In the original Star Trek series, there was an episode called A Taste of Armageddon. In it, people on two planets were fighting a strange war. To avoid the destruction and chaos of real war, they fought using computer simulations. However, the casualties were real. If one side scored a “hit” on the other, the people who would have died in a real bombing were required to report to disintegration chambers where they were killed. I always felt that this was one of the more unrealistic episodes. Surely the instinct for self-preservation would be too strong for compliance to such a scheme. Now, I’m not so sure.
In The Tenth Level, I described a psychological experiment which demonstrated that people will inflict severe pain on others at the command of an authority figure. I suggested that this explained why State public health and school administrators would keep schools open even though they knew that this would visit suffering and death on students. However, this phenomenon does not explain why teachers, especially pregnant ones, would risk their own lives. Or why parents would send their own children, not strangers, into a danger zone.
Is the pull of authority so strong that the instinct for self-preservation will be ignored and people will go to their deaths without complaint? Will they send their own children to a place where they know they may die?
Scottsboro City School officials moved quickly Tuesday to help students through the grieving process and minimize fears of parents, students and personnel a day after the death of a Collins Elementary School sixth grader.
Alex Garcia, 11, died Monday while undergoing treatment at Highlands Medical Center of what the Alabama Department of Public Health tentatively presumed to be a case of novel H1N1 (swine flu).
“This is a terrible tragedy for the family, friends, our school system and me personally,” Superintendent Dr. Judy Berry said. “Alex was a great young man and it will be a long time before we recover from the shock and tragedy of his untimely death. Our thoughts and prayers certainly go out to his family and friends.”
Calling the situation confusing and perplexing, Berry said she fully understands the fears and concerns of parents of students in the schools.
“We continue daily, like we have since before school started, to take every possible precaution. Children are in no more danger today than they were last week or than they have been in the past,” Berry said. “We are following all guidelines sent down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADPH and continually monitor their updates for compliance.”
One might think that the death of a child might cause administrators to rethink leaving their school open. Instead, we are told that they will continue to monitor the CDC “for compliance.” This is Tenth Level obedience to authority.
But what about the parents at this school? Will they also comply with CDC orders? They now know that their children are not safe at this school. They know that their child could be the next to die. Will they decide that “compliance” with CDC directives overrides their responsibility to keep their children safe from harm?
I’m afraid I may not like the answer.