Why Are People Able to Commit Acts of Terror

Topics: Stanford prison experiment, Milgram experiment, Sociology Pages: 5 (1994 words) Published: April 17, 2014
Why Are People Capable of Committing Acts of Terror

We are socialized right from the beginning. Socialization is the modification of an individual’s behavior to conform with the demands of social life. Once we are born, our society and culture already helps define certain aspects of ourselves. As we grow older, we assimilate more of the culture into our own identity. During this process, we also learn of moral values, what is right and wrong or how an action could only be appropriate in a certain setting. If we all learn from the start what is right or wrong as well-socialized people in society, how is it that there are still people who commit acts of terror? When we interact with people in society, we are constantly adding new layers to our own personality and thought to conform with society and their norms. Since we are used to trying to fit in to our society and culture through interaction, it is easy to adapt to new situations where we may have to commit horrific acts as we conform to our surroundings.

The first reason as to why normal, well-socialized and educated people could commit horrific acts is because we get caught up in the roles of our lives. By constantly trying to fulfill the different roles we play in society, we sometimes lose our own identity. The lifestyle that we currently live with does not help with this situation as well. According to German sociologist Georg Simmel, the type of lifestyle we live in affects the way we perceive things or react to things. When living in a rural area, the “rhythm of life and sensory mental imagery flows more slowly, more habitually, and more evenly” (Simmel). Due to the slow pace lifestyle in rural areas, we react more with our heart. In contrast, urban lifestyle is more fast-paced and frantic. In order to keep up with our surroundings we have to think in a more logical and 'rational manner' (Wilsey) and also have a heightened awareness. This is what Simmel called the Metropolitan Attitude. We have different roles to play based on the situation. In one social circle, a person could be a mother, and in another circle, she could be the leader of an organization. Trying to find a balance between all the different roles we have to play may be hard. Attempting to fit in the whatever situation we are in could make us more susceptible to committing acts of terror.

During the Stanford Jail psychology experiment conducted by Zimbardo, it revealed just how easily people could adapt to a new situation and a new role given the right circumstances. This experiment shows the process of a “normal and average” person becoming a prisoner and a jailer. One of the goals of this experiment was to also see how we go from ourselves with our identity and our names to being prisoners with numbers as identification; what it takes to understand the process by which prisoners become prisoners and how long it takes for them to lose their identities. Right at the very start, the prisoner test subjects were treated as prisoners. They were escorted out of their house in handcuffs, given numbers and uniforms that dehumanized and de-individualized them. “Within a very short time both guards and prisoners were settling into their new roles, the guards adopting theirs quickly and easily” (McLeod, Zimbardo). Being suddenly ripped from your normal life and thrust into an unknown situation, despite knowing to be part of a psychology experiment, we are forced to adapt to survive. For a short period of time, those people regarded their jail situation to be their life. They get so caught up in their roles they lose the previous identity that they had. The way that the prisoners “discussed escape plans, the awful food, grievances or ingratiation tactics to use with specific guards in order to get a cigarette, permission to go to the toilet or some other favor” (Zimbardo). This removes from the reality and cements their role and identity within the temporary jail house.

One reason why it was easy...

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Simmel, George. "The Metropolis and Mental Life." Introduction to Historical Sociology and the Social Sciences. Boston: Pearson, 1997. 38-42. Print.
Wilsey, Matthew. "The Metropolis and Mental Life." The Modernism Lab. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. .
Zimbardo, Philip, Craig Haney, David Jaffe, and W.Curtis Banks. "The Mind Is a Formidable Jailer." Introduction to Historical Sociology and the Social Sciences. Boston: Pearson, 1997. 52-62. Print.
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