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You Are More Evil Than You Think: Here’s Why

Photo by Mitja Juraja: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-skull-970517/

Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its collaborators executed over 6 million Jews. In 100 days between 7th April 1994 and 15th July 1994, over 800,000 people were slaughtered in the Rwandan Genocide. In a little more than a month, 1,300 people lost their lives in the aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan post-election violence.

What makes us commit such evils?

From the outside looking in, most of us think of ourselves as good people. We perceive ourselves to act like Oscar Schindler. Schindler is credited for saving over 1000 Jews during the holocaust. Just one man. In Rwanda, we just needed 800 Oscar Schindlers. In Kenya, just one.

Captain Mbaye Diagne, a Senegalese peacekeeping soldier in Rwanda at the time, did his fair share. He is credited with saving approximately 1,000 lives before he was killed.

If only we had 6000 men like Oscar Schindler and Captain Diagne, the death toll of 6 million Jews would be non-existent. The 800,000 Rwandese lives would not have been brutally taken.

These numbers are bleak. Unfortunately, when we read history we never think of ourselves as the perpetrators. The reason history repeats itself is that we are, more often than not. perpetrators.

Germany and its territories at the time had a population of over 100 million. Out of the nine-figure population, there weren’t 6,000 Oscar Schindlers. So, the probability that you would be on the good side of history if such events were to repeat themselves is 0.00006.

If you were in Rwanda, the probability that you would be the good guy is not promising either. In Kenya, well, you were here. What did you do? Indeed, evil prevails when good men fail to act.

But why would we be easily influenced to be evil? Is it that we are already evil, we only need someone to bring it out? Or do we not understand our capability of evil such that we do not recognize it while it is manifesting?

Milgram’s experiment

Some of these answers can be found in Milgram’s experiment. The experiment is controversial but lays out a foundational understanding of such matters. Stanley Milgram conducted many studies in the 1960s to try and understand this phenomenon: evil.

The setup of the experiment would vary from time to time to determine if we behave the same given different circumstances.

Milgram would advertise in a newspaper for volunteers in a learning and memory experiment. Participants would be paid.

In the first experiment, 40 people showed up. Two strangers were paired and made to draw straws to determine who would play the teacher and who would play the learner. The straws were rigged, in that, the volunteer would always be the teacher.

Unbeknownst to the volunteers, the stranger they were paired with was an actor hired for the experiment. The third person in the experiment was the researcher. He wore a lab coat to give the impression of a researcher, but in reality, was also an actor.

The learner would be given a list of words paired together. They would be required to memorize the pairs. Then the teacher was to test them.

But before the test began, the learner was strapped to an electrocution chair. The teacher was moved to the next room. In the teacher’s room were the controls to administer electrocution. The teacher was instructed to electrically shock the student if they failed to remember the correct word pairing.

The electrocution machine was calibrated from 15 volts to 450 volts. 15 volts was marked as a ‘slight’ shock. At the 300 volts, it was marked, ‘danger: severe shock’. At 450 volts it was marked with XXX.

The teacher was required to shock the student every time they failed to remember the correct word pairing. The shock administered was increased by 15 volts every time the student failed.

At this moment I know you are thinking, how far can the teacher go? Not very far, right? What if you were the teacher? What maximum voltage would you administer?

When the teacher started asking the questions the learner would get some right but get most of them intentionally wrong. Every time they failed the teacher shocked them. In response to the shock, the learner would cry. Remember, everything was staged and there was no actual shock administered. But the teacher was not aware of this fact.

At 150 volts the learner would cry out excruciatingly and ask to leave. The researcher would insist that the experiment needed to continue. At this point, you would think that the teacher would be empathetic and adamantly refuse to continue. None of them did.

Past 330 volts the learner would stop responding, indicative that they had either passed out or were in a non-responsive state. If the teacher wanted to stop at this point, the researcher would insist further that the experiment needed to continue. The teachers kept shocking a non-responsive learner till the maximum voltage (450 volts).

Here is the catch. At any point, the teacher could have stopped. You would presume that the teacher’s humanity would supersede the experiment’s requirements. But the researcher’s insistence on the needs of the experiments prevailed.

The researcher was supposed to use four statements consecutively to urge them to continue. If the teacher refused to continue after the fourth statement, the experiment was over. The teacher had to refuse to be inhuman by objecting to four simple statements.

The four statements were to be said in this order after hesitation.

  • Please continue
  • The experiment requires you to continue
  • It is absolutely essential that you continue
  • You have no other choice but to continue.
Radicalization

The four simple statements lay out the mastermind behind any form of radicalization.

At first, it is just a request. It is just an innocent thought. Step two, the simple request is tagged to a higher cause, the experiment. In step three, the inevitability of the cause is emphasized, and in step four there is no other option but to carry out the evil.

Horrifyingly, each of us can be easily radicalized. We are capable of performing the most inhumane acts.

But you still think you are an exception. You still think you can be the one in 100,000,000 million who would save the Jews or the one in 6 million Hutus who would save the Tutsis.

After the experiment by Milgram, all the 40 participants administered at least 300 volts. Double the voltage where the learner would cry out and ask to leave. All the participants were disarmed by four statements to at least push it to lethal levels. Twenty-six of the participants (65%) administered the full 450 volts.

The Projection

Let’s take these numbers in the context of our country if we were to be radicalized in such a nature. According to Milgram’s experiment, all of us would at least commit acts equal to administering 300 volts. Double the level at which the learner cries and begs to leave.

Terrifyingly, 65% of us, which is close to 30 million Kenyans, would push it to the level of absolute evil. Thirty million of anything pushing it to the limits will obliterate the belief in humanity.

I understand that the image in your head right now is grim and unpleasant. And you would never want to be part of anything like that. But what Milgram’s experiment goes to show is that we all have the potential for evil; if only the right things are said. If the right buttons are pressed, we would turn to complete monsters. We must understand this of ourselves, especially to always be on the lookout.

Take Away

We are in an electioneering period in our country. A little more than a decade ago, the right buttons to activate evil were pressed. It is high time we pay attention to what is being said to us by our politicians. It is high time we pay attention to what buttons they are trying to press. It is high time you were on high alert to look out for yourself and be your brother’s keeper. We cannot afford to unleash the evil within.

Also Read: Joe Forgas’ Interesting Yet Shocking Experiments that Propose Sadness Makes Us Think Better


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