Society's power to make us obey allows for peaceful existence, economic prosperity and efficiency but it also allows faulty decisions to be amplified and become catastrophic. In 1963 Stanley Milgram showed that the vast majority of humans exhibit excessively obedient behavior in the presence of an authority and that we can easily be made to encourage or tolerate real torture and murder even though it contrasts with our own stated ethical values.
The Milgram finding was buried by the criticism of the ethics of the experiment itself and it is the purpose of this paper to resurrect it.
While the murder of the confederate Learner is an unethical decision, the fundamental finding of the experiment is not about which ethical decision to make, but rather that we are not able to carry out the ethical decisions we would like to make, in other words it is about self actualization. To prevent the fake murder in the Milgram experiment and, by extension, the real murders elsewhere, we need to accomplish two things. First, we have to teach ourselves that there is a large discrepancy between what we think we will do and what we will actually do in situations of authority. Second, we have to minimize the difference between what we do and what we would like to do.
In this paper barriers and dynamics in our society that keep us from breaking and even enforce our habit to obey excessively are discussed. A sketch of a solution to the problem of excessive obedience is made involving experiential training, mappings of authority fields, rules and strong situations, and policy changes.