“We are not determined by our experiences, but are self-determined by the meaning we give to them.”
What makes people violent? Are they simply born that way or does the world around them make them that way? The novel Westworld Psychology: Violent Delights explores this matter through it’s namesake and the HBO series, “Westworld.”
The story of Westworld takes place in the distant future, where people (guests) can partake in the old western frontier of a theme park called “Westworld” and embark on the adventures and locals within it. These “locals” are hosts or rather androids that help guests further experience the realm that is Westworld. Guests take on roles based on the loops or stories the hosts are to play. Some of the roles guests take upon are good and some are malevolent. Though unknowingly to guests even the programmers of the park, slowly hosts are gaining consciousness of themselves including the roles that they are forced to play among the guests and they are not happy.
“Westworld Psychology” uses the stories and characters of the television show, even the topics that the show ambiguously discusses such as gender inequality, social roles, tragic losses to understand why people would take on violent acts. The most notable characters that the book brings up are William, a guest of Westworld, who later becomes the “Man-in-Black”, and the hosts, Dolores Abernathy and Maeve Millay in order to better understand why and how even the best of people can slip into violent intentions.
The one prominent details that I remember reading in the book is the infamous, Stanford Prison Experiment. I remember hearing about this when I took a Psychology 101 class back in college. In this experiment, young healthy men were randomly selected to either act as a “prisoner” or “guards” in a fake prison. The problem with this is that both peoples became quickly subdued in their roles. The “prisoners” began to complain about the dehumanizing conditions and treatments that the “guards” were subjecting them to—“guards” who would have never in their everyday lives behave in deplorable manners—reprehensible conditions. Interestingly enough this phenomenon was labeled—named by the same conductor of the experiment, social psychologist, Philip Zimbardo—the Lucifer Effect. Named after the angel Lucifer, who later betrayed God who once was holy and beautiful creature who then led a life of evil, the Lucifer effect shows how “good” people can do “bad” things “due to their situational circumstances” (pg 52).
The perilous terrain of Westworld definitely tests hosts and guests alike, such as it did William, Dolores, and Maeve. The mild-mannered William who at first upon setting foot upon the theme park was appalled by the atrocities guests did toward the hosts, now 30 years later became the “Man-In-Black”, committing the same dehumanizing actions toward the hosts all in order to feel “alive” especially after the loss of his fiance. The hedonistic behaviors of his brother-in-law and other guests eventually influenced him as well as the many years of attending the park. The thing was outside of Westworld, he was a “wealthy humanitarian, a philanthropist, a generous benefactor who saves people’s lives through his work.” He achieves this duel life through a mental trick compartmentalization. The term in itself means that person can separate their self and history into separate psychological “chambers that prevent interpretation or cross talk”. However, because William’s nice guy/bad guy behavior is determined by whether he is inside or outside Westworld and the situation he faces, this kind of behavior is another form of compartmentalization, called doubling. Man…talk about being two-faced.
Then you have the hosts Dolores, whose loop—story–was to play a sweet rancher’s daughter, and Maeve, who who played the brazened madam of Sweetwater, who freed themselves of their “programming”to play these feminine roles in order to take on the role of self-efficacy (when a person believes they can change their behavior, motivation, and outcomes). They use aggression, independence, self-focus and leadership skills, which is frowned upon women, in order to get their freedom. For Dolores she used direct aggression and violence to sometimes protect others, but really herself. For Maeve, she would sacrifice others to save herself and find her daughter, who was in her last loop. I don’t blame them of this change, especially all the violence they have faced simply for just being women.
To be honest, I’ve never watched the “Westworld” series because well..I don’t have an HBO subscription. I only read Westworld Philosophy, because I enjoy reading the Psychgeek book series. And you know what? I still enjoyed reading the book, just because of Dr. Travis Langley and his co-authors constant ability to diverge philosophy and the science of psychology with pop culture. Like I mentioned earlier, I was reading topics about philosophy and psychology I haven’t heard of since college. Even if you haven’t attended college, it will make you feel like a college student. But…it doesn’t hurt either to have watched a 3-minute snippet summary of the HBO series on You Tube to better understand the philosophy and psychology being used in Westworld Psychology novel.
In conclusion, this book challenges the black or white fallacy that only bad people can do bad things. That really when under the “right” influences and circumstances, we can be capable of doing unspeakable things. Does this mean that underneath it all we are ALL bad people? Of course not. But definitely it is a reminder to remember that only we as individuals–not just our genes or programming or even our surroundings—ultimately decide the type of roles and people we want to play in our own lives.
“Westworld Psychology: Violent Delights” is available wherever books are sold and at these fine retailers:
Other posts on Psychgeek Books and Dr. Travis Langley: