After reading the chapter in the Lucifer Effect on Abu Ghraib, it’s still hard for me to determine if this is an example that proves the intrinsic evil of humanity or the environment of war. In no way do I agree that the they way the prisoners were tortured is justified, but how much blame should be placed on individual soldiers or the military culture as a whole? I read an article last semester for a class called Media and War, where we actually discussed the photos from Abu Ghraib. We talked about how the environment of war has changed to what closely resembles hunting and the enemies that are tortured and killed are viewed more as trophies (like taking a picture with your killed deer) than actual human beings.
Specifically we discussed the Kill Team, which is yet another group of soldiers who were investigated for torture and breaking the military code in Iraq. They posed with their kills in pictures, who were innocently murdered citizens, until one low ranking soldier stood up and said something. Even though this whistle blower went to jail for his participation…how much is he really guilty of? I think the reason whistle-blowers receive so much credit as heroes is because the environment of the military makes it impossible to go above your high ranking officers and in this particular case he felt he had to partake in what he was asked to do because he feared his life. Had he not of blown the whistle, then he probably would not have not gotten caught, been discharged from the military, and sent to prison. So how much blame can you put on the individual soldiers for the participation and how much do you place on the culture? Does Abu Ghraib show the evils of humanity or war?
We have spent considerable time in class discussing the question of who should be held accountable in situations like the Stanford Prison Experiment and Abu Graib. Now that you have read in more detail the full reports and aftermath of these two events, has your opinion changed regarding who to hold more accountable, those actually performing the acts of torture and injustice, or those who created the situations in the first place? Also, how does intent play a role in who to hold accountable for these events?
Although most would consider Stanford Prison Experiment to be unethical today, I still think that it was an incredibly insightful experiment. In analyzing the results from the experiment, Zimbardo discusses the plasticity of human nature and how situations can have greater strength than our believed “inherent” traits. However, I am thankful that Zimbardo offers some optimistic words by saying that these results can be applied in good ways as well. He writes in chapter 13: “by making explicit the mental mechanisms people use to disengage their moral standards from their conduct, we are in a better position to reverse the process, reaffirming the need for moral engagement as crucial for promoting empathetic humaneness among people” (311). The SPE showed how peoples moral standards quickly dissolved in a rigid structure. Now that we know how easily this can happen, it is important to create environments that encourage empathy and humanity. Overall, a lot can be learned from the results and analysis of the experiment.
I also think that we have learned a lot from the fallout associated with the design and ethics of the experiment. Currently, there are so many rules and regulations surrounding psychological experiments and studies. We briefly talked about them in my LDST 102 class and it almost seems impossible to create a human psychological experiment that would pass these days. I think that an experiment this catastrophic (ethics wise) was bound to happen. Milgram obviously did not plan for it to happen so I think that this made us realize how tricky/damaging tinkering with the human psyche can be.
I found the fourteenth chapter of Zimbardo’s book, The Lucifer Effect,is absolutely fascinating. I think that the failures of the U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib are extremely important to analyze, as Zimbardo points out it can viewed as a failure of the entire U.S. Armed Forces. I don’t agree with Zimbardo on his idea that the specific situation of Abu Ghraib is the main reason for the atrocities that took place. I have done a considerable amount of outside reading about this incident, and about the U.S. military’s record over the past decade — and would argue that while the situation is indeed partly to blame, the conditions and environment that was created by the U.S. military was what was the most responsible for ensuring that atrocities like Abu Ghraib took place.
To put it simply, the U.S. military system is broken. The level of mental health in all three branches of the military is historically bad, as the amount of suicides and attempted suicides in all three branches are at the highest level they have ever been in the entire history of the United States. Additionally, we know that soldiers are far more likely to develop mental illnesses than the rest of the population — and that is not even counting the additional mental wear and tear that being in an active war zone causes troops. The U.S. troops are also molded to fit into a group identity, and this assimilation policy essentially means that if the problems of the system the influence all the troops enlisted. An example of this would be how the army fails to properly protect enlisted women from sexual assault, as their court martial system makes it more difficult to discipline the potential suspect. There are many more examples of flaws with the U.S. military that I do not have time to go over, but the big picture problem is clear — the U.S. military system is a place where mental disorders and mental wear and tear fester and grow. Another example would be when a respected Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales ended up massacring 16 innocent civilians in Afghanistan, including 9 different children. While a certain level of this is bound to happen during war time, I would argue that the historically high rates make it almost inevitable that something like this would happen. To resist negative authority in strong environments, such as Abu Ghraib or the Milgrim experiment, it is necessary to have strong resolve and values — which are exactly the types of thing that would fade in soldiers after their time and training in the U.S. military. While I agree with Zimbardo that the negative situation in Abu Ghraib was extremely influential in making the U.S. troops act in the way that they did, I would argue that after what they had been through already it was only a matter of time until a situation like that happened.
When Zimbardo talks about the “bad barrel” effect and it’s implications in Abu Gharib I kept finding myself applying the situation to the hazing that is used to initiate members into the brotherhood or sisterhood of greek organizations. I understand that readers of this post might argue that the two situations are very different because the Abu Gharib prisoners did not have the ability to opt out of the abuse. Although new members do have the choice of whether to join a greek organization or not there is an extreme draw toward becoming a part of a supportive group (sisterhood or brotherhood). I understand the science behind the idea that fraternities promote a strong brotherhood because the new members go through an intensive initiation process. I am a part of a sorority that does not haze. It’s easy for me to say, as a girl, that if I was a boy I wouldn’t rush a fraternity. The question that I grapple with is hazing really that necessary and why does our university in particular not go to greater lengths to instill stricter threats against hazing?
According to Zimbardo and the ‘bad barrel’ effect our entire school leadership is creating the bad barrel in which such behavior as hazing is tolerated. Obviously hazing isn’t openly tolerated but I do not feel that universities, ours included, do a sufficient job of monitoring hazing within the greek community.
I found Zimbardo’s most recent chapters to be particularly interesting because of their reflective nature as opposed to past summarization. Zimbardo made one point that I found particularly interesting in Chapter 11, when he noted that the “why” of something that is done does not necessarily excuse the act itself. He writes, “Psychological analysis is not ‘excusology.’” Zimbardo writes that people must be held legally responsible for their actions, which I feel is true for the most part in order to preserve an orderly society. However, I do think circumstance and its influence on people’s actions can be used to help us better understand different perspectives. This greater understanding, and sympathy to some degree, might be used to create more effective means of rehabilitation and deterrence when it comes to criminal or evil acts.
Zimbardo continues to talk about the ethicality (or lack thereof) of the SPE. While he notes that the SPE was absolutely unethical yet perhaps relatively ethical, I find difficulty taking his point of view seriously. Yes, it is interesting to discuss whether the subsequent findings and “gains” of the SPE are worth the ethical losses, and I am not suggesting this is not a worthy debate. However, I do not think the creator of this experiment, who took part in the experiment itself, should be able to judge how ethical the SPE was without an acknowledgement of his extreme bias and vested interest.
Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) was designed, in part, to test the extent that humans would go to in order to complete a task. Specifically, it was designed to test how far the guards would go in order to pacify the prisoner body. In his discussion of the experiment’s results, Zimbardo discusses the potential reasons why the outcome of the experiment was so extreme. He argues that it was not the internal immorality of the guards, but rather the situation that created the problematic outcome of the SPE.
I find Zimbardo’s situational argument to be highly compelling. It neatly explains away why good people do bad things. To extend his argument, people in a genocidal environment don’t kill people because they “want” to kill them, they are motivated by situational factors—thus, it is the genocidal environment that is at fault and not the individual. Thus, we can explain away individual responsibility from Abu Gharaib and the Holocaust. Yet, doesn’t this argument ring slightly hollow? Can we really excuse individuals from unethical actions?
In my opinion, the individual remains responsible regardless of the situation. Zimbardo and his volunteer guards are partially at fault for refusing to recognize the situation or remove themselves from it. Granted, such powerful social pressure can be difficult to overcome, but given strong ethical violations, such action is necessary. To allow anything less would be to excuse the actions of Nazi concentration camp guards in this Holocaust. Regardless of the situational pressures facing those guards, they were clearly aware of the atrocities going on around them. Thus, to give them a moral excuse for their actions is simply inexcusable. Although Zimbardo presents a compelling argument for the power of the situation, I cannot fully accept the argument—the individual retains some moral responsibility for their actions in bad situations.
In the reading for Tuesday of The Lucifer Effect I found chapters 9-12 some of the most interesting because they broke down aspects of the experiment and truly analyzed them. It was finally shown the statistical data they compiled about the prisoners and the guards and how their personalities changed. Zimbardo analyzes the effect of situations on how we behave (this is what the experiment originally had been testing). I think that although his experiment was conducted in a questionable way (not following a strict experiment set of rules, and running it in an unethical way) his conclusion that situations can have huge effects on a person’s personality and morality is very true. You can see in the SPE where the line was drawn for some prisoners. There were prisoners who would refuse to listen to guards demands, like the one prisoner who always refused to swear or yell at others even if the guards demanded that he do so. I think that although it is unethical for humans to be put into situations like this, it is interesting to look at where one will compromise their morals in a state of feeling like they need to survive. It is the idea of conformity or going along with the popular or majority vote, you believe at a certain point that is in your best interest to go along with everyone else rather than stand up for your beliefs.
Another interesting part of these last few chapters was Zimbardo’s discussion of ethics in this experiment. He does acknowledge the fact that the SPE was unethical, but does argue that the experiment under relative ethics could be considered ethical. Zimbardo argues that the participants signed a consent statement, the guards were not allowed to be physically abusive (but they could be psychologically abusive), and they allowed outsiders to visit. When is ok to do something that may be “relatively ethical”, but not under “absolute ethics”? Is there a time where that is ok?
I think Zimbardo’s discussion of self-serving biases and Milgram’s research about obedience to authority was very interesting. I think most people would not think they are capable of administering supposedly deadly shocks to a person just because an authoritative person told them to do so. However, the results of Milgram’s study reveal just the opposite. Only about one third of the participants refused to administer shocks up to the maximum voltage.
This is where self-serving biases come into play. People tend to think themselves as above average, the result of self-serving biases. Because people think of themselves as better than the “average Joe,” we exclude ourselves from the majority when they are in the wrong. In the case of Milgram’s experiment, most people think they would be included in the 33% of participants who did not administer what would have been deadly electrical shocks. However, if we remove self-serving biases from the equation, I think most people would find themselves very unsure of what their actions would be in such a situation.
No matter how much we want to think that we are not capable of doing something “evil,” but the reality is that for most people, the power of the situation, the influence of authority, and the tendency of people to conform illustrate that the majority of people are not only capable of turning into “bad apples,” despite our self-serving biases telling us otherwise.
In Tuesday’s reading, Zimbardo uses the Stanford Prison Experiment to explain the truly situational disposition of behavior. I knew that people behaved differently in different circumstances, but I underestimated the extent to which our behavior is controlled by our environment. As Zimbardo suggests, we’ve “come to believe that dispositions matter more than situations” (212), but his experiment demonstrates that external situations influence behavior more than internal personality differences.
Zimbardo insists that our behavior is more of a reflection of what we think is expected of us in different social situations. We don’t act the same in class as we would at a sports game because those situations have different sets of rules. However, there are certain rules that should apply regardless of the circumstances. Because our personal moral code might sometimes contradict the “rules” of our immediate environment, it is important to consider what situational expectations we adapt to fit. If we are more actively aware of how our environment influences our behavior, we may be less likely to let a situational “rule” supersede our ethical beliefs.
Ironically, Zimbardo acknowledges that until he stopped the experiment, he personally allowed the rules of the situation to overcome his own ethical beliefs. In fact, insofar as he designed the experiment, he created the rules that allowed for the brutal treatment of the prisoners. His study may not have been entirely ethical, but it proved worthwhile for what it revealed about human behavior.