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Blind Obedience to Authority Harms Others and Oneself

May 1, 2022 |   By a Falun Gong practitioner in Shandong Province, China

(Minghui.org) Millions of people were killed during the Holocaust, and many researchers have since studied how this could have happened. Among them was psychologist Stanley Milgram from Yale University. His studies of obedience to authority, known as the Milgram experiment, helped to explained the Nazi atrocities, and has also shed light on later such abuses.

The Milgram Experiment

Milgram began his experiment in July 1961, one year after Adolf Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiment to investigate the validity of a common explanation for the Holocaust, that is, Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures.

In the experiment, Milgram recruited 40 volunteers to participate in a study of memory and learning. They were introduced to one of Milgram’s confederates, who pretended to be a participant. They drew lots to find out who would play the role of “teacher” and who would play the “learner.” But the draw was fixed so the participant was always the teacher and Milgram’s confederate was always the learner.

Following instructions from the experimenter, the learner was seated in a chair with arms strapped and an electrode attached to his wrist. He was then given a list of word pairs to learn.

The teacher saw this before being led to another room, where he was seated before an electric shock generator. The teacher was required to name a word and ask the learner to recall its pair from the word pairs. When a correct answer was received, the teacher would move to the next word. If an incorrect answer was received, the teacher would apply an electric shock to the learner, from 15 volts with increments of 15-volts all the way up to the most severe shock of 450 volts.

As a matter of fact, the learner only pretended to be shocked and there was no electric shock at all. The purpose of this experiment was to evaluate how a person would proceed in a concrete and measurable situation.

An Unexpected Result

Milgram found that 65% of the experiment participants applied the highest level of 450-volt shock – which could lead to serious damage or death if the learner was indeed shocked. This was very different from the pre-experiment survey which found that less than 3% of the participants would apply electric shock to the learner for giving the wrong answers.

Every participant paused the experiment at least once to ask the experimenter if they should continue applying electric shocks for wrong answers, but most continued after being assured by the experimenter. Later on, Milgram and other psychologists also performed similar experiments, and the results were similar.

Such an unexpected result could help explain tragedies such as the Holocaust.

“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process,” Milgram wrote in the book of Obedience to Authority. “Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

From One Person to a Nationwide Suppression

Unfortunately, similar things have occured again in more recent times. Tens of millions of practitioners have been targeted for upholding their belief in Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance since the former Party (CCP) leader Jiang Zemin began to persecute Falun Gong in July 1999.

A large number of practitioners were arrested, detained, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed. Some suffered psychiatric abuse and others custom killed for their organs, such as heart, liver and lungs.

The persecution was implemented through a Gestapo-type organization known as 610 Office, which was established on June 10, 1999. Similar to the Holocaust, “these inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only have been carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of people obeyed orders,” wrote Milgram.

Just like Nazi war criminals who were held accountable in Nuremberg trials, the CCP officials involved in the persecution will also face consequences sooner or later.

In fact, the CCP is known for executing various scapegoats after various political campaigns to ease public anger. One example was after the Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. 793 police officers and 17 military officers were taken to the remote Yunnan Province and executed secretly. Their families only received a piece of paper – “Notice of death in the line of duty.” Liu Chuanxin, then police chief in Beijing, heard about the plan, saw his name on the list and committed suicide in advance.

Ingo Heinrich, an East German soldier, killed Chris Gueffroy in 1989 as the latter and his friend tried to cross the Berlin Wall. Although Heinrich believed himself innocent since he was merely following an order, the judge acknowledged that while it was inappropriate to disobey the order, it would cause no harm if the gun was raised one inch higher for the victim to be spared. When laws contradict conscience, the latter carries more weight. In the end, Heinrich was convicted.

Here is another example.

The persecution of Falun Gong was running rampant in 2004 and Jiang Zemin sent his agents overseas to seek a “settlement” with Falun Gong. As long as Falun Gong stopped holding Jiang responsible for his crimes, he would stop the suppression. In addition, he proposed a notorious precondition of “one-for-one,” that is, for any Falun Gong practitioner who died in the persecution, the CCP would execute the same number of 610 Office agents and police officers.

But Falun Gong representatives rejected this “offer” since they did not want Jiang to shirk his responsibility at the cost of the lives of ordinary officers. Instead, they continued requesting an end to the persecution and to hold key perpetrators accountable.

Importance of Conscience

The 40 participants in the Milgram experiment were between the ages of 20 and 50 and were from the New Haven area in Connecticut. Their jobs ranged from unskilled to professional. Under pressure, they all chose to obey the authority even if it meant harming the innocent.

This is what happened during the suppression of Falun Gong in China. After all, Milgram wrote, “Tyrannies are perpetuated by diffident men who do not possess the courage to act out their beliefs.”

Some police officers, court judges, or prison guards may be good parents in front of their children, but in the face of ruthless persecution, they no longer care about what is right or wrong. Their priority was to follow orders, finish their assignments, and keep their jobs.

As a result, their blindly following orders has led to an unprecedented persecution against Falun Gong, including forced organ harvesting.

Falun Gong practitioners have no political agenda and they have no enemies. They simply want to be better citizens. By assisting the CCP in persecuting innocent Falun Gong practitioners, however, CCP agents and ordinary citizens alike risk their futures.

But the CCP is a vicious regime with an ideology of brutality, hatred, and lies. Those who follow the CCP to commit crimes may one day become scapegoats.

In 2021 alone, a large number of CCP officials were investigated or taken down due to various reasons. They included 36 ministry level officers, 3,024 department-level officials, and 25,000 county-level officials.

So the safest way is to simply stop participating in the persecution and turn away from the CCP. When we are able to follow our conscience and believe in goodness, there will be opportunities for a better future.