I can’t believe we are already half way done the course! Within the past three weeks we have covered so much content, had numerous great discussions and are now well underway with our class presentations. Go us! This week our readings were finishing all but the final chapter of Baumeister (1997) and getting further into “The Lucifer Effect” by Philip Zimbardo (2008).
Part 3 of Baumeister’s book is dedicated to the notion of “how they do it” and covers topics such as how evil starts, how it grows, guilt, and ambivalence. There were a few statements and ideas that Baumeister (1997) writes about that really stuck with me – some I agree with and others, not so much. In the chapter regarding how evil starts, Baumeister (2001) explains his take on culture and it’s relation to the beginnings of violence. He believes that cultures place values and develop constructs that do not necessarily approve of violence, but accept beliefs such as the human ability to loose control. Baumeister introduces this notion of “irresistible impulses” which he states perpetrators in our culture have become increasingly drawn to. Our culture has constructed this idea and it’s demonstrated even through our legal system, which is considered to be a “heat of passion” crime. People who these “heat of passion” crimes usually receive lighter sentences. For instance, take this example I’ve found in the news of a man who shot and killed his wife. He found out the previous day that she was filing for separation. If he is found guilty of first-degree murder, he will face 20 years to life in person as oppose to the maximum 10 he would receive for manslaughter (had it been a crime of passion). If the legal system is willing to give this man a lesser sentence, is this not implying to our society that we are more understanding of violence if it is used these circumstances? I agree with Baumeister (1997) when he states that true irresistible impulses should be viewed at as biological necessities; things that you would do even if your life were at stake for doing them. Allowing this idea of “irresistible impulses” might not be encouraging violent behaviour per se, although it is weakening the restraints on the violent tendencies that people already have.
Something that didn’t really settle well with me in Baumeister’s (1997) reading is his view on the “essence of a survivor”. He states, “You adapt to the world and proceed on its terms, instead of going down with a lost cause” (Baumeister, 1997). He also previously explains that survivors tend to be individuals that accept the reality of their new terms and went on with their lives. I really think that this description gives a poor light to individuals who I would consider to have the status of a survivor. My impression of a survivor is someone that has overcome adversity, usually when the odds are against them. In my personal opinion, I don’t think that Baumeister’s view encompasses the full essence of what a survivor is. Although it may be true that some individuals adapt in order to survive situations, I think others also fight.
Moving onto Zimbardo’s reading…
Before beginning this course, I wasn’t aware of the Stanford Prison Experiment so learning more about it has been…interesting. I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that this study was conducted, and it really wasn’t that long ago. Diving into another few chapters this week, Zimbardo (2008) acts as the narrator as he walks us through how this study came to be and the beginning few days. I don’t know how many times I said to myself “You can’t do that to people!” and “How was this allowed?”; I found I said those things more and more as the chapters progressed. There are, obviously, aspects of the study thus far that I feel are morally and ethically wrong. However, pushing those feelings aside, there are a number of interesting things to note.
I didn’t anticipate how quickly everything was going to escalate. I assumed that since it was a two-week study that the first day or two were going to be fairly uneventful but that definitely wasn’t the case. Just about all the guards had really begun to embrace their new role to what feels like an extreme and by the second day one of the prisoners notes that he already feels depressed and dreads another day of “all the same shit again, and maybe even worse” (Zimbardo, 2008). Before this began, the guards had an orientation and Zimbardo explains what they can and cannot do; “physically abuse or torture them” is pretty much the only thing they are not allowed to do. Where does Zimbardo draw the line of what is considered to be physical abuse? Already by Monday morning one of the guards has gotten into a physical altercation with one the prisoners and multiple guards use force to put him into solitary confinement. Clearly things are escalating, probably beyond what was initially deemed as appropriate, but the study continues.
One last thing that I’ll note that has been bothering me is Zimbardo’s involvement. Initially I thought that he was strictly the study’s creator and he was going to be in a passive position while it played out. However, while he was giving the guard’s their orientation he states “Will the prisoners essentially work against us to regain some of what they now…”; the use of the word “us” when he is talking to the guards demonstrates to me that he is associating himself as being one of them (Zimbardo, 2008). He is considering himself actually part of the study. This is demonstrated again when he really begins to embrace the role as the prisons superintendent. In my opinion, I am getting the feeling that he is beginning to associate himself more with the role of the prison superintendent who needs to keep order rather then the creator of a study who needs to ensure the safety of everyone.
Those are my thoughts for this week, folks! I hope you enjoyed!
Baumeister, R. (1997). Evil: Inside human cruelty and violence. New York, NY: W. H. Freemand and Company.
Forde Attorneys to Argue Heat of Passion Defense in Murder Case. (2016, May 24). LoudounNow. Retrieved from http://loudounnow.com/2016/05/24/forde-attorneys-to-argue-heat-of-passion-defense-in-murder-case/
Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks.