Would you electrocute your son for science?
Hey, I came across your Substack on Twitter. Just subscribed. I like this post. I think you’d enjoy Luke Russell’s book, “Being Evil”. He’s pretty skeptical of the claim that Eichmann was just some guy following orders. Rather, he thinks Arendt missed a lot when she observed Eichmann in court, and that he was really a guy with far worse intentions and motivations than he showed to the public.
I’m also reminded of Christopher Browning’s book, “Ordinary Men”. There’s a Nazi in that book called Captain Wohlauf, and I think he’s probably closer to being the guy that just followed orders, although he wasn’t as horrified by violence (maybe he’s closer to the 15% of people in Milgram’s Condition 24). Another Nazi mentioned in that book is Major Trapp. Wohlauf didn’t like Trapp because he saw him as weak and disregarding of his duties as a member of the SS. So Trapp also seems like a guy who may have started by having his better intentions twisted for evil ends.
Anyway, that’s all to say that these Eichmann-like characters seem to exist on a spectrum, and many of them probably have “good” intentions they can point too, but some seem to have more or less than others. That brings me back to Russell–for Russell, there’s no such thing as a qualitatively evil person. There are people, and some are more or less evil than others, with very few being extremely evil. But nobody is either “good” or “evil”.
Best of luck with the new Substack, I look forward to reading more!
I think you're arguing against yourself here. “Humans are, deep down, meek little sheep who want to be told what to do" is *not* "people are fundamentally evil." Eichmann was not Hitler, could never be Hitler. The argument that people are fundamentally compliant to authority, even if it goes against their better judgment, is not only not contradictory to "these men were inspired into evil by traits we might otherwise consider admirable: loyalty, duty, brotherhood, patriotism, honor"; it's saying the *same thing.* Eichmann had no desire to kill Jews; he wanted to be a good person in the system he was brought up in, to do the right thing, to *follow orders." It can *absolutely* be said of him that "it may have been politeness, not malice, urging [him] onward." That's exactly what's horrifying about Eichmann and the Milgrom experiments: the banality of evil.
"you don't really want to hang out with murderers no matter how many kidneys they've donated."
What a great post! Thank you for writing it. And what a great blog too. Best of Substack!
Take a read through "Humankind," by Rutger Bregman. Thoroughly, absolutely, with first person testimony, debunks the whole Milgram crapstorm, and then shuts down the Zimbardo farce just as effectively. It's not bad science, it's no sort of science at all.
I've always felt that an underacknowledged wrinkle in the narrative of the Milgram studies being especially damning is that, in the end, people who kept shocking *were right*- that is, they carried on doing something they were told was okay and *were correct because it was a sham.* Now, of course, how could they know? But when really weird things happen in the world there's always a metanalysis that suggests they're weird because they're phony, and with 'an esteemed scientist has arranged for people to be potentially murdered' on one hand and 'I'm in a haunted house' on the other, the second has to be looming large. Milgram insisting that no one could be suspicious of his rooms full of community theater thespians committing capital crimes, at least enough to play along given the other factors you mention, felt rather self-serving and unlikely.
Best analysis of Milgram I've EVER read, by far. 💯
In a nutshell, Milgram's experiments are closer to the ASCH conformity test than some kind of validation of the Judeo-Christian concept that "We're all worthless sinners from the literal second we're born" aka "Your stupid great grandpa ate an apple, so you're a POS too."
Actually, now that I think about it, the bedrock of just about all the big religions (including Buddhism) is that human beings are, by nature, fundamentally bad/flawed/dirty/sinful.
"We don’t consider the possibility that perhaps these men were inspired into evil by traits we might otherwise consider admirable: loyalty, duty, brotherhood, patriotism, honor"
It seems to me that if you're paying attention of course you understand that. Eichmann was a pretty low life kind of guy with lots of issues, but he also thought he was doing his duty.