03 July 2015

The Lucifer Effect Series

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

The Lucifer Effect examines the processes of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others – or using one’s authority and systematic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. Evil is knowing better but doing worse.

No person or state is incapable of evil. This behavior lies just under the surface of any of us. Each of us has the potential to be saint or sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, submissive or dominant, sane or mad, good or evil. We are born with a full range of capacities, each of which is activated and developed depending on the social and cultural circumstances that govern our lives. The potential for perversion is inherent in the very processes that make human beings do all the wonderful things we do.

Some of the world’s evil result from ordinary people operating in circumstances that selectively elicit bad behavior from their natures. They are so evil we couldn’t ever see ourselves doing the same thing. But if you consider the terrible pressure under which people were operating, then you automatically reassert their humanity – and that becomes alarming. You are forced to look at the situation and say, “What would I have done?” Sometimes the answer is not encouraging.

It is through understanding how such forces operate that we can resist, oppose, and prevent them from leading us into undesirable temptation. Such knowledge can liberate us from subjugation to the mighty grasp of conformity, compliance, persuasion, and other forms of social influence and coercion. Although evil can exist in any setting, we look most closely into its breeding ground in prisons and wars. They typically become crucibles, in which authority, power, and dominance are blended and, when covered over by secrecy, suspend our humanity, and rob us of the qualities we humans value most: caring, kindness, cooperation, and love.

Abu Ghraib Series – WIP
The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts
Psychological analysis is not “excusiology.” Individuals and groups who behave immorally or illegally must still be held responsible for their complicity and crimes. However, the situational and systemic factors that caused their behavior must be taken into account.


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