"Why Not Everyone Is A Torturer" By Oliver Behrensdorff

Topics: Morality, Stanford prison experiment, Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse Pages: 4 (1205 words) Published: December 3, 2013
Why Not Everyone Is A Torturer

- Oliver Behrensdorff

What are the causes of atrocity events such as the massacre at My Lai, the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib or the extermination of Jews during World War II? Whether groups of people bestowed with unaccountable power naturally resort to violence or not, the subject is indeed controversial. Arguably, the less restrictions that one must follow, the higher the risk becomes of one to condone violence. However, how can we explain war crimes and acts of torture? Is the most decisive factor leadership, group behavior, or culture? Psychologists Stephen Reicher and Alex Haslam assess this exact debate in the article “Why Not Everyone Is A Torturer”, and thus attempt to understand the background of war crimes and torture. In addition to this discussion, Philip G. Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment depicts similar outcomes, which were subsequently endorsed by the two psychologists. Nearly everyone has the capacity to commit acts of evil, given the right conditions, but what keeps a minority of people in check even under extremely stressful circumstances is their learned sense of morality and ability to distinguish right from wrong. People dissociate themselves from perpetrators of evil acts due to the claim that those perpetrators are monsters with disturbed minds. One of the main statements in the article is that this mistaken notion has been rebutted by a series of major studies including the Stanford Prison Experiment. This study confirmed that even well-adjusted people, when divided into groups with contrasting powers could become abusive and violent. Although every human shares the capacity to behave in evil ways, there is a variation of factors that endorses them to do so. One of the main factors is whether a given instruction is overtly or tacitly endorsed, which also explains the different outcomes of the BBC and the Stanford study. Moreover, the article underlines how groups can...
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