Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Lucifer Effect

Social Psychologist Philip Zimbardo directed in 1971 the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which volunteer college students randomly assigned to be guards or inmates in a simulated prison. Those students playing guards found themselves enacting sadistic, cruel, authoritarian, and abusive behavior.

In his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (Random House, 2008), Zimbardo connects to historical examples of injustice and atrocity, especially the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He found that almost anyone, given the right "situational" influences, could be made to abandon moral scruples and cooperate in violence and oppression. He insists that in cases like Abu Ghraib ,we should blame the situation and the system that constructed it.

Any group that has power without supervision or accountability for their actions, will do the same thing that the student of the Stanford Prison Experiment did, becoming sadistic, cruel, authoritarian, and abusive. Remember when Arian Germans were allowed to do whatever they wanted to German Jews without any legal consequences. Remember the horrors of Rwanda, when Hutus where allowed and encouraged to murder Tutsis. We, human being, are a dangerous animal.

I have said this before: the problem with family courts is not women, is attaching almost absolute power to a specific gender in family courts, establishing a hierarchy that in this case is based on gender, but it could be based (and it has been before) on race, ethnic group, religion, etc. The problems that fathers now confront in the Western World, are confronted in an even more terrible way by mothers in the Eastern World and in Africa. The problem is not women, is the social, legal and political structures that sustain gender inequality.

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