Principle 3: Attack Forces of Evil, Not Persons Doing Evil

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not individuals.  Dr. King said that the Civil Rights movement and the issue of segregation was not an issue between white people and black people, but an issue between justice and injustice.

When we attack personalities, it makes reconciliation more difficult since attacking people often escalates a conflict.  And by attacking people, we often times don’t even address the root cause of the problem – their behavior.  You can lock up as many drug-users as you want, but at some point you have to deal with the issue of addiction, and the reasons people are drawn to drugs.  We can get rid of George Bush, but unless we fix the government on a fundamental level, we will not see real change.

In 1971, a Stanford Psychology Professor named Philip Zimbardo ran the infamous “Stanford Prison Experiment.”  He created a mock “prison” in a basement of a building at Stanford University, and selected 12 students to act out a prison scenario for two-weeks.  The 12 students were all evaluated to ensure that they were psychologically and emotionally stable, and that they had no history of violence.  Zimbardo then randomly assigned 6 students the role of prisoners and the other 6 the role of prison guards.  He then let them loose.

Within days, the prison guards – who were regular Stanford students just days before – began humiliating and abusing their fellow schoolmates.  Zimbardo would later comment at the similarities of the abuses going on in Stanford Prison to those we saw come out of Abu Ghraib.  The experiment had to end a week short because of the trauma that the students were experiencing.

At the end of the experiment, Zimbardo said that the experiment was about putting good people into bad situations and seeing what wins.  His conclusion was that in extreme situations, the environment can take away a persons’ ability to make logical decisions.  We are living in extreme situations, and the problem is not the people but in a culture that has accepted violence as a way to make change.

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