Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Can anyone be evil? - prologue

kw: opinion, human nature

I recently saw a book that intrigued me, but I tabled the notion of getting it for the time being: The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo. Dr. Zimbardo's fame began in the 1970s with the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Briefly, a class of college students was divided into "prisoners" and "guards", and the plan was to observe behavior over several weeks. The experiment was stopped after just a few days. The "guards" had all become sadistic thugs and the "prisoners" were emotionally broken. The author's work and current results are found at www.lucifereffect.com/

I've thought about this phenomenon on and off for more than thirty years, relating it to the "good Germans" of the 1930s and 1940s—and the death camps—; to the killing fields of Cambodia; to the My Lai massacre. Recalling the very many Biblical injunctions to "think not more highly of ourselves than we ought to think", to "seek the lowly", that "pride comes before a fall", that a certain malign church leader "loved pre-eminence", and so forth, I concluded that the very act of thinking oneself better than others inclines one to evil. It fosters all kinds of abuse.

I am sure many know the Bible verse, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Note that it is the love not the money that is the problem. But I would say, summarizing not only Biblical exhortations, but similar words in every religion: To desire or attain pre-eminence is the main root of evil.

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