Can Moral People Commit Immoral Acts? Lucifer Effect

If put into a position higher than a category of people, you were asked to keep these people in check with whatever means that suits you, how far will you go to perform your duties? Quite far. So far, as you will prefer degenerating those people than failing your duties. I prefer to say I won’t, so will you say for yourself. Perhaps the Lucifer Effect doesn’t agree with you & I.

What is the Lucifer Effect?

A social & psychological effect which can make a moral person commit immoral acts when put under suitable circumstances.

If you’ve heard the story of Lucifer from the Christian Bible, you’d know Lucifer was an angel who called upon his fall with his satiated pride in his perfect beauty, intelligence, and wisdom. He thus demanded a place above God with his five “I wills”. He fell to Earth and became the Satan, the Devil, also popularly known as Antichrist. This was the story of Angel turning Devil; the story of Lucifer, from which the theory derives its name: The Lucifer Effect.

Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment SPE (Stanford Prison Experiment), in 1973, which surfaced horrible results pertaining to human behavior. The two-week experiment had to be halted in six days on moral grounds.

Stanford Prison Experiment

Starting from the start, 24 college students with a healthy and stable mind were chosen for this experiment, with assuredly no criminal background. With the flip of a coin, half the students assumed the role of prisoners and half the prison officers. A prison was built in the basement of the college, and no detail was spared to make for perfect setup as well as context. The prisoners were arrested from their homes under the charge of armed robbery and brought to prison. Such detail as the prisoners were assigned numbers and that became their identity. Yes, no names.

Their identity and privacy had to be crushed. They had the metal chain bound to their leg and were provided small sharing cells to live in, with a mattress to sleep on and a bucket for excretion.

The guards/prison officers were dressed so and provided with a wooden baton and bigger wards to live in with proper rest and divided duties. Soon they were all to become prisoners of their characterization.

The story of cruelty begins here!

Few things that happened:

  • Guards pricked prisoners with punishments

  • Prisoners rose to protest

  • Guards used fire extinguishers on prisoners to control protest

  • Prisoner’s mattress was taken away as punishment, forcing them to sleep on the chilling concrete floor

  • Guards punished prisoners by locking them in a closet and banging the wooden door

  • The toilet bucket was refused to be cleaned or replaced; with it, sanitation went to shit

  • Prisoners also bullied other prisoners who didn’t obey the guards

  • Guards even forced prisoners to strip naked

  • Prisoners could quit any moment, instead, they waited for parole. Lol.

Surrendered, just like that. Why? Because they surrendered to the social position they had assumed in the prison, and the group dynamics. Not only the prisoners but also the guards. The circumstances assured guards that the prisoners could be tortured, perhaps, they believed this was required.

This is crazy because practically none of this was required. People could have played their parts peacefully and gone home. Simple? Not so much.

Were these guards heinous? No. They were ordinary people like you and me. Justified can be anything, moral or immoral. Many tv-series and movies show killings which would be otherwise unacceptable, but tweaks here and there, justify killings. Remember the final chaos in Joker? Remember the countless killings in Breaking Bad? And what movies are we talking about when it is so true for real-world happenings.

For thousands of years, people have battled, butchered, and killed in the name of authority, class, caste, gender, nationality, protection, and even avenge. When soldiers losing life on the border of every nation can be justified, if wars can be justified, if losing few lives amidst thousands can be justified, if shooing away of beggars but boot-licking of power can be justified, then yes, immoral is definitely justified. Circumstances play us all. Then it rests on how the story is told: a process of believe and make believe.

The world is divided because of insecurity and hatred since these are easy things to spread. In the darkest moments destroying another person will be the most preferred choice if it comes to "you or them?"

Ego wins! War wins! Logic loses! Morality loses!

Community clashes are hence justified.

How Authority Affects?

Indian Brahmins aren’t proud because they are Brahmins, they are proud because of it’s (assumed) superiority. And right there, I explained discrimination on all bases. If all were equal, a certain class will lose authority. Hence the responsibility/authority is assumed by a certain class to keep people under them in check. After a point, in class distinction, logic does not matter, position does. Inter-group hatred has thrived for generations, and numerous crimes committed to keeping this position.

Very neatly, authority assumes responsibility and social power to execute suitable means. Forcing obeyance with help of cruel punishments are exemplars of the Lucifer Effect that rarely gets questioned.

The message being: This could be you, so you’d rather obey us.

And then, like the prisoners, who accept the social structure because “It is how it is”, inferiority is also a position assumed in society. Sadly. But truly. Self-inhibition, self-censorship, and self-regulation are practiced and promoted in “considered to be” lower group of people, and enduring becomes the social truth.

Well, in the experiment, few participants willfully projected harsh behavior to give more content for the experiment. Does it make the experiment null and void? No. What happened, happened in six days, usually, this sequence of events takes a couple of months or years to shoot from their seeds.

But when they shoot, oh! wild they spread.

How easily!