We are officially finished Zimbardo! Although it was an insanely interesting read, I have to say that I am looking forward to some happier summer reads. It is a lot of [dark] content in a short amount of time. But wow, I have learned so much! I usually have some difficulty trying to formulate what I am going to write for our weekly blogs. There is always so much to discuss between the readings, our discussions, and even the presentations (which were all amazing!). I found a lot of parallels between this week and our previous Baumeister (1997) readings. Here are some of my ‘takeaways’ from this week:
Evil Can Exist Anywhere
And in anyone. Anytime. In any varying degree. From the “Ted Bundy’s” of the world, to the nurse that is taking care of our elderly, to the military members committing – evil is capable of manifesting anywhere. Although it is not pleasing thought, I think that coming to terms with this has a lot of benefit. Looking back, Baumeister (1997) introduced the “Myth of Pure Evil”. I won’t go into all the details (old news for us almost-completed-psych-of-evil students) but, for just a quick snapshot, it is basically all the aspects that surrounds how people usually see or define evil: sadistic, victim is innocent/ evil is the ‘other’, etc. Clearly, as we have learned from the course, this is not always or even usually the case. I think that keeping this mindset of the evil is dangerous. It allows for people to become blind to evil doings, and therefore allows for these evil doings to happen, or to magnify in some cases. I think that it also leads to inaction which Zimbardo discusses as being a major contributing factor to evil, particularly for it to continue to happen.
I want to take a look at the case of Kitty Genovese. Though this case happened in the 60’s, I think that a lot of the aspects are relevant to my point. First, Kitty’s murderer was a seemingly normal man in society. He was a home owner, was married, had two children – the guy that lives next door to me is all of these things. He isn’t the typical ‘evil’ that people like to believe. Evil doesn’t always occur from individual’s that are distinctively different. Secondly, the dangerous of inaction – or from what is widely known as the bystander effect. A documented 37 people heard the screams of Kitty the night that she was murdered, and had a span of around 30 minutes to take action that could have saved her life. It seems that the more people who are present, the less that each person feels personally responsible – the diffusion of responsibility. Fast forwarding quickly to 2016, we see this type of effect on a smaller scale as well in today’s society with cyberbullying. This article discusses factors such as number of bystanders, anonymity, and relationships in terms of how they effect the likliness for bystanders to intervene.
The More People the Merrier
We also see diffusion of responsibility and the dangers of inaction throughout Zimbardo (2008) book as well. In one of the account’s from a Sergeant from Abu Ghraib, he states that the reason he didn’t inform anyone about the abuses taking place was because he “assumed that if they were doing things out of the ordinary or outside the guidelines, someone would have said something” (Zimbardo 2008). Here we see again that since other people were involved, the Sergeant assumed that someone else would take action. Could there be a more dangerous assumption?
So, say several people are involved, in some way, shape or form, in the manifestation and magnification of evil, who is to blame?
Are the people who chose not to contact police the night of Kitty’s murder partly responsible for her death? What about the individuals that just witnessed the abuses taking place, but didn’t put a stop to it – are they evil? It’s difficult to determine where you draw the line of who is responsible and who isn’t. There’s just so many factors needing to be taken into consideration.
There seems to be a few underlying factors in the reasonings behind inaction: fear, ambiguity, and faulty assumptions. When someone challenges a system, the result might not be something positive or seemingly “heroic” – at least not immediately. This may come with repercussions. The people involved at Abu Gharib may have been living in fear of what may happen to them if they were to challenge what was taking place. The people that didn’t take action the night of Kitty’s murder stated that they didn’t out of fear. In both cases, they were both unsure about what to do, what was happening, and assumed someone else would take action. Or maybe this is just their way of justifying their [evil] actions. What I’ve really come to understand, is that people can really lose their sense of self when they become a part of a group. They begin to think like the “group” almost regardless of what their inner values are.
What do you think are ways that we can avoid destructive groups/ systems? Can we change systems that are already created?
There are several reasons for why I was interested in taking this course. One of them was due to the fact that this man lived no more than 20 minutes from my home, and murdered someone from our community. For those of you who are interested:
Talk about contradicting the myth of evil in terms of who a perpetrator is…
See you all next week for our final class together!
Baumeister, R. (1997). Evil: Inside human cruelty and violence. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.
Brody, N., & Vangelisti, A. L. (2016). Bystander intervention in cyberbullying. Communication Monographs, 83(1), 94-119. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1044256
Gansberg, M. (1964). 37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1964/03/27/37-who-saw-murder-didnt-call-the-police.html
Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks.