Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect, says that Evil is:
- The exercise of power to
- harm another person psychologically, and/or
- hurt another person physically, and/or
- destroy others mortally, and
- commit crimes against humanity.
ordinary people whose social action is extraordinary, who act when others are passive, who give up ego-centrism for socio-centrism.I had heard of the Stanford experiment, but I had never heard of the book Zimbardo wrote until my daughter read it while she was at AIT in Arizona. (Advanced Individualized Training, in which the Army teaches you to do your specific job - theoretically, that's what it is - practically, well ... it's the Army. The right hand is not only ignorant of the left hand's actions, the right hand is pretty sure the left hand was blown off in a previous conflict, so the hands don't much communicate. But AIT is supposed to be about training for a specific job, her job is intel, so - on her own - she read this book.)
Now, the reason I have been thinking about this is because this is the season of evals. Yeah, that's right. Evals. Rather than getting grades, my son gets evaluations each term from his instructors up at The Evergreen State College. (This poses us a new twang to the twizzle with this kid. Now he scorns music with meter and the convention of grades. I've taken to rolling my eyes so much I'm getting dizzy. Whatever, dude.)
My eval season looks back every Christmas - across the whole vista of all of the years - and asks, How did I do? What has been the effect? What did my kids do with what I taught them ... and what I prepared them to learn on their own? Who have they become in their own rights?
The same world holds both angels and demons. The same opportunities and situations produce both heroes and tyrants. So ...
My actions? My social life? My private life? How about my marriage? I do my evaluations, and I - conventionalist that I am - I tend to assign grades. I don't think to myself "I've gotten about a B+" or anything like that. But I do think about my placement on a reasonable expectations scale.
Zimbardo's "20 Hints About Resisting Unwanted Influences On You" read a lot like an Examination of Conscience before Confession ... but not on the level of the inmost soul. On the level of the psyche, this is a good evaluation form, I think.
- Do not maintain an illusion of “personal invulnerability” – If it can happen to them, then it can happen to you too.
- Be modest in self-estimates – it is better to perceive yourself as vulnerable and take necessary precautions than to go “where angels fear to tread.”
- Engage in life as fully as possible, yet be mindful and aware, attuned to the moment, and prepared to disengage and think critically when necessary – people are generally good and trustworthy, but others make their careers as “influence professionals” who try to get you to do what they want.
- Be aware of Cialdini’s contexts and principles of compliance; when you sense you are operating on one of the principles, look to the relevant context being manipulated on you and pull back; where the context is obvious, expect the principle to be activated.
- Be ready to say the three most difficult phrases in the world: “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, and “I’ve changed my mind.” Cut bait, accept immediate loss of money, face, etc. that could lead to bigger long term losses – Dissonance and consistency then go limp in the face of such self-honesty.
- Separate your ego from your actions; maintain a sense of positive self-esteem, that is independent form the occasional failure and your stupid actions at times (Laugh at yourself once a day. This is especially true for shy folks.)
- Separate messenger from message in your mind, process each systematically not heuristically, be aware of being tired, a “cognitive miser,” wanting simple short cuts, giving in to non-verbal tricks. There are no free lunches and no quick and dirty paths to anything worthwhile – sloth and greed breed gullibility.
- Insist on a second opinion, a delay in signing contract while thinking about it away from the situation; never immediately sign on the dotted line.
- Develop ‘Discrepancy Detectors,’ alerting mental and intuition systems that stem from vague feelings of something wrong, something in the situation or the story you are being handed that does not fit to analysis to counteraction -> dissent -> disobedience.
- Try playing devil’s advocate, be the deviant, to assess the reactions against you and that position, when the influence agent says he/she is only doing X for your good.
- Avoid ‘Total Situations’ where you lose contact with your social support and informational networks (cults and the most powerful forces of social influence thrive there), you do not want all your reinforcers to come from these new sources.
- In all authority confrontations: be polite, individuate yourself and the other, make it clear it is not “your problem” in the process, or situation; describe the problem objectively, do not get emotional, state clearly the remedy sought, and the positive consequences expected – hold off on the threats and costs to them or their agency as last resort.
- When in some situation of authority encounter, you are being challenged – ask for identification, demand to see it, get person’s name (write it down) and all details about the encounter.
- Never allow yourself to be cut off emotionally from your familiar and trusted reference groups of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – do not accept putdowns against them.
- Remember all ideologies are just words, abstractions used for particular political, social, economic purposes; be wary taking actions proposed as necessary to sustain that ideology – always question if the means justify the ends, and suggest alternatives.
- Think hard before putting abstract principles before real people in following other’s advice to act in specific ways against what they represent.
- Trust your intuition, gut feelings when you sense you are becoming a target of influence, put up your counter-arguing mentality, and dig down for sources for resistance.
- Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity – challenge them when necessary: ask, who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.
- When developing causal attributions for unusual behavior – yours or others – never rush to the dispositional, always start by considering possible situational forces and variables that are the true causal agent, and seek to highlight them and to change them where possible.
- Imagine Dr. Z as your conscience, your personal Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) sitting on your shoulder and saying be cool, be confident, be collected—to avoid becoming a Jack Ass.