The Psychology of Tyranny vs. the Nature of Conformity

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Top Tier Gear USA

by Anna Hunt

The foundation for understanding the psychology of tyranny and human obedience is based on classical studies such as the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971 by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, and the Milgram Obedience Experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s, with very little done since then in terms of research into this form of extreme behavior.

These experiments showed that ordinary people will participate, sometimes enthusiastically, in acts of cruelty when put in roles of authority or are instructed by authority figures to engage in such acts.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. – Stanley Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience,” 1974

Milgram and Zimbardo’s theories are now challenged by professors Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher who published a recent essay, “Contesting the ‘Nature’ Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s Studies Really Show”, in PLOS Bilology.

Haslam and Reicher argue that people do not conform blindly to the roles and rules of authority, but they conform because they identify with the authority. These conformists do not lack intelligence or morality, but are aware of what they are doing and believe that what they are doing is right.

…the fundamental point is that tyranny does not flourish because perpetrators are helpless and ignorant of their actions. It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous. It is this conviction that steels participants to do their dirty work and that makes them work energetically and creatively to ensure its success. – Haslam and Reicher, “Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo’s Studies Really Show,” Nov. 2012

The power of the environment has a way of changing and transforming people to a point of obedience and conformity, and, sadly, cruelty.

In our world, we are conditioned to obey authority – school faculty, TSA agents, police, the IRS – always for good reasons, of course – education, safety, security. Destructive acts can easily be presented as constructive and necessary. Yet, Haslam’s research highlights that perhaps our relationship with authority is not necessarily as straight forward as it used to be in 1960s and 1970s.

We are not thoughtless. We are not helpless.

What we wanted to show [in our research] is that groups are also a basis for resistance… – Professor Alex Haslam

Video: The Stanford Prison Experiment – featuring Dr. Philip Zimbardo

Video: BBC The Experiment – Prison Study – featuring Professor Alex Haslam

Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View by Stanley Milgram


Anna Hunt is a writer and entrepreneur  with over a decade of experience in research and editorial writing. She and her husband run a preparedness e-store outlet at, offering GMO-free storable food and emergency kits. Anna is also a certified Hatha yoga instructor. She enjoys raising her children and being a voice for optimal human health and wellness. Read more of her excellent articles here.

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  • I am a anarchist sob that loves to be a thorn in their side…. in a passive agressive way. I loath the TSA, IRS, and dont trust any law enforcement. Synical? You bet! There is something seriously wrong with the establishment today.

  • At one time, people d

  • At one time people did not question authority. At one time people believed in the common good. I do not believe most do so now. We live in a corrupt moral society, the ones obeying think they will have a place at the table.
    I do not believe the elite did not know the suborime mortgages would cause collopse. The history of Japan was very clear, also many Japanese investors. This was planned.

    • Ed_B

      This very same playbook has been used in other places, Japan as you mention but also in the UK and probably other places in Europe.

      The entire sub-prime mortgage mess was started by the Clinton regime in 1994 and was then continued by both the Bush and Obama regimes. The banks KNEW that there were many people who wanted to buy homes who could not afford them, so denied them loans. Banking done correctly is a VERY conservative business and cannot succeed when done in any other way. In spite of this, the Clinton regime forced the banks to either make these bad loans OR face federal charges of racism. The bankers gave in, the over-extended banks and the entire housing market then collapsed… as predicted. Not that this was the idea of any politician, of course. The puppet-masters were hard at work on this one.

  • Mark

    America has gone past the point of no return. I see no political solutions to the problems because the problems are really a result of the immorality of the majority of people. Just changing some of the government overseers for a slightly different set of government overseers will just bring upon us a different set of problems. It will not cure the fatal disease of mortal rot that is now growing throughout our society.
    List of Moral Rot in the USA…
    1. Race and class hatred is rising dramatically in America because many people covet what others have and believe that those living today owe them something for what happened to their ancestors. Most people in the US claim to be Christian but many have no regard at all for the tenth commandment. Covetousness brings about social evils, and that brings about wars and conflicts. God said that all covetousness is sin. If you have need of anything ask God for it. Christians are not to obsess over what our neighbors have. Occupying until Jesus comes is not coveting what others have.
    Jas 4:1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
    2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
    3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
    4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
    Those that control media and many in the largest political party in the United States are actively promoting race and class hatred between Americans. Many have bought into this without thinking.
    2. America has departed from the Constitution. The federal government is doing anything it wants and many of the states are doing the same. Nobody is being held accountable to the law of the land. Few take seriously the oath they took when they took public office or joined the military. Most Americans now only care about what the government will do for them.
    3. The American Government IS NOW DYSFUNCTIONAL. Nothing worthwhile gets through the system until they are about to shut down and then few know what is in the bills until after they already signed them. The government is not dealing with the long-term debt problems of this nation. We have not even had a federal budget in almost four years. About the only thing that now passes Congress are spending bills forced by a tyranny of the majority and more government restrictions forced on the American people by socialist special interest groups that are funded by humanistic globalist foundations.
    4. The Supreme Court is soon likely to turn Left with the reelection of Obama. That will mean that the Constitution will be interpreted through socialistic humanism. The law of the land and our individual rights will increasingly conform to the dictates of the UN.
    5. In the name of national security Americans have already allowed everything necessary for a tyrannical police state to be established. Every time something happens more rights will be taken away in the name of national security and safety. These Big Brother police forces become self serving and they never get smaller. It will increasingly lead to tyranny and they will continue to expand their mission until everyone is in compliance with a centralized police state agenda.
    You might think that the recent history of the world would show the ruling elite the errors of their ways but they never learn. They always think they are smarter and more enlightened than the previous generation. They are wrong. That is why our Constitution set bounds for national government and gave it limited powers. Nevertheless, they insists on following familiar paths and the end result will be authoritarian tyranny.
    6. Most identifying themselves as Christians in America do not even know the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Most of their churches do not teach the Bible. Almost all calling themselves Christians in America do not have a Christian worldview. Most identifying with Christianity are now just as corrupted as the rest of society. One half of Americans believe the Bible, the Quran, and The Book of Mormon are just different expressions of the same truth but nothing could be further from the truth.
    7. America will not recover economically. Prices and taxes will go up and wages and the dollar will go down. America will not be able to pay its long-term entitlements and debts. Right now savers are the big losers. Seniors are being robbed by a Federal Reserve that buys up debt with money that they just create to keep interest rates artificially low for the banks. Savers are losing much of their net worth by buying banks CD’s and government bonds. Seniors invested in CD’s or bonds have lost 15 to 25 percent of their inflation adjusted net worth over the last few years.
    Since there are no safe investments that pay higher interest rates than CD’s and federal government bonds, the stock market has been rising, but stocks will crash when interest rates and prices inevitably rise, or else inflation will wipe out any real gains. Small investors in the stock market will again lose the most.
    If the $500 billion tax increase forecasted for Jan 2013 goes into effect, the US will go right back into recession. If government spending is not cut drastically our debt crises will become unrecoverable, but there is no political will to make meaningful cuts in federal spending. If the Federal Reserve keeps printing money to buy our own debts as they have been doing, we will soon see hyperinflation.
    Even after adding $5 trillion to our nation debt in three years, there still has been no real economic recovery. We are now at the point where borrowing more debt to stimulate the economy will have the opposite effect. The loss of confidence to pay off our debts will just lead to higher interest rates and further decline. There really is no answer for the world debt problem. They can only kick the can so far down the road and then the can falls in a black hole. They will have to start over with a new world economic system.
    Government says that unemployment is now falling but it is really the size of the labor force that is falling. There are a million more people in the US each year but there are several million fewer people in the work force than just a few years ago. Many for various reasons are no longer counted as being in the work force. (where did they go? The unemployment numbers that the government is publishing for public consumption is a crafted fabrication.) There are more people on food stamps than ever before, so people are not getting jobs that pay a living wage.
    8. America will not do what is necessary to tap its own energy resources in this decade. Energy development will be hindered by the Senate and environmental groups (EPA) using activist judges. Obama actually wants higher energy prices so that his alternative energy cronies can compete. By executive order, Obama has set up federal government controls over natural gas production. The reason for this is that domestic natural gas production was about to reverse the rise in energy prices and put Obama’s government subsidized alternative energy projects out of business.
    9. America has sown the seeds of destruction of its professional military. Many good professionals will now leave the service but more of the undesirables will stay in. America will become vulnerable to an attack and that will just feed the police state spiral.
    10. The United States is overdue for a severe long-term drought and all indications are that this drought is already upon us and now spreading.
    11. Most Americans lack good morals. Sins that were once kept secret because they were not acceptable in society, are now on every video screen and are flaunted. Do you really think that God will continue to bless this America? Many Christians present themselves as Christians in church but act like God does not exist once they walk out the church door.
    12. American public schools are second-rate compared to the other first world nations and the amount of money spent per student is not the problem. Kids are not even learning the basics that are necessary to be successful in the world. Many graduate from high school but they hardly can read or write or even fill out a job application. Many accepted for colleges have to take remedial courses because they have not learned the basics in high school. Then when they graduate from college there are no jobs available because there is no demand in the soft academic fields that they are most likely to choose. Hardly any learn how to critically think for themselves in our education system. Public schools are mainly indoctrination centers for leftist humanistic propaganda.
    13. American pastors and church leaders continually talk about things that mainly appeal to the flesh. They are not preparing and equipping Christians for the troubles, trials and persecutions that are coming to America, nor are they teaching them sound Christian doctrine. American churches have lost their youth; not one in ten young people claiming to be Christians can even give a reasonable biblical answer for why they claim they are saved. Most local churches are becoming full of white-haired people and mega churches are becoming full with the living dead.
    14. Demonic media comics mock God and everything good in this country and Americans love to laugh with them, even through such things are leading America to its destruction. Americans are addicted to media bread and circuses. Even many Christians laugh when any Christian national figure is thrown to these demonic lions.
    15. The election process is nothing but a sham in America.
    16. Many millions of Americans are on mind altering drugs. Drug gangs control our inner cities and even some countries, but there would not be a market if millions of Americans were not buying these drugs. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world and the largest prison population of any nation. Much of this is due to illegal drug use.
    17. Half of this country pays no income taxes and half are at least partly dependent on a government check each month. A large segment collects a welfare check but then works under the table on the side, and they do not declare their income.
    18. Many people in America are crooks and deadbeats just looking for their next sucker. The Internet is full of them as is “Christian” TV. Many do not make any attempt to pay what they know they owe. Many will do anything if they think they can get away with it. They will even scrap your electric lines if they believe nobody is watching.
    19. Much of America is becoming anti-Semitic. Many blame the Jews for everything.

    • I read this entire comment. What the hell are you even talking about? Moral decay? More people are simply becoming increasingly aware of the fact that the one book you base your life around is a collection of fiction that was hijacked by the political establishment hundreds of years after it was put together. You can’t just decide to use YOUR holy book as a solution to legislate the morality of mankind. Even if you wanted to argue in support of such nonsense you would first have to prove that the Bible is credible information (which you can’t).

      As for the later experiment that was conducted, that’s complete garbage too. They can’t eliminate the most important variable – to give the participants the authority to exercise free will as they see fit without any outside ethical guidelines – and seriously expect to arrive at the same conclusion. If they wanted to compare their results with the Stanford experiment then they should have done everything the exact same with different people. This is akin to comparing the results of a toaster & a microwave instead of two different microwaves.