The Milgram Experiment, the APA and Accommodating Empire

“STEVEN REISNER: Well, this was—this is chilling to listen to the description of a psychologist [James Mitchell] dedicated to the public good and individual well-being talking about destroying a prisoner’s mind and body. And it was chilling to the medical professionals in the CIA, who were pushing back. It was chilling to the inspector general, who was pushing back. The program was shut down. And just at that moment when the program was shut down, the Office of Legal Counsel, the White House, some members of the CIA and the American Psychological Association appear to have all worked together to revive that program and to find the rationale for psychologists to be able to help that program continue”

— Democracy Now.

This appears to be a variation on the Milgram Experiment outcome, whereby someone is ‘invited’ to participate in a torture scenario, and the prospect of empowerment by ‘authority’ to torture–now, ‘sanctioned torture’–drives that participant to the moral and legal edge, and then over…

The irony here is this: the Milgram Experiment was overseen by a psychologist–Stanley Milgram, of Yale U.–whose academic and clinical focus was the volunteer/participant in the study, i.e., although SM oversaw the ‘experiment’ with the volunteer, the outcome of the experiment was that the volunteer/participant proposed to the psychologist (i.e., ‘authority figure’) the level of torture to be inflicted.

Here, in a reversal of power roles, we have the ‘volunteer/participant’ in the Bush torture programme–psychologist James Mitchell of the APA–proposing to his authority figure–ultimately, the Bush/Cheney regime–the level of torture to be inflicted…it is the Milgram Experiment outcome for a new era…

from Wikipedia:

“The experiments began in July 1961, in the basement of Linsly-Chittenden Hall at Yale University, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the popular question at that particular time: ‘Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?’ The experiments have been repeated many times in the following years with consistent results within differing societies, although not with the same percentages around the globe.”

Milgram, it is to be noted, designed his ‘experiment’ with the compelling events of the Eichmann trial in mind–i.e., that of the mindset of a war criminal (Eichmann). Here, in this recent unfolding, we have APA members not only involved in the torture, but aiding and abetting them as well. The chronicle of US torture has come full circle with the Mitchell/Jessen/Brandon, et al., zeal to sadism as war crime.

That is, we studied a war criminal, and, subsequently, we became the war criminal. Robert Jackson of the Nuremburg tribunal cautioned, and we chose not to heed that warning: the return of the repressed.

The key point with correlating the Milgram Experiment to the Jessen/Mitchell ‘dalliance’ with the Bush/Cheney torture regime is this: in the Milgram Experiment, what Stanley Milgram (and his colleagues) came away with was the utter zeal demonstrated by those finding an ‘option’ to torture another human being–this repellent, obsequious zeal to…’please,’ to ‘satisfy’ (‘satiate’?) the ‘authority figure’ is present in the current APA torture event.

The APA was the willing liaison between Bush/Cheney and the somewhat reluctant CIA (there may yet be a ‘link’ to Obama’s regime as well…). They (Mitchell, Jessen, Brandon et al.) offered the Bush/Cheney regime the cachet of APA endorsement to coax along this torture programme so eagerly sought by the White House…

And, the motive? For the Milgram Experiment volunteer/participant, the impetus of his ‘obedience’ was–what?–an idée fixe, with the authority figure displacing any moral conscience–an identification with power.

With the APA members, the ‘reward’ had yet another dimension, befitting our obsession with career/financial gain: a lucrative contract with the CIA? a career-move pathway inside the Beltway? Or, both…

In both instances, however, the outcome is the same: blinded by the opportunity to accommodate Power, we disavow the moral, in the first instance in a momentary lapse, in the second, the idée fixe abides. Empire persists, and the American psyche replicates its morally bankrupt, destructive contours…

Dean Taylor endures the violent machinations of Empire–its life-threatening disruptions and Ivy-League dissembling–from the Bay Area. The tenor sax and Eric Dolphy keep him on an even keel. dolphy712@gmail.com



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