The average person is capable of being a Nazi soldier. There, I said it. Today, during class, one of the teachers sent me a link to a Video game called Day Z, where players have to “win” by surviving in a zombie-infected world. The difference between this video game and the others was that in this one, you could only die once, and rewards came by very infrequently. These few adjustments made it very realistic. A few psychologists and researchers looked into the behavior of such players, and what they found was that instead of teaming up with different players in order to battle the zombies and share researchers, players chose to create an anarchy and turned against fellow players. Sometimes, fellow players were just as deadly as the actual zombies.
In so many situations throughout history, time and again, the lack of community between humans is just horrendous. The Nazi Holocaust, Pol Pot’s regime…We have been taught that those are outliers, “evil” events that are led and enforced by “Evil” people. However, looking at experiments such as the Stanford Prison Experiment in the 1970s, those teachings are wrong. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, research psychologists selected a group of college volunteers, assigned them randomly as “prisoners” or “guards.” In order to help the volunteers fit into their roles, the researchers provided them with outfits (a smock for prisoners, and khaki uniforms and clubs for the guards). They were led to a “prison,” which was adapted in the basement of the Stanford Psychology department, and the guards were told to maintain order (www.prisonexp.org).
Even though that they were not specifically told to exhibit cruel behavior towards the “prisoners” but only to maintain order, the “guards” started punishing and abusing their powers only a day or two into the experiment. The institution had instilled evil within the guards, who were no different from the prisoners before the experiment. Yet in the course of a few days, the guards had imitated some of the punishments done during the Nazi era. Prisoners were forced to execute push ups for hours at a time. The guards broke up the prisoners by giving privileges to some while denying necessities to others. In just a few days, normal people became “inhumane,” “evil,” even.
So are humans innately evil? Can the institution make us evil? Does our morals not matter, when we are put into a situation that encourages us to act a certain way? Many say they will never hurt anyone, or kill anyone. But what if those people were given a weapon, told they were superior than others, and that they had to maintain power?
Maybe when those guards were given their weapons, they became something other than themselves. They weren’t individual people. I do not believe that individual, sane people will commit such atrocities. But once those guards donned their uniforms, they turned into what they wore. They turned into mere pawns in the institution, which in this case is the so called “prison.”
So taking that thought, that humans are good, and that institutions make us bad, my mind turned towards a very current topic: Antiterrorism. Noam Chomsky once wrote, ” Like its patron, Israel resorts to violence at will” (Chomsky.info), the patron referring to the US. In a talk with him, when I asked him about the US anti-terrorism scheme, he directly questioned the validity of the so-called “Terrorism.” He said that the US only fought in the middle east where the US could benefit from its natural resources. Basically, what he implied was that the US’ seemingly benevolent and justified bombings of Syria and the middle east against “Terrorists” are actually simply the US trying to maintain and hold to the last remnants of its power. I really wonder about the soldiers who are sent to the front. Do any of them ever question fighting terrorism with terrorism? Do any of them repress their individual questions, because they have donned a soldier uniform and have molded into the institution of the antiterrorist US army? Do any of them, when they go home, and take of their uniforms, pray for the Middle Eastern people who have died?
It seems out of logic that soldiers who willingly shoot those Middle Eastern people will in turn pray for them, but ask any of the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Those people would most likely felt remorse and full of guilt after that experiment, and would have, days before, never had the intention of abuse. So next time when we label someone as “evil,” think again. We may be more similar to them than we think.