The Nurture of Evil
There is a fascinating interview with Philip Zimbardo over at Edge (now linked permanently in my sidebar under science). Zimbardo is most famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment in which perfectly ordinary people became sadistic prison wardens or paranoid prisoners, depending on which role they were randomly assigned. This experiment has been in the news lately, for the worst of reasons.
When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel. You could put virtually anybody in it and you're going to get this kind of evil behavior. The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That's the dispositional analysis. The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that's the wrong analysis. It's not the bad apples, it's the bad barrels that corrupt good people. Understanding the abuses at this Iraqi prison starts with an analysis of both the situational and systematic forces operating on those soldiers working the night shift in that 'little shop of horrors.'Check it out.
YOU CAN'T BE A SWEET CUCUMBER IN A VINEGAR BARREL
A Talk with Philip Zimbardo