We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security… Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

– An excerpt from: They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, published by the University of Chicago Press. 1955

64 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Thank goodness we live in different times, and that quote has no modern day parallels.

  • RickC

    To quote Neo, “Whoa, deja vu.”

  • Julie near Chicago


  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh, and thanks for the link, Perry. Downloaded.

  • Paul Marks

    The form of government practiced in Prussia as far back as Bismark (with deception and dishonesty not being a vice on the system – but the basis of the system itself) indeed as far back as Frederick the Great (although he, unlike Bismark, pretended to have a moral code – and even hypocrisy is better than nothing, it is “the tribute that vice pays to virtue” limiting how far vice can go, with fear of being found out – Bismark actually boasted of his lies and deceptions).

    The “Socialists of the Chair” (the academics) and the Cameralists long before them, taught that “experts” must decide policy – for the good of the people (Richard Ely and Woodrow Wilson brought such ideas to the United States, but H. Mann was in love with Prussia long before).

    And German “War Socialism” (very different from, for example, how France was governed during the First World War) took them to their logical conclusion – the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s was the extreme end of centuries of collectivist thought (as was Marxism – the bastard child of German collectivist historicism pushed by the “Red Prussian” Karl Marx).

    But there is one major difference with the American collectivists.

    The German collectivists never claimed to be “liberals” and never claimed to be faithfully following the ideas of the Founding Fathers.

    The American collectivists (the academics, the media people and so on) really do claim this.

    They demand that Acts of Congress are thousands of pages long (as recently as the 1950s they were only a dozen pages long) and written by “experts” with the people having no say (indeed no knowledge) of the contents – yet they are supporters of “freedom” and “representative government”. They destroy all Constitutional limits on government – whilst pretending to revere the Constitution they destroy.

    May each American collectivist find that their lies turn to dust in their mouth – and may this dust choke them.

  • veryretired

    That’s a reasonably good description of the gramscian march through the institutions of the west.

  • bloke in spain

    Interesting. So there’s a tried & tested method that works. And the libertarian response is to decry it. The horror! The biggest obstacle to dismantling the power of the State, its subjects are so wedded to its illusory benefits they won’t let go of it. So now you know how to wean them off.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I really do think, though, that the ‘collectivism’ of American politicians may have less to do with their being ideologues than it does with their being corrupt and wanting more government to sell to more clients.

  • Jacob

    “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise”

    I don’t buy this description.

    The Germans were not “governed by surprise”. Hitler spelled out his thoughts and programme in great detail in “Mein Kampf”, published 8 years before he gained power. The platform of the Nazi party was also quite clear and outspoken.
    The Germans, in supporting Hitler, knew perfectly well where they were going, they consciously choose to go there. At least a great majority of them did.

    I don’t buy these attempts at rewriting history, whitewashing the “German Volk”.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “I don’t buy this description.

    The Germans were not “governed by surprise”. Hitler spelled out his thoughts and programme in great detail in “Mein Kampf”, published 8 years before he gained power.”

    You think US and British politicians are hiding their true intent? As with Germany so many years ago, they’re saying aloud what they think, they’re just saying it in such a way that people ignore it or refuse to believe it is true.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    @Jacob: The problem with ‘spelled out in “Mein Kampf”‘ is that no reasonably normal human being can get more than 110 pages into it. It may be different in German, of course.

  • Jacob

    Besides “Mein Kampf” there were those interminable crazy speeches Hitler used to deliver at the top of his voice, and propaganda films, and pamphlets, and radio etc., etc.

    Turns out this was a crazy, progressive, antisemitic Jew, out on a mission to find excuses for the Germans.

  • Rich Rostrom

    1) There was never a majority popular vote for the NSDAP. Even in 1933, exploiting police power to suppress opposition, they got only 44%.

    2) There was no majority to empower Hitler, but there was a majority to accept his empowerment.

    3) At the time, there was mass unemployment (over 20%) and acute poverty. Desperate times move people to desperate measures.

    2) The Nazi program was an explicit repudiation of freedom and constitutionally limited government. Hitler said all along that he would rule by decree. The Nazi program of Gleischaltung was enacted quickly and visibly.

    5) The American Founders and the 19th-century liberals were opposed to hereditary distinctions, established churches, and other constraints on personal liberty of conscience and social equality. In those respects, modern “liberals” are following the classical liberals. It should be noted that many 19th-centural liberals were anti-clerical and some were anti-religious.

  • Paul Marks

    Rich R. – I agree that the National Socialists never really had majority support, but they were the largest party and the only real alternative would have been for President Hindenburg (a man in his 80s) to use the army to create personal rule (at least Hindenburg was elected – so he could have claimed that such a regime was not a military dictatorship). The Prussian Schoolmasters had done their job too well – too many Germans supported collectivism (of one sort or another – either Marxist or Fichte).

    Perhaps the largest non (fully) collectivist party (remember the German SPD was Marxist – the only difference with the KPD was that the SPD were not slaves of Moscow) was the Catholic Centre Party – but it was led by weak people, and outside Bavaria is was weak (it is often forgotten, especially in Hollywood films, that the Nazis got LESS support in Bavaria than in other parts of Germany).

    As for the American Founding Fathers – ah the work of modern “liberals” is seen in your work.

    Actually most (not all) of the American Founding Fathers were religious men – and often (as with George Washington) quite conventional in their religious opinions. The support for the religion is one of the great differences between the American and the French Revolutions (and a difference that modern socialists, sorry “liberals”, are most active in trying to obscure).

    However, you are CORRECT in holding that in the 19th century many Liberal party movements (in Latin American and Europe) became anti clerical – supporting the replacement of church schools with STATE schools and supporting the confiscation of Church property (under the French Revolution no private property was safe, but the property of the Church was targeted first).

    The desire to place the STATE in the position of the church (which even led to false history – with some liberal writers pretending, in the best Prussian manner, that all universities had been created “by the state”) was one of the things that undermined (and in the end destroyed) liberalism.

    The American way was different – denying any Church MONOPOLY status (i.e. refusing to use the STATE to help one Church against another), but looking to the Churches (and other voluntary groups) NOT the state, for the improvement of society.

    Even those Founders who had unconventional theological opinions (such as John Adams) held that the Churches (not the state) should be looked to for this purpose.

    This is what made the American Revolution so different (indeed the opposite of) the French Revolution.

    Of course if large scale NON religious voluntary institutions grow up – they can be looked to for improvement also.

    Of course first (to some extent) with H. Mann and then later (and much more) with people such as Richard Ely and Woodrow Wilson some Americans started to worship collectivism (and look to the STATE for the moral and physical improvement of society).

    But it was not till the 1920s that such collectivists started to be called “liberals” in the United States. Even in the early 1900s such American Liberal publications as “The Nation” were the arch ENEMIES of people such as Richard Ely.

  • Jacob

    One reason the Germans accepted Hitler and the Nazis was that they never really beleived in democracy or individialism. These concepts were alien to their culture.

    They were alien also to the culture and way of thinking of Milton Mayer, the American progressive jew (of german origin ? ).

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Jacob” says:

    One reason the Germans accepted Hitler and the Nazis was that they never really beleived in democracy or individialism. These concepts were alien to their culture.

    Anyone who believes Germans, Russians, or other people are somehow “inherently” less interested in the well-being of their children or in living decent lives, that they are somehow the cause of their own disasters, is not thinking clearly.

    No people is immune to dictatorship and evil. The reason the US and UK have partially avoided them, at least for a while, is that we had built institutions capable of resisting such impulses by our so-called “leaders”. Once such institutions are dismantled, however, no society is capable of resisting such forces.

    Those who forget this lesson, who believe as “Jacob” does, are deluding themselves into thinking “this can’t possibly happen here”. They are no different from the people who think they would not have pushed the button in the Milgram experiment (never mind that 2/3rds of subjects continued pushing the button to the point that they believed the victim was either unconscious or dead, no one wants to believe they would be one of the 2/3rds). They are no different from the people who think the Asch experiment on “social proof” does not apply to them. They are no different from the people who believe that they would never have been sadistic had they been a guard in the Stanford Prison Experiment. They believe that, somehow, if they had been at My Lai, they would not have participated in the massacre, never mind that for practical purposes no soldier resisted the orders they received.

    What “Jacob” says here should make you deeply fearful.

    I, for one, understand that I’m a flawed, evolved system surrounded by other flawed humans. I have no particular reason to believe I could not be corrupted by power, that I would not rationalize such corruption, that I and my fellows around me in New York are so special that we would not have become good Nazis, or good Communists, or that we might not still.

    Perhaps “Jacob” believes he is superhuman. Perhaps he even is. Good for him — but the prudent man does not presume himself to be immune to what seems to be the case for the overwhelming majority of the human race.

  • Paul Marks

    Both institutions and customs matter.

    For example, Woodrow Wilson had vile beliefs – both his own book “The State” (I warn those who read this comment – Wilson’s book is virtually unreadable) and “Philip Dru: Administrator” (by his second in command E. M. House) show this – as does his taste in films. However, not even during World War One (with his evil “four minute hate” people pushing mob violence in the United States and government trying to control everything) was the United States a totalitarian state – not quite, the opposition still functioned, there were institutional limits to what even “New Freedom” (read “slavery”) Wilson could do.

    Also Wilson (like his apprentice Franklin Roosevelt) considered himself a “gentleman” and their are cultural limits on how a gentleman can behave.

    However, that culture has been in decline for decades – how could it not be, without the BELIEFS (the PRINCIPLES) that are the foundation of it, the idea of how a “gentleman” behaves must go (customs and traditions that are not based on principles that are UNDERSTOOD are dead, and decay – Hayek, and others, are wrong in holding that people do not need to grasp foundational principles, they do need to grasp the basics if the culture based on those principles is to last).

    Also institutions are no sure guard – the collectivists have made a serious (and decades long) study of American institutions.

    The totalitarian dream of some of the advisers of Franklin Roosevelt (it is hard to work out what Franklin Roosevelt himself believed) may have been frustrated by American institutions – but the collectivists are not stupid and not are they ignorant.

    The enemy is highly intelligent and deeply learned (even though their learning is twisted and stinks of sulphur), they have made a long study of how American institutions can be defeated.

    And the watchdogs?

    The universities.

    The media.

    The arts (film, literature…..)
    The enemy became dominate in these things long ago.

    They are no longer watchdogs – they are the Hounds of Hell.

    By the way (and I say this as a man who is quick to lose his temper, I no longer have the self control I had when I was young, for I am frustrated and embittered, – so I do not judge others who become angry) the enemy laughs when we fall out amongst ourselves.

    Each of us (especially me) should ask ourselves before we do or say anything…..

    “Would Cass Sunstein or Paul Krugman smile if he knew what I was doing or saying?”

    If the answer is “yes” – then we should make an effort to act differently.

  • Jacob

    Perry Metzger, my name is Jacob, not “Jacob”.

    It’s not a matter of being “superhuman”. It’s a matter of what you’ve been taught as a child, what values your parents and you schooling (wherever it was) gave you, what books you read, what society you grew up in, what other people talked about, what your constitution says, and then, later in life, how you use your brain (if any).

    Despotism, and totalitarianism did not take hold in the US or England, not because these people are “superhuman” but because they have a different frame of mind or meta-context… it is harder to sell them the idea that they need a strong leader, to make trains run on time, or that you need to break some eggs if you want to make omelette. It is a fact it did not take hold until now. Not even during the hard times of the Great Depression.

    Things change, the education and frame of mind change over time. Maybe now, the danger of despotism is greater in the UK or US. Maybe now, the Germans, too, have changed, for the better, and would not embrace totalitarianism. The bombing, losses and disasters of WW2 had a strong educational impact.

    What I find objectionable (not merely false) is for Mayer to publish in 1955, in the US, a work apologetic for the Germans, in the vein: “we’re all the same, we’re all to blame”.

  • Paul Marks

    “taught as a child” Jacob.

    And what are the schools (and the media – the entertainment media included) teaching modern American children?

    You know what they are teaching them.

    And families and churches (all the counter weights to the state) have never been weaker in Britain and America now – than they have ever been.

    This you also know.

    And so does Perry M.

    So we are, in fact, all in agreement.

    As for Germany.

    Mr Ed (who I am honoured to call friend) knows Bavaria well.

    He says Bavaria is a good place with good people.

    But there seem to be few children….

  • Paul Marks

    Person from Porlock.

    Someone can be BOTH corrupt and sincerely believe in Big Government – Mayor Wagner of New York City is an obvious example.

    By the way Wagner was hated by Mrs Roosevelt.

    Because (Big Government supporter though he was) Mayor Wagner was not a Stalin worshipping (in the 1930s anyway) “liberal” like Mrs Roosevelt.

    Sadly, bad though he was, a lot of the people at the top now (in the universities and the media – as well as politics) have more in common with Mrs Roosevelt than with Mayor Wagner.

  • Paul Marks

    And it is a bad thing that they have more in common with Mrs Roosevelt.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Jacob” says:

    It’s not a matter of being “superhuman”. It’s a matter of what you’ve been taught as a child, what values your parents and you schooling (wherever it was) gave you, what books you read, what society you grew up in, what other people talked about, what your constitution says, and then, later in life, how you use your brain (if any).

    That’s an empirically testable contention. What is your evidence for it?

    For my part, I will repeat: 2/3rds of ordinary students at Yale, a location manifestly within the zone you believe has the “superior” culture, demonstrated operationally a real-world willingness to electrocute their peers at the insistence of an authority figure.

    Note that when Milgram presented his results initially, everyone in the audience insisted they, of course, would not push the button. We know that 2/3rds of them were deceiving themselves — indeed, more than that, because even more were willing to continue for quite a while short of electrocution. Note that the off-the-cuff assumption of the professionals Milgram asked was that only one in a thousand would be enough of a sadist or sociopath to push the button — they were off by only three orders of magnitude.

    If you want to pretend the Milgram experiment did not happen, feel free. I believe one ignores such real-world results at one’s peril. The Milgram experiment is not an isolated data point — there are far more.

    There is also excellent theoretical reason behind what the Milgram and Asch and Zimbardo and other experiments have shown us. People have evolved to survive, and part of surviving involves not pissing off powerful people because they can harm you.

    I think it is entirely obvious that humans are pretty much humans everywhere. If you insist that there is no reason to fear what happened in Germany will happen here, because you are certain that it was a cultural and moral defect on the part of the Germans that “we” are somehow free of, well, that’s a testable claim. What is your evidence for this claim, in the face of the psychology literature that says otherwise? Is it just your gut, or do you have facts that back you up?

  • Paul Marks

    I see the argument (between Perry M. and Jacob) is continuing – in spite of my warning.

    Oh well the warning (from someone has hot tempered as me) was a bit hypocritical anyway.

    I will put in my own contribution.

    When the Milgram experiment was repeated in Germany the percentage of people pressing the button was higher.

    And, contrary to the “liberal” myth, a lot of the people who did not press the button were not “nice” people. Some of them were nasty “Red Neck” types (the Scots Irish Ulster Protestant questions any order, and ignores the order if he believes it to be morally wrong – they are as argumentative as Jewish people, just more violent with it) – the sort of people who can not afford to go to Yale now (of course even back then Redneck types were not exactly thick on the ground at Yale – which may well have skewed the sample).

    William F. Buckley was writing “God and Man at Yale” at about this time (so he hardly regarded Yale as a good example of American culture) and the title of the book is taken from Noah Porter’s talk – Noah Porter (the then President of Yale) warning of the danger of undermining the moral foundations at Yale.

    And that was in the 19th century.

    If someone is looking for moral (or physical) courage in the United States – looking for it at Yale (or in the Ivy League in general) is foolish.

    Had Milgram chosen (say) farmers in West Virginia for his sample, I think he would have got a radically different result.

    Remember even the S.S. learned to fear Rednecks – and with good reason (Mr A. Murphy was actually playing himself in those films).

    At the risk of using sterotypes….

    If a Jew is given an evil order – he will say “no” and die nobly.

    If a Redneck (a Scots Irish) is given an evil order – he will punch you in the face.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “When the Milgram experiment was repeated in Germany the percentage of people pressing the button was higher.” — how much higher do you need to get than 2/3rds, in practice? That’s already more than enough to undermine any society.

    That said, I’m unaware of any evidence that such a repeat of the experiment was ever conducted in Germany. I would ask that you provide us with information sufficient to verify this claim, or that you withdraw it. My apologies for demanding such validation — I’m a bit of a stickler for evidence, however.

  • Jacob

    The Milgram experiment was just an experiment. I don’t assign to it too much value. I don’t beleive in these artificial psychological experiments. It is of very limited value.
    Read the critique of the experiment on Wikipedia.
    You have just this one argumnet – the Miligram experiment. You build too much upon it.

    I have a much stronger argument: history. It happened in Germany (and Russia and China and Cambodia, and Japan), not elsewhere. This is a fact, not an experiment.

  • Perry:

    Milgram’s obedience experiment was replicated by other researchers. The experiments spanned a 25-year period from 1961 to 1985 and have been repeated in Australia, South Africa and in several European countries. In one study conducted in Germany, over 85% of the subjects administered a lethal electric shock to the learner!

  • I forgot to add that at least by that link, only 65% cooperated in the original experiment (and the 2/3 figure actually applies to the German version as seen in the bit I quoted).

  • All that said, I’m with Paul on this: both experiments and history aside, what counts is what people have in their heads, and who puts it there – and these things can and do change over time. Cultures can and do change. So yes, in theory the Holocaust can repeat itself anywhere. In practice, at different times it is more likely to happen in some places (cultures) than in others.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa: thank you for the link. I think the distinction in percentages is too small to be of dramatic significance.

    I strongly believe that good legal systems and peaceful commerce are not accidents of culture, btw. Natural experiments like Hong Kong vs. the PRC seem to indicate that people with nearly identical culture to that of a non-thriving society suddenly do well when moved under a system with better institutions. Similarly, immigrants from some of the worst hellholes on earth suddenly do far better when they move to countries like the United States even if they largely stick to their own ethnic community on a day to day basis. Superior institutions count for quite a lot.

    The problem with “it can’t happen here!” is twofold: first, that implies that one has some sort of empirical evidence that it “cannot happen here”, and such an experiment is hard to set up and harder to validate. Second, it leaves one vulnerable to the possibility of such bad events replicating themselves through a lack of vigilance. Third, it ignores a wealth of information that seems to indicate that it can, in fact, “happen here”…

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Redirecting and reemphasizing the last point:

    Our so-called “leaders” frequently tell us “don’t be silly, this is [insert country], you can be sure that when we torture people it will be done humanely and with the best possible oversight!”

    However, it is not the fact that the US or UK was for most of its history a country made up of “good” people that meant you didn’t have to worry about torture. It was, instead, the fact that it used to be a country that said that torturing people was a crime and enforced that.

    To say “don’t worry, we’re the good guys” is to ignore that you’re not the good guys because that’s tattooed indelibly to your forehead. You’re the good guys because you do good. Cease to do good and you are no longer the good guys.

    To the extent that we have security at all, we are safe not in spite of the institutional barriers to government malfeasance but because of them. You cannot simply dismantle all of them and naively expect that “culture” will save you.

    Or, to completely misapply and alter a historical quote in the most grievous possible way, “Whenever I hear of culture… I release the safety catch of my Glock!”

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    (I do not want to give the impression that I don’t think culture has any role in the success or failure of societies. Far from it. I just mean to say that I do not think culture can protect you if you destroy the institutions that maintain it.)

  • Perry, I don’t think that you and I in any kind of material disagreement. I do want to note though that institutions are very much part of any culture. To get to the more basic point of all this: our environment (both “natural” and “manmade”) influences our minds – just as much as our minds (through our deeds) influence our environment. It’s this feedback-loop, chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

  • Jacob

    Milgram’s experiment was just this: an EXPERIMENT. People behave differently in experiments and in real life. I, for one, would have refused to participate in the experiment (forgoing the huge 4$ fee!), as I wouldn’t wish to inflict any degree of pain just for an experiment.

    Reporting the results honestly and correctly would require to count those who declined to participate when told the nature of the experiment, and not base the result only on those who did agree to participate, as this already introduces a bias. There are many other flaws. You sure can find some sadists and order-obeyers in every society. This experiment doesn’t distinguish between the two categories. Etc., etc.

    So, Perry, I think you attach far too much meaning to the experiment.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Jacob says: “Milgram’s experiment was just this: an EXPERIMENT. People behave differently in experiments and in real life.”

    Well, the subjects believed that they were in “real life” so to speak. They thought they were participating in an experiment on learning and negative feedback and had no idea that the electrocutions were faked. To them, this was “real” — they were really (so far as they knew) electrocuting people. The subjects were even given shocks so they would “know” what the other person was experiencing.

    The whole point of the experimental setup (which would no longer be permitted by an IRB) was to deceive the participants and make them believe that they were, in fact, really inflicting grievous bodily harm or death at the insistence of the authority figure.

    I, for one, cannot find a flaw in the methodology, which was replicated. If you can state a specific flaw, tell us.

    “Reporting the results honestly and correctly would require to count those who declined to participate when told the nature of the experiment” — that number is in Milgram’s original paper. What made you think people wouldn’t have spotted such an obvious hole? In fact, there were a tiny minority of participants who simply refused to go along, and they are indeed counted.

    “You sure can find some sadists and order-obeyers in every society. This experiment doesn’t distinguish between the two categories.” — how does it fail to distinguish them?

    “There are many other flaws.” — then tell us of these “flaws” in a paper you have never read.

    In addition to replication, of course, Milgram’s results are also cross-validated by many other experiments. They are not an isolated finding — Asch’s work, Zimbardo’s work, and that of dozens of other researchers make more or less the same claims.

    Perhaps, however, since Jacob really doesn’t want to believe the result, that is sufficient evidence that they aren’t true. Why rely on “an EXPERIMENT” when we have our gut feelings to rely on? I mean, this science thing, it is just a flash in the pan — the smartest among us go on the faith that we’re correct.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry M. – a difference of 65% to 85% is, in fact, a LARGE difference.

    Also you seem to have ignored my point about the NATURE OF THE SAMPLE.

    It was not scientific – as it was drawn from Ivy League types, about the most cowardly and conformist people one could find in the United States. “Good students” – the sort of people who (deliberately) messed up the second edition of Ludwig Von Mises’ “Human Action” in 1962.

    Let me put in this way….

    How many Barry Goldwater buttons do you think there were at Yale in 1964? Or even John McCain or Mitt Romney buttons in 2008 or 2012 (silly Redneck McCain – and that Mitt Romney he is a “Mormon” the moron actually believes in God……)

    It may be sad that the elite of the United States (and most other places – including Britain) are no good, but the fact remains that they are no good – that does not mean that the entire population (or even most of them) are no good.

    Even the “conservative” part of the elite were in the habit of sneering at basic morality (and the basic moral courage needed to maintain it) many decades ago. For example I was struck when reading “Economics and the Public Welfare” by Benjamin Anderson, that the author sneers at a Senator (Carter Glass) for acting as if morality was a collection of “rules of honour written in fire in the sky” – whereas the “educated” (i.e. Anderson and his friends) knew that what was “moral” was whatever benefitted the “scientific evolution of society”.

    Such as castrating the “inferior”? Or pressing a button while a screaming person begs you not to?

    God save us from the “educated”.

    And, indeed, Germany was the most educated nation in Europe – among the ordinary people as well as the elite.

    However, I agree that an elite may (in the end) corrupt the people as a whole – and the elite have certainly been working hard on this task.

    The media (especially the entertainment media) and the education system work every day, to undermine all that is good and to promote all that is vile.

    I hope things are somehow clinging on (at least in some places – say South Dakota, or eastern Tenn, but even there Knoxville has fallen, Agenda 21 is not some conspiracy there, it is the policy of the Mayor), but I certainly do not know that.

    Perhaps most people (these days) even in the First and Second Congressional Districts of Tenn have been “educated” to feel intense guilt for their forefathers supporting the Confederacy (even they actually supported the Union and the G.O.P. has held these Districts for…. well basically for ever) perhaps the children of Athens (Tenn) think that privately owned firearms are evil and if you mentioned the “Battle of Athens” to them they would respond (if they responded at all) with the words…..

    “Oh yes our teacher taught us all about that in school – it was a noble struggle for SOCIAL JUSTICE”.

    “We are the Borg – resistance is futile, you will be assimilated…….”

    But I hope not.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way…..

    The answer to false education is NOT no education.

    The person who signs his name with an X and thinks the world is flat and the first life appeared in 4004 B.C. is not an ideal type.

    The answer to false education is true education.

    Just as the answer to films and television shows filled with false assumptions and untrue “facts” is NOT no films and television shows.

    It is films and television shows that have a true view of the world, and whose facts actually are facts.

    But how to break the leftist stranglehold on both education and entertainment?

    This is the question.

  • Jacob

    About the flaws in Milgram’s experiment – they are enumerated in the Wikipedia article. Perry Metzger’s fascination with this experiment is exagerated.

    Doing experiments in pshycology (including later ecperimants by Daniel Cahenman and Dan Arieli) is a nice and interesting passtime, but you should never confuse an experiment with reality.

    It is like palying poker with marbles. It looks like poker, but it isn’t.

  • Jacob

    “Well, the subjects believed that they were in “real life” so to speak.”
    “So to spek”… um…

    That is ridiculous. They knew they were in an experiment. They were deceived about the exact nature of the experiment, but they knew it was an experiment. They were assured that no harm would be done, and they would not be held liable. They had every reason to beleive these assurances.

    I would have done an additional follow-up question, after the experiment, but before the set-up was revealed: “Did you really beleive you were causing great harm ? Why did you do it?”
    I mean – what great cause did the participants beleive they were serving? What motivated them?
    I beleive most of the participants had ample inkling that this was a ruse.
    I repeat: experiments are not reality – at least in psychology.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Jacob writes: “About the flaws in Milgram’s experiment – they are enumerated in the Wikipedia article. Perry Metzger’s fascination with this experiment is exagerated[sic]” — so, if they are enumerated, please tell us what they are, and defend your claims about those flaws and their significance using evidence.

    I will repeat: the fact that you dislike the result is not a cause to reject the scientific method.

    Jacob goes on: “Doing experiments in pshycology[sic] (including later ecperimants[sic] by Daniel Cahenman[sic] and Dan Arieli[sic]) is a nice and interesting passtime, but you should never confuse an experiment with reality” — so, you propose that we get rid of the scientific method, then?

    The whole idea behind science is that we do controlled experiments so that we know what factors we’re testing. Daily experience can be deceptive — we can draw conclusions in the face of numerous confounding factors. That is why we do experiments. Your claim is that because something is an “experiment” that it has no relationship with reality — a bizarre claim that would ask us to get rid of almost the entire contents of our scientific libraries.

    In essence, you ask that we reject hundreds of years of progress in knowledge through the use of controlled experiments, on the basis that you don’t like the outcome of this particular experiment.

    Perhaps you would prefer that we use your gut instincts as a guide to truth instead, hrm? Without experiment, how else are we to gain objective knowledge?

    I’m sorry that you don’t like the outcome of the Milgram experiment. I understand it must be quite painful to have one’s beliefs shattered by the discovery that real human beings in a carefully controlled setting do not conform with your prejudices. No, wait, that’s a lie. I’m not sorry at all. I honestly don’t care what you believe — reality has nothing to do with your gut instincts.

  • Jacob

    “real human beings in a carefully controlled setting”
    They are not real human beings in reality, only in experiments.
    “reality has nothing to do with your gut instincts.”
    And also nothing to do with experiments in psychology.
    But observation of reality (real life) is helpful.

    Psychology is different from physics. In physics you can set up a controlled experiment. In psychology you can’t.

    Have you ever played poker with marbles? Do you understand this question at all? This is as good a psychological experiment as can be devised!

  • Jacob

    By the way: not even in physics can one always set up a controlled experiment. See “climate models”. See “clinical trials” in medicine…

  • Jacob

    As an “historical experiment” try this: compare all the atrocities committed by the British imperial forces to those committed by the Germans in the 20 th century (both world wars).

    Is the difference just randomal, or has it some causes?

  • Perry, having agreed with you on your main point: an experiment examining human behavior is necessarily conducted outside of controlled environment – that is, unless one denies the existence of agency.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa: not sure I understand your point. Say you want to determine if people are calmer in a room painted a particular shade of pink than one painted a particular shade of blue (which is, btw, an actual phenomenon of unknown origin that is reasonably well documented.) You can expose lots of people to identical conditions in such a room, varying only the color, and see what differences there are in their observed behavior. Why is this not possible because of “agency” (whatever that might be)? (Yes, I’m simplifying some issues of proper experiment design to keep this comment short, but one can reasonably discuss the overall issue without diving in to those.)

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    BTW, people very clearly are mechanisms. If you give them very similar starting conditions they behave almost identically.

    It is, of course, hard to do that under normal circumstances because people will remember their earlier behavior and not repeat it, but there is a condition called Transient Global Amnesia that gives an interesting test — it prevents formation of memories and people will then repeat the same conversations over and over if prompted identically. You can find very eerie videos of people suffering from transient global amnesia online, repeating themselves endlessly as they are introduced to the same stimuli.

    I’m aware of this phenomenon partially because I myself once had an auto accident that resulted in transient global amnesia and behaved this way, endlessly repeating exactly the same conversation in response to identical prompts. Very few experiences convey just how little “free will” one really has quite like knowing that you managed to repeat exactly the same conversation in response to the same questions for hours on end.

  • Perry: I would define ‘agency’ as the ability of some entity to act with at least some degree of independence from their external environment. I would be the first to admit that such an ability can be extremely limited – but I’d still maintain that there’s always at least an infinitesimal degree of such independence that humans (and possibly other sentient* beings) nevertheless retain under any external conditions.

    *A person under the influence of mind-altering substances would be one example of a temporarily non-sentient being for the purpose of this discussion. The TGA phenomenon you describe may also be considered as such an example (although I would need much more information to even presume to claim this with any certainty). I think that this caveat may also address your point about humans being mechanism – a point which I am very far from denying. The larger point of all this is that while a human mind can in fact be controlled and manipulated to the point of it losing its agency (i.e. losing free will), at least for now it can only be done effectively on a very personal level, and even then it is still very difficult. It is at least theoretically possible to do this at a mass level, but I am quite certain that this has not been done anywhere yet. The entire German population of 1930s-40s was not literally UI.

    I would also note that having an ability (such as agency) does not necessarily imply that said ability will always be exercised. You could probably provide numerous examples of people behaving in very similar ways under similar external conditions – but the scientific method would require only one diverging incident to disprove a theory. Milgram’s experiment, while very interesting (and doubtlessly disturbing), has clearly disproved whatever theory that may have been intended to be based on it at least 25% of the times.

  • Paul Marks

    Did the Milgram experiment have a random sample drawn from the general population?

    If the answer is “no” then it was no more an example of “science” than Dr Kinsey’s experiments (totally skewed samples) or some much else that passes for “ground breaking” in these areas (see the book “Hoodwinked” by Jack Cashill, for plenty of examples of scam studies that have lauded to the skies).

    However, if human beings are not agents what does their torturing each other matter anyway?

    If humans are not agents (if they are just flesh robots) then let the wretched creatures wipe each other out.

    Who cares?

    Who exists to care?

    If human BEINGS do not, in fact, exist – one need not worry about them (because it is pointless to worry about beings who do not exist).

  • Paul, I presume a cat is not an agent by your definition – and yet it does exist, no?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Did the Milgram experiment have a random sample drawn from the general population?” — no. In the usual manner of such things, the sample was self-selected among students at Yale willing to participate in experiments.

    Arguably, this is indeed a flaw, if one can plausibly explain why (for example) Yale students might be dramatically more willing than the general populace to obey. Of course, the replication of the study tends to negate that particular worry to some extent.

    Still, you do have a point here in that, presuming we do not wish to force people at gunpoint to participate, it is difficult to get truly random samples for such studies.

    That said, I’m not sure that this matters much. My Lai and dozens of other examples tend to make me believe that a majority of humans are, in fact, quite willing to murder on the command of a perceived authority figure.

    “However, if human beings are not agents what does their torturing each other matter anyway?” — I don’t understand your point. My point is straightforward: as humans are liable to obey authority, you do not depend on institutions that would require that they disobey authority for protection. By having a clear-eyed view of human fallibility, one can try to avoid depending on humans behaving in ways they will not. You do not, for example, depend on policemen or NSA employees to disobey immoral orders. This only seems like common sense.

    You appear to think this is a question of somehow exonerating people for bad behavior and absolving them of responsibility for their actions. Perhaps if the purpose of punishment is some sort of religious ritual to expiate sin that would be the case, but as I view punishment and the like as existing to provide a disincentive to undesirable behavior, such considerations are not germane. It makes no difference if there is “free will”, all that matters is that one wants other people not to kill you, and thus you want there to be a solid disincentive to murder, and punishment, restitution and the like are disincentives.

    We are not trying to diagnose sin, we are trying to establish peace and prosperity. I do not care whether people are bad because they happen to have some random assortment of genes, because they were raised by bad people or because of some mysterious “free will” — I only care how to give them a strong disincentive that convinces them not to harm me.

    “If humans are not agents (if they are just flesh robots) then let the wretched creatures wipe each other out” — I’m afraid that as I’m one of the flesh robots, and as I have a strong desire not to be wiped out, I will continue to propose societal arrangements that match my self interest.

    Again, you seem to be treating this religiously, as though we need some sort of “intrinsic worth” and “free will” to be associated with people to make it worthwhile not to kill them. However, all we need is the fact that I will fight hard to keep others from killing me and that others will probably do the same — there is no need to descend to parodies of metaphysics to explain why people want such features as law and ways to enforce it.

    Whether I am a flesh robot or somehow mysteriously a thing with “free will” that defies causality, my own interests are sufficient for me to justify the need for law to myself, and since it appears that virtually everyone else seems to claim to have similar interests, we can move on to the question of what rules work best without discussing whether people have souls or some similar religious invocations.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry M.

    So the sample was not a cross section of the general population.

    Then we are not dealing with the “scientific method” – I accept that there is an older definition of the word “science”, a “body of knowledge” (which is why it possible to speak of such subjects as history and philosophy as “sciences”), but I do not believe you are using the old definition of the word “science”.

    It is not for me to show that Yale students are not typical of the population as a whole (although I have actually already done so – TWICE) a “scientific” sample must be a cross section of the population, PERIOD.

    Otherwise garbage such the work of Dr Kinsey gets treated as “science”.

    As for your “not understanding” my point that if humans are not beings (not agents – have no agency) what happens to them is not morally important.

    Well if you really do not understand – that is your loss. And a very serious loss – as I will point out presently.

    As for “religion”.

    On the contrary, many atheists accept the existence of human beings (indeed base their philosophy upon this).

    It is not your denial of God that is the problem here – it is your denial of humanity.

    One does not have to be a believer in God to oppose the “abolition of man” in the name of a “perverted” (as Winston Churchill put it) and FALSE “science”.

    By denying the existence of human agents, you (ironically) put yourself in the same philosophical position as the very National Socialists you OPPOSED in your post.

    If humans are not beings (are not agents – do not have free will, agency) then whether or not they are shoved in gas chambers is of no fundamental moral importance.

    It one successfully spreads the idea that humans are not beings (if one manages to dehumanise humans) then one can do anything to them.

    And not lose a wink of sleep over it.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – you hit on a good point (but not quite the point you think you have hit on).

    It is not that a cat “exists” that is important (a robot exists – this computer exists, so what?) it is the capacity of the cat to SUFFER that is the point you have hit on.

    The argument being that even if humans are NOT fully agents, they still have the capacity to suffer – and therefore one should not be cruel to humans (just as one should not be cruel to cats).

    It is true that this is a good argument – I accept that.

    But I still do not believe that human beings are cats.

    If I did I would agree with Cass Sunstein (of “Nudge”) that various things should be done to humans “for their own good”.

    After all a cat or a dog is not in the best position to decide things for itself.

    We beings decide some things for the cats and dogs.

    So Dr Sunstein (as an agent) should decide things for us non agents (who, oddly enough, look so much like him….. even though we are a lower form of life) out of a sense of kindness.

    To try and marry determinist philosophy to libertarian politics is absurd – determinist philosophy, quite NATURALLY, leads to collectivist politics.

    If humans are non agents – then they SHOULD be dominated (“for their own good”).

    These books (“Freakonomics”, “Nudge”, “Thinking Fast and Slow”) are hardly a new idea – on the contrary, they are a very ancient idea.

    Dehumanise humans – in order to have legitimate power over them (“for their own good….”).

  • Paul Marks

    By the way….

    I would love it to be the case that consciousness (agency – free will) was “supernatural”, as that would not disprove the existence of the “I” (as determinists fondly suppose) it would actually PROVE THE EXISTANCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL. As consciousness is “self evident” (literally so).

    Indeed that it is a core argument of Ralph Cudworth (the first man to use the term “psychology” – not a bad subject, at least up to the time of Noah Porter, and there are still some libertarian psychologists up to this day). Cudworth accepted that in physics everything is either (pre) determined or random and that agency is NEITHER, therefore agency was not part of physics – but it clearly existed (it was self evident – and was no “illusion” for WHO was having the illusion) therefore…..


    It is not that simple – on the contrary, it may be quite possibly the case that agency (the “I”) is a physical thing – that (for example) a brain injury can cripple or destroy it.

    As the old fear has it “the soul dies with the body” (the agent exists – but is mortal).

    It might also be possible (of this view of agency is correct) to create an agent artificially – that at some point a computer would become an agent (a self willed being).

    With all the rights of an agent – a reasoning I.

    Of course, the defenders of the supernatural would have a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    This would be that at the moment the computer gained consciousness – God endowed it with a (metaphysical) soul.

    Rather like the old description of a brain injury – that it was not damage to the soul, but damage to the brain (which hit communication to the soul).

    Pleasing – but not provable.

    I repeat.

    It is quite possible that the soul (the “I”) dies with the body (and even decays in life).

    That agency exists – but is mortal.

    If that is the case – then the human condition is truly one to pity.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “So the sample was not a cross section of the general population” — actually, a slight correction. The initial sample was self-selecting in the sense of having volunteered, but it was not confined to people from the Yale academic population. Later replications, some by Milgram, some not, were drawn from much wider populations.

    If you want to insist that the Milgram experiment wasn’t well done, then you can believe that if you wish. Milgram replicated and varied the experiment repeatedly, using different populations, and others have replicated it as well. A lot has been written on the topic as you might imagine, and the experiment has been quite carefully parsed by members of the scientific community. I think we ignore the results at our peril.

    I think I’ve otherwise said enough on the topic for the moment. You may have the last word.

  • Paul, I was quite intentionally hitting precisely on the point you think I was missing.

    Perry, speaking in strictly practical terms: I agree with your last comment to the extent that the motivations of others should not in and of themselves have a practical bearing on your own motivations for your reactions to their actions. However, such a narrow view of the motivations of others may prove to be less than practical. For one thing, understanding people’s motivations (moral, religious, practical, rational or not – you name it) can be helpful in predicting their actions. Furthermore, it can also be helpful in causing them to change their actions towards something more favorable to yourself. While the question about the actual substance of agency (AKA ‘free will’) may or may not be metaphysical, the question of its existence is nothing but practical.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa: On “free will”, I don’t even know what “free will” might mean. Human brains are physical mechanisms that operate mostly deterministically with a bit of randomness thrown in by chaotic processes. When most people speak of “free will”, they speak almost of a homunculus — a mind within the mind — that somehow decides how to act extra-physically and imposes this decision upon the rest. There is no such homunculus, of course, there’s just neurons firing in the end. If you can define “free will” rigorously, then we can probably answer whether it exists simply by looking at how the brain works and seeing if the concept fits or not.

    However, I also don’t see what this has to do with persuading people — just because someone is a physical being that thinks using physical processes operating according to the laws that govern material objects does not mean you cannot influence their behavior.

  • Paul Marks

    My apologies Alisa.

    Perry M.

    If you really do not know that the term “free will” means then STOP WRITING ABOUT THESE MATTERS (just go away).

    Accept you can not do that – because your actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effects going back to the Big Bang. You are not a human BEING because (according to you) human BEINGS do not exist.

    Very well – then (for example) destroying you can not be murder (any more than smashing a clock is “murder”).

    The doctrines that “really” there is no such thing as good and evil and (even if there was) humans can not CHOOSE between them, do not lead to political freedom (other than in the sense of giving the RULERS total freedom to attack people).

    Of course humans can be influenced (“conditioned”, “brain washed” have their freedom undermined – attacked mentally as well as physically), but it is the moral duty of human beings to help other human beings to RESIST this brainwashing (to help them see what is being done – and help them FIGHT it).

    But, of course, all that depends on human BEINGS (agents – humans having agency) actually existing.

  • Perry, I’ll try to define ‘free will’ more precisely. Would you agree that as our technological ability stands now, human behavior is far more difficult to predict than that of simpler physical mechanisms, such as a rock, or even a pre-AI computer? Note that even the behavior of a rock is never 100% predictable, as there’s always the possibility it may behave in a totally unexpected way one time out of a gazillion. If you can then replicate that one occurrence, there goes the theory out the window. That is how the scientific method works.

    Note also that I am not arguing that technology cannot develop to the point of making human behavior as predictable as that of a rock – only that we are not quite there yet. The degree of controllability of an object’s behavior lies in direct proportion to the predictability of that behavior, and that also applies to physical objects we call ‘humans’. This is the free part in the term free will – the part of human behavior that is currently free from the possibility of control.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Paul Marks: “If you really do not know that the term “free will” means then STOP WRITING ABOUT THESE MATTERS (just go away).” — with respect, no.

    Alisa: “Perry, I’ll try to define ‘free will’ more precisely. Would you agree that as our technological ability stands now, human behavior is far more difficult to predict than that of simpler physical mechanisms, such as a rock, or even a pre-AI computer?” — sure, but the weather is also difficult to precisely predict, and for much the same reason (specifically, the chaotic behavior of solutions to partial differential equations). Does that mean that the weather has free will?

    “This is the free part in the term free will – the part of human behavior that is currently free from the possibility of control” — and again, the weather is not amenable to our control either.

    I do not think this is what most people mean by “free will”. They are generally, if I am not mistaken, referring to the idea that choices are somehow not physically determined results of physical processes, but rather are the result of some sort of metacognition that “freely” (that word is never well defined) chooses to do good or evil without reference to some deterministic process. This is said to be the reason humans can have moral culpability, that they somehow “decided” to do evil rather than simply doing what their neural firings caused them to do.

    I find this idea rather bizarre. First, I don’t see why you can’t have culpability regardless of why you did something. Second, there clearly is no such metacognitive system distinct from physical processes that determine how neurons fire.

    However, even though this is very clearly and obviously the case, it drives some people (see Mr. Marks) nearly to apoplexy when you say it aloud. Mr. Marks insists that if humans are mechanisms than killing one is no more significant than “smashing a clock”.

    Now clearly this is not the case, since clocks will not fight back. Humans take purposeful actions to resist being killed, and it is the fact that almost all humans act to prevent and punish killers that is the source of our customs and laws against killing. Again, though, to some people, the idea that the human brain is a physical mechanism is somehow a terrible thing that must be ignored at all costs, and there can be no possible explanation of why we have laws or rules apart from the notion of some mystical metacognitive process.

  • Perry, we are discussing specific physical objects (such as rocks, computers, cats and humans) and what one can and cannot expect of them – not general physical phenomena, such as weather, gravity or light.

    This is how I understand ‘free will’ (AKA ‘agency’). Other people may understand it differently, and that would very possibly include Paul. FWIW.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa: I don’t get why this “free will” thing matters. I treat other human beings as sentient because they behave as though they are sentient. I make contracts with them because cooperating with them demonstrably serves my interest. I refrain from injuring them because the mutual agreement to be peaceful demonstrably serves my interest. If they break that mutual agreement, deterrence is required to discourage future failures to leave me in peace.

    Since most other people have similar interests to mine, they too likely find that their interests are served by cooperation and deterrence.

    Whether their decisions are randomly selected from a shaped probability distribution, deterministic but quite complicated, arise from a mystical “soul”, etc. seems to have no practical bearing on any of these things. I do not seek to have killers punished because of “moral culpability”, but rather because experience says that deterrence reduces the incidence of murder and I am uninterested in being murdered.

    Anyway, you say: “we are discussing specific physical objects (such as rocks, computers, cats and humans) and what one can and cannot expect of them – not general physical phenomena, such as weather” — weather is just a shorthand for a particular object’s behavior, that object being Earth’s atmosphere. Surely you do not claim that the Earth’s atmosphere has “free will” — that would make the term “free will” completely uninteresting.

  • Perry, you asked ‘why this “free will” thing matters’. I answered it earlier:

    For one thing, understanding people’s motivations (moral, religious, practical, rational or not – you name it) can be helpful in predicting their actions. Furthermore, it can also be helpful in causing them to change their actions towards something more favorable to yourself. While the question about the actual substance of agency (AKA ‘free will’) may or may not be metaphysical, the question of its existence is nothing but practical.

    The behavior of Earth’s atmosphere does posses a great degree of uncertainty, and in that it may well be similar to ‘free will’. Whether that makes the human version of ‘free will’ more or less interesting is beside the point, since I’ve already explained that the reasons for my discussing human behavior here are purely practical. I do happen to find humans much more interesting than weather, if only because unlike weather, human behavior can in fact be influenced, including by me. But that is still beside the point.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry M. – what I dislike is the betrayal.

    It is like the “Road to Serfdom” – a fine book about the threat to freedom (from both Fascists and Communists – indeed all collectivists) and how we should stand for freedom against evil.

    Much the same as those talks that Alfred Roberts (the Methodist father of Mrs Thatcher) gave in the 1930s (long before the “Road to Serfdom” was written by Hayek) – but with an important difference, Alfred Roberts MEANT it.

    Someone makes a mighty speech about how we should stand for freedom against the forces of evil – and then, just as battle is about to be joined, the person who made the speech runs away (betraying everyone – the people he led to battle) and over his shoulder he shouts……

    “Oh I did not actually mean what I said about freedom – really there is no such thing, there is no good or evil and, even if there was, people could not really choose between them, as all actions are predetermined, including me selling you all out……”

    I do not like betrayal.

    I do not like someone pretending to support freedom – when they really do not believe it even exists.

    As for “with respect”.

    You do NOT respect me – you do not even regard me as agent, you have said you do not (repeatedly).

    This is the worst contempt you could possibly show for me.