November 23, 2020

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Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
by Philip Zimbardo.
Random House, 2007
(i-xvii, 551 pages)

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note = Numbers in parentheses refer to pages




1) THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EVIL --- Situated character (1-





5) TUESDAY'S DOUBLE TROUBLE --- Visitors and rioters (80-





10) THE SPE'S MEANING AND MESSAGE --- The alchemy of character transformations (295-

11) THE SPE --- Ethics and Extensions (229-

12) INVESTIGATING SOCIAL DYNAMICS --- Power, conformity, and obedience (258-

13) INVESTIGATING SOCIAL DYNAMICS --- Deindividuation, dehumanization, and the evil of inaction (297-

14) ABU GHRAIB'S ABUSES AND TORTURES --- Understanding and personalizing its horrors (324-

15) PUTTING THE SYSTEM ON TRIAL --- Command Complicity (380-


note = "Because heroism is not a simple phenomenon that can be studied systematically, it defies clean definitions and on-the-spot data collection. Heroic acts are ephemeral and unpredictable, and appreciation of them is decidedly retrospective. Because heroes are usually interviewed months or years after their heroic behavior has occurred, there are no prospective studies of what the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson might call the 'decisive moment' of heroic action." (487)

note = "Generally, we do not know what the decision matrix for heroes is at the time they elect to engage in risk-laden activities. What seems evident is that heroic behavior is rare enough not to be readily predictable by any psychological assessments of personality. They measure individual differences between people in their usual, standard behavioral settings, not in the atypical settings that often elicit heroic deeds." (487)

note = Lieutenant Alexander (Sandy) Nininger is a case example of a heroic soldier who engaged in extraordinarily fearless and ferocious fighting during World War II's infamous Battle of Bataan. This 23-year-old West Point graduate volunteered to go hunting for Japanese snipers where the fighting was most intense. With grenades. a rifle, submachine gun, and bayonet, Nininger killed many Japanese soldiers single-handedly in intense close combat, and kept fighting although repeatedly wounded. Only after he had destroyed an enemy bunker did he collapse and die. His heroism earned him the Medal of Honor, posthumously the first given in that war." (487)

note = "What makes this hero an object of our concern is that nothing from his past would have predicted that he would engage in such killing. This quiet, sensitive, intellectual young man had gone on record as saying that he could never kill anyone out of hatred. Yet, he had done so repeatedly without regard for his own safety Had he been given all available personality tests, would they have helped predict this unexpectedly violent behavior? In his review of personality testing, the author Malcolm Gladwell surmises that Nininger’s file might be as thick as a phone book, but this file will tell us little about the one thing we are most interested in. For that, we have to join him in the jungles of Bataan. In short, we have to understand the 'Person in the Situation'." (487)

note = "For reasons we do not yet fully understand, thousands of ordinary people in every country around the world, when they are placed in special circumstances, make the decision to act heroically On the face of it, the perspective we take here seems to deflate the myth of the hero and to make something special into something banal. This is not so, however, because our position still recognizes that the act of heroism is indeed special and rare, Heroism supports the ideals of a community and serves as an extraordinary guide, and it provides an exemplary role model for prosocial behavior." (488)

note = "The banality of heroism means that we are all heroes in waiting. It is a choice that we may all be called upon to make at some point in time. I believe that by making heroism an egalitarian attribute of human nature rather than a rare feature of the elect few, we can better foster heroic acts in every community, According to journalist Carol Depino 'Everyone has the capability of becoming a hero in one degree or another.' Sometimes you might not realize it. To someone it could be as small as holding a door open and saying ‘hello’ to them. We are all heroes to someone." (488)

note = "This new theme of the universality of ordinary heroes encourages us to rethink about the common heroes among us, those whose daily sacrifces enrich our lives. Daniel Boorstin's earlier noted cynical view of media-crafted celebrities as heroes gives way before his deep appreciation of the everyday unsung heroes living and working among us: In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person with solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, under-paid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs. Topsy-turvy, these can remain heroes precisely because they remain unsung." (488)

note = "And so, the parting message that we might derive from our long journey into the heart of darkness and back again is that heroic acts and the people who engage in them should be celebrated. They form essential links among us; they forge our Human Connection. The evil that persists in our midst must be countered, and eventually overcome, by the greater good in the collective hearts and personal heroic resolve of Everyman and Everywoman. It is not an abstract concept, but, as we are reminded by the Russian poet and former prisoner in Stalin's Gulag Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: 'The line between good and evil is in the center of every human heart'." (488)

"Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Ciao. Phil Zimbardo" (488)

NOTES P. 491

INDEX P. 535

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AUTHOR NOTE = Philip George Zimbardo (born March 23, 1933) is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox and The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project. Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

SUMMARY = What makes good people do bad things? How can moral people be seduced to act immorally? Where is the line separating good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it? Renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has the answers, and in the book he explains how — and the myriad reasons why — we are all susceptible to the lure of "the dark side."

BOOK DESCRIPTION = Drawing on examples from history as well as his own trailblazing research, Zimbardo details how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women. Zimbardo is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, for the first time and in detail, he tells the full story of this landmark study, in which a group of college-student volunteers was randomly divided into "guards" and "inmates" and then placed in a mock prison environment. Within a week the study was abandoned, as ordinary college students were transformed into either brutal, sadistic guards or emotionally broken prisoners. By illuminating the psychological causes behind such disturbing metamorphoses, Zimbardo enables us to better understand a variety of harrowing phenomena, from corporate malfeasance to organized genocide to how once upstanding American soldiers came to abuse and torture Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib.

He replaces the long-held notion of the "bad apple" with that of the "bad barrel" — the idea that the social setting and the system contaminate the individual, rather than the other way around. This is a book that dares to hold a mirror up to mankind, showing us that we might not be who we think we are. While forcing us to reexamine what we are capable of doing when caught up in the crucible of behavioral dynamics, though, Zimbardo also offers hope. We are capable of resisting evil, he argues, and can even teach ourselves to act heroically. Like Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem and Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, The Lucifer Effect is a shocking, engrossing study that will change the way we view human behavior. From the Hardcover edition.

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PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY REVIEW = Psychologist Zimbardo masterminded the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which college students randomly assigned to be guards or inmates found themselves enacting sadistic abuse or abject submissiveness. In this penetrating investigation, he revisits-at great length and with much hand-wringing-the SPE study and applies it to historical examples of injustice and atrocity, especially the Abu Ghraib outrages by the U.S. military. His troubling finding is that almost anyone, given the right "situational" influences, can be made to abandon moral scruples and cooperate in violence and oppression. (He tacks on a feel-good chapter about "the banality of heroism," with tips on how to resist malign situational pressures.) The author, who was an expert defense witness at the court-martial of an Abu Ghraib guard, argues against focusing on the dispositions of perpetrators of abuse; he insists that we blame the situation and the "system" that constructed it, and mounts an extended indictment of the architects of the Abu Ghraib system, including President Bush. Combining a dense but readable and often engrossing exposition of social psychology research with an impassioned moral seriousness, Zimbardo challenges readers to look beyond glib denunciations of evil-doers and ponder our collective responsibility for the world's ills.

BOOKLIST REVIEW = Social psychologist Zimbardo is best known as the father of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which used a simulated prison populated with student volunteers to illustrate the extent to which identity is situated within a social setting; student volunteers randomly chosen to play guards became cruel and authoritarian, while those playing inmates became rebellious and depressed. With this book, Zimbardo couples a thorough narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment with an analysis of the social dynamics of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, arguing that the experimental dehumanization of the former is instructive in understanding the abusive conduct of guards at the latter. This comparison, which is the book's core insight, is embedded in a sprawling discussion about situational influences that cobbles together a discussion of the psychology of evil, a strong criticism of the Bush administration, and a chapter celebrating heroism and calling for greater social bravery. This account's Abu Ghraib focus will generate demand. -- Brendan Driscoll

CHOICE REVIEW = Zimbardo (emer., Stanford Univ.) details how such psychological processes as deindividualization, in-group/out-group biases, and situational and systematic environmental variables lead normal people to commit heinous acts. Using his much-promoted Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, Zimbardo argues that situational factors, not evil inner dispositional factors, cause people to commit evil. Yet people --- notably, here, the Bush administration — repeatedly commit the "fundamental attribution error," making the erroneous claim that evil acts are caused by dispositional factors, by "evil people," and not by the evil situations normal people find themselves in.

Examples include Nazi war crimes, massacres in Africa, and the Abu Ghraib crimes. This book could have been one of the most powerful books on psychology ever written, but it fails. Excessive unnecessary details of the Stanford Prison Experiment bore, as does Zimbardo's castigation of the Bush administration. Burdened by an overdose of self-promotion and unnecessary personal detail, the writing is a hodgepodge of styles, being cutesy, condescending, academic, friendly, and paternalistic at different points. The final chapter on heroism should be in a different book. This is an important book that few will actually read. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. -- S. R. Flora Youngstown State University

LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW = Zimbardo (psychology, emeritus, Stanford Univ.) is best known for a 1971 study, since called the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which student volunteers were randomly assigned to be guards or prisoners in a simulated jail. Although everyone involved knew that the so-called prisoners weren't guilty of anything, the violence and humiliation inflicted by the guards became so severe that the study had to be terminated prematurely. Here, Zimbardo explains that this happened not because the guards were bad people but because of the social situation into which they were thrust. Recently, he studied a real-life situation of his experiment when he served as a defense consultant in the trial of an Abu Ghraib guard. Zimbardo describes his own work and that of others, such as psychologist Stanley Milgram and sociologist Erving Goffman, in order to build a set of prescriptions for governments and organizations that would minimize the possibility of such human rights abuses occurring again. A well-written and important work; recommended for all libraries. -- Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA

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[1] Chrissy Camp - I only read half the book! = I definitely agree wholeheartedly with the content in the book but difficult to keep my attention. Here is a quote: "The psychologist Ervin Staub (who as a child survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary in a “protected house”) concurs that most people under particular circumstances have a capacity for extreme violence and destruction of human life. From his attempt to understand the roots of evil in genocide and mass violence around the world, Staub has come to believe that “Evil that arises out of ordinary thinking and is committed by ordinary people is the norm, not the exception... Great evil arises out of ordinary psychological processes that evolve, usually with a progression along the continuum of destruction."

He highlights the significance of ordinary people being caught up in situations where they can learn to practice evil acts that are demanded by higher-level authority systems: "Being part of a system shapes views, rewards adherence to dominant views, and makes deviation psychologically demanding and difficult."


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