Ministhy Dileep | October 19,2013 04:42 pm IST

 It might be very suave to bite off the victim's tongue, cook the erratic Philharmonic player for his colleague's dinner and compare Dante Alighieri and Judas Iscariot for a lunch hour discussion. Add to it, effortless psychiatric analysis of any complex murderer while drawing pictures of Florence from memory.


Yet, Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter* the genius, leaves me cold. Literally and figuratively. Even though they got Anthony Hopkins to enact him in the "Silence of the Lambs". He symbolizes everything best and worst in the human psyche. The passion for excellence in his myriad fields of expertise and a savage lack of human compassion . As well as ordinary qualities of decency and normalcy.


"IIT topper flees Delhi Hostel", screams The Hindu headline**. The topper has fled after a dastardly ragging session, which bordered on everything savage. Apparently, the only alternative was suicide. But I have a doubt whether Hannibal Lecter would have applauded. He hated anything disgusting - especially when it came to destroying the innocent and the naïve.


Even when the perpetrators could calculate the value of pie to the millionth position from memory. Or beat the Quizmaster himself in analyzing Baroque architecture. All the while designing the latest chip for the virtual microprocessor.


The best and the worst - like the characters of Harry Potter's*** - "House of Slytherin" - from where the evil Voldemort came. Those with the potential of saving the world - also of shattering it to bits. Just for the fun of it. Yoo-hoo, anyone out there - we all hate Slytherin serpents. Give me the brave, ordinary normal, decent Gryffindors any day.


Maybe like the "Lord of Flies"****, where the children killed as naturally as they played - the morbid is more easily within reach. From every media possible. And it is acclaimed even as it is denounced. Sending powerful psychological messages - of virtual imitation and vicarious pleasure: So next time, I get someone powerless in my clasps, boy, am I going to show 'em!


As T. S. Eliot puts it succinctly*****:


"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!...
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men."


Come on. Chill down. It is all for the good of the naive, as they say. Yeah, and I also remember the horrid psychological experiment on the "Obedience tendencies to authority figures", I read sometime******. The experiment was to understand how the Nazi officers could perpetrate atrocities even on innocents like infants. With no compunctions. Just on hearing an order to destroy. From whoever was leading the pillage.


They simulated a prison, and made some subjects (volunteers from the general crowd) the "shock givers", and made the victim strapped to a seat inside a room. The shocks varied from zero till dangerously high. The experimenter said that the victim "deserved it" and asked the subjects to administer the shocks. The scientists predicted that the subjects (being very normal and decent otherwise, thank you) would never cross the "Danger" limits. Well, guess what!


More than half of the shock givers crossed over to "Very dangerous" shocks even on hearing the victim screaming for mercy. The scientists were shocked beyond belief too. They had to explain the "unnatural deviance and tendency to cruelty" in "very ordinary decent guys and gals", and so they said, "We have a tendency to listen to authority figures and blindly obey". So much for normalcy.


As Zimbardo said in his "Robert L. Harris Lecture in 1999" *******

I argue against the theory that Evil resides in the genes, biology, or temperament of particular people -- the sadists, deranged, psychopaths, and their ilk. Instead I will propose that most evil is the product of rather ordinary people caught up in unusual circumstances that they are not equipped to cope with in the normal ways that have worked in the past to escape, avoid or challenge them, while they are being recruited, seduced, initiated into evil by persuasive authorities or compelling peer pressure. 

Then I will present a few social psychological studies of my colleagues and mine that demonstrate it is possible to induce "Every man and Every woman" to do deeds that are alien to their personalities and to their previous history of morality. 


The dirt is smelling bad after hitting the ceiling. And there is already much hubris over there, stinking rotten. I would like to invite Messers Zimbardo and Co, to walk into the illustrious portals of our top engineering and management institutions. I am sure they will find many budding Hannibal Lecters amidst all that burgeoning talent. But they certainly wouldn't be shocked.


* Thomas Harris-Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal - all made into major motion pictures with Anthony Hopkins in the lead role.
** The Hindu, Aug 13th,"IIT Delhi Zone topper flees hostel", Prakash Rajpurohit, 4th ranker, IITJEE, fled his Delhi hostel allegedly after being subjected to ragging - bordering on the deranged-in all ways.
*** House of Slytherin - evil geniuses in the making, House of Griffindor - the brave and decent, House of Ravenclaw - the wise and brilliant, House of Huffle-Puff - the others. J. K. Rowling's hero belongs to the Griffindor's, his nemesis to Slytherin.
**** Lord of the Flies - a taut psychological thriller in the guise of children's fiction - William Gerald Golding.
***** T. S. Eliot, 'The hollow men", captured under the title - "Disillusionment", in "A treasury of poems."
****** Stanley Milgram studies. Refer: Zimbardo, prison studies. "Transforming people into perpetrators of evil - why holocaust still exist?" Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D, Stanford University. http://www.prisonexp.org/links.htm
******* http://www.sonoma.edu/users/g/goodman/zimbardo.htm


Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....