April 15, 2008


Greek phalanx, courtesy of wikipedia.

There are any number of tragic features of human life, but one of the main ones is the duality of our social nature.

One the one hand, people can only become fully human and develop their potential in and through society. Infants raised in social isolation suffer devastating consequences. Even adults who are subjected to social isolation develop serious mental problems.

On the other hand, groups often bring out the worst in human nature. As Konrad Lorenz once said "man is not a killer, but the group is."

Group identification and absolution is a factor that Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, identifies as a factor that can contribute to violence and killing.

He notes that

A tremendous volume of research indicates that the primary factor that motivates a soldier to do the things that no sane man wants to do in combat (that is, killing and dying) is not the force of self-preservation but a powerful sense of accountability to his comrades on the battlefield.

When people are powerfully bonded under stressful conditions, peer pressure is amplified and an individual can come to care so much for members of the group and what they think that they would rather kill or die than let them down. The 19th century French officer and military theorist Ardant du Picq considered this factor, which he called "mutual surveillance," to be of decisive importance on the battlefield. This tendency increases with identification with and proximity to the group.

The group effect, however, is not limited to organized warfare but can also occur with gangs, mobs, and other kinds of groups, which can give people a sense of anonymity and permission to do things they would never do alone.

Nietzsche may not have been far off the mark when he said that "Madness is rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule."

TAX DAY. The American Friends Service Committee is urging people to call Congress today to ask that resources now spent on the war in Iraq be redirected to meet human needs.

SPEAKING OF TAXES, here's a snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute that shows how corporate taxes have declined over the last 60 years.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice shows that Tax Day has become easier for the wealthiest Americans.

LOW DOWN. Here's Jim Hightower on the damage the Bush administration has done to the U.S. economy.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, here's last week's Nightline coverage of the WV Supreme Joke--I mean Court.

THE GROWING GAP between the wealthy and everyone else is bigger in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia than many other states.


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