Human history is littered with examples of people following a political or religious leader into the depths of horrific depravity. Certainly, the twentieth century saw the results of the tendency to obey authority, no matter how cruel or morally reprehensible. Stalin and Hitler’s effects on their countrymen have been cited ad nauseum. As have Pol Pot, the implications of the Milgram experiments and Jonestown. Let’s throw Waco into the pot, as well.
Do the disastrous results of January 6 also apply? Do the exhortations to “Mask up,” “Lockdown” and “Follow the Science,” — which turned out to be not science at all but propaganda — also qualify? Remember, if you would that such commands came from both sides of the aisle and from both President Trump and President Biden.
It has been said that the country has never been more divided. Abortion rights, immigration policy and financial solvency all take a close second to the post-pandemic arguments as to who was actually responsible for the death toll of the last three years. And these conflicts may just boil down to which leader, which “Messiah” you endorse.
Social psychology is replete with studies showing the aspect of obedience as a determinant of human behavior. Some of these studies have challenged the original assumptions of the Milgram experiments. If you recall, the Milgram experiments definitively revealed that humans tend to obey authority even if the dictates of that authority are morally reprehensible.
Recent studies have attempted to hone in on biological factors, as seen in this study of obedience and conformity, in which people’s decisions as to whether or not to engage in acts of obedience and conformity were then followed up by electroencephalogram studies. Quoting from the abstract of another ambitious review of imaging techniques,
Normative social influences shape nearly every aspect of our lives, yet the biological processes mediating the impact of these social influences on behavior remain incompletely understood. In this Hypothesis, we outline a theoretical framework and an integrative research approach to the study of social influences on the brain and genetic moderators of such effects.
And this study looks into the role of serotonin in obedience and conformity.
It is a reality that humans tend to obey. And when they do pitch a tent into one or another camp, they may fiercely defend the Controller, both in words and in armed conflict. The history of the world is replete with armies of “God,” intent on spreading their faith even if it kills them. Or kills others. A sort of widespread “Stockholm Syndrome” could be hypothesized, with entire countries held hostage and identifying with their captors.