My take on the Stanford prison experiment

From Edge:

“In the summer of 1971, Philip Zimbardo and his team of reseachers at Stanford University designed and conducted a landmark psychology experiment that would forever change our understanding of human behavior. 24 volunteer college students were randomly assigned to roles of prisoners or guards in a mock prison located in the basement of the psychology building at the university. The results were shocking. Within days, the “guards” turned authoritarian and sadistic while the “prisoners” became passive and started to show signs of severe depression. What was supposed to be a 2 week experiment had to be shut down after only six days…. In one sense, the Stanford Prison Study was like a Greek drama: it was pitting good people against an evil place, and the question was, who or what wins? The audience, and the chorus, want the people to win. We want humanity to triumph over evil; we want personal dignity and the individual’s will to resist, to dominate. The sad story, the sad conclusion, the sad message is that the bad situation won, and the good people lost.”

I have to disagree with that conclusion. Why? Because the people who participated probably weren’t good in any sense I accept and I really don’t think I would have been like them. The people who participated were just normal people (carefully selected to be normal like mentioned in the essay). And let’s face it: normal people are normal most often because they either don’t think very hard about what they are doing and what would be the right thing to do or because they lack the will to act differently under social pressure even though they sometimes see that there’s something wrong in what people usually do in those circumstances they are facing. In semi-crazyhumansocietiesbeingnormalmeansbeinglikeasheep and not thinking for yourself.Andbeinglikesheepisnotliketryingtobe(or actually being) agoodperson (at least in my opinion).SoI’dsayit’snotreallysurprisingthatnormalpeople
actedlikesomequitestereotypicalprisonguards;
itwasthenormalwaytoact after all.

Normal isn’t(sadly) good in any contemporary human society. Though I hope someday normal will be good.

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