We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.4The disturbing truth of this was demonstrated in a 1971 University study named the Standford Prison Experiment (SPE).5 The proposed 2-week experiment had to be terminated after 6 days because of the escalating abuse of mock prisoners by mock guards. The simulations became too real as a spirit of power seemed to overtake most of the “guards.”
The study design and aftermath are detailed in Philip Zimbardo's book: The Lucifer Effect. A search of “Standford Prison Experiment” shows how relevant and current its findings still are. Indeed, we consistently read about or witness this “Lucifer Effect” in: customs and immigration officials, police and military, politics and government, corporations, families, clergy, even ourselves. Since the examples of abuse of power are endless, WHY do we never seem to teach, warn, or raise consciousness about this “spirit of power”?
... The enduring interest in the SPE over many decades comes, I think, from the experiment’s startling revelation of “transformation of character”— of good people suddenly becoming perpetrators of evil as guards or pathologically passive victims as prisoners in response to situational forces acting on them.So how do we overcome this “spirit of power” in situations, systems, and ourselves? How do we control this “nature and disposition of almost all men ... to exercise unrighteous dominion”? What if it is only harnessed by the power of the Spirit7? by seeking redemption and grace from an omniscient, loving, forgiving, holy omnipotent God8?
We want to believe in the essential, unchanging goodness of people, in their power to resist external pressures, in their rational appraisal and then rejection of situational temptations. We invest human nature with God-like qualities, with moral and rational faculties that make us both just and wise. We simplify the complexity of human experience by erecting a seemingly impermeable boundary between Good and Evil. ... [B]y creating this myth of our invulnerability to situational forces, we set ourselves up for a fall by not being sufficiently vigilant to situational forces.
The SPE, along with much other social science research (presented in chapters 12 and 13), reveals a message we do not want to accept: that most of us can undergo significant character transformations when we are caught up in the crucible of social forces. What we imagine we would do when we are outside that crucible may bear little resemblance to who we become and what we are capable of doing once we are inside its network. The SPE is a clarion call to abandon simplistic notions of the Good Self dominating Bad Situations. We are best able to avoid, prevent, challenge, and change such negative situational forces only by recognizing their potential power to “infect us,” as it has others who were similarly situated. It is well for us to internalize the significance of the recognition by the ancient Roman comedy writer Terence that “Nothing by humans is alien to me.”
Any deed that any human being has ever committed, however horrible, is possible for any of us— under the right or wrong situational circumstances. That knowledge does not excuse evil; rather, it democratizes it, sharing its blame among ordinary actors rather than declaring it the province only of deviants and despots— of Them but not Us.
The primary simple lesson the Stanford Prison Experiment teaches is that situations matter. Social situations can have more profound effects on the behavior and mental functioning of individuals, groups, and national leaders than we might believe possible. Some situations can exert such powerful influence over us that we can be led to behave in ways we would not, could not, predict was possible in advance.6
Would it make a difference if we openly acknowledged the “Lucifer Effect”? if we freely confessed how this spirit of power9 seems to overwhelm almost all men, including ourselves?
If we consistently raised consciousness about these two great tests and how many of us are failing them, would we be less inclined to elevate, embrace, or envy the world's love affair with power and wealth?
1. https://dejavu-times.blogspot.com/2016/04/spellbinding.html ; https://dejavu-times.blogspot.com/2015/10/capital-punishment.html
2. New Testament | Matthew 19:23–24 ~ Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
New Testament | Mark 10:23–25 ~ And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
New Testament | 1 Timothy 6:5 ~ Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
Book of Mormon | 1 Nephi 22:23 ~ For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 26:20 ~ And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.
3. Book of Mormon | Alma 43:8 ~ For behold, his [Zerahemnah's] designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage.
Book of Mormon | Helaman 1:16 ~ Therefore, the king of the Lamanites, whose name was Tubaloth, who was the son of Ammoron, supposing that Coriantumr, being a mighty man, could stand against the Nephites, with his strength and also with his great wisdom, insomuch that by sending him forth he should gain power over the Nephites—
Book of Mormon | Helaman 2:8 ~ And when the servant of Helaman had known all the heart of Kishkumen, and how that it was his object to murder, and also that it was the object of all those who belonged to his band to murder, and to rob, and to gain power, (and this was their secret plan, and their combination) the servant of Helaman said unto Kishkumen: Let us go forth unto the judgment–seat.
Book of Mormon | Ether 8:15–16 ~ And it came to pass that thus they did agree with Akish. And Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain, who was a murderer from the beginning. And they were kept up by the power of the devil to administer these oaths unto the people, to keep them in darkness, to help such as sought power to gain power, and to murder, and to plunder, and to lie, and to commit all manner of wickedness and whoredoms.
Book of Mormon | Ether 8:22–24 ~ And whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations, to get power and gain, until they shall spread over the nation, behold, they shall be destroyed; for the Lord will not suffer that the blood of his saints, which shall be shed by them, shall always cry unto him from the ground for vengeance upon them and yet he avenge them not. Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be. Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things [“murderous combinations ... built up to get power and gain”] come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
Book of Mormon | Ether 9:11 ~ Now the people of Akish were desirous for gain, even as Akish was desirous for power; wherefore, the sons of Akish did offer them money, by which means they drew away the more part of the people after them.
Book of Mormon | Ether 11:15 ~ And it came to pass that there arose a rebellion among the people, because of that secret combination which was built up to get power and gain;
4. Doctrine and Covenants | Section 121:39
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment ; https://www.prisonexp.org/the-story
6. Zimbardo, Philip. The Lucifer Effect (pp. 210-212). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (Bold emphasis added.)
See also: “... people can do terrible things when they allow the role they play to have rigid boundaries that circumscribe what is appropriate, expected, and reinforced in a given setting. Such rigidity in the role shuts off the traditional morality and values that govern their lives when they are in “normal mode.” The ego-defense mechanism of compartmentalization allows us to mentally bind conflicting aspects of our beliefs and experiences into separate chambers that prevent interpretation or cross talk. A good husband can then be a guiltless adulterer; a saintly priest can then be a lifelong pederast; a kindly farmer can then be a heartless slave master. We need to appreciate the power that role-playing can have in shaping our perspectives, for better as well as for worse, ...”
Zimbardo, Philip. The Lucifer Effect (p. 214). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
7. Search out the many references to “power of the spirit.” Here are just a few:
Old Testament | Micah 3:8 ~ But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.
New Testament | Luke 4:14 ~ And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
New Testament | Romans 1:4 ~ And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
New Testament | Romans 15:18–19 ~ For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
New Testament | 2 Timothy 1:7 ~ For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.8. New Testament | Romans 8:26 ~ Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
New Testament | 2 Corinthians 12:9 ~ And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
David F. Wells: "What we see in Isaiah is not power in God which is bare and abstract but power which is holy, compassionate, and pastoral. It is God who “will feed his flock like a shepherd” (Is. 40:11). He takes the most vulnerable, the “lambs,” in his arms and places them near his heart. ... In this juxtaposition of divine grace and human vulnerability a principle emerges about how God works. The proud, Mary said much later in the Magnificat, are scattered “in the imaginations of their hearts,” the rich are “sent empty away” (Lk. 1:51, 53), but it is the “low” who are exalted. That is the principle. Indeed, we find it illustrated in ways both rich and numerous in the New Testament. And it is not simply that a condition for receiving the grace of God is the ability to recognize and confess our own bankruptcy." Wells, David F.. Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (p. 258). Eerdmans Publishing Co - A. Kindle Edition.
9. Doctrine and Covenants | Section 50:2 ~ Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.