FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Experiments Gone Bad

Watching “The Stanford Prison Experiment” (Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, 2015), I thought that it might be a good parable for how U.S. society has become so hardened by endless war and the shocking revelations of the practice of torture resulting from those wars, that it seems almost impossible to free ourselves from the dictates of war and a society so militarized that the immoral and unethical become accepted.

The topsy-turvy Orwellian world of the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in 1971, illustrates how authority, in this case that of the academics who designed and monitored the experiment, and the research experiment’s prison “guards,” could allow their roles to alter their humanity.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo took the results from Stanford and concluded that good people can be induced to act in both good and evil ways, a thesis that is a critique of the “bad apple” explanation of immoral behavior. Zimbardo, however, does not discount the role of individual personality in inducing wrong-headed behaviors. As a footnote to Zimbardo’s work,  the research in the prison experiment was funded with a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Analogies to the use of torture by U.S. spy agencies and the military at sites around the world can be made, and particularly at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, with the help, and in some cases, the participation of U.S. psychologists. The battle within the American Psychological Association that was recently “won” by those in that organization opposed to torture is another theme that merits close attention. Imagine having to “win” on the issue of torture within a major professional organization of mental health providers in the U.S.?

“And so it goes,” as the author Kurt Vonnegut observed, someone who had seen the horrors of World War II firsthand and was left with his humanity intact, as many miraculously are.

But, there are those who are in positions of power who learn nothing, even as they brushed up closely against, and facilitated the ascension to power of those who unleashed the endless wars and the perversion of their humanity. Perhaps this is the irony of humankind? Some, even Holocaust survivors, can retain their humanity, while others who fantasize policies out of the Wild West are often placed in positions of power and lose that humanity.

And the loss of humanity goes on… It seems that the clown car that is the Republican Party has lost its engine’s governor that would put a muzzle on some of the excesses of policy pronouncements as it pulls into towns and cities across this nation. Not so with Jeb Bush, a leader in the pack of presidential wolves among the Republicans, who attacks Hillary Clinton, filled with enough of her own sins vis-à-vis support for U.S. supremacy in war (“Bush Says Clinton ‘Stood By’ as Iraq Fell Into Violence,” The New York Times, August 11, 2015).

Is the memory of those in the U.S. so short that historical amnesia now afflicts large segments of the country, and that loss of memory points the finger of history at Jeb Bush, who facilitated his brother’s taking of the presidency in 2000, which began the massive violations of international and national law that followed on the heels of that coup d’état?

Nothing surprises anymore in this upside-down world of realpolitik. The first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death was marked by a shooting in Missouri and representatives of a group of radical militiamen, the Oath Keepers, descended on Ferguson, much like the radical gun owners who wanted to appear in Newtown, Connecticut following the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and were nearly able to perform an in your face act of gun-owner solidarity in full view of the families of fallen children and school personnel and all of those who grieved for them across this nation and world.

“Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason,” (Mother Jones, March/April 2010 Issue) will certainly have the desired effect of putting fear into the most optimistic of hearts.  We find ourselves without a national moral compass as horror after horror passes before our eyes, and only those with the strongest of resolve can see that the experiment has gone so very bad before it’s too late.

More articles by:

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail