Members of society learn how to behave and interact with the world around them through socialization. Sometimes, groups of individuals are separated from the rest of society and put into what we call total institutions, where they have to go through a process of resocialization. A prison would be a good example of a total institution. Once in that environment, people have to learn a new set of norms, rules and how to take on new roles that come with their roles as prisoners, guards, and so forth.
In Stanford’s Prison Experiment, Sociologists wanted to analyze how having a more powerful position could change someone’s behavior. The “guards” of the experiment had to behave according to their new role, which came with a high level of authority and no restrictions. Having that much power made these men be resocialized. Their new social roles and environment requested them to perform different norms and behaviors.
Their focus was on how people respond to a cruel environment without clear rules. The biggest issue of the experiment was that it got to the point where it wasn’t just that anymore, it was the dehumanizing the human beings involved. These men ended up doing things that were considered unthinkable to society. They were constantly testing the limits of their power, seeing how far they could go. We tend to think that people who do such things are evil human beings. What the experiment proved is that regular good-hearted people can be changed by the environment they are inserted in and lead to acting in ways they never thought they would.
Individuals are affected by society just as much as they affect society itself. Regardless of that fact, members of society must take responsibility for their actions. The people who tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib were without a doubt affected by the environment they were in, but that doesn’t give them the excuse to act in such a “deshumane” manner. Leaving them unpunished would blurry the lines of what humanity’s common primary beliefs. If all members of society had the right to stay unpunished by justifying cruel behaviors with desocialization, what would the world turn into?