Milgram Experiment

This is an expanded version of my previous Tweets. Plus: I need help in brainstorming a way to change this ridiculous ruling.

Was on my way to school last Friday via SMRT and was waiting at the platform when I had this thick phlegm that “bubbled” up my throat out of no where. Had to swallow it back because there was no easy way to dispose of it but that got my throat really uncomfortable. Naturally I took out my bottle of water and drank some water. Then this SMRT lady staff walked to me from behind and started mumbled something.

Oh, I was on my noise-isolating earphones listening to my podcast. I couldn’t hear what she was saying clearly but I guess it was easy for me to guess what it was about.

“But I was really thirsty,” I explained as I removed my earphones.
“If you are thirsty, you should have drank water outside the station, then step into the station. You are not suppose to drink water and I should be recording down you IC number. We are enforcing the law very strictly so please don’t drink water in the station again.”

My, oh my… The lady was really stern when she was talking to me and there was no one bit of hesitation. Even though when you think about it, there’s no proper logic behind the solution she provided. I should probably be grateful that I was only given a warning and not issued a fine, but such interpretation of the law is just too ridiculous for me to swallow. And I was surprised that the SMRT staffs believed that whatever they doing was right.

One possible reason behind this phenomenal could be explained by the Milgram experiment (excerpt from Conscience and Authority):

Subjects in (this) experiment were told that they were going to take part in exercises designed to test other people’s abilities to learn. They were seated at a mock “shock generator” with thirty switches marked from 15 volts (“slight shock”) to 450 volts (“danger–severe shock”). Through a small glass window they could see the “learner” in the adjoining room strapped to a chair with electrodes on his or her wrists. The subject was told he or she was to test the other person’s ability to memorize lists of words, and to administer a “shock” when the learner made the mistake, increasing the intensity each time. As the intensity of the “shocks” grew, and the learner pretended to cry out in more and more pain, eventually fainting, the experimenter told the subjects they had to continue administering the shocks. Astonishingly, although the subjects grew nervous and agitated, more than two-thirds administered the highest level of shocks to the learners when ordered to do so by the experimenter. Milgram concluded that when people are ordered to do something by someone they view in authority, most will obey even when doing so violates their consciences.

In view of Milgram experiment, the actions of the SMRT staffs become easy to understand. The staffs on duty, empowered by the corporation’s (i.e. SMRT) interpretation of the law, believe that they are doing their job by preventing commuters to eat sweets and drink plain water in stations and trains. The corporation’s decisions might go against their judgment, but according to Milgram, authority won more often than not.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.

The sentence might sound too severe when applied in our context, but it does illustrate a problem that majority of Singaporeans are facing.

Ok. I’m sure many people who are aware of this ruling agrees that this is ridiculous and shouldn’t be happening in Singapore. A quick search in Twitter will show how many people have an opinion about this. How can we initiate a change? Any ideas? Maybe we can deliver a belated National Day present to every citizen in Singapore. Leave a comment…

Update: A friend of mine suggested organizing a flash mob at a SMRT station where hundreds of people drink water at a station simultaneously. The idea is simple and could actually be fun. Might not be able to change things immediately, but it’s a great way to attract media’s attention and have a viral spread of the idea~

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4 thoughts on “Milgram Experiment

  1. ah but perhaps thirsty wasn’t the right answer? Going to puke or spit any moment may be better ways of wriggling yourself out of the situation.:P then again you might get pre-emptively fined for littering/spitting hahahaha 😛

    anyhow by their logic, I think they are expecting commuters to suddenly have super powers of foreseeing the future thereby being able to pre-empt a later situation of phlegm stuck in throat or baby hungry and to drink water/feed baby before entering the station….

    don’t we love how minions function?

  2. hahaha…i guess this is how subdued and easily accepting we singaporeans are. complain abit, take no action and then live with it.
    i really can’t get over the complete idiocy of this situation, so i bet i will purposely feed my child on the train in the future and argue my way through! hahaha

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