We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Wednesday, April 4. 2007
Stanley Milgram's famous Yale experiment set the standard for uncovering the capacity for sadism in ordinary people. The results came as no big surprise to parents of multiple kids.
Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment ("SPE") took the subject much further - as far as any researcher would want to take it. He is the author of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
Dr. Zimbardo is interviewed this week in the NYT Science Times.
The evil lurking in people only comes as a surprise to those who know nothing of themselves. Dealing with it is one of the challenges of being human. And dealing with the vicissitudes of human aggression and sadism/sado-masochism (and anger too, which is another subject entirely) is a major challenge in psychiatry, both theoretically and practically. Freud found it necessary to posit a "death instinct" to account for some of these things, but he was never entirely satisfied with the idea.
Denial of the capacity for evil in others is called naive, or infantile. Denial of evil in one's self is called "denial," and is usually handled via projection (an immature defense mechanism which "projects" one's own malevolence onto external sources). Those who locate evil only in themselves are often masochistic, or using various defence mechanisms which I will not get into now.
The devil? Many Christians and Jews believe in a devil or devils. Devil or no, there is plenty enough material in humans for a devil to exploit (see Screwtape Letters - a diabolically fascinating and amusing read). Our first piece on evil is here.
I have done evil, and I have sinned plenty. Not to brag. I know that evil exists.
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Dr. JB. You frame the dichotomy well, I think. It is self control, with a moral compliment, learned or through osmosis, that determines the extent to which any one individual transcends the bounds of modern (western) civilization. Taking Psych 101 (and I went no further) shortly after Dr. Zimbardo published, it was a prominent part of the course. A revelation as it where, at least as presented by my Professor. Going on long ago memory here, but the one control that was missing from the experiment was retribution for the 'guards' if their choices were wrong or ill advised. They had complete freedom too do as they would. With no fear of retribution. Very similar to conditions in 20's-50's Russian and 30's-40's Germany. I ask, from ignorance, just how does that relate to a societal construct that interjects morals (hopefully) and consequences for the giver of the juice. Can that experiment really be indicative of our society or of mankind in general?
Dr. Zimbardo's interview as linked above, for me, indicates a swing to the political and not the scientific. Perhaps that was always true.
"Considering the cunning and malice of Satan, and the weakness and depravity of men's hearts, it is not possible but that there should be offences. God permits them for wise and holy ends, that those who are sincere, and those who are not, may be made known."
--Matthew Henry Commentary
("...that those who are sincere, and those who are not, may be made known" --wow!)
Known to God or to us? Known by our asking forgiveness or by giving it?
I suspect some of us might be doing “D.-- all of the above” kind of meditation and prayer. Or at least I'll be giving it a try.
Thanks for the reminder re-visit.
I dunno, char, but your "all of the above" sounds right. Anyway, it's @
It's from old Matthew Henry's thoughts on Matthew 18:22.
Jesus said to forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven times.
One message one might take is that "turn the other cheek" has a limit.
That's no doubt the wrong message, but is a comfort to those of us who, regarding terrorism, wonder about Christian mercy.
Thoughts passing through the Brit hostage drama, you see. I'm wondering where we are on that 490 pardons.
It's a tall order, isn't it?
It works better in places where the people around you are at least following the Ten Commandments.
Good link, Buddy. Helps to read the rest of Henry’s interpretation on why God permits offenses and esp. on the exercise of forgiveness, since many of us have difficulty with either the asking for or giving of it, or both. His writing is clear and accessible, stalwart Presbyterian he (hoo-ah!), and the reminders make for good contemplation. Can’t believe that I actually feel a little better, so, again, much appreciated.
World happenings, though, opening our eyes to great evil and deciding whether and how to stop it, seems more Old Testament, for some reason. Does Christian mercy necessarily translate into being non-judgmental, pacific in all ways and forgiving of barbarism, as many seem to believe? I think not, for there’s the protection of the innocent to provide (and self-defense, although some would disagree), but how does the New Testament address what to do about Big Evil as it’s happening?
Sending good thoughts to Retriever from down South.
Good post and good discussion. I'd considered posting the Zimbardo interview but thought the political element would be distracting to too many people. I've got enough on all of that in other posts.
Dr. Bliss does a good job of addressing what is at the heart of Zimbardo's findings by addressing the underlying dynamics. Zimbardo is a social psychologist and social psychologists don't generally formulate these things in the way an analyst would.
Of course, Zimbardo's research may have implications for the treatment of prisoners in war, but they have fundamental implications for everyday life, our conduct and that of others, and for the internal lives of each and every one of us.
Just, as my last, and to be clear. Evil is real. We are born with the potential for everything or anything. No denial here, in the larger world or in myself. The universe knows no bounds. Evil flourishes when not fought or opposed. My only point was that western civ is/has been slowly developing responses. Imperfect, as yet, but showing progress. Though I supposed my point is blunted by the Nazi's. They did arise under the pretense of same.
I still submit that Zimbardo did not inject the influence of western civ as a control in his experiment. He allowed 18-21 year olds full bore on their desire to 'what,' show their heartlessness, make the study a success. I still call bullshit. An early video game, but with 'real' and 'alive' subjects. Do a study now on eighteen year olds in their virtual game worlds, with no constraints. Is the result different? At the age of nineteen over there in SVN, I would have done none of the things that Zimbardo's 'guards' did. Call me full of shit if you will. But I would not have. And I did have opportunity. Call it osmosis of civilized values.
I just think it a slim pretext to pontificate on. There has and always will be the ten percent. I just find fault on extrapolating that ten percent to the rest of us.
I agree that it was designed to see how far some people would go. Not a naturalistic experiment at all. And it is not extrapolatable to everyone, for sure. But I stand by my statement that everyone is capable of some evil, in thought if not behavior.
Evil: Allowing Caesar what is not his.
Good: Knowing what is and what is not Caesar's.