As a result of things I’ve learned over the last twenty years, I accidentally notice a lot of little things having to do with human perception and psychology, especially as they relate to authoritarianism. I witnessed an example yesterday, which in one way was a very tiny, insignificant event, but was still an interesting study in obedience and psychology.
At the Phoenix airport, having just been "e-stripped," then groped, and then having a TSA doofus rummaging through our stuff, almost making us late for our flight to Mexico (to do our stuff at Anarchapulco), Amanda and I—and several hundred other people—were being herded around like cattle, when something reminiscent of the Milgram experiments happened (though in a very mild, subtle way).
One drone with a badge told a bunch of us “general boarding” rabble to walk down a particular set of cattle chutes—oops, I mean, “roped off lanes”—and we did, until there were four parallel lines of livestock—oops, I mean, “people”—right where the other drone demands to see “zee papers.”
But as we were standing there, a different badge-wearing drone asked a person if he was flying first class, and he said no. The badge-wearer then declared that that person was in the wrong lane, and told him to switch. The mere peasant started to comply, while saying that the other TSA drone (my word, not his) told him to be there. Then Amanda and I responded with the same thing, saying we were general boarding too, and the other guy told us all to go down this way. Then everyone around us said the same thing. For a moment, no one moved.
So right there you have a case where there are two conflicting instructions from two different “authority” figures, creating a sort of equilibrium. As Stanley Milgram found in one of the variations of his experiments, in such a situation (e.g., where one “authority” figure tells someone to zap a stranger, while a different “authority” figure tells him not to), pretty much everyone does the right thing. The reason for this is simple enough: the two contrary “pulls” from disagreeing “authorities” (in the mind of the mere peasant) cancel each other out, and then the person has to use his own judgment (heaven forbid) and make the decision himself.
So basically a dozen or so people just outright ignored the “authority” person in front of them, who was telling them to change lines. There was a brief, very subtle tension, as if no one was quite sure what to expect, or what to do. But most of us showed no signs of obeying. Then, seeing that she had lost “authority” in the eyes of the people in front of her, and had lost control, the badge-wearer just kind of quietly backed off and walked away. And we all went on our merry way (through the rest of the whole fascist rigmarole).
Now, I suspect that almost no one there (including the badge-wearers) actually pondered any of this, or noticed anything significant about it—they were all just sort of following their psychological instincts—but it was still interesting to watch (at least from the perspective of a weirdo like me, who is fascinated by the dynamics of the authoritarian mindset).
As trivial an event as it was, in a way it was a tiny little act of civil disobedience. It was a bunch of people just deciding to “over-rule” what a “government” agent was telling them to do. So yes, at some point, normal people will just ignore stupid and arbitrary dictates of a supposed “authority,” even when they still believe in “authority.” Yes, in this case they only did it when another “authority” figure had previously given them permission, so it wasn’t exactly a William-Wallace-esque uprising.
Nonetheless, I think that, when this happened, suddenly this uniformed representative of “government,” in the eyes of the people around us, transformed into an unnecessary, somewhat clueless mere mortal, who didn’t really need to be obeyed.
Now if we can just get everyone to realize that about every agent of the state, in every situation, we’d be in good shape. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)
(As an aside, when we later arrived in that supposedly inferior, scary, not-so-free country of Mexico, we showed them our passports, handed them dumb little forms, and after that there was a grand total of zero screening. No metal detectors, no scanners, no pat-downs, no one going through anyone’s baggage. Imagine that. And, amazingly enough, that didn’t lead to chaos and mayhem.)
(Larken Rose is a speaker, author and activist, having advocated the principles of non-aggression, self-ownership and a stateless, voluntary society for over twenty years. Donations to help support his articles, videos and other projects can be made by PayPal to "email@example.com" or by Bitcoin to 13xVLRidonzTHeJCUPZDaFH6dar3UTx5js.)