Maintaining Hope in the Face of Evil" is my review of two articles published in the Monitor, a publication of the American Psychological Association: "Opposing Terrorism by Understanding the Human Capacity for Evil" by Zimbardo (2001) and "Amid the Despair, There Is Hope," an interview with Martin E. P. Seligman by Carpenter (2001). My response, both to the content of these articles and my own personal and professional experiences as an American Red Cross volunteer at Ground Zero, explores the need to maintain hope in the face of evil and the implications this presents for professional counselors.
In his article on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, Zimbardo (2001) stressed the need to understand the core of the hatred expressed toward the United States in order to intervene effectively regarding terrorism. He began his article by describing how attacks on the U.S. symbols of business (World Trade Center) and military (Pentagon) caused Americans to experience terror and possibly changed how we live. He continued by describing the terrorists and their terrorist attack on the United States.
Zimbardo (2001) depicted the terrorists as "educated, well-trained, blindly obedient to authority, totally dedicated to a religious-cultural ideology, living in a time zone of present fatalism, with few possessions and nothing to lose except sacrificing their lives for a higher cause" (p. 49). He labeled the terrorist attack as a "creative evil" (p. 49) whereby humans used their intelligence to be destructive and violent toward others--an attack that bound people together in their hatred toward the United States and its allies. He stressed that we must not minimize the evil but recognize it as a well-organized, carefully planned attack in terms of connections, resources, and knowledge used to carry it out.
Zimbardo argued that we cannot call this attack "senseless violence" because (a) the act was purposeful and intentional and (b) it was not random but indicated involved, significant, intellectual reasoning. To prevent such attacks in the future, he believed we need to see the violence for what it was: purposeful, intentional, organized, and guided by intelligence. He recommended that in addition to understanding "who" was behind the attacks, we also understand "what" was behind them, especially regarding the hatred of the United States embedded in the ideas, politics, and social structure of the terrorists. He believes that such understanding is critical if we are to prevent and intervene in future attacks.
Zimbardo's recommendation for understanding the presence of this evil was that we explore it beyond disposition (e.g., the evil being present in individuals such as Hitler) and expand it to situations that facilitate the birth and existence of evil. Understanding evil from a situational view can help us comprehend how basically good people can be involved in evil behavior. He also stated that we need a deeper understanding of the hatred toward the United States and democracy to effectively and appropriately respond to such hatred.
In terms of understanding how ordinary people can be involved in evil acts, Zimbardo (2001) reported that research has examined people involved in harmful activity and cited studies done by Milgram, Bandura, Steiner, and himself. In reference to this research, he recommended that we examine and understand the tactics of mind control used to involve people in evil acts, as well as the "dark side of religion" (p. 50) whereby religious values are distorted to encourage and support evil actions. Finally, Zimbardo warned against revenge in general:
We cannot allow that transfer of hostility to develop because it fuels the
cycle of violence started by the terrorists. Terrorists create terror;
terror creates fear and anger; fear and anger create aggression and
aggression against citizens of different ethnicity or religion creates
racism and, in turn, new forms of terrorism. …