April 18, 2008


"Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2" video game, courtesy of wikipedia.

"We are learning to kill, and we are learning to like it." That's how Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, describes the desensitization for violence occurring in much of popular culture.

Grossman's observations about contemporary culture are based on his study of how soldiers deal with combat. As noted in previous posts, WWII era military officials were mortified to discover that only 15-20 percent of troops in battle fired at their opponents. This led to modifications in the way military training was conducted.

Targets became more realistic. Killing became a major topic of speech (and shouts) in basic training. By a combination of basic operant conditioning and social learning, the military was able to dramatic increase firing. By the time of the Vietnam War, around 95 percent of soldiers shot at opponents. The trauma this caused both then and now is well known and well documented.

Grossman is concerned that the same desensitization that soldiers underwent in military training is now a part of popular culture via realistic and violent video games and the mass media. These lack the traditional elements of discipline that goes along with military training. The result, he argues, is a coarsening of culture which creates a climate where violence can spread.

He is also aware of how other social problems, such as poverty, racism and social fragmentation can increase the social distance that helps to enable violence.

While some may dispute his argument, it is hard to deny that social violence today often tends to escalate to the lethal level. Instead of going from fist to stick to knife to gun, to paraphrase the title of Geoffrey Canada's book on violence, people often jump straight to gun.

At any rate, I would highly recommend Grossman's book to anyone interested in reducing the level of violence at all levels. The things we don't like don't go away when we ignore them.

ALL THE HAPPINESS WE CAN AFFORD. New research is revisiting the connection between income levels and happiness.

AFFORDING LESS HAPPINESS. The recession means fewer hours and less money for many working people.

COMFORTABLY NUMB is the title of a new book about America's pharmacological pursuit of happiness. Here's an interview with the author.

SUPREME JOKE. I missed this when it first came out on the 15th, but here's a commentary from the NY Times about the WV Supreme Joke--I mean Court--fiasco.

JUST IN CASE, here are 10 common first aid mistakes, according to Newsweek.


No comments: