Monday, December 09, 2013
A Critique of Two Experiments Conducted by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo: A Sufi's Critical Exploration into the Issue of Ceding Agency
One of the basic reasons why the world is in the social, political, militaristic, media, economic, educational and religious mess it is in is because all too many people, almost everywhere, are prepared to cede their moral, intellectual, and spiritual agency to other people (e.g., politicians, leaders, teachers, officers, journalists, executives). Two individuals -- namely, Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo -- who thought, each in his own way, they understood why people are inclined to cede their moral and intellectual agency to other people were both -- each in his own way -- wrong. The following essay critically examines two classic psychological experiments (the Milgram 'learning' experiment and the Stanford prisoner experiment) and shows how Milgram and Zimbardo were not only wrong with respect to their theoretical interpretation of their own experiments but, as well, didn't even really understand the dynamics that occurred within their own experiments. In addition, the principles that are developed during the critical inquiry which takes place below will be used to analyze central problems within democracies and republics ... problems that tend to create dysfunctional, power-based relationships between centralized forms of governance and the individuals who fall under the shadowy purview of such political entities.
The social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, ran a controversial experiment at Yale in the early 1960s. The nature of the experiment was such that within the context of the research environment of the last thirty years, Professor Milgram’s idea probably would not have secured the necessary approval by the ethics committees that have oversight with respect to the sorts of experimental projects that are permitted to be conducted in the world of academia.
I didn’t know Professor Milgram, but my time at Harvard overlapped with some of the time when he was at Harvard seeking tenure. Unknowingly, I might have crossed paths with him in the hallways or in the library of the Department of Social Relations, or ridden with him on the elevators of the recently – at the time -- completed William James Hall that housed the Department of Social Relations.
I did have at least three different forms of one-degree of separation with Professor Milgram. For instance, my undergraduate thesis advisor was Robert White who was one of the faculty members at Harvard who strongly opposed Professor Milgram’s gaining tenure at the university. Secondly, one of the members of my thesis examination committee was Robert Rosenthal who was awarded tenure in preference to Stanley Milgram even though Professor Rosenthal wasn’t actually seeking tenure at the time. Thirdly, I took a course with Paul Hollander who was one of Professor Milgram’s closest friends at Harvard.
All of the foregoing pieces of information are really not apropos with respect to much of anything except, perhaps, as historical detritus that has been sloughed off by my life. The fact of the matter is – and, even though, I did take a course in social psychology -- I don’t recall that Stanley Milgram’s name ever came up in class … although that was nearly 50 years ago and my memory might have incurred some gaps during the interim period.
During the 1980s, when I taught various courses in psychology at a community college in Canada, I began to introduce my students to the Milgram ‘learning’ experiment. In addition to providing them with the actual details of the experiment, I also showed a dramatized version (The Tenth Level – 1975) of Professor Milgram’s project which starred William Shatner, Ossie Davis, and Estelle Parsons, as well as featured the television debuts of Stephen Macht, Lindsay Crouse and John Travolta.
When I later taught psychology at a university in the United States, I continued to introduce students to Professor Milgram’s ‘learning experiment. However, I substituted the educational-documentary film: ‘Obedience,’ which was done in conjunction with Professor Milgram, rather than use the aforementioned docudrama The Tenth Level.
The reason I made the switch was due to several factors. First, for whatever reason, The Tenth Level film is very difficult to acquire … although a multi-part edition of it has surfaced on YouTube. In addition, the ‘Obedience’ film is shorter by nearly an hour – which makes it easier to fit into class time -- and, since Stanley Milgram introduces the documentary and does the voice-overs, the ‘Obedience’ film is more authentic than The Tenth Level documentary.
One of the criticisms that have been directed at Professor Milgram’s ‘learning/memory’ experiment is that it wasn’t based on a specific hypothesis which might be proved or disproved by the data generated from such an experiment. Instead, he had an idea for an experiment and wanted to see where it would lead.
Professor Milgram did write a 1963 article concerning the experiment that was published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Moreover, 11 years later he wrote a book entitled: Obedience to Authority, which sought to provide a more in-depth look at his research.
However, the foregoing written efforts were more of a post-experimental attempt to rationalize his experiment within the framework of social psychology. He came up with his theory concerning the role which he believed the psychological phenomenon of obedience played in his ‘learning’ experiment after the fact of the experiment rather than before his research began.
Prior to his experiment, Professor Milgram was interested in certain political and ethical questions … e.g., he wondered what went on, morally and socially speaking, with people like Adolf Eichmann and the others who helped bring about the Holocaust. Nonetheless, while those sorts of questions might have shaped the structural character of his experiment to varying degrees, the nature of the relationship between his moral/political/social interests and the outcome of his experiment was rather diffuse and amorphous.
Professor Milgram didn’t have a prediction concerning how his experiment would turn out. In other words, he didn’t have a particular thesis that he was trying to prove, but he hoped his experiment would shed light on some of the questions he had concerning ethical and social issues that, along with other times and places, arose during the Second World War in Germany.
Later in this essay, I will come back to Professor Milgram’s theory that the mechanism at work in his experiment had to do with ‘obedience’. I think he was wrong on that count, but the reasons why I believe this will have to wait until after an outline of his learning experiment is provided.
The initial ‘learning’ experiments began in July of 1961 and were run on the campus of Yale University. He placed advertisements in a newspaper inviting people from the general public in the New Haven area to participate in a study on memory and learning, and, as well, the public announcement was sent directly to people whose names had been taken from an area phone book.
The announcement indicated that participants would receive $4.50 (50 cents of the total was for carfare) for one hour of their time and that no special training or knowledge was necessary to qualify for the proposed learning/memory project. Furthermore, the advertisement indicated that Professor Milgram was looking for people who were between the ages of 20 and 50 and who represented a variety of economic backgrounds, ranging from: construction workers and barbers, to: clerks and city workers.
Once people began responding to the public announcement/advertisement, people were selected to provide a somewhat randomized sample with respect to age, educational background, and occupation. Because not enough people were attracted through the newspaper announcement, the participant pool for the experiment had to be supplemented with individuals who had been contacted through a direct mailing.
One at a time, interested individuals were given directions to the Interaction Laboratory at Yale University. A time for the learning/memory experiment was set for each participant.
When a person showed up at the appointed time, the individual would be met by two individuals. One of the latter two individuals would be introduced as a fellow participant in the experiment, while the other individual introduced himself as the individual who would be conducting the experiment.
The experimenter would, then, proceed to give a standard, prepared overview of the experiment. This introduction indicated there were several theories about learning and memory which were detailed in an official looking textbook concerning those topics that was showed to the two participants.
Furthermore, the individual conducting the experiment went on to indicate that not much was known about the impact which punishment had on learning and, therefore, the current experiment had been designed to investigate that issue. Consequently, the two participants would take on the role of either a learner or teacher.
Words like: ‘Teacher’ or “Learner,’ were written on two pieces of paper and each of the experimental subjects would select one of the pieces of paper. Once the identity had been established concerning who would be the teacher and who would be the learner, the experimenter took them through the general structure of the experiment.
First, the three individuals went into the ‘learning’ room. An electric-chair-like apparatus was in the room, and before the ‘learner’ was strapped into the chair, the person who would be doing the ‘teaching’ was given an opportunity to feel what a relatively low level shock felt like.
The level of the shock was always 45 volts. This was the third lowest shock possible among the 30 levels of voltage.
Afterwards, the ‘learner’ was secured in the chair, and the ‘learner’ and ‘teacher’ were informed that the straps were to ensure that there was no excessive movement by the ‘learner’ when shocks were delivered in relation to incorrect responses. Conducting paste was applied to the electrode attached to the wrist of the ‘learner’ with the comment that the paste was necessary “to avoid blisters and burns” if, or when, shocks were delivered by the ‘teacher.’
In response to questions from the ‘learner’ concerning the strength of the shocks that might be received, the two participants were told that: “Although the shocks can be extremely painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage.”
Next, the person conducting the experiment would explain the nature of the learning/memory task. It was a paired-word-association test.
More specifically, the ‘teacher’ would first read off a list of four paired word items – such as: ‘blue/box,’ ‘nice/day,’ ‘wild/duck,’ ‘bright/light.’ During the testing phase, one of the foregoing words would be given by the ‘teacher,’ and the ‘learner’ would be required to produce the appropriate paired word from the original list of four groups of pairs … thus, if the ‘teacher’ said “wild,” the ‘learner’ should respond with ‘duck’.
If the ‘learner’s response was correct, the ‘teacher’ would move on to the next group of four word pairings. If the ‘learner’s’ response was incorrect, the ‘teacher’ would deliver a shock through the console apparatus that was in the ‘teacher’s’ room.
The console apparatus consisted of 30 toggle switches set at 15 volt increments. Therefore, the toggle switch on the left most side of the console was set at 15 volts, while the toggle switch on the far right side of the console indicated a charge of 450 volts.
In addition, there were various word-descriptors paired with some of the different levels of voltage charge. Running from left to right, these word descriptions went from: ‘slight shock’ up to: ‘severe shock’ and ‘XXX.
When one of the toggle switches was depressed, a number of things would happen. First, a small bulb above the switch would turn red, then an electrical-like buzzing sound would be heard, followed by: The flashing of a slightly larger blue light that was centered above the toggle switches and their accompanying bulbs and was labeled ‘voltage energizer’; a voltage meter indicator would swing to the right; and, finally, various relay-switching sounds would be heard.
When the ‘learner’ gave an incorrect response to the word-pairing association test, the ‘teacher’ was instructed to read out the level of the voltage which was being administered. The purpose of this instruction was to remind the ‘teacher’ what the level of the shock was that was being administered.
‘Teachers’ were told that if ‘learners’ were to make a sufficient number of mistakes, the ‘teacher’ should continue on through the 30 increments of shock to the final level of 450 volts – ‘XXX.’ If additional mistakes were made beyond the 450 volt level, then the ‘teacher’ would again depress the 450 volt toggle switch for each successive mistake, and this latter protocol would stay in effect for three more rounds of punishment at which point the experimental run would be terminated by the experimenter.
Whenever the ‘teacher’ displayed any reluctance – verbally or otherwise – to continue on with the experiment, the person conducting the experiment would issue verbal prompts to the ‘teacher’ to return to the experiment. For instance, the experimenter might say: (1) “Please go on;” Or, (2) “The experiment requires that you continue;” Or, (3) “It is absolutely essential that you continue;” Or, finally, (4) “You have no other choice, you must go on.”
The foregoing prompts would be used in sequence. The first prompt noted earlier would continue to be used as necessary until it no longer seemed to work. At that point, the second prompt would be employed until it no longer appeared to work at which point the third prompt would be used, and so on.
If, at some point, the ‘teacher’ stated words to the effect that the ‘learner’ did not seem to want to go on with the experiment, the individual conducting the experiment would respond with: “Whether the learner likes it or not, you must go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly. So please go on.”
During early pilot studies for Milgram’s learning experiment, no sounds could be heard from the ‘learner’s room. Under such circumstances, Milgram discovered that almost all of the participants were prepared to run through the entire array of 30 toggle switches with little, if any, hesitation.
When some sort of feedback came from the ‘learner’s’ room after a given level of shock was administered, the situation changed. When the ‘teachers’ heard grunts, cries, pounding, or protests from the ‘learner’s’ room, the ‘teachers’ would often begin to exhibit signs of reluctance with respect to continuing on giving progressively higher levels of shocks.
Nothing would be heard from the ‘learner’s’ room until the fifth round of shocks – 75 volts. At this point, a grunt of sorts could be heard.
Similar sounds could be heard from the ‘learner’s’ room at 90 and 115 volts after mistakes were made and the appropriate toggle switch was depressed. However, when the level of punishment reached 120 volts, the ‘learner’ could be heard to yell out that the shocks were painful.
Painful groans would emanate from the ‘learner’s’ room at 135 volts. At the tenth level – 150 volts – the ‘learner’ would be heard to say: “Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment anymore!”
As the volt level rose, the intensity of the protests coming from the ‘learner’s’ room also increased. At 180 volts, the ‘learner’ would be heard to say: “I can’t stand the pain,” and as the level of voltage works its way to 270 volts, there are screams of pain coming from the ‘learner’s’ room.
In addition, from 150 volts onward, the ‘learner’ indicates that he no longer wished to participate in the experiment. Finally, at 300 volts, the ‘learner’ would state that he will not answer any further questions.
When the ‘learner’ stopped responding to the word-pairing task, the ‘teacher’ would be informed by the person conducting the experiment that the absence of a response must be treated in the same way as if it were an incorrect answer. Therefore, if no word-pairing response were heard within a period of 20 to 30 seconds, the ‘teacher’ would be required to depress the next appropriate voltage switch when there was no response to a given word-pairing prompt.
Even when there was no response from the learner with respect to a given word-pairing task, sounds of pain would still be heard from the ‘learner’s’ room following the depressing of a toggle switch. This continued up to the 315 volt level when the ‘learner’ would scream out in pain and, then, once again indicated that he no longer wanted to participate in the experiment.
When volt levels above 330 volts were reached, the ‘learner’ would not be heard from again. This was true both with respect to the word-pairing prompts, as well as in relation to either screams of agony or protests of one sort or another.
Between 150 volts and 330 volts, if a ‘teacher’ asked whether, or not, the administering of shocks might lead to significant damage in the ‘learner’, such inquiries would be met with a standard reply by the person conducting the experiment. More specifically, the experimenter would say: “Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on.”
The primary measure for the ‘learning/memory’ experiment was the level of shocks which any given subject – ‘teacher’ -- was prepared to give before discontinuing with the experiment. Thus, the possibilities ranged from: ‘zero’ --when a person was not prepared to administer even one shock – to: 450 volts, when a person was prepared to continue depressing 30 successive toggle switches and deliver shocks until the experiment was concluded by the experimenter.
Three groups of individuals – namely, psychiatrists, college students, as well as middle-class adults who were from different occupational backgrounds – were asked to predict how they might have reacted if they had participated in the experiment as ‘teachers.’ This question was asked after they had been provided with an overview of the ‘learning/memory’ experiment.
The mean maximum shock level which the psychiatrists believed they might administer was 8.20, or a little over 120 volts. The college students and the middle-class adult group both indicated that they might have been ready to discontinue the experiment somewhere near the 135 volt level.
The foregoing three groups, along with several other groups (e.g., graduate students and faculty members from various departments of behavioral science) were asked to predict how any given sample of ‘teachers’ might react to the ‘learning/memory’ experiment. On the one hand, these groups of individuals tended to indicate that they thought most ‘teachers’ would not venture beyond the 150 volt or tenth level of shocks, and, on the other hand, the same groups indicated that they believed that only one or two individuals from any sample might be prepared to carry out the experiment through to the 450 volt level.
Although a number of different versions of the ‘learning/memory’ experiment were run at different times in order to study one or another variable (e.g., the physical proximity of the ‘teacher’ to the ‘learner and what, if any, impact such proximity might have on the actions of the ‘teacher.’), the basic experiment which has been outlined in the previous pages showed that, on average, 24 individuals out of a sample of 40 people (roughly 65 %) were prepared to continue the experiment until the 450-volt level and beyond. This result occurred again and again across differences of: gender, age, educational background and variation in occupations.
The individuals who continued on with the experiment until the very end often – but not always -- exhibited signs of: concern; uncertainty; agony; resistance, and anxiety during the course of the experiment. In addition, these same individuals often – but not always -- showed signs of relief, and, as a result, displayed indicators of releasing tension in a variety of ways (e.g., sighs, fumbling with cigarettes, and/or mopping their brows) once the experiment had been concluded.
However, there were some individuals within any given sample who would remain relatively calm both during the experiment and after the experiment concluded. These individuals showed little, or no, discomfort throughout the entire process.
Four versions of the foregoing experiment were run by Professor Milgram to study the manner in which varying degrees of proximity might affect the actions of ‘teachers’. In general, Professor Milgram found that the more proximate the relationship between the ‘learner’ and the ‘teacher’ was, the more likely it was that ‘teachers’ were prepared to discontinue the experiment prior to its conclusion.
However, even in the most physically proximate of these experimental variations – that is, in the case when a ‘teacher’ was required to forcibly hold the hand of the ‘learner’ on a metal plate as a shock was administered – nonetheless, there were still 30 percent of the individuals (12 people) in different samples of 40 individuals who were prepared to see the experiment through until the experiment was brought to a halt by the individual conducting the experiment. Moreover, 16 of the 40 individuals in these proximity experiments were willing to administer shocks by holding a ‘learner’s’ hand to a plate through to the 150 volt level, while 11 others were, to varying degrees, willing to continue on above the 150-volt threshold despite cries of agony and protests from the ‘learner.’
The foregoing results have been replicated in a number of other countries. In other words, the Milgram experiment is not merely a reflection of American society, but, rather, the experiment seems to given expression to behavior that is common in a variety of different societies.
The people – whether psychiatrists, undergraduates, graduate students, faculty members in departments of behavioral science, or middle-class adults – who had been asked to estimate how ‘teachers’ would respond in the ‘learning/memory’ experiment were all wrong … substantially so. Almost all of the aforementioned groups of individuals had indicated that the ‘teachers’ likely would be prepared to break off from the experiment somewhere in the vicinity between 120 and 150 volts, or slightly higher, and almost all of them indicated that only 1 or 2 individuals across a set of samples might be prepared to continue on with the experiment until the 450-volt level.
Shockingly, when the ‘learner’ was in a separate room, nearly two-thirds of the ‘teachers’ were prepared to carry on with the experiment until the bitter end. Furthermore, even in the experimental variation in which ‘teachers’ were required to hold a ‘learner’s’ hand down on a metal plate in order to deliver a shock, 30 percent of the ‘teachers’ were prepared to continue on with the experiment until its conclusion, and nearly two-thirds of the subjects – i.e., teachers – were ready to carry on with the experiment until the 150-volt level (the tenth level) despite the fact that the ‘learners’ had been giving indications of pain since the 75-volt level (the fifth level).
When the ‘learning/memory’ experiment was conducted in Bridgeport with no discernible connection to Yale University, the results were somewhat different than the experimental outcomes in the Yale laboratory. Approximately 48 % of the ‘teachers’ (about 19 people) were prepared to carry on with the experiment through to the 450-volt level, compared with 26 people in the experiments conducted at Yale.
There were additional variations of the ‘learning/memory’ experiment. ‘Teachers’ responded somewhat differently across such variations.
At the end of the experiment – irrespective of whether a subject opted out of the experiment at some point or carried on with it until the end – there was a debriefing period. During this phase of the research project, the subjects were let in on the actual nature of the experiment.
Among the things that the subjects were told was that the ‘learner’ never actually received any shocks. The only person to receive a shock during the experiment was the ‘subject’ when he or she was allowed to experience what a 45-volt – third level -- shock felt like prior to the point when the ‘learner’ was strapped into the ‘electric chair.’
In addition, subjects were told that they did not become the ‘teacher’ by chance. The process of determining who would be the ‘teacher’ and who would be the ‘learner’ had been rigged to make sure that the ‘subject’ – the one whose behavior was being studied during the experiment – would always be the ‘teacher’ … the one who administered the ‘shocks’.
During the debriefing process, subjects were also told that the ‘learner’ was a confederate of the experiment. That is, the learner was someone who was made to appear as if he were one of the experimental subjects, when, in fact, he was merely playing a role.
If a given subject had decided to opt out of the experiment before it reached its conclusion, that person was debriefed in a way that would lend support to that person’s decision to defy the experimental process. On the other hand, if a subject happened to be one of the individuals who went all the way to 450 volts, that individual was told that such behavior was ‘normal.’
While, statistically speaking, what the latter sorts of subjects were told might be true -- given that two-thirds of the subjects in the basic ‘learning/memory’ experiment continued on with the experiment to the 450-volt level -- Professor Milgram was continuing to manipulate the situation because at the time he ran the experiment he really didn’t know why subjects were doing what they were doing. The ‘obedience’ theory arose after the experiment had been completed.
Consequently, Professor Milgram not only had deceived the subjects prior to and during the experiment. He continued to deceive them – and, perhaps, himself – once the experiment had been concluded because he was feeding those subjects a story rooted not in understanding but in ignorance.
Is it really ‘normal’ for people to be willing to continue to administer what they are led to believe are very painful shocks? Is it really ‘normal’ for a psychologist to induce people to believe that they are administering such shocks and that they are being permitted by psychologists and a prestigious university to continue on with such a process?
Is it ‘normal’ for subjects to be told that they have been betrayed by a someone who operates from within a prestigious university and, then, told – by implication – that it is perfectly normal for those acts of betrayal to be perpetrated in relation to people outside the university? Is it really ‘normal’ for psychologists to induce people to behave in a pathological way and, then, for those people to be told that the behavior which has been manipulated into existence is a reflection of the subject’s behavior rather than a collaboration among the university, the psychologist, and the subjects in which the former two participants were fully informed, whereas the subjects were kept in the dark?
Whose behavior was really being reflected in the experiment? Was it primarily that of the subjects whose trust had been betrayed by the experimenters, or was it primarily the behavior of the experimenters who were engaged in deception, manipulation, and inducing people to commit pathological acts?
Irrespective of the results from any given variation on the basic ‘learning/memory’ experiment, Professor Milgram sought to explain the experimental outcomes from the same perspective. More specifically, Professor Milgram believed that the phenomenon manifested during the ‘learning/memory’ experiment was one of: ‘obedience.’
To explain the mechanism of ‘obedience,’ Professor Milgram refers to the idea of an ‘agentic shift’ which, according to him, occurs when people enter into an authority system. The phenomenological character of this shift involves a psychological/emotional journey from: viewing oneself as the source of the purposive agency of one’s acts, to: viewing oneself as serving the interests of another agent – the individual who represents authority or hierarchy of some kind.
Notwithstanding the foregoing considerations, it is not clear that the aforementioned shift in attitudes concerning agency is a function of a desire to be obedient due to the presence of a system of authority. One could acknowledge that some form of ‘agentic shift’ in attitude might be taking place as one switches from one situation (in which an individual acts as his or her own agent) to another situation (one in which the same individual serves the interests of some form of authority or hierarchy), but such a shift in agency might give expression to something other than a desire to be obedient in the presence of hierarchy and authority.
When someone defers to another individual’s perceived understanding, knowledge, or wisdom, the act of deferring is not necessarily a matter of displaying obedience. Rather, the individual who is doing the deferring is willing to cede his or her intellectual and/or moral agency to someone who the former person believes has relevant, superior knowledge in relation to a given situation.
The deference is not a matter of a person indicating that he or she will be obedient to the wishes of another individual. The deference is a matter of setting aside one’s own ideas with respect to how to go about engaging a certain situation and, as a result, being prepared to go along with the understanding of the individual whom one believes to have competency in a given matter.
There is a difference between ‘authoritativeness’ and ‘authority’ … although we are often taught to consider the latter to be a sign of the former. Ceding intellectual and moral agency to the perceived authoritativeness of another individual is not about the phenomenon of ‘obedience’ or ‘compliance’ but, instead, such a ceding process is a ‘coping strategy’ intended to produce the best moral and intellectual outcome with respect to a given set of circumstances.
In various articles, as well as in his book: Obedience to Authority, Professor Milgram argued that there is an evolutionary advantage to being obedient to authority and hierarchy. Actually, if there is any sort of evolutionary advantage to be considered, it is one in which ‘competency’ prevails in a situation and not, necessarily, authority or hierarchy per se.
One is inclined to suppose that historical evidence is likely to indicate that actual competency in any given situation might stand a better chance of leading to a survival advantage than does authority or hierarchy considered in and of themselves. Ceding moral and/or intellectual agency to another person is an epistemological process in which one is weighing one’s options with respect to attempting to successfully navigate a certain existential terrain with which one is confronted, whereas the issue of ‘obedience’ and ‘compliance’ has to do with someone’s belief that one is obligated to surrender one’s agency to the agenda of the person or persons who present themselves as authorities or who are representative of some sort of powerful hierarchy.
What is the relationship of an ‘average’ individual and a prestigious university like Yale with respect to the issue of taking part in a psychological experiment? Is Yale prestigious because it represents authority and hierarchy, or is Yale prestigious because people have come to believe – rightly or wrongly (and I state this latter possibility from the perspective of a Harvard graduate) – that people at Yale actually know something about the universe.
If someone at Yale says words to the effect that ‘although the shocks delivered will be painful, nonetheless, there will be no serious tissue damage which will result from such shocks’, does a subject exhibit obedience to such a statement because the experimenter is perceived to be an authority figure and a representative of a powerful hierarchy, or does a subject defer to such a statement because the subject believes that the experimenter knows what he or she is talking about, and, therefore, such presumed competence takes one off the moral and intellectual hook, so to speak, with respect to what constitutes appropriate behavior? Isn’t a subject weighing the likely competency of the experimenter and deferring to that, rather than becoming obedient to authority per se?
When a double-blind experiment is set-up in order to eliminate the possibility that either the expectations of the experimenter and/or the subjects will prejudice or bias the nature of the experimental outcomes, the purpose of taking such precautions does not necessarily have anything to do with issues of authority figures or hierarchies (although in some cases this might be so). Instead, those precautions are taken due to the fact that experimenters and subjects engage any given experimental setup through an epistemological or hermeneutical perspective and, as a result, epistemic or hermeneutical expectations concerning the nature of an experiment can distort or bias those understandings in a manner that taints experimental outcomes.
When I was an undergraduate, I participated in quite a few psychological experiments in exchange for much needed money. I don’t ever recall thinking that the experiments were being run by authority figures or members of a powerful hierarchy, and I don’t recall ever perceiving those people to be authority figures or members of a powerful hierarchy.
I do recall trusting those people to know what they were trying to accomplish. I do recall considering those individuals to be intelligent individuals who were trying to find out whether, or not, certain things were true.
When I participated in those experiments, I might have conceded some facet of my intellectual and moral agency to the experiment because I perceived the individuals running them to be competent researchers, but I had no idea where those people fit into the scheme of things with respect to issues of authority or hierarchy at Harvard.
I remember one experiment in which I participated as an undergraduate, and, to this day, I’m not really sure what those people were up to. There were two people, a man a woman, who introduced themselves as researchers of some kind … I forget what their credentials were – if they offered any at all.
I found out about the experiment from the same bulletin board that I found out about all the other experiments in which I took part. However, the ‘experiment’ was run in a private home in Cambridge rather than in a laboratory on the Harvard campus.
The nature of the experiment had a certain resonance with the Milgram experiment. Essentially, I was given a small device that delivered shocks, and I can assure you that the shocks were quite real.
Although the shocks were delivered by one of the two individuals present who were conducting the experiment, I was the one who was put in control of the level at which shocks could be administered. Once I had experienced one level of shock, I was asked if I would be willing to ‘advance’ to the next level.
The foregoing process went on for a number of rounds. I don’t know what the actual level of voltage was when I terminated the process, but it was strong enough to cause spasms in my hand where the shocks were administered.
Once I indicated that I had had enough, the ‘experiment’ was over. I was paid and went on my way.
Many years later I learned about the psychological experiments that the ‘Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski, had allegedly been involved in when he attended Harvard. Given the mysterious nature of the experiment outlined above, I wonder if I dodged a bullet of some kind since it is possible that Kaczynski was ‘recruited’ for the diabolical sorts of experiments that he subsequently endured by, first, volunteering for an experiment similar to the experiment which I encountered and which has been outlined above.
Whatever the actual intentions of the two individuals who conducted the foregoing experiment, I didn’t look at those people as authority figures or as individuals who were part of some sort of powerful hierarchy to whom I owed obedience. I had a strange job for which I was being paid, and I trusted that the two individuals would not place me in harm’s way … although there really was no reason for me to trust them other than the fact that they presented themselves as researchers, operated out of a very nice home, and I found out about them through a bulletin board at Harvard.
A public announcement concerning an experiment appears in a newspaper or such an announcement is received in the mail. The names: ‘Stanley Milgram’ and the ‘Department of Psychology’ at ‘Yale’ are mentioned in the announcement.
Why should anyone feel that she or he should be obedient in relation to any of those names? Stanley Milgram might have been projecting onto his subjects when he supposed that visions of authority and hierarchy would be dancing through the minds of those individuals when they responded to the announcement concerning the ‘learning/memory’ experiment.
When a subject shows up for the arranged experiment, he or she is not necessarily met by Stanley Milgram. Rather, the subjects are greeted by some ‘underling’ – who, unknown to the subjects, is actually a biology teacher from an area high school.
Is wearing a white lab coat at Yale University and carrying a clip board enough to induce someone to become obedient? Not necessarily, but it might be enough to induce a given ‘subject’ to be prepared to cede a certain amount of intellectual and moral agency to such a person who is likely to be perceived as possessing an understanding of the experiment being run and that when that person says ‘no serious tissue damage will result from the shocks’ being delivered during the experiment, one defers to such a statement because one believes (or hopes) the individual knows what he is talking about … and not because that person is an authority figure or the representative of a powerful hierarchy.
For example, Professor Milgram attempts to explain the difference in results (48 % versus 65 % of the subjects went to the 450-volt level) between the Bridgeport edition of the ‘learning/memory’ experiment and the Yale version of the same experiment as being due to the fact that one would expect that subjects would be less likely to be willing to be obedient to, or compliant with, a company – namely, Research Associates of Bridgeport – than they would be willing to be obedient to Yale University, a powerful institution. Alternatively, one also could explain the differences in experimental results between the two editions of the ‘learning/memory’ experiment by supposing that subjects might consider the members of Research Associates of Bridgeport to be less competent or knowledgeable (or less trustworthy) than researchers at Yale and, therefore, those subjects might be less willing to cede their intellectual and moral agency to the Bridgeport group than the Yale group, and, therefore, more willing to discontinue the experiment in the former case rather than in the latter instance.
Research Associates of Bridgeport – a complete unknown to subjects – might be considered to be willing to let people be injured during the course of an experiment … after all there are all too many businesses that will hurt people for the sake of profit. On the other hand, Yale University – a much better known entity – might be seen as an organization that would not be willing to let such things occur … or, so, the thinking might go.
None of the foregoing considerations necessarily has anything to do with issues of authority, hierarchy, or obedience. The foregoing issues have more to do with what is known or believed or trusted and, whether, or not, one believes that one can cede one’s intellectual or moral agency to someone without that ceding process being betrayed.
Throughout the Milgram ‘learning/experiment,’ subjects are assured that no harm will come to the ‘learners.’ Yes, the ‘learners’ might experience some painful shocks, but the subjects are always led to believe – whether implicitly or explicitly – that the ‘learners’ will be okay.
The issue is not ‘obedience’ but ‘trust’. People are more likely to be willing to cede their intellectual and moral agency when, in some manner, they trust the individual to whom that agency is being ceded.
The researchers at Yale were trusted because they were perceived to have competency with respect to the ‘learning/memory’ experiment, and this included such matters as whether, or not, anyone might be seriously harmed through that kind of an experiment. However, the point at which someone will retrieve the ceded intellectual and moral agency will vary from person to person.
Some people in the ‘learning/memory’ experiment were not prepared to let the experiment run very far before they decided that they – rather than the researchers at Yale University – should be the agents who decided how much pain was enough irrespective of what the experiment required. Other individuals were prepared to cede their moral and intellectual agency for a longer period of time … and some of these individuals were ready to continue ceding their moral and intellectual agency until the experiment was called off by the experimenters.
When subjects began to question whether, or not, it was wise to continue to cede their moral and intellectual agency to the researchers as a result of the feedback the ‘teachers’ were receiving from the ‘learners’ concerning the pain that was caused when the toggle switches were depressed, the person conducting the experiment was always present to reassure the subject in a calm, non-threatening manner, that the subjects needed to continue on with the experiment and, thereby, the experimenter sent the implicit message that everything was okay despite the reports of pain and protest from the ‘learner.’ Furthermore, when the ‘teachers’ mentioned the fact that the ‘learners’ were indicating that they did not want to participate in the experiment any longer, the person running the experiment indicated that the ‘learner’s’ wishes were irrelevant to the process, thereby, once again, sending a message to the ‘teacher’ that despite the pain and protests, it was okay to continue on with things since, implicitly, the experimenter was communicating the message that no one would be, hurt in any serious fashion, despite the cries and protests of the ‘learner’.
The struggle which ‘subjects’ went through in the Milgram ‘learning/memory’ experiment was not one of whether, or not, to remain obedient to an authority figure or to the representative of a powerful hierarchy. The struggle was about whether, or not, to continue ceding one’s moral and intellectual agency to someone who might not necessarily know what they were doing or to someone who might not be trustworthy with respect to protecting everyone’s interests.
The more that ‘learners’ howled with pain and protested the situation, the more ‘teachers’ were reminded of the nature of the problem with which the latter individuals were faced. Should they continue to cede their moral and intellectual authority to an individual who seemed indifferent to the pain being experienced by the ‘learner?’
Did it make sense to continue to trust that kind of an individual – i.e., the experimenter -- to be the keeper of the ‘teacher’s’ moral and intellectual agency? If, and when, an individual broke from the experiment and refused to continue on with the shocks, that person had reached the point where she or he had made the decision to reclaim the moral and intellectual agency which had been ceded to the experimenter at the beginning of the experiment.
Many of the subjects never reached that point. There might have been many reasons for their failure to reclaim their intellectual and moral agency.
For instance, a subject might be experiencing difficulties with: ‘self-image;’ or, not wanting to have to deal with the possible embarrassment which might be experienced because one chose to opt out of the experiment; or, not wanting to disappoint another individual; or, lack of assertiveness; or, the possibility that by opting out, one might be interfering with the acquisition of knowledge; or, the belief that one should finish a job for which one was being paid; or, not wanting to waste the time of the experimenter by failing to complete the experiment; or, not wanting to have to deal with the possible unpleasantness that might ensue from the conflict or hard feelings which might arise from not continuing on with the experiment. None of the foregoing factors necessarily has anything to do with issues of ‘obedience,’ ‘authority,’ or ‘hierarchy.’
When the biology teacher who played the ‘role’ of the experimenter witnessed the distress he was causing the ‘teachers’ by continually prompting the latter individuals to continue on in the experiment despite their obvious anguish and uncertainty with respect to causing the ‘learners’ pain, did that biology teacher continue on with what he was doing out of a sense of obedience to Stanley Milgram and Yale University? Surely, the whole experimental set-up would have been explained to him prior to the running of the experiment, and irrespective of whether, or not, the high school biology teacher was being paid for his participation or he was volunteering his services, he probably did not accept the job out of a sense of obedience to either Milgram or the university but did so for other reasons … reasons (such as curiosity, friendship, wanting a challenge, and so on) to which he conceded his intellectual and moral authority.
Even more to the point, Stanley Milgram did not continue on with witnessing the pain of the ‘teachers’ as they struggled with their moral and intellectual dilemma out of a sense of obedience to Yale University. He was pursuing his own research interests quite apart from issues of authority and hierarchy relative to Yale University.
Professor Milgram continued to shock his subjects in experiment after experiment after experiment via the moral and intellectual struggle to which he subjected them in the ‘learning/memory’ research project. He did so because he had conceded his intellectual and moral agency to pursuing a certain kind of research project, and this was done quite apart from issues of obedience, authority, or hierarchy.
What implications, if any, follow from the Milgram ‘learning/memory’ experiment with respect to the present book (The Unfinished Revolution: The Battle For America's Soul -- for a free copy of the aforementioned book, please go to: Free Book)? I believe the implications are many and quite direct.
Like the Milgram experiment, the American people have been deceived about and manipulated with respect to the nature of the allegedly democratic experiment that was given expression through the Philadelphia Constitution … and evidence supporting such a contention has been presented in the first seven chapters of this book. More specifically, the American people have been told that the constitutional process is an exercise in self-governance when nothing could be further from the truth since the ones conducting the experiment have near total control over what transpires within the framework of that experiment.
The reality of the situation is that the Philadelphia Constitution and its concomitant ratification process are an exercise in inducing the subjects in the democratic experiment (i.e., the people) to cede their moral and intellectual authority to the experimenters – that is, the individuals who are conducting the experiment (i.e., the government authorities). Once ceded, the experimenters make use of an elaborate console apparatus which has been constructed by the experimenters (the process of governance) to allow the people to deliver shocks to one another by flipping this or that switch of governance and constitutionally permitted legal maneuvering.
Like Milgram, the individuals conducting the American experiment in democracy, have – after the fact -- put forth the idea that the whole set up of governance is a function of the obedience and sense of obligation that people should feel in the presence of what has been described as “legitimate” authority and hierarchy. Moreover, like Milgram, the ones conducting the experiment in democracy, debrief the citizens in a way that is intended to persuade the latter individuals that being willing to depress toggle switches that those individuals believe will harm other people is quite ‘normal’ and that it is perfectly ‘normal’ for the ones conducting the experiment to permit this to happen and that it is perfectly ‘normal’ for the organizational framework within which this all transpires (Yale University in the case of Milgram and the Philadelphia Constitution in the case of the ones conducting the experiment in democracy) to permit that kind of pathology to continue.
Although the subjects in the Milgram experiment never actually administered any shocks – except to themselves – Milgram, himself administered all manner of emotional and psychological shocks to the individuals he had manipulated to participate in his experiment. Undoubtedly, Professor Milgram believed that the purposes for which the experiment was being conducted were noble ones … even if he didn’t actually understand what was going on while he was running his experiments.
Similarly, the individuals – e.g., Madison, Washington, Hamilton, and 53 other individuals who concocted the Philadelphia Constitution – believed that their purposes were noble ones – even if they – like Milgram -- didn’t necessarily understand what they were doing. Furthermore, like Milgram, the Founders/Framers were the ones who established a framework that would deliver shocks of various levels of severity to individuals (e.g., Blacks, women, Indians, the poor, the disenfranchised) and, like Professor Milgram, those Founders/Framers (along with their subsequent apologists) sought to rationalize such a set up by pointing to the noble intentions with which their project was supposedly undertaken.
Like the administrators at Yale University in the 1960s, the members of the Continental Congress, looked the other way and permitted something unethical to take place. In other words, just as the members of the Continental Congress permitted the provisions of the Articles of Confederation to be violated by illegitimately transferring the issues surrounding the Philadelphia Constitution over to the ratification process, the Yale University administrators permitted provisions of common, moral decency to be violated through the manner in which the Milgram experiment was allowed to deceive and manipulate people, as well as the manner in which those experiments put their subjects through emotional and psychological turmoil.
The subjects involved in the experiment set in motion through the Philadelphia Convention (i.e., ‘We the People’) have the same choice that the subjects had in the Milgram experiment. They can continue to cede their moral and intellectual authority to people who do not have their best interests at heart, or those subjects can defy the ones conducting the experiment and opt out of that process.
As is the case in the Milgram experiment, whenever subjects (i.e., citizens) exhibit doubts about the pain which is being inflicted on people via the experiment in democracy, those subjects are ‘handled’ through the presence of a representative of the experiment (in the form of: government officials, the educational system, the media, and/or the court system). Whenever subjects begin to harbor doubts and are considering the possibility of retrieving the moral and intellectual agency which they ceded at the beginning of the experiment, such handlers, like the biology teacher in the Milgram experiment, say: (1) ‘Please continue on;’ or, (2) ‘The experiment requires that you continue;’ or, (3) It is absolutely essential, that you continue;’ or, (4) ‘You have no other choice, you must go on;’ or, (5) ‘Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on;’ or (6) ‘Whether the learner likes it or not, you must go on until he has learned all the word pairs [of democracy] correctly.’
Like the biology teacher in the Milgram experiment, such ‘handlers’ of democracy use the foregoing prompts – as well as other similar ones -- in a calculated sequence of increasingly rationalized responses that are designed to prevent subjects from retrieving the moral and intellectual agency that such subjects ceded at the beginning of the experiment. The foregoing ‘handlers’ of democracy are like the sirens of The Odyssey, singing seductive songs of vested interests, responsibility, and duty in order to lure unsuspecting sailors (subjects, citizens) to serve the agenda of the ones who are conducting the experiment.
There are, of course, some differences between the Milgram experiment and the experiment in democracy being run through the console of the Philadelphia Constitution. In the Milgram experiment, nothing more than words were used to attempt to induce subjects to continue ceding their moral and intellectual agency to the experimenters. Once subjects understood that the only thing preventing them from retrieving the moral and intellectual agency they had ceded to the experimenters were nothing other than the beliefs and trust of the subjects, themselves, then the subjects were free to disengage themselves from the experiment … although nearly two-thirds of those individuals were never able to reach this point of realization.
However, in the case of the experiment in democracy that was designed by the Founders/Framers (and continued on by their ideological heirs), realizing that one can retrieve one’s moral and intellectual agency (as I did when I was on the bus going to Charlestown Naval Base for purposes of taking a physical to determine my readiness to serve the military during the Vietnam War), is not the end of the story. There are very real extra-linguistic consequences that will be inflicted on any of the subjects participating in the experiment in democracy who have an epiphany concerning the issue of ceding or not ceding one’s moral and intellectual agency to the experimenters – that is, the ones who are conducting the experiment in democracy.
Economic sanctions, career sanctions, being socially ostracized, legal sanctions, police action, military intervention, and, of course, being demonized through the media all await anyone who seeks to defy the ‘credibility’ of the individuals conducting the experiment in democracy by trying to reclaim their moral and intellectual agency. Oftentimes – but not always -- verbal warnings of one kind or another will be given first, and then, when deemed to be necessary, sanctions of one sort or another will be applied in order to discourage the subjects in the experiment from reclaiming their moral and intellectual agency.
Another difference between the Milgram project and the experiment in democracy that was unleashed upon society through the Philadelphia Constitution concerns the size of the ‘reward’ that is associated with the respective experiments. $4.50 per hour in the Milgram experiment pales in comparison to the thousands and millions of dollars that will be given to individuals who are willing to continue to cede their moral and intellectual authority to the people who are conducting the experiment.
In the Milgram experiment, only words were used to prevent people from reclaiming their moral and intellectual agency. Under those circumstances, nearly two-thirds of the subjects were willing to continue to cede their agency to the experimenters.
When money and other ‘perks’ enter the picture and are used to subsidize the experiment in democracy, many more than two-thirds of the subjects are likely to be willing to forgo their own moral and intellectual agency in order to continue benefitting, financially and materially, from the experimental set-up. When the punishments that can be brought to bear on individuals who seek to reclaim their moral and intellectual agency are factored in, one should not be surprised that very few of the subjects in the experiment in democracy ever arrive at the point of either wanting to opt out of such a project or to actively follow through on that kind of a desire.
One might venture to hypothesize that one of the reasons why nearly two-thirds of the subjects in certain versions of the Milgram experiment were willing to continue ceding their moral and intellectual authority to the individuals conducting the experiment is because in many societies – including America – people are conditioned from a very early age to cede their moral and intellectual agency to others -- whether these others are: parents, family, peers, teachers, religious figures, politicians, leaders, the military, or the media – who we are told are ‘trustworthy.’ The presence of a sense of duty in those cases is a function of the conditioning process which is used to induce people to continue on ceding their moral and intellectual agency to those who wish, for whatever reason, to control things by manipulating our sense of – possibly -- misplaced trust concerning them.
In August of 1971, Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. Apparently, Zimbardo didn’t have any deeper insight into his ‘prison’ experiment than Milgram had with respect to his own ‘learning/memory’ experiment, and the reason I suspect that the foregoing claim is true is because Professor Zimbardo had to stop his experiment less than six days into a scheduled two week experiment due to serious, unforeseen consequences, and Milgram didn’t come up with a theory that purported to explain his experiment (incorrectly I believe) until well after the experiment had ended.
As pointed out previously, the Milgram study is, I believe, an exploration into the realm of ceding and reclaiming moral and intellectual agency in relation to individuals who are (rightly or wrongly) trusted -- and, therefore, it is not (as Professor Milgram claimed) a study concerning the issue of ‘obedience.’ On the other hand, I believe that the Zimbardo experiment explores (although Professor Zimbardo does not understand his experiment in this way) what happens when people are ceded authority and, then, proceed to try to leverage what has been ceded to them in order to control other people.
Certain subjects in the Stanford experiment – namely, those who were referred to as ‘guards’ – were ceded moral and intellectual agency by Professor Zimbardo. What I mean by the foregoing statement is that although Professor Zimbardo was conducting the experiment, his experimental design required him to cede some of his own moral and intellectual authority to those who were playing the role of ‘guards’ so that the experimenters would be able to observe how, or if, such ceded agency would be used by the ‘guards.’
For six days, Professor Zimbardo didn’t understand the nature of the forces that he had set loose in his experiment. Finally, it dawned on him – and someone else had to bring him to such a realization – that he had to stop the experiment because what was taking place in the experiment was abusive.
Just as Professor Milgram was an active perpetrator of abuse in his ‘learning/memory’ experiment – although the ‘dirty work’ was carried out by the biology teacher who was the face of the experiment – so too, Professor Zimbardo was an active perpetrator of abuse in his experiment – even though the ‘guards’ in his experiment were the ones who were doing the actual ‘dirty work.’ I believe the foregoing contention is justified because Professor Zimbardo was the individual who had enabled some of the guards to do the abusive things they did since, as the individual who was responsible for starting and stopping the experiment, he was the one who ceded to the experimental subjects some of his own moral and intellectual agency in order to permit it to occur.
While Professor Zimbardo would not have understood what he was doing in the following terms, nonetheless, in effect, when he stopped the experiment, he was reclaiming his moral and intellectual agency. Professor Zimbardo, of course, did not see his actions – either at the start of the prison project or in relation to the termination of that experiment -- through the lens of ceding and reclaiming moral agency since he had a quite different theory which will be discussed and critiqued a little later on in the current chapter … but, first, let’s take a look at the structural character of the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Like the Milgram experiment, the Stanford Prison Experiment begins with the placing of an advertisement in a number of newspapers. The ads are directed at college students (this is a different target subject pool than was the case in the Milgram ‘learning/memory’ experiment which wanted to study the actions of people from the general public), and the Zimbardo ad indicates that the proposed study involves some sort of prison experiment.
Those who choose to participate in the experiment will be paid $15.00 a day. Given that the subjects in the Milgram experiment were paid $4.50 for an hour of their time and given that nearly ten years have passed since that experiment had drawn to a close, obviously the value of a student’s time is not considered to be worth much … except to those (i.e., the experimenters) who hoped to leverage the situation to gain empirical data that might be of value to them.
The experimental budget totaled just over $5,000 dollars. The money was provided by the Office of Naval Research.
The 14-day experiment is to take place in the basement of the Department of Psychology as Stanford University. A prison-like structure had been built in that location.
Approximately a hundred men respond to the newspaper ads. The potential candidates are interviewed extensively, and they also are administered a variety of psychological tests.
Based on the results of the foregoing interviews and tests, the larger pool of individuals is, then, whittled down to 24 individuals – the experimental sample group. The experimenters have attempted to eliminate anyone who they thought might skew the experiment … such as individuals who have medical or psychological problems, or people with a prior record of arrest.
As far as possible, the experimenters were trying to select average, normal, and healthy individuals. The experimenters were looking for subjects who, in a variety of ways, are fairly representative of middle-class students in general.
Not all of the subjects are full-time students at Stanford. Most of the subjects came from elsewhere in North America and were attending summer school in the Bay area.
The individuals who are finally selected for the experiment are divided into two groups – ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards.’ Assigning people to one or the other group is done by flipping a coin … heads and a student becomes a ‘guard’, while tails lands a student in the ‘prisoner’ group.
The ‘guards’ are not provided with any training. However, those assigned to that group do go through a relatively brief orientation process.
During the latter process, the ‘guards’ are told that while violence of any kind against the ‘prisoners’ will not be permitted, nonetheless, the ‘guards’ are tasked with maintaining law and order, and this includes not permitting any of the prisoners to escape.
There is one further point made to the ‘guards’ in the orientation process. The experimenters want the ‘guards’ to create a sense of powerless in the ‘prisoners.’
According to Professor Zimbardo, the purpose of his project is to try to develop an insight into the sorts of changes that might take place within an individual – whether a ‘prisoner’ or ‘guard’ -- during the course of the experiment. However, the alleged ‘purpose’ of the experiment is just another way of saying that the experimenters are on a fishing expedition for data and have no clear understanding of what actually will transpire during the experiment … just as had been the case in the Milgram experiment.
Professor Zimbardo claims that he wanted to determine if it was possible, within the space of two weeks, for subjects – whether ‘guards’ or ‘prisoners’ – to assume new identities as a result of the circumstances in which they were embedded. The foregoing intention assumes that Professor Zimbardo understands the nature of identity to begin with – which I don’t believe he did any more than most researchers do – and, in addition, Professor Zimbardo seems to have failed to consider the possibility that whatever changes in behavior that might be manifested during the two week period, such changes could be more a reflection of how various social and psychological dynamics can induce different dimensions of one and the same identity to manifest themselves rather than constituting changes in actual identity ... moreover, there is also the possibility that choice – that is, personal agency – could determine which dimension of identity is, or is not, manifested under those circumstances.
After signing release forms, the students who are assigned to the ‘prisoner’ group are told to be ready and available for the study beginning on Sunday, August 14, 1971. They are not informed about the nature of the means through which they would enter the experiment.
The way in which the experiment starts is, more or less, the same for each of the individuals who have been assigned to the ‘prisoner’ group. A police car arrives at the ‘prionser’s’ places of residence, and uniformed police officers wearing mirrored, aviator glasses bang on the door of the residence.
‘Arrests’ are made. Handcuffs and blindfolds are applied to the ‘prisoners’ – the blindfolds are used to disorient the ‘prisoners’ and prevent them from knowing where they are going.
The ‘prisoners’ are placed in the back seat of the cruiser. They are, then, transported to the basement of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University.
Once the ‘prisoners’ are led down a stairway to the ‘prison area,’ they are ordered to take off all their clothes. After this is done, the prisoners are told to stand with their arms against the wall with their legs spread apart.
A powder of some kind is thrown on the prisoners. They are told that it is a delousing agent.
Some of the ‘guards’ begin to make remarks about the size – or lack thereof – of the genitals of the ‘prisoners.’ Attempts by the guards to humiliate, embarrass, ridicule, and disempower the ‘prisoners’ have begun.
Eventually -- after a lengthy wait while remaining naked -- the ‘prisoners’ are given hospital-like, tan gowns to wear. Different numbers are printed across the front of the gowns of each of the ‘prisoners.’
The ‘prisoners’ are not permitted to wear underwear. Consequently, whenever they bend over in their hospital-like gowns, their rear ends are exposed to whoever is nearby.
In addition, the ‘prisoners’ hair is covered with a nylon stocking. This particular part of the ‘prisoner’s’ attire is intended to serve as the equivalent of the shearing of hair that prisoners experience when processed into actual prisons.
The ‘prisoners’ are given rubber clogs to wear on their feet. Moreover, a chain is placed around one ankle and locked as a constant reminded of the individual’s status as a prisoner.
Once the ‘prisoners’ have been outfitted in the foregoing manner, their blindfolds are removed. Mirrors have been place against the wall opposite to the ‘prisoners’ so that they can view the transformation in appearance that has taken place.
‘Prisoners’ are told they must only refer to one another by the ‘numbers’ which appear on their hospital-like gowns. Furthermore, ‘prisoners’ are instructed to address the ‘guards’ as ‘Mr. Correctional Officer.’
Events occurring in certain portions of the prison area outside the cells can be videotaped. The camera is hidden.
There is a camouflaged viewing area near the video camera. However, what can be seen and taped is restricted to the area in front of, and near, the location of the viewing area and camera.
Due to considerations of expense, the video camera does not run continuously. It will be turned on only in relation to certain occasions – e.g., during: ‘prisoner’ count-offs, some meal times, anomalous events of various kinds (such as ‘prisoner’ disturbances), and a few, scheduled family visits.
The cells of the ‘prisoners’ are bugged with microphones hidden in the indirect lighting assemblies for each cell. Many – but not necessarily all -- of their verbal comments are capable of being recorded in this way, but the hidden video camera is not able to provide a visual record of what takes place in those cells.
The ‘prisoners’ are presented with a list of 17 rules. In addition to the already mentioned requirements to refer to the ‘prisoners’ only by number and to address the ‘guards’ as ‘Mr. Correctional Officer,’ the ‘prisoners’ are also instructed to follow such rules as: Remaining silent during meals, rest periods, and at night, once ‘lights out’ has been announced; being required to participate in all prison activities; refraining from tampering with or damaging any of the private property in the prison area; reporting all violations of the rules to the guards; obeying all orders that are given by the ‘guards; and standing whenever the ‘prison’ warden or superintendent visits a ‘prisoner’s’ cell.
The ‘prisoners’ are informed that activities such as smoking or receiving mail and visitors are privileges that can be suspended. Moreover, in any one hour period, the prisoners are only allowed one, five minute visit to the bathroom and those visits will be regulated by the ‘guards.’
Finally, the ‘prisoners’ are told that any failure to comply with the ‘prison’ rules could be followed by some sort of ‘punishment.’ Whether, or not, that punishment will occur and the nature of the punishment will be up to the ‘guards.’
During the course of the experiment, one of the usual forms of punishment is to order ‘prisoners’ to do x-number of push-ups for their failure to observe one, or another, of the foregoing 17 rules. However, an isolation box (a small closet in the wall opposite the row of small offices that have been converted to cells) also is available to punish ‘prisoners’ if the usual methods of punishment prove to be ineffective.
The isolation room is completely dark. It is only big enough to permit an occupant to stand, sit, or squat.
At the ‘guards’ discretion, the ‘prisoners’ can be ordered to gather together and commanded to voice, one at a time, the number on the front of their hospital-like gown. These ‘prisoner’ count-offs are done at certain times – such as in the morning and at night – to determine that all ‘prisoners’ are present and accounted for, but, eventually, the count-offs will develop a punitive character through which the ‘guards’ demonstrate to the ‘prisoners’ that the latter are completely powerless while the ‘guards’ are all-powerful.
‘Prisoners’ are told prior to the experiment that they are free to leave the ‘prison’ at any time. However, whether this rule will actually be honored is another matter, for like the Milgram experiment, there are certain procedures designed to induce ‘subjects’ to continue on with the experiment.
For instance, as previously indicated, one of the instructions given to the ‘guards’ is to prevent ‘prisoners’ from escaping. Presumably, escaping could be understood to be an indication that a ‘prisoner’ does not want to continue on with the experiment, and, yet, the guards have been instructed to stop the ‘prisoners’ from escaping ... so how free the ‘prisoners’ are to disengage from the experiment is a somewhat ambiguous issue.
The ‘guards’ are divided into three groups. Each group takes a different shift.
The ‘guards are outfitted with: Uniforms, sunglasses, whistles, handcuffs and nightsticks. The ‘guards’ are required to keep a log which is supposed to contain a running summary of what takes place during each shift.
There is ‘prison’ warden and a ‘prison’ superintendent. The former individual is played by a psychology student working with Professor Zimbardo, while the ‘superintendent’ is played by Professor Zimbardo himself.
The foregoing two individuals – along with some other individuals -- are intended to serve in a ‘prop’-like or supporting-role capacity in the experiment. They are not considered to be subjects in the experiment.
During the first day, the ‘prison’ warden informs the ‘prisoners’ that there will be a ‘Visiting Night’ in the near future. Subject to the discretion of the ‘guards,’ ‘prisoners’ will be permitted to invite members of their family or close friend to visit with them in the ‘prison.’
The method of invitation will be through the writing of letters. The warden provides the ‘prisoners’ with pens for this purpose, but indicates that whether, or not, the letters will be sent will be up to the ‘guards.’
The structural character of the ‘prison’ experiment is designed to induce the subjects who are ‘prisoners’ to cede their sense of agency much more than is the case with respect to the subjects who are ‘guards.’ Maintaining law and order through non-violent means is about the only requirement which the ‘guards’ are required to observe, whereas the ‘prisoners’ have been assigned a prison identity that is shaped by: 17 rules, plus confinement, and a humiliating dress code.
On the one hand, a sense of agency has not only been taken away from the ‘prisoners’, but the message is communicated that such ‘agency’ is not relevant to the experiment. On the other hand, the sense of agency of the guards has been enhanced because the ‘guards’ have been enabled by the experimenters to do whatever the ‘guards’ like in relation to the ‘prisoners’ as long as what is done is of a non-violent nature.
Unlike ‘prisoners‘, ‘guards’ are implicitly informed -- through the structural character of the experiment -- that their sense of agency does matter to the experiment. The ‘guards’ are the ones who are to act upon the ‘prisoners.’
The ‘prisoners’ are, in effect, told that in order for them to receive their $15.00 dollars a day, they must give up their sense of agency. The model ‘prisoner’ is one who has no sense of agency at all.
However, the ‘guards’ are, in effect, told that in order for them to be able to receive their $15.00 dollars a day, they can do whatever they like as long as they: Do not transgress the guidelines on violence, take their shifts, and help keep a log book. The model ‘guard’ is one who will ‘run’ with the sense of ‘enhanced agency’ which they have been given by the experimenters ... after all, the ‘guards’ have been provided with no sort of ‘moral’ or intellectual training to suggest that they should do otherwise.
The ‘guards’ are implicitly, if not explicitly, informed by the experimenters that their task is not necessarily to be moral ‘guards’ or ‘decent people.’ Instead, the ‘guards’ have been told that a central part of their job will be to make the ‘prisoners’ feel as powerless as possible and that such a sense of ‘powerlessness’ is the ‘proper’ mind-set for a prisoner.
The character of the experiment is heavily skewed toward reinforcing the sense of personal agency of the ‘guards’, while discouraging the sense of agency among the ‘prisoners.’ This is not about role playing within a defined social situational context or a matter of how the behavior of individuals will be a function of the situation or the role being played, but, rather, it is a matter of what happens to people when their sense of personal agency is manipulated.
If a person is successfully induced to cede his or her intellectual and moral authority – as is the case with respect to the ‘prisoners’ in the Stanford Prison Experiment -- then the agency of that sort of an individual will be impaired and, as a result, become dysfunctional. Under those circumstances, an individual is likely to become vulnerable to the whims of those who have retained agency in some fashion within that social framework.
If, on the other hand, a person is successfully induced to believe that his or her agency has been enhanced through the support of a system – for example, the people conducting the prison experiment – and that the only restriction on such an enhanced sense of agency involves avoiding violence, then this sort of individual has been freed or enabled to invest the situation with whatever aspects of his or her imagination or fantasy life that she or he likes ... as long as those investments are deemed to be consonant with the issue of non-violence. Therefore, the ‘role’ of the guard is ill-defined and open to the interpretation of the individual who is playing the role, while the ‘role’ of the ‘prisoner’ is defined in considerable detail and very little room, if any, is left to the interpretive discretion of the individual.
Consequently, the situation or social roles, per se, are not necessarily the determining factor with respect to the behavior of the guards. Rather, what shapes behavior is, in part, a function of what has happened to the realm of personal agency, and whether, or not, that sense of agency has been either undermined in dysfunctional ways or enabled to explore various psychological and emotional possibilities that have not been clearly defined by the experimental situation.
For example, within the first day of the experiment, there is struggle for dominance among some of the ‘guards’ with respect to how abusive (in a supposedly non-violent way) ‘guards’ should be toward the ‘prisoners.’ At least one of the ‘guards’ already has begun to be quite creative in the ways in which he is prepared to abuse the ‘prisoners,’ while some of the other ‘guards’ question whether those sorts of tactics are necessary.
Professor Zimbardo refers to the foregoing process as one of adapting to the role of being a ‘guard.’ However, since there is nothing in the ‘role’ of being a ‘guard’ that says one must seek to dominate other ‘guards’ or that one must be ‘abusive’ in creative ways with respect to the prisoner, then this is more a matter of ‘guards’ inventing that role in the image of their own personalities rather than of ‘guards’ adapting to some sort of situational role.
Furthermore, when ‘guards’ are observed to begin taking pleasure in relation to the abuse which they can inflict on other human beings, that pleasure is not a matter of adapting to the role of being a ‘guard.’ Rather, this dimension of pathology is something that some of the subjects brought with them to the experiment and chose to cede their moral and intellectual agency to during the course of the ‘prison’ project.
The foregoing facet of things indicates that whatever psychological tests and in-depth interviews have been conducted by Professor Zimbardo, they were not sufficiently sophisticated to provide insight into the pathological potential that can be present in the dynamics of ‘normalcy.’ Although the tests and interviews being alluded to above were able to eliminate a variety of people from consideration for the experiment, nonetheless, those same tests and interviews permitted a number of other individuals to slip through the interstitial cracks that were inherent in those evaluation procedures, and these latter individuals were part of the reason why the experiment had to be terminated earlier than scheduled – although, perhaps, the primary reason for the early termination of the experiment might have more to do with the conduct of the experimenters than with the conduct of the ‘guards’ since the former enabled the latter to transgress certain limits that had been contractually established prior to the experiment being run.
There is also a problem of ambiguity surrounding the meaning of non-violence in the Zimbardo experiment. For example, how does one address the question of: What is the difference between physically assaulting someone and emotionally, verbally, and psychologically assaulting that same individual?
To be sure, physical assault can cause pain, but pain can also be created through verbal and emotional assaults. Physical assaults can leave scars, but this is also true in the case of verbal and emotional assaults. Physical assaults can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, but a great deal of clinical data indicates that verbal and emotional assaults – if sufficiently persistent --can lead to the same sorts of problems.
Abuse is not just about the physical blows that are rained down on an individual. Just as importantly – and, perhaps, more so – is the emotional, psychological and verbal abuse that is directed toward a person.
Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, it is the emotional/psychological abuse within, say, a domestic relationship that induces a person to give up their personal agency and remain in a physically abusive environment. Consequently, I find it interesting that the ‘guards’ in the Stanford Prison Experiment were instructed to do, in a non-violent way, whatever they could to make the ‘prisoners’ feel completely powerless, and yet, the ‘prisoners’ were not instructed to do, in a non-violent way, whatever they could to hold onto their sense of personal agency.
There is also a certain amount of inconsistency in the Stanford Prison Experiment with respect to the rule that allegedly prohibits the use of physical violence in relation to the ‘prisoners.’ During a change of shift in the first day, or so, of the experiment, one of the ‘guards’ who is leaving the facility yells out to the ‘prisoners’ and asks them whether, or not, they enjoyed their ‘count-offs’ during which the ‘prisoners’ were forced to do all kinds of push-ups and jumping jacks when they didn’t count off their ‘prisoner’ numbers in a way that was pleasing to some of the guards.
One of the ‘prisoners’ replies from within his cell that he did not enjoy the counts. In addition, the defiant ‘prisoner’ gives a raised, closed fisted salute and says: “All power to the people!”
Immediately, a number of ‘guards:’ Storm the cell of the ‘lippy’ prisoner, physically drag the ‘prisoner’ to the isolation room (i.e., storage closet), force the ‘prisoner’ into the closet, and lock the door. How is this not an act of physical violence?
Yet, there is no indication in his book, The Lucifer Effect, that Professor Zimbardo intervened in any way and informed the guards that they were not permitted to physically drag ‘prisoners’ out of their cells or force prisoners into closets. Therefore, while there was a purported rule on the ‘books’ which said that the ‘guards’ could not use physical violence, ambiguity was generated – both in the ‘guards’ as well as the ‘prisoners’ -- when the rule concerning non-violence was not strictly enforced by the people conducting the experiment.
Another one of the rules imposed on the ‘prisoners’ concerns the time limit for taking bathroom breaks. The ‘prisoners’ are only permitted five minutes to finish their business.
Some of the ‘prisoners’ complain. They claim they are too tense to finish things within the allotted five minute period, but the ‘guards’ insist on ensuring that the time-limit is observed.
Having experienced the pain of needing to urinate but, for whatever reason, not being able to, I can empathize with the dilemma of the prisoners. Consequently, intentionally inflicting this kind of pain on someone really is a form of physical violence, and, yet, nothing is said about the situation by the experimenters ... further enabling the ‘guards’ to physically impose a form of violence on the ‘prisoners’ despite the presence of the alleged ‘no violence’ rule.
During an overnight shift, the ‘guards’ -- in conjunction with the ‘prison warden’ (who is not an experimental subject ... although, perhaps, he should have been) – come up with a plan for greeting the ‘prisoners’ during the change in shift which is to take place at 2:30 a.m.. The ‘guards’ will stand near to the cells of the ‘prisoners’ and blow their whistles loudly.
The possibility that physically assaulting the ears of sleeping ‘prisoners’ at 2:30 in the morning might be considered by some to constitute a form of violence seems to escape the ‘guards’ and, even more inexplicably, the ‘warden’. On the other hand, the experimenters already have looked the other way with respect to several forms of physical violence (e.g., dragging a ‘prisoner’ out of his cell and forcing him into an isolation closet or forcing ‘prisoners’ to urinate on command), and, therefore, permitting the ‘guards’ to push the envelope a little more in this direction is allowed to pass by the wayside without comment.
The rude awakening of loud whistles at 2:30 in the morning is followed by a series of physical punishments in the form of forced push-ups and jumping jacks when the ‘prisoners’ don’t perform the count-offs of their numbers to the satisfaction of one, or more, of the guards. The possibility of being dragged off to the isolation room by the ‘guards’ silently haunts the horizons of the sleepy consciousness of the ‘prisoners,’ and, therefore, the push-ups and jumping jacks are performed under the threat of physical violence -- of a kind – for any acts of non-compliance ... another ‘degree of freedom’ extended to the understanding of the ‘guards’ with respect to the rule concerning no physical violence.
At another point during the first couple of days of the experiment, one of the ‘guards’ is startled by something that one of the ‘prisoners’ does and, as a result, pushes the ‘prisoner’ and, then, uses his fist to hit the ‘prisoner’ in the chest. Apparently, nothing is said to the ‘guard’ indicating that such an act is a violation of the ‘no physical violence’ rule.
On another occasion, a ‘prisoner’ narrowly misses having his hands – which are extended between the bars of the cell – struck by a nightstick wielded by one of the ‘guards’ who dislikes how and where the hands of the ‘prisoner’ have been placed. This is another show of physical violence that is ignored by the people running the experiment.
Again, within a day, or so, of the experiment’s beginning, one of the ‘guards’ takes a cylinder of extremely cold carbon dioxide and sprays it into the cell of several prisoners in an attempt to force the latter individuals to move toward the back of their cell. This would seem to be an act of physical violence – and a potentially dangerous one -- but, apparently, the people running the experiment have labeled it as being something other than what it appears to be.
During another incident, three ‘prisoners’ are stripped naked and their beds are taken away. I am having difficulty envisioning how forcibly stripping three ‘prisoners’ naked would not involve acts of physical violence.
Another ‘prisoner’ has been complaining of a headache. According to Professor Zimbardo’s own account of the situation, the ‘prisoner’ appears to be losing contact with reality and, as well, is expressing a desire to get out of the experiment.
The desire to withdraw from the experiment is ignored. Instead, when the ‘prisoner’ suddenly jumps up from the dinner table, runs, and, then, rips down the screen that is covering the video camera, he is dragged to the isolation closet, and once inside, the ‘guards’ continue to bang on the door of the closet with their nightsticks despite the prisoner claiming that the sounds are making his headache worse.
The foregoing incident fully displays the abusiveness and betrayal which permeates the experiment. Despite the fact that the ‘prisoner’ seems to be losing touch with reality, is behaving strangely, complaining of a headache, and expressing a desire to withdraw from the program, the guards are – without interruption by the people conducting the experiment -- permitted to manhandle the prisoner and commit physical violence against him (and his headache) by pounding their nightsticks on the door of the isolation closet.
To justify their behavior in the foregoing case, the guards go to the rule book that allegedly governs the behavior of the ‘subjects’ in the experiment. They point to the section involving the rule against ‘prisoners’ destroying private property in the prison area. However, they seem to be oblivious to the section of the rule book which prohibits the use of physical violence by the guards ... and, in part, they do this because the people running the experiment have enabled the ‘guards’ to violate those rules with impunity.
During another incident, one of the ‘prisoners’ refuses to do push-ups. A guard forces the ‘prisoner’ to go to the ground and, then, presses on the back of the ‘prisoner’ with a nightstick, telling the ‘prisoner to do his push-up.
How is this not an act of physical violence in several ways? Yet, the people conducting the experiment let it go.
The individuals conducting the experiment might wish to object to the foregoing characterizations -- which depicts ‘guards’ as being permitted to use some forms of ‘physical violence’ despite the presence of the supposed rule about no physical violence. However, such objections – if they were voiced –tend to resonate with the arguments of those who have attempted to claim that the abuses at: Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force Base, and any number of secret CIA facilities, do not constitute torture because the ones perpetrating the abuses don’t agree with how other people define the idea of ‘torture’.
In his book, The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo claimed that he made it abundantly clear to everyone that no physical punishment would be permitted during the experiment. Nevertheless, at almost every turn of his project there were forms of physical abuse and punishment that were taking place ... and the examples given here are but a small sample of the sorts of acts of violence that were permitted by the individuals conducting the experiment despite Professor Zimbardo’s proclaimed policy of no physical violence or punishments ... apparently one, or more, individuals was in deep denial about the nature of what was transpiring in the experiment.
To be sure, being dragged out of a cell, or being required to urinate within a five minute period, or being forced into an isolation closet, or being forced to do push-ups and jumping jacks, or having loud whistles blown close to one while one is asleep, or nearly having one’s hand’s crushed by a nightstick, or being sprayed with pressurized carbon dioxide, or having nightsticks pounded against an enclosed space where a person, who seems to be detached from reality, has a headache, might pale in comparison with being gang-raped, killed, and the like, but all of the foregoing acts are points on a continuum of physical violence, and, therefore, to try to argue that because certain kinds of violence are not present that no violence is present at all is, I think, an exercise in sophistry.
At the very least, the individuals conducting the experiment left the ‘guards’ considerably in the dark with respect to the meaning of ‘violence.’ As a result, the ‘guards’ were enabled, if not encouraged, by people running the experiment to shade the possible meaning of ‘violence’ with various forms of creative abuse of their own – as long as those acts are not ruled out of order (and the people conducting the experiment, like the perpetrators of abuse or torture elsewhere – are serving as the judges in their own cause here). Despite a variety of considerations that might tend to indicate otherwise, Professor Zimbardo appears to believe that such acts are not of a physically violent nature.
If anything, the Stanford Prisoner Experiment suggests just how vulnerable and fragile human beings are when it comes to any sort of violence being perpetrated against them. One doesn’t have to use extreme measures of physical violence in order to affect people’s sense of personal agency.
Professor Zimbardo claimed that one of the research questions which his experiment sought to address was: What, if anything, would ‘prisoners’ do to reclaim their sense of personal agency? Unfortunately, the individuals running the experiment did everything they could to structure the character of the experimental situation in a way that was intended to convince the ‘prisoners’ that they had no right to a sense of personal agency ... that being able to have a sense of personal agency was not part of the experiment as far as the ‘prisoners’ were concerned... that in order to collect their pay, the only option which the ‘prisoners’ had was to play the role of a ‘prisoner’ as defined by the system.
Like the Milgram experiment involving ‘learning/memory,’ Professor Zimbardo had sought – unknowingly perhaps -- to manipulate subjects into believing that if they ‘trusted’ the people conducting the experiment, everything would be okay ... there would be no need to reclaim their sense of personal agency. Like the subjects in the Milgram experiment, the ‘prisoner’ subjects in the Zimbardo experiment have been led to believe that they should just continue to trust the people conducting the experiment and that nothing of an abusive nature would take place.
The subjects in the Milgram experiment were given the impression that they could discontinue any time they liked, and, yet, subtle steps were taken to prevent people from disengaging from the experiment. Similarly, in the prisoner experiment, the ‘prisoners’ were given the impression that they could withdraw from the experiment any time they liked, and, yet, subtle – and not so subtle -- steps were taken to prevent the ‘prisoners’ from remembering that they had such freedom ... for instance, even though the ‘guards’ were specifically instructed no make sure that the ‘prisoners’ had no sense of ‘personal agency; nevertheless, there were no comparable attempts made prior to the actual running of the experiment to instruct the ‘prisoners’ that their duty was to assert themselves and defy the guards.
In the foregoing respect, the behavior of the ‘guards’ was shaped in part by the presence of instructions concerning how they were to engage the experiment. However, the behavior of the ‘prisoners’ was shaped, in part, by the absence of instruction with respect to the issue of personal agency ... instead they were given 17 rules that were intended to induce the ‘prisoners’ to forget that they could, if they wish, either discontinue the experiment or seek to reclaim their sense of personal agency by defying the ‘guards’ in a variety of non-violent ways.
Professor Zimbardo expresses surprise in his book that the ‘prisoners’ never used the threat of leaving the experiment as a bargaining tool in relation to the abusive treatment they were receiving at the hands of the guards. However, the foregoing perspective does not necessarily correctly describe certain aspects of the prisoner experiment (as will be discussed shortly), and, moreover, even in those facets of the experiment when his observation might be applicable, he never seems to ask himself about the reasons why the ‘prisoners’ appeared to forget that they supposedly had direct access to such a resource.
The ‘prisoners’ were attempting to be: ‘good,’ experimental subjects and meet the expectations of the experimenters by attempting to complete the experiment. They were assuming that the people conducting the experiment would not ‘hurt’ them, and when that trust was betrayed -- and there can be no question that that trust was betrayed in many different ways, not the least of which was for the experimenters to, on the one hand, proclaim a rule of no-violence and, then, on the other hand, to repeatedly allow that rule to be violated by the guards -- it already was too late because the ‘prisoners’ felt duty-bound to see the experiment through to the end, just as many of the subjects in the Milgram experiment had struggled to see their experiment through to the end -- despite the anguish, anxiety, and uncertainty they were experiencing – because the ‘subjects’ trusted the experimenters not to put anyone in harm’s way and because the subjects felt a sense of obligation to meet the expectations of the experimenters with respect to the completion of the experiment.
As noted previously, Professor Zimbardo claimed that one of the research questions that was to be addressed by the prisoner experiment was whether, or not, the ‘prisoners’ would try to reclaim their sense of personal agency and, if they did, then how would they attempt to do this? Why wasn’t a similar research question directed toward determining whether, or not, any of the ‘guards’ would attempt to reclaim their sense of personal agency and, if so, how would they attempt to do so?
Professor Zimbardo’s interest in the behavior of the guards arose only after the experiment began. Even then, that interest was shaped by his belief that the ‘guards’ had fallen under the influence of the powerful gravitational pull of the situation rather than being a function of the way in which people cede their personal agency to this or that force/individual and, thereby, allow their behavior to become influenced by the gravitational pull of a given situation.
Things don’t just happen. We make choices about whether, or not, to cede our personal agency to situations, forces, and other individuals ... although on many occasions, those decisions are made so quickly and in the midst of so many different sorts of ‘pulls’ and ‘pushes’ that the point of actual transition from: having control over personal agency, to: ceding that agency to a situation, set of forces, or group of individuals, is often only a diffuse, chaotic blur in our memory.
The ‘guards’ were encouraged to believe that they had considerable degrees of freedom with respect to their own sense of personal agency – a sense of agency that was augmented in a manipulative manner by the people conducting the experiment. Yet, given such an allegedly enhanced sense of personal agency, why didn’t any of the guards remove themselves from the experiment – as one-third of the subjects in Milgram experiment had done – due to the abuse that was taking place during that experiment?
The fact of the matter is that both the ‘guards’ and the ‘prisoners’ were shackled to the same set of restraints, but in slightly different ways. The sense of personal agency of the ‘guards’ was manipulated by the researchers to induce the ‘guards’ to believe that it was okay to be abusive to the ‘prisoners,’ while the sense of personal agency of the ‘prisoners’ was manipulated by the researchers to induce the ‘prisoners’ to believe that it was ‘normal’ for them to be abused and it was ‘normal’ to be willing to stay within an abusive system.
Perhaps there are a number of questions here. Why do people stay in abusive relationships? Why are some people willing to abuse other human beings when they are enabled to do so? Why do people continue to stay within a framework that is abusive even if they choose not to directly participate in such abuse and, yet, do not do anything to stop that abuse either? ... something that occurred in relation to some of the ‘guards’, as well as in relation to most of those who helped conduct the experiment.
With respect to the second question above – that is: Why do people stay in an abusive environment if they do not wish to participate in the abuse but are not willing to do anything to curb the abuse? -- one possible, partial answer does suggest itself. For example, consider the following incident.
One of the guards is showing signs of wanting to disengage from the abuses that are being perpetrated by the ‘guards.’ The body language of the ‘guard’ involves hanging his head a lot and walking around the ‘prison’ with drooping shoulders – suggesting that he is feeling considerable shame.
This ‘guard’ is constantly volunteering to do things outside of the ‘prison’ ... such as going for food and coffee. Both his body posture and his interest in spending time away from the ‘prison’ during his shift indicate that he does not want to be a part of what is transpiring there.
Superintendent Zimbardo tells the warden – one of his students – to talk to the ‘guard’ and remind the ‘subject’ that he is getting paid to do a job. The ‘guard’ is told that in order for the experiment to work, the ‘guards’ must play their role in a certain way ... that is, with toughness.
Taking a ‘guard’ aside and telling him what his role is supposed to be is not a matter of a subject adapting to a certain role due to the structural character of the social situation or context. An active intervention of experimenter agency had to take place, and during this intervention the subject had to be provided with instructions concerning the nature of his role.
Interestingly, there were no such interventions in relation to the ‘prisoners.’ No one took them aside and told them that they should attempt to resist the abuses of the guards ... in fact precisely the opposite sort of intervention took place when Superintendent Zimbardo told the ‘prisoners’ on the grievance committee that met with him that they were responsible for their own troubles.
Consequently, the ‘guards’ and ‘prisoners’ were not necessarily individuals who automatically exhibited certain kinds of behavior because they, somehow, mysteriously adapted to a social role or to the structural features of a given social context – i.e., the prison. Instead, the behavior of the ‘guards’ and ‘prisoners’ was shaped, in many ways, through the active intervention of the people conducting the experiment – that is, through the process of personal agency that led to various acts of commission and omission by those who were conducting the experiment.
As unexpected as the results of the prisoner experiment might be with respect to the behavior of either the ‘guards’ or the ‘prisoners,’ what I find most surprising in that experimental project is the conduct of the researchers. They stood quietly by and allowed abusive behavior to be inflicted upon their subjects ... and one should not forget that individuals who are induced to commit abuses toward other people are also being helped to be abusive toward their own integrity as human beings – a reminder that applies to both the ‘guards’ and the ‘experimenters’.
Following a ‘prisoner’ revolt – which consisted of barricading their beds against the doors to their cells so that the ‘guards’ couldn’t get into the cells and which the ‘guards’ crushed within a fairly short period of time and, then, used as a rationalization to become even more abusive toward the ‘prisoners – the “prisoners’ formed a grievance committee. The grievance committee listed physical abuse among its complaints.
The committee met with Prison Superintendent Zimbardo. Their complaints are dismissed by the Superintendent who claims that the reason for a great deal of the physical hassling by the guards is due to the bad behavior of the ‘prisoners’ themselves and due to the fact that the ‘guards’ are new at their line of work.
Apparently, Superintendent Zimbardo has failed to take into consideration that the ‘prisoners’ are new to their line of work as well. Furthermore, whether knowingly doing so, or not, the Superintendent has lied to the ‘prisoners’ because if he has been watching the video and/or listening to the audio or viewing the proceedings from the hidden viewing area, he knows that the ‘guards’ have done many of the things they have done without any real provocation from the ‘prisoners’ but, instead, have done so because Superintendent Zimbardo has permitted them to do so – even to the point of continuously permitting the guards to push the envelope with respect to violating the ‘no violence’ rule.
I find it rather disingenuous of Professor Zimbardo when he claims that he is interested in seeing what steps the ‘prisoners’ will take to try to reclaim their sense of personal agency when he is simultaneously deeply involved in betraying their sense of trust by demonstrating that he personally approves of the manner in which the ‘guards’ are violating the no violence rule. The Stanford Prisoner Experiment is not a study about whether, or not, people will try to reclaim their sense of personal agency when certain aspects of their freedom are taken away. Instead, it is a study about the dysfunctional character of the psychological condition which results when individuals are betrayed and, then, subjected to continuous abuse. As a result, ‘prisoners’ are not really given any legitimate opportunity to regain or develop a sense of personal agency.
On another occasion, one of the ‘prisoners’ complains about feeling sick and wants to talk with the ‘prison’ warden. During the meeting, the ‘prisoner’ refers to the “sadistic” behavior of the guards and indicates that if things don’t change, he wants out of the experiment.
The ‘warden’ follows the path blazed by Superintendent Zimbardo. He tells the individual that the ‘prisoners’ are the authors of their own misfortune.
Once again, despite the existence of a rule concerning physical violence, the various forms of physical violence being perpetrated by the “sadistic” guards are given a pass ... and the term “sadistic” is not an inappropriate descriptor under the circumstances. Moreover, despite being informed at the beginning of the experiment that the subjects are free to withdraw from the experiment at any time, the ‘warden’ does not ask the individual if he wishes to disengage from the experiment, but, as was the case in the Milgram experiment, steps are taken to keep the subject in the project.
The aforementioned ‘prisoner’ goes into an obscenity-laced rage. He demands to see the Superintendent.
The ‘warden’ tells Superintendent Zimbardo that the ‘prisoner’ seems deeply troubled by what is going on in the experiment and tells how the ‘prisoner’ apparently wants to discontinue the experiment. However, the ‘warden’ isn’t sure whether the ‘prisoner’ is really serious about withdrawing from the experiment or is just saying that he wants out as a tactic of some kind.
Superintendent Zimbardo reports in his book that the ‘prisoner’ who entered his office is “sullen, defiant, angry, and confused.” One of the first things the ‘prisoner’ says is that he can’t go on with things.
The young man is told by the Superintendent – just as was the case in relation to the grievance committee meeting – that he is the author of his own misfortune. In addition, a person who had been recently released from San Quentin and who is helping out in a consulting capacity with the experiment and happened to be in the office when the ‘prisoner’ came in, begins to verbally abuse the prisoner indicating, among other things, that the little, white, punk sissy wouldn’t last a day in a real prison.
Superintendent Zimbardo steps back into the discussion and reminds the ‘prisoner’ that he will not be paid for the experiment if he quits. The Superintendent asks the ‘prisoner’ if he needs the money, and the ‘subject’ indicates that he does.
The ‘subject’ is propositioned by the Superintendent. Why doesn’t the ‘prisoner’ just cooperate from time to time and the Superintendent will see that the ‘guards’ won’t hassle him.
The ‘prisoner’ is not sure that he wants to do that. The Superintendent responds with a further proposition which suggests that the ‘prisoner’ should have a good meal, reflect on the matter, and, then, if the ‘prisoner’ wants to quit, he can.
The foregoing process – consisting of several propositions and ‘negotiations’ (which are designed to induce ‘prisoners’ to remain part of the experiment) -- is not what the ‘subjects’ were told at the beginning of the experiment. They were told that if they wanted to leave they could, but as was the case in the Milgram experiment, words and warnings are used in the prisoner experiment to prevent ‘subjects’ from taking back their sense of personal agency.
In addition, the Superintendent seeks to manipulate the ‘prisoner’s’ sense of personal agency in, yet, another way. Professor Zimbardo is telling the ‘prisoner’ that the Superintendent has the power to tell the guards to lay off the ‘prisoner,’ and the Superintendent further implies that if the ‘prisoner’ will stay with the experiment, the subject won’t be hassled if the individual will just co-operate from time to time.
The foregoing exchange compromises the integrity of the experiment in several ways. On the one hand, if the ‘prisoner’ is under the impression that the guards won’t hassle him if he co-operates a little, then, the purpose of the experiment will be tainted because it supposedly was designed to see what ‘prisoners’ would do if their sense of personal agency was taken away by the ‘guards.’ On the other hand, if the Superintendent actually were to take all of the ‘guards’ aside and tell them to go easy on the ‘prisoner’ this will also compromise the integrity of the experiment.
If the Superintendent has no intention of letting the ‘guards’ in on the proposition/negotiation process that has taken place in his office, then he is lying to the ‘subject.’ However, if the Superintendent does intend to say something to the ‘guards’ concerning the matter, then he has compromised his experiment.
Prior to meeting with Superintendent Zimbardo, the ‘prisoner’ had told the other ‘prisoners’ that he was leaving the experiment. When he comes back from the meeting, he tells the other ‘prisoners’ that the people running the experiment won’t let him leave.
Previously, the trust of the ‘prisoners’ had been betrayed by the manner in which the people running the experiment continually permitted the ‘guards’ to push the envelope in relation to physical violence despite the existence of a rule that was supposed to make such acts impermissible. Now, the people conducting the experiment have betrayed the trust of the ‘prisoners’ in another fashion – namely, apparently, despite assurances otherwise, the ‘prisoners’ were not going to be permitted to leave the experiment ... they really were ‘prisoners.’
The people conducting the experiment claim that the essential theme of their project is to discover what people will do when their sense of personal agency is degraded, if not eliminated. Nevertheless, the actual nature of the experiment is about what happens to people when their sense of trust is betrayed and, as a result, they become exposed to abusive treatment as a direct result of that betrayal.
The ‘prisoners’ answered an ad in which successful candidates would exchange some time for money. Instead, they became entangled in a nightmare ... something for which they had not signed up.
Professor Zimbardo claims that the aforementioned ‘prisoner’ who said he wanted out of the experiment and came to Zimbardo after seeing the ‘warden’ should never have agreed to become a ‘snitch. Moreover, Professor Zimbardo says that the individual should have insisted on being let out of the experiment but was cowed into backing down when harangued by the person who had recently been released from San Quentin.
I believe the foregoing explanation is not tenable and is rather self-serving. To begin with, the prisoner who complained to Superintendent Zimbardo didn’t agree to become a snitch – that is, someone who provides information about other prisoners in exchange for lenient treatment from the ‘guards.
Instead, Superintendent Zimbardo was the one who proposed that if the ‘prisoner’ would stay in the program, co-operate a little, then the Superintendent would arrange to have the guards ease up on their hassling of the ‘prisoner.’ Therefore, Professor Zimbardo is seeking to re-cast his attempt to save his own experiment as an exercise in mind-games by the prisoner who Professor Zimbardo incorrectly claims made a deal to become a ‘snitch.’
Secondly, Professor Zimbardo impugns the character of the ‘prisoner’ by claiming that the individual was cowed into silence concerning the issue of wanting out of the experiment due to the tongue lashing that the ‘prisoner’ got from the person who recently had been released from San Quentin and was serving as a consultant for the prisoner experiment. Again, Professor Zimbardo is re-casting events in a manner that is favorable to himself, because the reality of the situation is that the ‘subject’ wanted to get out of the experiment, and Professor Zimbardo wouldn’t let him do so despite the subject having given clear indications that he did not want to participate in the project any further.
Another ‘prisoner’ becomes depressed, despondent and glassy-eyed. He lies on his cell floor coughing and asks to see the Superintendent.
Apparently, the ‘prisoner’ also wants out of the experiment. Although the Superintendent tells the ‘subject’ that he can get out if he wants to, the Superintendent also seeks to induce to ‘prisoner’ to continue to cede his sense of personal agency, stay in the experiment, and just co-operate with the ‘guards.’
Professor Zimbardo has moved the goal posts. At the beginning of the experiment, he told the ‘subjects’ that they can leave the experiment at any point. Afterwards he takes steps to keep the ‘subjects’ in the experiment despite their wishes to do otherwise.
Later on, one of the ‘prisoners’ is finally allowed to withdraw from the experiment. The decision to allow the ‘subject’ to leave was not made by Professor Zimbardo but by a 2nd year graduate student.
According to the foregoing graduate student, the individuals conducting the experiment were never quite sure whether, or not, the ‘prisoners’ were faking their complaints. Moreover, because a lot of money and time had been invested in the experiment, they were reluctant to let anyone leave the experiment because of the way such actions might compromise the experimental results.
Why was a second-year graduate student making those kinds of decisions rather than Professor Zimbardo? If the people conducting the experiment couldn’t tell the difference between real trauma and feigned trauma, why were they involved in the experiment at all? Why didn’t Professor Zimbardo have any clinical psychologists directly affiliated with his research project? Why were the people running the experiment more concerned about the time and money that had been invested than the physical and mental welfare of their ‘subjects’? And, finally, even if the complaints of the ‘prisoners’ were faked, why didn’t the experimenters keep their word and let the ‘prisoners’ go when some of the latter individuals indicated that they had enough?
After the prisoner being alluded to above was released, one of the guards overheard a plot by some of the remaining ‘prisoners’ that allegedly involved the released prisoner coming back with a bunch of friends in order to free the ‘prisoners’ and destroy the ‘prison.’ Although the people conducting the experiment considered the alleged plot to be a somewhat unlikely possibility, credence was given to the story when the released prisoner was reported by one of the ‘guards’ to be skulking about in the hallways of the Psychology Department in the floors above the basement area where the ‘prison’ was housed.
As a result, Superintendent Zimbardo ordered the ‘guards’ to capture the released ‘prisoner’ and return that individual to the ‘prison.’ Superintendent Zimbardo decided that the ‘prisoner’ had been faking things and was not really in emotional or physical difficulty.
Despite assurances to the participants that they could leave the experiment whenever they wanted to, there now seemed to be an unwritten rider invisibly and secretly inserted into the rules governing the prison. If a ‘prisoner’ decides he wishes to withdraw from the experiment and is released, but later on the people running the experiment decide the person was only feigning distress, then, the experimenters reserve the right to bring that person back into the project.
Why did Superintendent Zimbardo accept the word of a ‘guard’ without any corroborating evidence? Was the ‘guard’ one of those who was abusing the ‘prisoners’ and, therefore, had a hidden motive to lie about or exaggerate the nature of what he reportedly witnessed? Did the former ‘prisoner’ have a right to be in the Psychology Department? Was the former ‘prisoner’ actually skulking about the halls of the psychology building or was the description of that person’s behavior either a prevarication or a biased observation? And, once again, irrespective of the ‘feigning’ issue, why didn’t the individual have a legitimate right to withdraw from the experiment.
The foregoing questions are not irrelevant to what was taking place in the prisoner experiment. Later on, Professor Zimbardo came to the conclusion that the whole plot to storm the prison is nothing but a ‘rumor’ and that all their elaborate arrangements – such as packing the ‘prisoners’ into a windowless, poorly ventilated storage room elsewhere in the psychology building for three hours – were completely unnecessary ... and, yet, such actions were taken because one of the subjects (a ‘guard’) had induced the experimenters to cede their sense of personal agency to the uncorroborated word of a ‘guard’ who might have ulterior motives for saying what he did.
Professor Zimbardo confesses that the “biggest sin” in behaving in the foregoing way is that they did not systematically collect data with respect to the events of that day. Actually, their biggest sin was, apparently, to be so completely oblivious to not only the ‘abusive’ system they had set in motion but to be so completely oblivious to their role in nurturing that abuse.
In later years, Professor Zimbardo will interpret the experiment as one in which the ‘experimenters’ as well as the subjects came under the gravitational influence of the situation. However, what Professor Zimbardo still does not seem to understand is that the process of coming under the gravitational influence of a situation is a function of people – each for different reasons – making a decision to cede their intellectual and moral agency to the forces inherent in that kind of a situation.
A situation by itself is powerless. It requires the co-operation of someone with agency ... that is, someone with the capacity to make choices about whether, or not, to cede agency to some situation, individual, or group.
At one point in The Lucifer Effect, Professor Zimbardo indicates that it “seems” that some of the ‘guards’ have been denying the ‘prisoners’ access to the bathroom after the order for ‘lights out’ has been given. One wonders why the term ‘seems’ is used ... how did Professor Zimbardo acquire the information to which the term “seems’ is affixed?
According to Professor Zimbardo, the ‘prison’ area is beginning to smell like a subway washroom. Somehow, he knows that the ‘guards’ have been requiring the ‘prisoners’ to relieve themselves into buckets that are in their cells.
In the same section of his book, Professor Zimbardo discloses knowledge about how some of the ‘guards’ have been reported to be tripping blind-folded ‘prisoners’ as the latter individuals make their way down a set of stairs leading to the bathroom. In addition, these same guards apparently enjoy poking the ‘prisoners.’
One of Professor Zimbardo’s observations concerning the foregoing pieces of information is that some of the ‘guards’ have transcended mere role playing and, instead, have “internalized the hostility, negative affect, and mind-set” qualities of actual guards in real prisons. Nothing has been internalized.
The individuals displaying the pathological behavior brought that potential with them when they entered the experiment. Neither the allegedly in-depth interviews, nor the psychological tests that were given, were able to detect the presence of those pathological inclinations.
The foregoing sort of pathological inclinations were not the result of role-playing or any mechanism of internalizing the mind-set of actual guards. Those inclinations were nurtured – unknowingly perhaps – by the manner in which the people running the experiment failed, among other things, to enforce the rule requiring ‘guards’ not to be physically violent toward the ‘prisoners.’
Some ‘subjects’ came to the Stanford Prisoner Experiment with a potential for certain kinds of abusive behavior. The individuals conducting the experiment provided that potential with the opportunity to be expressed within the context of the experiment and, then, the people running things did nothing to curb that behavior once it started to be manifested.
The prison-situation, per se, did not induce such a dispositional potential to surface. What caused that behavior to be expressed was the intervention of the experimenters through their acts of commission and omission with respect to their rule about physical violence and their failure to hold the ‘guards’ accountable for the latter’s repeated transgression of that rule.
Professor Zimbardo indicates that the ‘prison’ and the ‘prisoners’ will have to be put in a better light when the parents, friends, and girlfriends of the ‘prisoners’ visit the prison. In other words, according to Professor Zimbardo, the experiment requires not only for the ‘subjects’ to be manipulated, but, as well, he believes that the impressions of visitors will have to be managed ... after all, Professor Zimbardo is of the opinion that: “As a parent, I surely would not let my son continue in such a place if I saw such exhaustion and obvious signs of stress after only three days.”
The foregoing admission is disturbing on a number of levels. For instance, if as a parent, Professor Zimbardo would not permit his son to continue on in such a set of circumstances, why does Professor Zimbardo suppose it is okay for him to put his subjects in ‘harm’s way given that he – unlike the forthcoming visitors -- is actually somewhat cognizant of what is taking place in the ‘prison’? Secondly, knowing what he knows about the situation, apparently Professor Zimbardo feels it is okay to manipulate the impressions of the visitors so they won’t constitute a threat to the continuation of the experiment.
On the day when parents, friends, and girlfriends are supposed to visit the ‘prison,’ the facilities and the ‘prisoners’ are washed, disinfected, and spruced up. The smell of urine and feces are covered up with the scent of a deodorizer, and the ‘Isolation Room’ sign is taken down.
‘Prisoners’ are told that if they complain to the visitors during the visits, the visits will be terminated prematurely. The instructions resonate with what the Nazis used to do when the Red Cross showed up ... making threats to the prisoners in order to prevent outsiders from coming to know what actually was taking place in a given stalag.
That the people conducting the experiment apparently found it necessary to dupe the relatives and friends of their ‘prisoners,’ is extremely disconcerting. Manipulating and betraying their subjects is bad enough, but, they also felt compelled to manipulate and betray people outside the experiment, and the reason the deception is considered necessary is because – on some level -- the people running the experiment were aware that something pathological was taking place during the experiment, but, unfortunately, they weren’t ready to close down that kind of process.
Professor Zimbardo recounts how the people conducting the experiment came to the conclusion that they had to bring the visitors under situational control. This meant that the experimental staff was tasked with having to induce the visitors to believe that they – i.e., the visitors – were nothing but guests who were being extended a privilege.
The foregoing is an exercise in dissembling. The idea of bringing something under “situational control” is merely a euphemism for lying to people and misleading them, and through such a process, inducing outsiders to cede their sense of personal agency to the experimenters through the manipulation of trust.
The experimenters should not have been trusted by the visitors. Furthermore, in a number of ways, the experimenters were aware that they should not have been trusted, and this is why things had to be brought under so-called “situational control.”
Despite the experimenters’ best efforts to cover up the pathology taking place within the prison, some of the reality leaked through the attempts of the experimenters to take situational control and mislead the visitors about the nature of what was transpiring in the basement of the psychology building. Following the ‘visitor night,’ Professor Zimbardo received a note from a mother of one of the ‘prisoners.’
She remarked that she had been troubled by the appearance of her son during the visit. She also indicated that prior to the experiment neither she nor her son had contemplated that anything so ‘severe’ would be involved with respect to the experiment.
Several more days of experimental treatment had to take place before a decision was made by the experimenters to release her son. Apparently, they concluded that the young man was exhibiting signs of acute stress ... a diagnosis that the mother had tried, in her own words, to communicate to the experimenters a few days earlier – too bad the experimenters hadn’t hired her as a consultant for she seemed to have more sense than they did.
On the fourth day of the experiment, Professor Zimbardo has arranged for a real priest to come to the ‘prison’ in order to interview the ‘prisoners.’ The priest has had experience as a prison chaplain, and Professor Zimbardo wants to get some feedback from the priest with respect to how ‘realistic’ he feels the experiment is.
The interviews take place in the ‘prison.’ One at a time, the ‘prisoners’ come and talk with the priest.
Many of the ‘prisoners’ introduce themselves by reciting the number on the front of their ‘hospital-like’ gown. According to Professor Zimbardo, the priest displays no indication that he finds the behavior of the guards in this respect to be odd.
Professor Zimbardo considers the priest’s lack of reaction to be surprising. The professor concludes that: “Socialization into the prisoner role is clearly taking effect.”
Although the section in which the foregoing quote appears is somewhat ambiguously written, apparently Professor Zimbardo is of the opinion that the priest has been socialized into the role of the prisoners by not reacting to their manner of introducing themselves by number rather than name. In other words, Professor Zimbardo is surprised by the behavior of the priest and seeks to explain it by claiming that the priest has been socialized into the mind-set of the prisoners.
The foregoing account of things is consistent with Professor Zimbardo’s belief that people adapt to social situations because their natural dispositions come under the influence of situational forces. Absent from such a perspective is an explanation about how anyone – for example, the priest -- comes under the influence of those forces.
Socialization is not an automatic phenomenon. Interpretations, judgments, and choices are made concerning whether, or not, to cede one’s agency to the forces of socialization.
Professor Zimbardo already has ceded his moral and intellectual agency to the prisoner experiment – which is why he is willing to let abusive behavior take place. He would only be surprised by someone else also ceding their sense of agency as well if he is inclined to ignore the nature of the process through which a person’s sense of personal agency is ceded to a given situation and, instead, believes that a process of ‘socialization’ has somehow mysteriously taken effect sooner than anticipated.
The priest played his role to the hilt. He asked the ‘prisoners’ about bail conditions, whether, or not, they had lawyers or if they would like him to contact anyone on the ‘outside’ for them.
Professor Zimbardo assumed that the priest’s offer to contact people on the ‘outside’ was merely a façade with respect to the role the priest was playing. When the priest is questioned by Professor Zimbardo about the offer, the experimenter is surprised to discover that the priest considers it a duty to follow through on his offer to the prisoners.
The foregoing incident demonstrates one of the differences between the priest and Professor Zimbardo. The priest has not ceded certain aspects of his moral agency to the experiment, and, therefore, unlike Professor Zimbardo, when the priest promises something, he feels obligated to follow through on the promise.
On the other hand, the priest has ceded some degree of agency to Professor Zimbardo because the priest seems to accept certain things that are going on in the prison but, presumably, believes that Professor Zimbardo is not the sort of person who would place students in harm’s way ... in other words, the priest has conceded a certain amount of trust to the professor, but like the visitors the night before, the priest should not have trusted the professor because the experimenter has imprisoned the ‘subjects’ in a highly abusive situation.
While the priest is interviewing one of the ‘prisoners,’ the subject complains of a headache and indicates that he feels anxious and exhausted. Following some questions by Professor Zimbardo directed toward the ‘prisoner’ in order to discover the cause of the headache, the ‘prisoner’ breaks down in tears.
The priest speaks to the ‘prisoner’ and indicates that, perhaps, the prisoner is bothered by the unpleasant smell that pervades the ‘prison.’ He considers the smell rather toxic in nature, but he also believes that it helps lend a sense of realism to the experiment.
The priest doesn’t know how that smell came to permeate the atmosphere. If he did, he might not have been so willing to merely comment on the smell and, then, move on to other things.
The priest has been asked to comment on how realistic the ‘prison’ experiment is relative to the real thing. He hasn’t been asked to make an evaluation on whether, or not, the ‘prisoners’ are being treated properly.
He trusts that they have been treated properly because he believes that Professor Zimbardo is the sort of person who would not permit students or subjects to be treated in an abusive manner. Since the priest is not willing to entertain the possibility that something pathological is taking place, he misdiagnoses the breakdown of the ‘prisoner’ as possibly being a reaction to the unpleasant smell in the ‘prison.’
After interviewing the ‘prisoners,’ the priest provides his overview of what he has observed. He indicates that the experimental prison seems to be operating much as a real prison does and, as a result, many of the ‘prisoners’ are exhibiting what he refers to as “first-offender syndrome” – that is, the ‘prisoners’ are exhibiting signs of: irritability, if not rage, as well as depression and confusion.
The priest indicates that the symptoms are likely to dissipate after a week, or so. He refers to the behavior as being effeminate in nature and comments that inmates in real prisons learn that such conduct is not conducive to long-term survival.
What the priest does not suspect is that what he refers to as “first-offender syndrome” is actually a function of another kind of phenomenon altogether. The priest is looking at the behavior of the ‘prisoners’ through the lenses of actual prison life – and the priest has been induced to do so due to the manner in which the experimental situation has been presented to him by Professor Zimbardo.
The professor believed he had to take situational control of the visitors the night before because he knew that the parents would never approve of what was taking place in the prisoner experiment if they were to come to know the truth of what was transpiring in the ‘prison.’ Obviously, if Professor Zimbardo knew that what was going on in the prison was sufficiently problematic for it to be necessary to manipulate the impressions of the visitors, then he is not likely to be willing to confess to the priest concerning the pathological character of what has been happening in the basement of the psychology building ... the impressions of the priest have to be managed just as the impressions of the visitors had to be handled through the process of taking situational control and, thereby, using disinformation and misinformation to shape people’s understanding of the situation.
If the priest knew about the actual nature of the betrayal, and ensuing abuse, that was entailed by the prisoner experiment, would he continue to say that the behavior of the ‘prisoners’ was merely a reflection of the “first-offender syndrome” that takes place in actual prisons, or would he be prepared to state that what was going on in the experiment was abusive and pathological. One would like to hope that the priest would have been willing to change his opinion about what was transpiring in the ‘prisoner’ experiment, but in the light of what has taken place in the Catholic Church concerning the issue of sexual abuse, one is not entirely sure what the priest might have done.
According to Professor Zimbardo, the priest’s visit helped demonstrate the progressive nature of the conflation and confusion that is occurring with respect to the character of the relationship between reality and delusion during the prisoner experiment. He claims that the priest played his role of prison chaplain so well that the performance has helped transform the fiction of an experiment into a reality of its own.
Like the ‘prisoners’ and the ‘guards’, Professor Zimbardo had ceded his moral and intellectual agency to the delusional pathology that had taken over the experiment. The priest, on the other hand, was merely fulfilling a request by Professor Zimbardo to assess what was going on in the ‘prison’ and whether, or not, those conditions reflected actual prison life.
In order to gather the data necessary to make such an assessment, the priest played a role. As soon as the priest walked away from the role, he provided Professor Zimbardo with a comparative analysis of the situation.
The priest might have been operating under a misunderstanding with respect to what actually was going on in the ‘prison’ experiment, but he had not confused delusion with reality. With the exception of the issue of trusting Professor Zimbardo when, perhaps, the priest should not have done so – although such acts of ceding agency through trusting others often takes place in society every minute and hour of the day -- the priest had not ceded his sense of personal agency to the prison experiment except to the extent of temporarily playing a role that he knew was just a role.
The foregoing cannot be said with respect to Professor Zimbardo. He had ceded away his sense of personal agency to the experiment and, as a result, he permitted events to take place in the experiment that might not have occurred if he had not ceded such agency and, thereby, permitted himself to become entangled in a delusional world.
To be fair, there were times during the experiment when Professor Zimbardo reclaimed some degree of his sense of personal agency and disengaged from the delusional world of the prison experiment. For instance, on one occasion he found a ‘prisoner’ -- who previously had been exhibiting signs of acute stress – in a condition of hysterical meltdown, and Professor Zimbardo reminded the ‘prisoner’ that he was a student with a name and not just a number and that the ‘prisoner’ should withdraw from the experiment and go home. Professor Zimbardo wants to take the individual to see a doctor on campus.
The ‘prisoner’ stops crying and trembling. He stands up and insists on going back into the experimental prison.
The ‘prisoner’ says that he does not want to leave under circumstances in which he is being labeled by the other ‘prisoners’ as a ‘bad’ prisoner and whose behavior might result in the other ‘prisoners’ being harassed by the guards. Unlike all too many of the guards, perhaps the ‘prisoner’ has not ceded his sense of moral decency to the experiment, and, consequently, he wants to do the ‘right’ thing by the other ‘prisoners,’ himself, and the experiment.
On the other hand, maybe the desire of the ‘prisoner’ to remain in the experiment is merely a variation on the ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’ In other words, perhaps, the allegiances of the ‘prisoner’ have been captured by the delusional nature of the ‘prison’ experiment, and, as a result, the ‘prisoner’ is having difficulty understanding that his desire to do ‘right’ by the experiment might merely be an expression of how much agency he has ceded to the experiment and why he feels inclined to remain in the experiment when he has the opportunity to escape an abusive situation.
On another occasion, Professor Zimbardo also reclaims a certain modicum of the moral and intellectual agency which he has ceded to the idea of the experiment when he intervenes with the ‘guards’. He instructs them that they must not interfere with visiting hours.
Apparently, the ‘guards’ are upset with this sort of limitation that has been placed upon their conduct by Professor Zimbardo. However, they comply with the directive.
One wonders why Professor Zimbardo didn’t take the steps necessary to rein in their power with respect to far more serious instances of abusing the rights of the ‘prisoners. Perhaps, he was beginning to become a little more aware of the injurious impact that the abusive treatment of the ‘guards’ was having on the prisoners.
Professor Zimbardo might have had some assistance with respect to his condition of possibly enhanced awareness concerning the issue of abuse. After a number of ‘prisoners’ were permitted to withdraw from the experiment, Professor Zimbardo added a new ‘prisoner.’
Despite the ‘prisoner’s’ fear of the guards – he had been struck on the leg by a nightstick while being stripped naked and deloused – once initiated into the experiment, the new ‘prisoner’ went on a hunger strike. The hunger strike was intended to protest the manner in which the ‘guards’ were violating the conditions of the contract with respect to, among other things, the use of physical violence.
The ‘prisoner’ indicates that when he signed the contract to participate in the experiment, there were certain provisions in that document concerning the conduct of the guards. The ‘guards’ were violating those conditions, and the ‘prisoner’ made sure that everyone heard him with respect to that issue.
At least some of the ‘guards’ don’t seem to care about the part of the contract that concerns their own behavior. They are only interested in the parts of the contract that cover the conduct of the ‘prisoners’ since violation of those portions of the contract enable the ‘guards’ to rationalize their abusive treatment of the ‘prisoners.’
Such ‘guards’ have a vested interest in selectively reading the contract for the experiment because, apparently, they have begun to enjoy the abuse which they are inflicting on the ‘prisoners.’ However, the ‘experimenters’ also have a vested interest – namely, to keep the experiment going – to look the other way when the ‘guards’ violate sections of the contract (few though these sections might be) that govern the conduct of the guards.
During most of the first five days of the prison project, the experimenters have enabled some of the ‘guards’ to believe that the contractual rules that addressed the behavior of the ‘guards are not relevant to what goes on in the experiment. Only very occasionally – such as when Professor Zimbardo instructed the guards not to interfere with the visiting hour arrangements – did the experimenters honor the contract which they, themselves, had drawn up, and, quite possibly, the fact that at least one of the experimenters reclaimed some semblance of moral and intellectual agency with respect to the experiment was triggered by individuals like the new ‘prisoner’ who kept reminding the ‘guards’ – and, perhaps, Professor Zimbardo -- that their behaviors were violating the terms of the contract.
The experiment begins to crumble toward being shut down when someone with whom Professor Zimbardo is romantically involved begins to insert a few rays of moral agency into the darkness of the ‘prison’ project. Previously, she had played only a small role in the drama when she served on the Parole and Disciplinary Board, but she had never visited the ‘prison’ or had any inkling of what actually was taking place there.
On the fifth day of the experiment, she is invited down to the ‘prison.’ Prior to reaching the ‘prison’ she has a conversation with one of the ‘guards,’ and based on that conversation, she comes away with the impression that the individual seems to be a very nice young man.
A short while later she is observing the ‘prison’ experiment through the hidden portal which is near the video camera. She is appalled that the individual whom just a short while earlier had left her with such a favorable impression is now engaged in mean and abusive behavior.
The transformation in conduct seems incredible. The individual is: talking, walking and acting in a manner that is completely different than had been the case when he was outside the building talking with her.
Professor Zimbardo tries to direct her attention to something that is going on in the ‘prison.’ She seems uninterested in what he is excited about, and, in response, Professor Zimbardo tries to justify what is going on as constituting a phenomenon involving human behavior that, up until then, was unknown and unsuspected ... other members of the experimental staff who are present take the professor’s side in the matter.
Tears are streaming down her face, and she tells Professor Zimbardo that she is going home. He catches up with her outside the building and begins arguing with her and barraging her with belittling remarks concerning her potential for ever being a competent researcher if she can’t manage her emotions better than what she is presently doing.
He explains to her that many people have visited the ‘prison’ and none of them have reacted to the situation in the way she has. He claims that they didn’t find anything wrong with what was going on in the prison experiment.
The fact of the matter is that Professor Zimbardo is not being honest when he makes the latter sort of claims. First of all, no one outside of the experimental staff actually witnessed the sort of abusive treatment that was being inflicted on the ‘prisoners’ by the guards.
The priest who had been permitted into the ‘prison’ for a short time only interviewed the ‘prisoners.’ He did not observe any of the ‘normal’ interaction between the ‘guards’ and the ‘prisoners’ ... although the priest did smell one dimension of that interaction.
Moreover, the relatives and friends who had attended the ‘Visitors Night’ did not witness any of the pathological behavior that was taking place in the prison. However, one of the mothers wrote a note to Professor Zimbardo indicating – based on the appearance her son – that she was concerned about her son’s mental and physical health.
By his own admission, Professor Zimbardo had to take situational control of such situations. Otherwise, people might become aware of the abuses that were taking place in the basement of the psychology building and, therefore, he believed he had to manage people’s perceptions about what was actually happening in the experiment ... a tacit acknowledgement that the experiment was not as ‘innocent’ as he was attempting to convince people – including himself -- was the case.
For five days, Professor Zimbardo carried around within him knowledge – at least on some level – that what was taking place in the ‘prison’ was pathological and abusive. It took only a very short time for the woman with whom he was romantically involved to recognize and understand some of the unseemly underbelly of what he had been up to in his experiment.
The two had further arguments about the matter. She told Professor Zimbardo on several occasions that the young men in the experiment were suffering and that terrible things were being inflicted on those “boys.”
She was extremely concerned because like the guard with whom she had talked prior to venturing down into the ‘prison,’ she had viewed Professor Zimbardo as someone who was caring, kind, and compassionate. Yet, Professor Zimbardo was supervising an experiment in which there seemed to be little evidence that could demonstrate the presence of such a caring, kind, or compassionate person, and, like the guard, the individual (i.e., Professor Zimbardo) that she thought she knew was actually acting in a way that was contrary to what she had expected.
Following their discussion, the professor decides to end the experiment. When Professor Zimbardo returns to the ‘prison,’ he discovers that the ‘guards’ have invented a new form of abuse in which the ‘prisoners’ are required to mimic sex acts with holes in the floor and with one another whenever the ‘prisoners’ displease the ‘guards.’
Professor Zimbardo concludes that most of the ‘guards’ were unable to resist the situational temptations of control and power. On the other side of the ledger, Professor Zimbardo feels that most of the ‘prisoners’ had suffered varying degrees of physical, mental and emotional breakdown under the situational forces that impacted on them.
Unfortunately, Professor Zimbardo does not seem to understand that what has gone on for five days has little to do with people being transformed by situational temptations and forces. Instead, the experimenters enabled the entire pathology of the ‘prison’ experiment to occur as a result of their failure to enforce the contractual ‘right’ of the ‘prisoners’ to be free from physical violence as well as their failure to hold the ‘guards’ accountable for their many transgressions against that ‘right’.
The experimenters were caught up in the delusion that they were objective researchers who were pursuing noble, ground-breaking ends. Consequently, they were more interested in keeping the experiment going than they were concerned about the welfare of their subjects – whether ‘guards’ or ‘prisoners’ -- and, as a result, they continued to permit the areas of ‘problematic conduct’ in relation to the ‘guards’ to be broadened ... for to have done otherwise would have prevented the ‘guards’ from doing what they did, and what they did were the sorts of behavior that not only seemed to intrigue the experimenters but which had such ‘interesting’ effects upon the ‘prisoners.’
One of the questions hovering about the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments is the following one. Why did both experiments, each in its own way, permit abuse to be perpetrated in relation to subjects?
If either of the foregoing researchers had, to a sufficient degree, critically reflected on their respective experiments prior to the fact of those experiments being run, they might have considered the possibility that there were abusive dimensions to their research projects. In other words, whatever the ‘teachers’ might have ‘done’ (or believed they were doing) to the ‘learners’ in the Milgram experiment, and whatever, the ‘guards’ might have done to the ‘prisoners’, both Professor Milgram and Professor Zimbardo should have understood that the experimental process to which they were going to expose their subjects was inherently abusive ... if for no other reason than that the trust which subjects placed in the people conducting the experiment (and if trust had not been present, the subjects are not likely to have been inclined to participate in such a process) would be betrayed when, in one way or another, the subjects’ sense of personal agency was manipulated, and then, the two experiments – each in its own way -- proceeded to hold that sense of agency hostage to the agenda and purposes of the various researchers.
Neither Professor Zimbardo nor Professor Milgram had a right to the sort of intellectual freedom that entitles them to abuse other human beings for the purposes of discovering something which might be of interest or even of value. The law of ignorance says that the boundaries of one’s right to push back the horizons of ignorance extends only to being provided with a fair opportunity to do so, and this sort of fairness entails a reciprocal obligation not to undermine anyone else’s right to have the same kind of fair opportunity to be able to proceed in a similar fashion.
When people are deceived and manipulated, the quality of fairness is significantly degraded if not entirely eliminated. What the alleged purpose of such deception and manipulation are is irrelevant to the issue of fairness and its inherent quality of reciprocity.
Just as the Milgram learning/memory experiment carried many implications for issues of governance, there also are many parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and the issue of governance. While there were many mistakes made in the Zimbardo experiment that are important to grasp because that sort of understanding might serve to guide one in relation to how not to conduct research, the prisoner experiment might be more important as an illustration of the pathological dynamics that often occur within almost any framework of governance.
For example, the Philadelphia Constitution is often portrayed as an experiment in democracy. However, like the Stanford Prisoner Experiment, the people who dreamed up the idea for such an experiment didn’t necessarily know what they were doing or how things would turn out.
During the ratification process, when people asked questions about how the Philadelphia Constitution would work, the supporters of ratification had worked out stock, theoretical answers and these were fed back to the people asking the questions. Those answers were entirely theoretical and speculative because no one had previously tried such an experiment, and, consequently, there was little hard data to support any of those contentions.
Whenever Professor Zimbardo was asked what his experiment was about, he claimed that it was an exploration into what ‘prisoners’ would do to reclaim control of a situation in which their freedoms had been stripped from them. There was no hypothesis ... just a fishing expedition for data.
The people conducting the Stanford Prison Experiment had no idea how their project would turn out. If they did understand what might ensue from their project, they would either not have run the experiment at all or they would have not been surprised when things had to be shut down after five to six days.
Similarly, the individuals conducting the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment had no idea how their project would turn out. They wanted the power to try certain things – i.e., go on a fishing expedition for data that might confirm their speculations concerning democratic governance – and the deeply flawed ratification process provided them with the opportunity which they sought ... just as a deeply flawed system of ethical oversight (with respect to the sort of psychological experiments that should be given the green light) enabled Professor Zimbardo to have the opportunity and power to run with his ideas.
People suffered as a result of the Stanford Prison Experiment. People also have suffered as a result of the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment.
Blacks, Indians, women, poor people, Chinese immigrants (as well as many other immigrant groups), Japanese-American citizens, the disenfranchised, and blue-collar workers have all been abused by the system of governance put into play by the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment. The people conducting that experiment have known about such abuses, but like the individuals running the prisoner experiment, they have been too caught up in their own delusional systems to fully appreciate, or care about, what they were doing to other people.
The environment – both locally and internationally -- has been progressively degraded under the ‘watchful’ eye of the inheritors of the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment. In addition, millions of people in other parts of the world have been slaughtered, their lands confiscated, and their resources plundered in order to keep the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment running ... just as young male subjects had to be abused in order to keep the Stanford Prisoner Experiment going.
Professor Zimbardo utilized various experts – in the form of prison consultants, a prison chaplain, and people who conducted various psychological tests and interviews – to help inform the manner in which his experiment was conducted. None of those experts prevented what transpired. In fact, in many ways such expertise merely helped color the delusional character of the understanding through which they perceived their experiment.
Similarly, the people who started running the Philadelphia Constitutional Experiment – as well as their subsequent successors – employed lawyers, leaders of various descriptions, economists, media experts, educators, corporate and business executives, bankers, and military strategists. Yet, none of this expertise prevented the abuse that is continuing to be perpetrated through the legacy of the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment.
Like the Stanford Prison Experiment, the people conducting the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment know that pathological things are happening within the context of their experimental operation. However, just as the people conducting the prison project decided that they had to manage the perception of the ‘visitors’ to their prison, the individuals handling the constitutional project also have decided they must take ‘situational control’ and, as a result, they lie to people and hide things from the ‘outsiders’ who come to them and are concerned about what is taking place within the context of the constitutional experiment.
The people who conducted the prisoner experiment had sufficient awareness to understand that if the parents and friends of the ‘prisoners’ were to find out about the actual abusive character of the experiment, they would pull their loved ones from the experiment. As a result, they set about trying to mask the odor of corruption which had crept into their experiment, as well as attempted to clean up the physical appearance the facilities and the ‘prisoners.’
The people conducting the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment also have sufficient awareness to understand that if ‘We the People’ were to find out about the actual abusive nature of the constitutional experiment, the people would pull out of that project. As a result, the people conducting the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment spend a great deal of time, energy and resources attempting to mislead, misinform, and spread disinformation among ‘We the People’ with respect to the ‘state of the nation.’
Just as keeping the Stanford Prisoner Experiment going was more important to the individuals conducting that project than was the physical and mental welfare of the ‘subjects’ participating in their experiment, so too, keeping the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment going is more important to the people running that experiment than is the physical and emotional well-being of the ‘subjects’ – i.e., ‘We the People’ – who have been induced to participate in the constitutional experiment.
The people who conducted the prisoner experiment were so caught up in their own delusions concerning what they believed was transpiring in their experiment, that they argued with any ‘outsider’ – and there was only one such ‘outsider’ -- who was permitted to peek behind the curtain of secrecy surrounding the experiment and expressed shock with respect to what was taking place. The ‘outsider’ was told that she didn’t have what it takes to be a psychologist, and the ‘outsider’ was told about the groundbreaking research that was going on and how no one had ever witnessed what was taking place within their experiment, and the ‘outsider’ was told that no one who been a witness to what was transpiring within the ‘prison’ had objected to what was taking place.
Similarly, the people conducting the constitutional experiment are so caught up in their own delusions concerning what they believe is transpiring within the context of their experiment, that they argue with and ridicule any ‘outsider’ who comes along and, somehow, gets to look behind the ‘wizard’s curtain,’ and, as a result, begins to take issue with what is transpiring there. Such ‘outsiders’ are told that the constitutional project is the greatest experiment the world has ever known, and the ‘outsider’ is told that groundbreaking, breathtaking progress has been achieved because of that experiment – the sort of progress that the world has never before witnessed – and the ‘outsider’ is told that no one who has witnesses what is transpiring within the constitutional experiment has ever objected to what was taking place there.
To those ‘outsiders’ who are able to witness the tremendous abuses that are taking place within the context of the constitutional experiment and as a result of that project, such arguments are nothing more than attempts to rationalize the indefensible. If people have to be abused in order for progress to be achieved, then there is something inherently pathological about that notion of progress.
Unfortunately, the people conducting the constitutional experiment are too entangled in their own delusional thinking in relation to their project to understand that they don’t have the right to abuse people ... any more than the individuals running the prisoner experiment had a right to abuse their subjects in order to serve the purposes of that project. There is no justification concerning those experiments which can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that abusing people is okay and, therefore, the individuals conducting the experiment should be permitted to continue on with their pathological activities.
The individuals conducting the prisoner experiment might have had the most noble of intentions when they began their project. Similarly, the individuals conducting the constitutional experiment might have had the most noble of intentions when they began their project.
None of the foregoing matters because irrespective of whether the people conducting the respective experiments understood it or not, their intentions – noble though they might be -- led to the deliberate abuse of other human beings. Moreover, when those abuses were brought to their attention, they retreated into various delusional systems of thought in order to justify to themselves that the abuses that were occurring as a result of their grand experiments were something other than what they were.
Whether by design or out of denial, Professor Zimbardo and other staff members in the Stanford Prisoner Experiment lied to the ‘prisoners’ and told the ‘prisoners’ that their troubles were of their own making. The people conducting the experiment had ample evidence on video and audio tape, as well as through their own direct observations, that not only were the ‘guards’ behaving in ways that were not permitted by the contractual conditions governing the prisoner experiment, but as well, the ‘guards’ were inventing reasons and justifications for punishing the prisoners in ways that were disproportionate to anything done by the ‘prisoners.’
Similarly, whether by design or out of denial, the people running the constitutional experiment have lied again and again to ‘We the People’ and have sought to justify such lying by claiming that the people are the authors of their own misfortune. For instance, those who, over the years, have conducted the constitutional experiment have set forth a mythology (a mythology rooted in misinformation and disinformation of one kind or another) which claims that: It was necessary for the Philadelphia Convention to be secretive and for everyone but the would-be architects of the propose constitution to be kept away from the experiment in constitution-making, and it was necessary for the participants in the Philadelphia Convention to disregard the wishes of the Continental Congress, as well as the provisions of the Articles of Confederation, and it was necessary to induce the members of the Continental Congress to be derelict in their duties under The Articles of Confederation, and it was necessary for the states to be derelict in their duties under The Articles of Confederation, and that it was necessary for many facets of the ratification process to be rigged in favor of those who supported the idea of adopting the Philadelphia Constitution, and that it was necessary for the flawed ratification process to be imposed on people, and that it was necessary for everyone to feel obligated in relation to the results of such a process ... and that whatever abuses have transpired in the context of such a constitutional experiment are entirely the fault of ‘We the People’ and has nothing to do with the structural character of the constitutional experiment and has nothing to do with the pathological conduct of the people who are overseeing that project.
The people conducting the Stanford Prisoner Experiment claimed that experiment was about what steps the ‘prisoners’ would take to reclaim their sense of personal agency after, or while, they were made to feel powerless through the actions of the ‘guards’. The individuals running the prisoner experiment went to considerable lengths to enable the ‘guards’ to abuse the ‘prisoners’ ... even to the extent of permitting the ‘guards’ to continuously push the envelope on the issue of physical violence despite the fact that the ‘guards’ were contractually obligated to observe the rule concerning no physical violence.
The individuals conducting the Philadelphia Constitutional Experiment claim that their experiment is about self-governance – that is, the co-operative exercise of the sense of personal agency of ‘We the People’ – and the constitutional experiment is about what ‘We the People’ (i.e., the subjects) will do once constitutional arrangements have been made to make ‘We the People’ feel as powerless as possible through the actions of the Executive, Congress, the Judiciary, and the state. In addition, the people running the constitutional experiment have gone to considerable lengths to enable the constitutional system to abuse ‘We the People’ ... even to the extent of letting the ‘guardians’ of the government continuously push the envelope with respect to violating their contractual obligations concerning the ‘rights’ of ‘We the People’ in relation to, among other things, the issue of self-governance.
Just as the individuals running the Stanford Prisoner Experiment told their experimental subjects that they would have the right to withdraw from the experiment at any time, so too, the people conducting the constitutional experiment point to the Declaration of Independence and indicate how that document addresses the right of the people to abolish governments that are not serving the proper ends of governance. Moreover, just as the people running the prisoner experiment sought to manipulate their ‘prisoners’ when the latter individuals sought release from the prisoner experiment, so too, the individuals conducting the constitutional experiment manipulate ‘We the People’ by indicating that with respect to the basic issues of governance, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” – ‘Hotel California,’ The Eagles.
The people conducting the Stanford Prisoner Experiment claimed that they were the most qualified, objective individuals to evaluate what was taking place in their experiment. Yet, they didn’t have a clue what they were doing, for if they did, the experiment would not have been terminated eight days earlier than scheduled.
The people who initiated the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment claimed that they are the most qualified, ‘disinterested,’ republican individuals to judge the character of their experiment. Nevertheless, within ten years of the inception of that experiment, people such as Madison and Hamilton who had been allies throughout the Philadelphia Convention, as well as during the ratification process (in the latter case, they, among other case, wrote the vast majority of the essays that would become The Federalist Papers), turned into the sort of enemies they might never have considered possible a few years earlier.
Such transformational shifts are suggestive. They indicate that one, or more, of the two aforementioned individuals didn’t necessarily understand the nature of the experiment they had set in motion.
Professor Zimbardo’s romantic partner broke with him over the prisoner experiment and couldn’t understand how the person she believed she loved could permit such abusive things to happen to his subjects. Professor Zimbardo belittled his romantic partner and questioned her capacity for objectivity and research
Similarly, although Madison and Hamilton were not romantically involved, nonetheless, as fellow overseers of the constitutional experiment, they could not understand what had come over their former traveling companion along the path of republicanism. They soon were belittling one another in relation to the manner in which they respectively considered the other person to be guilty of betraying the principles of the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment ... despite the fact that the principles of that document were never actually justified beyond a reasonable doubt -- not even to individuals participating in the Philadelphia Convention given that they all had agreed there were many problems inherent in the constitutional experiment they had devised, and given that at least six individuals (George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Edmond Randolph, John Lansing, Jr., Robert Yates, and Luther Martin) rejected what was transpiring in the Philadelphia Convention.
The people conducting the Stanford Prisoner Experiment induced the subjects who would become ‘prisoners’ to cede their sense of personal agency to the individuals running the project. Out of a sense of trust – along with other motivations – the subjects who were to become ‘prisoners’ did cede their sense of personal agency to the people conducting the experiment.
The people overseeing the prisoner project permitted the ‘guards’ to have an enhanced sense of personal agency by permitting them to have physical and emotional authority over, and control of, the ‘prisoners.’ In order to accomplish this, the individuals conducting the experiment had to cede some of their own agency – after all, they were the ones who supposedly were running the experiment – to the ‘guards.’
Once enabled in the foregoing fashion, the guards – or, at least, some of them -- leveraged the agency that had been ceded to them by the experimenters and set about abusing the ‘prisoners,’ and began to push the envelope with respect to the rule which indicated that physical violence could not be used in the ‘prison’ by either the ‘guards’ or the ‘prisoners.’ Thereafter, the violent activities of the ‘guards’ were re-cast by the experimenters as something other than the abuse and contractual violations that they actually were.
The sorts of things which have noted above also have taken place -- and are continuing to occur -- in relation to the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment. The provisions of the Philadelphia Constitution – as interpreted by the Executive, the Judiciary, Congress, and the states -- have been used to cede an enhanced sense of personal agency to the ‘guardians’ of the constitutional experiment ... which, unfortunately, happens to be the: Executive, Judiciary, Congress, and states, and, therefore, contrary to the principles of republicanism, they all have become judges in their own causes.
Once enabled in the foregoing fashion, the ‘guardians’ of the experiment in democracy have proceeded to leverage the power that has been ceded to them through elections. As a result -- and as was true in the prisoner experiment -- the constitutional ‘guardians’ began – almost from the outset of the constitutional experiment -- to treat the ‘prisoners’ (i.e., We the People) in arbitrary and abusive ways as those ‘guardians’ sought to push the envelope with respect to violating the rights of the people in relation to the issue of self-governance – that is, the co-operative exercise of their sense of collective and individual personal agency.
The word “arbitrary” is used in the previous sentence because whether one is talking about the Executive, the Judicial, the Congressional, or the state branches of government, none of these facets of governance has been able to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that their respective interpretations of the Philadelphia Constitution are viable ways of serving the purposes and principles which were set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution, or that their interpretation of governance can be justified, beyond a reasonable doubt, with respect to the ‘original right’ to which Justice Marshall referred in Marbury v. Madison. Consequently, the very fact of the arbitrariness surrounding those interpretive activities makes them abusive in relation to each human being’s basic right of sovereignty – that is, the right to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance with respect to the nature of reality. Any interference with that sort of sovereignty which cannot be justified beyond a reasonable doubt is arbitrary.
In the Stanford Prisoner Experiment, the behaviors of the ‘guards’ and the ‘prisoners’ are said to give expression to the manner in which situational forces come to dominate the dispositional tendencies of individuals, thereby, inducing individuals to behave in ways that would not otherwise occur. Entirely left out of the foregoing account is the manner in which the people running the experiment manipulated the sense of personal agency of both the ‘guards’ as well as the ‘prisoners’ and, in addition, ceded their own sense of personal agency to the kind of delusional understanding of the experiment that would permit fundamental violations of the contractual rules supposedly governing the experiment to occur in order to keep the experiment going.
In the Philadelphia Constitution Experiment, the behaviors of the ‘guardians’ of democracy are said to give expression to the manner in which the situational principles of the Constitution come to dominate the dispositional tendencies of individuals, thereby enabling individuals to behave in ‘civilized’ and ‘democratic’ ways that would not otherwise occur. Entirely left out of that kind of an account is the manner in which the people running the constitutional experiment have manipulated the sense of personal agency of the ‘prisoners’ (i.e., We the People) and induced them to cede such agency to the ‘guardians’ of democracy who, then, proceed to leverage that power to serve their own delusional understanding concerning: ‘sovereignty,’ rights,’ ‘justice,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘welfare,’ ‘tranquility,’ and the ‘common defense.’
Finally, during the Stanford Prisoner Experiment, there came a point during their project in which the individuals conducting the experiment convinced themselves that one of the ‘prisoners’ whom they had permitted to be abused and, then, subsequently released was going to come back with a gang of friends and free the remaining ‘prisoners’ as well as trash the ‘prison.’ They became so obsessed with the idea that they sought to move their experiment to an ‘out of use’ jail facility outside of the university, and when this plan did not work out, moved all the ‘prisoners’ to a windowless, poorly ventilated storage facility for three hours in order to foil the fiendish plans of the former ‘prisoner.’
The foregoing delusional fantasy was set in motion by: (1) several ‘guards’ claiming that they heard the ‘prisoners’ talking about such a plot, and (2) one of the ‘guards’ claiming that he had seen the released ‘prisoner’ skulking about the halls of the Psychology Department. Rather than investigating to determine whether, or not, there was any truth to the various allegations of the ‘guards’, the experimenters entered into a paranoid delusional state and took steps that were consistent with such a condition – that is, they did what they thought was necessary to preserve their own experiment no matter how it might affect the ‘prisoners.’
Eventually, the experimenters returned the ‘prisoners’ to the ‘prison’ facility in the basement. The had come to the conclusion that the whole ‘plot’ was nothing but ‘rumor,’ and failed to understand that their behavior was a function of delusional thinking that was present long before the ‘rumors’ surfaced and that the ‘rumors’ had been given credence because they were filtered through the lenses of a delusional system of thinking.
Similarly, the ‘guardians’ of democracy tend to operate out of a delusional framework that is based on arbitrary and abusive interpretations of the Constitution which often compels them to filter unsubstantiated rumors – for example, those connected with Afghanistan in 2001, or those connected with Iraq in 2003, or those connected with Vietnam in the 1960s – through such delusional thinking in a way that has (and has had) terrible consequences for many people ... both Americans and people elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, the purpose underlying those exercises of paranoid delusions is not to protect the ‘prisoners’ (i.e., We the People’) but, instead, is directed toward keeping the experiment going in a fashion that will permit that project to remain completely under the control of those who are conducting the constitutional experiment while operating out of a delusional framework concerning the sovereignty of the ‘prisoners’ (i.e., We the People’) that they are abusing in arbitrary ways ... that is, in ways that cannot be justified.