70. Influence of authority and the social pressure of a group

The famous Milgram experiment showed what evil everyday people can do when they are ordered to. In the experiment, “examinees” were hooked up to an electric current in a sealed room (actually, conspirators connected to no real current whatsoever) while on the other side of glass, the “participants” had access to a dial which allowed them to control the flow to electricity to the victim. 66% of the participants increased the voltage all the way to 400 volts—a mortal dose—when they were ordered to by a researcher, even when the “victim” begged them to stop. In this experiment, factors such as authority, the remoteness of the victim and the influence of similar behavior by being in the same room with other people in the same role all combined together to cause people to take actions which were ostensibly horrible. The same factors apply to us when we estimate the risk connected with some future factor or technology. The potential victims, even if our future selves are among them, are far away from us in time and space that if a strong authority expresses favor in the dangerous technology, and we are surrounded and influenced by a group of people apt to do the same thing, all of these factors will strongly influence our choice.