Thursday, 8 November 2012

In which I tell stupid people what for, and blog their faces off

So following on from Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer (gay National Front skinheads), Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (Nazi war crimes trial) and If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi (Jewish partisans in Russia, Poland and Germany during WW2), I was ready for some light reading.

Being me, I went for The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. It's a wide-ranging discussion of the situational and systemic pressures which enable or compel people to do horrific things, things they would never consider doing normally - covering a range of social-psychological studies and real-world examples, from the Stanford Prison Experiment to Abu Ghraib.

Its thesis is, roughly, that to understand why people do such inhumane things, it's no good to look solely at the perpetrators themselves, to search for a clue to the atrocities in their individual psychological make-up: horrors such as the Holocaust and Abu Ghraib can only be understood if you consider the pressures of the situation within which they are acting, and the overarching system which allows the situation to occur. His favourite metaphor is that, rather than blaming A Few Bad Apples, you need to look at the Apple Barrel - and at the people who designed the Barrel in the first place.

So A Lady Who Will Remain Nameless took one look at the book's cover, and said, "What a horrible book! Why would you want to read that? I'd rather read a book about how evil people turn good!"

Yep. Let's only read lovely books about lovely people doing lovely things and rest safe in our lovely cocoon of loveliness where nothing unlovely ever happens. We'll learn fuck all about human nature, we'll have no clue how to help when unlovely things happen, but at least we can maintain our lovely illusion that the world is an entirely lovely place full of lovely rainbows and lovely lovely unicorns who wouldn't dream of committing mass murder!


"I think genocide is so wrong!"

In related news, another Lady Of No Name has the only good Jimmy Saville story: as a child, she wrote to Jim'll Fix It, begging for him to grant her dearest wish, the only thing she wanted in the whole world, which was... to meet Gary Glitter.

Anonymous Lady Number 3: "Well, it just goes to show that there's a silver lining to everything; everything happens for a reason: she must have been so disappointed that he didn't write back, but 20 years later, she's so glad he didn't."

Yep. Everything happens for a reason. We are safe because we follow the rules, because Someone Up There is looking out for us.

Gee, I wonder what the silver lining was for those who actually were abused by Jimmy Saville?



  1. willful blindness. it fascinates me. and it's one reason we end up with those rotten barrels to begin with.

    This isn't quite the same (not an instance of violence directly inflicted on one human by another) but still a crazy example of this blindness: someone who only likes "pleasant and entertaining movies" told me once that she enjoyed the film Titanic because it was "a really nice story that just happened to take place on a boat that sank." I was speechless.

    thanks for the post!

  2. Sounds like the Lucifer effect is a pretty interesting book. I would read it! I can understand someone wanting to see the good in life, but ignoring the bad can lead to more problems. Love your blog btw!