Stanford prison experiment is again in news. Ben Blum in His recent claims have come to a conclusion that the whole experiment was somehow rigged to get the desired results, and in laymen’s terms “Standard protocols” for conducting an experiment were not followed. Honestly i read the news and didn’t give much thought to it, until a friend of mine went on to support the original theory that we more or less are influenced by the circumstances and under certain external environments we are much likely to behave in certain manner irrespective of our own personal feelings and values, which is called “the Lucifer effect”. The title takes its name from the biblical story of the favored angel of God, Lucifer, his fall from grace, and his assumption of the role of satan.
It was a disturbing thing to me to see people agree so easily with the conclusions of the theory, more importantly i could see right in front of my eyes why the whole experiment has been so successful in convincing people of its results. As Ben Blum rightly said that we desperately want to believe that we humans are not inherently evil but if circumstances present themselves in way to make us act in an evil manner, there is very little we can do about it.
Of-course the finding by Ben Blum are relieving in a certain way, and it puts back the onus on individual for the pain and suffering they inflict on others. The whole ordeal was still must twisted and terrifying to me.
Let’s consider the two circumstances one by one. Considering the first situation that Prof Philip Zimbardo (Author of The Lucifer effect, and architect of whole SPE) was right and we try to believe that we are profoundly affected by the situation we are put in. Although the present situation doesn’t look too bad, the future seems disturbingly griming. With resources getting scarcer and geopolitical scenario tenser than ever, we are heading to a future which will put us all in a very dangerous position, and since we are assuming we are being controlled by the environment around us, i shudder to think what we would be doing to each other.
Now let’s consider we actually are in control of ourselves under any circumstances and we actually can control what we do to others, and then look at the past. Millions and millions have died in hate crimes and genocides. What does that prove? I don’t know if it proves anything but it surely points towards a very cynical world view. It points to a assumption that we humans are not inherently good people, that irrespective of knowing and understanding our circumstances, our minds and consciousness still want to oppress and subjugate others to pain and suffering.
So what is the way out? I am not sure. The most optimistic world view would be that we humans are inherently good, and only under forced circumstances, we behave evil. I am not sure if any experiments have been done to prove the outcome. May be in bits and pieces this hypothesis is being proved at every street corner, in every city, and every piece of land inhabited with humans. Every act of kindness, no matter how small it is, itself is living proof of a this “Anti-Lucifer effect”. Honestly i couldn’t think of a better name.