Unique—Like Everybody Else

Personality, intelligence, and the differences that matter

Challenging the "Banality" of Evil and of Heroism Part 2

Situationism implies that evil-doers are victims of circumstances beyond their control, yet argues that heroes are those who can rise above their circumstances to do what is right. An ideology of victimisation is incompatible with heroism. Personal responsibility for one's actions cuts both ways. Read More

Why heroes are banal

Your critique is valid and I think that Zimbardo was a little sloppy putting forward the "banality of good." It seems like he's getting at the idea that heroism is not inborn or transferred to us by angels, but is something that comes out in the right situation... but which situations are right for pulling out our heroism depends on our preparedness and training. Heroes may be otherwise boring people!

Good points

I think you are spot on about preparedness and training. Being a hero requires skills that match the situation.
P.S. I had a quick look at your blog, I found the Lord of the Rings metaphors for different systems of government rather amusing :-)

Strong social influence is a premise of social psychology

An interesting point that Roy Baumeister makes in "The Cultural Animal" is that psychology as a discipline assumes human behavior is significantly determined by the environment, since this has to be true in order for it to be possible to make the sorts of predictions we expect from science. Yet when you look at the actual (replicable) effect sizes, they are usually small. Any influence that isn't a suitable hypothesis is "noise".

I do believe that social influences are tremendously powerful in aggregate, much more so than that American individualist myth suggests, but the effects are also complex and difficult to pick apart in a typical experimental setting.


heroic ice cream vs psychopathic ice cream

Think of this analogy as a way to demonstrate the difference between a non-psychopathic, heroic type of personality and a psychopathic type of personality.

Imagine that there are two identical bowls of chocolate ice cream. The ice cream in both of the bowls is exactly the same; it is made of good, tasty, wholesome ingredients: fresh cream, sugar, vanilla, rich chocolate, etc.

OK, now imagine adding a big scoop of human feces to the bowl on the left. Its hard to see the difference initially, but almost immediately you can smell the difference, and if you are stupid enough to take a spoonful you can certainly taste the difference, even if the spoon contains mostly ice cream and just a little bit of feces.

That is the difference between non-psychopathic and psychopathic personality integration. They both have the good traits, the wholesome ingredients, but the psychopathic personality ALSO has the additional, destructive, toxic ingredients represented by the feces:

*lack of affective empathy (aka lack of compassion for the needs and feelings of others, possibly shading over into enjoying causing pain to others, aka sadism; a predator type of personality organization.)

*lack of remorse (they can either shake your hand, or strip you of everything you own or value, or torture you to death with as little thought, concern or reflection in any instance; their actions are based solely on their own self-interest.)

*lack of a conscience (lacking a sense of right vs wrong, or lacking a sense of morals or ethics; the attitude that that rules/laws are only for other, inferior people)

*having a sense of grandiose narcissism (a sense of superiority, entailing a sense of entitlement to being deferred to, to take what they want when they want it, to be admired and praised just for existing)

So, both bowls of ice cream contain exactly the same wholesome ingredients, but which bowl of ice cream would YOU want to eat?

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Scott McGreal is a psychology researcher with a particular interest in individual differences, especially in personality and intelligence.


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