The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, March 19, 2010

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

The French study implying that 81% of people would torture if ordered to by authority (and if they are on television) makes perfect sense. It explains Nazi Germany, and also America's recent flirtation with Waterboarding. Note the number of people who walked the thin line called: "what exactly is torture? Exactly how much pain and/or damage can we cause before it is technically illegal?"

The concern didn't seem to be what might be right, or moral. I think it reasonable to assume that anyone who phrased an argument like this would be willing to go beyond what are now considered legal limits. How far? I don't know, and the point of this is not to suggest that they were wrong. I want to look at this a little differently.

The more interesting question is: what was it about the 19% who would not push the button? What side of the political divide might they be on? Curiously, each side of the political divide insists that the other is more desirous of a "Daddy" like protector to provide and tell them what to do. I don't think speculations like that are particularly useful. What, then?

What human characteristics make one more or less likely to push that button?

I would love to think that I wouldn't have done it, but I can't be certain unless I'd been through it. But I do believe that the door to hell is treating human beings like means rather than ends. Like objects rather than beings. To process their bodies to access their minds. That attitude of mine results from coming from the heart space. But according to my own beliefs, it is equally valid to come from survival. That means that whatever must be done to ensure the survival of your society and/or family is sort of retroactively dispensated. It is "right" because it maximizes survival. The questions about "is waterboarding torture" "does torture work" and so forth dance around this question, and there are good moral people on both sides of the argument. Of course there are also really ugly demons nipping at the heels of those good moral people, and this is dangerous territory indeed.

In any war, we dehumanize the "Other." Even in a civil war, we create derisive nicknames for the opponents, even if they are our neighbors or brothers. Makes it easier to treat them like meat. That may be the road to hell, but it also increases the chance of survival.

This stuff is hard. What is our obligation to each other? Our own souls and hearts? Seems to me that Mankind has been debating this one for thousands of years.

And by the way...I wonder if there is any difference in the number of men as opposed to women who pushed that button. Inquiring minds (and yeah, I'm talking you and me, Dan) would really like to know.

##

So Sandra Bullock's husband Jesse James was cheating on her? I recently put a note on Huffington Post in response to an article about "new" relationships where the woman has more money and power, using Bullock's marriage as an example. I got a very interesting note from a friend who is the aunt of the woman James was married to when he began his relationship with old Sandy. "James and Bullock began their time together while James' existing wife was 5 mos. pregnant. He is a cheat and she is a husband-stealing skank. That sent said wife into a tailspin from which she has yet to recover." I thought that was colorful, and put it into a fine perspective for those of us who don't live in Tabloid City. I didn't know.

Whoa. Now, my opinion here is that James is the greater douche bag. But I wonder if Bullock will take responsibility for what she did, and whether people looking at this trainwreck will be honest enough to see that this was utterly predictable. What in the world makes people think that something like this would have a happy ending? This one any idiot should have seen coming from a mile away. I really think that this kind of denial is responsible for another big chunk of human misery.

19 comments:

Steve Perry said...

Oh, come on. If you followed the story, you saw what James told the tattoo model -- my wife doesn't live here, I can't talk about about it -- certainly offering up the classic man looking to get laid spiel and spinning the truth so much it looked like an atomic gyroscope.

How man times do you figure that hoary old story gets peddled every day? My wife and I are married in name only, we'll be getting a divorce as soon as _______ happens, she doesn't understand me, you are my soulmate, it's okay, really ...

This goes back to an earlier discussion about taking care when you decide to have sex, and the fact that both women and men will lie to achieve it, but men are by far the worst offenders.

Of course, when you hook up with a bad boy, you might not ought to be surprised when he does bad things. (Bad girl, either.)

If Bullock knew he was married and believe it was a viable relationship and she went ahead? Then she's getting what she deserved. If he'd cheat on his pregnant wife, why wouldn' the do the same to her?

If he conned her, because she wanted to hear it, that's bad, but less her fault than his.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"..when you hook up with a bad boy, you might not ought to be surprised when he does bad things. (Bad girl, either.)"

While it's logical to assume that a partner who's unfaithful to one mate is more likely to betray future spouses, it's not necessarilly so. A single case of infidelity doesn't brand the offender a "Bad Boy/Girl". It might just be that the cheater found that elusive "true love" while in a so-so or bad relationship, and had to break the marriage compact to find bliss. For example, one of my heroes, the late Carl Sagan, was amicably married when he met The One. He made the only sensible and healthy choice, ditching his wife and seizing his love. Madly in love, Sagan and his new spouse enjoyed nearly 20 years of faithful, matrimonial bliss.

Life has taught me to be an Atheist regarding religion, an Agnostic as regards love, sex and the like. Each case of infidelity must be judged by its own unique circumstances. Sometimes a cheat's a dog; sometimes they're acting with bravery and integrity to seize the love all should have.

Mike Ralls said...

>the fact that both women and men will lie to achieve it, but men are by far the worst offenders.<

Not that men _should_ lie to get sex, but in regards to lying to get sex, specifically, women simply don't have to.

"Hi. I'd like to have meaningless no strings attached sex with you." is a VERY effective pick-up line for a woman unless she has some serious deformity. For even an attractive man, it's not. At all. Unless they use it on a gay man where it once again becomes effective.

It's kind of like the quote, "The law, in its majestic
impartiality, forbids the rich and poor alike to sleep under the
bridges of Paris." The rich don't have to sleep under bridges and women don't have to lie to get recreational sex.

Steve Perry said...

Well, EI, as the evidence suggests, obviously James didn't worry overmuch that Bullock was The One, given his subsequent actions, did he?

She might have thought so. (And for all I know, she was having an affair in Texas while they were shooting that movie. This kind of view from afar doesn't allow a close-up look at what really went on. Maybe they hand an open- marriage.)

Hard to say outside the relationship was the deal was.

In his case, James's bad boy rep wasn't just the cheating on his pregnant wife, but was also the biker dude persona. Yeah, he was moved to tears when Bullock was onstage accepting her Oscar and talking about how wonderful he was, but I'm guessing it probably wasn't his sensitive nature that drew her attention to him in the first place.

Bad is as bad does, isn't it?

Dan Moran said...

Barnes,

It wouldn't surprise me if there were some male-female delta in that torture scenario, but it wouldn't surprise me hugely if there weren't, either.

A lot of what I ascribe to the male penchant for violence is simply opportunity -- men have more opportunity to be violent because they're larger. This becomes really clear when you look at violence directed at children -- violence directed at other adults is something like 90% male; violence directed at children is more like 60-40 male-female. That is, when women have the opportunity to abuse, they take it.

Take the opportunity factor, cross it with the testosterone poisoning factor, and you have most of what's "wrong" with men. (And yes, wrong only in some scenarios ... but those scenarios are most of day to day life.)

My final take on all that is that it doesn't really matter why men are the way they are. Self control and kindness are not optional, regardless of what beasts are rooting around in your soul. For some of us it's doubtless harder than for others, but that's true of both genders in a lot of areas of life. Some people have a hard time being brave, or faithful, or honest, or kind, or whatever ... and why the root cause may be of interest at an individual level, it doesn't remove the obligation at every level.

Why some people are bastards is not hugely interesting to me. And damn straight, I do see a gender split on that one.

~~~~~

Perry,

I've never had a good read what was going on in the marriages of people I knew well. When it gets to the Bullocks of the world, it's all projection. She might well be the wronged woman, but I'll merely note that her taste in men got her halfway there all on her own.

(This is the area where Barnes holds women responsible -- when women stop gravitating to that sort of man, he'll start blaming that sort of man for being that sort of man ... which makes more than a little sense.)

Scott said...

I'd guess a couple of factors go into that 19%.

Some people simply aren't willing to do terrible things to other people.

Some people are inner directed; might be unwilling to do things because they're told to do so that they would do in a blink for what they considered a good reason.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I have a comment in the other thread where I describe the results of the Milgram study, in which people were asked to shock a "learner" who was actually a confederate of the experimenter, and many went on delivering shocks as the "learner" showed visible signs of being in severe pain.

Women continued delivering the shocks in the same proportion as men did; they may have acted distressed at doing as they were told, but still did it. So I'd guess that women would respond the same as men in the French study.

Carol Tavris at one point - I forget whether it's in her book Anger or in her book The Mismeasure of Women - did a literature review of various studies comparing men's and women's aggression. There are some situations (e.g. fist fight to defend your honor type situations) where men are way more prone to violence than women, but others not so much. Obedience to authority situations fall in the "not so much" category; I expect, in those situations, as long as the violence doesn't require a size or strength advantage, that women will go along just as men do.

I'd suspect that if you asked people when they think torture is justified, that women would be less willing to approve it than men, but even there some circumstances (e.g. direct threat to your own child) might show women just as willing as men.

@Mike Ralls: "Hi. I'd like to have meaningless no strings attached sex with you." is a VERY effective pick-up line for a woman unless she has some serious deformity.

That line in itself is sometimes a lie. Pretending to be more willing to accept no strings than you really are, to get the person you want to sleep with you, is lying to get laid just as pretending to be more in love than you really are, to get the person you want to sleep with you, is also lying to get laid.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Here's an article that might have an answer to the question of what human characteristics make you more likely to push that button:

http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=1991-18306-001&CFID=7408204&CFTOKEN=14547621

It costs about $12, though. Or, alternatively, if you have access to a university library that has the journal, you can look offline for the source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 60(3), Mar 1991, 398-413.

I don't know anything more about this particular article or researcher, but I do know that the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is a highly regarded journal.

bd said...

Steve,
A psychologist named Bob Altemeyer has spent several decades studying followers of authoritarians. It was a real eye opener for me on the subject you bring up at the beginning of today's post. His findings are posted (for free) online in a book.

Here is a sample from the intro:
How can they revere those who gave their lives defending freedom and then support moves to take that freedom away? How can they go on believing things that have been disconfirmed over and over again, and disbelieve things that are well established? How can they think they are the best people in the world, when so much of what they do ought to show them they are not? Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites? Why do the followers accept the flimsy excuses and even obvious lies that their leaders proclaim, and cling to them so dogmatically? Why are both the followers and the leaders so aggressive that hostility is practically their trademark? Why are both so unaffected by the evil they do? By the time you have finished this book, I think you will understand the reasons. All of this, and much more, fit into place once you see what research has uncovered going on in authoritarian minds.

You can check it out here:
http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

Brian Defer

bd said...

Steve,
A psychologist named Bob Altemeyer has spent several decades studying followers of authoritarians. It was a real eye opener for me on the subject you bring up at the beginning of today's post. His findings are posted (for free) online in a book.

Here is a sample from the intro:
How can they revere those who gave their lives defending freedom and then support moves to take that freedom away? How can they go on believing things that have been disconfirmed over and over again, and disbelieve things that are well established? How can they think they are the best people in the world, when so much of what they do ought to show them they are not? Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites? Why do the followers accept the flimsy excuses and even obvious lies that their leaders proclaim, and cling to them so dogmatically? Why are both the followers and the leaders so aggressive that hostility is practically their trademark? Why are both so unaffected by the evil they do? By the time you have finished this book, I think you will understand the reasons. All of this, and much more, fit into place once you see what research has uncovered going on in authoritarian minds.

You can check it out here:
http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

Brian Defer

Anonymous said...

""Hi. I'd like to have meaningless no strings attached sex with you." is a VERY effective pick-up line for a woman unless she has some serious deformity."

Thank you for remembering those of us for whom it it's effective!

Anonymous said...

"A lot of what I ascribe to the male penchant for violence is simply opportunity -- men have more opportunity to be violent because they're larger. This becomes really clear when you look at violence directed at children -- violence directed at other adults is something like 90% male; violence directed at children is more like 60-40 male-female. That is, when women have the opportunity to abuse, they take it."

Bingo. I wonder what the stats for adult-on-adult violence look like when the people doing the calculations control for size...

Anonymous said...

"Self control and kindness are not optional, regardless of what beasts are rooting around in your soul. For some of us it's doubtless harder than for others, but that's true of both genders in a lot of areas of life. Some people have a hard time being brave, or faithful, or honest, or kind, or whatever ... and why the root cause may be of interest at an individual level, it doesn't remove the obligation at every level."

Hear ye, hear ye!

Anonymous said...

"Thank you for remembering those of us for whom it it's effective!"

Sorry, disastrous typo! :(

I should have been more careful with the small words beginning with i and typed "Thank you for remembering those of us for whom it isn't effective!" or "Thank you for remembering those of us for whom it's ineffective!"

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"Self control and kindness are not optional"

Self-control is always a must, indeed, but to insist on kindness carte blanche is unrealistic and often dangerous. ZERO kindness should be shown to Nazis, Al-Qaida, or serial killers, to name a few. There are decent numbers of slavering sociopaths who are incapable of processing kindness,who view it with contempt and who readily exploit those who reflexively extend them compassion. Reality isn't often pleasant, but that's how the world and a sizable portion of humanity IS. Kindness should be the default one extends first off, but the beneficiaries' later actions must earn its keep. And fiends who commit outrages that violate all ethics or who demonstrate the resolute intent to harm innocents absolutely forfeit any right to kindness.

Anonymous said...

"And fiends who commit outrages that violate all ethics or who demonstrate the resolute intent to harm innocents absolutely forfeit any right to kindness."

I totally agree, *and* by being unkind to these menaces aren't we indirectly being kind to the innocent and/or less harmful people these menaces target?

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

"ZERO kindness should be shown to Nazis, Al-Qaida, or serial killers, to name a few."

More than ZERO. For one thing, when you first catch them, Nazis, Al-Qaida, and serial killers are only suspected Nazis, Al-Qaida, and serial killers, and they need at least enough kindness to get the same fair trial as anyone else, or you wind up doing too much harm to people who don't turn out, in the end, to be of that ilk. And, even after conviction, there's the outside chance that the person will turn out to be innocent, which is a good argument for choosing life imprisonment over the death penalty. Plus, you want their associates, and sometimes even their families, to be willing to turn them in; the Unabomber should get just enough kindness that his brother does turn him in rather than keeping his secret (even if that's no more than "fair trial" and "prison instead of death penalty"). So there can be reasons to give people more kindness than they personally deserve.

Anonymous said...

Good points, Lynn!

Twinky said...

Inquiring Minds Wants To Know
are always appealing