Santayana observed, is "the chastity of the intellect."
In similar fashion, resistance – not compliance – is the default
response of a free person to a directive issued by someone acting
in the name of "authority." Louise
Ogborn, a teenage employee at a McDonald’s in Mount Washington,
Kentucky, was sexually assaulted and confined for hours because
this rudimentary understanding of individual autonomy was entirely
alien to her workplace supervisor.
working a second shift as a favor to her supervisor, the improbably
named Donna Summers, when someone identifying himself as "Officer
Scott" called the restaurant. Claiming that he had the restaurant’s
manager with him, the "officer" said he was investigating
a theft. The caller offered a description of the supposed suspect,
which Summers thought matched Louise.
was summoned to the office, where Summers – at the behest of the
caller – informed the young lady that she had to undergo a hands-on
search, either in the office or at a nearby police station. Believing
that she was effectively under arrest, Louise consented to a search
in the office.
Within a few
minutes the young lady had been deprived of her cell phone, purse,
and clothing, which – per the "officer’s" instructions
– were taken to another room. In the service of modesty’s minimal
requirements, Louise was provided with an apron.
had been disrobed, the "officer" ordered Summers to enlist
a male employee to guard the "suspect." A 27-year-old
line cook named Jason Bradley was asked to play the role.
Bradley’s objection focused on what he was being told to do,
not the identity of the individual issuing the orders. Summers remained
credulous, however, and in compliance with the "officer’s"
demands called her fiancé, Walter Nix, to come to the restaurant
to guard Louise.
with Louise for a space of about two hours, Nix – dutifully carrying
out the "officer’s" instructions – forced the victim "to
perform a series of humiliating physical acts, conducted a cavity
search of her body, engaged in the additional physical assault of
spanking her, and ultimately sexually assaulted her," narrates
the Court of Appeals decision. Louise objected to the abuse she
was suffering. At various times during the three-hour ordeal, she
"asked for her clothes, and requested permission to leave.
Her requests evoked some sympathy from her managers but were ultimately
a maintenance man named Tom Simms grabbed the phone, spoke with
the "officer," and told Summers that the whole thing was
a hoax. This prompted her to call the store manager, who was at
home, rather than the police station. Only then was Summers willing
to allow Louise to get dressed and leave.
was similar to a string of hoaxes believed to have been perpetrated
over a ten-year period by a former prison guard from Florida named
David Stewart. In 2006, Nix
was found guilty of false imprisonment and sexual abuse, and sentenced
to five years in prison.
was fired from her position at McDonald’s, pleaded guilty to a charge
of unlawful imprisonment. Stewart, who may well have been a beta
tester for the Transportation Security Administration, was charged
with several felonies but acquitted.
Nix’s trial, the prosecutor insisted that he and Summers should
have known that the caller wasn’t a police officer. This assumes
that the crimes committed against Louise would have been justifiable
if those acts had been carried out on the orders of a policeman,
rather than a con artist. Jason Bradley’s entirely commendable defiance
demonstrated that he recognized the immorality of what he was being
told to do – and that the nature of those acts wouldn’t change if
they were given the benediction of someone claiming to exercise
that 65 percent of his test subjects were willing to subject an
unseen – and entirely innocent – person to what they believed was
a fatal electric shock on the orders of a person seen as cloaked
in that mysterious property called "authority."
the Authority Figure, Milgram observed, permitted those who participated
in the experiment to "shed responsibility" for their actions.
Within a day,
the participants had immersed themselves in their respective roles.
The guards became aggressive, hostile, and verbally abusive (physical
violence was forbidden); the "prisoners" became depressed,
and a few developed psycho-somatic afflictions, such as rashes.
The "guards," by way of contrast, reveled in their status,
constantly inflicting whimsical punishments on the "prisoners"
and looking for new and more inventive ways to restrict what little
liberty they still enjoyed.
When a graduate
assistant protested that it was a form of abuse to inflict suffering
on poorly-paid volunteers, Zimbardo ended the experiment – after
just six days.
When Dr. Zimbardo
announced the end of his study, "most of the guards seemed
to be distressed … and it appeared to us that they now enjoyed the
extreme control and power which they had exercised and were reluctant
to give it up," he wrote in an essay published by the 1973
issue of Naval Research Review.
a guard carried with it social status within the prison, a group
identity (when wearing the uniform), and, above all, freedom to
exercise an unprecedented degree of control over the lives of other
human beings," Zimbardo observed. "This control was invariably
expressed in terms of sanctions, punishment, demands, and with the
threat of manifest physical power. There was no need for the guards
to rationally justify a request as they did [in] their ordinary
life, and merely to make a demand was sufficient to have it carried
out. Many of the guards showed in their behavior and revealed in
post-experimental statements that this sense of power was exhilarating."
described here, of course, was entirely fictive – just like that
exercised by the faceless "Officer Scott" who ordered
the abuse of Louise Ogborn. Of course, the ability of the peculiar
artifact called the "State" to regiment, expropriate, incarcerate,
and annihilate human beings depends entirely on the willingness
of its victims to accept the moral fiction that coercive "authority"
is in some sense legitimate.
As the Appeals
Court observed, although Louise may have been forced to part with
her purse – and lose her job – if she had simply decided to leave,
she was not physically restrained or threatened with violence by
her supervisors. She initially cooperated out of a desire "to
clear her name, save her job, and clear her parents’ name."
As the caller’s demands escalated, Louise succumbed to the "moral
pressure" of her colleagues, who insisted that it was somehow
the victim’s duty to submit.
inflicted on Louise Ogborn (who eventually won a substantial civil
judgment against McDonald’s) were made possible because she was
effectively paralyzed by what the Appeals Court calls "the
threat of authority." Her former colleagues suffered from a
kindred affliction – the delusion that "authority" can
redeem immoral conduct.
is depicted – with predictable dramatic license – in the
new indie film Compliance, and the reaction of a preview
audience in New York is revealing.
a panel discussion following the screening, psychologist Stanton
Peele asked: "How many people in this room think they would
have gone along with this scenario if they were present?" Not
a single hand was raised. One audience member insisted that the
deception worked because it targeted unsophisticated people of the
kind who would work at a fast food joint.
of the audience was content to marinate in a sense of cultural superiority,
one man – who pointedly noted that he was "well-educated"
– gave voice to the unvarnished truth about most people who live
in our degenerate collectivist culture:
truly believed there was a threat of consequence, you would have
done it. [If a]police officer is calling, saying you might lose
your job, you might be held accountable if you don’t do these things,
you might follow through" – even if that means being party
to a grotesque sexual assault on an innocent co-worker as she cries
and pleads for help.
worth nothing that acts very similar to those prosecuted as sexual
assault when carried out by a McDonald’s employee and her boyfriend
in 2006 are committed thousands of times every day at airports by
federal employees in 2012.
are carried out in the name of "authority"; accordingly,
it is those who object to being publicly molested who confront the
prospect of prosecution. When episodes of that kind are given publicity
by the State-aligned media, the Ministry of Truth will always find
at least one properly docile subject who will recite the appropriate
words of chastened gratitude for the indispensable service performed
by the TSA’s Molestation Corps.
and undeniable truth is that in contemporary America, most people
will scream the equivalent of "Do it to Julia!" long before
they face the horrors of Room 101.