Friday, April 06, 2007

The Limits of Humaneness

"What makes good people do bad things? How can moral people be seduced to act immorally? Where is the line separating good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it? "

Phillip Zimbardo's book 'The Lucifer Effect " ( hattip if you want to be mentioned say so), is the latest book on my to read list.

According to the reviewers : "This is a book that dares to hold a mirror up to mankind, showing us that we might not be who we think we are. While forcing us to reexamine what we are capable of doing when caught up in the crucible of behavioral dynamics, though, Zimbardo also offers hope. We are capable of resisting evil, he argues, and can even teach ourselves to act heroically. "


Are we really bad or do we become bad due to some bad influences ? Remember when your mother would always warn you about bad influence or refgat al su'?

i.e are there 'bad apples' or 'bad basket' ?

26 comments:

ibeebarbie said...

Wow! Great topic. I find it difficult to believe anyone is created 'bad', but rather products of their own environment.

Toady said...

I think people do things that are are good in their eyes but not necessarily in the eyes of others. Mao thought he was doing the right thing too but result was the death of millions.

Apply to any other dictator.

programmer craig said...

I don't plan on reading that book. It's not such a difficult and complicate issue for me. I think the people who struggle with the issues of morals and ethics the most are the people who are basically self-centered and don't consider how their actions effect others around them. Or they just don't care, but only care about how others perceive them. This is one of my black and white issues :)

Too bad NBA isn't here anymore we could really get into this one. I just don't understand how somebody who has genuine empathy for the way other human beings feel can deliberately do something that does harm to somebody who hasn't done you any harm it.

programmer craig said...

By the way what I meant about that book is I think it's a book about how to pretend you are a moral and ethical human being when in actuality you are just going through the motions.

Highlander said...

what I meant about that book is I think it's a book about how to pretend you are a moral and ethical human being when in actuality you are just going through the motions.

You can't know until you read the book Programmer_Craig, the above is just guessing ....


Yes I miss NBA as well , he must be up to a lot of fun in Finland :)

ibeebarbie :) welcome to my blog - I saw you commenting on other Libyan blogs and was wondering when you will visit mine.

Toady you look new here as well so welcome and thanks for your opinion.

programmer craig said...

You can't know until you read the book Programmer_Craig, the above is just guessing ...

Can too :P

These self help books for people with a questionable grasp of right and wrong have been around for decades. I just don't think morality is something that adults can "learn" - that involves a change in personality, which is nearly impossible to effect. All that people can realistically change is their behavior. That's what these books are for. To teach people to change their BEHAVIOR. Not their beliefs. Anakin Skywalker didn't become Darth Vader because of the situations he was in. And no, it couldn't have "happened to anyone" as this book would have us believe. His soul didn't "get" courrupted. It already was corrupted, probably from the time he was a small child.

In my view, somebody who feels guilt and regret when they have done another person wrong isn't a lost cause. They know what they did was wrong. They just need to stop doing it, and make amends to the people they hurt in the past.

Somebody who feels no guilt and no regret, is gone. There is no help for them. Books like this one can teach somebody to change what they are doing so that others don't see them as the evil sonsabitches they are, but it's just a veneer.

Highlander said...

Programmer_Craig ,

It is a good comment but wrong for this topic , this is not a self help book it is a scientific study , if you read the link you would know what it is talking about .

An extract from the review :

[Zimbardo is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, for the first time and in detail, he tells the full story of this landmark study, in which a group of college-student volunteers was randomly divided into “guards” and “inmates” and then placed in a mock prison environment. Within a week the study was abandoned, as ordinary college students were transformed into either brutal, sadistic guards or emotionally broken prisoners.]


Obviously here we are not discussing a self help book like those about how to get a woman or how to influence your boss :P

programmer craig said...

Hi there, H :)

The title of the book is:

"Understanding How Good People Turn Evil"

Good people don't turn evil. Therefor this book is meant to make people of questionable character feel better about themselves :)

In that way, it is a self-help book. Right? :P

That's my bottom line, and I'm sticking to it!

programmer craig said...

By the way, just for clarification of my statement that "Good people don't turn evil" - I don't believe most people are "good". Look at how cruel children can be with bullying, for example. Not all kids are bullies, but a lot of them are. To some extent, at least. Only a few are actual bullies but a large number will cheer the bullies on even if they don't participate. Do those kids grow up to be "good" people? I doubt it. And even in the Marines where a code of honor and personal integrity is part of the indoctrination program, a fair portion of Marines will act like complete assholes if they think they can get away with it. The only thing that keeps that type in check is the others who aren't that way. And the USMC ejects the undesirables as soon as possible, because they have a bad effect on morale and unit cohesion, among other things.

I'd say no more than 10% of people at either extreme are either genuinely good or genuinely bad. It's that 80% in the middle who can be influenced to go either way.

That's the problem Islam is having, right now. That 80% is solidly in the "bad" column right now. In my opinion. Because Islam is being led by the 10% who are genuinely evil human beings.

Highlander said...

You could not resist bringing Islam into this thread Programmer_Craig eh ?

Although demagogues are skilled at manipulating the masses, I disagree with you here because this assumption of yours makes 90% of Muslims evil , that's a bleak disapointing picture Craig :(

AlanK said...

programmer craig

can agree some extent that good people dont become bad, unless something bad already exists. For instance, two people from terrible background one falls into darkness yet another does not

Then again, can be influenced or coerced into pretending not to see evil eg NAZI germany for instance. Also a bad leadership can corrupt people eg the trouble in Iraq would probably not be as bad if saddam had not been in charge and used a divide and conquer strategy.

Highlander what is your opinion on this issue

programmer craig said...

It's all relative, H. The world is just shades of gray. Right?

I wouldn't say 90%. I'd say a majority of that 80% in the middle is solidly in the camp of "evil" and I'll stick with that. Some 68% of Arab Muslims support terrorism in general and specific terrorist groups (like Hezbollah, HAMAS and Islamic Jihad) in particular. Shortly after 9/11 polls were coming out that over 70% of Arab Muslims supported AL Qaeda.

That's EVIL. There's nothing else to call it. Those 60% to 70% of Arabs who support murder of the innocent if it's done in a "good" cause are evil human beings.

I didn't bring it up to attack Islam. I brought it up because it's an excellent example of the point I'm trying to make.

Another would be Germans during WW II. It's pretty clear that the Nazi's had teh support of most of teh german population, at least in teh early days.

Most Germans were EVIL during World War II. Right now, I think the majority (that 80%) is comfortably back in the middle ground where they could go either way. God willing, that will occur with Muslims as well, and the issue of terrorism will go away. But that's not going to happen unless things change. Radically.

Curt from Houston said...

Intriguing topic H. I'll tack it on to my reading list. I do think that Craig makes some valid points however. Most people in general are neither good or evil. They tend to look after their own best interest as they see it. This is fine as far as it goes and becomes destructive to society only as a matter of degree. While I'm not quite as pessimistic as Craig, I do believe that most of us will act on our own behalf most of the time. I like to think of it as enlightened self interest.

I think that much of the world's problems stem from the fact that we have a significant population of people in the world that are functional sociopaths. These are people that have been wired from birth with little or no empathy for others. They are control freaks by nature and are drawn to positions of power. Many if not most politicians fall into this category. They learn early in life to simulate normal behavior but feel nothing for their fellow human being.

A good article on the topic is found here:

http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/428/428lect16.htm

ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY, SOCIOPATHY, AND PSYCHOPATHY
"When I'm good, I'm very good. When I'm bad, I'm better." (Mae West)

People who cannot contain their urges to harm (or kill) people repeatedly for no apparent reason are assumed to suffer from some mental illness. However, they may be more cruel than crazy, they may be choosing not to control their urges, they know right from wrong, they know exactly what they're doing, and they are definitely NOT insane, at least according to the consensus of most scholars (Samenow 2004). In such cases, they usually fall into one of three types that are typically considered aggravating circumstances in addition to their legal guilt -- antisocial personality disorder (APD), sociopath, or psychopath -- none of which are the same as insanity or psychosis. APD is the most common type, afflicting about 4% of the general population. Sociopaths are the second most common type, with the American Psychiatric Association estimating that 3% of all males in our society are sociopaths and Stout (2005) estimating 4% of the population. Psychopaths are rare, found in perhaps 1% of the population.

Highlander said...

Programmer_Craig, ( emphasis mine)

I'd say no more than 10% of people at either extreme are either genuinely good or genuinely bad. It's that 80% in the middle who can be influenced to go either way.

That's the problem Islam is having, right now. That 80% is solidly in the "bad" column right now. In my opinion. Because Islam is being led by the 10% who are genuinely evil human beings.


Now 10% in the evil extreme + 80% solidly in the bad column adds up to 90% !

What does it mean at a glance? -that 90% of Muslims from Indonesia to Mauritania are evil right?


Curt from Houston, thanks for the link by the way, interesting study as well. Actually Programmer_Craig does bring some valid points about good and evil but don't you think that the way they have been presented and the choice of examples putting Nazism right there next to Islam - quite a powerful symbolism -is 'sligthly' too much of a generalisation and extrapolation?

If someone else had uttered such a sweeping statement about any other people everyone would have raised hell and maybe even described it as something else .... :( no offense meant, at least that's the impression I get from events on blogs.

Alank good to see you here buddy , you used to be my number one fan but you have slipped too much lately. I agree that power can corrupt and that a bad leadership can affect negatively the herd.

programmer craig said...

Hi H,

Now 10% in the evil extreme + 80% solidly in the bad column adds up to 90% !

I already explained that I didn't believe ALL of those 80% were in the "bad" category, H :)

I don't know why you made that assumption anyway, when I said "solidly" in the bad category I think it was self explanatory that I meant most of the 80% not ALL of the 80%. Otherwise, I would have said *entirely* and not solidly :)

What does it mean at a glance? -that 90% of Muslims from Indonesia to Mauritania are evil right?

Well... in my view the battle between good and evil has always been a battle for control of that middle group of people. A battle fought by people at the two extremes. Honestly, Highlander, I think evil has triumphed in Islam, as of now. I hope that changes. But that's the way it looks to me.

Curt, good stuff. I agree with you. And you're right, I'm probably too pessimistic. I'm kind of a cynic when it comes to human nature. I've seen people do some really shitty things. I've also seen people do some truly heroic things though, so I have a clo9set idealistic streak too :)

We aren't really doomed. Sometimes it just seems that way.

Highlander said...

Honestly Programmer_Craig, once again I think you are being very pessimistic and are generalising, life is not that horrible and more than 99.999999999% of the Muslims in the world are simply to busy looking for food and a normal life than wondering about metaphysics and our theories on this blog :)

programmer craig said...

Highlander, I wish it were so. If what you said was true, there wouldn't be any terrorism in Muslim lands. I don't think you are being honest with YOURSELF if you genuinely believe what you just said.

How many of your blog readers and commenters support terrorist groups, H? How many of your co-workers? How many of your friends? If those 60% to 70% are wrong, just say so and I'll believe you. But I don't think they are. I see support for terrorism all over the Arab blogs. And I read the *moderate* Arab blogs.

Highlander said...

Thank you for your comment Programmer_Craig. No sane person would support terrorism. If you are expecting a reply from me I have no further comment on the particular assumptions you brought up as this was previously covered either here or on other blogs.

Maybe some other readers would venture are reply which would align itself with the topic of the book and the study proposed as well in this post :P

Maya M said...

Highlander, I think you are producing some wishful thinking. "I disagree with you here because this assumption of yours makes 90% of Muslims evil, that's a bleak disapointing picture" - you cannot dismiss a picture as untrue just because it is bleak and disappointing!
Looking at the Palestinians, how many percent of them seem good to you? The people who dance in the streets when innocent Other people are murdered? The people whose Parliament is wall-to-wall filled with terrorist organizations? The people for whom terrorism is mandatory while paid work is optional? I'd guess that there are between 1 and 3% of good Palestinians. And all the rest of the Muslim world supports the bad 97 or 99%. (Of course not only the Muslim world, we have our Rachel Corries as well, the proud evil has magnetic attraction for many people.)
And how can you claim that "no sane person would support terrorism"? Of course most sane people will support terrorism if it brings them goodies. And it does. It makes the victims fear, step back from their interests and principles, appease the terrorists, pay money for nothing and consult imams before conducting a police search for terrorists (the last phenomenon is a London patent). So those 80% who don't give a damn what is good but only what is good for them will approve terrorism without becoming insane in any way.

programmer craig said...

AlanK, just saw your comment now for some reason!

The only thing I disagree with you on is that I believe there are some people (whatever the percentage may be, I've just been guessing) who are un-corruptible, and a like percenatge who are un-salvageble. I can provide plenty of evidence for the people whose personalities are so dysfunctional that they can never be "fixed" but, unfortunately, examples of absolute good guys are harder to find. I assume they do exist, though. I think I know a few people like that but since nobody ever tries to "fix" the personalities of good people I can't prove that they would never become bad.

mani said...

"So those 80% who don't give a damn what is good but only what is good for them will approve terrorism without becoming insane in any way"

excellent...

now apply to urself too as a 'sane' individual.

Perkunas said...

Very complicated subject. Jung had this idea of the shadow that was his attempt to describe the dark side of human nature, but then one must define dark -- selfish, predatory (humans are predators), egotistical, petty. One of the goals of spiritual work is to become a better, more conscious, more compassionate human being and there is always room for improvement in this area.

Maya M said...

Programmer Craig, "bad barrels" try to fix good people and you need just to look into such a barrel to find the proofs that "absolutely good" people do exist. E.g. during the 1953 uprising in East Germany, some Soviet soldiers refused to shoot at the protesting civilians and were sentenced to death and executed.

The Gardner said...

Highlander

As you suggested, back to the book.

I am interested in Programmer Craig's response to it.

Mine response was just the opposite. To me, the subtitle "What makes good people do bad things" addresses the most important issues of humanity.

Additionally, I don't think we can address the question until we achieve a more complete and common understanding of the nature good and evil.

God (Alla) may have defined them but we still only understand them humans. Just as humans have higher understanding than an do animals, it follows that Gods' is yet higher. It seems to me we should consider that we may have much to learn about nature of good and evil.

Can we agree that killing each other is evil and that Alla would rejoice if we stopped doing it?

The Gardner

Highlander said...

Gardener :) I do agree that killing each other is evil but I guess no one is interest in the discussion anymore.

The Lost Libyano said...

How many of your blog readers and commenters support terrorist groups, H?

How many of your co-workers? How many of your friends? If those 60% to 70% are wrong, just say so and I'll believe you.

How many Americans support Israel's bombing campaign of residential neighborhoods in Lebonan which killed women and children by the thousands. The number was 3000+ if I remember correctly. I remember last summer, everytime I turned on the radio, Americans where praising Israelis actions. Every Major Christian Pastor came out in his robes running his mouth about the apocolipse. When 9/11 happened every mainstream Muslim leader denounced the attacks as evil. Every Government of every Muslim Country denounced these attacks as evil from North African Countries like Libya, and Morroco, to Pacific countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.

Even the Taliban which you claimed support these attacks, came out strongly against them. Now I will admit many of the Taliban do not know their Islam, but whatever it is they follow they have deep conviction in it. And whatever it is these attacks where obviosly against their belifes. These people dont play the double talk game, they have faith, even if it may be misplaced at times, becuase of a few unmentionable people who like to pray of good simple minded people. As far as Libya, everytime I have went I have never witnessed any support for Terrorism, ask any Libyan what he thinks of 9/11 and he will tell you it was wrong, it was Haram, innocent people died, so on and so on. The overwhelming majority of Libyan if not all are 100% against terrorism. See where Muslims Craig our religion teachs us that even if people oppress us we should not oppress them, because this is the mindset of pre-islamic ignorance. Its primative ethics.

Bad apples, or Bad baskets?

Both.lol

As far as no one wanting to discuss this topic, H. Well I agree, because you are looking for the wrong group of people to discuss this with. Craig, Maya, and Curt are extreamists. They are well bad apples, rooten to the core. And I dont mean offense by that, some people are just wikid. Its not a bad or good thing, its just a thing. Some are blessed and some are damned. If we are to understand one another(Islam and The West) we must exclude people like Craig, and Maya, and Curt from the Discussion, and we must Exclude people like Bin Ladin and those other nutcases. We need moderate rational people. People like you and Mani. And for the west we need people like NBA. People who are open minded and rational. The Cartoon Crisis showed us how dangerous situations become when extreamists speak for large groups of people.


Honestly, Highlander, I think evil has triumphed in Islam, as of now. I hope that changes. But that's the way it looks to me.

Craig Islam is always evil in your mind, it can never be reedemed. You stated this on several occasions, even when I extended my hand to you for inter-faith diaologe, you stated that "NO TRUE BELIVER" NO TRUE CHRISTIAN would engage in this. You sound like a extreamist to me. Islam will never be seen as a force of good to you, because Christianity in your mind is the only force of God, all other religions and people are evil. Islam is the anti-christ in your opinion, and Mohammed(PBUH) is the great deciver. In your mind the only way we will ever be good is if we convert. You are not a secular humanist, who looks at all things as equal, you do not belive moral relitivity, you are the westerner who the enlightenment forgot to reach. You belive Christianity is good everything else is wikid. Sorry how else do you explain your approval of Israels actions which kill women and children as good?