Sunday, December 3, 2017

Deresponsibilisation: Raelism and the Milgram Experiments

The Raelian Messages, a collection of alleged physical and telepathic contacts between Claude Vorilhon (aka: Rael) and our supposed extraterrestrial creators - the Elohim, spanning the course of 5 years (1974-79) are messages that offer hope.

They offer a promise that the Elohim will soon descend upon Earth and bestow Humanity with some 25,000 years of scientific knowledge that they've accumulated, and help transform our world into a true “galactic civilization” - one of peace and prosperity.

This will happen once certain criteria are met as detailed in Rael's compilation book Intelligent Design (pp. 101-103, 293, Raelian Foundation, 2005):
- Enough wise people on Earth
- Rael has a large number of followers
- Warlike people with weapons of mass destruction are rendered harmless
- Enough love for humanity
- Enough love for the Elohim
- Humanity capable of “understanding” [1]
The number of followers needed isn't specified clearly in Rael's original writings (The Messages). The only mention of any specific number is of 144,000, referring to the number of people who will be saved by the Elohim to repopulate the Earth in case of Humanity's total self-destruction, and this only appears in Rael's 3rd book (p. 298).

Though a date hasn't been specified in the Messages, the leader of the Raelian Movement, has arbitrarily decided on the year 2035. His reasoning is stated in the postscript (p. 370):
“The Elohim themselves will definitely land here in the not too distant future, around the time of what some call “the singularity”- when everything will be understood thanks to science.”
This singularity is in reference to the predictions of futurist Ray Kurzweil's. However, 2035 wasn't the only date suggested for the Elohim's arrival, as Rael had shifted the date many times, the earliest being 2015, which has already passed.

On October 3rd, 2017, after 40 years of loyalty, devotion and selfless work, Raelian Bishop Guide, Daniel Chabot handed in his resignation to the International Raelian Movement (IRM) despite all the hopeful promises of the Messages. He was then excommunicated by Rael on November 23rd, 2017.

However, this wasn't the only resignation from the Raelian structure. Following the 2003 Clonaid fiasco, perpetrated by Raelian Bishop Guide, Brigitte Boisselier and eventually deemed to be a hoax as there was no evidence to support the claims, many devoted Raelians and other high ranking members also left or were excommunicated from the IRM by Rael.

Personally, I have devoted 12 years (1991-2003) to the IRM and then took an additional 5 years before waking up from a self-imposed hypnosis. Eventually, in 2009 I was branded as an “anti-Raelian” after I started to speak out on social media, and I have been a Raelian truth activist since 2012.

Some have preferred to wait, as former Raelian Bishop Guide, Jean-Denis Saint-Cyr did before publishing a book, "Confessionsde Raël à son ex-bras droit" (Confessions of Rael to his Right-hand Man) affirming that Rael had never met any ETs. They wait until it is safe to speak out, once they've reached retirement and their careers are not at risk or to make a deathbed confession free of any negative consequences.

So, what caused this sudden turnaround in people who were so dedicated to Raelism and its message of hope, to suddenly abandon or speak out against their former religion/philosophy/ spiritual path? What was their tipping point?

Rael first introduced “deresponsibilisation” in 1979 in his 3rd book, a concept that requires people to disobey authority if it goes against one's conscience, such as when being ordered to kill another human being by an authority figure (pp. 314-326). Rael uses the Nazi's atrocities (p. 318) as an example.

As recently as October 14th, 2017, Raelian Priest Guide, Dennis Van Dorp published an article on titled Maitreya Rael: ‘Only maximum responsibilization can save the world!’ referring to Stanley Milgram’s experiments.

In his article, Van Dorp reminds Raelians that:
One of the key values of the Raelian philosophy, as described in the book Intelligent Design, is the awareness of being responsible for ones actions. In this revolutionary book Maitreya Rael, spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement, reminds us that “each of us is totally responsible for everything that we do to others even if we are ordered to do so. No cause could ever justify inflicting pain or death on a non-violent person, and even if the survival of humanity depended on it, this would not justify an exception. Even more so if it means the survival of one’s country, or rather a frontier arbitrarily traced on a globe which belongs to all men.” 
The importance of responsibility was already demonstrated by a famous social psychological experiment performed by professor Stanley Milgram. One of the conclusions of his work is that “when individuals are placed in a position of hierarchical control, the mechanisms which ordinarily assure the regulation of the individual’s actions cease functioning, and his actions become controlled by the people occupying the senior position.
Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology and in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question popular at that particular time: "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"

The experiments have been repeated many times in the following years with consistent results within differing societies, although not with the same percentages around the globe.

The Experiment:
Three individuals were involved: the one running the experiment, the subject of the experiment (a volunteer), and a confederate pretending to be a volunteer. These three people fill three distinct roles: the Experimenter (an authoritative role), the Teacher (a role intended to obey the orders of the Experimenter), and the Learner (the recipient of stimulus from the Teacher).

At some point prior to the actual test, the "teacher" was given a sample electric shock from the electroshock generator in order to experience firsthand what the shock that the "learner" would supposedly receive during the experiment would feel like. The "teacher" was then given a list of word pairs that he was to teach the learner. The teacher began by reading the list of word pairs to the learner. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response. If the answer was incorrect, the teacher would administer a shock to the learner, with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer. If correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.

The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electroshock generator, which played prerecorded sounds for each shock level. After a number of voltage-level increases, the actor started to bang on the wall that separated him from the subject. After several times banging on the wall and complaining about his heart condition, all responses by the learner would cease.

At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner.

Verbal Prods:
If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:
  1. Please continue
  2. The experiment requires that you continue
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on. 
If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession.

The experimenter also gave special prods if the teacher made specific comments. If the teacher asked whether the learner might suffer permanent physical harm, the experimenter replied, "Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on." If the teacher said that the learner clearly wants to stop, the experimenter replied, "Whether the learner likes it or not, you must go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly, so please go on.

The Results:
In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants administered the experiment's final massive 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so; at some point, every participant paused and questioned the experiment; some said they would refund the money they were paid for participating in the experiment. Throughout the experiment, subjects displayed varying degrees of tension and stress. Subjects were sweating, trembling, stuttering, biting their lips, groaning, digging their fingernails into their skin, and some were even having nervous laughing fits or seizures.

Alternative Interpretation - “Engaged Followership”:
The results of these experiments seemed to confirm the original question to the study. Tyranny thrives because perpetrators conform thoughtlessly to authority. This has become the dominant model of evil in all branches of psychology and beyond – invoked to explain everything from abuse at Abu Ghraib to corruption at Enron, and terrorism around the globe.

However, recent replications of the study offered alternative conclusions. Milgram's results invoke belief perseverance as the underlying cause: What people cannot be counted on is to realize that a seemingly benevolent authority is in fact malevolent, even when they are faced with overwhelming evidence which suggests that this authority is indeed malevolent. Hence, the underlying cause for the subjects' striking conduct could well be conceptual, and not the alleged 'capacity of man to abandon his humanity ... as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures. The influence is ideological. It's about what they believe science to be, that science is a positive product, it produces beneficial findings and knowledge to society that are helpful for society. So there's that sense that science is providing some kind of system for good.

Building on the importance of idealism, some recent researchers suggest the “engaged followership” perspective, and not blind followership. Based on an examination of Milgram's archive, in a recent study, social psychologists Alex Haslam, Stephen Reicher and Megan Birney, at the University of Queensland, discovered that people are less likely to follow the prods of an experimental leader when the prod resembles an order. However, when the prod stresses the importance of the experiment for science (i.e. 'The experiment requires you to continue'), people are more likely to obey. The researchers suggest the perspective of 'engaged followership': that people are not simply obeying the orders of a leader, but instead are willing to continue the experiment because of their desire to support the scientific goals of the leader and because of a lack of identification with the learner.

Identifying with Ideals, not Obeying Authority:
In a recent TEDx talk, Alex Haslam suggests that test subjects “obeyed” not because of the authority of experimenter but because they identified with them, all in the name of contributing to the progress of science and thereby for the benefit of the whole of humanity.

He mentioned how the 4th prod was the only direct command, to which ALL of the test subjects did not comply. In fact, the most successful prod was the 2nd one where most test subjects complied. He explains this paradox by pointing out how the 4th prod distanced the test subject from the experimenter, while the 2nd one brought them closer to the experimenter, engaging in a collaborative effort for the advancement of science. Participants responded positively, i.e. obeyed, when they were encouraged to define themselves in terms of a pro-science identity that they shared with the experimenter. Milgram used the cultivation of identification to encourage obedience.

Stanley Milgram's Simulated Shock Generator
Surprisingly, rather than feeling remorseful about their actions as one might expect, the subject's post-experiment responses revealed how their thinking was far from negative – that is, thinking they had done something terrible. Instead, subjects believed they had participated in something wonderful and felt quite good about it. Haslam also mentioned how Milgram had propped up a very elaborate seemingly cutting-edge piece of equipment that transmitted the electric shocks, giving the impression the participants were involved in a great experiment.

The conclusion of this interpretation of the Milgram Experiments is that tyranny isn't the product of “natural” or “blind” obedience. Indeed, it probably isn't the product of obedience at all. Rather, it is the product of engaged followership that is predicated upon identifying with those in authority – whose cause is believed to be benevolent, and are therefore followed on this basis. This sustains the cognitive dissonance of followers faced with making choices that they wouldn't have done in the absence of such a leader.

Raelians and Engaged Followership:
In the Raelian context, this is quite revealing. Raelians follow Rael because they all identify with his Messages and the hope that they offer, presumably that of saving the world. Raelian individuals feel they have independent thought and not just pawns of a malevolent leader.

Such engaged followership could explain why Brigitte Boisselier would have carried out the human cloning hoax in spite of all the legal and professional ramifications to herself, why female Raelians join The Order of Angels to serve a man or organize GoTopless events to fight for the right to be topless in public, all while promoting women's rights.

It could also explain why members are willing to lie to promote the truth, such as when they report inflated numbers even though membership is visibly low at popular events and on social media, or to participate in uncomfortable acts such as going door-to-door as Jehovah Witnesses do, in order to sell Rael's books. As with other religious groups, Raelians are commanded to pay 1% of their incomes to Rael (p. 175, 358; IRM members are expected to pay 10% on top of the required 1%).

Raelism is promoted as a religion of science while in fact it is based on pseudoscientific techno-babble. Most Raelians suffer from cognitive dissonance when faced with these negative examples while still identifying with the hope Rael provides them through the Messages.

And just as the 4th prod in the Milgram experiments was less likely to be followed as it resembled an order, so too is it less likely that Rael's followers will do something that clearly goes against the Messages when ordered to, some may even reach a tipping point and rebel, just as in the case of Daniel Chabot when confronted with Rael's stance on nuclear weapons proliferation - that all countries should acquire nuclear weapons, and not just a handful of powerful countries – in direct contradiction to the Messages that Rael's authority is based upon. When he handed in his resignation and did not comply with Rael's orders to submit to and obey him, he was then excommunicated.

The same was observed when Rael ordered Raelians to 'believe' in cloning claims made by Brigitte Boisselier, all while denying he and the IRM had any affiliation with Clonaid or its activities. According to Rael, as long as no one could disprove Clonaid's claims, they were to be considered valid, in spite of the absence of any evidence of the successful cloning of humans. Ironically, for a religion that claims to be based on and promote science, it ignores the principles of the rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific method, namely that the burden of proof falls on the claimant.

If the interpretation of Milgram's experiments are correct, claiming responsibility and rejecting authority does not negate the effects of deresponsibilization if the followers still identify with an authority and are unable to discern if the authority is malevolent - they will continue to follow prompts until a tipping point is reached and they no longer identify with the authority.

Advocatus Diaboli

Credits: Article edited and Puppet Master meme produced by Aramel Martin

[1] - If there are enough wise people on Earth. If a sufficiently large number of people follow [Rael] (p. 101).
- When there are enough people, and when they wish intensely enough for [the Elohim] to come without any religious mysticism, but as responsible people respecting their creators, then [they] will land openly and give [us their] scientific knowledge as [their] heritage to all peoples of the Earth (pp. 102-103).
- If those with warlike temperaments [using nuclear weapons] are rendered harmless all over the whole world, then this will happen. If the love of life and humanity’s love for [the Elohim] and itself are strong enough, yes, [the Elohim] will come openly (p. 103).
- [The Elohim] have dictated [their] messages to the prophets of old, so as to be recognized by men when the time would come for [them] to show [themselves] openly, without this creating new deistic religions, i.e. when all men would be capable of understanding (p. 293).

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