Whenever I encounter a systems problem dressed up as individual failing, I look for patterns in the collective situation. In this case, I browsed my library of Fortune magazines running back 30 years. But I didn't need to go back that far.
When it comes to research into human behavior in groups, one of the most notable, foundational studies is the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. While it was scheduled to last longer, the experiment was cut short after six days when the guards began to abuse the prisoners.
What is special about the The Stanford Prison Experiment movie is the way it enables viewers to look through the observation window as if they were part of the prison staff watching this remarkable drama slowly unfold, and simultaneously observe those observers as well.
Unlike most filmic reenactments of real-life events in which considerable poetic license is taken to punch up the drama, none is needed for this film because the subjects themselves produced enough gravitas to keep the narrative arc moving toward its shattering conclusion.
God bless America. Flags wave, fireworks burst on the horizon. Aren't we terrific? But this idea we celebrate -- this nation, this principled union of humanity -- is just a military bureaucracy, full of dark secrets.
I believe that our young anti-authoritarians -- our potential heroes -- have far less of a need for hero courses in their schools than a need for help in battling against the systemic, authoritarian aspects of their schools.
Trained in the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military interrogators and guards who tortured and dehumanized prisoners in U.S. custody after 9/11 were hardly without ethical bearings.
Violence and evil are no strangers to our world, and they are never going away. However, if we learn to recognize the sources of derelict behavior, we may be able to intervene and prevent good people from making tragic decisions.
As a child in Romania, I watched the Communist authorities come into our house and pull my grandfather from my grandmother's arms -- taking him to a prison where he was eventually kicked to death by a guard.
Evil is not simple and does not fit in a box; it manifests itself in many shapes and forms, from the victim who becomes a torturer, the Nazi who follows orders, and the psychopath who kills without remorse, to the bystander who remains silent in the face of terrible injustice.
Just as Phil Zimbardo talks about the slippery slope of evil that begins with the subject mindlessly taking the first step toward aggression through a seemingly minor action, when mobbing begins, workers are not initially encouraged to be cruel to the targeted worker.
We need to interconnect alternative stories so that they create a coherent whole -- a new, larger story, that will offer the requisite amount of social cohesion on the one hand, and openness and hope on the other.