How to Escape Being Suckered Into Evil

Since you hate evil, here is how you can escape being duped into perpetuating it.

Photo by Hector Falcon on Unsplash

It’s easy to presume you are immune to the propensity towards perpetuating evil. Repeatedly, we have been let down by our heroes and heroines — politicians, business, and religious leaders.

Why is evil so pervasive and why do some of those who started well go berserk, growing horns once they achieve their goals? And why do these people have sway with many gullible followers swooning over all forms of evil unquestioningly?

Those were the questions that prompted my quest and I will share with you how The Lucifer’s Effect helped me to find some answers.

In The Lucifer Effect — Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Professor Philip Zimbardo explained how any of us can become active participants in the creation and sustenance of evil people and systems.

To touch on all the key points of this eponymous volume will be like rewriting another book from its 551 pages 32 hours reading time.

  • From this book, I now realize how easy it is for almost any of us to become enablers or perpetrators of evil. There is no dark psychology involved. You won’t be sure of yourself any longer, because you will immediately recognize the truth as soon as you see it.
  • To those who believe that our better days are still ahead, one expects that our propensity for evil will be on the decline. Alas, the unrelenting frenetic pace of advancement in technology has brought along with it, an ever-accelerating capacity of we humans to unleash evil on our fellow humans. How can we escape from the increasingly pernicious, beguiling, and benumbing forces of evil?

You are not as immune as you thought you were.

You can’t be cocksure of what you would or would not do if you are suddenly faced with unfamiliar environments and encounters. Be it police brutality in the U. S. A or religion-inspired Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria or intertribal intolerance, the question we must ask ourselves in the words of the professor is,

Could we, like God’s favorite angel, Lucifer, ever be led into the temptation to do the unthinkable evil to others?

How many of us will have the courage or the fortitude to step aside or protest against evil actions anywhere such acts are being done under the shroud of nationalism, tribe, religion, or other affiliations?

The Lucifer Effect will help you to “understand the processes of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do evil things.”

You will come to understand that there is nothing evil that anyone has ever done that you can be absolutely certain that someone could never compel you to do. Click To Tweet

Exposed to new and completely unfamiliar settings, your old habits may not suffice. Why is this so? Because the rules have changed. The “how” of this process is as explained in the following;

Ordinary harmless people can become Lucifer’s disciples.

Selective engagement and disengagement of moral standards make it possible for some people to “be barbarically cruel in one moment and compassionate the next.”

Thus, The demon you are watching out against may not differ from your next-door neighbor or even the one lurking and hibernating deep down in your own heart. Click To Tweet

These are some concepts that lure people into sustaining evil.

  • Deindividuation: The feeling that “no one will find out” reduces people’s sense of accountability thereby creating the potential for evil.
  • Dehumanization: Seeing others as subhuman makes it easier to do harm to those we perceive as different from us.
  • Enemy Image. Negative perceptions of a person or groups of people are used deliberately or otherwise to promote discrimination.
  • Groupthink, wherein people strive for consensus while setting aside their personal opinions while adopting that of the group.
  • Moral disengagement: which enables behaviors that will ordinarily be abhorrent to moral people.
  • Governments and social and environmental factors facilitate using evil to fight evil.
  • Erroneous rigid adherence to the Fundamental Attribution Error: which posits that irrespective of the power of situations and systems, the inner qualities of people are the main sources of their actions.
  • Punishment is not enough to stanch the tide of evil because “Bad systems” create “bad situations” create “bad apples” create “bad behaviors,” even in good people

Ten steps to resisting and escaping from unwanted influences.

As explained by the author, the key to resistance lies in the development of the three Ss:

  • Self-awareness,
  • Situational sensitivity, and 
  • Street smarts.

How do we apply this in daily living?

  1. Own up to your mistakes, apologize for them and where possible do the restitution before moving on.
  2. Confession of error undercuts the motivation to reduce the cognitive dissonance that makes us hold inconsistent beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and decisions.
  3. Never go mindlessly into situations where angels and sensible people fear treading. Think critically and mindfully while resisting the mob.
  4. Separate rhetoric from substance by asking for evidence to support all assertions. Click To Tweet
  5. Imagine end-game scenarios of the future consequences of present actions. Remember, the end does not always justify the means.
  6. Shun simple solutions as quick fixes for complex personal or social problems. Support critical thinking and alert your children to recognize distortions and biases in the media they consume.
  7. You are responsible for all your actions. Diffusion of responsibility brought about by obedience to authority does not absolve you from your individual complicity. That you acted in obedience to authority or conformity to a group does not mean that it is right to go against what is patently evil. Always imagine a future time when today’s deeds will be on trial and no one will accept your pleas of “only following orders,” or “everyone else was doing it.”
  8. Never hide under the ruse of anonymity to do evil. Anonymity and secrecy conceal wrongdoings. Such deindividuation is the breeding ground that generates dehumanization that provides the killing ground for bullies, rapists, torturers, terrorists, and tyrants. Work to change whatever social conditions make people feel anonymous. Support practices that make others feel special. That way, they too can have a sense of personal value and self-worth. Never allow or practice negative stereotyping; words, labels, and jokes can be destructive if they mock others.
  9. Respect just authority but rebel against unjust authority. Many who assume the mantle of authority are pseudo-leaders, false prophets, con-men and women, self-promoters who should not be respected but disobeyed and openly exposed to… Click To Tweet
  10. Do not sacrifice your personal morality in other to gain group acceptance. Group conformity could be counterproductive to the social good. Know when to follow the norm or reject it. Never sacrifice basic personal freedoms for the promise… Click To Tweet

Small transgressions like cheating, lying, gossiping, spreading rumors, laughing at racist or sexist jokes, teasing, and bullying often becomes stepping-stones to more serious falls from grace. Run away from them.

Always moderate your in-group biases. Yours may be special but respect the diversity that other groups offer. Have a perspective that appreciates the wonder of human variety and variability. This will help you minimize group biases that… Click To Tweet

Some systems do often create evil traps for good people. Don’t get suckered in.

As shown in Dante’s Inferno, virtue is not simply refraining from sin; it requires action.

Creating opportunities for the diffusion or abdication of responsibility for negative outcomes; often gives the false consolation that others will be responsible, or that the actor won’t be held liable.

The path towards ultimate evil acts usually starts with the taking of an initial small step. That first step into the lair of evil eventually gets ordinary men swallowed up into the no-return vortex of depravity.

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke (1729–1797)

We must learn that to passively accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes. ordinary people can be made to engage in unimaginable perversions that are alien to their history and moral values. Don’t be a passive bystander. It is the evil of inaction that helps to boost evil actions in all their potencies. It is up to you to look at yourself in the mirror search your soul and escape from the den of evil analyzed in The Lucifer Effect.


Copyright © 2007 by Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Random House

The author originally published this review on Medium

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