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Avoiding Evil and Promoting Good: the Chapter Being Procrastinated

O.K.  I’m writing, I’m writing.  But to write this book I also need to read.  And that means accessing the internet as I write.  Hence the last “negotiating procrastination” post.

“But wait a minute,” you’re saying, “I’m not reading this blog to be inside this woman’s stream of consciousness.”

But what If that stream of consciousness has dipped itself down into a really tremendous article by  social psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo, who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiments in the early ’70s that had to be shut down.


Because the student “guards” began tormenting the student “prisoners,” the student “prisoners” began to have mental break-downs, and Zimbardo himself — by his own accounting — had become “a Prison Superintendent [who] began to talk, walk and act like a rigid institutional authority figure more concerned about the security of “my prison” than the needs of the young men entrusted to my care as a psychological researcher.”

“Well, that might be interesting,” you say.

It is!  And you can read the entire article — The Psychology of Power and Evil:  All Power to the Person?  To the Situation?  To the System? here.

(above, a short documentary with original footage from the prison experiment)

Most Importantly, Here are a Few Prescriptions by Zimbardo for Creating a Culture of Good Rather than of Evil — all text quoted from the end of the article:

  • Encouraging admission of one’s mistakes, accepting errors in judgments, being willing to say that you were wrong.
    • Openly doing so reduces the need to justify the mistakes, to continue the wrong or immoral action.
    • It undercuts the motivation to reduce dissonance by asserting or believing in the public commitment when it was a bad decision.
  • Encouraging “Mindfulness” in which people are reminded in a variety of ways not to live their lives on automatic pilot, but to take a moment to reflect on the immediate situation, to think before acting, to not go mindlessly into situations where angels and sensible people fear to tread.
  • Promoting a sense of personal responsibility and accountability for all of one’s actions, making people aware that conditions of diffused responsibility merely disguise their own
    individual role in the outcomes of their actions.
  • Discouraging even the smallest transgressions, cheating, gossiping, lying, teasing and bullying.
    • They provide the first steps toward escalating downwards to ever worsening behaviors.
  • Learning to distinguish between Just Authority, to whom respect and even obedience may be appropriate, and Unjust Authority (as in the Milgram study), to whom disrespect and disobedience are necessary to oppose and change that tyrant.
  • Supporting critical thinking from the earliest times in a child’s life and maintaining it throughout life.
  • Asking for evidence to support assertions, demanding that ideologies be sufficiently elaborated to separate rhetoric from reality-based conclusions, to independently determine whether specific means ever justify vague and harmful ends.
  • Rewarding social modeling of moral behavior, elevating for societal recognition those who do the right thing, with rewards for “whistle blowers,” such as the U.S. army reservist, Joe Darby, who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and those who expose wrong doing in government and corporation, and by the Mafia.
  • Respecting human diversity, appreciating human variability and the differences among people as a fundamental way to reduce our in-group biases that lead to derogating others, prejudice and the evils of discrimination.
  • Changing social conditions that make people feel anonymous, instead supporting conditions that make people feel special, so that they have a sense of personal value and self worth.
  • Becoming aware of when conformity to the group norm is counter-productive and should not be followed, when independence should take precedence and be adopted regardless of social rejection by that group.
  • Never allowing one’s self to sacrifice personal freedoms for the promise of security, it is always a bad deal because the sacrifices are real and immediate and the security is a distant illusion.
    • This is as true in marital arrangements as it is in being a good citizen in a nation where the leader promises to make everyone safer against a current threat by giving up some of their personal freedoms so that the leader can have more power.
    • That bad bargain usually translates to more power Over Them, as well as over the enemy.
    • It is the first step in creating fascist leaders even in democratic societies, as Erich Fromm (1941) reminded us about Hitler, but is as true today in many nations.

Back to work!


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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