April 17, 2008


The ghost of Hamlet Sr. urges revenge, courtesy of wikipedia.

Lately Goat Rope has been exploring violence in warfare and other settings. If this is your first visit, please consider clicking on earlier posts.

While most normal people have a strong resistance to hurting or killing others at close range, distance—physical or emotional—makes it easier. Yesterday’s post looked at how perceived cultural distance or seeing the opponent as the Other does this. Another kind of distance that facilitates violence is moral distance.

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman writes in On Killing,

Moral distance involves legitimizing oneself and one’s cause. It can generally be divided into two components. The first component usually is the determination and condemnation of the enemy’s guilt, which, of course, must be punished or avenged. The other is an affirmation of the legality and legitimacy of one’s own cause.

It’s easier to kill people when they are seen as evil. In such cases violence can be rationalized as simple justice. Revenge for past acts of aggression, real or imagined, is often a component of moral distance. But as psychologist Roy F. Baumeister noted in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty (search this blog for more on that), revenge is often out of proportion to the original act of provocation.

The reason for this is what he called “the magnitude gap.” Simply put, this means that acts of aggression seem worse to the victims than the original perpetrators. Retaliation, therefore, tends to escalate the violence. And sadly, given that much of world history is a game of Got You Last, it’s not usually that hard to come up with some kind of slight to avenge.

Grossman comments that the danger of this kind of rationalization is that “every nation seems to think that God is on its side”—and as Dylan sang, you don’t count the dead when that is the case.

MORE THOUGHTS ON TAX DAY. Here's a good op-ed by Holly Sklar on the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy over the last several years. Here's the beginning:

WHEN IT COMES to cutting taxes for the rich, President Bush can truly say, “Mission accomplished.” The richest 1 percent of Americans received about $491 billion in tax breaks between 2001 and 2008. That’s nearly the same amount as U.S. debt held by China — $493 billion — in the form of Treasury securities.

HOUSING MESS. The credit/housing crisis is causing serious problems for millions of Americans. Here's economist Dean Baker on the problem and some suggestions for solutions.

SPEAKING OF PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS, here's a new paper by the Center for Law and Social Policy about how the current recession is hitting low income workers and families and what could be done to improve the situation.

"FREE" TRADE, UNFREE WORKERS. Labor and human rights groups in the US and Colombia are joining to oppose a proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Here's more on the subject from the American Friends Service Committee.


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