[FOUNTAIN]Humanity has demonstrated its cruel waysMaybe men are inherently evil. If so, their evil nature is apparent from the photos that depict the cruelty at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In 1971, Stanford University professor Philip Zimbardo conducted a notorious experiment on perfectly sane college students to study the psychology of imprisonment. The study effectively proved that evil triumphs over good.
It was a role-playing experiment where each student was given a role of either a prisoner or a warden. With advice from the police, jails and prisoners, the research team simulated a prison environment at the school.
Students who played wardens wore khaki uniforms and sunglasses and brandished clubs to guard the inmates. Those who played prisoners were arrested, handcuffed, bound with ropes, fingerprinted, stripped naked and sprayed with disinfectant.
The experiment, which was supposed to last two weeks, ended after six days because the wardens became sadistic and the prisoners became depressed.
Dr. Zimbardo reached the conclusion that when given an absolute control over a powerless group, those in charge would become cruel and even enjoy the acts of cruelty.
Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt had a similar sentiment as she watched the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi leader who played a major role in Holocaust. In her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” she wrote that what made her shudder the most was that the face of an evil was so banal. Private Lynndie England, one of the suspects of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse, also looks like a banal, small-town girl.
Cruelty revealed itself in the dramatic situation of the Iraq war, at a prison where some people had absolute control over other men, in the most humiliating, destructive form of torture.
The problem is the mass insensibility, indulgence in cruelty and absence of the sense of guilt. In the photos, Private England triumphantly smiled. American GIs proudly exchanged the photos as souvenirs. The U.S. soldiers treated the Iraqi prisoners as lower beings. They are the ones who were taught that Iraq was part of the axis of evil.
When Confucian philosopher Xunzi said all men were inherently evil, he wasn’t criticizing this nature. Instead, he was emphasizing the importance of the process of socialization ruled by the law.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.