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Compliance With Authority Figures
Many Are Playing Hot Potato with Responsibility These Days
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to spoil the movie Compliance as it was based on real-life situations (over 70 different occurrences). If you don’t want to know what happens, don’t click those links and go watch the movie first. I found it on Plex for free with ads.
The Milgram Experiment
When I was in Junior High School learning about the Holocaust we were taught about the Milgram Experiment. Based on the experiment we know that some people are willing to basically kill another person simply because they believe they need to be compliant with an authority.
In the experiment, everyone is knowledgeable about what’s going on except for the participant who is supposed to be “the teacher.” The participant was told that “the learner” would experience electric shocks if they got the answers wrong. As “the teacher,” the participant believed that he would be giving those shocks to “the learner.” The participant got to feel a tiny electric shock so they knew what that felt like. But they were told the shocks would get higher in voltage over time.
They were led into different rooms so the participant couldn’t see “the learner” but could “hear” them. No one was actually getting shocked. The experiment wasn’t about learning but was about whether or not the participant would continue to increase the voltage as they did hear screams being played (while no one was actually getting hurt).
Results of the Milgram Experiment
Of the 40 participants in the experiment, they all administered 300 volts, where the learner would bang on the wall and stop responding. Only 5 of the participants refused to go on at that point. 26 participants went all the way to the end giving 450 volts.
We learned that people are willing to hurt others so long as they think someone is over them in a position of authority.
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In the movie Compliance, a man calls into a fast food restaurant and claims to be a policeman, claims to have talked to the regional manager, and gets the store manager to strip search an employee. While trying to get the store manager to go along with him, he kept saying that, if something went wrong, it would be on his head, not hers.
He was basically telling her that he was taking the responsibility to be moral off of her and placing it onto himself. Since she believed he had talked to the regional manager, she felt comfortable just complying with him. But she was rejecting her responsibility to check with the regional manager herself to see that this man was who he said he was. A simple call to the regional manager would have saved this strip-searched woman from eventually getting raped.
A part of me hates the idea of writing this because someone somewhere could read this and pull the same trick with the key thing I’ve just explained. But they’ll figure out how to do it regardless, simply from watching movies like this. At the very least, this can help people understand better to not fall for it in the future. The key thing is if you make someone feel like they are not responsible for the outcome, then they’re way more pliable.
In the Milgram experiment, the authority figures would tell the participants to go on. The study was done at Yale so their fame also might have helped the participants feel more comfortable. The participants likely felt that the responsibility for the safety of “the learners” was being taken care of by the Yale experimenters.
When you feel completely personally responsible you think twice about doing things that harm others. But when you feel like that responsibility is in someone else’s hands, or even if you’re sharing responsibility, then you feel freer to not think as much. You figure someone else is doing the thinking on that and making sure everything is okay.
That is idolatry as I mentioned in my previous substack article. It’s about placing someone else above you as if they are more capable of figuring out the morality of the situation than you are.
Playing Responsibility Hot Potato
If you aren’t aware, Hot Potato is a game where people quickly pass around a small beanbag (or actual potato) because the last one stuck holding it when the music stops is kicked out of the game. In this article, I suggest people are passing around responsibility to others because no one wants to be stuck having the responsibility be on them.
The kind of idolatry I mentioned earlier is a form of responsibility shifting. You and you alone should be responsible for what you do. When you shift your responsibility for something onto someone else you become a slave to what they do or don’t do. I wrote a little bit about responsibility shifting in this substack.
People who want others to use their preferred pronouns have shifted the responsibility (to make themselves feel comfortable) onto other people. Those other people will choose to comply with their preferred pronouns or use the sexed pronouns instead.
Because they put that responsibility onto the other people, if the others fail to act in their preferred manner, their comfort is in the other people’s hands rather than their own. They have allowed other people the ability to make them feel uncomfortable. Whereas if they took personal responsibility for their comfort, no one else could make them uncomfortable. That’s why I call it slavery.
In the movie Compliance, the manager who took orders to strip search a girl from a stranger doesn’t take personal responsibility for the whole thing. She acts like a victim. This makes sense because if she had taken personal responsibility upfront she would have called the police station and/or her regional manager to check that everything was legit. Instead, she placed that responsibility onto the caller and when things went badly, she kept thinking that the responsibility was on his head, rather than her own.
Someone Else Is Always Responsible
When the Nazis killed people and said they were just following orders, it was because they had put that responsibility onto their leaders. When pharmacists were injecting people with the experimental COVID-19 vaccines without informed consent, they didn’t think the responsibility to make sure they were safe was on them. They believed it was someone else’s responsibility.
When schools forced children to wear masks, they didn’t think it was their responsibility to make sure that was safe or beneficial. They thought someone else was in charge of figuring that out.
The Responsibility Hot Potato Game
In our society right now a lot of people have put others (who are not really worthy) in authority positions. They’re putting a lot of faith and trust in people who are not really that trustworthy.
The general public either took responsibility (to know that COVID vaccines were safe) upon themselves or put that responsibility onto their doctors or pharmacists. Pharmacists would have put that responsibility onto the doctors or health organizations. The health organizations would put the responsibility onto the vaccine manufacturers who run their own trials.
The vaccine manufacturers are not held liable (responsible) for their mistakes in many cases. The government has paid out for vaccine problems in the past, and the general public pays those funds through taxes, so can we say the general public are the ones actually being held responsible for mistakes the vaccine manufacturers make?
Passing the Buck
People keep passing the buck so to speak. When you don’t take personal responsibility for things, you are trusting someone else with that responsibility. However, you don’t know that they’re taking it onto themselves or simply passing that responsibility onto someone else in the same way. Eventually, with enough passing responsibility around like a hot potato, no one feels ultimately responsible and that allows immoral behaviors or accidents to happen more frequently. People are a lot more careful when they’re held responsible for their actions.
My Final Thoughts
I have complied with people at times when I didn’t want to, but I always knew I was ultimately responsible for my actions. I would never blame someone else for getting me into a situation. I, intellectually, understand why people shift responsibility away from themselves. But, emotionally, I don’t understand why people would give their responsibility and power away.
I think people, at their core, would still feel guilty. However, this responsibility shifting is a way for them to stuff that guilt down and helps them to live with the cognitive dissonance of doing something they morally didn’t want to do.
I knew people complied with authority more than they should, but the strip search scam was remarkable to me. The Wikipedia article says it started in 1992 and lasted for 12 years. People are too trusting or too weak to want to take the responsibility of being accountable for their own actions.
Always be responsible for your own actions. Question authority. Questioning authority doesn’t mean being aggressive or combative. It simply means keeping your mind open to the idea that the authority could be simply mistaken, lied to, or simply lying.
It’s a logical fallacy to appeal to authority because they are humans just like you or me and we all make mistakes.