Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just to get on

Tavris: Your obedience work and city work both consider the network of social rules that constrain us. In the galaxy of factors that make up a city’s atmosphere, for example, which do you think are the most important?

Milgram: Clearly, the degree of moral and social involvement people have with each other, and the way this is limited by the objective circumstances of city life. There are so many people and events to cope with that you must simply disregard many possible imputs, just to get on. If you live on a country road you can say hello to each of the occasional persons who passes by: but obviously you can’t do this on Fifth Avenue.

As a measure of social involvement for instance, we are now studying the response to a lost child in a big city and small town. A child of nine asks people to help him call his home. The graduate students report a strong difference between city and town dwellers: in the city, many more people refused to extend help to the nine-year-old.

I like the problem because there is no more meaningful measure of the quality of a culture than the manner in which it treats its children.

Psychology Today, June 1974

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