Now, that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s Muslim travel ban has been temporarily stayed and most of the hoopla has died down, let’s take a sober look at why the fuck the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s America is such a frightening place! As luck would have it, about 40 & 50 years ago two studies were done that sheds a real clear light on what it means to be human and follow orders and play a role! Social psychologists Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo conducted studies examining both of these phenomena. And, interestingly, both have been the subjects of commercial films.
Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Study
The Holocaust inspired a generation of social psychologists to understand why an entire country would go along with such an atrocity. How could one human being treated another human being so cruelly? The Nuremberg defense of I was following orders just didn’t seem convincing, but was there something to it?
Well, sir, Stanley Milgram hatched this scheme in 1963 to subject ordinary people — white middle class men, actually — to orders that would ultimately lead to the death of another human being if carried out. Hmmm how is that legal or ethical? Never mind, it was 1963 and ain’t no one cared about those details until after we were all horrified to find out what Milgram done.
Milgram recruited his participants — Milgram’s experiment is one of the reasons we call people participating in studies participants and not subjects — under the guise of a learning study: would punishment improve learning? Little did the participants know that they were stooges participating in the study with a confederate of Milgram. The random selection of who would be the teacher and who would be the student was rigged. The participant ALWAYS turned out to be the teacher. And, well the confederate was always the same person!
Anywho, the student was secluded in a separate room and strapped into the chair with a lead attached to apply the electric shocks. The teacher was given a series of word pairs to teach the student. If the student got the word pair wrong, then an electric shock was provided. The voltage of the shocks increased with each wrong answer until reaching 450 volts. A level which was labeled XXX, which didn’t stand for pornography in those days; it stood for dead! Inevitably, the participants balked especially after the student started begging to be released, complained of heart pains, and then fell silent for the rest of the experiment. However, there was another confederate present who would tell the teacher that they should continue. Only on the fourth complaint would the teacher be allowed to stop or if the teacher just up and refused to continue. Surprisingly two-thirds of all participants killed the student. And, no participant stopped until delivering a 300 volt shock. Think you’d be any different? Well, you’re probably wrong.
The Standford Prison Study
Ten years later in 1973 Philip Zimbardo decides to see how much role and environment affect behavior. He recruited 24 college students — all white men — and randomly assigned them the role of prison guard or prison prisoner. A battery of psychological tests and interviews were conducted to ensure that the participants were as normal as possible.
The experiment was scheduled to run for two weeks, but was shut down after six days. It turns out that everyone really got into their roles. They even had a real prison chaplain come visit the prisoners, and he reported that they all acted like freaked out first timers! He didn’t suggest that since they were just college students, they should probably be let go because being freaked out first timers in prison was really bad for you.
The guards were prohibited from hitting the prisoners, but other than that, they could do what they wanted and do what they wanted they did. They humiliated the prisoners, made them do endless exercises, put disobedient prisoners in the isolation cell, and even went to the limit trying to force a prisoner to eat his breakfast sausages. They put him in isolation with the sausage until he ate it. He didn’t. Imagine being locked in a dark closet for two days with a sausage that had been handled by numerous people, thrown across the room, and rolling around on the floor. They tried to turn the other prisoners against him. Most of them turned.
One prisoner talked his way out of the prison by claiming to be hysterical. He was. A rumor started that he was going to return and break the other prisoners out. Zimbardo acting as prison superintendent had the prisoners moved and waited in the “prison” for him to show. He wanted to capture him and re-imprison him for having gotten out under false pretenses! Turns out, letting the supervising psychologist play a role in the prison was a bad idea. He was more superintendent than psychologist.
Luckily, Zimbardo’s grad-ass girl friend showed up one day was all like What the fuck are you torturing these boys for? I won’t put out again until you let them all go! (Okay, that last part is just how I imagine the conversation going.) Anywho, Zimbardo shut the whole thing down right then and there. Think you wouldn’t’ve tortured prisoners if you were a guard? Maybe not, but you probably would’ve gone along to get along. Think you wouldn’t’ve acted like a prisoner? Probably not. You probably would’ve done just what these boys did.
The Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s Muslim Travel Ban
We all know that for several days on end travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia, and that thousands of lives were disrupted. Visas were revoked. Green-card holders refused entry. Muslims and Arabs of all origins were harassed.
But, it was the extraordinary cruelty of the Customs and Border Protection agents that is the most predictable. Take for example, Hina Shamsi’s story. Ms Shamsi is the ACLU National Security Project Director. She is a legal permanent resident from Pakistan — not on the list — who has a was returning from the Dominica after doing some ACLU work there.
She reports being grilled extensively by the agent about her work, her travel, her education, and her other jobs. All highly unusual questions, which were never asked of her in other return trips to the US. Among other questions, why did she work for an organization with America in the title when she wasn’t an American? And, why would someone who works for an organization with America in the title travel abroad so much. Both, highly suspicious activities, I’m sure. He probably had never heard of the American Civil Liberties Union and the work they’ve done for those that the American government had abused since the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. But, there were two questions that she found absolutely chilling:
- Do you understand why someone might have a different perspective about you?
- Why have you been a legal permanent resident for years without becoming a citizen?
Essentially, she was found to be a suspicious person because (a) she was Muslim and (b) she wasn’t an American citizen.
The stories of many other people are even more abusive and frightening:
- According to the My LA News the following events happened at Los Angles International Airport.
- Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrant rights and a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, states that detainees reported the following abuses: held in rooms without beds for 24+ hours; threatened with deportation, jail, or a permanent entry ban unless they relinquished their rights as green card or permanent resident holders.
- CBP agents provided the detainees with a false choice: sign and relinquish your rights and be deported or don’t sign and be deported but with a lifetime ban on entering the US. What would you do? Sign, of course. But this is absolute abuse.
- Sara, an Iranian and student visa holder reported that she was held for 23 hours with little to eat or drink and pressured into signing away her legal visa status by being threatened with a one to five year entry ban. Luckily, she was able to return from Vienna after the stay was enacted.
- Another woman was told that the only way she could escape prison was to pay the CBP agents $160.00. This is a bribe. Bribery is a way of life in developing countries, not in the the US.
- A sick child was denied food.
- A 65 year-old Iraqi woman traveling with a visa to see her American-citizen enlisted son was detained for 33 hours, handcuffed, and denied the use of a wheelchair. Who denies someone the use of a wheelchair in an airport?
- An octogenarian wheelchair-bound couple who had serious medical conditions were denied access to their medications at Dulles International Airport.
- The U.S. government must “permit lawyers access to all legal permanent residents being detained at Dulles International Airport,” a federal judge in Virginia ordered late Saturday.
- Not only were CBP agents denying attorneys access to lawful permanent residents in defiance of a judicial order, but the head of the agency refused to order compliance, too! “It is unusual for an agency to deny a court order ― a court order clearly stating that these people need to be provided counsel,” Claudia Cubas, an attorney with Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said on Saturday night. “We asked several different agency heads to request access to speak to these people and were told ‘no.’” Who defies court orders, denies a person the right to see a lawyer, and refuses the entreaties of Congressional Representatives and Senators?
- A six-year US lawful resident, Fatima Ebrahimi, an Iranian citizen, was denied entry with her two young children for five hours. Both children are US citizens, and one is disabled.
Who does this kind of stuff to another human being? It was not required by the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s executive order. It is all against the traditions and customs and values of the US… at least the ones we profess to having. The CBP agents involved in all of these incidents and more are all decent hardworking middle class American citizens, I’m sure. These are not inhumane monsters. But, they are people who have a role to play: law enforcement officers. And, they were acting under orders both from their superiors and the executive order. So, these two environmental events combine to make it very difficult for them to defy their orders just as Milgram’s participants did 50 some odd years ago, and to adhere to their roles, which obviously included treating their detainees cruelly once the executive order labeled them as potential terrorists just as Zimbardo’s participants did 40 odd years ago.
Don’t think you are immune to such behavior. As resistance to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber grows, be aware of the social and environmental pressures on you to act in ways you wouldn’t otherwise. According to both studies, though, one way to inoculate yourself against getting caught up in following orders and complying with roles is to realize that you don’t have to. To be educated enough to understand that it is a choice. However, this is incumbent on wanting to act differently. If you are given to authoritarian behaviors, or racist beliefs and behaviors, then you are far more likely to abuse the vulnerable in your care, especially if you perceive the atmosphere of the culture giving you permission to.