Ted Talks: Philip Zimbardo on the The Psychology of Evil

So I haven’t really been too into this blogging thing so far.  I’ve kind of had the mentality of it being something I had to do every week, just like any other assignment.  But this week I’m really excited to share this with you guys.  Recently I’ve gotten really into watching the Ted Talks they have on Netflix about social psychology.  I saw this one today and I got so excited that I stopped what I was doing and started taking notes on the lecture.  So many of what Philip Zimbardo talks about in this lecture made me think about the DC water case, I knew I had to blog about it.  Please watch this video, its 23 minutes and well worth it!

(I don’t want you reading what I wrote on it until after you watch it, so I put this cartoon below it to fill space…. Watch it!)

http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html

 

Wow right?

So I picked out a few things he discussed that really hit me.

First of all, the very introduction that the boundary between good people and bad people is not a brick wall, it’s permeable, and good people can become bad and bad people can become good.  We’ve brought this up several times in class already, but I thought the metaphor of a wall and a permeable membrane was interesting.

His way of trying to understand the psychology of the change of character within people is interesting as well.  The idea that it may not be just a bad apple, but a bad barrel that is the problem.  Maybe we can apply this to the DC lead poisoning case.  Could the system in place be part of the problem, not just the certain individuals that conducted misconduct?

I thought his 7 social processes that grease the slippery slope of evil could also be applied to the DC case study.  I’m going to reiterate them here and you can think about how they apply.

  1. Mindlessly taking the first small step
  2. Dehumanizing others
  3. De-individuation of self
  4. Diffusion of personal responsibility
  5. Blind obedience to authority
  6. Uncritical conformity to group norms
  7. Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference

He mentions that the slippery slope to evil comes from new and unfamiliar situations.  This brings to mind the numerous times we’ve said in that the DC lead crisis was an unprecedented lead contamination case.  Could this unfamiliar situation for the DC authorities have led them to their misconduct?

Finally, in his conclusion he talks about how the same situation has the power to do three things to people.  It can inspire terrible acts, inspire heroic imagination, or can bring about the evil of inaction.  From what we’ve learned so far, you can easily see all three from the actors in the DC case.  Zimbardo stresses that self labeling ourselves as a “hero in waiting” can help us do the right thing.  What a cool idea!

I think I’ve left a lot on the table to be discussed about this video and how it relates to the DC case.  So lets discuss Smilie: :)

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4 Responses to Ted Talks: Philip Zimbardo on the The Psychology of Evil

  1. It’s a really fascinating topic. I’ve seen similar talks making the same points.. and they’re normally about Hitler’s regime. It’s amazing how many ethical issues that arise are founded on these steps that are outlined… great and small. It’s eerie and scary how these things can happen.

  2. Great video suggestion. A bit graphic, but he illustrated his points well.

    I’m amazed at how incremental all the ‘acts of evil’ he described ended up being. It even seems easy to fall down that spiral when he points out the systematic allowances and enforcements of such behavior.

    I’m also impressed with his call for a new regime of self-labeling, and I think it goes back to what a few of us discussed a few weeks ago — stigmas against tattling are taught from an early age. Keeping quiet can fall into the category of the ‘evil of inaction’. It become habit when reinforced from such a young age, and continues into adulthood, with sometimes tragic consequences.

    ankitpathak04 says:

    It was a great talk and a great post. I especially agree with the part that the boundary between good people and bad people is permeable. I think we have had an example of that in class with the case of Seema Bhat. What prompted the change, or why, we do not know. But the change did happen. Very insightful. Thank you for sharing the video.

    John Q Public says:

    I really thought this video was profound as well.

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