Friday, 26 October 2012

'Prison guards' and 'group-think' strike again

'Beverley Dawkins, policy manager for Mencap, issued a statement on behalf of the victims' families. "In the 21st century, places like Winterbourne View should not exist," she said.' Why, yes, they should not, however is this disgusting case of depravity surprising? No, not at all. Yet another quote: 'Care and Support minister Norman Lamb said the case revealed the "criminal and inhuman acts some so-called care workers are capable of".' Some care workers? Well clearly it was almost the whole of the Winterbourne View organisation even if some of them had not actively participated and its parent organisation Castlebeck versus just one lonely whistleblower.

There has been a lot of research during the past century with many famous and well-known results that the majority of people who have too much power over others due to their universally accepted power roles (e.g. policemen, prison guards, carers, soldiers, etc) all can suffer from some loss of humanity and at times a complete loss of judgement about what is ethical and what is not. For a more popular example I would advise to watch Lars von Trier's 'Dogville'. Care homes, specialised institutions for children, prisons, and even hospitals where the patients are weaker than the staff looking after them all breed such power imbalances, yet it seems that these organisations never acknowledge the findings of these  psychological experiments and nobody is out there addressing the way how such power relationships should be resolved in the way that prevents people in power positions to degrade to levels that are below the animal behaviour.

When I think about myself I am about 99.99% certain that I would rebell against other 'prison guards' if I ever was put into a position of a 'prison guard' and witnessed cruel behaviour. I know this because I have 'rebelled' in all cases when I witnessed other people around me in unfair situations being badly treated by others. I have found myself speaking out far too often and I have found people relying on my habit of speaking out. I have always mostly been surrounded by decent, well-educated people, and yet I have always been speaking out first or alone. The 0.01% of doubt is due to the fact that not much can be 100% about human behaviour. Homo Sapiens have survived due to their tribe instinct, and this tribe instinct is something that can also be termed 'group-think' - another psychological term for irrational behaviour of humans in groups when they lose objective thinking and reinforce subjective opinions of their members even if they are wrong and even if independently, i.e. outside the group, these same members would not agree with such opinions. So the majority of us are wired by evolution to lose sight of what is true when we are in a group. My upbringing ensured that I disliked groups and always relied on my independent thought process that is as objective as is humanly possible (my track record of speaking out started at the age of 7 when I went to school). Believe me, quite often this comes at a cost in our societies where the majority is not like this. The higher degree of these qualities in my character has proven to be a curse for my well-being on a number of occasions meaning that if I found the strength to stand up for others I could barely stand up for myself. There is nothing perfect about it, and all of our characters have pros and cons - I definitely do not view myself as somehow so much better formed because I happen to be familiar with my own shortcomings and with the shortcomings of being how I am. It is also a difficult task to bring up individuals in this way - one that my parents have achieved because they themselves inherently were independent thinkers and people who placed the highest value on education and not on any other assets. We cannot expect everybody to be the same, there are billions of people on this planet, it is just irrational to think that somehow everybody should converge to one ideal.

Again, I do sincerely hope that readers do not take my revelations of self as 'bragging' and there is that 0.01% of a doubt! Moreover, I must have less of ethical drive than some other people because I am not even a member of Amnesty International, nor have I done anything particularly outstanding in terms of defending others' rights so far. I can tell from my experience it takes a lot of 'family conditioning', guts, nerves, and calories to be able to stand up for anything and I do not want to put a blame or a label on the majority. To the contrary, what I am trying to say by relying on my experiences of struggle as an example and on results of past psychological research is that it must be notoriously difficult and almost impossible for most people to fight against situations that occur within 'guard-prisoner' relationships, which create much higher polarity of power than unfair relationships, unless they are in the role of a 'prisoner' when some of them rebel to survive. 'Guards' do not have any survival needs, being in a group of 'like-minded' individuals the 'group-think' makes them even blinder to the fact that their behaviour may be cruel (or unfair). The psychological experiments of the past can be decried for their horrors, however they provide the most objective evidence that the majority of human beings can lose their independence, objectivity, and ethical values once they are put into positions of power over other people and can completely lose rational thinking if they become members of a group. These are facts and if these are facts why do we still rely on only legal and watchdog instruments of controlling the behaviour of prisons, police, care homes and other such institutions?

Clearly there should be much more research into how power relationships and group-think can be controlled and 'normalised' by the participants of such relationships themselves. I say by the participants themselves because more often than not independent watchdogs are brought in far too late and in this horrendous case the care watchdog ignored the whistleblower's concerns - how much worse can this get? Out of the whole care home organisation with 44 members of staff, two of whom were managers, there happened to be just one whistleblower who bothered to do something about it. Clearly we need to find mechanisms of self-regulation when people find themselves in power positions and stituations of group-think, because nothing else seems to work.

It is easy to condemn people who have degraded under such conditions, it is very easy to say that in this time and age horror care homes should not exist, but it is impossible to prevent this and to ensure that such horrors do not happen using traditional approaches and frameworks. It has been proven time and again, and it happens each and every minute on minor or major scales. It is time people stopped thinking (stopped the group-think) that being ethical is something that is easily acquired, because it is not. Being ethical in all situations requires first and foremost absence of fear of authority - whatever and whoever the authority is, - enormous amounts of will power, limitless kindness that is difficult to acquire or even agree with for a lot of people, and the clarity and objectivity of thought. These qualities can come at a high price for anybody who embodies them simultaneously or are being perceived as coming at a high price due to so much fear and universal resistance to the truth. It is therefore an idealist, communist, and utterly utopian thinking to assume that people will automatically become, strive to be like this, or be able to sustain their free will and ethics when they become prisoners, policemen, security guards, carers or other professionals of power. It is high time everybody acknowledged this and worked hard on how to solve this problem.

P.S. Please point me in the direction of such research if you know more than me as I would be interested in finding out what has been achieved so far in this field.