The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo was a real eye-opener of a read. I’ve always been a huge proponent of ‘individuals are responsible for their actions’ and though this book hasn’t changed that core belief it has expanded my understanding of how groups (whether they be businesses, governments, or cultures) can push people to act in ways they would never dream possible.
A large section of this work details the Stanford Prison Experiment (college kids split into two groups in a college experiment — one group was prisoners, the other guards… the results? Frightening). It goes on to compare and contrast that experience with the abuses in U.S. military prisons. The similarities are disturbing, to say the least. Along the way Mr. Zimbardo also documents numerous other studies that really highlight how fallible we are; no one wants to think they would do ‘bad’ things but time and time again it is shown just how easily anyone can be pushed to act outside of their moral boundaries. He also details to some extent some of the truly awful abuses of power and the trampling of human rights that occurred during the Bush Regime.
If the book had simply ended there, with its disturbing view of humanity, it would have been worth the read, and I’d have recommended it but, building upon the earlier chapters, Mr. Zimbardo ends instead with several useful discussions on how people can survive these unusual situations that so often make people compromise their morals. The book begins with the idea that all people have the capacity to do evil but ends with ideas on how any person can do good.
Great read, highly recommended.
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