Sunday, March 30, 2008

"...This place is a prison and these people aren't your friends..."

I really had to force myself to get all the way through the presentation about the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) for a couple of reasons: it's disturbing how willy-nilly researchers were allowed to conduct experiments with human subjects in pre-IRB days and it's ironic how similar the situation in Abu Ghraib was to what went on during the SPE. It has been proven that certain guards in the Abu Ghraib prison did have backgrounds spotted with abuse, emotional problems or even substance abuse problems. The past experiences of those guards could explain their behavior in Abu Ghraib, but how do we explain improper behavior by guards who had no prior record of being an abuser of some sort?

The SPE proved that an environment like Abu Ghraib could turn anyone into an abuser. The simulated prison situation at Stanford was nothing compaired to the situation in Abu Ghraib so if regular people off of the street turned into jerks in a simulated situation, it's no wonder even "good cops" turned bad.

It's really hard for me to place myself somewhere on the "bad apples" v "rotten barrell" continuum. I generally do believe that the majority of humanity is decent. If I were asked a week ago where I stood on the BA v RB continuum, I would have said that it's only a few bad apples who tarnish the shine of humanity. Now, however, having watched Ghosts of Abu Ghraib I'm beginning to think that maybe there is a darkness that is a natural part of human beings. Who is to say that any person regardless of class, sex, age, race, etc wouldn't act the same way? The SPE makes me fear that if I, a highly competitive person who has a really strong urge to "win," were in that guard v. inmate situation, I would end up being the bad cop.

I guess then, the long answer to the question about the BA v RB continuum is that maybe we're all part of a rotten barrell. Maybe our inate nature as human beings is actually quite dark and it is only our constant fight against that darkness that lends us all to our tendency to strive to be "good."

2 comments:

Pitt ROW Student said...

I, like you, also had a hard time putting myself on the rotten apples v. bad bunch continuum. The part of me that wants to believe in the goodness of mankind would like to believe in the rotten apples ideas. Perhaps its not really humanity that is bad, but just a few who, as you say, "tarnish the bunch."
However, I think that the cynic in me, especially after seeing The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and reading about the Stanford Experiment, is now more inclined to believe that we are all capable of being rotten apples. I don't necessarily think that we are a bad bunch, just that given the right circumstances we are all capable of being those rotten apples that tarnish the bushel. I think most people would like to point to "others" as the rotten apples, but what the last few weeks of material from class has affirmed for me, is the fact that in the right circumstances, I don't think any of us are sure of what we are capable of.

JBird said...

Agreed. I've acted atrociously on many occasions. But I've also acted better in some than I would have though I was capable of. However, we need to maintain one thing in our sights... how do we remind ourselves of our priorities? How does one go about a daily life making friends, fitting in, and still beat back masses who beat down an individual?

I don't know, but starting with flicks like this might help our troops or youth. Being able to imagine the suffering of another is a rather unique trait of our species. But, as has been said, having extraordinary abilities confers extraordinary responsibility. We are not super-heroes, but we can and should give ourselves pep-talks sometimes: "today, when I see suffering, I will do something about it. I will learn from it. I will suffer myself, if I fail. I will hold myself accountable and expect my friends to call me out if I don't. And when I close my eyes tonight, I will reflect on the day and make my goal for tomorrow and in so doing, strengthen my resolve to be that which I adore."