Radio 4’s Start the Week broadcast on 16th April 2007 had a couple of interesting topics, worth a listen if you are interested in pyschology and human behaviour (the download is only available for the next 6 days).
The first topic is ‘The Nature of Evil’, led by Philip Zimbardo (he of the ‘Stanford prison’ psychology experiment) and is an interesting discussion in the causes behind people being so dramatically influenced by their environment that inexcusable behaviour is considered acceptable, even ‘normal’. A comparison is made between the original 1971 Standord Prison experiment and the abuse that took place in Abu Ghraib. Lots of interesting observations, here is a rough script of part of the conversation:
“Abu Ghraib is a study in how situations create corrupt individuals. Whenever you have this kind of abuse throughout the world, the system always puts the blame on the individual – ‘the bad apple’ (i.e. exception to the rule)… it lets the system off the hook. When those [Abu Ghraib] images surfaced, they were treated as inexcusable but not inexplicable. ‘It was a few bad apples, they do not reflect the military’. Well that’s a lie… It doesn’t excuse what happened, but unless you understand what caused the behaviour, you can never change it.”
Perhaps this comment is the depressing reason behind why, despite creating an international law against genocide after The Holocaust, we still tolerate mass murder. No shortage of examples, they include the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and current events in Darfur. Philip Zimbardo continues:
“Heroes are the minority of people who not only resist temptation to join the crowd in bad situations but who also stand up and challenge the system. Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary deeds. We’ve err’d in making heroes extraordinary people because then they become incomparible to us… There will be a situation in our lives when we will be faced with three paths: 1. take action and be a perpetrator of evil (you’re the bad guy); 2. resist and do nothing (but don’t stop or help others – be passive, the common choice); or 3. take action and act on behalf of others instead of yourself (be the hero) “
I hope that I could find the courage to take the less-travelled third path. I can think of at least one example from the past where I took the 2nd option, it is one of my life’s regrets.
(Interesting side note: the recording has been edited. Listening to the live broadcast this morning, Mr Zimbardo used the ‘F’ word when describing the original 1971 experiment… no sign of it in the recorded version.)
The second topic is ‘The Future of the Book’, led by Margaret Atwood, discussing the effects of the digital world on the traditional book. It’s curious in that the view points are mostly from the perspective of an older generation. It would have been a much more interesting debate if a someone from the digital generation had been present to add their perspective… But no generation is immune to the influence of YouTube, Margaret references the video about the Medieval Help Desk:
- Radio 4 Start the Week web site
- Standord prison experiment (Wikipedia)
- Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse (Wikipedia)
- The Holocaust (Wikipedia)
- The Darfur conflict (Wikipedia)
- Rwandan Genocide (Wikipedia)