Friday, May 2, 2014

Stanley Milgram in Oklahoma

Oklahoma State Penitentiary
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections should have been part of Stanley Milgram’s famed experiment at Yale. If you remember Milgram, a professor of psychology was testing obedience to authority (“Behavorial Study of Obedience, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, l961). The experiment was started three months after the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who had famously insisted he was simply following orders. So in order to test the level of potential for inhumanity that lies in all of us, Milgram enlisted participants who sat behind a glass wall. The subjects of the experiment were then asked to apply varying levels of electric current to another participant. The subjects were told to increase the level of current whether those receiving the shocks seemed to be suffering or not. Some just continued to follow orders while others refused to participate. The experiment was actually more complicated since the shocks were also constructed as part of punishment/reward scenario that mimicked some of the work done by another famous psychologist, the Harvard behaviorist B.F. Skinner. But no mind the recent botched execution was uncannily reminiscent of the original Milgram experiment though the stakes were somewhat higher in that after 43 minutes of torment at the hands of those who were following orders, Clayton D. Lockett, the condemned man succumbed to a heart attack. The fact that Lockett had shot and buried the victim of his crime while she was still living might prove a solace to some. But then again those who saw the smoke from the crematoriums at Auschwitz and elsewhere and who had read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion might easily have said to themselves, “they had it coming to them all along. “


  1. One of the arguments against capital punishment is that, in this country, we don't have a justice system--we have a legal system. Plaintiff and defendant alike receive the degree of justice that they can afford. I could cite the evidence here, but since it appears regularly in headlines there's no need. While there's no doubt that predators need to be segregated from the society they prey upon, the flaws in our legal system indicate that we need to re-think the purpose and operation of our penal system. Incidental to this but just as important is the effect our current system has on the psyches and emotional health of the jailkeepers and executioners.

  2. What is fascinating and moving are deeply religious people who harbor no vengeance even towards those who kill their loved ones. The wife of the American pediatrician murdered by a terrorist in Afghanistan indicated she harbor no resentment toward the man who killed her husband. Here is the link,


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