The Delusion of Heroism

I think I’ve told this story here before, but it’s a good story.

Mr. Johnson’s Quakerism class was mandatory in my high school.  we learned about the tenants of Quakerism and ethics. On the last class day he reorganized the classroom desks.  we entered to find two overturned desks holding balloons in two corners of the room.  Other overturned desk made two pens in the middle of the classroom.  He split us into two teams as we came in. After we had gathered to our sides, he explained:

“Today, we’re going to play a game.  There are two teams, red and blue.  The object of the game is to take your teams’ balloons, one at a time, from the corner pens to the center pens.  Those are the only rules, you may begin when I say.”

As the game started, we milled about the room, dutifully carrying our balloons.  After a little jostling started, someone stepped on a balloon, popping it.  We all stood silently for a moment, then jostling became shoving, shoving became stomping, until no balloons were left.  Mr. Johnson gathered us around the remains of 50 balloons.

“When we started this game, I only gave you vague rules to guide your actions.  An accident led to all the balloons being popped.  the question I pose to you is, what intrinsic rules guide you in life when there is no one telling you what to do?”

I’ve been thinking about the Project for A New American Century.  I wanted to find the motives behind Reagonism, Pre-Emption, and the Unitary Executive.  Surfing around led me to a great site that I’d like to share.  MIT publishes speeches given at the University on  The specific speech I was looking for was given by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo.  He studies “Situational Psychology”.  most psychologists focus on the internal mechanism of our minds and how they affect our behavior.  Dr. Zimbardo talks about the effect of environments on our behavior.  He was hired as an expert witness for the defense in the Abu-Ghraib trials.  This talk is two hours long.  I didn’t intend to listen to the whole thing, but I found it so interesting that I kept with it.  It succinctly shows the roots of power driven abuse.  Here is the link to the talk.  The Stanford Prison Experiment eerily predicts the abuses at Abu-Ghraib. is Dr. Zimbardo’s site.  It explains his theories and some of his experiments.


Posted in People. 1 Comment »

One Response to “The Delusion of Heroism”

  1. Manuel Says:

    That is quite a lesson. Very interesting.

    In case you didn’t see, the word of the week is “sin.”

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