5 December 2011
The Lucifer Effect: Within
“1. We are totally free. That is, we are not determined by heredity or environment.
2. Since there is no God to define our being, we must define our essence.
3. We are completely responsible for our actions and we are responsible for prescribing a moral philosophy for everyone else too. We create our morality.
4. Because of the death of God and the human predicament, which leaves us totally free to create our values, we must exist in anguish, forlornness, and despair.
5. Yet we should celebrate the fact that we are creators of our essence and our values.”
~ Jean-Paul Sartre
These are the principles of Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre is known as one of many brilliant philosophers who offer new ways of thinking concerning human nature and religion. These two ideals go hand in hand in most cases. Sartre approaches the concept of human nature from a different angle — a realistic angle. While many may look to religion to answer their questions on morality, Sartre turns to the self. It is a rare gift, in my opinion, to have the courage to accept your own wrongs and to embrace your own rights. So many of us overlook both and wrong and right when we are at the center of these opposing forces. What is considered wrong? What is considered right? Without religion, who do we have to answer these questions? We have ourselves.
In the view of Sartre, we have only ourselves to blame, and only ourselves to build up. We can “create our morality” (Pojman 681), as he says. This is a powerful statement, saying that we are actually in control of our actions and in control of the decisions that lead up to our actions. To think that there is no God to light our way through dark indecision was a very modern way of thinking on Sartre’s part. It was a new way of approaching the complex web of human behavior and the question behind any immoral action. I believe that this way of thinking is the strongest and the most useful way of thought when it comes to analyzing human behavior. We cannot let outside factors take all of the blame for individuals who have the capability to make their own decisions. However, while Sartre believes that your own actions warrant your own attention, psychologist Philip Zimbardo believes otherwise. Zimbardo, author of the book The Lucifer Effect and pioneer of the Stanford Prison Experiment, explores human nature and what could possibly drive someone to make decisions such as forcing prisoners to masturbate in front of them, sexually deceiving young employees of fast food chains, and taking live role-playing to a new and dangerous level.
Zimbardo believes that these decisions do not fall solely on the individual who made them, but on the environment surrounding them. Zimbardo thinks that if an environment or situation provides stressful enough conditions on the individual, this can be the cause for such extreme and sometimes appallingly immoral actions. This line of thought, however, is always tagged with the reassurance that Zimbardo does not excuse the actions of such individuals. He explains that he merely believed the principle that the source of the problem is not a bad apple, as he puts it, but a bad barrel. This concept, although he claims is not an excuse for rather disgusting human behavior, provides a cop-out for those individuals who perform such unspeakable actions against other human beings. Human nature and behavior is complicated because we are human. We do have the capacity, however, to reason and to put that reason behind our actions unlike other animals. This, I would think, makes actions such as those exhibited in Abu Ghraib (Sadam Hussein’s former torture facility and current U.S run prison in Iraq) all the more shocking and all the more centered on the individuals who performed those actions. CBS’s 60 minutes did a story on the events in Abu Ghraib and pointed out that our own