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From A(rendt) to Z(imbardo) 
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Post From A(rendt) to Z(imbardo)
It occurs to me that our two selections for the end of 2007 closely resemble two sides of the same coin. Both deal with morality, social responsibility, and the existence of evil, but one does so from a political and historical perspective while the other does so from a cognitive and experimental perspective. Arendt, for example, has written about the Milgram experiments in relation to Nazism and the formation of an internally militant German society. What I'd like to see is a few people reading both books and playing them off of one another, but even if you have either little time or inclination to read both, I hope that the people reading just the Zimbardo book will keep tabs on the Arendt discussion and comment where they see fit. Talking about the two books in tandem ought to bring out facets of the complexity of modern morality that we wouldn't have encountered reading either book on its lonesome.


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If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Caesar would have spared his country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. -- Mary Shelley, "Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus"


Tue Nov 06, 2007 11:43 pm
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Post Arendt Vs Zimbardo Vs Schiller
I joined this web site for the sole sake of participating in this particular discussion. I read Zimbardo's work and I read Arendt's first work about Eichmann. Arendt's initial work was based upon a lot of personal interpretations of court documents regarding Eichmann. In his book "Becoming Eichmann", author David Cesserani proves that Arendt wasn't present during enough of Eichmann's trial to generate an authentic account of the events or of Eichmann's state of mind.

Zimbardo's work is fascinating from a psychological point of view. I have personally worked in the mental health care field for 10 years and find most of his theories relative to the themes. However, the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments were controlled environments. Zimbardo should be lauded for this work but it remains theory and guesswork at best in its attempts to explain why good people turn to bad behavior.

On the other hand there is one book, "Directive 19" that was written by a former Nazi officer who remained unapologetic and firmly convinced that his actions were justifiable despite having served 30 years in prison for war crimes. This man was a lawyer; had a decent and religious upbringing and was a moral and ethical man. He personally killed over 150,000 people. In his book he explains how such circumstances become "necessary" and how he altered his mindset to carry out these heinous plans. Rolf Schiller tells us how and why these things happened from the perspective of a man who actually did them. In my opinion, even though one may find Schiller reprehensible, his claims carry fact while Arendt and Zimbardo study and assess these matters from an outside view.



Mon Nov 12, 2007 11:02 pm
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Arendt says:

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There is a widespread conviction that it is impossible to withstand temptation of any kind, that none of us could be trusted or even be expected to be trustworthy when the chips are down, that to be tempted and to be forced are almost the same,...."


I don't know where Arendt encountered this conviction, but I have never encountered it anywhere and find it hard to believe that any such conviction is widespread. Surely there is a difference between saying that sufficient pressure (which Arendt calls "temptation"--a word overloaded with religious connotations of carnal desire) is capable of causing human beings to do things they are ashamed of, and equating that to a conviction that no one can withstand any pressure/temptation at all.



Tue Nov 13, 2007 2:47 pm
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