February 28, 2008 at 11:34 am #27732
note: Taoist morality tends to be situational, i.e. each individual has to assess the situation and determine their role in maintaining harmony (5 phase) and balance (yin-yang). Taoists are often accused of being amoral, refusing to have fixed judgements about morality or rules on how to behave (the way “love” or “compassion” can become a badge/rule worn on sleeve rather than spontaneous expession of heart).
This psychologists supports the Taoist view – that the situation is the most powerful determinant in certain conditions. – Michael
HOW GOOD PEOPLE TURN EVIL, FROM STANFORD TO ABU GHRAIB
By Kim Zetter
February 28, 2008
MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA – Psychologist Philip Zimbardo has seen good people
turn evil, and he thinks he knows why.
Zimbardo will speak Thursday afternoon at the TED conference
< http://www.ted.com/>, where he plans to illustrate his points by showing a
three-minute video, obtained by Wired.com, that features many previously
unseen photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq
< http://tinyurl.com/2jajlx> (disturbing content).
Salon.com published 279 photos and 19 videos from Abu Ghraib in March 2006
< http://tinyurl.com/34sunf>, one of the most extensive documentations to
date of abuse in the notorious prison. Zimbardo claims, however, that many
images in his video — which he obtained while serving as an expert witness
for an Abu Ghraib defendant — have never before been published.
Zimbardo conducted a now-famous experiment at Stanford University in 1971,
involving students who posed as prisoners and guards. Five days into the
experiment, Zimbardo halted the study when the student guards began abusing
the prisoners, forcing them to strip naked and simulate sex acts.
His book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,
explores how a “perfect storm” of conditions can make ordinary people commit
He spoke with Wired.com about what Abu Ghraib and his prison study can teach
us about evil and why heroes are, by nature, social deviants.
Wired: Your work suggests that we all have the capacity for evil, and that
it’s simply environmental influences that tip the balance from good to bad.
Doesn’t that absolve people from taking responsibility for their choices?
Philip Zimbardo: No. People are always personally accountable for their
behavior. If they kill, they are accountable. However, what I’m saying is
that if the killing can be shown to be a product of the influence of a
powerful situation within a powerful system, then it’s as if they are
experiencing diminished capacity and have lost their free will or their full
Situations can be sufficiently powerful to undercut empathy, altruism,
morality and to get ordinary people, even good people, to be seduced into
doing really bad things — but only in that situation.
Understanding the reason for someone’s behavior is not the same as excusing
it. Understanding why somebody did something — where that why has to do
with situational influences — leads to a totally different way of dealing
with evil. It leads to developing prevention strategies to change those
evil-generating situations, rather than the current strategy, which is to
change the person.
Wired: You were an expert defense witness in the court-martial of Sgt. Chip
Frederick, an Abu Ghraib guard. What were the situational influences in his
Zimbardo: Abu Ghraib was under bombardment all the time. In the prison, five
soldiers and 20 Iraqi prisoners get killed. That means automatically any
soldier working there is under high fear and high stress. Then the
insurgency starts in 2003, and they start arresting everyone in sight. When
Chip Frederick [starts working at Abu Ghraib] in September, there are 200
prisoners there. Within three months there’s a thousand prisoners with a
handful of guards to take care of them, so they’re overwhelmed. Frederick
and the others worked 12-hour shifts. How many days a week? Seven. How many
days without a day off? Forty. That kind of stress reduces decision-making
and critical thinking and rationality. But that’s only the beginning.
He [complained] to higher-ups on the record, “We have mentally ill patients
who cover themselves with [excrement]. We have people with tuberculosis that
shouldn’t be in this population. We have kids mixed with adults.”
And they tell him, “It’s a war zone. Do your job. Do whatever you have to
Wired: How did what happened at Abu Ghraib compare to your Stanford prison
Zimbardo: The military intelligence, the CIA and the civilian interrogator
corporation, Titan, told the MPs [at Abu Ghraib], “It is your job to soften
the prisoners up. We give you permission to do something you ordinarily are
not allowed to do as a military policeman — to break the prisoners, to
soften them up, to prepare them for interrogation.” That’s permission to
step across the line from what is typically restricted behavior to now
In the same way in the Stanford prison study, I was saying [to the student
guards], “You have to be powerful to prevent further rebellion.” I tell
them, “You’re not allowed, however, to use physical force.” By default, I
allow them to use psychological force. In five days, five prisoners are
having emotional breakdowns.
The situational forces that were going on in [Abu Ghraib] — the
dehumanization, the lack of personal accountability, the lack of
surveillance, the permission to get away with anti-social actions — it was
like the Stanford prison study, but in spades.
Those sets of things are found any time you really see an evil situation
occurring, whether it’s Rwanda or Nazi Germany or the Khmer Rouge.February 28, 2008 at 6:34 pm #27733
was expecting the extract to be good, but come on..
like it was that stressful… it’s more the fraternity crap that Rush Limbaugh called it…
like there’s a defense for it…March 3, 2008 at 7:16 am #27735
Who is it that deliberately sets up this “perfect storm of conditions”?
These things – Rwanda, Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge or Stalinist Russia are deliberately socially engineered situations, set up by people who understand the dark side of human nature only too well.
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