Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Lucifer Effect in Life, Not for Nothing

The story of 4th episode/2nd season of my new favorite TV drama, Life (episode title Not for Nothing)(CS-Origin, Ch31 Destiny Cable) is loosely based on the Phillipi Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. In the experiment the subjects (college students) were given roles either as guards or as prisoners. Zimbardo wanted to see how much the uniform and the stereotypical role affects normal people. Under minor pressure from their "warden," the "guards" quickly and inventively became abusive and sadistic. The "prisoners", who could have walked out at any time, showed extreme passivity and depression and put up with the abuse. The experiment was cut short because of the to brutality put upon on the "prisoners". In the Life episode a student-"guard" mysteriously got killed (remember that it is a crime drama).

The "guards" merely thought themselves to be "doing their jobs." The "prisoners" quickly came to see themselves as "helpless." Until consultant Christina Maslach condemned it and caused the end of the experiment, Zimbardo, the "warden," did not realize the abuse he was indirectly causing, thinking it was a voluntary behavior of students under contract to participate.

Zimbardo chronicled the experiment in his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil”.  He uses his findings to explain what makes good people do bad things, how moral people can be seduced to act immorally, where the line is that separates good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it. He then uses his theories to explain some of the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man -- the Rwanda massacre, and even more recently, the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Zimbardo says that the right “situational” forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make decent men and women abandon their moral scruples and cooperate in oppression and violence - bringing out the worst in them. Thus, the Lucifer Effect. The situational forces need not be of an extraordinary nature: wearing a uniform, or dressing in ways that conceal identity, and insecure individuals acquiring new found petty powers. We are reminded of Lord Acton's "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

There is a thin line line between good and evil. Every man has the potential for engaging in evil deeds despite a generally moral upbringing. There is also the “evil of inaction”, a new form of evil that supports its perpetrators, by knowing but not acting to challenge them. Which in turn reminds us of Edmund Burke's "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Winnie Monsod looks at what is happening in the Philippines from a Lucifer Effect perspective. With non-stop news of corruption, military and police cruelty or indifference, there is a tendency to go with the flow. This may explain what some call the People Power fatigue.

Are we then hopeless? No, not at all. Zimbardo argues that not only are we capable of resisting evil, but that we can even teach ourselves to act heroically. We can resist unjust authorities, we can break corrupt systems - we can be heroes. Zimbardo gives us some tips on how to defy the Lucifer Effect. Here are rules 18-19.
 18. Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity – challenge them when necessary: ask, who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.
19. When developing causal attributions for unusual behavior – yours or others – never rush to the dispositional, always start by considering possible situational forces and variables that are the true causal agent, and seek to highlight them and to change them where possible.
Being an ordinary hero by defying the Lucifer Effect is doing the right thing when it is much easier to keep quiet. We need to have the stuff of which ordinary heroes are made of. There is hope. Be a hero.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:45 PM

    galing! sobrang applicable in any setting.
    i ned to take note of zimbargo's tips. thanks, mang perry!



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