For those of us fighting tirelessly to better the state of humanity and raise awareness of the evils that plague our world, it will give you great relief to know that the world will soon be saved. A straight, white, middle-classed male has astonishingly found that the source of evil is institutional corruption. In his book, “The Lucifer Effect”, Philip Zimbardo outlines how it is not individual people who are evil, but their institutional circumstance that promotes their evil doings evil or passive inactivity when presented with evil. For those racking their brains as to why the name Zimbardo sounds familiar, he was the maniac professor who created the Stanford Prison Experiment back in 1971. Why has he resurfaced on the pop-culture awareness vibe? TED talks. In 2008, Zimbardo gave a TED talk promoting his book, linking the Abu Ghraib military prisoner abuse scandal with his prison experiment. Perhaps now that he is conducting his research in an ethical way, people are listening to him.
Counterpoint to the evil he outlines is being a “hero-in waiting.” He calls upon the educational system to train children in developing their “heroic imaginations” and, when the time is right, give up their ego-centric values for socio-centric ones. In his talk, he states, “In order to be a hero, you have to learn to be a deviant. [This is] because you’re always going against the conforming of the group (sic).” As he paints this picture of a utopian kindergarten class where children are learning the value of heroism; I am left with this paled image of a Second-Wave feminist raising her fist in the face of injustice, sighing, and waiting for the people around her to give a hoot! My imagination tells me that it is finally socially acceptable for white men to be actively outraged by the being passive in the face of evil. Let me paint a slap-dash pictorial of the last sixty years. The 1960s and 70s, men were far too distracted by the liberation of women’s sexuality to be able think of much else. The 1980s and 90s, men realize that liberated women sure talk a lot! With this, they denounce women’s liberation and retreat into ego-absorbed technology, creating the pornographic internet and couch-potato marathons. Now during the 2000s and 2010s, with the cresting of institutional corruption; men, seemingly upon their own ingenuity, have discovered that being cruel and looking the other way are things that moral beings just DON’T DO [!]. I’m so proud.
The painful part is that most of what he attributes to institutionally sanctioned evil is exactly what patriarchy uses to vilify feminism. It was his phrase celebrating deviance that really got my motor running. How does an institution celebrate deviance?! How much deviance is allowed? Do the benefits of deviance have to be immediately foreseeable? How conveniently he uses this word that has been used for so long to make so many feel inferior and isolated. I feel hurt by it.
Perhaps if he was a little bit more radical, or maybe if he was slightly less the epitome of corporatized branding, I would feel less like my soul had just been evaporated to a cakey powder. It seems to be the flow of history: visionaries fight for what they know to be right to no avail. And then some dumpy peon figures out how to capitalize on it and suddenly everyone’s a convert. I can see it now. Thirty years from now, a great female diplomat against great odds will stand up for justice, and history will credit her male predecessor who taught her that looking the other way was unethical. Either patriarchy is self-imploding, or capitalism is simply co-opting peace.
My two cents at two in the morning.