Evil & Violence

23 04 2007

The latest issue of Edge is up to its usual high standard with, amongst other things, two essays; one on the decline of violence over history and the other on why good men turn evil. Both have a bearing on the Zimbabwe situation. The first, by Steven Pinker, catalogues how violence has actually declined over history, contrary to popular belief. The second is a talk with Philip Zimbardo entitled “The Heroic Imagination” in which he discusses how little we know about heroism (almost entirely unknown here) and how easily good men can turn evil in a bad situation. In the early 1970’s he conducted the now famous Stanford Prison Experiment in which a group of male students were allocated roles as either guards or prisoners in a mock jail. It was due to run 2 weeks but had to be stopped after 6 days because “prisoners” were showing signs of serious mental trauma and the guards were getting over enthusiastic – all volunteers were given a thorough psychological screening beforehand. It is a scary read but worthwhile.


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