Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ethics Lecture April 23: Violence (and Environmentalism)

BCC Ethics
Eric Gerlach


Note: The Lecture on Environmentalism and Carson follows below.

Apes & Violence
Monkeys and apes are some of the only creatures that can rotate their shoulders as we can.
This means that they, like us, are the only creatures that can throw things and club things.

There are three major groups of apes, Gorillas, Orangutans and Chimpanzees. Gorillas kill kids, but they don’t rape. Orangutans never kill kids, but they rape all the time. Our direct ancestor is the Chimpanzee, which comes in two major sub-species. Bonobo Chimps, the smaller group, are quite non-violent and solve all social issues with sex. The main group of Chimps, our direct relatives, do all the kinds of violence known to human kind. Once again, like every ethical issue we examine, the issue is older than humanity.

Early Civilization & Violence
Violence, like sex, was a part of life since childhood in the beginning. As Grossman says, in Victorian England sex became something shameful and best kept out of sight, and similarly with the butcher and refrigeration violence became something out of sight. Consider David Foster Wallace’s FX Porn article about T2 and Jurassic park. Sex and killing are specialized spectacles, quite unrealistic and pieced together with bad dialogue. Interestingly, serial killers and aggressive personality types often start and practice by killing animals, which used to be something everyone had to do. These are disassociating fantasies.

In the ancient world cosmology picture of the world, sacrifice and dismemberment play a major part in the creation of the world. To eat, one must kill livestock. Similarly, sacrifice was seen as giving food/thanks back in balance and exchange. The cosmos was thought of as a great sacrifice in which the All is carved up for everyone’s use and consumption. Thus, one should carve up animals and humans and give them back to be fair.

Consider the scepter of the king. Often in early cultural art we see the king holding a stick that symbolizes his authority. It has been suggested that this is the king as judge, jury and executioner. If you do something stupid, you get hit with the stick. How hard you get hit depends on what you did. The Egyptian Pharaohs have crossing stick and hook, ‘rod and staff’ from the psalm, in crossed arms, signifying that the king has power over life and death, which cross over into one another (like any pair of opposites).

Society became complexified and highly specialized. We now have specialized individuals who kill animals, who cook meat, who order acts of aggression, and who carry out the orders. As Grossman says, this specialization has made violence unnatural and fantastic, like sex.

Consider now that the US spends more on War than anyone has ever in all of world history. Objective ‘science’ is a myth in so far as the US Military has been one of the biggest supporters and funders of science (physics, mathematics, psychology) so far. Addicted To War says: over 50% of budget and taxes go to US Military.


The book is written in 1995, and Grossman says that there has never been a book on killing or dealing with killing from the individual perspective until this time. As an officer and psychologist of the US Marine Corps, Grossman tells us many things that are surprising but trustworthy about the capability of individuals and groups to be violent.

The overall message of the book I find to be quite positive. We all have violent thoughts, but very few humans will be violent, no matter what culture or ethnicity or gender. Normally, there is a safety catch in the human mind that prevents us from being violent (notice the gun metaphor, useful for teaching troops). However, in certain situations with particular factors, most everyone becomes capable of violence. 2% of the population have an aggressive personality, potentially psychosis (these individuals are often, Grossman says, drafted into the hardcore units, the marine spearhead squads dropped behind enemy lines or the frontal advance groups). Regardless of whether one is of the 98% or the aggressive 2%, violence is a kick at first but then psychological problems set in that are difficult for the individual.

The overall message is: though human beings are constantly getting themselves into violent situations, there are no human beings who find violence easy or simply justifiable. They pose this way to seem tough, but as Grossman says violence is about impressing the enemy and making them submit much more than it is about the killing. The killing is always in the service of something else, such as staying alive. Grossman, as a psychologist, is convinced that post traumatic stress disorder is natural and most will carry it silently their whole lives, afraid of what others will say or say about them if they question the things they did for the highest ideals.

In my terms: there is a balance that is quite brutal in the head. We can pretend like others don’t matter to us, but only for awhile. Grossman says: the one who takes life cheapens his own, in his own head, and argues this point well.

Non-firing Rates:
Grossman starts off from a very military pragmatic point of view. He argues that we have every reason to believe that most humans who have been involved with war have not tried to kill anyone the whole time. He notes studies that say that WWI and II troops would routinely fire over the heads of the enemy. He says that he and others examined these studies and the military celebrated a 95% firing rate in Vietnam, although he later tells us the factors that make this seem much better for the military than it really was. There were 50,000 rounds per US kill in Vietnam.

Grossman argues that, in all cultures and times, the majority of soldiers were posturing in war, doing everything to make the enemy back down, cease fighting and submit. Before guerilla war became the norm, this is the beating of the drums and the war chants, the clashing of shields. Grossman says we see nonlethal fighting with one’s own species in piranhas, rattlers, and the whole animal kingdom. Alexander the great only lost 700 men the whole 20 years of war.
This is quite similar to Hegel’s idea of the master/slave, reversed: submittal is primary.

American media is quite gifted with the myth of the easy kill, for both the hero and villain. Ex: Schwarzenegger’s Commando (“I let him go”) and O Dog from Menace to Society watching tape. This myth, like the propaganda last week, is a cultural conspiracy, a conspiracy of silence according to Grossman. It’s not what it says that’s the lie, but what remains unsaid.

What this myth conceals: there are far greater chance of being a psychological casualty of conflict then there are of being killed or wounded. 60 days of continuous combat without rest means 98% rate of psychological casualties (why we keep ‘green zones’ and distance to target).

But: is this killing or being subjected to combat? Grossman argues that Britain and Germany bombed each other’s cities in WWII, the first massive bombardments of history (now our specialty, setting the bar in Vietnam, then Gulf War, now War in Iraq). The theory was that the civilian population would go into traumatic shell shock, that everyone would be quickly converted to psychological casualties, but this turned out surprisingly to not be the case.

It turns out that, unless one feels that one has done something to warrant being killed, one bunkers down and does not suffer post traumatic stress disorder. Depression sets in, but not PTSD. Prison guards in the cities DO suffer from PTSD during bombings, but NOT the POWS! This shows us the balance of self and other in the head. One compulsively sets the world up as THIS perspective vs. OTHERS, and one sets the others up as one sets up the self in the head. This means that when one knows that the other will feel JUSTIFIED in killing, one becomes conflicted with oneself. Consider that recon patrols behind enemy lines don’t suffer PTSD like hard core (2%) marine spearhead units that are dropped behind lines to sew death and confusion. If one is in the enemies home turf, but not killing, one does not feel like the justifiably killable target that one does if one is killing the enemy. Consider that killing someone in their home is much more traumatic and justifiable than killing someone in their home.

So: What factors increase or decrease the justification and the enabling of violence?
This is what Grossman and the US Military have been studying intensely. Grossman tells us many surprising things openly that are done to help US troops kill easier with less consequence.

Absolution by Distance:
Killing with a knife is much harder than killing with a 20 foot pike, and killing with an automatic weapon is far easier because one does not feel the other’s body at all (propaganda value of showing the enemy with fixed bayonets). Medium to long range is the easiest kill. The farther away, the less PTSD. The more equipment mediating the kill, the easier it is. Bomber pilots feel little to no PTSD. Grossman says ‘Nintendo Warfare’ in first Gulf War is intentional use of night vision goggles and TV screens in tanks, which lessens the PTSD (one would think the purpose was to take the enemy in the dark, but not so).

The less one sees eyes and faces, the easier it is to kill. This is why the executioner is hooded along with the executed. Both lessen the feeling of PTSD for the executioner. Apes and humans have an impulse to attack when the other turns and runs. This is why if one is caught or kidnapped, one always looks the captor in the eyes as much as possible, take off the helmet or hat (or hood), why military are taught to kill with a kidney strike from behind.

Intolerance and Racism are used actively as distancing mechanisms, making it easier to kill. The less one’s enemy is like oneself, the easier it is to justify killing. This is why it is fundamental to say the other ‘does not share one’s values’. This is THE WEST, earlier the EUROPEAN RACE.

Absolution by Authority:
Officers are separated from killing. The officer orders the aggression, the troops carry it out. The officer can feel distanced from the act because they themselves did not kill or see the kill, and the troops can feel distance because they did not decide to kill or order the kill.
Interestingly, the farther the authority is away from the troops, the less the authority is effective, BUT the farther away the authority the easier it is to do the ordering.

Group Absolution:
The more one is firing into the brush with many others, the more one is unsure that one is killing a particular target oneself. In firing squads, often only one person has a bullet, and the others have blanks and are told this to ease the actions. In defending the home (being amongst one’s group and the group turf) one feels justified in killing in a way that is reversed when one is on enemy soil, as mentioned.

Stages of Killing
1) Combat High, exhilaration, esp. medium to long range (automatic weapons are best).
2) Remorse (move from positive to swing negative)
3) Rationalization (wrestling with the contradiction of positive/negative, self/other)

Both soldiers and gang members find themselves having nightmares where those who have been killed come back to haunt them and ask why. It is as if killing a being does not kill the presence, that the negated presence comes back. This is likely why people believed in evil ghosts for so long across all cultures. One feels one is still indebted to beings long gone if one was involved in their disappearance. (ex: ghost of Jacob Marley, the telltale heart of Poe)

Grossman notes that for HR Bush, Gulf War surge in popularity and then fall in end show social process of these stages as well as individual (and now this fits W Bush in Iraq war as well).


Reading: Silent Spring and Selections on Environmental concepts

In the earliest cultures, humans and animals were understood to share a world together as very much equals. As humanity began domesticating livestock, humans are increasingly understood to be above all animals, the god-like animal. Adam in the Bible is namer and master of all.
At same time, world as balance with humans (like Leviathan and Behemoth). We have done so well as a species that we have become quite unbalanced with nature.

While many cultures have spoken of being in balance (Egyptian Wisdom for instance), it was only with the growth of mechanization and technology that Islamic scholars first wrote consciously of the impact that humans had systematically on the environment. This makes sense, as Europe got its machines and chemistry from Islamic civilization.

As we see in The Corporation, in the 1940s and 1950s, just as US became the wealthiest nation, petroleum products were used to make huge varieties of products. Wood and metal gave way to plastic. Remember that it is not ‘the oil stupid’ as far as just gasoline. All our life is permeated with petroleum products and synthetic chemicals. Monsanto and DuPont are the big giants.
What has happened: we are in a culture that can give us immediate things according to our intentions, but such that we ignore the long and complicated process of nature. Nature can sift things out, but not as fast as we can synthesize just what we want while externalizing the unneeded and then ignoring it until it snowballs up into our face. Cancer rates, birth defect rates, and other problems are evidence of the environmental impact.

Add on top of externalization the competition between corporations in a culture that ignores the consequences and people are racing to screw things up and put money in their own pocket before someone else does. This imbalance creates further imbalances. Modern plantations and corporate farms have created surges in pests, and then we spray tons of pesticide to kill the swarms of pests, and then the pests resurge because all of the other pests were killed, and the cycle grows steadily out of control.

As silent spring suggests, we need human rights to not be poisoned. While many thought DDT ban was point of book, actually Carson calls for rights. Consider differences in infant mortality rates and who lives in the inner city.

Environmental Issues (from the Blackwell Environmental Reader)
Wilderness: We have seen that this is an interesting issue for utilitarianism. Does one consider best use in the long term to be using everything, or do we leave things unused for long term?
Sustainability: Nature and economy must both be preserved, or both will collapse.
Environmental Justice: Who gets benefits and who gets harm of processes in the culture? One fifth of world consumes four fifths of resources. Some, like Rev. Chaviz Jr., argue for the concept of Environmental racism, that pollution and cleaning products affect those who are ostracized in the worst areas of town far more than others. The horrifying infant mortality rate among American black people, twice that of white Americans, is evidence of this.