Thursday, April 17, 2008

Authority and evil

Bruce Schneier just posted about a notorious experiment:

Eager to explore the way that "situation" can impact on behaviour, the young psychologist enrolled students to spend two weeks in a simulated jail environment, where they would randomly be assigned roles as either prisoners or guards.

Zimbardo's volunteers were bright, liberal young men of good character, brimming with opposition to the Vietnam war and authority in general. All expressed a preference to be prisoners, a role they could relate to better. Yet within days the strong, rebellious "prisoners" had become depressed and hopeless. Two broke down emotionally, crushed by the behaviour of the "guards", who had embraced their authoritarian roles in full, some becoming ever-more sadistic, others passively accepting the abuses taking place in front of them.
One of his commentators added:
I always use this as an explanation why I dont like the way the current long-term trend in the US, where anything that is not prohibited is compulsory, is causing us to become buried in police agencies of one form or another (State, Federal, Local, County. FBI, TSA, IRS, pretty much any other combination of TLA).

If you have a huge sub-society that has the power to harrass the rest at will, they unintentionally become sadists. (Granted, not all of them; just the 60% or so who are normal. The bottom 20% probably already were sadists, or at least criminals who joined the massive panic infusion of police hiring in order to facilitate existing criminal activities. So only the 20% saints at the top may resist this mentality.)
It's a great deal worse in Europe.

But anyone offering themselves for public office should have these words branded across their foreheads:
If you have a huge sub-society that has the power to harrass the rest at will, they unintentionally become sadists.

1 comment:

dearieme said...

The common observation, I believe, is that most Americans approve of police forces in general but disapprove of every police force of which they have experience.