I wondered … so I went to look. Found this chart (& much else) at the Equality Trust.

What do you think about this? I find it reprehensible. We call ourselves civilised but what far too many of us are is money-grubbing, greedy and selfish. Find a quiet spot where you can be quite alone and ask yourself how much you really care about people less well off than you. You’re all alone, you don’t have to tell anybody else, can you answer it truthfully? If your answer begins “Well of course …” then rest assured you’re lying to yourself!

I want to go back, back to some fascinating and horrifying research … well horrifying in that it demolishes a helluva lot of our illusions! I was watching this programme yesterday, The Brain: A Secret History on BBC4 …

Back in the 1960s psychologist Stanley Milgram devised and carried out experiments in which he showed how easy it is to make ordinary people do terrible things. Milgram, the son of Jewish immigrants, wanted to understand how German soldiers in WWII were able to commit barbaric acts without their conscience stopping them.

What did Milgram do?

He advertised for volunteers for a “learning and memory experiment”. The volunteers arrived at the building and were met by a man in a white lab coat – The Experimenter – and a middle-aged volunteer. The Experimenter told the volunteer that he would be the Teacher and the other volunteer would be the Learner. The Teacher’s task was to give the Learner a simple set of memory tasks and then test him on them. If the Learner gets an answer wrong the Teacher has to give him an electric shock. If he continues to give wrong answers the shocks steadily increase. Ooooof!

The volunteer, the Teacher, was left in a room with a microphone and a set of electrical controls. The Learner was put in another room, where the Teacher could hear but not see him. Then the experiment began and the Learner was a slow learner.

“Wrong – 150 volts.” Says the Teacher and hits the shock button!

The volunteer-teacher sits at the desk, carrying out the task he’s been asked to do and, despite the screams coming from the next room, continuing to ask questions and administer electric shocks when the Learner fails to answer correctly.

“Wrong – 195 volts.”

Even now the volunteer in the programme finds it hard to explain what went on inside him that day. “You are sitting in that chair with this stuff going on and that pressure that you were under, it’s very hard to think clearly. I’ve never had anything before or since that was like that. Where you were literally out of your mind.”

“Wrong – 350 volts.”

“I just said to myself, I’m just gonna play this out and pretty soon we’ll be out of here. I’m finishing this thing. I don’t care what happens. Once you make the decision, you’ve made your decision. I want to go home. I want to get out of here, go and get a beer somewhere and go home. You know?”

“Wrong – 450 volts.”

The interviewer asked him if he thought he had killed the Learner, the volunteer replied, “Yeah. When he stopped responding.”

In the film we saw another volunteer who asked, “Who’s taking the responsibility if this guy dies?” The Experimenter in the white lab coat answered, “I am” and the volunteer seemed to think that was OK and carried on giving the shocks, right up to the killer-voltage!

Milgram’s experiment showed that 65% of the volunteers were prepared to give lethal electric shocks. It’s perhaps slightly comforting to think there are still 35% who would not. How do you feel about this?

And yes, it has relevance to my first question about inequality. Not caring, not bothering, not trying to change things, going along with authority, is the same as giving someone the electric shocks … the death just takes longer and your finger is (apparently) not actually on the button!

It’s probably a bit of a shock to think that 2 out of 3 people you might meet would kill you if they were told to! Perhaps it’s an even worse shock to consider that you might … just might … be one of the killers.

We all suffer from this to some extent. We are all victims of blackmail, of doing things because we don’t want to rock the boat, make a fuss. And we’re all perpetrators of this sort of power-over too. You probably do this with your children … if you do this you get a treat, if you don’t something nasty happens! … although I suspect you’re frantically denying it right now.

Most people do as they’re told, go along with authority – however they perceive authority, and often a lot of that has to do with manner and charisma. That’s how governments “manage” us. We believe what we’re told; we believe what we read or see on TV; we’re stuck in the illusion that people have our best interests at heart. And we believe what we’re told that whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden are traitors … indeed they may be but NOT to us, only to the people who are controlling us!

Read what this perfectly nice volunteer, father and grandfather, said about how he sees his experience, and think about that. Read again about the volunteer who was able to continue once he knew the responsibility for the death of his learner would not be his. Think about how your own actions are influenced in similar ways …

How do we change? How do we learn to care? How do we learn to stand up to things we know are wrong?