What Makes People Go Bad?

26th February 2016  By Melody Sundberg
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Torture is a practice which often follows in the footsteps of oppression. Even though the methods and reasons may vary, one thing is clear: Torture is widely practiced and many are those who are subjected to its horrors.

Torture has been used since the medieval and early modern time. Eventually, it was banned by European governments as it turned out that it was not a reliable way of extracting confessions. The practice was later condemned by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. According to Amnesty International, 156 countries have signed the United Nations Convention against Torture. But despite these actions, torture remains a common way of threatening, forcing and punishing.

Many first-hand stories of human rights abuses have been published on Untold Stories. Since the first time I heard one of these stories, torture was part of it. Abdullahi, whistleblower, collected and published evidence of horrifying torture committed in Jail Ogaden. The friends of Jomanex, members of the blogging group Zone 9, were subjected to torture because they had been blogging about human rights. Caalaa, a poet, endured extreme torture for writing poetry about the Oromo people. Zelalem, Yonatan and Bahiru were tortured in prison, where they are held for applying to a digital security training program that never took place. Wherever freedom of expression is restrained, the oppressors use torture as a means of keeping the people in silence.

Wherever freedom of expression is restrained, the oppressors use torture as a means of keeping the people in silence.

Wherever torture is carried out, there is also a torturer. In many cases, the torturers are interrogators, military, prison guards or other security people. Why are they committing such cruel acts? Were they born evil – or have they become evil? A while ago, I asked a question on social media: “Why do some people go bad?” Materialism, fear, longing for power, greed and weakness were some of the answers I got. Maybe materialism and greed explains some of the reasons, but I am sure that there are more.

According to research, there are many reasons why torture is still being carried out. One is that it continues to be justified. Some people are perceived as “enemies”. These “enemies” become dehumanised by the torturers, who claim that these persons are guilty. Another reason is prison conditions. Incommunicado detention or the absence of independent medical checkups makes it easier for torturers to continue. A third reason is strong respect for authorities and that the torturers unquestioningly obey them. But the main reason is, of course, the very person or persons who commit the act: The torturer and his or her authority.

In order to stop torture, I believe that we truly must understand why it is happening. We must understand why some people become torturers while others never would commit such acts. Maybe the answer lies within human psychology.

Untold Stories will now put torture into focus more than ever. During spring, we will publish a series of articles that look into how psychological sciences explain why some people commit torture. The articles will tell about how authorities and group pressure can cause people to abandon their sense of morality, how torturers are trained and how their victims are dehumanised. Simply put: It is time to understand the psychology of evil.




Melody Sundberg
Project manager of Untold Stories. Photographer and artist. Educated in Psychology.







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