Re: Iraq: Responses to Zimbardo

Date: Mon May 10 2004 - 10:02:57 PDT


What Oz is?

Re the torture imagery in American life, the few times I saw NYPD blue,
it seemed to me that it was in the verge of legitimizing the use of
torture as a way to collect criminal info. Of course, in a "softened"
way, but the underlying message was quite violent and, of course,the
naive viewer couldnīt help but identifying with the good cops. As 9/11
directed viewers to see with New eyes American movies, the Iraq Torture
case should do the same thing. There is plenty of cases where physical
abuse is done by the "good" guys, but always in a threshold that an
average viewer can tolerate (and enjoy...)


Quoting Peter Smagorinsky <>:

> 3ce7295.jpg
> At 10:52 AM 5/10/2004 -0400, you wrote:
> >Why everyone's not a torturer
> >
> >By Stephen Reicher and Alex Haslam
> >Psychologists
> >
> >
> >
> >Guards and prisoners, taking part in The Experiment for the BBC in
> 2002
> >So groups of people in positions of unaccountable power naturally
> >resort to violence, do they? Not according to research conducted in
> a
> >BBC experiment.
> >The photographs from Abu Ghraib prison showing Americans abusing
> Iraqi
> >prisoners make us recoil and lead us to distance ourselves from
> their
> >horror and brutality. Surely those who commit such acts are not
> like
> >us? Surely the perpetrators must be twisted or disturbed in some
> way?
> >They must be monsters. We ourselves would never condone or
> contribute
> >to such events.
> >
> >Sadly, 50 years of social psychological research indicates that
> such
> >comforting thoughts are deluded. A series of major studies have
> shown
> >that even well-adjusted people, when divided into groups and placed
> in
> >competition against each other, can become abusive and violent.
> >
> >Stanley Milgram at Yale instructed experimenters to give electric
> >shocks to another
> >They did so, despite person's cries of pain
> >
> >
> >In depth: After Saddam
> >Most notoriously, the 1971 Stanford prison experiment, conducted
> by
> >Philip Zimbardo and colleagues, seemingly showed that young
> students
> >who were assigned to the role of guard quickly became sadistically
> >abusive to the students assigned to the role of prisoners.
> >
> >Combined with lessons from history, the disturbing implication of
> such
> >research is that evil is not the preserve of a small minority of
> >exceptional individuals. We all have the capacity to behave in
> evil
> >ways. This idea was famously developed by Hannah Arendt whose
> >observations of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, led her to
> remark
> >that what was most frightening was just how mild and ordinary he
> >looked. His evil was disarmingly banal.
> >
> >
> >The latest pictures show detainees being threatened with dogs (AP
> >Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
> >In order to explain events in Iraq, one might go further and
> conclude
> >that the torturers were victims of circumstances, that they lost
> their
> >moral compass in the group and did things they would normally
> abhor.
> >Indeed, using Zimbardo's findings as evidence, this is precisely
> what
> >some people do conclude. But this is bad psychology and it is bad
> >ethics.
> >
> >It is bad psychology because it suggests we can explain human
> behaviour
> >without needing to scrutinize the wider culture in which it is
> located.
> >It is bad ethics because it absolves everyone from any
> responsibility
> >for events - the perpetrators, ourselves as constituents of the
> wider
> >society, and the leaders of that society.
> >
> >In the situation of Abu Ghraib, some reports have indicated that
> the
> >guards were following orders from intelligence officers and
> >interrogators in order to soften up the prisoners for
> interrogation.
> >
> >If that is true, then clearly the culture in which these soldiers
> were
> >immersed was one in which they were encouraged to see and treat
> Iraqis
> >as subhuman. Other army units almost certainly had a very
> different
> >culture and this provides a second explanation of why some people
> in
> >some units may have tortured, but others did not.
> >
> >Grotesque fun
> >
> >Perhaps the best evidence that such factors were at play is the
> fact
> >that the pictures were taken at all. Reminiscent of the postcards
> that
> >lynch mobs circulated to advertise their activities, the torture
> was
> >done proudly and with a grotesque sense of fun.
> >
> >
> >'Those in the photos wanted others to know what they had done'
> >(AP/Courtesy The New Yorker)
> >Those in the photos wanted others to know what they had done,
> >presumably believing that the audience would approve. This sense
> of
> >approval is very important, since there is ample evidence that
> people
> >are more likely to act on any inclinations to behave in obnoxious
> ways
> >when they sense - correctly or incorrectly - that they have
> broader
> >support.
> >
> >So where did the soldiers in Iraq get that sense from? This takes us
> to
> >a critical influence on group behaviour: leadership. In the
> studies,
> >leadership - the way in which experimenters either overtly or
> tacitly
> >endorsed particular forms of action - was crucial to the way
> >participants behaved.
> >
> > Many guards in our experiment did not wish to act - or be seen
> to
> >act - as bullies or oppressors
> >
> >Thus one reason why the guards in our own research for the BBC did
> not
> >behave as brutally as those in the Stanford study, was that we did
> not
> >instruct them to behave in this way.
> >
> >Zimbardo, in contrast, told his participants: "You can create in
> the
> >prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, you
> can
> >create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally
> controlled
> >by us, by the system, you, me - and they'll have no privacy.... In
> >general what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness".
> >
> >Officers' messages
> >
> >In light of this point it is interesting to ask what messages were
> >being provided by fellow and, more critically, senior officers in
> the
> >units where torture took place? Did those who didn't approve fail
> to
> >speak out for fear of being seen as weak or disloyal? Did senior
> >officers who knew what was going on turn a blind eye or else
> simply
> >file away reports of misbehaviour?
> >
> >All these things happened after the My Lai massacre, and in many
> ways
> >the responses to an atrocity tell us most about how it can happen
> in
> >the first place. They tell us how murderers and torturers can begin
> to
> >believe that they will not be held to account for what they do, or
> even
> >that their actions are something praiseworthy. The more they
> perceive
> >that torture has the thumbs up, the more they will give it a thumbs
> up
> >themselves.
> >
> >So how do we prevent these kinds of episodes? One answer is to
> ensure
> >that people are always made aware of their other moral commitments
> and
> >their accountability to others. Whatever the pressures within
> their
> >military group, their ties to others must never be broken. Total
> and
> >secret institutions, where people are isolated from contact with
> all
> >others are breeding grounds for atrocity. Similarly, there are
> great
> >dangers in contracting out security functions to private
> contractors
> >which lack fully developed structures of public accountability.
> >
> >Power vacuum
> >
> >Another answer is to look at the culture of our institutions and
> the
> >role of leaders in framing that culture. Bad leadership can permit
> >torture in two ways. Sometimes leaders can actively promote
> oppressive
> >values. This is akin to what happened in Zimbardo's study and may
> be
> >the case in certain military intelligence units. But sometimes
> leaders
> >can simply fail to promote anything and hence create a vacuum of
> power.
> >
> >
> >'Inmates' in The Experiment in their cells
> >
> >
> >Is it in anyone to abuse a captive?
> >Our own findings indicated that where such a vacuum exists, people
> are
> >more likely to accept any clear line of action which is vigorously
> >proposed. Often, then, tyranny follows from powerlessness rather
> than
> >power. In either case, the failure of leaders to champion clear
> humane
> >and democratic values is part of the problem.
> >
> >But it is not enough to consider leadership in the military. One
> must
> >look more widely at the messages and the values provided in the
> >community at large. That means that we must address the anti-Arab
> and
> >anti-Muslim sentiment in our society. A culture where we have got
> used
> >to pictures of Iraqi prisoners semi-naked, chained and humiliated
> can
> >create a climate in which torturers see themselves as heroes
> rather
> >than villains.
> >
> >Again, for such a culture to thrive it is not necessary for everyone
> to
> >embrace such sentiments, it is sufficient simply for those who
> would
> >oppose them to feel muted and out-of-step with societal norms.
> >
> >Leaders' language
> >
> >And we must also look at political leadership. When administration
> >officials talk about cleaning out "rats' nests" of Iraqi dissidents,
> it
> >likens Iraqis to vermin. Note, for example, that just before the
> >Rwandan genocide, Hutu extremists started referring to Tutsi's
> >as "cockroaches".
> >
> >
> >The US is trying to limit the damage after an abuse scandal
> >(AP/Courtesy The New Yorker)
> >Such use of language again creates a climate in which perpetrators
> of
> >atrocity can maintain the illusion that they are nobly doing what
> >others know must be done. The torturers in Iraq may or may not
> have
> >been following direct orders from their leaders, but they were
> almost
> >certainly allowed to feel that they were behaving as good
> followers.
> >
> >So if we want to understand why torture occurs, it is important to
> >consider the psychology of individuals, of groups, and of society.
> >Groups do indeed affect the behaviour of individuals and can lead
> them
> >to do things they never anticipated. But how any given group
> affects
> >our behaviour depends upon the norms and values of that specific
> group.
> >
> >Evil can become banal, but so can humanism. The choice is not denied
> to
> >us by human nature but rests in our own hands. Hence, we need a
> >psychological analysis that addresses the values and beliefs that
> we,
> >our institutions, and our leaders promote. These create the
> conditions
> >in which would-be torturers feel either emboldened or unable to
> act.
> >
> >We need an analysis that makes us accept rather than avoid our
> >responsibilities. Above all, we need a psychology which does not
> >distance us from torture but which requires us to look closely at
> the
> >ways in which we and those who lead us are implicated in a society
> >which makes barbarity possible.
> >
> >Alex Haslam is a professor of psychology at University of Exeter
> and
> >editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology. Stephen Reicher
> is
> >a professor of psychology at University of St Andrews, past editor
> of
> >the British Journal of Social Psychology and a fellow of the Royal
> >Society of Edinburgh.
> >

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