The Milgram Experiment Suggests TSA Staff Unlikely to Disobey Orders

Discussion of TSA’s recent actions has focused on procedures. But procedures do not implement themselves. Someone has to be comfortable with looking at naked pictures of strangers. Someone has to be comfortable searching breasts and testicles for likely nonexistent explosives. For every woman savaged and every child fondled, there was a person in a blue shirt willing to participate in the process. That is disturbing at best.

Front line TSA staff is caught between a rock and a hard place; between their public bosses and their bureaucratic overlords. They seem unaware of response options they have other than to develop a siege mentality. I remember a sign I saw in a DMV office complaining about the public’s bad attitude. The DMV concluded the public’s attitude in their office was unrelated to their DMV experience. The public was wrong to be offended and the DMV was free to behave as it pleased.

But being unaware of options doesn’t mean there aren’t any. They could quit. They could say, “I will not sexually assault and humiliate another human being in the name of security merely because I am told the measures are necessary.” Yet I know of no TSA employee, not one, who has opted to quit rather than obey orders.

TSA knows the pain, humiliation, frustration and anger they produce. They ignore it. Management says it’s “necessary” and staff implements with gusto. Nobody quits. Nobody objects. They all just hunker down. Any outrage they feel is over how they are treated and perceived.

It reminds me of The Milgram Experiment at Yale in the 1960s. Psychologist Stanley Milgram “… measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.” They were ordered to shock a person for giving wrong test answers. The voltage increased with each wrong answer. No actual shock was delivered. An actor in another room screamed and pounded on walls, feigning distress. Nevertheless, a huge percentage of participants delivered the maximum voltage.

Wikipedia quotes Milgram on the implications of the study,

I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. 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. (emphasis added)

Milgram’s actual experiment, and variations on it, have been repeated since then including, it is reported, as recently as April of 2010. In every case, the results were the same.

To quote Milgram, “…the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any length on the command of authority … most urgently demand[s] explanation.” Patriots talk of Liberty. Tyrants talk of security. Until we explain why Americans, whose nation was conceived in Liberty, agree to implement tyranny because they are told to; until we understand why Americans, whose Liberty comes from almighty God, surrender that Liberty without a fight because they are told to, Rights bought with Patriot swords will be stolen by tyrant pens. Unless we again become the Americans our Declaration and Constitution were written for we are doomed.

Not that this specific issue will break us, although it might. Who knows the exact location of the point of no return? But this is movement away from Liberty and into the counterfeit embrace of currently benevolent tyrants. When we have a choice between Liberty and tyranny, and we choose tyranny, our chains become more comfortable and more easily worn. Eventually tyrants need do nothing because we will have enslaved ourselves. Somewhere the Founders are weeping.

Crossposted from Blue Collar Muse

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