|Do we all have a Mr Hyde within?|
There is much evil in the world. A large part of it seems to be centered in the United States, radiating out in its wars of conquest, its television shows, movies, and music, in the fascination with which the world follows the pointless excesses of its stars, in its politics and self-absorption and disdain for the rest of the world. The mythos of the Wild West and men with six-shooters settling arguments with a bullet at high noon before riding off to wipe out the Indians has congealed and hardened the hearts of its population to the reality of invasion and occupations eternally justified with noble slogans as vapid as they are preposterous.
Proud sons and daughters of America, patriots all, engage in the vilest and basest of cruelty in Iraq and the many secret detention centres the US empire has positioned strategically across the globe. No one is more than a few hours away from a hell in red, white, and blue.
Looking out over this landscape that surpasses Hieronymous Bosch in its horrors, men and women, those at least who are still capable of thought, are moved to ponder the question of good and evil.
One such meditation appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle this week:
How Did It Come To ThisFirst warning sign: the American military establishment is "complicit". Only complicit? According to Philip Zimbardo the problem is that these soldiers were left "unsupervised, poorly trained and ignorant of Iraqi culture". That's the problem? We think it goes much deeper than that.
San Francisco psychologist says environment plays big role in evil behavior
Edward Guthmann, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Naked men in hoods form a human pyramid. A prisoner crawls on the floor tethered to a dog leash. And next to them, grinning at the camera like soul-dead fools, are the Army reservists, one of whom dismissed the torture of Iraqi detainees as "fun and games."
No one can forget those images from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Now, three years later, San Francisco psychologist Philip Zimbardo has written a book arguing that the men and women who participated in the torture were not just "rotten apples," as the Bush administration has argued, but the unfortunate products of a "rotten barrel" mind-set that left them unsupervised, poorly trained and ignorant of Iraqi culture. He sees the American military establishment in Iraq as complicit in what happened at Abu Ghraib.
The real rotten apples are in all the positions of power in the Bush Reich. The soldiers were blamed, and the story of "a few rotten apples" was circulated in order to whitewash the real problem and get the truly guilty parties off the hook. The explanation we are about to read below, given by Zimbardo, only serves to further hide the truth.
In "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil," Zimbardo writes that human nature is dualistic: Each of us, given certain uncontrolled circumstances, is capable of sadistic or abusive behavior. A professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, Zimbardo, 74, believes this so strongly that he spoke as an expert witness in defense of Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, the military guard who supervised the night shift on Tiers 1A and 1B at Abu Ghraib, where the beatings, torture and sexual humiliation took place."Each of us, given certain uncontrolled circumstances, is capable of sadistic or abusive behavior."
There you have it. Anyone put into a similar set of circumstances will react in the same way. You, gentle reader of this web site, are capable of the kinds of horrors we have seen at Abu Ghraib, that have been reported at Guantanamo, or that we imagine take place in any one of the many US secret detention centres around the globe.
This idea is a very popular one. It is also used to explain the horrors of Nazi Germany. It implicates each of us because each of us has committed acts for which we are ashamed, for which we feel guilty. Therefore we buy into such an explanation. We will see below why such an idea is pernicious and false.
Zimbardo describes Frederick, the son of a West Virginia coal miner and a devout Baptist, as "superpatriotic," a man who considers himself spiritual even in the wake of Abu Ghraib. Despite Zimbardo's testimony, Frederick was sentenced to an eight-year prison term, which Zimbardo calls "outrageous.""Superpatriotic" and "spiritual" is a very bad mix. Those are the makings of a religious zealot, a modern Crusader, someone who is able to be easily manipulated through the conflating of God and country. Funny how we are told over and over again that this type of manipulation is occuring so often under Islam when in fact the United States is likely to be the primary manufacturer of such dehumanized and programmed religious warriors.
"What I'm saying is that they're good soldiers," Zimbardo explains during a conversation at his Russian Hill home. "The whole point of the book is to change people's minds. ... (The perpetrators) were just at the bottom of this barrel; there was all this pressure on them to do this."Sure, they are good soldiers, in the worst sense of being so dehumanized that they unthinkingly obey orders regardless of their morality or legality. Of course they were only "at the bottom of the barrel". In a world of conscience, such a statement would not even need to be asserted. It is only because the United States is so far removed from a direction set by any moral compass and its citizens so far removed from reality, brainwashed by its media into believing the fairy stories of Islamo-fascism, that it must be carefully explained to its citizens that if such torture was regular and wide-spread, it was because the orders came down from the top.
Yes, there was pressure on them to do these things. And being good, mindless automatons, they obeyed.
Trying to understand the Abu Ghraib disgrace, he says, isn't the same as excusing it. "If you don't understand the dynamics -- and if you don't change the situation -- then it's going to happen over and over again."Exactly, which is why it is necessary to really get to the bottom of the issue, to really uncover the roots, which, unfortunately, Zimbardo has not done.
Even apart from the lack of proper supervision, Zimbardo writes, the environment at Abu Ghraib -- a 280-acre complex, where Saddam Hussein tortured and executed critics of his Ba'athist government -- was so hellish that everyone was on the verge of cracking.We have no doubt that the conditions at Abu Ghraib were hellish, even moreso than under Saddam Hussein. The conditions in all of Iraq are hellish, as the article An Angry Arab Woman Speaks - The World Would Do Well to Listen so painfully and passionately shows. Does that mean that everyone living under those conditions would turn into a monster?
Porta Potties overflowed in 110-degree heat, leaving a nonstop stench. There were no mess halls, no proper showers, no separate facilities for prisoners with mental illness or contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.
In two months, the population on Tiers 1A and 1B swelled from 200 to 1,000 prisoners -- most of them innocent men rounded up in random military sweeps. Mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attacks on prison guard towers, launched by insurgents from the roofs of nearby buildings, occurred as often as 20 times per week.
"We all got numb in different ways," Zimbardo quotes one reservist saying.
According to Zimbardo, the answer is yes. But how, then, can we explain those individuals, too few and too rare, who are willing to risk their lives in situations such as that, to help others and go against the tide?
Studying evil, which he defines as "intentionally behaving in ways that harm others," has occupied Zimbardo for years. He's lectured on the psychology of evil in classrooms and at professional conferences, and traveled to Brazil where he interviewed men who had been torturers and death-squad executioners. In the book, he draws examples from the 1994 Rwandan genocide of the early '90s, the lynching of blacks by whites in the American South and the more recent phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers.The old saw about torturers living parallel lives as "family men and loving fathers" is heard over and over again, as if it explains anything or even offers some "proof" that these men are what they say they are and not psychopaths or another pathological type. Were the children of these people interviewed? Were their wives? What sort of "family life" are we talking about? Given the pathological character of much of what passes for "family life", the reality may, yet again, be far from the illusion projected. Furthermore, given our distorted understanding of what "love" is, all sorts of predatory activities are classified as "love", and everyone accepts it. "Caring" for another often means allowing yourself to become food; "loving" someone means using them for food.
He cites examples of men who, at the same time they inflicted evil in the context of work, maintained parallel lives as family men and loving fathers.
Were the women married to these men conditioned to believe that love was following the dictates of one's husband? That a woman's place was in the kitchen? We don't know, but before accepting the statement that these were "family men and loving fathers", much more data is needed.
"What I'm saying is that the human mind is so complex that any of us have templates to do anything. I mean, we could be Mother Teresa, we could be Idi Amin. We could be Nelson Mandela, we could be Saddam Hussein. But for most of us, we go in and out. It's not even a choice.""It's not even a choice." Think about that. It isn't even a choice between doing Good or Evil, between being an Idi Amin or a Mother Teresa.
It just happens. You're in the wrong place at the wrong time and, presto!
How far has the ponerological infection progressed when we are told that we have no choice between good and evil, that when it comes down to a choice, you have no choice? Evil will choose you.
Evil needn't be on the scale of Abu Ghraib torture, he adds. Everyday evil includes "telling a racist or sexist joke, spreading gossip in school that can ruin another kid. Spousal or child abuse, doing something at work that violates your values. The newest evil now is cyber-bullying."Excuse me, but there is a world of difference between spreading gossip about someone, telling a racist or sexist joke, or fighting with your spouse and the kinds of torture and abuse seen at Abu Ghraib! For most people, such acts are the furthest they go. These are the small acts that we do for which we feel guilty, and that sense of guilt is then used to implicate us in horrendous acts that far outstrip a lie or gossip or a shouting match with your mate.
The division between good and evil is "permeable and nebulous," he writes. "It is possible for angels to become devils and, perhaps more difficult to conceive, for devils to become angels."
Yes, these acts can have consequences that are physically and psychologically violent. I am in no way dismissing them. But there is more to them than that. Certainly,they can be attributed to pressure or a conjunction of events (the environment), and a sincere person feels truly remorseful when they snap out of it.
But there are individuals who never feel remorse, who are incapable of feeling remorse. Nothing in the world can help them to see the error of their act, the violence they have perpetrated on another, and to see the need to repair the damage. The reactiont is more along the lines of "What of it?" or "Get over it".
The truly horrific acts of evil, or the majority of them, are those perpetrated by such human looking predators. These predators can take positions of power in organizations and in society and can instill an environment where the morally weak are easily influenced into mimicking such acts. Other people who are not pathological can be influenced by this environment and can come to accept that such acts are normal or part of life. A mundane example is the way violence and taunts are now accepted as being part and parcel of sport. There is nothing about violence and taunts that is instrinsic to sport, and yet few bat an eye now when it shows its head. Many even hope it will show its head.
That process that leads to the pathological being accepted as normal is the process of ponerization. It is real, and most everyone can be and is affected to one extent or another. An understanding of ponerology, of how society becomes infected with evil, is much different from the simplistic assertion that "we could all become an Idi Amin". We discuss this further below.
The largest section of Zimbardo's book deals with the Stanford Prison Experiment, a study he initiated and supervised in August 1971. After screening 100 male students from around the country, Zimbardo and his team selected 24 men -- "the most normal, most average, most healthy kids" -- paid them $15 per day and randomly assigned them to enact the roles of guards and prisoners.The experiment is certainly a compelling argument for the idea that environment is a factor in violent acts. And that should scare the daylights out of us when we look at the world today.
The dynamics that arose, Zimbardo says, were "exactly" the same as those at Abu Ghraib -- even though the participants in the experiment were mostly anti-war activists.
The experiment was conducted in the basement of a building on the Stanford campus. "Guards" wore reflective sunglasses and fake military uniforms; "inmates" wore women's smocks and no underwear. At first, nothing happened and Zimbardo wondered if the experiment would be a bust.
After 36 hours, the prisoners rebelled against the guards' verbal and psychological degradation. Four men suffered emotional breakdowns, one broke out in a psychosomatic rash that covered his body.
"They became guards and prisoners," Zimbardo writes. "Anyone, when given complete control over others, can act like a monster." Instead of letting the experiment run its course of two weeks, he ended it on day six.
However, to appreciate what role the environment plays, we need to understand what dynamics are at work to form and shape the environment itself. If, as Zimbardo says (and as so many people accept), each of us can be transformed into Mr Hyde in the appropriate circumstances, the Zimbardo explanation ends up in a circular argument because the environment would be shaped by the same "fact" (our duality) that he is trying to explain.
But if the environment is shaped by a polarization between conscience and consciencelessness, that is, an active group of individuals in society who have no conscience, no capacity for empathy, that is, psychopaths, then the situation is very different, as I will show below.
"There's no question they suffered," he says. "I mean, to that extent it was totally unethical. Kids suffered unnecessarily over an extended period of time." He spent a day debriefing with the participants after the study ended, and says he's still in touch with several of the men 35 years later.The culture of the lawsuit is part and parcel of the ponerization of society.
Despite the trauma the men endured, none of them sued. "Nobody thought about it," Zimbardo says. "People didn't sue in 1971. Right now, I'd be sued. They'd have the house."
The lessons in human behavior demonstrated by Abu Ghraib are chilling, Zimbardo says. But, just as the essentially good person can manifest evil in adverse conditions, he believes that everyone -- even those conditioned to evil -- is capable of heroic action.Here we get the killer hook: even those who have done the worst crimes, who have tortured and brutalized an entire country, who have been responsible for the murder of millions, even they are capable of "heroic action".
Get me the sick bag.
What of the psychopath?
By denying the fundamental difference between the psychopath, the person without conscience, and people of conscience, Zimbardo continues to propagate the great lie, the fundamental fact of the nature of our world that, if generally known and taken into account by society at large, could change our world for the better in ways we can't even imagine. That lie states that we are all the same.
The truth, that not all who look human have a conscience, is a bitter pill to swallow. We have been raised under the twin peaks of religion and science. The religious shadow upon us tells us that God made us all in his image. The shadow cast by official science tells us that questions of conscience have no place in science.
In recent years, however, a few brave researchers into psychopathy are providing us with data that proposes to establish a study of evil that is scientific. Such is the proposition of Andrew Lobaczewski who presents the work of courageous Eastern European psychologists, now persecuted and forgotten, who actively studied psychopathy and political power. Others suggest there is a genetic link with conscience, that psychopaths differ genetically in a fundamental way from other people. They are born without the necessary hardware to choose a moral life. Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist, has even taken brain scans of psychopaths that were refused publication in a scientific journal because the editors were convinced that they were not human but from some sort of ape.
If Zimbardo does not know this data, then he cannot offer a complete picture of the subject. If he does know this data....
In Zimbardo's appearance on "The Daily Show" Thursday, host Jon Stewart agreed, and cited the example of Ishmael Beah, the former child soldier from Sierra Leone who, with his book "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," demonstrates the possibility of such a transformation and the inspiration it delivers.The example of one individual, or even many, who are capable of recognizing the evil they have done, while hopeful, does not negate the facts of psychopathy. That one man can do it does not imply that all men can do it.
"It is not an abstract concept," Zimbardo writes. "As we are reminded by the Russian poet and former prisoner in Stalin's Gulag, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: "The line between good and evil is in the center of every human heart."No. There are hearts that have no line. There are hearts lacking in empathy, lacking in the capacity to feel the pain of another human being. We discuss this issue at great length on the Signs on the Times because it is as vital to our survival as it is unknown. We have seen a recent increase in individuals and web sites discussing ponerology and the political repercussions of psychopathy since the publication by Red Pill Press of Andrew Łobaczewski's Political Ponerology, but there is still much work to be done to bring this vital information to the world.
Yes, we agree that there is an environmental element to evil. Good people can be swayed and pressured in the appropriate circumstances and environment into committing acts they could never imagine. But what is that appropriate circumstance and environment?
Let's look at this question.
The Real Environment
It doesn't take an Einstein to see that things are bad on the planet. I can't think of an adjective to qualify "bad" that sums up the actual state of things. Wars, starvation, inequality, injustice, disease, poverty, ecological disaster, and on and on. The developed countries consume the lion's share of the world's resources while the rest of the world starves. The United States consumes the lion's share of the consumed resources. The vast majority of people in those countries accept the situation and think it is fine. If they have qualms, they aren't so upset that they are actually doing anything about it.
People find excuses.
We are told that this is how things have always been. We hear stories of the Roman Empire, Alexander's Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and our history books are filled with wars for this and wars for that as justifications for the current push for the establishment of an American Empire. The problems that beset us are somehow linked to human nature, we are told. We are rational animals, with stress on our animalistic side, not on reason. It is that animal inside that cannot always be tamed. Given the right circumstances....
The explanation offered by Zimbardo lies squarely in this conceptualization of humanity and society.
We suggest that the conceptualization is wrong, fundamentally wrong. It is fundamentally wrong because it does not take into account the fact that there are among us on our planet human-looking individuals devoid of conscience and incapable of anything resembling what others would consider as emotion. Their emotions are only related to those associated with the hunt, with predation. They have no ability to register and feel the suffering of other human beings as anything more than a tasty food source. In fact, they thrive on the suffering of other people because it makes them feel important, special, smarter, and better than everyone else. We squirm and suffer while they pump themselves up because they have put another over on us. They know how we can be manipulated through playing on our emotions, and they are extremely successful at it. They are so successful that we don't even know that they exist! We blame ourselves. We even measure ourselves against their standards.
Psychologist Martha Stout agrees. In her excellent book The Sociopath Next Door, she writes:
"And so why does the world seem so terribly unsafe? How do we explain the six o'clock news, or even our own personal experiences? Could it conceivably be that a mere 4% of the population is responsible for nearly all of the human disasters that occur in the world, and in our individual lives? This is an arresting question, one that offers to overhaul many of our assumptions about human society. So I will repeat that the phenomenon of conscience is overwhelmingly powerful, persistent, and prosocial. Unless under the spell of psychotic delusions, extreme rage, inescapable deprivation, drugs, or a destructive authority figure, a person who is conscience-bound does not - in some sense cannot - kill or rape in cold blood, torture another person, steal someone's life savings, trick someone into a loveless relationship as sport, or wilfully abandon his own children.We ascribe barbarous acts to "human nature" when, in fact, it is not "human" at all. Normal humans are shocked and repelled. The idea that "we are all potential Idi Amins" is tantamount to the Stockholm Syndrome. We have identified with the kidnapper and so we elaborate theories to justify our behaviour. According to Stout, the idea that we all have a shadow side:
"When we see people doing such things, either on the news or in our own lives, who are they? On the rare occasion, they are formally insane, or under the pressure of some radical emotion. Sometimes they are members of a group that is desperately deprived, or they are substance abusers, or the follower of a malevolent leader. But most often they are none of these. Rather, most often, they are people who have no conscience. They are sociopaths." [pp. 104-05.]
"maintains in its most extreme form that anything doable or feelable by one human being is potentially doable and feelable by all... Ironically, good and kindhearted people are often the most willing to subscribe to this theory in the radical form that proposes they could, in some bizarre situation, be mass murderers. It feels more democratic and less condemnatory (and somehow less alarming) to believe that everyone is a little shady than to accept a few human beings live in a permanent nighttime. To admit that some people literally have no conscience is not technically saying that some human beings are evil, but it is disturbingly close. And good people want very much not to believe in the personification of evil." p. 106People of conscience, those who can feel remorse, you can feel distraught at having hurt another human being, buy into the big lie because of their ability to feel!
Lobaczewski points out over and over again in his book that psychopaths have a special psychological knowledge of normal people and use this knowledge against us constantly. Because they are never blinded by emotions, and yet they see how crippled in our thinking and our reactions we can become, they understand that our emotions, our noblest emotions, are the ultimate weapon against us.
These are the facts on the ground and any theory that doesn't take it into account only plays further into the hands of these individuals.
If the existence of psychopaths and their ability to play us is denied, then their role in government, in business, in the media, in the military, in the police and law, in education, in any place where power is to be had, cannot be understood. That is the reality, those are the forces that are shaping the environment in which we can be ponerized. So on that level, yes, the environment is a factor. Fortunately, researchers such as Łobaczewski, Robert Hare and Paul Babiak are bringing to light the nefarious influence these pathological types play in society. We are beginning to have an understanding of the dynamic between psychopath and non-psychopath, between predator and prey, in individual lives and in society at large.
Let's do some modelling to try and understand what we face.
Look at the following figure.
|©Signs of the Times|
|Figure 1. Environment without Conscience|
The horizontal line represents society as a whole, mapped out between two poles: those Without Conscience and those With Conscience. Consider society as made up of individuals spread out on the continuum between those who, on the one had, have no conscience, and those who are able to live their lives based completely on conscience. The vast majority of the population falls between the two.
Consider the two poles as being centres of gravity, attracting people to them.
Now let's play with it a bit.
The various pathological types that make up what we call the pathocracy are represented by the red line on the left. These are the four to six percent of the population without conscience. Next to them are those who are most easily influenced by them, people whose conscience, if it is ever active, extends to their family and maybe a few friends. They will place their own needs and desires over that of society as a whole. They will seek comfort over justice and personal success over the social good.
In a pathocracy, the six percent have the majority of the important positions of power. Because of this, the 17 or so percent who are easily influenceable will give them their support in exchange for a comfortable life.
In the world today, it is the left pole that determines the environment in which we live. The values of society emanate from it, the ideas of what is socially acceptable come from it. The programming on television, in the movies, in books and music, in anything that is treated as "culture" in a capitalist economy, all of that emanates from the pole of the conscienceless. Power accrues from the left to the right on the scale. If you imagine the line placed on a pivot point in the middle that allowed us to compare the weight of the power and influence of the two poles, it is obvious that the left pole dominates. Society is weighted towards a lack of conscience.
We could say that conscience, at the moment, exists as an idea, nothing more. It has no weight in reality. It exists in potential. For it to come into existence, there must be individuals who put their conscience into practice. They must act on conscience. Its manifestations at the moment are sporadic and individual. There is no coherence.
That is the environment in which we live. If you wish to understand how we are influenced by evil, it is the fact of the existence of the pole of the conscienceless that you must understand. It is the existence of this pole that explains the horrors of human history, not some incurable or permanent predatorial nature at the heart of every human being.
This conscienceless reality continues to exist because the majority of people are ignorant of the facts. They have no knowledge of psychopathy and the role it plays in shaping society. They do not understand that their ideas, their opinions, their thoughts, their dreams, their goals in life are all broadcast out from a group of people who either have no conscience and are incapable of it, or who are willing to do whatever they are asked in order to preserve their own comfort.
To break the rule of the pathocrats, we need knowledge: the knowledge about them and how they work, both on an individual level and on the level of society as a whole. Knowledge, scientific knowledge on psychopathy and ponerology, will permit us to create a pole of conscience that can serve as a counterweight to the pole of the conscienceless. The goal of this knowledge is to eliminate the influence from the other pole by facilitating people to pull themselves out of its field of influence. The 17% or so percent who support the pathocracy would be won away if they were to feel that their security and comfort was bettered served by supporting the other pole.
The goal is not to eliminate physically the psychopaths but to render their manipulations fruitless as more and more people see through them. Knowledge of them and how they manipulate and deceive serves as an inoculation. We can learn to become immune. As this occurs, the weight of the left pole will decrease. If the pathological have no influence, if they can no longer have access to positions of power, gradually, consciencelessness will become nothing but an idea. It will lose its physical manifestations.
Now look at the second figure.
|©Signs of the Times|
|Figure 2. Environment with Conscience|
The second figure shows us what the environment would look like in a society where the pole of conscience is a reality and the pole of consciencelessness exist only as an idea. The fatal six percent are no longer dominating society; they have been effectively excluded from it, put into quarantine. Those influences can no longer wreak their havoc.
Think about how the environment would change. Think how the world would be a different place if violence was not promoted as the acceptable solution for differences, where the leaders of the world's countries sat down together and were able to understand the suffering their policies were inflicting on others and were thus willing to change. Our standards and models would no longer be drawn from those without conscience, they would come from those who live by their conscience. The pathological reality we have today would be transformed into a humane reality, reflecting who we really are as humans, not what we may once have been as animals.
Dr Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba, has spent much of his career researching the personality profile of what he calls Right Wing Authoritarians. He has published an overview of his research called The Authoritarians. It offers an insight into that percentage of the population that is easily swayed by the pathological types. Unfortunately, Altemeyer has not factored in the existence of psychopathy and pathocracy as important realities in society, so while he can help explain the functioning of the system, he is incapable of either explaining its origins or arriving at a solution.
But to give you an example of what a world might be were the psychopaths and their influence put into quarantine, look at his description of a simulation game that he ran on two nights, one using students who had scored very low on his RWA scale, the other, students who had scored very high.
Unauthoritarians and Authoritarians: Worlds of DifferenceWe are facing the second scenario, not as a simulation, not as a game, but as our own future unless the knowledge needed to change society is propagated and put into practice. Frankly, I don't think there is a hope in hell that we can succeed in such a task, but ending on that note wouldn't be very helpful or encouraging. So instead, let me turn the problem around: if we are going to save ourselves, it is up to each of us to learn what we can about psychopathy and ponerology. Psychopaths are found in our lives as individuals, and they are clearly running the show on the global scale. Our only hope is that each of us begins to immunize himself to their manipulations, works to spread the knowledge so that others, too, can become immune, and begin to exercise that part of us that separates us from our predator: our conscience. If we can do this work, then the pole of conscience can become something more than an idea. It can become a reality, a living example of how life can be lived in a new way.
By now you must be developing a feel for what high RWAs think and do, and also an impression of low RWAs. Do you think you know each group well enough to predict what they'd do if they ran the world? One night in October, 1994 I let a group of low RWA university students determine the future of the planet (you didn't know humble researchers could do this, did you!). Then the next night I gave high RWAs their kick at the can.
The setting involved a rather sophisticated simulation of the earth's future called the Global Change Game, which is played on a big map of the world by 50-70 participants who have been split into various regions such as North America, Africa, India and China. The players are divided up according to current populations, so a lot more students hunker down in India than in North America. The game was designed to raise environmental awareness, and before the exercise begins players study up on their region's resources, prospects, and environmental issues.
Then the facilitators who service the simulation call for some member, any member of each region, to assume the role of team leader by simply standing up. Once the "Elites" in the world have risen to the task they are taken aside and given control of their region's bank account. They can use this to buy factories, hospitals, armies, and so on from the game bank, and they can travel the world making deals with other Elites. They also discover they can discretely put some of their region's wealth into their own pockets, to vie for a prize to be given out at the end of the simulation to the World's Richest Person. Then the game begins, and the world goes wherever the players take it for the next forty years which, because time flies in a simulation, takes about two and a half hours.
The Low RWA Game
By carefully organizing sign-up booklets, I was able to get 67 low RWA students to play the game together on October 18th. (They had no idea they had been funneled into this run of the experiment according to their RWA scale scores; indeed they had probably never heard of right-wing authoritarianism.) Seven men and three women made themselves Elites. As soon as the simulation began, the Pacific Rim Elite called for a summit on the "Island Paradise of Tasmania." All the Elites attended and agreed to meet there again whenever big issues arose. A world-wide organization was thus immediately created by mutual consent.
Regions set to work on their individual problems. Swords were converted to ploughshares as the number of armies in the world dropped. No wars or threats of wars occurred during the simulation. [At one point the North American Elite suggested starting a war to his fellow region-aires (two women and one guy), but they told him to go fly a kite--or words to that effect.]
An hour into the game the facilitators announced a (scheduled) crisis in the earth's ozone layer. All the Elites met in Tasmania and contributed enough money to buy new technology to replenish the ozone layer.
Other examples of international cooperation occurred, but the problems of the Third World mounted in Africa and India. Europe gave some aid but North America refused to help. Africa eventually lost 300 million people to starvation and disease, and India 100 million.
Populations had grown and by the time forty years had passed the earth held 8.7 billion people, but the players were able to provide food, health facilities, and jobs for almost all of them. They did so by demilitarizing, by making a lot of trades that benefited both parties, by developing sustainable economic programs, and because the Elites diverted only small amounts of the treasury into their own pockets. (The North American Elite hoarded the most.)
One cannot blow off four hundred million deaths, but this was actually a highly successful run of the game, compared to most. No doubt the homogeneity of the players, in terms of their RWA scores and related attitudes, played a role. Low RWAs do not typically see the world as "Us versus Them." They are more interested in cooperation than most people are, and they are often genuinely concerned about the environment. Within their regional groups, and in the interactions of the Elites, these first-year students would have usually found themselves "on the same page"--and writ large on that page was, "Let's Work Together and Clean Up This Mess." The game's facilitators said they had never seen as much international cooperation in previous runs of the simulation. With the exception of the richest region, North America, the lows saw themselves as interdependent and all riding on the same merry-go-round.
The High RWA Game
The next night 68 high RWAs showed up for their ride, just as ignorant of how they had been funneled into this run of the experiment as the low RWA students had been the night before. The game proceeded as usual. Background material was read, Elites (all males) nominated themselves, and the Elites were briefed. Then the "wedgies" started. As soon as the game began, the Elite from the Middle East announced the price of oil had just doubled. A little later the former Soviet Union (known as the Confederation of Independent States in 1994) bought a lot of armies and invaded North America. The latter had insufficient conventional forces to defend itself, and so retaliated with nuclear weapons. A nuclear holocaust ensued which killed everyone on earth--7.4 billion people--and almost all other forms of life which had the misfortune of co-habitating the same planet as a species with nukes.
When this happens in the Global Change Game, the facilitators turn out all the lights and explain what a nuclear war would produce. Then the players are given a second chance to determine the future, turning back the clock to two years before the hounds of war were loosed. The former Soviet Union however rebuilt its armies and invaded China this time, killing 400 million people. The Middle East Elite then called for a "United Nations" meeting to discuss handling future crises, but no agreements were reached.
At this point the ozone-layer crisis occurred but--perhaps because of the recent failure of the United Nations meeting--no one called for a summit. Only Europe took steps to reduce its harmful gas emissions, so the crisis got worse. Poverty was spreading unchecked in the underdeveloped regions, which could not control their population growth. Instead of dealing with the social and economic problems "back home," Elites began jockeying among themselves for power and protection, forming military alliances to confront other budding alliances. Threats raced around the room and the Confederation of Independent States warned it was ready to start another nuclear war. Partly because their Elites had used their meager resources to buy into alliances, Africa and Asia were on the point of collapse. An Elite called for a United Nations meeting to deal with the crises--take your pick--and nobody came.
By the time forty years had passed the world was divided into armed camps threatening each other with another nuclear destruction. One billion, seven hundred thousand people had died of starvation and disease. Throw in the 400 million who died in the Soviet-China war and casualties reached 2.1 billion. Throw in the 7.4 billion who died in the nuclear holocaust, and the high RWAs managed to kill 9.5 billion people in their world--although we, like some battlefield news releases, are counting some of the corpses twice.
The authoritarian world ended in disaster for many reasons. One was likely the character of their Elites, who put more than twice as much money in their own pockets as the low RWA Elites had. (The Middle East Elite ended up the World's Richest Man; part of his wealth came from money he had conned from Third World Elites as payment for joining his alliance.) But more importantly, the high RWAs proved incredibly ethnocentric. There they were, in a big room full of people just like themselves, and they all turned their backs on each other and paid attention only to their own group. They too were all reading from the same page, but writ large on their page was, "Care About Your Own; We Are NOT All In This Together."
The high RWAs also suffered because, while they say on surveys that they care about the environment, when push comes to shove they usually push and shove for the bucks. That is, they didn't care much about the long-term environmental consequences of their economic acts. For example a facilitator told Latin America that converting much of the region's forests to a single species of tree would make the ecosystem vulnerable. But the players decided to do it anyway because the tree's lumber was very profitable just then. And the highs proved quite inflexible when it came to birth control. Advised that "just letting things go" would cause the populations in underdeveloped areas to explode, the authoritarians just let things go.
Now the Global Change Game is not the world stage, university students are not world leaders, and starting a nuclear holocaust in a gymnasium is not the same thing as launching real missiles from Siberia and North Dakota. So the students' behavior on those two successive nights in 1994 provides little basis for drawing conclusions about the future of the planet. But some of what happened in this experiment rang true to me. I especially thought, "I've seen this show before" as I sat on the sidelines and watched the high RWAs create their very own October crisis.
We must each learn to see through the erroneous thinking that buttresses the socially acceptable idea that "we are all capable of being either an Idi Amin or a Mother Teresa". Evil is a choice, but to understand when and how it becomes a choice, or how conscience can become our choice, we must understand how our environment works to magnetize us around the notion of evil through the pole of the conscienceless. We need knowledge, scientific knowledge of psychopathy.
The Mask of Sanity - Hervey Cleckley
Without Conscience - Robert Hare
Snakes in Suits - Paul Babiak and Robert Hare
The Sociopath Next Door - Martha Stout
Predators - Anna Salter
Political Ponerology<> - Andrew Łobaczewski
The Authoritarians - Bob Altemeyer