What We Can Learn
In his book, The Lucifer Effect, Dr. Philip Zimbardo offers a list of ten primary elements of Stanley Milgram's Experiment that reinforced and enhanced the compliance of the study subjects.
Using a unique mix of factors, the study played upon human tendency and nature, essentially exploiting those human traits in an attempt to arrive at some kind of reliable number that allows us to put the human capacity for evil into perspective. Being aware of subtle processes of manipulation which some people use as techniques gives a person much more power of choice and confidence to resist subtle manipulation in the future.
If you haven't watched the video of Zimbardo at MIT, please take time to do so – at least, just the portion about Stanley Milgram's Study of blind obedience to authority. Also, if you've not done so before, please read back through the previous posts on this topic, also taking special note of this post on moral disengagement as well as the post about the Milgram Experiment. Cialdini's “Weapons of Influence” are also very helpful when working toward a better understanding of why people complied in the Milgram Experiment, capitalizing on human nature and tendency.
(There will be a few more posts on this subject to come in the future, too.)
We can learn from the Schatz Family, because like so many others within Christian homeschooling and other such communities, I believe that all of these factors contributed to their progressive loss of perspective of which Michael Pearl's teachings were only a part. So many additional factors become part of the mix of Christian living because individuals who are convicted that a certain practice is Biblical for them preach their preferences as moral imperatives. These factors and more (many listed in the sidebar here at UnderMuchGrace.com) create the perfect storm that caught up the Schatz family – a storm that could well be true of all of us. May we learn the lessons from the tragic example they have set for us.
May their sad experience be like a beacon of warning for us as Christians and as people.
Please don't miss the Moral in Milgram at the end of this post!
that Enhance Comliance with
Ethically Questionable Systems
(Adapted from The Lucifer Effect, pp. 273-5)
~ With a Comparison to the Pearl Method ~
1.) Pre-arrange a verbal or written contract at the beginning of interactions, something directed at complying with an agreed upon behavior.
- Pearl Method: The system defines good, dutiful, loving Christian parents as those who who follow the method.
- The expectation is reinforced within homeschooling communities through social pressure, and sometimes in their churches.
- In order to prove to yourself and others that you are a good parent and truly Christian, you are expected to follow those expectations that are part of the unwritten contract enforced by social control and pressure within churches and homeschooling groups.
- People will go to great lengths to prove to themselves and others that they are consistent with commitments that they have made.
- It is human nature to “stick with the program.”
2.) Give participants a meaningful role to play that builds upon positive and honorable values and those roles that have automatic responses associated with them. (Milgram assigned status of “teacher” which is understood culturally, usually in a positive light.)
- Pearl Method: The good parent comes along and reads a book with many good ideas in it.
- Following the program has been framed out by a good minister as the only good way for good parents to raise good children.
- It's all about the ideals and one's Christian mission and duty in life.
3.) Imperative rules that seem to make sense can be presented to participants can be be argued in advance of the interaction. These rules can be used at a later time to justify and enforce mindless compliance. People will feel committed to them because they believed and accepted them initially, before they had an opportunity to really think about them. This can be exploited later.
- Pearl Method: Christians naturally want to do what the Bible teaches, and Pearl's new rules can be enforced by stressing their divine nature which bypasses most people's radar when they don't scrutinize the nature of those new rules.
- Parents are also told later in the process that if they don't follow the formula, their children will suffer physically and spiritually, ultimately dying physically and spiritually.
- By the time the true nature of the risks are fully realized, the person has already become very deeply invested in the system and committed to it.
- At this point, it becomes easier to follow the process rather than to exit from it.
4.) Changing the language used to describe the process from either benign or negative terms into those which connote pleasant, virtuous, and lofty ideals obscure the true nature of the dynamics. Doing something unpleasant can be redefined as something beneficial, meaningful, and good.
- Pearl Method: Parents are told that resorting to physical discipline is what God Himself has prescribed for them.
- Corporal punishment is reframed as “chastisement” which carries the connotation of Hebrews Chapter 12, and this Biblical language reinforces the elite nature of corporal punishment as an act of Christian virtue.
- “Spanking” replaces “beating.” A “switch” replaces a “whip.”
- People also identify the “rod” as a Biblical term and what God requires of them as the method frames it for them.
- Not everything defined as “Biblical” is really so – and the term itself is a big “thought-stopping cliche” within Christian groups.
- People take the shortcut and trust the term without searching out the validity of its use because it's easier.
5.) The system exploits participants by “creating opportunities for the diffusion of responsibility.” They are lead to believe that they will be exempt of responsibility for negative outcomes if they follow the prescribed pattern of behavior (moral disengagement). Someone else will be held responsible and they will not be liable.
- Pearl Method: Parents are promised that the system cannot fail if it is followed consistently and will yield great benefits for parent, child, church and society.
- It will also please God and will satisfy the requirements He demands.
- The system itself, because it has so strongly been identified with God Himself, is never questioned as potentially unreliable as a misguided one with good intentions.
- The promised virtuous outcome justifies the means used to gain that outcome.
- The system itself is responsible, and God is responsible.
- God will eventually justify those who stepped out in faith. Only reward can result from following the system.
6.) The “path toward the ultimate evil” begins with very small, incremental changes. Biderman's Chart of Coercion points this out very well, and complete compliance is surrendered in small steps. It is essentially a slippery slope of increasingly greater requests or requirements of compliance.
Each step takes you a little closer to the cliff's edge as though there is no cliff to fall from at all. Because of the gradual changes over time and because of a loss of perspective, you don't realize just how many changes you've made over time until you've fallen over the edge.
- Pearl Method: On the surface of things, parents just expect to spank their children when things become necessary but soon realize that, according to the program, a parent must spank very often.
- For the program to work properly, consistency is required without room for error.
- You can't just quit the program, or it won't work. It's comprehensive.
- The program demands more and more over time and becomes a whole lifestyle.
7.) With each incremental step in the process, a new and slightly increased level of compliance or intensity must be introduced. The increases are framed as so indiscernible that they are insignificant. (In Milgram's study, the first shocks that were delivered seemed to be relatively benign and mild, but they progressed from 15 volts to a deadly 450 volts at the end of the study.)
- Pearl Method: Parents soon realize that it is not just enough to spank, but they must inflict the requisite amount of pain for the system to work properly.
- They have to increase the intensity of the force used or the length of the practice to get the desired effect.
- You might decide that the paint stick or the designated paddle has worn out its usefulness and you might switch to the plumbing line for “better results.” Then you might find that you need it in every room, and then you need to carry it around in your purse.
- As the child ages, it gives to reason that greater force must be used to achieve this effect.
- I find it interesting that the Pearls loose many followers at this juncture, finding that it is either not necessary to get the harsh sounding recommended implements, or they find the whole plumbing line option to be a little too strange.
8.) Gradually changing the ethical nature of the authority figure from a good, trustworthy and “just” person who behaves reasonably into a bad, demanding, authoritarian, “unjust”, and perhaps irrational person. The confusion enhances the compliance, and people generally respond with mindless obedience. The inconsistency tends to galvanize compliance in a manner very similar to that of women in “date rape” and domestic abuse situations.
- Pearl Method: Elements of the Method are quite good, and some of the concepts that it teaches are very sound.
- Consistency, structure, and teaching consequences does help children. So parents get quite a lot out of these beneficial elements of the Model.
- The Pearls talk about love and their duty to both their children and to God to do the right thing.
- But that concept does not match the aggressive nature of the harsh and often unbridled punishment methods.
- Peers and church leaders take on the primary authoritarian role, showing painful disapproval for non-compliance. Doubt is discouraged or punished.
- The inconsistency induces cognitive dissonance which makes people very compliant and greatly compromises their critical thinking ability.
9.) Compliance increases when the process makes it difficult to nearly impossible to comfortably exit the process. In the Milgram study, the “teacher”/subject was permitted to voice their verbal dissent so that they could feel at ease with the moral dilemma, but at the same time, they were required to continue with the process.
- Pearl Method: Parents are told that though they may not like their role, they are required to continue to keep their own salvation and to properly care for their children.
- There is no exit, and the consequences are defined as eternal.
- In “hard” complementarianism which the Pearls also observe, women often talk of repenting of their sin of not liking the limits of their role, but they are still required to suppress their desires and comply, even though it doesn't feel good or natural to them.
10.) Ideology or offering “a big lie” to justify the process and the system reinforces the idea that the system can and should resort to necessary means to achieve the benefit and the virtuous endpoint.
“In social psychology experiments, this tactic is known as a 'cover story' because it is a cover-up for the procedures that follow, which might be challenged because they do not make sense on their own. The real-world equivalent is known as an 'ideology'” (pg. 274).
- Pearl Method: Following the formula promises to solve discipline problems as well as shape and prepare a child for an increased if not guaranteed Christian status.
- The parent will be rewarded in many ways for their dutiful Christian service and for their parenting efforts.
- This ideology is actually a strong component in every one of the conditions in Zimbardo's list about the Milgram experiment because of the religious nature of the Pearl Method.
- It isn't only a program which uses coercion to increase compliance of participants – the program defines and redefines one's Christianity and Christian status in terms of the program itself and compliance with it.
The Moral in Milgram
“Such procedures are utilized in varied influence situations where
those in authority want others to do their bidding but
know that few would engage in the “end game”
without first being properly prepared psychologically
to do the “unthinkable.”
In the future,
when you are in a compromising position
where your compliance is at stake,
thinking back to these stepping-stones to mindless obedience
may enable you to step back and
not go all the way down the path – their path.
A good way to avoid crimes of obedience
is to assert one's own personal authority and
always take full responsibility for one's own actions. “
~ Zimbardo, pg 275
referencing Kelman & Hamilton
- A list of ALL POSTS related to Lydia Schatz, Michael Pearl, and Blind Obedience
- CNN's Reports about the deaths of Lydia Schatz and Hannah Williams, and interviews with Michael Pearl on AC360 and Dr. Drew.
- Posts about Kidney Disease related to the Pearl Method
- Posts about Harm to Children through discipline for religious reasons (including Pearl)