The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo  

Favorite Passages

eaders are invited to send us their favorite book passages from The Lucifer Effect (either something about the writing style or the content). Please include your name, home town, and age if you wish. Here are the first ones submitted by students:

"Heroism has never been systematically investigated in the behavioral sciences. Heroes and heroism seem to be best explored by literature, art, myth, and cinema. Multiple data sources document the ills of human existence: Homicides and suicides, crime rates, prison populations, poverty levels, and the base rate of schizophrenia in a given population. Similar quantitative data for positive human activities are not easy to come by. We don't keep records of how many acts of charity, kindness, or compassion occurred in a community in the course of a year. Only occasionally do we learn of a heroic act. Such apparently low base-rates lead us to believe that heroism is rare and that heroes are the truly exceptional. Nevertheless, renewed interest in the importance of addressing the good in human nature has arisen from the new research and empirical rigor of the Positive Psychology movement. Spearheaded by Martin Seligman and his colleagues, this movement has created a paradigm shift toward accentuating the positive in human nature and minimizing psychology's the long-held focus on the negative." (From Chapter 16, page 460)

“My advice about what to do in case you encounter a ‘dirty, rotten scoundrel,’ disguised as nice guy or a sweet old lady, has been accumulated over many decades from many personal experiences. As a scrawny, sickly kid trying to survive on the mean streets of a South Bronx ghetto, I had to learn basic street smarts; these consist of figuring out quickly how certain people would be likely to act in certain situations. I got good enough at the skill to become a leader of the gang, or the team, or the class. Then I was trained by an unscrupulous boss, a Fagin like character in drag, on how to deceive theatergoers into checking their hats and coats when they did not want to, and to manipulate them into paying tips to get them back, when tipping was not required. As her apprentice, I became experienced in selling expensive programs of the show when free versions were available, and in overdosing kids with loads of candy and drinks if their parents were not chaperoning them to our candy counter. I was also trained to sell magazines door-to-door, eliciting pity, and thereby sales, to sympathetic tenement dwellers. Later on, I studied formally the tactics police use to get confessions from suspects; that state-sanctioned torturers use to get anything they want from their victims, and that cult-recruiters use in seducing the innocent into their dens. My scholarship extended to studying the mind control tactics used by the Soviets, to the methods used by the Chinese Communists in the Korean War, and in their massive national thought reform programs. I studied as well our own homegrown mind manipulators in the CIA, state-sponsored MKULTRA program, and Jim Jones' lethal charisma over his religious followers (outlined in earlier chapters)." (From Chapter 16, page 448)

— Jessica Schwartz Cameron, New York
"He also began to feel anonymous because 'no one was listening to my position. It was clear that there was no accountability.' Moreover, the physical setting in which he found himself conferred total anonymity by its barren ugliness. Anonymity of place combined with anonymity of person, given that it became the norm to stop wearing their full military uniforms while on duty. And all around them, most visitors and the civilian interrogators came and went unnamed. No one in charge was readily identifiable, and the seemingly endless mass of prisoners, wearing orange jumpsuits or totally naked, were also indistinguishable from one another. It was as extreme a setting for creating deindividuation as I can imagine." (From Chapter 14, page 351)

"I have focused on understanding the nature of the bad barrel of prisons that can corrupt good guards, but there is a larger, more deadly barrel, that of war. In all wars, at all times, in every country, wars transform ordinary, even good men into killers. That is what soldiers are trained to do, to kill their designated enemies. However, under the extreme stresses of combat conditions, with fatigue, fear, anger, hatred, and revenge at full throttle, men can lose their moral compass and go beyond killing enemy combatants. Unless military discipline is strictly maintained and every soldier knows he bears personal responsibility for his actions, which are under surveillance by senior officers, then the furies are released in unimaginable orgies of rape and murder of civilians as well as enemy soldiers. We know such loss was true at My Lai and in other less well-known military massacres, such as those of the 'Tiger Force' in Vietnam. This elite fighting unit left a seven-month-long trail of executions of unarmed civilians. Sadly, the brutality of war that spills over from the battlefield to the hometown has become true again in Iraq." (From Chapter 15, pages 416-417)

"Administrative evil is systemic, in the sense that it exists beyond any one person once its policies are in place and its procedures take control. Nevertheless, I would argue, organizations must have leaders, and those leaders must be held accountable for creating or maintaining such evil. I believe that a system consists of those agents and agencies whose power and values create or modify the rules of and expectations for 'approved behaviors' within its sphere of influence. In one sense, the system is more than the sum of its parts and of its leaders, who also fall under its powerful influences. In another sense, however, the individuals who play key roles in creating a system that engages in illegal, immoral, and unethical conduct should be held accountable despite the situational pressures on them." (From Chapter 15, page 438)

— Daniel Effron, Rochester, New York
"Arendt’s phrase 'the banality of evil' continues to resonate because genocide has been unleashed around the world and torture and terrorism continue to be common features of our global landscape. We prefer to distance ourselves from such a fundamental truth, seeing the madness of evildoers and senseless violence of tyrants as dispositional characters within their personal makeup. Arendt’s analysis was the first to deny this orientation by observing the fluidity with which social forces can prompt normal people to perform horrific acts." (From Chapter 12, pages 288-289)

"Our usual take on evil focuses on the violent, destructive actions of perpetrators, but the failure to act can also be a form of evil, when helping, dissent, disobedience, or whistle-blowing are required. One of the most critical, least acknowledged contributors to evil goes beyond the protagonists of harm to the silent chorus who look but do not see, who hear but do not listen. Their silent presence at the scene of evil doings makes the hazy line between good and evil even fuzzier. We ask next: Why don’t people help? Why don’t people act when their aid is needed? Is their passivity a personal defect of callousness, of indifference? Alternatively, are there identifiable social dynamics once again at play?" (From Chapter 13, page 314)

— Cynthia Levine, Ann Arbor, Michigan
"For us kids, system power resided in big bad janitors who kicked you off their stoops, and in the heartless landlords who could evict whole families by getting the authorities to cart their belongings onto the street for their failure to pay the rent. I still feel for their public shame. But our worst enemy was the police who would swoop down on us as we played stickball in the streets (broomstick bat and rubber Spalding ball). Without offering any reason, they would confiscate our stickball bats and force us to stop playing in the street. Since there was not a playground within a mile of where we lived, streets were all we had, and there was little danger posed to citizens by our pink rubber ball. I recall a time when we hid the bats as the police approached, but the cops singled me out to spill the beans as to their location. When I refused, the cop said he would arrest me and as he pushed me into his squad car my head smashed against the door. After that, I never trusted grownups in uniforms until proven otherwise.

With such rearing, all in the absence of any parental oversight, because in those days kids and parents never mixed on the streets, it is obvious where my curiosity about human nature came from, especially its darker side. Thus, The Lucifer Effect has been incubating in me for many years, from my ghetto sand box days through formal training in psychological science and has led me to ask big questions and answer them with empirical evidence." (From the preface)

— Kieran O'Connor, Colorado City, Colorado

©2006-2016, Philip G. Zimbardo

About the Book
Chapter List
Illustration List
Subject Index
Additional Content
Book Reviews
Book Endorsements
Reader Feedback
Favorite Passages
Reference List on Evil

About the Movie

About Phil Zimbardo

Stanford Prison Experiment

Celebrating Heroism

Resisting Influence


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