July 17, 2008


St. Anthony tormented by demons, by way of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is understanding human evil, along with links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

Most normal people have internalized moral norms about how other people should be treated. However, under certain conditions, these moral restraints can be shut off. The result is what psychologist Albert Bandura called "moral disengagement" and it is often a key feature in acts of violence and cruelty. Here's a link to an essay of his on the subject.

This is the abbreviated Goat Rope version:

Under normal conditions, people have both inhibitive and proactive moral tendencies. Inhibitive means we understand it's not nice to hit little Tommy with a sledge hammer. Proactive means that if little Susy falls into a pit of boiling sludge we should pull her out. That's the good news. The bad news is that people all too often have ways of tossing both out the window.

Here are a two ways that can happen:

*Reconstruing the situation or coming up with moral justifications to treat people badly. Labeling them as the enemy usually works pretty good here. So does ideology. As Voltaire once said,

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

*Using euphemisms. Orwell was all over this one:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

We don't blow away villages; instead, we use surgical strikes. We don't torture, we just use rough interrogation. We don't kill innocent civilians, although collateral damage happens.

There are other ways of kicking off the switch, about which more tomorrow.

THE WIDENING GAP between rich and poor isn't just about money; it's about life expectancy, as the latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute suggests.

OH GOOD. Inflation may be the order of the day. That's all we need during a recession...

HEALTH CARE. A new report from the Commonwealth Fund found that

the United States spends more than twice as much on each person for health care as most other industrialized countries. But it has fallen to last place among those countries in preventing deaths through use of timely and effective medical care...

A TOUGH TEA LEAF TO READ. The US is finally sending a high level official to talk with the Iranian government. With a normal administration, I'd say that was a good sign, but I trust this one about as far as I could throw it. A worst-case scenario would involve the Bush administration prematurely declaring diplomacy to be a failure in order to try to justify yet another war.

ON A SIMILAR NOTE, many Americans oppose a rush to war with Iran, if anybody is listening.

MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. Bobby Brewster pleaded guilty to charges related to the kidnapping and torture of Megan Williams and faces up to 40 years in prison.

MINE SAFETY. Federal investigators are winding up a criminal investigation related to the fire at Massey Energy's Aracoma mine that killed two workers in Jan. 2006.



No comments: