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Small Acts of Resistance - Steve Crawshaw & John Jackson

"If Not Now, When? - Shocking Defiance"

(…)The results of the study were remarkable. Almost two-thirds of participants went along with demands to administer electric shocks up to the end of the scale. Many expressed reservations along the way that they were hurting the learner. When told by the staffer that the man was fine, however - or, crucially, that they were not responsible for what happened next - 65% went ahead as directed. Thus, for example, one woman - confident in her own moral qualities and representing, in effect, the amoral majority in this experiment - proudly descibed her character. “I’m unusual; I’m softhearted; I’m a softy.” She was also ready to kill, pushing the levers (after some ritual protests) right to the end of the scale. When the unharmed actor walked back into the room, the startled woman was concerned with what she had suffered while killing him. “Everytime I pressed the button, I died. Did you see me shaking? I was just dying here to think that I was administering shocks to this poor man.” 

Rensaleer, by contrast, took responsibility for his own actions, with important implications, as described by Stanley Milgram himself in his classic account, Obedience to Authority. When he refused to go forward with the shocks, Rensaleer was told by the staffer, “It is absolutely essential that you continue.” 

"Well, I won’t - not with the man screaming to get out," he replied. "You have no other choice," the staffer said, working off the predetermined script. "I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice?" Rensaleer replied. "I came here on my own free will… I can’t continue, I’m very sorry."

Rensaleer and other like him were in a minority. The majority, like the “I’m softhearted” woman, were ready to kill a perfect stranger. Rensaleer and other participants who refused to give lethal shocks when asked to do so proved the exception, not the rule.

We would all like to think we would repeat Rensaleer’s minimal act of resistance. The statistics of the Milgram experiment - including when the experiment was repeated, in other countries around the world - tell a very different story. 

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