05/02/2014 10:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stanley Milgram in Oklahoma


The Oklahoma Department of Corrections should have been part of Stanley Milgram's famed experiment at Yale.

If you remember Milgram, a professor of psychology was testing obedience to authority ("Behavorial Study of Obedience," The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, l961). The experiment was started three months after the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who had famously insisted he was simply following orders. So in order to test the level of potential for inhumanity that lies in all of us, Milgram enlisted participants who sat behind a glass wall. The subjects of the experiment were then asked to apply varying levels of electric current to another participant. The subjects were told to increase the level of current whether those receiving the shocks seemed to be suffering or not. Some just continued to follow orders while others refused to participate.

The experiment was actually more complicated since the shocks were also constructed as part of punishment/reward scenario that mimicked some of the work done by another famous psychologist, the Harvard behaviorist B.F. Skinner. But no mind, the recent botched execution was uncannily reminiscent of the original Milgram experiment -- though the stakes were somewhat higher in that after 43 minutes of torment at the hands of those who were following orders, Clayton D. Lockett, the condemned man, succumbed to a heart attack.

The fact that Lockett had shot and buried the victim of his crime while she was still living might prove as solace to some. But then again those inhumane misinformed who saw the smoke from the crematoriums who had read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion might easily have said to themselves, "they had it coming to them all along."

This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, culture and art.