Sunday, 25 October 2009

Transformation:Good to Bad

Philip Zimbardo is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. His famous ground breaking work Stanford Prison Experiment now has been published in a very detailed a researched volume titled THE LUCIFER EFFECT. His research is based on the notion that Certain circumstances makes people bad and evil and he conducts a mock prison, to check his thesis, and the results are startling. Following is a passage from Chapter ONE of his book:

“The Lucifer Effect is my attempt to understand the process of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. We will deal with the fundamental question ‘What makes the people go wrong?’ But instead of resorting to a traditional religious dualism of good versus evil, of wholesome nature versus corrupting nature, we will look at the real people engaged in life’s daily tasks, enmeshed in doing their jobs, surviving within a turbulent crucible of human nature. We will seek to understand the nature of their character transformations when they are faced with powerful situational forces.

Let’s begin with a definition of evil. Mine is simple, psychologically based one: Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others—or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short ,it is knowing better but doing worse.”

Most of us hide behind egocentric biases that generate the illusions that we are special. Theses self serving protective shields allow us to believe that each of us is above average on any test of integrity. Too often we look at the stars through the thick lens of personal invulnerability when we should also look down to the slippery slope beneath our feet. Such egocentric biases are more commonly found in societies that foster independent orientations, such as Euro-American cultures, and less so in collectivist-oriented societies, such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East.


  1. This one is certainly one of the most stimulating pieces you've done Akhtar Sahib! I shall return soon...

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  3. "Knowing better but doing worse" gives each and all of us the clue...that going downhill for any of us begins with this in the smallest steps and failings.

    And simply repeating such a phrase (without over-doing guilt) often could help each of us through the little and larger pitfalls to break through certain pulls - whether of society, peers or self (such as even the betrayal or temporary feelings both elevated or the opposite at times)...

  4. YES, you are so right on, I do agree that one of the great Euro-American cultures' great downfalls is the fact they/we are seeped through and through in many (while not all) places with too much individualism.

    Perhaps this individualism goes further with America. While there was at times a necessary side once the mixed-motive occupation of native peoples' land took place. (survival). Still, this was carried way too far - then and now.

    There has been the sometimes positive value of unique artistic expression to come out of America perhaps from this individualism trend or from sub-groups taking it on for their own on-going survival. At it's best maybe a gift to the world or could become that in the future?

    Thank You Akhtar Wasim Dar Sahib!