Bad Apples or Bad Barrels?
I’m reading a fascinating book: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Phil Zimbardo, the Stanford professor who conducted the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971. A good one to add to your reading list.
In this experiment, he took a group of college boys, carefully tested them to ensure there was no sign of mental illness, sociopathy or sadism, then randomly assigned them to play the roles of guards and prisoners in a mock prison set up in the basement of Stanford’s Jordan Hall. After just days, the experiment spiraled out of control, with the guards ultimately submitting the prisoners to sadistic abuse far beyond the needs of role playing, and the prisoners descending into very real depression and apathy. In The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo describes the experiment in detail, correlating it with much later research by himself and others, including his work with Abu Ghraib prison guards.
Of course, as I was reading the book, my mind went to my own experiences at the Int Base, which were eerily similar to the abuses, degradation and mind games carried out by the SPE “guards.”
Zimbardo talks about what he refers to as the “bad apple – bad barrel” question. Are evil acts the sole result of “bad apples” – individuals who are simply, by nature, evil – or are there also situational and systemic factors – “bad barrels” – that can cause even good, decent people to carry out, support or tolerate evil acts?
It’s an interesting question. Most institutions – law, medicine, psychology, even religion – focus on an individualistic orientation. When bad things happen, it’s because of bad people, period. In history, we tend to focus on the one evil individual who was responsible for everything bad that happened – a Saddam Hussein, a Stalin, a Hitler. Hitler, for instance, was responsible for the Holocaust as we all know.
No – it took a huge propaganda machine to turn the German people against their Jewish neighbors. There were books that had to be written, pamphlets circulated, newspapers and magazines about the Jewish “problem” and what to do about it. Jews had to be transported and guarded. Huge prison compounds and extermination chambers had to be built. Poisons had to be developed and manufactured. And one guy did all this? No, there was something else, systemic factors that caused normal, everyday German people to support, tolerate and even commit acts of unspeakable evil.
There’s a quote I love from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, describing his own prison experience in Gulag Archipelago. He writes: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between social classes nor between political parties, but right through every human heart, through all human hearts.”
This resonates with me as I saw a lot of abuse and cruelty at the Int Base, some of it carried out by people I knew to be basically good, moral, decent people. And it raises the question, why?
I get frustrated when I hear “it’s all David Miscavige.” Sure, the man is a dangerous sociopath, I of all people know that, having worked with him “up close and personal.” But there are a couple of things wrong with this “it’s all Miscavige” theory.
First, Hubbard himself would reject it as a Why, per his own Data Series criteria, for two reasons. One, it’s not a Why, it’s a Who. And two, it can be “how comed.” As in “How come one individual can corrupt the entirety of Scientology, tens of thousands of people, including highly trained auditors, OTs and Sea Org veterans, all of whom have at their command what Scientology promotes as the most advanced technology of the human mind and life, including PTS/SP technology?” Well, that’s a good question. A proper Why would answer it. And it’s not “he’s an SP.” What, that gives him super-powers? (See my last post)
Another problem I have with the “it’s all Miscavige” theory is that I personally observed systemic abuse within Scientology as early as 1968. Miscavige was eight years old. Want some examples? Read my book, Counterfeit Dreams.
And this isn’t an invitation for some rant – “see, it’s not Miscavige – it’s all Hubbard’s fault!” That’s just another Who, isn’t it?
We’re not looking to lay blame. We’re not searching for more Whos. Why don’t we look and see if we can find some situational or systemic factors which tend to make Scientologists, staff, or Sea Org Members tolerate, support or even carry out evil, abusive acts?
Zimbardo points out that defenders of the System (whatever System it may be) tend to divert attention away from an inspection of the System. He encountered this when looking into the abuses at Abu Ghraib. The US military, of course, insisted there was nothing wrong with the military system, the prison, or the procedures. All the abuses were only due to “a few bad apples.” Nothing to see here, keep moving…
Defenders of Scientology, similarly, are hesitant to inspect the System. “There is nothing wrong with the Scientology system,” they might insist. “It’s all David Miscavige.” That’s too bad, because if anyone is serious about reforming Scientology, they should be very, very curious about the real reasons (the real Why, if you will) for Scientology’s systemic problems, and how they can be avoided in future.
What do I mean by systemic problems? Well, two of the factors Zimbardo talks about in his book, factors that encourage people to be abusive to others, are deindividuation and dehumanization. A person who puts on a guard uniform and reflective sunglasses, as in the Stanford Prison Experiment, becomes less of an individual. A man who puts on a guard uniform at Abu Ghraib undergoes the same transformation. He is in a different world with different rules. He is not himself, he is a “guard.”
Well, what about a person who puts on a Sea Org uniform at the Int Base, told they are to “penalize downstats”? Or a person who is given a baton, told he is the “Master-at-Arms,” and told that his job is to “find and eliminate counter-intention.”
And dehumanization. During the Stanford Prison Experiment, the prisoners were all given filthy smocks with numbers sewn on the front, and forced to live in degraded conditions. The guards referred to them as “dogs.” At Abu Ghraib, the prisoners were “towel-heads,” “arab dogs” or worse. It’s “okay” to abuse those who are lesser beings.
Well, how about “downstats”? How about “CI” people? Sure, if someone is labeled “downstat” or “CI” it’s OK to harass, punish and abuse them, make them “do laps,” or scrub out dumpsters or clean out a septic pond. It’s OK to throw them in the harbor or in the lake, or even to shove them, punch them, or knock them down.
Would these people act this way at home, with their families, or in the communities where they grew up? Probably not. But immersed in a new world with new rules, and given a role to play, they do.
And I can hear all the objections now. “That’s not what Hubbard intended! It’s not what he wrote! It’s a misapplication…”
Well, when virtually every Scientology Org I ever worked in, from 1968 to 2005, was plagued with this kind of abuse to a greater or lesser degree, it’s hard to argue that it’s not systemic.
Here’s an interesting Wall Street Journal Article about an attempt to implement Hubbard’s Admin Tech in the Allstate Insurance Company in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Does this sound familiar?
“Allstate employees who took the classes say an important, although hardly exclusive, theme of the training was an uncompromising commitment to the bottom line — even if that meant treating poor performers harshly. The course materials warned managers never to be sympathetic to someone whose productivity numbers, or ‘statistics,’ were down…”
“Workers with declining production had to be investigated immediately, the course taught. ‘A person with low statistics not only has no ethics protection but tends to be hounded,’ the training manual said…”
“‘It allowed management by intimidation. It was vindictive — a way to try to remove people,’ Mr. Richardson says. ‘We would harass agents by calling them constantly and visiting them repeatedly…’”
“Across the country, a number of agents were making complaints similar to those voiced in Arizona. Lawsuits and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints were proliferating; more than two dozen have alleged fraud, harassment or discrimination by Allstate, often in connection with wrongful-discharge cases. One manager joked about forcing so many to quit that they would have to bring in ‘body bags’ to cart them away, while others described agents with low productivity as below the ‘scum line,’ workers said in pretrial statements related to these lawsuits.”
A few bad apples? Or a bad barrel?