abu ghraib photos

Link to wired news article about this image, from Philip Zimbardo’s TED presentation.

From an accompanying article and interview with Zimbardo:

Wired: Your work suggests that we all have the capacity for evil, and that it’s simply environmental influences that tip the balance from good to bad. Doesn’t that absolve people from taking responsibility for their choices?

Philip Zimbardo: No. People are always personally accountable for their behavior. If they kill, they are accountable. However, what I’m saying is that if the killing can be shown to be a product of the influence of a powerful situation within a powerful system, then it’s as if they are experiencing diminished capacity and have lost their free will or their full reasoning capacity.

Situations can be sufficiently powerful to undercut empathy, altruism, morality and to get ordinary people, even good people, to be seduced into doing really bad things — but only in that situation.

Understanding the reason for someone’s behavior is not the same as excusing it. Understanding why somebody did something — where that why has to do with situational influences — leads to a totally different way of dealing with evil. It leads to developing prevention strategies to change those evil-generating situations, rather than the current strategy, which is to change the person.

Link to this article.

media check for week of 2007-09-10

I was listening to Morning Edition today and heard a really interesting story about a man in Iraq meeting a friend from Texas via the Internet.  The Texan loves the Bush administration and thinks the war in Iraq was justified and a good thing.  The Iraqi man agrees that extremists in Iraq are responsible for the violence and other problems in the country, but feels the US isn’t helping by being in Iraq.  This is a crazy example of a cross-cultural dialog.  What I find difficult to understand is the Texan’s unwillingness to accept the Iraqi’s criticism of the US occupation, even though the Iraqi seems to have a better perspective.  It makes me want to be more careful at watching out for my own ridiculous belief at times.