Thursday, February 25, 2016

Stanley and Alex

     I wish Stanley Milgram would drive up in the next Uber because I have some questions for him.
     Why did "Roots" kept me awake at night with images and ideas that wouldn't go away?
     Did the miniseries make me feel so bad because I'm white or because it happened, slavery?
     Was that sick feeling in my stomach at suddenly finding out something so horrible just a normal reaction for a little girl or did the disease already have me in its grip, even then, especially in the dark at night?
      If it did, why that movie?
     And why did the same thing happen when I watched another miniseries, the one about a sewing camp during the Holocaust?
    Where did that sick, nasty feeling come from, that caused me to stare into the darkness and wonder, "How could they not have seen how bad it was? How did they let it happen?"
     Milgram would probably refer me to a neurologist who would refer me to an epileptologist who would refer me to a neurological psychologist who only does testing.
     His experiment was the one where people kept shocking other people until it hurts and then kept going, even though they knew it hurt.
     (Of course they didn't really shock anyone. Everyone but the "shocker" was in on the ruse.)
     He never explained why they did the shocking. Their lives weren't in danger, and they were allowed to leave the experiment.
      Some of them even giggled while doing it. The people pretending to get hurt made noises, but they kept shocking anyway, like trained seals.
     He explained the giggles away as nervousness, but it was obvious some of the "shockers" enjoyed themselves. That's the scariest part of the study, something else he never quite explained.
     Milgram's explanation was about how the "shockers" lived with themselves after. They all said the same thing, "I was only following orders," when asked how they could punish another person for not remembering a test question.
     According to Milgram, people do what "the boss says" and forget about the person being hurt right in front of them. They stop thinking of the person feeling pain as being another human.
     Military systems are designed like that so one person doesn't get blamed for dropping a nuclear bomb.
     It is also how Nazis cooked Jewish babies and moms and dads in ovens all day and then went home to enjoy dinner with their own kids.
      Mobster movies feature more palatable examples, with actors.
      A big Teddy Bear man tucks his little princess into bed and then heads off to work with a baseball bat in his trunk for hits, in case the Boss calls.
     Experiments like that aren't allowed any more because the volunteers feel so guilty when they realize what they have done, even if they didn't really do it.
     The money wasn't worth it. They would probably give it back, it they could, to have the memory erased from their minds, but it doesn't work that way.
     Milgram's other experiment is more fun to talk about. He invented The Kevin Bacon Game, only then it was called Six Degrees of Separation.
     The two experiments get mixed up in my head, so I recheck Wikipedia. I've been studying them since 1988 at least, and the details go back and forth.
     In my example, each new person giving an order makes the person giving the shock feel less guilty. She blames her boss who blames her boss who blames her boss...I won't tell you who I see receiving the shock.
     It isn't a real person, just an anonymous child with a neurological condition that makes him forget things and stare into space a lot. He gets extra shocks for flapping. That's a big "no-no."
     By putting the two experiments together, I can almost understand how my great-great-great-grandmothers allowed little brown girls to braid their hair for them without noticing what was really going on, but it still doesn't quite make sense.
     With all that horrible stuff, how did they even have time to pay attention to their hair? How could they let it happen around them without doing anything?
     Surely, they knew deep in their hearts that what they were doing was wrong, didn't they?
     It was too much information for me at once, courtesy of  Alex Haley and ABC, and so I lay there in the dark, wondering.
     It was January, 1977. There would be a lot to talk about when I got to school the next morning.