De Vos, J. (2009) ‘Now That You Know, How Do You Feel? The Milgram Experiment and Psychologization’, Annual Review of Critical Psychology, 7, pp. 223-246 http://www.discourseunit.com/arcp/7.htm
NOW THAT YOU KNOW, HOW DO YOU FEEL?
THE MILGRAM EXPERIMENT AND PSYCHOLOGIZATION Jan De Vos
Introduction The Milgram experiment is probably one of the most well known experiments of the psy-sciences. Rightly so as the novelist Doris Lessing would have it, for according to her the human race has all this “hard information about ourselves” remaining unused to improve our institutions and therefore our life (Lessing, 1986: 50). The idea that it is to the benefit of everybody to spread the psy-theories is held by many psychologists themselves. George Miller, the cognitive psychologist, pleaded in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1969 to “give psychology away”, claiming this is the royal road towards a “psychology as a means of promoting human welfare” (Miller, 1969). Later, Miller described Milgram’s experiments together with Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, as “being ideal for public consumption of psychological research” (cited in Blass, 2002: 208). And indeed, Milgram’s studies, as Zimbardo’s, are clearly meant to be spread to a broad audience, the didactic and prophylactic objectives permeating the entire experiments from their very outset. In this paper, I will explore how the Milgram experiment in this way is caught up in the broader processes of psychologization.
The Milgram experiments took place between 1960 and 1963. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to study the willingness to obey instructions from an authority figure to perform acts that conflicted with one’s personal conscience. He came up with a experimental set-up where he could test the levels of obedience when people were ordered to punish another person by subjecting him to increasing levels of painful electric shocks – this person was a confederate actually receiving no shocks at all. Milgram situated his experiments in the tradition of experimentation in social psychology referring to Solomon Asch1, Kurt Lewin and others (Milgram, 1974: xiv). The work of these latter centred around the notion of conformity, which was the concern of social psychologists in the inter-war period as it was connected to the developments of the “mass society” (Stam et al., 1998: 160)2. Milgram writes that it was the horrors of the Nazi epoch which prompted him to shift the focus from conformity and the influence of the group, to obedience and the influence of authority (Milgram, 1974: 114-115). And so he devised his “Eichman experiment”, as it was called by Gordon W. Allport, of whom Milgram was a former student (Milgram, 1974: 178). Milgram himself indicated that Hannah Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil in her comments on the Eichman trial, came close to his own experimental findings (Milgram, 1974: 6).
In the experiment Milgram found high levels of obedience – a substantial proportion of his subjects continued to the last shock – and he laid down these “both surprising and dismaying” results (Milgram, 1974: 5) in an article offered to the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. The paper however got rejected with the comment that it was foremost a demonstration rather than an experiment (Parker*, 2000: 112). Milgram then submitted the article to the Journal of Personality which also turned it down: the editor Edward E. Jones wrote:
The major problem is […] your data indicate a kind of triumph of social engineering… we are led to no conclusions about obedience, really, but rather are exhorted […] to be impressed with the power of your situation as an influence context (cited in Parker*, 2000: 112).
Milgram abandoned the paper (Milgram, 1981)3 and, maybe also to save his academic career, thoroughly rewrote his account by introducing all kinds of variables and their correlations. This new article was published under the title Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authorityin the journal Human Relations (Milgram, 1965a). There Milgram wrote that the crux of the study is to vary systematically different factors, “to learn under what conditions submission to authority is most probable, and under what conditions defiance is brought to the fore (Milgram, 1965a: 60)4. In his later book On obedience (1974) he eventually describes 18 variants of the base-line condition of the experiment, varying one variable each time (immediacy of the victim, closeness of authority, institutional context…) as the textbooks on experimental design require. Science saved by, in Christopher Lasch’s words, the classification of trivia (Lash, 1978: 90)? Maybe Milgram’s compliance – or do we have to call it obedience to mainstream scientific standards – led to both he and his commentators missing a chance: that is to analyse further what exactly the alleged triumph of social engineering was about.
Up until today many psy-scientists criticize the experiment as being a bad example of serious research. For example, Brannigan denounces Milgram’s experiment as a merely experimental dramatization of people’s capacity for violence. For Brannigan the results are self-evident and tautological, leading to a theoretical dead-end despite the massive public attention devoted to the experiment (Brannigan, 2004: 57). Denouncing research results as self-evident is of course a rather weak argument, it entails the promotion of a science producing unexpected or awkward knowledge, revealing things as you never thought they would be.5 And surely, much better examples of trivial findings than those of Milgram are to be found in the psy-sciences. But foremost, is not the often triumphantly declared critique of tautology not all too easy and ready at hand? For, is tautology not an essential and maybe inevitable feature of the analysis in human and social affairs? Neuro-imaging of aggression for example cannot but depart from a certain conception of aggression. The images or the discursive material offered to the test-subject to assess what happens on the brain-level, do not come out of the blue. It is quite obvious that these aggression-triggers are informed explicitly or implicitly by psychological theories on aggression. In brain imaging the tautological circle neurology – psychology – neurology is always present. As such this is not necessarily problematical, only when this is not recognised it will certainly lead to trivial research and theoretical dead-ends. But, maybe the most problematical in Brannigan’s critique is the brushing aside of the, reluctantly admitted, massive public attention Milgram’s experiment enjoyed. What remains thus unquestioned is how the experiment came to be such a successful demonstration of the effects of power, and thus became such a powerful part of popular psychological imagery. For if one maintains that Milgram does not explain anything, that it is merely an enactment, then one still has to explain what it exactly enacts, what is the scene that Milgram sets up and why he does that so well. Maybe Milgram’s enactments are so loathed by the serious psy-sciences, because what is enacted belongs to the core of the psy-sciences themselves.
The landing strip of individual psychology What in short is the experiment about? The participant, together with a second person who is actually a confederate, are told by an experimenter in a grey lab coat that they are to cooperate in a experiment to test the effects of punishment on learning. A rigged drawing appoints the naïve subject as the teacher and the other person gets the role of learner. The latter is strapped into a chair – in the base-line condition situated in an adjacent room – with his right hand connected to the so called shock generator. The naïve subject takes a place behind the control panel of the shock generator and is to conduct a paired-associate learning task via the intercom. He is ordered to punish each failure with an electric shock, moreover, with each mistake, he has to move one level higher on the shock generator, the switches range from 15V to 450V. The experimenter in his lab coat stays in the room with the teacher, he is seated behind the subject taking notes.
Milgram filmed the experiment and used this candid footage to edit a 45 minute film called Obedience (Milgram, 1965b). By far the longest fragment in the film features a man called Fred Pozi and also in Milgram’s book of 1974 the session with Pozi gets much attention. Milgram describes him in a psychologists-can-see-through-you style as a good-natured, slightly dissolute and ordinary fellow (Milgram, 1974: 73). Pozi begins the experiment calmly but gets increasingly tense. He starts to protest at the level of 180V but is successfully countered by the standardized monotone phrases of the experimenter (“the experiment requires that you continue”). Pozi goes all the way, repeating twice the 450V switch as the experimenter prompts him to do. While the transcripts of the Pozi-session stops there, the films shows the post-experimental debriefing talk.6 We first hear the experimenter – off-screen – starting the debriefing interview, but after a little rupture in the footage, another person takes over, judging from the voice it is Stanley Milgram himself who intervenes: one is tempted to say because of the fact that Pozi must have seemed to Milgram such a good example of the experiment’s aim7.
Milgram.: I’d like to ask you a few questions if I may – How do you feel?
Pozi: I feel alright, but I don’t like what happened to that fellow in there, he’s been hollering. We had to keep giving him shocks, I don’t like that one bit. I mean, he wanted to get out, and he just kept going, keep throwing 450 Volts, I don’t like that, he won’t even look at that gentlemen.
Milgram: But who was actually pushing the switch?8 The first question immediately reveals what the experiment is about, the question how do you feel is revealing that the experiment indeed does not want to analyse but rather wants to psychologize the whole issue of obedience. Milgram’s questions ‘do you feel upset?’, or ‘what did you feel then?’ in the meantime have become the standard phrases of emo-television. The fragment furthermore shows that Milgram refuses any explanation of the subject blaming the situation. Milgram individualizes the scene: who was actually pushing the switch? So paradoxically, while Milgram’s experiment wanted to show how obedience to authority is situational, the landing point of the experiment is the individual, or more exactly the psychology of the individual:
Milgram: Why didn’t you just stop?
Pozi: He won’t let me! I wanted to stop! I kept insisting to stop but he says no. I told him to look into the fellow, but he wouldn’t do it.
Milgram: Is there anything that Mister Wallace in there could have said that would have gotten you to stop?
Milgram repeats this question up to three times, as if Pozi fails to give Milgram the right answer: and would not that answer have been something psychologizing, mentioning a tension between Mr. Wallace’s hollerings and the commands of the experimenter, the juxtaposition around which the experiment was set up? As Pozi keeps on missing this hint Milgram cuts things short:
Milgram: Why didn’t you stop anyway?
Pozi: I did stop, but he (the experimenter) [insisted] keep going, keep going!
Milgram: But why didn’t you just disregard what he said?
Pozi: He said it is got to go on, the experiment!
Milgram: Okay, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the experiment… do you feel a little upset? [my emphasis]
Milgram then discloses the set-up of the experiment saying that the learner was not getting shocks and was only part of the act: “so why don’t we bring in Mr. Wallace”, says Milgram. And there we find ourselves in a typical psychotainment-show scene: the grand finale with its discharging of emotions. Milgram interrupts the reconciliation between Mr. Wallace and Pozi just one more time: “Now that you know (…), how do you feel (…).”
If the Milgram experiment is an enactment, then it is essentially about psychologizing: an intersubjective situation is set up in order to individualize and psychologize it. Milgram’s de-briefing restores to the unified subject of psychology its wholeness and synthesis, its autonomy and its self-consciousness, which for Lacan are the ultimate illusions cherished by psychology (Lacan, 1966: 832). For Lacan psychology is a powerful tool of “technocratic exploitation” (Lacan, 1966: 851) and this is illustrated by Milgram: his ingenious and forceful experimental design ends up with the coercive imposition of the discourse of emotions. The psychologizing how do you feel envisions the unification of the Lacanian barred subject. Is this not already an answer to the question why serious psychologists are that eager to whisk Milgram away? It holds some truth about their discipline and about the place of it in contemporary society: it betrays in an all too simple way that the business of mainstream psychology boils down to a psychologization process. Psychology brings not the analysis, in that way itis not a science, it is the praxis of psychologizing. In the film we see this in full action:
Milgram: How do you feel?
Subject X: How do I feel? He was getting the shocks, I’m doing all right.
Milgram: How do you feel about Mr. Williams?
Subject X: I don’t know, never gave it a thought. You mean I didn’t like him?
Milgram: No, eh, well how did you feel about him?
This person, seemingly not yet acquainted with the individualizing psychological discourse, still needs to be introduced by Milgram into the psychological self-assessment with which we are so acquainted. Milgram’s social engineering is thus a self-enactment: the experiment is about how (social) psychology realizes its paradigms through the imposing of the academic, psychological gaze. Psychologization is about the psy-sciences legitimating their position in the movement of self-dramatization.
Obedience to psychology Milgram writes that in order to study obedience he chose science to stand for authority, suggesting it could also have been the military, the church or the educational system (Milgram, 1974: 142). He thus not only downplays the central role of science in his experiment, he also masks the fact that it is the authority of the psy-sciences which he brings into play. The whole outset is marked by, in psychoanalytical terms, a transferential context unrecognized or unquestioned by Milgram itself. While however, psychology as a signifier enters the script from the very start: “I should like to tell both of you something about The Memory Project”, thus the experimenter starts his introduction:
Psychologists have developed several theories to explain how people learn various types of material. Some of the better-known theories are treated in that book over there, The Teaching Learning Process by Cantor (Milgram, 1965b).
Science, and more specifically psychology, is the frame of the experiment. The fact that the participants are shown the Cantor book displayed on a stand, as we see in Milgram’s movie (Milgram, 1965b), indicates that psychology is the master-signifier of the experiment, serving as a quilting point (‘point de capiton’, Lacan, 1966) structuring the whole setting. Psychology is thus explicitly present, on a stand, without being made explicit by Milgram. After showing the Cantor book, the experimenter continues to explain the theory of the role of punishment in the learning process and describes the aim of the experiment as wanting to find out more about that. This short introduction on behaviouristic learning psychology is followed by the rigged drawing, supposedly to decide who will be the teacher and who the learner. Many critics have observed the illogicality of this, as Orne and Holland put it:
[T]he investigator presumably is interested in determining how the victim’s rate of learning is affected by punishment, yet there is nothing that he requires of the S (teacher) that he could not as easily do himself (Orne & Holland, 1968: 287).
Also Brannigan remarks that the credibility of the experiment is not furthered by the fact the teaching could obviously be carried out without volunteer teachers (Brannigan, 2004: 55). But stressing the incredibility, do these commentators not miss – together with Milgram himself – what this role assignment essentially is about? What Lacanian discourse theory teaches us is that we have to look for the subject positions in a particular organization of a discourse (Parker, 2005) And here Milgram’s experiment is very clear: assigning the subject as the teacher actually turns the layman into an experimental learning scientist: the role assigned is the role of psychologist! Maybe this is also why the subjects so easily and uncritically submit to the role assignment: because they are very familiar with it. For in processes of psychologization the so-called layman invariably is turned into a proto-psychologist: he is called upon to look at himself through an academic and psychologizing gaze: he is to become his own psychologist. How do you feel?, Milgram’s basic post-experimental question, exactly induces this way of looking upon oneself from the perspective of psychology. Milgram, introducing the experiment to the subjects, keeps his reference to learning psychology brief and basic because he presupposes a widespread familiarity with these psychological theories. It is furthermore crucial to see that the role of the proto-psychologist is essentially that of an apprentice, of a student: the psychologization discourse is an educational discourse9. We must understand Milgram’s experiment as a basically didactic experiment where the subject plays the role of psychologist to be consequently debriefed in order to take up the role of student in the psy-sciences. Not surprisingly Milgram, as the real Teacher of the experiment, has his favourite students. Mr. Braverman is one of them, as he clearly differs from Fred Pozi or the man we have called subject X who can be seen as the prototypes of the pre-Milgram era, the ones still not fully immersed in the psychologization discourse. Milgram writes about Mr. Braverman:
In the interview, Mr. Braverman summarizes the experiment with impressive fluency and intelligence. He feels the experiment may have been designed also to “test the effects on the teacher of being in an essentially sadistic role, as well as the reactions of a student to a learning situation that was authoritative, rigid and punitive” (Milgram, 1974: 53).
The experiment thus has the structure of the process of psychologization. Braverman becomes the scientist-apprentice adopting a scientific and psychologizing view on his own behavior and thoughts. As the experimenter asks the typical psychologizing questions, Braverman does not fail to answer him in the expected format:
Experimenter: At what point were you most tense or nervous?
Braverman: Well, when he first began to cry out in pain, and I realized this was hurting him. This got worse when he just blocked and refused to answer. There was I. I'm a nice person, I think, hurting somebody, and caught up in what seemed a mad situation . . . and in the interest of science, one goes through with it (Milgram, 1974: 53-54).
Here we see why Lacan critiqued the American Ego-Analysis and other forms of psychotherapy: they lead to an identification with the analyst or psychotherapist (Lacan, 1966). Milgram shows on top of this that this identification is essentially about identifying with the position of the psychologist and his outlook, his gaze, on the world. There was I, says Braverman: this is the gaze of psychology in action. It is not surprising that in a questionnaire one year after the experiment Braverman fully engages in the psycho-babble:
What appalled me was that I could possess this capacity for obedience and compliance to a central idea, i.e., the value of a memory experiment even after it became clear that adherence to this value was at the expense of violation of another value, i.e., don't hurt someone who is helpless and not hurting you. As my wife said, ‘You can call yourself Eichmann’, I hope I deal more effectively with any future conflicts of values I encounter (Milgram, 1974: 54).
Here the didactical objectives of the experiment lie at the surface. Milgram’s experiment is about teaching his subjects a lesson. The post-experimental question “What in your opinion is the most effective way of strengthening resistance to inhumane authority?” (Milgram, 1974: 52) calls the subject into the psychology class. But the specificity of psychologization is that once you call subjects into the classroom, you cannot simply send them back to outside naive life again: having adopted a reflexive view, there is no way back. The draft into psychology hails the subject irreversibly into the ranks of the (proto)psychologists.
The Milgram experiment shows how the theory and the praxis of psychology is caught up in what Lacan calls the university discourse: in which the subject claims presence in being a subject and in its mastery of itself and the universe (Lacan, 1998, 56). Once the subject is seduced into the university discourse, he claims to be himself part of those supposed to know. As one of Milgram’s subjects put it:
Although I am … employed in engineering, I have become convinced that the social sciences and especially psychology, are much important in today’s world” (Milgram, 1974: 52)
Milgram reports that a large number of subjects spontaneously requested to be used (sic) in further experimentation (Milgram, 1965a: 58). He considers the didactic effects as a central positive outcome of the experiment and he writes that the subjects on the whole viewed the experiment as an opportunity to learn something of importance about themselves, and about the conditions of human action (Milgram, 1974: 196). But has this approach not always been a strong current in social psychology? A good example of this position is Baron and Byrne’s claim that there is growing evidence that “when individuals learn about the findings of social psychological research, they may change their behaviour to take account of this knowledge” (Baron and Byrne, 1994: 384). The objective of the psy-sciences is the mastery of the subject of itself and the universe. A kind of enhanced and improved meta-behaviour informed by science is considered possible. But as we see that Milgram’s subjects, in their assigned role as experimental social scientists, seem to disregard all the evident clues of deception, does this not illustrate the psychoanalytical idea that the university discourse ultimately is driven by a “passion for ignorance”, a desire not to know (Lacan, 1998: 121)? And here Milgram’s subjects seems to share something with Milgram himself: for Milgram himself seems to be completely blind to the fact that the use of the theoretical framework of psychology as his figure of authority leads to quite dazzling looping effects. Or as David Corfield puts it: what passes unspoken in the experiment is Milgram’s relation to the scientific imperative (Corfield, 2002: 199). Let us go deeper into that in the next section.
Obedience to science While the mainstream critique is that Milgram deceived his test-subjects in an all too obvious way, this cannot really account for the fact that Milgram’s subjects seem to disregard the manifold clues. Milgram’s commentators disregard or misinterpret this desire not to know because they fail to understand that this exactly pertains to the core of obedience. Take for example Orne and Holland (1968), one of the earliest influential critiques. Criticizing Milgram’s use of deception, they argue that while probably many of Milgram’s subjects had figured it out, they nevertheless went through with the experiment because of a kind of a pact of ignorance: they continued in order not to jeopardize the experiment. Moreover, as they write, many of the subjects might have acted on the idea that, being in a scientific setting, it had been taken care off that no real damage or hurt would come to anyone (Orne and Holland, 1968). Downplaying the experiment as scientistic they want to rescue the idea of a scientific based (social) psychology which would not merely be a self-enactment or self-dramatization. What they miss together with Milgram is how the science of psychology is inextricably bound to the dynamics of psychologization. For what Orne and Holland fail to see is that their critique exactly shows how obedience enters the very heart of Milgram’s experiment. The so called pact of ignorance shows again the compliance, the obedience as such, which is as far as we know much higher then the 65% of obedience Milgram found. In the perspective of Orne and Holland, 100% of the subjects complied, for there are no reports of subjects who denounced the experiment as fake right from the start: everybody seems to have accepted to be part of Milgram’s amateur dramatics.
Is there anything more powerful then faked obedience? Let us illustrate this with a little anecdote of an adolescent girl attending a hypnotist show. The hypnotist asks the audience to clasp their hands together as hard as they can, he predicts that their hands will stay together when they are asked to release the pressure. But as the experiment does not work out, he quickly asks if anyone at least felt some counter-pressure (which is of course perfectly understandable as the effect of muscular tension). The girl shyly raises her hand and much to her dislike in being picked out as a volunteer, she does not dare to refuse. The hypnotist asks her to close her eyes, he is going to bring her into hypnosis and make her body so rigid that it can be stretched like a plank between two chairs. While she thinks the hypnosis is not working, she decides to play the part and tries to hold her body as stiff as possible as she is being laid on two chairs. Afterwards her friends tell her that it was really amazing, although, judging from the pictures from the digital camera, she herself does not find the curve of her body very impressive. Is this not an example of how faked obedience can be quite powerful? In this instance the desire not to know assumes the form of (fetishist) disavowal: I know very well… but nevertheless (Mannoni, 1969) which is a powerful stance in social dynamics. For example, a leader is maybe better off with faked obedience, with subordinates who amongst peers critique their leader and in the back of their minds reserve a private personal space. What critics such as Orne and Holland miss is that faked obedience might thus be stronger then so called blind obedience. Just think about the compliance of employees to cooperate with the role games and team building activities set up by the Human Resource Management (HRM) department however infantile and humiliating they are. Faked compliance is the compliance able to rise to the 100% level.
However when one searches for 100% obedience, the Milgram experiment still offers a much simpler instance. Milgram got 100% obedience from his confederates, especially from the so-called experimenter who was to prompt the naïve subject to go on. That role was played by John Williams, a 31-year-old high school biology teacher who had a set of prompts he had to use when the subject protested or hesitated to administer the shocks. However much the subjects were in distress, asking to be allowed to stop, begging him to look in to the poor victim, Williams remained unmoved and, fully complying with his assigned role, he carried on with the experiment10. But of course we cannot stop with Milgram as the last authority, we have to ask the question to whom is he answering, to whom is he obeying. There the answer is, as we have already suggested in our introduction, he is obeying (or faking to obey, remember his rewriting of his original article) science. In this respect David Corfield compares Milgram with the Abraham figure, the one required to inflict senseless pain, in this case not on his own son but on 1000 men from Bridgeport and New Haven:
So, if Milgram is Abraham and the subject is Isaac, then what plays the role of God? The only answer to this question is science itself. Obedience to God’s command outweighs such aesthetic considerations as the pleasure gained from his child and such ethical considerations as that of putting his son’s life before his own […] (Corfield, 2002: 198)
It is only from the perspective of the theme of obedience to science – in which all the parties in the experiment up to Milgram himself are caught – that we can understand the fundamental theatricality of the experiment. The fact that the so called naïve subjects are put in the role of experimental psychologists entails that the setting of the drama cannot be overlooked: we are in the midst of Academia. Moreover, Milgram is fully aware that he has set up the scene departing from a scenario featuring Science. He understands that he obtains obedience with academic currency: he writes that it is the idea of science and its acceptance which “provide the overarching ideological justification for the experiment” (Milgram, 1974: 142). Yannis Stavrakakis even reads a proto-lacanian formulation in Milgram’s assessment on the source in authority: when Milgram writes that the subject enters the situation with the expectation that someone will be in charge and that the experimenter “fills a gap experienced by the subject”, Stavrakakis recognizes there Lacan’s formula of fantasy (Stavrakakis, 2007: 175). This fantasmatic frame that supports the symbolic command and binds the subject to the elementary structure of obedience is for Stavrakakis science itself (Stavrakakis, 2007: 175). But is it not strange that where Milgram is fully aware of the power effects of science, he nevertheless fails to assess his own position and fails to take into account the looping effects of obedience in his experiment? This is the disavowed tautology in Milgram: his experiment is science studying the power effects of science. That is where his experiment becomes a blind acting out, a mere enactment of the fantasmatic frame of science. It is exactly there, at the blind spot of the fantasy, that the paradoxes and the looping effects arise and thus the power effects of science become clear, not as an analysis, but as an acting out. For in the end, Milgram’s main move is the psychologizing post-experimental debriefing: the powerful imposing of the psychological gaze: now that you know, how do you feel?To go one step further, the inevitably blind spot of science which characterizes and structures the powerful university discourse (according to Lacan the dominating discourse in late-capitalist society), is the place where the psy-sciences come in: functioning as a tautological keystone. For, the Milgram experiment is not only an experiment of obedience to authority and to science, but it shows us that we have come to the point where we cannot but understand obedience from the framework of psychology.
What then is the result of being subjected to this university discourse? Žižek warns us to avoid the Foucauldian misreading:
… the produced subject is not simply the subjectivity which arises as the result of the disciplinary application of knowledge-power, but its remainder, that which eludes the grasp of knowledge-power. (Žižek, 2005: 139-140)
The subject does not simply stand for the result of the discursive operation, but rather for its indivisible remainder, the excess which resists being included in the discursive network (Žižek, 2005: 140). The subject is thus not the sum of the objectivations of bio-science: man is exactly the fall-out of the encroaching of science on his Lebenswelt. We can say then that since the Enlightenment, subjectivity is the name of this problematic aspect of modernity. Therefore the subject is both the main problem and often the unwanted guest of the sciences, the one who spoils it all. Psychology then claims to take care of this problematic subject: psychology aspires to be the meta-theory of all the sciences, taking care of the breaches subjectivity causes in the constructions of science. What Milgram and (with him) mainstream psychology neglect is that the subject they want to approach with their science, is already a product of Enlightenment, of modernity, of science. In this way Milgram’s experiment cannot be a re-enactment of the modern process of subjectivation: it produces a subject baffled, humiliated and reduced to the scientific analysis which was scripted into the entire experiment itself. In this way, Milgram’s experiment is the acting-out of the psychologization processes enclosed in the project of modernity – and this, as we will probe in the last step of our critical engagement with Milgram’s experiment, is connected with something one is tempted the call a perverse core in psychology.