Friday, May 14, 2004

Zimbardo & Bower:

I was amazed to see a reference to this famous experiment about the behaviour of prisoners and jailers during the early 1970's at Stanford, in of all places, USA Today.

Zimbardo has updated his website on this experiment in the context of the current experience at Abu Ghraib, which makes it more interesting.

As you go through the 'slide show' pay particular attention to the behaviour of the people who should be fully external to the experiment: the parents, the chaplain, and even the lawyer.

It turns out that it's not really just a few bad apples. It is the barrel. We all go bad in this kind of situation. Zimbardo, of course, is saying "I told you so" about the lack of clear directives at Abu Ghraib.

The exposure of these activities has certainly been humiliating for all involved - prisoners and captors. And I not unexpectedly shocked, shocked, to see all the political hay being made by the Congress and by the Arab world.

I always cringe when I hear a high U.S. official crow about how America is the greatest country in the world. It only makes events like this worse - it turns out that Homo Americanus is simply Homo sapiens after all, and is not so sapiens as they thought. The only way to recover (somewhat) is to demonstrate a transparent and effective legal process that can deal with these kinds of behaviors.

Watching the movie "Troy" the other day, as Achilles dishonours Hector's body by dragging it behind his chariot in front of Troy's walls, I could only think about the current situation, and think that we really haven't changed much in the last 10,000 years.


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