The Psychology of Evil

On Zimbardo, Rape, and India’s Daughter

I remember having studied Zimbardo’s contribution to Psychology in my Social Psychology Class last year. But apart from how unethical his research was, I sparsely remembered much. But it wasn’t until now when I revisited his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment and other works for a Seminar Paper, that I understood how very relevant him and his ideas still hold true.

A recent BBC documentary called India’s Daughter has been making waves in social media today. Many have been shocked at the things some of the people had said, how they justify the rape- how the girl derserved being raped. Many cannot believe the horrible crime that it turned out to be- not just mere rape (nothing about rape is mere), but murder!

While I do not want to go into details about the event, I do want to explore what went wrong.

Some of the rapists were on drugs and alcohol- which means they were clearly uninhibited and aggressive. Who prescribed drugs to them? Who sold it to them? They are also to be blamed.

The juvenile hadn’t been home for two years. His mother reported that his family had assumed he was dead. She also reported that they hadn’t eaten anything except tea for a couple of days. The erstwhile juvenile had run away, to survive. What happened to poverty reduction? What happened to provision of fulfilling basic needs to people? Why are his parents to be blamed?

Zimbardo aggressively opines that it is not just a few bad apples. It is the bad barrel. It is not the person- it is the combination of circumstances and the system. It is the system to be blamed, more than the rapists. The system which allows people to look for recreations in harming other people. The system which lets people go hungry, the system which fails to detect consumption of illegal drugs. The system which lets people to believe that they have the right to teach somebody a lesson. The system that tells men that women are inferior to them, that she needs protection against being plucked by a thorn. The system that tells men that they are right, they are superior, they are worth making sacrifices for. The system that tells the female that she is nothing without the man- a man who raped an innocent, and has been given a death sentence. The system which lets a man of power to say that the culture has no place for women.

When I condemn my male counterparts- or females- as being sexist, it was always for the little things. How they had tailored their aspirations and interests to fit in with the gender roles. Little did I know that the extent of sexism in our society was so pervasive and so intrinsically woven into our psyche, that there would be males who think that rape is justified if a woman gets out of her house with a male who is not her family on a date; or if she stands up for what she believes is true.

So when Zimbardo talks about ascribing symbols of power to a select few, it is true- the few who are randomly chosen into being a male, being born in a particular socioeconomic status, into a particular religion even. And when these few start with little acts of evil– stealing candy from their little sister, and aren’t stopped, they move on to bigger acts- catcalling, Eve Teasing, stealing. The documentary said that the accused had already picked fights, being in fight clubs, and assaulting other men. When they were not punished for it, they continued to bigger acts of evil.

Zimbardo talks about dehumanization and infrahumanization– looking at the other person as less than human, less than unique, as an object. This is obviously the case with women in the country. She’s collectively perceived as not being worth it, as if less than human- inferior. That perception is enough to commit acts of evil upon her, without feeling remorse.

He also talks about creating an ideology where the ends justify the means, which is apparent in the idea of ‘teaching her a lesson’. The means of raping her has been justified by the end of teaching her this lesson, which was very important to them. These evil ends are seen as acts of necessary evil. Related is the idea of obeying to a lawful authority, which propagates these ideas. I assume this is the culture, the religion to which the rapists identify- perhaps which dictates, “Women have no place in this culture”. This is further enhanced with socially important figures recognizing the act and propagating it- as many political leaders, important bureaucrats, and Godmen often are quoted as saying.

Where is it stemming from? The place culture stem from- the minds of a select few, the ones who give themselves the authority, the ones who have the dichotomous vision of good and bad- the ones who refuse to see the shades of grey. This evil stems from the men who ascribe themselves power, at least over the five women he encounters- his mother, his sister, his wife, his daughter, and by extension, the other women he encounters. It stems from the woman who refuses to voice her opinion, whose voice has been subdued by the others, who gave up her fight to prioritize for others. The evil stems from those who have been a silent spectator while evil occurs- in the movies, when the hero doesn’t take no for an answer and follows the heroine around, at home when our mothers give in when she’s fighting with our fathers about trivial things, on the road when a drunken man beats his wife and child. The evil stems from conformity. The evil stems from you and me.


About TheBlackWallflower

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