The Milgram Experiment: ‘The Perils of Obedience’ with COVID-19


Ever since our Idaho’s Governor’s 2nd “stay in place” order I have talked to many conservatives who cannot begin to fathom not only the bases of the 2nd order, but the willingness of so many people to turn over basic life decisions of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to agencies of a broken bureaucratic administrative system. I agreed with our Governor’s “stay in place” order on April 15th because I believed that we did not truly understand the nature of the beast and our ability to slay the “dragon”.

As time went on, I saw how information was being manipulated by a press that itself had a preset agenda and was committed to a political narrative and by government bureaucrats who failed to put the data in context. In the Treasure Valley, we have 80 ICU hospital beds with ventilators at the ready, and we have never had more than 5 patients in need of that kind of acute care at any one time. There has never been a curve to crush. We were told that the original mitigation strategy was logistical. Has the strategy or goal changed?

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The chance of a patient dying of COVID-19 complications is measured by a case per population fatality rate of 0.09%. Any person living in Idaho has twice the chance of dying in a car accident than they do of a COVID-19 related condition. If you take people under the age of 70 that number becomes 10 times greater for a car accident. The chance of being hospitalized for the disease is less than 1% if you are less than 30—and why did we close our schools? The use of modeling that severely overestimated the nature and extent of the threat, and the inability of decision makers to discern the different conditions that determined the extent of the threat comorbid factors of patients like diabetes, obesity and heart failure and most of all age, living conditions with a concentration of populations being a primary factor in determining the Ro efficiency of spread of the virus from person to person, foreign travel and public transportation being major controlling factors, and the actual time the virus has been in certain locals offering a degree of “herd immunity” to the general population have seldom been discussed-purposefully.

I believe because the “experts” think¬†they can better control decision making by individuals¬†when they can control the flow of data thus placing individuals in a supplicant position to government. They have purposefully injected fear instead of concern into the equation. And I shouldn’t have to remind Idahoans that the opposite of fear is faith and hope two attributes that Idaho citizens seem to have that our elected leaders lack and should I also mention courage?

Any person who has taken a basic psychology course in college is familiar with the Milgram Experiment from 1963 – 1973 1st reported on in a paper entitled “The Perils of Obedience”. In the experiment, the test subjects were placed in a position where they would think they were shocking students that were giving wrong answers to word pair questions. The students who were actors feigning pain with each shock would yell and scream. The test subjects, there were originally 30 continued giving the shocks up to 350 Volts thus bringing the students close to death so the test subjects thought, but they had been manipulated by a proctor to believe that it was in the students best interest in order to complete the study for academic credit. 95% of the test subjects continued shocking despite the screams!

Other experiments based on this same model have been conducted over the years including the “agency” experiment where it was identified that if the subjects allowed others to direct their actions they would be less likely to be responsible for the ramifications of their actions the antithesis of conservative morality that emphasizes individual responsibility and accountability. After two decades and many different experiments Dr. Milgram came to two similar conclusions:

“People will obey orders from other people if they are placed in a position of dependency in relationship to the person in charge of the experiment.”

“When people are placed in an agentic state allowing others to act as their agent, they are more likely to support and direct an amoral action.”

Many people are very happy with government being in a position of agency and making decisions for them. What they give up in liberty they also give to an agent translocated accountability. We will see how that works out when the agent becomes the referee in determining who is essential and who will work.

It is said that not infrequently Albert Einstein would walk through the library at Princeton in his later years just to fathom and appreciate how much he didn’t begin to understand. Today he would certainly be considered an “expert”. What is an expert and do we really want them to have agency over our lives? Will third party agents make better decisions for us individually and for our families? Einstein recognized his limitations of expertise but so many experts fail to do the same. They only know what they know, and sometimes are so prideful they don’t admit to what they don’t know.

Start with the idea that expertise is necessarily narrow. It is unusual for anyone to be an expert in more than one discipline. But the problems before us are placed in many tranches that require coordinating various areas of knowledge. Both Aristotle and Adam Smith talked of the division of labor and the need to co-ordinate knowledge. Individuals living in a world of millions of individuals are far better able to make decisions for themselves than having a centralized body making “common rules” that apply to everyone. What is needed is to have individuals in policy making positions who are “architects”. The word comes from the Greek “arch” ruling principle, and “techne” which means to build. A modern day architect doesn’t set the girders lay concrete, but he sets the principles and rules that build the building.

We need leaders of our institutions in the public sector and our politicians to “build with principles” The same principles that were given to us in our founding documents will best rule us in times that challenge us. Let’s make sure we insist that our “agents” that set policy play by the right set of rules.

From “Cold Dead Hands” A Facebook Post I received today from an Idahoan who lost his job recently. Some questions for the “experts”: How many children should starve before you feel safe? How many families must go bankrupt before you feel safe? How many business owners should lose everything they have worked for to make you feel safe? How many people have to lose their jobs their health insurance their life savings -to make you feel safe? Have the experts come up with a metric to answer those questions? Do we already have a template given to us by our Founders that can help us answer these questions? Remember what Ben Franklin told us He who gives up liberty to purchase safety will have neither”

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