Lord Acton, echoed by Luna Tarlo stated, very simply, power corrupts.
There is now evidence from social psychology that supports this--something we could call The Stanford Cookie Experiment.
And in Cohen's case and that of other gurus, it doesnt matter how seemingly 'enlightened' someone is, or whether that person is capable of creating a social setting in which participants have extraordinary and even at times beneficial experiences for themselves.
Gaining power puts the powerholder at increased risk of misdoing.
Let us look at the Stanford Cookie Experiment.
I first learned of this experiment from reading a book, written by Robert I Sutton, a professor of management and engineering at Stanford University, entitled The No Asshole Rule:Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.
According to Sutton's criteria, many a notorious guru or cult leader fits this profile.
Note how powerful people are flattered and treated well by the asshole, while subordinates are dumped on. This is precisely what happens in many a cult. Except that unlike a secular work environment, those treated well defend the bully as their guru, casting a mantle of divinity upon the assholistic behavior.
According to Sutton, one bad apple can make legions of people miserable. He defines
"After talking to the alleged asshole, does the "target" feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or be-littled by the person? In particular does the target feel worse about him or
Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful (author italics here) rathan than at those people who are more powerful?
The Dirty Dozen
Common Everyday Actions Assholes Use
* Personal Insults
* Invading ones "personal territory"
* Uninvited physical contact
* Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non verbal
* "Sarcastic Jokes" and "teasing" used as insult delivery.
* Withering e-mail flames
* Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
* Public shaming or "status degradation" rituals
* Rude interruptions
* Two-faced attacks
* Dirty looks
* Treating people as if they are invisible.
Sutton tells us this has to be a persistent pattern. We all can have bad days, now and then.
'It is far harder to qualify as a certified asshole', Sutton tells us. 'a person needs to display a persistent pattern, to have history of episodes that end with one target after another feeling be-littled, put down, humiliated, disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about themselves.'
(Sutton, pages 9-12)
Trolls fit this catagory, as do many of the gurus these trolls defend.
Now, let us look at Professor Deborah Gruenfeld's experiment--what I term the Stanford Cookie Experiment. I believe that scholars of cults and dysfunctional organizatins need to place this experiment alongside Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority Experiment and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment.
This experiement demonstrates how a leadership role, randomly assigned, has a tendency to trigger swinish bad manners in otherwise normal persons.
The way the experiment worked (and it was replicated a number of times)
subjects were assembled into a group to do a shared task.
*At random, one subject in each group was assigned the role of overseeing and evaluating the others' work--randomly assigned to a leadership role.
During the experiment, a plate of cookies/biscuits was brought in.
Time and again, those subjects randomly assigned to the leadership role, tended
to do the following:
Took more cookies (greed)
Chewed with mouths open (lapses of ordinary good manners)
Got crumbs on their faces and left crumbs on the table (messes for others to clean up)
Thus, random assignment to a brief, time limited leadership role had a potent effect--increasing the probability that the promoted subject's manners would deteriorate.
Now...these were persons who had not sought the leadership role. By contrast, the persons who interest us are those who are driven to desire power, desire fame, spend years seeking ways to market themselves, hone their persuasive skills, and once they become leaders of personality centered groups, are waited on, insulated from consequences, and have enablers making excuses for them.
Imagine the Cookie Experiment going on for ten years or more.
The experiment was done by Professor Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford University--her
speciality has been researching the effects of putting people in positions of power where they lord it over others.
Read more about the Cookie Experiment here: