Classic studies in social psychology have been used to advance arguments that normal decent people will behave barbarically (a) when ordered to do so by their superiors, and (b) when placed in groups and given power over others. This evidence has been particularly influential in embedding the ‘banality of evil’ thesis within the public consciousness — appearing to indicate that ordinary people commit atrocities without awareness, care or choice. This seminar argues against this view on the basis of a reappraisal of relevant historical and psychological evidence. This indicates that those who perpetrate evil on behalf of tyrannical regimes act thoughtfully, creatively, and with conviction. Drawing from this evidence and the BBC Prison Study (Reicher & Haslam, 2006), the case is made for an interactionist approach which explains the emergence of tyranny and evil in terms of three dynamics that (a) initially draw particular people to extreme and oppressive groups, (b) transform them through membership in those groups, and (c) allow them to gain influence over others and hence normalize oppression. These dynamics can make evil appear banal, but are far from banal themselves. They also suggest that when people act in evil ways they typically do so willingly — not because they know they are doing wrong, but rather because they believe that what they are doing is right, even noble.
Prof Alex Haslam
Is conformity blind, is evil banal?
Rethinking the wisdom received from Milgram and Zimbardo.
Monday Sept 30 2013
The Redbrick Hotel
Cnr Annerley and Stephens Rd South Brisbane
6pm dinner 7:30pm meeting