GOOD MAN – WISE THOUGHTS AND UNWISE DEEDS ( Henryk Elzenberg and Philip Zimbardo) - Dezintegracja Pozytywna
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GOOD MAN – WISE THOUGHTS AND UNWISE DEEDS ( Henryk Elzenberg and Philip Zimbardo)

Tadeusz Kobierzycki, PhD

There is a large difference and discrepancy in the functioning of the human mind and feelings themselves. This is shown in Philip’s Zimbardo’s book, The Lucifer effect. Why do good people do evil.

Foto: CocteauBoy / / CC BY-ND


There is a large difference and discrepancy in the functioning of the human mind and feelings themselves. This is shown in Philip’s Zimbardo’s book, The Lucifer effect. Why do good people do evil. The positive and negative role of feelings in cognition is puzzling. An emotional background forms, deforms or reforms the structure of perception, works for its individualization, marginalization or totalization. Owing to this background, instructions, commands and prohibitions assume the form of a language of wishes and threats, creating a sort of apparent or hidden command. Basic emotional economics force man to choose a safer and more gratifying solution. Those who do the contrary are deemed unreasonable, retarded, naïve, stupid etc.

A Polish philosopher, Henryk Elzenberg (1887–1967) published his article Duty and commands in the works od the Ninth International Philosophy Congress (Paris 1937), and then in Philosophical Overview (1938), the latter serving as a basis for this article
(see H. Elzenberg, “Powinność i rozkaz, Odbitka z Rocznika XLI Przeglądu Filozoficznego”, Warsaw 1938, translators note: the title stands for: “Obligation and command, Duplicate from the Annual of the 61st Philosophical Overview). It is a real shame that psychologists, educators or politicians do not know the mentioned article, if they did, they would not have to, as Zimbardo, write a large volume about a problem which needs just a few pages of considerations about imperativism or hedonism. Then it would turn out that “good” professor Zimbardo and a “bad” student are one that combines good and evil in itself. This “unity” is formed by introducing superior notions such as: Good and Evil, Idea and Science or Absolute and God.

Zimbardo’s text can be viewed from many perspectives, e.g. ontological and then the description and analysis appear to be misplaced, or from a behavioral or psycho-biological perspective. Using the latter two, the perspective has a meaning of an incomplete document of a “scientific” impact. It may be treated as a material for analysis of behavior controlled by needs of meaning, power or pleasure (more pleasure than sorrow) or as a material regarding the functioning of a command, obligation, contract which reduces a behavioral and moral choice to a calculation of small goods and those in a larger image bring bad results on a larger scale than particular goods.
I will hold now onto an analysis of the category and issue of obligation in the context of commands (or in this case a command intertwined in the contract between the professor and college students “bought” for his own experiment for a couple of dollars).

Zimbardo’s prison experiment is being continued in the United States outside of academic laboratories on a technical and industrial scale, public space is defined there as “common good” and subject to total control, it is thus “more real” than a real prison space. Not having the need to make allowance for the Roman public law rule which is the basis for European democratic systems, without the need to prove innocence or the assumption that human nature is good. Those projects include the assumption that the truth proved the contrary.

Antinomies of obligation – command and choice, freedom and constraint

The theory of obligation is a project of behavior analysis, supported by not just emotion or intellectual projects, but also patterns of behavior undertaken according to what is to be done and what should be avoided – depending on the assumed hierarchy of goods and values which promote or eliminate such behavior. One can conclude the following:
1. The content of a research instruction, meaning an order, is identical to the content of given tasks which assume the form of commands, suggestions, rules or regulations which cannot be disregarded.
2. An obligation of realization is based on “pure obedience” taking place within the framework of upbringing and social systems which shape order in interpersonal relations.
3. Put together, it is a form of contracted obligation which creates philosophical bases of imperativism (and, consequently, imperialism). It is often hidden, emotionally neutralized until the time when it begins to be in force and must be realized.

The concept of command and problems of imperativism

The notion of a command is widely known in heteronomous and autonomous ethics, one can distinguish heteronomous and autonomous imperativism (e.g. also in an indirect sense, according to Kant). As Henryk Elzenberg believes, imperativism has meaning only in heteronomous ethics (personally, I think that not only there). A command always comes from the outside (instruction, command, request etc.). However, “in fact an imperativist sometimes likes such elusive slipping from one of these standpoints into a second or third and such unnoticed slips may sometimes give his or her arguments a particular impression of strength (H. Elzenberg 1938, p.4). this property of “slipping down” of unclear commands into unclear situations takes place in Zimbardo’s procedure.

Imperativism based on identification of actions with a given command or order

1. Obligation may be a command, so then a sentence ascertaining an obligation or commitment, based on a “free contract”, it is thus simply a given command “of which a verbal expression lost its imperative character. «You should do this.» means as much as «do»; a command «do this» is to understood not as a request or command, but clearly and unambiguously a command in itself.” (H. Elzenberg 1938, p. 5)

2. A command may be an instruction which regards a future behavior, it is given directly or indirectly to someone from whom the command giver requires a certain behavior. Nonetheless, if obligation and the command are identified with each other, these conditions are not met. It often happens this way while imposing a particular legal requirement which should not, but might operate backwards. In legal practices this ‘mistake’ is often made intentionally in order to perform an emotional or mental blackmail by blaming contractors with a crime or misdemeanor against allegedly assumed obligations.

3. Equating a command with obligation causes the content of a command hidden in this manner whereas its source cannot be identified and a particular person who performs it will hardly ever know anything about the command’s existence before sealing or cancelling a contract (also a research-related one).

4. Elzenberg believes that such type of obligation cannot be (or should not be) formulated
in the form of a verbal command, as that would be a false obligation theory, however many could acknowledge it as a one in power and execute it based on an incorrect supposition.

5. An unlawful demand to “guessing” the content who somebody presented in an incomprehensible, coded, contrary or deceitful manner, often encountered in contracts aimed as acquiring untitled profits and bearing untitled losses. Such practices took place in Zimbardo’s scientific experiment, the participants of which did not know the hidden plan od acts and they entered those and realized them because of a financial constraint, entering a cognitive and moral conflict with themselves and others.

Weak or strong imperativism, dynamics of obligation

1. A judgment of obligation may be a judgement ascertaining some command and its simple variant expressed in a verbal expression of this judgement. This may be a command given by ‘anyone’ (H. Elzenberg 1938, p.6-7). In this case “you should” would mean that something “is imposed on you”. But command and obligation in this case seem to be a bidding without a subject, without a decision or without execution. In the case of Zimbardo’s experiment, we see an evolution of actions of participants, as the ones who played the guards imposed their attitude onto their colleagues who played the inmates. The subject defined as an inmate becomes liquid, amorphous, it disappears. The subject defined as a guard grows, doubles itself and self-multiplies. At some point the experiment loses a certain subject range and the game progresses as if it was programmed by ‘anyone’.

2. Various orders, treated as equally important, quickly become contradictory, e.g. when a particular behavior and its opposite are of the same importance. Their proper subject disappears and who performs them, loses his or her initial subjectivity. Obligation becomes relative, it may be treated as a command, e.g. in a situation of uncertainty, or as necessity which becomes the default. Then the game begins, regarding how to change the order into necessity or a necessity into an order and remove the necessity’s subject (then later objectify it again), thus removing it or modifying it by realizing it on one’s own.

3. Zimbardo’s project may be partly justified by the relativistic theory which in practice removes obligation or dissipates it into ‘small change’, incoherent reflections of obligement. This, I turn, activates the functioning of defense mechanisms which alter the sense of the experiment, ‘zapping’ colleagues with electricity becomes its content. Increasing doses of electricity is treated as an amplification of substitutes of sense. Zimbardo, being a psychologists, did not assume that the behavior of his students will take place based on their own judgments regarding obligation.

4. As noted by Elzenberg, in such situations the following phenomenon might
occur: ”judgements ascertaining commands of the privileged commander” (H. Elzenberg 1938, p. 5), someone like professor Zimbardo. His commands based on a contract turned into procedures of their defense or destruction by students who disintegrated badly formulated cognitive or psychological assumptions of the experiment.

The concept of a privileged commander

1. In scientific research its conductor often becomes a ‘privileged commander’. This role can be assumed by a hypostasized country, a social group or some individual considered to be ‘special’, e.g. a sage, a prophet, a priest, someone who is anointed, a political leader, a chosen one, a teacher, a juror, an examiner, a selector, the Absolute or God. The expression “you should” and “I should” would mean “X or Y commands you to” for a religious man. The psychological inseparability or these expressions does not entail the identity of the content. It is a form of tautology, such as “God tells you to do what God tells you to do”
(H. Elzenberg 1938, s.6). This is not obligation, just a double suggestion.

2. In an imperativist’s mind obligement (or a suggestion) and a command are two intertwined convictions. It is enough that the sentence “God (or some X – another privileged commander) tells me to” be in fact the argument of “I should” and that the relation of reason and the after-effect be handled in a quick act of thought to make the assumption inadmissible and the theory incorrect. In Zimbardo’s experiment we have an example of an inadequate identification of the scientific project leader with a leader possessing supernatural power.

3. The privileged command giver possesses a strength which is one excellence or an excellence in itself – the most perfect and at the same time the strongest may punish the recipient of the order in case of refusal, waking the feelings of fear, subjection etc., the whole of which is a ‘feeling of obligation’ (H. Elzenberg 1938, p.6).

4. The genetic theory of the ‘feeling of obligation’ and not obligation of itself is common, but imprecise. Zimbardo’s experiment teaches us how a wrong and negative ‘feeling of obligation’ has been freed and realized which resulted in accelerated processes of psychiatrization or penalization of the behavior of some participants.
Imperativism based on the strength of action of a just order
1. Imperativism may be based on the strength of operation of a just order. “Every obligation is created by some order; or: as many times as you should do something, its because it is commanded for you. As in the previous concept and for the same reasons”. (H. Elzenberg 1938)Elzenberg excludes the justification of obligement based on a command given by ‘anyone’ or someone serving for a privileged commander. This hypothesis assumes that obligation creates a justification of a commanded deed, not the command itself. It is thus a non-imperativistic theory.

2. The privileged commander’s (X) biddings create a variety of obligements, and the commands of others (Y,Z) do not. That is because:
a – X always commands what is right (in this hypothesis obligation is not created by the command, but its rightness, so this is not imperativist behavior);
b – X is the best or most perfect among other commanders (this hypothesis may be reduced to the first one or in imperativistic on the surface);
c – X is the strongest commander (this thesis may be reduces to the second or, in other interpretations, it is not a theory of obligation and is not imperativistic.

3. The idea of a just command assumes perfection of the commander (the best or the most perfect). Such commander may dictate only what is just. He never mandates what is not just. An imperativist may do both.

According to the existential psychiatrist, Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1902-1980), four psychological and cultural reasons for strengthening human evil may be distinguished (K. Dąbrowski, Elementy filozofii rozwoju, (“Elements of development philosophy”),Warsaw 1989:
• beating a small child (always),
• imprisonment and conviction without a just trial (always),
• using torture (always),
• killing another human (unless in direct defense of one’s own life).

Such procedures psychiatrize or penalize human behavior, putting ideas and safety procedures about ideas and procedures of freedom. A child is not evil by nature, even if it is physically or mentally damaged, it should not be beaten for repair purposes, as beating results in further damage of the defense adaptation system and individual growth. Torture cannot be deemed good, even when it is to serve as a method of fixing the personality of a sick man, a foreign man, an enemy or a criminal; labeling and penalizing criminal behavior always has a defense-like, pseudo-adaptive and not a development character.

It is more important to rationally differentiate behavior, instead of psychiatricizing, penalizing, demonizing or punishing it. Building a foundation of the organization of an individual life and social life on fear is defective. Ideas of pluralism and anthropological individualism by Aristotle seem more important for me than a monistic, eugenic and totalistic anthropology by Plato and the ideas drawn from it – regarding the human being – which seem more important for American political psychology.

Reversing the Lucifer effect using the detectors of ‘bad behavior’

The Stanford prison experiment may by inscribed into the American syndrome of political psychology which allows preventive or prophylactic tracking of ‘bad behavior’ not only by parents, teachers or public functionaries – different policemen, members of the military, judges or priests of different religions, guardians of new ideas, amateurs and hobbyists of good ideas and good behavior. In order to control the mentioned, technical and technological devices were implemented to lure criminals from public places, even their homes and workplaces. Moreover, even from their thoughts. That is to make people detectable by cameras and detectors of ‘bad intentions’ even before they think or do ‘something bad’. There is a growing billion dollar business based on the idea of tracking ‘good/bad behavior’.

“Any camera can register a ‘crime’. The art of it all is to detect a behavior indicating an intent of committing such an act.” – repeatedly said by John Frazzini, former FBI special agent, later a detective conducting investigations for the American Senate. Now he is the chairman of the board of Behavioral Recognition Systems (BRS Labs) which is to supply San Francisco with a monitoring system for two million dollars. At first, it will cover twelve subway stations. Each station will have 22 cameras transmitting a signal to the central computer, equipped with an A.I. system.

The advantage of the new supervision system over hundreds of others used worldwide is that human involvement is minimal. Image analysis is handled by a machine controlled by a neural network. It observes people and, based on their behavior, ‘predicts’ whether or not they are going to commit a crime. If it recognizes something suspicious, it is to alert the guards. They will handle the unfortunate mane who fell under the jurisdiction of a computer.

This system of ‘intelligent’ monitoring, and in fact criminalizing human behavior by monitoring is called AISight and is protected by more than 50 patents. It received the main award during the yearly Counter Terror Expo in London. Cameras which are able to recognize a person which only has the intent to detonate a bomb or steal a wallet were a major hit among policemen and representatives of security services.

In order to identify hostile intent of ‘bad people’, scientific experiments of a naïve professor are no longer necessary. Cameras, microphones, remote detectors measuring heartrate (using microwaves), optical devices tracking the movement of eyeballs and infrared cameras monitoring changes in cheek skin temperatures are enough. Sudden rise of pulse, blushing or extensive forehead sweating may soon be aggravations during airport control. Maybe such devices will also enter courts, as the polygraph, now considered to be archaic.

Modern technologies used in devices make it possible to update biometrical databases with facial photos, fingerprints, retinal scans and voice samples. Based on the aforementioned, various ‘security seervices’ will instantly know who they are dealing with according to the report by Homeland Security, buyers f such technologies (which introduce us to the era of invigilation of ‘good/bad’ behavior) would be ready to spend $750 million now. In 2016 the customer orders may reach $3.2 billion.

BRS Labs, founded in 2005 in a wave of concern for the ‘good of the citizens’ (in other words, public security) founded its branches in London, Barcelona, Sao Paulo and other cities. The product device, after installation, monitors its surroundings closely for the first few weeks. Anything within sight is analyzed and stored by the artificial brain. Buildings, objects, shapes and colors enter its memory. It remembers the average speed and direction of cars on the streets or people moving around a mall or an airport.

After this ‘machine’ familiarizes itself with its surroundings, it begins to supervise. Any unusual situation, different from the memorized norm, catches its attention. Then it reacts. It raises an alarm when someone places a bag where it never happened before or will notice someone who started to run, pushing through a crowd. Naturally, it cannot determine if this is simply a late passenger or a pickpocket. That is up to alerted services.

A single camera manufactured by this company can track and analyze three hundred unusual events simultaneously. Such intelligent machines, equipped with neural networks, are the most precise and attentive than humans. The AISight system was devised mainly to keep an eye on potential terrorists, but it can also be used for more down-to-earth purposes, e.g. monitoring attempts to bypass ticket gates in the subway. A delinquent who breaks the law will be easier to identify and to punish with a ticket.

BRL Labs does not boast as to where exactly its devices have been applied. Most customers do not want to disclose that information. The website shows that smaller sets, comprising of a few cameras work in many countries in the world. They have been installed in some museums, amusement parks, buildings frequently visited by tourists, ports, military buildings and government facilities. The aim is always the same: a suspect citizen is to be identified within a fraction of a second.


Zimbardo’s prison experiment shows the difficulties in putting a research contract into practice. The obligement involved is treated as a command which enforces reactions of obligation, however different are the psychological, semantic, syntactic, logical or legal bases. In many cases shown in this article, the understanding of ‘contractual obstriction’ becomes lost. Obligation is most often mixed with moral necessity, but does not fulfill its postulates. More often the ‘contractual obstriction’ fulfills psychological postulates, based on the phenomena of psychological defense or psychological aggression than phenomena of economics of behavior, not ethics-type occurrences.

Persons subject to the procedures of ‘contractual obstriction’ are not only under intellectual, but also semantic, emotional or economical stress. So, they react in a defense-aggression manner (criminalization of behavior) in which the most important part is that which deserves love, respect and worship, and the greatest threat is posed by the contrary. In such a situation the duty of semantical and emotional loyalty itself towards the ‘research leader’ becomes more important than the semantic and emotional loyalty towards colleagues taking part in the experiment ‘on the other side’. Nonetheless, such loyalty means sometimes an activation of defense mechanisms, based on the identification of projection identification and auto destruction.

If the command was actually given, it does not play the role of a command, but as one of the means of presenting a special wish or will.

This is not an imperativist concept, according to which ‘a duty is created by a command’. What created an obligation in this case is the will or wish of The Perfect One, “it doesn’t matter whether this will or this wish were presented in the command”
(H. Elzenberg 1938, p. 8). The duty of doing what we are told to do is not the result of the command itself, but from the use of a more general hedonistic rule in its negative form (‘avoid suffering’). A command does not always create an obligement, and obligement may be known not only by use of commands (ad extra).

According to Elzenberg, the first two imperativist concepts should be disregarded, as they are false. One view is idealistic, two concepts are cultic, one theory is psychological.

An obligation can have an assumptive, or a projection, fantasy character. Treating various suggestions as commands is unjustified, as its bases belong in intuitions and intertwined cult behavior which are being used in unclear, cognitive and moral ways. Badly or unclearly formulated objectives of research and scientific experiments bring more moral losses than cognitive benefits.

Thereby, the rule of freedom of research and actions (as well as thinking) is being replaced by the rule of security. It eliminates the need of personal training in the scope of choice and freedom and determining good and evil on one’s own. It destroys the ability to be morally alert which is dependent on a particular human’s personality by replacing it with the alertness of machines intended to total invigilation of that individual.

Placing moral barriers to such projects by creating committees or bioethical committees in life sciences is nowadays just. Who knows, maybe ‘techno-ethical’ committees should be created and their operation within life and humanistic sciences should also be included. The remarks of the Polish philosopher, Henryk Elzenberg made seventy seven years ago are still valid in the design and evaluation of human behavior. Maybe if Philip Zimbardo would had known them, he would conduct and describe his American ‘prison experiment’ differently.

Still, maybe this project would have been disregarded or parodied as it happened in Zimbardo’s case, taken over and transformed by a country promoting a military model of control and defining what is good and what is wrong. This is how the return to the eugenic Platonic idea took place in which the mind was supposed to be a guardian of good and evil. Here this role is played by the ‘military mind’ which creates its own parody today. Aristotle is ‘tossing and turning in his own grave now’.

Dr hab. Tadeusz Kobierzycki, – Institute of Ego-Analysis “Askeion”– Consultations – Warsaw 2013

Anna Drabarek, Zbigniew Król (editor), The Lucifer Effect from a scientific perspective, published by the National Defense University, Warsaw 2013, p. 40-58.
[ISBN 978-83-7523-284-4]

Translated from Polish into English by:
Tomasz Szustek, Alumnus of the Warsaw University of Technology