Thursday, December 02, 2004

Jasmin, the Cat, and Dr. Stanley Milgram

Aww, damn it all to hell. I just had the longest freaking blog ready to post. I was smart and had typed it out in notepad first, so just in case Blogger screwed up, I wouldn't lose what I felt was a pretty witty, intelligent and meaningful post. So what happens? Oh, massive computer error. My laptop shut itself off, and I lost everything. Now I know I should’ve been typing in Word or something with autosave, but my Word has been acting up lately and taking forever to load. And who expects massive computer errors?

Yeah, well, anyway, now you’re going to miss out on my brilliance. I know that that sort of thing just can’t be reproduced. So now you’re going to get a different, much less pretentious post about my friend Jasmin.

Today, I went with Jasmin to pick her son up from school. When we got there, we saw this cat. Jasmin had seen the cat there before and thought that it might be a stray, so we got out to investigate. It turned out to be a really friendly cat, so we were petting it and discussing the signs to determine whether or not he belonged to anybody. We stood around talking about it so long that the crossing guard yelled to us: “Take him home with you!”

Jasmin went over to the crossing guard and found out that the cat had been abandoned a while ago. The people in the house across the street had moved suddenly, and had just left him behind. Meanwhile, he’d been hanging out and trying to beg scraps off the kids walking home from school.

He was on the skinny side, so apparently he hadn’t been that successful. The crossing guard said that she’d seen a lot of kids harassing him. They’d throw things at him, and chase him.

Well, that’s all it took. Jasmin decided to take the cat to the Humane Society. They don’t put cats down there unless they’re terminally ill, so it’s a pretty good place to take a stray cat. We drove over, found out that they couldn’t take him in until Tuesday, and Jasmin decided to take him home.

The problem with that last bit was a) her husband was going to be seriously unhappy that she’d brought home another stray; and b) she already has two cats and two dogs who are extremely territorial and not shy about displaying the fact. So she basically signed up to get yelled at whilst cleaning up an ocean of dog and cat waste for the next five days, and likely longer.

She knew all that, but it didn’t phase her. She didn’t hesitate for a second. If she knows that something’s right, she’ll do it no matter what. No amount of suffering can turn her from a good deed once she’s settled on it, and no consequence is so strong as to make her compromise her convictions.

Jasmin is a rare breed. Her son had only transferred into this school on Tuesday, and Jasmin could only have seen the cat twice before. But presumably, all of the other parents would have seen him for weeks, perhaps even months. None of them had bothered to check the cat’s story out; or, if they had, none had bothered to do anything about him.

I have to admit that I don’t know if I would have done anything either had Jasmin not been there to help me. If I’d known the cat’s story, you can bet that I would have. But I’m so timid that I probably wouldn’t have checked him out for a long time. My fear of getting in somebody’s way would probably have prevented me from getting out to pet the cat in the first place. I would have done it eventually, but I never could have pulled off Jasmin’s two-day record.

The whole thing reminds of the Milgram Experiments. I can’t remember all of the specifics, and I’m too lazy now to bother looking it all up. But the principle thrust of the thing went something like:

A bunch of ordinary folks signed up to take part in this study which they were told would be about the effects of electric shocks on learning. Two participants at a time would be led into the laboratory, they would draw straws (or do something else seemingly random), and one would be declared the teacher and the other the learner. The teacher would deliver a lesson via intercom and ask the learner questions. When the learner missed a question, the teacher would deliver an electric shock to give the learner an incentive to perform better.

But the trick was, the study wasn’t really about the learners at all. The learner was a collaborator in the real study; he was a paid actor. The actor was actually hooked up to a fake machine, and instructed to deliver increasingly painful and desperate screams as the “shocks” increased. Eventually he would begin to complain about a heart condition, and by the end, he would appear to be completely unconscious. Another collaborator, dressed as a doctor, reassured the “teachers” if they started to get squeamish about the experiment, telling them that the shocks were harmless and had no lasting effects.

The study was about obedience and conformity in society, and the results were shocking. Psychologists had estimated that maybe 1 in a 1000 people would complete the experiment. Those that did complete the experiment, they thought, would be mentally unbalanced. In reality, something like 2 out of every 3 participants finished the study. The vast majority of ordinary people will follow orders, no matter what, if they come from an authority figure that they think they can trust.

It’s a pretty scary thing when you think about it. But the point of bringing all that up is that I like Jasmin so much because she’s so that tiny portion of the population who would never, ever shock someone just because some wiseass in a lab coat told her to. She’ll do what’s right, come hell or high water, and the so-called authorities be damned!

It can be a very irritating personality trait to those of us who, in the name of urbanity and sophistication, try to convince Jasmin that she’s just being a dork. But no manner of argument will budge her if she knows she’s right. She’ll be a dork; she’ll be an honest dork with a clean conscience, and you can take your inflated opinion of yourself and shove it.

It can be very irritating. But it’s also very comforting to know that someone out there really believes in what they say. It’s good to know that I have a friend who’ll stick by me no matter what. Even if it isn’t popular. Even if it’s downright dorky. Even if nobody else will do it because it’s hard. She’s just that kind of person. And that’s a really rare thing.

That being said, her Shrek impression totally sucks. Also, I’m the best “writter,” not her. I’m the best history student of the millennia, not her. While her GPA was slightly higher than mine, I took much more difficult classes than she ever did; and Lord knows, I helped her with her homework enough. And perhaps, most importantly of all, I’m much prettier than she is, and have a far superior fashion sense.

You know, just to make things fair and balanced and all.