Review Essay: Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan, part 3
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Review Essay: Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan, part 3

Last essay I discussed the Milgram experiments, in which subjects persisted in delivering what they thought were severe electric shocks to a person who was acting as if they were very painful. The subjects could have stopped the experiment at any time, but the experimenter insisted that they go on, and most did. Skeptics argued that the subjects might have suspected that the person “receiving” the shocks was actually acting. Perhaps subjects continued because they knew they weren’t harming anyone.
To test this possibility, researchers had 13 men and 13 women deliver actual shocks to a “cute fluffy puppy.” At the lowest shock levels, the puppy moved feet and occasionally barked. The second shock levels resulted in the puppy running and barking, and at the third level the puppy howled and barked. Though subjects could have stopped shocking the puppy at any time, most of the men and all of the women delivered the maximum shocks.
An interesting aspect of the Milgram experiments is that, just as subjects deferred to the researcher’s instructions, researchers deferred to science and the scientific method as their guide to perform experiments that were very traumatic for unsuspecting volunteers. During the experiment, many subjects were clearly distressed as they delivered what they thought were painful shocks. Subsequent to the experiment, many subjects struggled to come to terms with what they had done. I know of one subject who was deeply traumatized by the experience.
As one might expect, if researchers are willing to subject humans to such an experience, they would not shy away from subjecting a nonhuman person to misery. Indeed, as vivisection goes the experiment on the puppy was less traumatic than most. I think, among other things, the Milgram experiments illustrate that human and nonhuman victimization go hand-in-hand. 

Go on to: Sins of Omission versus Sins of Commission, part 1
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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