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Do Good People Turn Evil? | LinkedIn

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Do Good People Turn Evil?

Half a century ago, Holocaust perpetrator Adolph Eichmann was on trial. The prosecutor called him “a new kind of killer, the kind that exercises his bloody craft behind a desk.” Reporting on the trial, Hannah Arendt drew a different conclusion. She argued that Eichmann was a plain bureaucrat, seeing himself as “a law-abiding citizen” who “did his duty” and “obeyed orders.” She called it “the banality of evil.”

The core claim was that if you put good people in a bad situation, bad things will happen. Soon, evidence emerged to support this chilling idea. At Yale, psychologist Stanley Milgram showed that ordinary men would inflict severe pain on others simply because they were asked to do so by an authority figure in an experiment. When a man failed to learn a set of words, a scientist in a white coat told them to deliver increasingly harmful electric shocks. Many went all the way to 450 volts—even after the “victim” (an actor) complained of heart trouble. “It may be that we are puppets—puppets controlled by the strings of society,” Milgram lamented.

At Stanford, psychologist Philip Zimbardo randomly assigned students to play the roles of prisoners or prison guards. Cruelty ensued: the guards forced the prisoners to sleep on concrete and took away their clothes. “In only a few days, our guards became sadistic,” Zimbardo writes: the “power of a host of situational variables can dominate an individual’s will to resist.”

These were two of the most powerful demonstrations in social science, by two brilliant thinkers, and they’ve been taught to a generation of students. But what if we’ve drawn the wrong conclusions from them?

Although many people do underestimate the power of situations in driving behavior, more recent evidence shows that individual differences matter far more than we thought.

Who Signs Up For a Prison Study?

In the prison demonstration, Zimbardo claimed that ordinary people underwent a transformation. In his book, he calls it The Lucifer Effect, proposing to explain “how good people turn evil.”Yet the students who participated were recruited for “a psychological study of prison life.” What kind of person volunteers for such a study?

When psychologists Thomas Carnahan and Sam McFarland compared people who signed up for a psychological study of prison life versus a general psychological study, the differences were stark. The people who volunteered for a prison study scored:

  • 27% higher on aggression (tendency to attack or harm others)
  • 10% higher on authoritarianism (expecting obedience from subordinates)
  • 10% higher on Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate others for personal gain)
  • 12% higher on narcissism (seeing oneself as superior)
  • 26% higher on social dominance (believing in the importance of hierarchy)
  • 7% lower on empathy: (concern for others in need)
  • 6% lower on altruism: (motivation to help others at a personal cost)

Psychologists have long described narcissism and Machiavellianism as two thirds of the dark triad of personality. The third is psychopathy (antisocial behavior and a lack of empathy and remorse), and now there’s a fourth dark trait that parallels the behavior of the prison guards: sadism (the tendency to feel pleasure from inflicting pain).

When people with these types of dark traits signed up for a prison study and became prison guards, they were surrounded by others who shared their tendencies, and they expressed them. People “do not automatically assume roles given to them,” conclude the psychologists Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, after running their own prison experiment with cooperation from the BBC. Rather, “particular individuals with particular beliefs make tyranny possible.”

Who’s Willing to Deliver a Deadly Shock?

In Milgram’s original research, only 65% of participants delivered the maximum voltage of electric shocks. The psychologist Thomas Blass, author of The Man Who Shocked the World, was curious about the differences between people who obeyed and those who objected. When Blass analyzed the 21 different variations of Milgram’s experiment, he found that certain personality traits and beliefs predicted who continued delivering the shocks.

People were more likely to deliver painful shocks if they were authoritarian. The shockers were also significantly more trusting of others (they assumed the scientist would do the right thing) and used to following the lead of others (they believed life events were driven by external forces like luck, chance, or fate, rather than internal forces like effort and willpower).

Bad Barrels or Bad Apples?

Could it be that good people don’t turn evil? Even at war, most people aren’t willing to kill. As biologist Frans de Waal writes:

It is a curious fact that the majority of soldiers, although well armed, never kill. During World War II, only one out of every five U.S. soldiers actually fired at the enemy. The other four were plenty courageous, braving grave danger, landing on the beaches, rescuing comrades under fire, fetching ammunition for others, and so on, yet they failed to fire their weapons… Similarly, it has been calculated that during the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers fired more than fifty thousand bullets for every enemy soldier killed. Most bullets must have been fired into the air.”

This isn’t poor accuracy; there’s clear evidence for intentionality on the part of soldiers. As Dave Grossman writes in On Killing, “The weak link between the killing potential and the killing capability of these units was the soldier. The simple fact is that when faced with a living, breathing opponent instead of a target, a significant majority of the soldiers revert to a posturing mode in which they fire over their enemy’s heads.”

Most people aren’t willing to inflict irrevocable harm on others. Consistent with this idea, historian David Cesarani has challenged Arendt’s original conclusions that Eichmann was just a bureaucrat. Arendt only witnessed part of the trial, where Eichmann managed to put on a “deliberately banal façade,” Cesarani writes in Becoming Eichmann. “Eichmann’s Nazi convictions and his unquestioning obedience to orders were part of the same ideological package… Either Eichmann wanted to kill Jews or he didn’t care if they perished… To the fully indoctrinated Eichmann, the Jews had no intrinsic claim to life.”

Bad people are more likely to opt into bad situations. When they band together, all too often, evil is the result.


Adam is the author of Give and Take, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller on how helping others drives our success. Follow him here by clicking the yellow FOLLOW above and on Twitter @AdamMGrant


“We die when hope dies”

Holy Bible – The Omen Wiki

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Holy Bible

The Holy Bible, also known as just the Bible, is a collection of sacred scripture which generally refer to the texts of Judaism and Christianity. The prophecies regarding the Antichrist, Armageddon, and the Second Coming of Christ are foretold in the Book of Revelation; which is the last book in the Christian New Testament of the Bible.

The Omen

When the Jews return to Zion and a comet rips the sky, and the Holy Roman Empire rises; then you and I must die. From the eternal sea he rises, creating armies on either shore, turning man against his brother, ’til man exists no more.” ―The Biblical poem by Father Brennan about the Antichrist’s birth and rise to power.

The events that signalled the birth of the Antichrist, Damien Thorn, as well as the fact that Damien would rise to power ‘from the eternal sea,’ were foretold by Father Brennan in a Biblical poem. The former foretold events included the Jews returning to Israel, a comet appearing in the sky, and the rise of a holy Roman empire. The latter is speculated by Robert Thorn to be the Treaty of Rome (the formation of the common market), and the eternal sea represents the world of politics; the sea that constantly rages with turmoil and revolution.

At the end of the film, a Biblical verse which states all the apostles of Satan will bear the number 666 is referenced.

Damien – Omen II

And then shall the wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” ―The Biblical verse about the end of the Antichrist, quoted by Carl Bugenhagen before his death. “And they worshipped the Dragon which gave power unto the Beast: and they worshipped the Beast, saying, “Who is like unto the Beast? Who is able to make war with him?” And I saw the Beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads. And that no man might buy or sell save he that had the mark, or the name of the Beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let he who hath understanding count the Number of the Beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.” ―The verses in the Book of Revelation that Damien reads when discovering who he is. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” ―The Biblical verse at the end of Damien – Omen II.

It is predicted in the Book of Revelation that during the Apocalypse, the Antichrist will grant temporary power to the seven kings of ten nations. The kings will come to hate the Whore of Babylon and will make her desolate and naked; burning her with fire and eating her flesh. According to Dr. Charles Warren, the Whore of Babylon represents Rome. Chapter 13 of Revelation also predicts correctly that the Antichrist will cause much death and destruction during his reign over Earth, and that he bears the Number of the Beast, 666, as a birthmark.

Marion has a Holy Bible in bed with her on the night the Raven kills her. Sergeant Daniel Neff, while helping Damien to discover the latter’s identity as the son of Satan, instructs him to read Revelation, 13, in his Bible. Damien does so and begins to realize from it who he is.

When Mark overhears Dr. Charles Warren’s claims to Richard that Damien is the Son of Satan, he reads a Bible and realizes from it that Damien is indeed the Antichrist.

At the end of the film, a Biblical verse about the false apostles and the followers of Satan is referenced.

The Final Conflict

And it shall come to pass that in the End Days the Beast shall reign one hundred score and thirty days and nights. And the faithful shall cry unto the Lord: “Wherefore art thou in the day of evil?” And the Lord shall hear their prayers. And out of the Angel Isle he shall bring forth the Deliverer; the Holy Lamb of God who shall do battle with the Beast. And shall destroy him.” ―The Biblical verse about the Antichrist’s downfall. “Let no man be deceived. For that day shall not come, until the man of sins is revealed, the son of perdition.” ―The Biblical verse about the Antichrist quoted by Brother Matteus. “Behold, the Lion of Judah! The Messiah, who came first as a child, but returns not as a child, but now as King of Kings, to rule in power and glory forever! And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” ―The Biblical verses at the end of The Final Conflict.

According to the Old Testament of the Bible, the founding patriarch of Israel, Abraham, was instructed at one point by God to sacrifice the former’s only son to Him.

While reading a Hebrew Bible, Damien and Harvey Dean notice that it correctly foretells that the Antichrist’s reign will last seven years (the time Damien has been head of Thorn Industries).

During a preaching, Brother Matteus quotes a Biblical verse about the Antichrist’s reign over Earth. At the end of the film, Biblical references to the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of Armageddon are made.

Omen IV: The Awakening

Thus he said: As for the fourth Beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth.” ―The Biblical verse about the Antichrist coming from Rome. “Uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.” ―The Biblical verse about the Antichrist’s reign. “And he stood on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a Beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.” ―The Biblical verse about the rise of the seven kings who form an alliance with the Antichrist.

The Book of Revelation predicts that the Antichrist will come from ‘the fourth kingdom,’ believed to be Rome. When Karen York becomes paranoid that her daughter Delia is the Antichrist, she and Father James Mattson look up information about the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation. According to Mattson, the ten horns of the Beast represents a confederation of ten nations; and the seven heads of the Beast represent the seven leaders of those nations, who will form an alliance with the Antichrist in exchange for power.

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“We die when hope dies”

Forced me on four to crawl onwards

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Forced me on four to crawl onwards
A price they say I ought to pay
Injunction came from the magistrate Court
A binding law to browbeat me;
Down came on me his muscle men
Battering my bones like old worn stones
In yelling nothing swayed to help my cause
No advocate even stood to plead my case.
Empty though my stomach was
Up it came in wild revulsion
A victim of a grim mad mob
Suspect of a crime yet unproved
Daily they turned me into a thumping bag
Warriors bold my pains won’t stand
Even if promised an honour high
For me it seems the Rubicon’s crossed
And my sun seem ready to set
Still something deep stirs up my strength
With eyes closed that STAR I saw
That’s come to lead me home to peace.