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Why good people support evil: applying Philip Zimbardo to Fiji (2011) (blogs)


   For those who wish for a peaceful and internal solution toFiji’s problems, a painful puzzle to understand is why so many “good” people have supported the illegal coups  of not just 2006, but also 1987 and 2000, despite all the resulting evils, and how to encourage them to change peacefully.

How do we convince those currently supporting the Bainimarama Regime to return to lawfulness and good governance, with the full restoration of basic human rights currently denied us by the Military Regime?

This kind of a problem applies to other Pacific countries likeSolomon IslandsandTonga,  and many other countries, which have been plagued by coups and sectarian violence, with systematic evil being done or supported by otherwise good people.

Although the economic implications of military coups and sectarian violence are horrendous, economics provides little guidance on such difficult questions.

Far more useful is the field of psychology and, here I draw on the work of Philip Zimbardo, an eminentStanfordUniversitypsychologist,  who gave a brilliant set of lectures atHarvardLawSchool,  titled  “The Lucifer Effect”.

While Zimbardo’s focus was on trying to explain why “good” people do “evil” things, he also  suggests how to encourage ordinary individuals (not the Mahatma Gandhis or Mother Theresas or Nelson Mandelas of the world) to do good, even if they are currently doing wrong things.

So we do not talk at cross-purposes, let me first outline what I see as the “evil” consequences of the 2006 coup for Fiji (with clear similarities with the consequences of the 1987 and 2000 coups).

The evil consequences of the 2006 coup

   The evil consequences (which many Bainimarama supporters in Fiji and abroad totally refuse to question their coup heroes on) include the following:

*the horrendous crime of treasonous removal of a lawfully elected government, which is the peaceful, co-operative foundation, however imperfect, of democratic freedoms and basic human rights, and good governance.

*the abuse of hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-payers’ funds and FNPF funds and the suppression of all auditor general’s and other reports which outline the financial abuses;

* the arbitrary sacking of hundreds of employees and board members without natural justice;

* the passing of military decrees which prevent grievances being taken to court,  expropriation of private property, and breaking of legal contracts;

* the draconian media censorship and severe curtailment of basic human rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and association;

* the draconian destruction of legitimate trade union rights and breaking of ILO conventions

* the complete lack of accountability for deaths of persons in the custody of the security forces, and arbitrary differential application of the law to Regime supporters and opponents;

*the gross misuse of Fiji National Provident Fund without the approval of the fund-owners, and a refusal to change the governance structure to make the Board accountable to the Members;

* the unaccountable and non-transparent purchase and sale of public assets and entering of legal agreements;

*the destruction of long-standing useful links with traditional donors and governments;

* the callous insistence on retaining power, despite the billions of dollars of lost national income and resulting increases in poverty, and other social evils.

* the total trashing of public service finance rules by illegally paying Bainimarama and other senior military officers for decades of back-pay;

*the total subversion of Ministry of Finance rules by paying current Ministers in the Military Regime, unknown salaries through a private accounting firm owned by a relative of the illegal Attorney General.

These have never been disputed by the Regime.

So why have “good” people supported and continue to support the 2006 coup perpetrators, just as many other good people also in 1987 and 2000 coups?

Zimbado’s three sources of evil

   Zimbardo was trying to make sense of horrifying events such as the torture and killings of prisoners  by American servicemen atGuantanomoBay and the Abu Ghraib prisons.

His findings also enabled him to understand better the killing of six million Jews by ordinary Germans;  the mass suicide of hundreds of men, women and children belonging to a religious cult;  and many other horrifying situations.

Search on the Internet with the words “Philip Zimbardo Lucifer Effect Youtube”.

Watch all the eleven video clips that pop up.  Be prepared for some shocking images and disturbing scientific findings about how ordinary people like you and I can be “good” or “evil” in different circumstances.

I apply Zimbardo’s ideas toFiji, with some additional elements which explain our predicament better.

Zimbardo saw evil actions arising from three sources.

First and obvious, evil may be done by people with inherent “evil dispositions”- but Zimbardo argues that most people are not inherently evil.
More important was the evil that can result from ordinary “good” people being corrupted or misled by the evil situations they find themselves in- good apples being corrupted by bad apples.

And third and even more powerful was where individuals found themselves part of an entire system (legal, political, social) in which doing the “evil” actions was seen as being “normal” or doing the right thing.  ie the system itself (the barrel) made the good apples bad.

Coup supporters may not be “evil”

   If we list the coup collaborators and supporters for each of the 2006, 2009 and also the 1987 and 2000 coups-  the lists will be very long indeed.

There have been prominent legal and academic minds, leading politicians and political parties, prominent chiefs and their organizations, former Commanders of the Fiji Military Forces; religious and social leaders of all denominations (Methodist, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim etc), civil society institutions, long standing civil servants,  experienced bureaucrats and former citizens; and even the British monarchy in 1987.

We will have virtually included most of those in the upper echelons of Fiji society for the last 25 years (while I name people because I expect better from them, my legal adviser says don’t name people)..

   Most would be considered “normal” people, and in their own social groups, they may even be considered to be doing “good”.

So how could they support or tolerate all the evils I have listed at the beginning?

Zimbardo explains  that there is good and evil in all of us, like “yin” and “yang” (no surprise to many religions).  Zimbardo (and other psychologists like Millgram) discovered through their objective scientific experiments that evil deeds can easily result when individuals uncritically allow themselves  to be dominated by situations or systems at large, and obey the orders of “evil” others, who knowingly use their power for unjust reasons.

The Milgram Experiments

   Zimbardo explained how American psychologist Stanley Milgram showed this result decades ago- with all kinds of ordinary people, in all kinds of different  environments, with experiments which might seem simplistic, but with incredibly powerful results.

In one experiment, the human “guinea pig” is shown a vertical line, alongside a group of three other lines, of which only one has the same length as the first one.

The guinea pig (and others in the group who are “actors in the know”), are asked to choose which one out of the three lines has the same length.

The actors, after giving the correct answer for a few questions, then all deliberately start giving the wrong answer.

Milgram found that most “guinea pigs”, who gave the right answers at the beginning, begin to give the obviously wrong answer- just to fit in with the others who he did not know were deliberately giving wrong answers.

   The psychologists found that conforming with the group, whether right or wrong,  is the norm for most human beings not the exception– even if they end up doing horrifying things, as the next experiments shows.

The electric shock and the prisoner/guard experiment

   One psychology experiment was absolutely horrifying.

A “professor” (in a white uniform) asks the guinea pig to administer a multiple choice question to a “student” (who is really an actor) out of sight in another room.  If the student got the answer wrong, he/she was to be given a bigger and bigger electric shock, supposedly to help the student learn faster.

The experiment was rigged to ensure that the students kept giving occasional wrong answers, and every guinea pig was asked to increase the electric shock, even if the  person in the other room was screaming in pain, right up to the 400 volt plus point where it could prove fatal.

Time after time, with all kinds of guinea pigs, men and women alike, people of all ages, of all races, would keep obeying the “professor” in increasing the electric shock, until the “erring student” in the other room appeared to be given a fatal level of shock and went totally quiet.  Only a tiny proportion of guinea-pigs stopped before the fatal level of shock.

   In another early experiment by Zimbardo, ordinary students were randomly designated by academic researchers to act as “guards” while others were designated to act as “prisoners”.

Not only did the “guards” become dehumanized and brutal, but the prisoners also became so dehumanized and traumatized, that Zimbardo was forced to stop his experiment short.

   What these psychologists established (please do watch the Youtube video clips) was that most ordinarily “good” people will obey whoever they perceive as “authority” even if what they end up doing  is morally and ethically wrong or “evil”.

   Remember the disturbing book Lord of the Flies where ordinary children stranded alone on an island, suddenly become savages and even killers.

The Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons

   Zimbardo went into all this analysis because he had been asked to defend American soldiers charged with torturing prisoners at theGuantanamoBay and Abu Ghraib prisons,  suspected to be terrorists.

Zimbardo found to his amazement that the accused soldiers were quite “normal” decent persons- with no “evil” characteristics in their psychological make-up.

He discovered instead that that American military rules of conduct had been changed by the highest political and military authority in United States to implicitly allow torture, sadism, cruelty, even murder of prisoners, even if these acts negated the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners.

   Most of the American guards thought that they were doing the “right thing” in their “war against terror” because  they thought that that was what the “authorities wanted them to do. Just as many decent Germans did in killing the six million Jews, or the Al Qaida terrorists did in bombing the Twin Towers.

   At the American prison camps, it was only when one soldier rebelled because of his conscience that all the abuses came to light.  That soldier and his family eventually had to be given military protection for years, to protect them from attacks by their colleagues who felt betrayed by the “whistle blower”.  Whistle-blowing is incredibly dangerous.

So how does all this help us understandFijitoday?

Zimbardo’s ten stages and the Fiji Coups

   Zimbardo’s analysis led him to outline 10 steps or stages whereby normally “good” people are slowly pulled into doing “evil” and find themselves unable to stop or extricate themselves.

I apply them here, with some modifications for Fiji.

1. There is always some “ideology”  to justify the actions.

   In Nazi Germany it was “the creation of the Aryan Master-race by cleansing the Fatherland of these hateful Jews”. In theUS military prisons, there was the “Need for War Against Terror”, supported by most Americans and politicians.

In the Rabuka/Mara coup of 1987 and the 2000 coup, the ideologies were “Fijifor the Fijians”, “no Indian should be Prime Minister”;Fiji’s Development Plan will be the Blueprint for “Affirmative Action for indigenous Fijians”.  These coups were supported by most Fijians and Fijian institutions like the GCC andMethodistChurch.

Bainimarama claimed his 2006 coup was to remove corruption and corrupt politicians, and create a racially equal society, with electoral reform and a “one man one vote”, all to be guided by the new Charter and Roadmap.  This coup was supported by most Indo-Fijians, many kailoma and kaivalangis, and their respective institutions like the Hindu, Muslim, and Catholic religious organisations.

2. The  “the end justifies the means”  and we have to have “some  necessary evils”

   The argument goes that you have to restrict some of your rights, like freedom of speech, if we are going to unite the whole country and not be destabilized by a few disgruntled critics with their own agendas.

People are told- don’t just stand on the sideline and criticize. Join the Government, the Boards, the NCBBF,  the Constitution Review Commission, etc  if you want to save the country, you have to be “inside” to make a difference.  The country will be worse if you don’t join the gang.

Think back to 1987, 2000, and 2006.  There are far too many examples.

3.  The evil deeds slowly become bigger and clearly wrong, but people can say nothing

   Hark back to 1987 when the coup was presented as a “bloodless coup in paradise” –the international journalists’ ultimate holiday.

But coup opponents like Anirudh Singh and Som Prakash were abducted and tortured (Anirudh Singh has still not received justice from the courts); others were imprisoned; many Indo-Fijian civil servants (like John Samy) lost their jobs and were discriminated against in all kinds of ways. Government Development was refocused on indigenous Fijians, although all races were equally poor.

Hark back to 2000 when Chaudhry and other parliamentarians were held hostage for 57 days; when shops and houses were looted and burned, some planned deliberately by coup conspirators, but much also done by ordinary “decent” Fijians.

From moderate amounts of military over-expenditure in 1987, there were massive misuse of funds in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  Small assaults became bigger with people losing their lives.   Lack of accountability became widespread, with massive amounts of tax-payers’ money being lost.

Without any public emergency, a Public Emergency Decree is passed every month banning freedom of assembly. There is total media censorship at newspapers, radio and television stations. Long held basic human rights of workers and their unions are arbitrarily trashed.

There are deaths and violence in military custody which the police will not investigate.

The “good” people are now totally quiet.

4.   There appears to be a “lawful authority” which must be obeyed. 

   In 1987 Ratu Penaia Ganilau was removed as Governor General but then quickly accepted the position of “President” in the new Republic, from which “authority” then flowed all other legal changes- including changing the constitution to make it more pro-indigenous Fijian.

In 2000 when the Chaudhry Government was held hostage in Parliament, Ratu Mara stated on TV that  Chaudhry could not return as Prime Minister; Bainimarama assumed Executive Authority after asking the President Ratu Mara to  “step aside”; he then appointed an illegal Interim Administration led by Qarase (without the ruling FLP Coalition) which then ruled the country as the “lawful authority”.

In 2006, an illegally appointed Acting Chief Justice legitimated the 2006 coup for three years, also illegally appointing  Iloilo as President, who then illegally authorized the Bainimarama Government to initiate the NCBBF, the Charter etc. etc  which all the coup collaborators then followed as “the President’s Mandate” for this or that.  Yet the 2009 Appeal Court judgment ruled that it was all illegal and treasonous.

Iloilo was eventually replaced by Epeli Nailatikau first as Acting then later as full President, who then signed  and still signs today, all kinds of Military Decrees which are enforced by the judiciary as the “law of the land”.

Zimbardo observed that military soldiers, whose wearing of uniforms made them anonymous, were particularly vulnerable:  “higher authority” MUST be obeyed, or the solider would be charged with sedition or mutiny.  Witness the supreme irony of an illegal treasonous Military Regime wanting to charge Ratu Tevita for sedition!

Soldiers and civil servants cannot question whether orders from “above” are lawful or not: all must be followed blindly.

5.  The “once compassionate and principled” leader becomes authoritarian and dictatorial, and his supporters cannot handle the change

   Look at the stated objectives of Bainimarama when he did the coup in 2006; look at what he has become after five years.

Most initial coup supporters who established, justified and strengthened Bainimarama in the first place, have not been able to publicly disagree and/or retract their support.

6.   The rules are  changing, and often unjustifiable.

   Look no further than the Regimes “Military Decrees” expropriating private property, and denying residents the fundamental human right to take the Military Regime to court over perceived injustices.

Look at the military decrees which will be used to reduce pensions of existing pensioners.

Look at the decrees severely restricting the rights of unions, and the rights and freedoms of NGOs.

7.  Victims are made out to be evil, the evil deeds and persons are made out to be good. 

   Look at the illegal Regime’s condemnation of  the lawful stance ofAustralia, NZ and the EU.

Look at their prosecution for “sedition” of former soldiers and coup supporters like Ratu Tevita Mara, unionists Daniel Urai and Felix Anthony- what supreme irony from  a totally treasonous government.

Look at the Military Regime constantly preaching about legality, accountability and good governance, to the Fiji Law Society, the Accountants Congress, or Chambers of Commerce, while totally ignoring all its own terrible breaches of these same principles.

8.  Socially important people publicly “legitimate” the illegal authority.

   Public support is given by senior members of the judiciary, and institutions like the  Human Rights Commission; prominent political parties join in support; (Alliance in 1987,SVT in 2000, FLP in 2006); the traditional chiefs support the coups; the heads of religious organizations (Methodists in 1987 and 2000, the others in 2006) institutions likeCCF take part in the NCBBF and Charter processes; stalwarts of Transparency International collaborate with the Regime.

Business tycoons of all races, heads of business and professional organizations such as Chambers of Commerce, Hotel Association ofFiji, Accountants Congress,  and universities all prominently recognize the illegal and Interim “Presidents”, “Prime Ministers”, “Attorney Generals” and Ministers of the Military Regime.- not to do so would jeopardize their businesses and assets, and their daily bread.

Even organisations like the IMF, WB and UN give full recognition and legitimacy to the Regime, while some even praise their policies.

Who can blame ordinary poor powerless members of the public for also recognizing the illegal Regime as lawful?

9. Some internal dissent is allowed but overall authority must not be challenged.

   Look no further than the mild criticisms of the Bainimarama Regime by organisations such asCCF, ECREA and Transparency International.  One cleric trying desperately to enforce Wages Councils, in frustration accuses Bainimarama of “being like every other Prime Minister”, yet still recognizes him as the legitimate Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

10.  There is no easy exit for the followers

   Once people join the illegal bandwagons, they cannot get off.   Many who supported the 1987 and 2000 coups later changed their minds, as have some who joined after the 2006 coup.

Those who have grave doubts after witnessing the growing list of evils (listed at the beginning of this article), cannot criticize because of media restrictions, and cannot see any exit strategy. A few opponents escape overseas, like Jone Baledrokadroka and Ratu Tevita Mara.

But to explainFiji’s coups, we need to add three other important catalysts to Zimbardo’s analysis, that encourage “good” people to support or do evil: revenge, self-interest, and “doing good”.

The “revenge” factor

   Revenge is an easily understood very human emotion, as a powerful motivating factor for doing evil.

Many Indo-Fijians who suffered in the 1987 and 2000 coups, initially chuckled over the 2006 coup and the “same medicine” being meted out to those who supported the 1987 and 2000 coups.  They still chuckle today despite the devastation of the Indo-Fijian community in Fiji. Being allowed to call themselves “Fijian” is not going to feed the stomachs of the sugar cane farmers.

Several prominent persons ones, denied  national or international opportunities by previous racist governments, jumped in to “help” Bainimarama with his alleged objective of creating a racially equal society.

Everywhere in world, conflicts have flared for decades, fueled by the desire for revenge based on memories of injustice done to them decades or even centuries past.  All ignore the saying that “two wrongs do not make a right”.

Financial self-interest

   In everyFiji coup, it has been difficult to separate “self-interest” from ideology as motivating factors, when certain groups and individuals have always gained:

After every coup, senior military officers were promoted to top civil servant positions way above that of their military ranks and salaries, while even the rank and file gain in salaries and perks, while other civil servants stood still.

Former politicians who had no alternative jobs and incomes, jump in to allegedly “help” the country return to “normalcy”.

Powerful corporate persons jump in to support, while getting special concessions from an economically ignorant Military Regime desperate to encourage economic growth as a sign of their success as a “government”.

Select civil servants are promoted rapidly, enthusiastically supporting whatever was the dominant ideology of the coup leaders: “Fijifor Fijians” or “Affirmative Action for indigenous Fijians” or “People’s Charter and racial equality”.

Prominent individuals sidelined by previous governments are ready to jump on the new band-wagons, not just Indo-Fijians but also indigenous Fijians, kaivalagis and kailomas, many with nothing better to do.

Many formerFijiresidents made buckets of money by coming back as consultants and advisers to the Military Regime.  Many have disappeared now, but will no doubt reappear for the next Bainimarama act- a new Constitution forFijipromises more glory for some, and buckets of money for consultants.

The “doing good” factor

   When one examines the many Regime supporters there are many decent citizens among them, who clearly are trying to “do good”.

There are many people who trying to help without any pecuniary benefit for themselves: in using Wages Councils to raise the incomes of workers not protected by people persons or squatter housing; or improve the electoral system; or reconciliation; or better governance of the country by serving on Boards and Councils; or serving on Commerce Commissions to try help the poor through price control (whether it works or not).

Some of these individuals may have been resentful because they may have been denied these opportunities by previous governments and now they have a public platform for their activities.

“Doing good” is a powerful motivating factor which often makes people blind to the greater evil that they may become part of, especially when the good is very easily seen, while the evil effects are far more nebulous and out of sight, and easily ignored.

Lessons for Fiji: Zimbardo’s 10 steps and the Power of One

   While all these coups have resulted in enormous evil for Fiji, these large groups of coup supporters cannot be described as intrinsically “evil”:  they are just ordinary people who have taken a wrong turn in life, because others in their social reference group were taking that turn.

The real challenge is how we get ordinary “good” people to stop supporting “evil” actions and oppose the evil?

Zimbardo observed that while “evil” has been extensively studied, as well as outstanding good individuals like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa, there have been few studies of ordinary people who do “good”, often  heroically “against the tide”

Zimbardo pointed to the many psychology experiments where hundreds of people would pass by an obviously sick or injured person lying in the street and not intervene.   But the moment one individual did stop to help, then numerous others also rushed in to help.

   Zimbardo suggested ten steps that ordinary people could take to resist mass pressure to do unethical “evil” deeds and withdraw if they have been already been pulled in (these apply equally to Fiji).

1.      Admit mistakes, apologize and seek forgiveness.

Given the numbers and groups who have supported coups since 1987, Albert Park would be full and totally multi-racial, unlike the last unilateral Qarase attempt after the 2000 coup.  There are few groups left in Fiji who can claim that they are “without sin” and can “cast the first stone”).

2.      Be critical of those in authority.

3.      Only accept just authority: reject and expose unjust authority

4.         Take personal responsibility for your actions- stop using the excuse “I was only      following orders”.

5.      Avoid being stereotyped by the “gang” mentality: assert your individuality.

6.      Do not compromise personal morality and ethics especially when leaders demand that you “must be a team player”.

7.      Be aware of social manipulation, especially through the media.

8.      Never sacrifice real personal and civic freedoms, for the illusion of current or future security.  Be wary of leaders who ask that individuals must sacrifice their basic human rights “for the greater good”.

9.      Oppose unjust systems not just as an individual, but also in co-operation with others who have similar principles and vision as you, because there is greater safety and effectiveness in numbers.

10.    Be aware that the present MUST one day pass, and the future will hold you          accountable for your actions.

Moving out of  Fiji “boxes”

   Of course, it will be incredibly difficult for our people to follow these ten steps, when for more than a century,Fiji’s citizens have stayed in our “boxes”, small reference groups, our comfort zones, our own communities narrowly defined usually by ethnicity, culture or religion, our old school affiliation, our social and sports clubs, our grog gangs.

We do not see people in “other boxes” or “other communities” as legitimate parts of one’s own society, with everyone to be treated equally, and subject to the same rules.

Our people forgive anything wrong originating from within our  own “boxes”, even it seems, serious crimes punishable by death, such as  treason, while we so easily recognize and respect unlawful  authority associated with our “gang members”.  Respect for the rule of law is not just extremely fragile in Fiji, but I fear, it is non-existent.

These required changes in behavior cannot be achieved by violence against the Regime (as anonymous bloggers often advocate) nor by Bainimarama’s soldiers with guns, even if they genuinely believed in these objectives.

It is sad thatFiji’s different communities will have to take their own initiatives independently of this illegal Military Regime, and not wait for the alleged Nirvana in 2014.

We have to battle the Media Censorship and Military Decrees which have taken away all our basic human rights of freedom of speech, assembly and association.

We must state publicly and under our own names that an illegal Military Regime has no lawful authority to tellFijipeople by what date (2014?) they are going to “restore” basic human rights to us, when they had no authority to take away these rights in the first place.

Fiji would be greatly helped if the “good” people supporting the “evil” Military Regime were to join hands with those who wish to peacefully restore basic human rights and freedoms inFijiimmediately.

Good people do not have to continue to be party to evil.

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