65%. 65% of educated people will absolutely kill a man for roughly $32 if someone tells them to. The experiment has been repeated numerous times, with people from a great many walks of life, and that number stays remarkably consistent.
Though perhaps what’s more upsetting is when they repeated the study at Princeton they had an 80% success rate. So. Eli Yale, bulldog! Bulldog! Bow, wow, wow, our team can never fail, I suppose.
God, that’s awful. 65%.
There is one action that always makes me feel better when reading about this experiment. It has nothing to do with Elizabeth Bathory. There was one guy- only one guy – who refused to even pull the first switch during the Milgram experiment. He just said that it was wrong and walked out. He was Ronald Ridenhour. He became a journalist, and he later went on to expose the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. Today, the Ridenhour Prize is named for him, to “recognize those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice or illuminate a more just vision of society.”
But most of us are no Ronald Ridenhours.
Look, it’s easy to say that Judas was not the only one willing to sell his soul for 30 gold pieces. But I think the Milgram experiment does speak to our tendency to associate, relate to, and obey people we perceive as strong, survivor-types rather than those we see as victims, lest we be dragged down with them. And Elizabeth Bathory wasn’t a Yale educated student. Or a Princeton student. She was a 15 year old girl in the 16th century. It was very much in her interest to follow her husband’s lead.
Still. The oddest part of this may be the realization that, while Elizabeth was tying down servant girls and watching them be eaten alive by bugs, she apparently had a very tender, caring relationship with her husband.