Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Authority", evil, and Philip Zimbardo

In a recent email I read an interview with Philip Zimbardo, famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment, and what it taught some people about the dangers of believing in "authority" and such.

Using the context of the Stanford Prison Experiment, which is also the subject of a movie coming out soon, he discusses whether we all have the potential to be evil. I tend to believe we do- I can feel the stirrings of it inside me under certain circumstances.

But, how exactly does Zimbardo define "evil"?

Zimbardo defines it in The Lucifer Effect thusly: “Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others—or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf.

So he goes even further than I have when I say evil is: "any act which intentionally harms any person who isn't currently initiating force or violating private property; someone who does not deserve to be harmed at this moment". I approve of his inclusion of those using "authority" to influence others to be evil under the umbrella of evil.

He talks about one of the Abu Ghraib monsters:
In this model, Zimbardo told me that before he went to Iraq, Chip Frederick was an all-American patriot, “a regular church-going kind of guy who raises the American flag in front of his home each day, gets goose bumps and tears up when he listens to our National Anthem, believes in American values of democracy and freedom, and joined the army to defend those values.”

I don't see anything good there. Instead I see the seeds of evil in almost every morsel of the above description. I see nothing in Frederick that recognizes Rightful Liberty and human rights. Instead I see a person deeply brainwashed by a religion (statism) and willing to do horribly evil acts on its behalf. That he became a monster doesn't surprise me in the least.

Yes, we all probably have the capacity for evil behavior, but some superstitions make it more likely to happen. Some make it almost inevitable.