Essay on An Experiment Cries Out By Henry David Thoreau

1212 Words Jan 27th, 2015 5 Pages
The subject of an experiment cries out, “I can’t stand it. I’m not going to kill that man in there” (Milgram 120), as the experimenter compels his subject to administer deadly electrical shocks to another man. The subject clearly expresses his moral objections to these instructions, yet to influence his subject, the insistent experimenter does not lock the door, nor does he hold the subject at knifepoint- he only requests that the subject “Continue, please” (121). And so the subject continues. According to Henry David Thoreau, people obey the majority because it is “physically the strongest” (199). A majority bends and stretches the small minority to execute the majority’s will, just as the experimenter succeeds in compelling the shock administrator to execute the experimenter’s will. While majorities reserve these capabilities through their strength, the unarmed experimenter wields nothing of the sort, yet the subject obeys nonetheless. How can such a feeble power drive the subject to compromise his own convictions, especially those sacred convictions against inflicting unjust suffering unto another? This paradox of obedience to a powerless influence presents itself in two great works of literature: “Shooting an Elephant” and “Civil Disobedience”. Take the pieces’ two bold writers, George Orwell and Thoreau himself, respectively. Forces compel both men to perform what each considers an objectionable act: for Thoreau, to pay a tax supporting the aggressive Mexican- American…

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