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Adding Up the Broken Souls


Adding Up the Broken Souls

Robert C. Koehler

“The question now is how to change our institutions so that they promote human values rather than destroy them.”

Philip Zimbardo, who posed this question in the wake of the famous — or infamous — Stanford Prison Experiment 44 years ago, might have added: If we fail to do so, we guarantee our own social collapse.

The collapse is underway, one broken soul at a time:


Now here is where I would take exception to the word we as used in the last sentence of the article.

I would put it differently.
I think a large section of the population has not been able to evolve.

And by the demographics of the police force, it is also clear that color of skin does not indicate an evolved human. In this case, apes might be doing it better.

The Budget only comes into play when some devolved and deranged abomination is not being able to abuse a hapless human. If I can't out yacht the joneses, you will not get your training.


“The question now is how to change our institutions so that they promote human values rather than destroy them.”

i guess the first challenge presented by zimbardo's question must be to define the term, "human values." in our anthropocentric perception of the evolutionary progress we self-define as homo sapiens sapient or über-wisest of the animal kingdom. however, does not that presumption deny our species the opportunity for real, in-depth soul searching? on more than one occasion when something untoward happens~like the torture at guantanamo~i have heard obama state simply, "this is not who we are!" perhaps the ability to deny factual evidence that conflicts with what wish to believe is one of those human values?

i had not heard of the stanford prison experiment, so spent the morning perusing the link. on day one the "guards" stripped and deloused the experimental prisoners followed by shaving their heads. "A degradation procedure was designed in part to humiliate prisoners and in part to be sure they weren't bringing in any germs to contaminate our jail," zimbardo explains. yesterday the correct response to one jeopardy clue about the purpose for shaving the heads of military inductees is "what is to prevent head lice?" but there's another, unacknowledged reason and that is this is step one to dehumanize our "brave men in arms." every one looks and dresses from the underwear up like every other young man in his unit. all distinguishing characteristics become washed away. he learns to dress, eat, sleep and exercise when told. he learns that "protecting american freedom" means following orders without question.

when i learned of the okc serial rapist cop, i thought about another policeman explaining why he shot a black man in the back who turned and walked away, "i gave him a legal order!" as the stanford experiment shows the sense of absolute power corrupts--absolutely! i know i believe within myself that my strong sense of fairness coupled with my belief that we should treat everyone with respect means i could never degrade another or allow him to demoralize me; yet these college students quickly lost their "human values." my mother often said, "take me NOT to the test!" perhaps it is not our institution which need a change, but ourselves. how do we bring out the best virtues in ourselves and others? if we cannot, we do not deserve to continue as a species.


I'm halfway through and am yet to see any mention of violence. Just read it in total, and my suspicions were confirmed.

No mention that forms of dominance--manifested through aggression--is TAUGHT to males and it's always in high supply when any society becomes militarized. In other words, America under a very muscular MIC qualifies.

This, from Mr. Koehler:

"The broken souls add up. We live in a world where the prevailing belief is that control and dominance are necessary . . . because of all the terrorism, y’know, and the crime and what have you. In so many American cities, armed police officers (white and otherwise), wield unchecked power in impoverished, minority communities. Not surprisingly, the Lucifer Effect continually makes the news."

Not a wit about machismo or the masculine gender... as if women act this way.

Women don't ban together to gang-rape males, but that sort of behavior unfortunately is not all that uncommon among males.

But to Mr. Koehler, gender is neutral and irrelevant. After mentioning the preponderance of rapes within police forces, Mr. Koehler reverts back to a frame that leaves the exclusively MALE aspect of this violence entirely out of the conversation:

"Ordinary, decent people can turn into monsters — rapists, murderers — when given unlimited power over others."

The statistics on females--acting as rapists, even murderers--PALE in comparison with the statistics based on the actions of males. But Mr. Koehler doesn't want that FACT mentioned.

Why is it that it's OK to talk about race, poverty and occasionally, militarism... but the issues related to sexism, gender, and misogyny are folded neatly away and kept out of the conversation.

I find this disgraceful!


If it were up to me...I'd deem all prisons where inmates are locked away in small cages for decades to be a form of cruel torture and permanently ban the practice. Nothing will be lost in doing so.

I'd then create gated communities where they can't get out, but they have their own small domicile with privacy and dignity intact. Here they can learn to be part of a community, and also learn valuable skills for integrating back into the society. They would also get plenty of mental support from therapists and a healthy dose of psychedelic therapy. Upon release their record is wiped clean, and they are given a fresh start at life. Perhaps only flagging their past record if they are applying to a job where they are working with/around children.

We should give kindness and understanding a chance. Cruelty has failed miserably thus far.


In evolutionary terms humans are just displaying the historical norm. As the economy and the climate continue to deteriorate it will only get worse. When the species is under stress, basic evolutionary programming overrides all of the subroutines written by civilization.


you know, i feel koehler's point in writing this and his other fine articles is to hopefully inspire a thoughtful discussion on how we~all of us together~might put our heads together to create a more harmonious society. consider, if you will, that his statement, "We live in a world where the prevailing belief is that control and dominance are necessary . . . because of all the terrorism, y’know, and the crime and what have you. In so many American cities, armed police officers (white and otherwise), wield unchecked power in impoverished, minority communities," dovetails with your mars syndrome theory. i had no doubt as i read that when koehler talks about police brutality, he was talking about male behavioral problems. the stanford experiment focused totally on how males react and bond under certain circumstances. you say boys are TAUGHT dominance and aggression. yes, but who teaches them? certainly not bob koehler! i get the impression that he is a kind, gentle and respectful man~the type we need to encourage.


Mr. Koehler add this to your bag of Luciferian outrage. Recently, a friend, an honorably discharged Marine, shared with me that his son, a three-tour veteran, shared the following: three types of humans join our military, those who truly want to render patriotic service to their country, those who need the GI Bill money, and those in search of a legal excuse to commit murder...
The son mentioned that in his squad he was the one trusted with the 50 mm. His CO could not trust some of the other squad members with that much firepower, afraid, I suspect, of the "Lucifer effect." Broken souls indeed...
Be well.

p.s, Two books explain, if not explore, to a degree this human phenomenon: Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom and Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power.


Dear Hummingbird,

You are absolutely right-on! Thank you for accurately pointing out that Robert Koehler IS a very thoughtful, conscious and compassionate journalist. I've always found his articles to be tender and heartfelt in terms of asking us how we might forge a better world; especially in this day and age of blatant disregard for almost all sentient beings (including those that are non-human).

Mr. Koehler is not the enemy. Unfortunately, Siouxrose portrays him as one in almost every comment she ever writes concerning one of his articles (and plenty of other male journalists). Talk about "blind spots". She sure as hell has plenty of them.


yes indeed! obviously she came to this discussion with a big chip on her shoulder.

p.s. you recognize me don't you? i post as nature's child under disqus.


The woman brought in as an outside observer was Zimbardo's girl friend. She was really pissed off with him. I guess they got it straightened out as they were since married.

Oh, and this is addressed to hummingbird. You must forgive SF, she tends to have her good days and her bad days.


i know, just gave her vote a couple of days ago.


I did not know that you are "natureschild". But I'm so glad to see you're still posting on Commondreams. I recognize the overall "tone" of your posts. You always were a very kind, compassionate and articulate commenter. Not to mention "fair".

It's too bad this site has changed so dramatically. How I miss some of the great conversations that took place in here. The new format sucks. You notice many familiar names are now gone. And I'm not so sure they've stuck around under new screen names. It's much harder to follow a discussion with this commenting format; one has to keep scrolling around to find the right response to a particular comment. The old disqus was much more user friendly.

It's great to see you here, Lin. Happy Winter Solstice and a Happy, healthy and peace filled New Year. A few more days and the light of day begins to grow longer. Hallelujah! (I'm counting the days until spring:-) Take care!



thanks for your kind words, elizabeth! glad i checked this thread as i didn't receive a notice from c_d. happy winter solstice and the best to you in the new year! 😊