I have blogged earlier about difficulties with the Toronto Police Force. Four officers have been charged with perjury and obstructing justice. They are not rookies; together they have over fifty years of policing experience.
Bad things happened at the G20, many far from the actual meeting of dignitaries.
We are being told that, it’s a case of ‘a few bad apples.’ I beg to disagree, and will provide you (dear reader) with some hot links to back up my viewpoint.
Let me begin with a trailer for a movie based on the Stanford Prison Experiment. I am annoyed with myself for mentioning this, but movies catch public attention and I want to catch yours.
The trailer is enough to tell me that, sadly, some of the truth has been sacrificed to make a movie / drama you might line up to see. It implies mixed genders in the prison; this was not the case. It implies choice of being prisoner or guard; each role was chosen randomly by the experimenter.
However, the individuals participating were tested for psychological weirdness, and they all passed. The prison superintendent has degrees in, and teaches, psychology.
For a better insight into the problem of evil (and evil behaviour) click on this link. It’s a TED talk given by Philip Zimbardo. For those with more resources (time and money) click on the References pointer in this website. The book, by Zimbardo, is titled “The Lucifer Effect.” Yes, I have read this, cover to cover. The References I recommend are not kid lit.
Meanwhile, here you will find a link, from which I will cut&paste a few quotes. Emphasis mine.
The study subjects, middle-class college students, had answered a questionnaire about their family backgrounds, physical- and mental-health histories, and social behavior, and had been deemed “normal”; a coin flip divided them into prisoners and guards. According to the lore that’s grown up around the experiment, the guards, with little to no instruction, began humiliating and psychologically abusing the prisoners within twenty-four hours of the study’s start. The prisoners, in turn, became submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest. The behavior of all involved was so extreme that the experiment, which was meant to last two weeks, was terminated after six days.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is cited as evidence of the atavistic impulses that lurk within us all; it’s said to show that, with a little nudge, we could all become tyrants.
And yet the lessons of the Stanford Prison Experiment aren’t so clear-cut. From the beginning, the study has been haunted by ambiguity. Even as it suggests that ordinary people harbor ugly potentialities, it also testifies to the way our circumstances shape our behavior. Was the study about our individual fallibility, or about broken institutions?
If you read the entire article, you’ll find that about a third of the guards ‘went rogue’ and treated the prisoners quite badly. You will also find out that Zimbardo himself was caught up in the supposed role play, as in this quote: (emphasis mine again):
They highlight a real-life conversation in which another psychologist asks Zimbardo whether he has an “independent variable.” In describing the study to his Stanford colleagues shortly after it ended, Zimbardo recalled that conversation: “To my surprise, I got really angry at him,” he said. “The security of my men and the stability of my prison was at stake, and I have to contend with this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong whose only concern was for a ridiculous thing like an independent variable. The next thing he’d be asking me about was rehabilitation programs, the dummy! It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized how far into the experiment I was at that point.”
Zimbardo’s book also covers other experiments on manipulating ordinary people to do bad things. Highly recommended.
On a related point, there is a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ whereby the captured begin to feel that their captors are correct in holding them. You can easily google this; here is a link to a BBC News page as an example.
I think this generalizes, as follows: any repeatedly enforced or encouraged situation becomes seen as normal. If patronage is rampant, expect patronage. If brutal guard behaviour is the norm, then a good guard will so behave. If getting a conviction at all costs is considered teamwork, do what it takes.
Back to the police officers. As in the Stanford Prison Experiment, perjury and the obstruction of justice may not be universal behaviours. However, it also appears not to be rare, and not to be confined to neophyte officers.
I submit that it is not ‘a few bad apples,’ but rather, that it is an unfortunately bad barrel.
Now for the dumb questions:
Do you agree? If so, post here saying that.
Do you disagree? If so, post your reasoning here.
As always, coherent responses that contain real eMail addresses will be approved. eMail addresses will never be revealed. But if you can’t provide a real address, you won’t be taken seriously on this blog. Fair enough?
A final comment. It has been pointed out that a similar ad, omitting the word ‘prison,’ collected individuals with less likelihood of becoming withdrawn or aggressive. I submit that the process of self-selecting for police work biases the candidate group to those who enjoy wielding authority. How could it not? Is this tempered by ‘to Serve and Protect?’
And that’s the last dumb question, for this post at least.