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Trump and Media's Stanford Experiment

Trump and Media's Stanford Experiment

Most people don’t know who Philip Zimbardo is. I learned about him when I accidentally stumbled on a book that talked about the famous Stanford Prisoner experiment that Zimbardo conducted at the Stanford University in 1971. This experiment showed that people’s behavior is not strictly only a reflection of their personality. It is also directly related to the situation and the environment. This felt counter-intuitive to me, which is not surprising, since our whole cultural belief system (regardless where you come from) supports the fallacy that we alone are responsible for our own behavior, ignoring the outside influences.

Zimbardo’s experiment provided a disturbing insight in how the human psyche conforms to the given circumstances. Modern cultures believe that people can be segregated into two basic groups. Good and bad. We all like to think that we belong to the former group. Religions tell us that good people go to heaven and that bad people pay for their sins. They tell us that we are capable of making decisions that will ultimately seal our faiths at the day of the reckoning.  If we choose to behave badly than inferno is where we will spend eternity.

For his experiment, Zimbardo recruited volunteers to act as prisoners and prison guards. Experiment was designed to be as realistic as possible in order to assess behavior of people when put in the imprisonment atmosphere (the experiment was funded by the US Navy and I am assuming they wanted to know how the soldiers would behave in presence of war prisoners and vice versa, what would happen if they were captured by the enemy?)

To make the experiment as real as possible volunteer prison guards “arrested” the volunteer prisoners in the middle of the night. When they were brought to the “prison” they were stripped and given uniforms. As the days passed guards exhorted authoritarian power over the prisoners and the prisoners passively accepted this psychological abuse and the situation became pretty realistic, complete with a prison break attempt, a hunger strike and depression signs in one of the prisoner. The situation became so realistic that Zimbardo inserted himself in the experiment succumbing to the reality of the roles and his future wife and also a doctor in psychology had to show him how far the experiment had gone in order for him to stop the experiment after six days.

Prison guards were never given any instructions about how they should behave or treat the prisoners so their behavior unraveled itself without any outside influence. The situation itself imposed itself onto the participants’ psyche and they acted as if they were truly in power and in charge and conversely truly imprisoned and inferior. Years later Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse case prompted professor Zimbardo to write a book Lucifer Effect where he draws on the biblical story of Lucifer’s transformation to Satan where he explains how good people can turn evil.

Since Trump has given the hate talk main stream appeal and media helped to propagate it by giving him a public platform where he can express his views, we have seen spread of hate crimes. Media is quick to diffuse the acknowledgment of said crimes; especially the ones directed at US citizens of Islamic faith, visitors who are obviously Muslim, Black and Hispanic people.

Zimbardo’s experiment seems to speak about the reality where a particular group of people in America is suddenly given a role of vigilant citizens defending freedom and the others who are cast as those who came to spread their backwards-cultural views. This hate platform applies to many different situations, man versus women in the workplace, Americans versus Mexicans, Christians versus Muslims, Whites versus Blacks.  It is scary that many are now enabled and even encouraged to act and speak freely about “dangers” and “unequivocal perils” of diversity in the United States. They are permitted to call people with Latin American national background, followers of Islamic faith and African-Americans murderers and terrorists and rapists. 

We have become victims of our own desire to bring forth all the news, any news into the public eye. Too much information has perhaps become, well, too much. The line between neutrality and truth is blurred and we have started acknowledging hate talk as part of the freedom to express our views, in this case any views, even the murderous ones. We have become enablers in creating the environment, which helps shape peoples’ personalities, allowing them to draw on the dark, very alluring thoughts, that we alone are right, that we alone matter. No longer our prejudice and behavior is about the choice each of us individually makes, the choice we make now is coming from the power and enablement we receive through media and from what a potential president of the United States is propagating.

 

Trump has unconsciously caused our whole nation to participate in the Stanford experiment.  His followers are now given power and encouragement to do what is necessary to “Make America Grate Again”. The rest of us are cast as prisoners, passively waiting for the outcome.

 

Question I have is, how do we drown his voice now?

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