March 14, 2008


People in groups have a bad tendency not to take action to help others. In some cases, being in a group seems to keep people from acting in their own interest. That in a nutshell, Gentle Reader, has been the theme of this week's Goat Rope.

Previous posts this week have looked at real life incidents, such as the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, and at psychological experiments that also studied the issue in a less violent setting. Please check them out if this is your first visit.

So what are the conclusions of the research? Darley and Latane drew five conclusions from their experiments (both of which are discussed earlier this week) about helping behavior. As summarized in Lauren Slater's entertaining and informative book Opening Skinner's Box, they are:

1. You, the potential helper, must notice an event is occurring.
2. You must interpret the event as one in which help is needed.
3. You must assume personal responsibility.
4. You must decide what action to take.
5. You must take action.

Bystanders have great potential for good or evil. In his excellent study Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, Roy F. Baumeister notes that

bystanders do not have to provide active support to the perpetrators of evil and violence. If they merely do nothing, and in particular if they fail to protest or object, than evil and violence are likely to spread.

He also notes that in many cases

the perpetrator might be sensitive to the moral judgements of bystanders. If bystanders say nothing, the perpetrator may believe that they did not see anything to criticize.

In a more positive way, he argues that

Bystanders do have a responsibility to protest evil, because it will grow unchecked if they do not. Whatever the press of one's own concerns or the appeal of minding one's own business, it is nonetheless true that the victims of evil and violence depend on bystanders to bear witness to what is happening and take a stand against it. It is the only way.

SPEAKING OF INSIGHTS FROM THE SOCIAL SCIENCES, here's a diverting mix from the Boston Globe.

MORE ON THE COST OF WAR. Here's former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz on the cost of the Iraq war. Short version: the big winners are oil companies and defense contractors. Who saw that coming?

SPEAKING OF THE WAR, a new poll shows that may Americans are confused about the human costs of that unnecessary war.

ECONOMY. The NY Times reports on a veritable witch's brew of bad economic news.

PRISON NATION/PRISON STATES. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows the drain caused by an exploding prison population on state budgets and investments in things like higher education.

COUNTING things is the theme of Jim Lewis' latest edition of Notes From Under the Fig Tree.

COMPARE YOUR LIST. From Campus Progress, here's a list of 99 problems with the Bush administration.


WV ROUNDUP. A confusing array of new state Medicaid rules has been challenged in court. The feds are investigating WV's supreme court Masseygate affair. Two sentences were handed down yesterday in the Megan Williams case.


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