
A woman had two female parrots who were always yelling, "We're prostitutes, wanna have a little fun?" One day, she was talking to her Preacher about this. He said he had two male parrots and all they did was read the Bible. He thought perhaps they would be a good influence on the two females. So they put the four parrots together. So, the females yelled at the male parrots, "We're prostitutes, wanna have a little fun?" One male parrot said to the other, "Put the Bibles away! We've made it to heaven!"
The altar boy
The head priest at a certain church was out for the day, so he asked the deacon to do confession for him. The deacon agrees, and the first person that comes says, "Forgive me, for I just gave a guy a blow job." He says, "You have sinned." Then he looks at the sheet on the wall that had punishments for certain sins on it, but blow job was not on there, so he went out to ask one of the Priests around what he usually gives for a blow job. The Priest answered, "Oh, about five dollars."
Jesus in the Bathroom
One day in Sunday school, the teacher was talking about Jesus is to the kids, "Bobby, where is Jesus?" asked the teacher. "Jesus is in heaven." replied Bobby. "Very good!", said the teacher. The teacher then asked a little girl," Where is Jesus, Emily?". Emily said innocently, "Jesus is in my heart!". The teacher beamed at little Emily and said, "How very sweet!!!". The teacher now asked Timmy, "Timmy, where is Jesus?". "Jesus is in my bathroom." he said assuredly. "Please elaborate, Timmy.", the teacher said. Timmy then replied, "Well, every morning my dad gets up, bangs on the bathroom door and yells. Jesus Christ, are you still in there!!!"
PHILOSOPHER OF THE QUARTER
Michel Foucault (French philosopher, 1926-1984)
“Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatized in turn by Christianity, by philosophy and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity, futility. I like the word however. To me it suggests something altogether different: it evokes "concern"; it evokes the care one takes for what exists and could exist; an acute sense of the real which, however, never becomes fixed; a readiness to find our surroundings strange and singular; a certain relentlessness in ridding ourselves of our familiarities and looking at things otherwise; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is passing away; a lack of respect for traditional hierarchies of the important and the essential.”
- Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault is well known for his critiques of various social Institutions most notably psychiatry, medicine and the prison system, and also for his ideas on the history of sexuality. His general theories concerning power and the relation between power and knowledge, as well as his ideas concerning" discourse" in relation to the history of Western thought have been widely discussed and applied.
To learn more about this philosopher, have a look at
http://www.qut.edu.au/edu/cpol/foucault/ or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
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