Creating monsters…and then complaining when they groan!

Philip Zimbardo talks about The Lucifer Effect, or understanding how good people turn evil. The process is actually easier than you think.


  • frustrated individuals with no visible means of changing their circumstances
  • political/religious leaders who add fuel to fire and give them negative models to follow
  • communities who are then hanging on by a tight rope, so tight in fact, that one single word can prompt extreme acts
  • individuals who are unable to use rational self-regulation and discipline
  • whole groups who then become enslaved by a venomous word
  • et voila!

you can now bask in your meal of anger, frustration, and confusion. You can now have your uncontrollable throngs. After all, you didn’t explicitly tell them to pull the trigger, but you carefully positioned the gun, gave them no second path to take, and clearly identified the villain.

Now you can sit back and claim that it’s the individuals who are exhibiting these “reactions”… while you try and restrain them.

Well. wrong.

It takes a lot more than that. It takes a whole system to create uncontrollable communities whose only means of salvation is through extreme acts of self-expression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming the individuals aren’t responsible for their acts, but you can’t magically expect people to learn new tricks when their whole lives have been about scraping the bottom of the barrel, holding on to whatever works. After all, many were able to resist such temptation and actively know the meaning of constructive community building.

I am also not claiming one side responsible. Everyone contributes to the Lucifer Effect. Those who are so quick to add even more fuel, those who aren’t willing to listen, those who can’t help people come out of their desperation. Everyone. Sometimes all it takes is one positive word to bring someone out of their own personal hell whole. How many of us can claim to actively work towards that?

Gibran in The Prophet says:

  • You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked;
  • For they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together.
  • And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.

Zmbardo’s famous depiction of The Lucifer Effect is also in “black and white.”


So let’s start cleaning up! Don’t be too quick to consider yourself uninvolved in all this. Through saying the wrong word or keeping silent, we all have a stake in this, so let’s take the road not taken, at least less taken.

Zimbardo claims we can celebrate heroes just as easily as we can create monsters. So let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on our impact and take a positive step today.

Preacher reine at your service.


About Reine Azzi

An instructor who teaches so many different courses at university! Best way to remain passionately challenged! I'm also the licensee, curator, and host of TEDxLAU which adds so much excitement to my life!
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7 Responses to Creating monsters…and then complaining when they groan!

  1. Shoug Al-Nafisi says:

    Key word there, “visible”. In times of rage, we all tend to lose control of ourselves (i.e can’t see!), but maybe to different extents. I think we should develop or promote self discipline and awareness in times of stability, in order to avoid regretful actions that take place in times of anger and chaos. We at least start with ourselves, before speaking in terms of systems and communities. I believe that then it would be much easier to think… less irrationally.

    • ReineAzzi says:

      I agree fully. But even self-discipline doesn’t just come from the self. It usually starts as external discipline from family, school, etc. the systems. And then we slowly internalize it. This is why the system matters. And you’re absolutely right. It should be promoted in times of peace because when ‘monsters’ are born it isn’t easy to simply turn back time. Check out zimbardo’s Ted talk on the subject. Incredibly astute.

  2. Elie Antonios says:

    The biggest cause for indiscipline is the abscence of the Rule of Law. It is this abscence that could give rise to the points of the lucifer effect.

    When rules don’t apply equally to everyone, you get what you see. People are tired of injustice. No matter how disciplined you are, when you see that you can be harmed with nobody to defend you, you will take matters into your hands.

    Let all be under the Law, that is the first condition for viable societies.

    • ReineAzzi says:

      Rules are extremely important! Especially injustice and lack of civic rights. I agree fully! These were detrimental to the Stanford prison experiment after all. But I cannot ignore the lack thereof of proper role models, escalating and creating an even bigger mess.

      • Elie Antonios says:

        There have been role models, who refused violence, acted with complete adherence to civilized behaviour. If I am not mistaken, they are dead now.

        If these events were happening in a civilized country your theorie would be correct, as ultimately justice will be served so you don’t need to react violently, and role models would base their behaviour on that premise. but in this case, and against organized ideological evil, justice is irrelevant before change

      • ReineAzzi says:

        But what change are we looking forward to? Destruction?

        I want to see young guys and girls who have purpose to their lives, who think they can create constructive change without having to leave the country. Yet even they are losing hope in their own potential at times. We’re worries about going to uni tomorrow and having students turn on one another. And why should we expect anything less? When this is the only path many consider open to them?

        And the worst part? Violence isn’t even the answer. This form of ‘action’ hasn’t proven effective so far so why can’t we try another route? One of civil disobedience and socially-just rebellion!

  3. Elie Antonios says:

    Violence is definitely not the answer. In fact civil disobedience was and is the plan to follow. We will loose many more good people on the way but we will get there. I believe you will be surprised by the lebanese youth, they will get it right eventually, don’t forget, they are still new to real freedom.

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