Thanks to Edwin Galegos for these comments on my Zimbardo post:
The question of where evil resides is not settled by Zimbardo’s experiment or his conclusions since, as you say, “…evil residing in their hearts and minds often goes unrecognized until they act in some thoroughly repugnant way when the conditions are just right.” He has not demonstrated that a situation has the power to create evil in anyone rather than simply unleash a potential that only exists in some, and that lies in wait for the right opportunity or provocation to activate it. His experiment sheds little, if any, light on the very serious matter behind your lighthearted phrasing: “…Why Evil People Appear To Behave Reasonably Well Most Of the Time.”
This question becomes all the more interesting (and touchy) when you recall that Zimbardo himself expressed surprise at the effect his prison study had on him. He said that in spite of having designed the experiment, he quickly lost his own objectivity and that he became completely caught up in and identified with his role as prison superintendent (http://www.prisonexp.org/). In one anecdote he comments:
“I briefly described what we were up to, and Gordon asked me a very simple question: ‘Say, what's the independent variable in this study?’
“To my surprise, I got really angry at him. Here I had a prison break on my hands. The security of my men and the stability of my prison was at stake, and now, I had to deal with this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong who was concerned about the independent variable! It wasn't until much later that I realized how far into my prison role I was at that point -- that I was thinking like a prison superintendent rather than a research psychologist.”
Although I can’t say (and maybe he does, somewhere) whether Zimbardo also took this as an opportunity to reevaluate the depth of his own "decency," it appears that he has defensively made the case that any of us, under the circumstances, would behave just as he, his “warden” and “guards” behaved. It is difficult for me not to translate this as a statement to this effect: "Rather than deal with the evil in me that I keep hidden even from myself, let's just say the devil—oh, sorry, the situation—made me do it. And if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone."
A quote borrowed from the book of Jeremiah for your post of 04/29/07 is a timeless advisory: “The heart is deceitful above all things.”