The root of all evil
Here is a thought experiment: I imagine myself as young, bored and wanting "the thrill of breaking social rules and exercising power." Yet, not wanting to be a bad person and be punished, I hesitate. All the while I'm in the fog of "distorted cognitions." Shall I play it safe and suffer the boredom? Or do I believe I can enjoy the thrill of breaking into the 7-Eleven and get away with it? As I mull over my choice, I, somehow, get the comments (from the October Monitor article "Evil's mundane roots") of Drs. Zimbardo, Beck and Farley, such as, "Who creates those situations that lead good people tobecome perpetrators of evil?...The answer is simple-it's a system." My choice becomes simple. I choose the thrill, believing I'm really a good person and not responsible. There will be enough excuses available to me to avoid punishment. "The system" makes me do it.
Dr. Zimbardo lists three factors we need to analyze to understand violence and evil: "What does the individual bring to the situation, what are the environmental forces that influence the individual and who or what created these forces." I suggest that among the crucial environmental forces is the beliefs of experts (psychologists) conveyed to would-be thrill-seekers. It would be better to convey a belief in free will and personal responsibility rather than a list of excuses headed by, "It's a system."
Carl E. Begley, PhD
In the October article "Relief for all," Jamie Chamberlin reported that "if relief workers had come on the scene [of Hurricane Katrina] with a deeper understanding of survivors' sociocultural history, their rescue efforts might have been more supportive for survivors. The article suggests that psychologists should familiarize themselves with a culture before intervening during crisis, and gives an ideal example of how "patiently observing certain protocols" before aiding American Indian communities has proved successful in the past.
In an ideal world-and ideal worlds have no crises-this is an excellent idea. Before sprinting to the aid of those caught in abrupt and traumatic disaster, it would greatly behoove psychologists to pause and become educated on a relevant culture. Whether this would work in practice is questionable.
The article stated that Katrina workers exacerbated "an already calamitous situation" because they were unable to "connect emotionally" to the people whom they were serving. Rather than lacking emotional connectivity, what Katrina victims more greatly lacked were willing hands to deliver them food and water, to create a safe place for them to sleep, and to paddle through streets looking for them. Instead of critiquing the competence of crisis-responders, why doesn't psychology help meet the need by advocating for greater response by psychologists to crisis in general? The article could be creating a recipe for inactivity by suggesting that we must be careful whom we serve.
Allison N. Connelly
Serving those who serve
Tori DeAngelis's September article, "Planting victory gardens, psychology style" was a refreshing reminder of the positive contributions that psychologists are offering to soldiers and families affected by the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like many individuals within the field of psychology, I have a strong desire to be supportive of and helpful to these individuals; however, I lacked information about how to become involved. DeAngelis's article was useful in highlighting a variety of volunteer organizations that offer free services to military personnel and their families. Because I am currently a doctoral student, I cannot provide clinical services; however, the article prompted me to contact one of these organizations to determine if I could be of assistance in any other way. The organization was more than willing to allow me to participate, and we are determining how my skills can best be utilized.
I believe that it is important for graduate students to realize that although we may not be permitted to provide clinical services, students can become involved in a variety of other ways. I hope to see more articles in the future highlighting how psychologists and graduate students are contributing to the support of these individuals.
I was puzzled that researchers or the reporter were willing to conclude that daily weigh ins were necessary for weight loss based on a study that did not compare people on frequency of weigh ins ("Daily Weigh-ins help maintain weight loss," November issue). The study appeared to be comparing modalities: Internet, face to face, or newsletter for encouraging weight loss. In two conditions, daily weigh-ins were encouraged. There were no conditions for weekly weigh in or every three day weigh-ins to make such a conclusion and recommendation. I hope additional research will be done comparing frequency of weighing, as I frequently need to make recommendations to people covering the full continuum of eating disorders.
Suzanne Zilber, PhD
A message to members
I urge APA members not to resign in protest of its policies on torture. APA belongs to all its members, not just to its leaders. This is a time to stay and fight for the soul of our field, as our predecessors did in the last century.
In the first half of the century, using World War I Army test data, psychologists classified immigrants and African-Americans as intellectually inferior. Some leading psychologists contested those claims, and later in the century were joined by thousands, who succeeded to a considerable extent-though not entirely-in eradicating the racist (and sexist) theories that shamed psychology.
We must eradicate this new shame. Psychologists should in no way be involved in Bush/Cheney prisoner interrogations. The Frankensteins the Bush administration has created, like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, bear frightening resemblances to Nazi prisons. Now, the Pentagon has chosen psychology to do its dirty work-out, it says, with those bleeding-heart psychiatrists, whose organization chose not to participate.
Let us protect the security and welfare of our nation by supporting peaceful, international negotiation to resolve conflict, including the scourge of terrorism. We must let it be known that we won't support leaders whose practices we protest, and in our case, practices that violate APA's stated purpose of serving human welfare and doing no harm.
Milton Schwebel, PhD
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