July 18, 2008


Beelzebub, "Lord of the Flies," from Beelzebub as depicted in Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is what the social sciences can tell us about human cruelty and violence. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As mentioned yesterday, social psychologist Albert Bandura's research indicates that most people have a sense of morality that includes not doing bad things to others and helping them out when they need it. To repeat, that's the good news. The bad news is that we're pretty good at shutting morality down under certain conditions. He called this "moral disengagement."

Two ways of doing this that were discussed yesterday were redefining the situation and using euphemisms. But there are other ways as well. They include:

*advantageous comparison. "We didn't do bad stuff and if we did, it wasn't as bad as what the other guys do."

*displacement of responsibility. "...and besides, we were just carrying out the orders of our superiors."

*diffusion of responsibility. "I didn't kill anybody directly--I just put them on the train/pushed a button/etc." Modern atrocities, it should be noted, often have a complicated division of labor. If everyone just does one small part of the operation, it's easy for people to think they really weren't responsible.

*disregard or distortion of consequences. "It wasn't that bad."

*dehumanization. "And besides, they were just a bunch of [fill in the blank]."

*attribution of blame. "They had it coming anyway."

Here's a final thought. According to Bandura, moral disengagement usually doesn't happen all at once. It usually starts small and escalates over time as people get used to it. El Cabrero is reminded of a quote from Dostoevsky that I've used here more than once:

Man gets used to anything, the scoundrel.

ECONOMY AND AGING. Here's more on the longevity gap between rich and poor and the nation's retirement woes.

RIDING OUT THE RECESSION. Economist Paul Krugman predicts a slow recovery.

MORALITY AND WAR. A new study suggests that war effects the moral development of children, especially on how they think about revenge.

THREE WORDS THAT DON'T USUALLY GO TOGETHER are mountaintop removal and tourism.



CFKS said...

"THREE WORDS THAT DON'T USUALLY GO TOGETHER are mountaintop removal and tourism."

You got that right!

El Cabrero said...

Kinda like "statesmanship" and "Bush administration" maybe?