M Y V I E W S ::
Tomtech in his must-read series “This Week in Fascism,” asked us to “find some ways to determine who is in league with the fascists.”
Recently, I howled while reading Meteor Blades‘ imagined fate for that nadir of nepotism, Jonah Goldberg — chained “to the floor in front of his computer for a 36-hour stretch, letting him squirm in his own feces and urine while listening to Bush say ‘moooooolahs’ and ‘nukular’ repeatedly at 100 decibels.”
“But none of my friends,” Meteor Blades continued, “would turn their idle dreams of torture into reality no matter what the provocation. …
I hope so. But I’m not at all sure. Malcolm Gladwell has successfully questioned assumptions we make about instant impressions and reflexive reactions. There are more assumptions for us to challenge: How we will react over a period of time to special sets of stimuli.
::: more below :::
A British reality TV show and a famous psychology experiment may tell us something more about ourselves and how we will react and operate in certain environments.
It’s sure that there’s a proclivity for the use of torture among many — from the doughboys like Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh to the do’em-boys like Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Graner, Alberto Gonzales and George Bush.
However, it’s not just the overquoted cartoon character Pogo who said the enemy is us. So too, perhaps, has Philip Zimbardo, a distinguished (now emeritus) professor of psychology — in whose challenging class I was lucky enough to sit (enthralled by his mind, his knowledge, and the fearsome difficulty of the material and the tests, infamous for their ability to cut down the grade averages of the best and brightest).
Zimbardo asks: “What happens when you put good people in an evil place?”
I don’t think we can assume we know how we, or others we know, would behave. Here’s why I think we can’t make safe assumptions:
From The Guardian‘s review of British Channel 4’s reality show, “Torture: The Guantanamo Guidebook”:
I’d been skeptical about — and disgusted by — what I’d read about the program. As The Guardian‘s reviewer, Mark Lawson, says, “It sounded like a nightmare of bad-taste television.”
This 2005 reality show is as unreal as Zimbardo‘s 1971 experiment:
But even the unreal can become real:
The Bush administration might object that taking part in any television gameshow would have the same effect but, when one contestant develops hypothermia and another starts to vomit, it’s clear that this has ceased to be pretence.
Zimbardo found the same phenomenon in his 1971 experiment:
How language affects behavior:
Language is used to obscure. “[E]xtraordinary rendition. That’s a euphemism,” points out Bob Herbert in today’s New York Times, and quoted by Armando in a prologue to Meteor Blades’ diary:
Zimbardo used language too in his 1971 experiment:
Why This Reality Show Matters
Astonishingly — and convincingly — The Guardian defends the reality show:
Using statements from Donald Rumsfeld, information from released detainees and FBI memos uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act in America, the programme gives the clearest impression yet of what it might be like to live in a Rumsfeld jumpsuit. …
(Note: Ted Rall argues we already do have a lot of government papers in his important Feb. 27 column, “Full faith and credit of the U.S. government.”)
Again, our focus: “It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.”
“You could put virtually anybody in it and you’re going to get this kind of evil behavior,” he continued.
“The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That’s the dispositional analysis.
“The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that’s the wrong analysis. It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.
“Understanding the abuses at this Iraqi prison starts with an analysis of both the situational and systematic forces operating on those soldiers working the night shift in that ‘little shop of horrors.”
From A Talk with Philip Zimbardo, Edge, January 19, 2005
The title of the Edge interview with Zimbardo?
You Can’t Be a Sweet Cucumber in a Vinegar Barrel
But, we maybe are different. And Zimbardo tells us why, and I think we can take some comfort in this:
We will resist. Or become “team players.”
Because just as — we saw above — the unreal can become real, so too can unimaginable behavior become ordinary:
“That’s one way that evil is created as blind obedience to authority.
“But more often than not, somebody doesn’t have to tell you to do something. You’re just in a setting where you look around and everyone else is doing it. Say you’re a guard and you don’t want to harm the prisoners–because at some level you know they’re just college students–but the two other guards on your shift are doing terrible things. They provide social models for you to follow if you are going to be a team player.”
::: AGAIN, EXTENDING OUR FOCAL LENGTHS :::
How long will you resist? What will it take to break you? When will you become “one of them”? Or have you already?
You Can’t Be a Sweet Cucumber in a Vinegar Barrel
These words from Gareth Peirce [PHOTO], in a rare interview recently with Amy Goodman, are specifically for us:
An experiment to see what you could get (disregarding the fact that experience tells us it must be nonsense what you get from coercive interrogation), but also an experiment in testing reaction internationally and nationally.
Will there be protest? Have we gone too far?
All emphases mine.