After a particularly dark episode of human history, a couple of especially curious exemplars of this flawed species had a look around the rubble that the fanaticism and the blind obedience of their fellow men had brought about.
They dared to ask the fundamental question, that should turn out to change their world forever. Could anyone do Evil, if put in the wrong situation?
To answer their query, they took a bunch of normal people, like you and me, and put them in a situation where they felt social pressure to inflict suffering on an innocent person. Not overwhelming pressure. No gun to the head, not even their friends and family begging them to do it. Just a doctor in a white coat giving a dispassionate order. The now infamous result was that almost everyone gave in and did what they later judged to be the wrong thing. Only a few held to their moral convictions and withstood.
While the first effect of these findings was despair, it did not take long before a silver lining also found appreciation: Yes, most people gave up their moral principles when put to the test, but some resisted. Equipped with this knowledge the humans of this last dark era chose their leaders from those who could uphold their values when put under pressure. The first generation of benevolent viceroys and sovereigns was chosen from the succeeding participants of the original experiments.
Since then, one of the prime challenges of those powerful people was to think up new ways to test the integrity of their successors. These challenges did not only have to exhibit the correct amount of difficulty, but also certain unpredictability. If you just had set up the same experiment again and told your aspiring upshots that they had to give the other participants electroshocks to comply with the experiment, everyone would have figured out that this was just a test of moral aptitude. So ever more elaborate ways of deceptions had to be put forth so that candidates actually had to choose between deep-rooted moral beliefs and the expectation of those around them.
The invention of fully immersive virtual reality has been, of course, a big help in this endeavor, as was temporary memory suppression. Nowadays, the most promising young people with great ambitions undergo a sophisticated process:
For one year, they volunteer to immerse themselves into an artificial reality, hardly distinguishable from reality. Their memories of their previous life get suppressed and replaced with memories of a similar life in that parallel world, which is similar to the real world in some regards, but drastically different in others: Millions of people are dying from lack of access to necessities that are abundant to others. Glaring dangers to the very existence of humanity are barely addressed. Hundreds of millions of creatures are suffering meaninglessly for the production of trivial commodities. But the catch is: None of the “other people” care much about it. Despite some pitying words over the fate of those suffering, no one in their vicinity is making an actual effort to address any of those issues.
The first batch of people to undergo this test failed universally. During a year of being a part of this dystopia, no one did anything substantial to break out of the apathy of their peers. While shedding more light on the grim reality of human psychology, this experiment did not suffice as a leader selection method. So this year, we have made the test a bit easier. Maybe even feasible.
We put 100 of our brightest minds in the same dystopia, but this time there are a few people around, addressing the urgent problems of their simulated world. In addition, we let them start their year with a memory of just having read a (seemingly fictional) text, explaining their situation to them. Will this be enough for them, to make an actual effort instead of relaxing in the trod and trivial pleasures of their peers?
How will they spend their year? Will they make the world a better place? Will they make an actual commitment to a goal to have an impact in the future? Will they work towards that goal? And what if other people give them funny looks for that?
We are curious to see how you will perform.