Sunday, May 06, 2007

my challenge to all of you

Get yerselves a copy of Philip Zimbardo's "The Lucifer Effect" ASAP. I'm about a quarter of a way through this unusual and riveting book.

Zimbardo, a psychology professor, is best known for having created the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, where male college students were randomly assigned to be guards and inmates in an ersatz prison created in a campus basement. The guards quickly became so sadistic that the experiment had to be aborted early. Zimbardo had a book deal to write about the Stanford Prison Experiment, but he was unable to face writing about it until thirty years had passed. Since that famous experiment, Zimbardo has been involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal (he reports that the infamous pictures we see are NOTHING compared to the unreleased ones he has seen) and other instances of regular people becoming evil. He believes that we all have the potential of great evil within us, which can be easily drawn out by a horrible situation.

Join me in reading this important and interesting book.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

He was interviewed on NPR recently (a week ago, I think). His wife was the only one to point out how wrong the Standford experiment was and how traumatized and changed everyone had become from it. If she hadn't said anything, it would likely have gone on longer and been more damaging to the students.

Freewheel said...

I saw the author on The Daily Show. He had some interesting thoughts on the Abu Graib abuse. Apparently, we're all in need of moral supervision.

JD said...

I think the idea that power corrupts is at the root of his writings and I do think it's a universal truth. I believe people are morally ambiguous and if given the opportunity will do what is in our best interest.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Get the book, guys. I'm serious in that this is an extraordinarily thought-provoking and highly readable book. It's long... but I whipped through a third of it yesterday, not wanting to put it down.

More than "power corrupts", he has the concept that there can be situations set up that bring out evil in people... including powerless ones. The Stanford Prison Experiment really illustrated how normal, likeable people could become concentration camp guards.

I didn't write about the wife (she was a girlfriend at the time and a highly promising psychologist in her own right) was the one who freaked out and told Zimbardo that he had to stop the experiment, because I didn't want to go into too much detail. A couple of his research assistants were incredibly relieved to have it over (as were the prisoners).

Read it with me, people. As for Abu Ghraib, Zimbardo was involved in the case and visited the prison, interviewed many associated with the case, and saw the pictures which were NOT released to the public (and which he says make the infamous ones we saw look really tame).

Trouble said...

You know, I had this realization a few years ago when I was working directly with gang members. I always thought I was so different from violent criminals, but given the right scenario, I was the same.

Anonymous said...

I recently finished an interview in Sun Magazine about a woman who did extensive research into the so called tough-love/boot-camp therapeutic envionments where a lot of troubled teens end up. Apparently those places are absolutely crawling with excessive bullying and downright abusive behavior because its virtually impossible for people to not slide down the slippery slope.

She had a similar take on the situation and spoke also about Abu Ghraib.

2amsomewhere said...

Good quotation along those lines from Schnarch...

Our dark side is the side that denies its own existence.

--
2amsomewhere

hughman said...

i love that you're reading this book but god, it sounds so depressing, as a gay man with aids, i can tell you about oppression. i've lived it. but god bless you for opening yourself to the experience.

Anonymous said...

The belief that all people have a dark side is what Calvin expressed as "total depravity."

It is not that we are all as bad as we could be, it is that we are restrained from being as bad as we could be. (In Calvin's theology, that would be the working of the Holy Spirit, in the orthodox Christian Trinity.)

It sounds like a truly thought provoking and challenging read-and also, as Hughman notes, depressing.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like "Lord of the Flies" to me

Epiphany said...

Possibly worth reading for people who can't stomach the book: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He discusses the Stanford Prison Experiment, among other things, and shows how much group think and things attributable to situations rather than personality can change a person's behavior.

There are definitely some folks who are more predisposed to abuse power than others. Many of them (not surprisingly) end up in law enforcement, and other places where they can allow their abusive natures to run free. Factor in massive egos that justify said bad behavior, and you have a recipe for even more abuse. Such fun!

Definitely looking forward to reading this one...

Anonymous said...

You might like "Inside Skinner's Box" which tells the stories of 10 (or 20?) of the most influential psychological experiments in the 20th century.



Now.

Put down the book, Drunken, and amuse me with a new entry.


Kim

the Drunken Housewife said...

I want to read the Skinner's Box book now, Kim. (From what I heard, B.F. Skinner was a terror of a father). I will look for that at my library!

Anonymous said...

They talk about that Skinner's box thing and his kid in the book. Apparently a lot of that was a myth.