Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ethics: Lectures for Third Week Summer 2011


Theft is a difficult issue, one that has particular implications today. First we will examine the context and history of theft, and then use the Ethical concepts we have studied as lenses

The notion of ‘property’ is bound up with European and Western identity, often seen as a principle of politics particular to Europe or fully realized in full within European historical development. We can easily see, however, that the origins of property, like most human cultures, has its origins in ape social behavior. While Europe has developed cultures of property that are highly sophisticated, these stem from cultural borrowings as much as they do from within Europe itself. Consider Islamic cultures of borrowing with interest, writing and cashing checks, etc.

Turning to ape behavior to see precedents, we can clearly identify with apes both in focusing on and becoming possessive of objects and forgetting this possession and its objects. Consider that an ape will become attached to a banana, fight against other apes that try to take the banana, and then, upon seeing a better banana, the ape will abandon the first and ignore whether or not the first falls into other hands. We can see that the ape can come to possess as ‘mine not yours’, and come to forget this possessing (‘neither mine nor yours’). This is parallel with self-other distinctions already discussed, as with the child psychology that says in the beginning there is neither and both must arise together in tension (codependent arising of Jainism and Buddhism).

There is also evidence that apes can not only fall into a ‘mine vs. everyone’ relation of possession (of objects), but apes can also recognize other apes as possessing objects themselves (selfish as other). Consider the case (from an old Anthropology class of mine) of the female chimpanzee ignoring another male chimpanzee trying to give her a banana for sex, and how the female only snatches the banana for herself when the male ape gets bored and goes out of sight so that there is no expected reciprocity. We should be cautious of the sexism here (females ‘push bananas’ at males too), but also marvel in how familiar this behavior is to humanity (next week, we will see that apes know lying too).

Humans, of course, have taken these impulses and instincts and complexified them with many inter-competing cultures, cultures that are actually capable of stealing from each other as much as they can describe and criminalize stealing themselves! While there are many intellectuals who have defended the view that while trade is universal only the West developed ‘capital’, I am critical of this view (interestingly enough, the one to coin this specialized term was the great opponent of Capitalism, Karl Marx). We have yet to do justice to intercultural borrowings, and ‘The West’ is very proud of its economics today. Is ‘capital’ a new device, particular to Western thought? I think that a study of Islam passing to Europe shows this can only be a partial truth, but we get a better view if we turn back the clock to the origin of the device known as MONEY, capital being one of its distant yet certain relatives.

Where does money come from? Why does it exist? What relationship does money have to theft, and is this different from the relationship between theft and any other object?

Money is a very interesting and unique device. Before wood pulp paper bank notes, the Sumerians and Babylonians get the credit for coining money first, the government controlling the pressing process of coinage. Today, we use Chinese style paper bank notes, backed by the government, just like in China after 500 CE or so. Wood block printing and the block printing press are other devices of Chinese origin that are crucial to this process. These two stages suggest that ‘capital’, though it may have been developed to its extent today in Europe and increasingly in American privatizing economics, cannot possibly have been a ‘inwardly European’ device of the ‘Western mind’. Other cultures of mind have had no problem inventing and using devices that are the ancestors of modern day capital.


Before money, people of course possessed many things and traded them between individuals and groups. This trade was always barter, swapping one sort of thing for another sort of thing without the device of money as swapping medium. As people settled into city states, practices of borrowing and lending became stabilized. The first money was likely tokens indicating amounts of stuff borrowed from the ruler or other wealthy individuals.

The culture which includes the device of money has advantages over the culture of mere barter. Money as a device is very simple, simple the ways that numbers are simple for much the same purpose. Money is good (and bad) because it is very easy to gather/amass and divide/distribute, much more than any other object or substance.

Consider the salmon fisher in a village. She goes down to the water, and scores 20 large salmon. This is far more than she can eat, but she can trade salmon for other things that she needs in the barter culture. However, salmon does not keep for long, even if one knows how to salt and preserve it. What happens if she goes to the market and not many people want or need salmon that day? What if she has enough salmon to get what she wants, but there are not enough people who need salmon to trade with her for what she wants? In a culture where the salmon can be sold for money, you can keep the money for thirty years (even with inflation and other problems, deterioration of coins, etc) but no one can keep salmon for thirty years, even with freezers! In this way, money is much easier to amass and to keep than salmon.

In the same way, money is easier to divide than salmon. Let us say our fisher comes to market with 20 large salmon, and wants to trade for a basket. I, the basket maker, tell her that one third of a salmon is worth one basket, but I want the front half of the salmon. What happens if she wants to leave the salmon uncut, or if she needs four fifths of a salmon later for someone else? What if she wants to keep all the fish heads for herself? Money has no features to it other than quantity, even though the pictures are often very pretty. Fifty dollars is just fifty things, nothing less, so there is no problem with changing it to two twenties and a ten. You cannot make a whole salmon again from twenty salmon heads! In this way, money is much easier to divide and distribute than salmon. If we consider the bustle of a crowded market, it becomes clear why money would be such a useful (and thus abusive) device, and how its invention allowed for the modern merchants and bankers of today. Consider the trillion dollar bailout today, how this is very abstract yet very real for many people. Luck for us we do not need to bail out banks with truckloads of salmon!

There are, however, two great disadvantages to the culture of money use:
First, theft, like trade, becomes easier! In fact, money not only creates and supports many types of legal economics, it simultaneously creates and supports many types of illegal economics like paying money for sex or drugs (Derrida and the signature).

Second, the desire for money becomes quite intense. Considering that money, sex and cocaine have been shown to light up similar areas of the human brain, money to barter is like cocaine to chewing coca leaves. Since money can be traded for anything, even ironically illegal things, the draw towards money becomes the draw towards any and everything desired. In this sense, the desire for money is far more intense than the desire for salmon because money can buy salmon, or remain money, or buy anything else if one ceases wanting salmon. Just as having salmon means that the possibility of eating salmon is now practically guaranteed, having money means the possibility of satisfying any desire whatsoever is guaranteed. This ultimately means that there is far more reason to steal money than there is to steal salmon, strange considering that you can eat salmon and live off of it alone!

In terms of world politics, which includes the Zinn reading I gave you, stealing and money are central issues of identity. Communism and Capitalism are divided on the issue of money, even as Communists print government money and Capitalists organize socialist programs (public education like BCC, social welfare, public roads and institutions). The question is: do you trust the government or the corporations more with your money and economics (an instance of the one/many problem again)? America has shown that there are great advantages to privatization, letting corporations control economics rather than the centralized government. Unfortunately, this does not do away with problems of authority and corruption (consider that PG&E is still in charge of California’s power, a pretty plum, in spite of being convicted of stealing from Californians en masse). Truth be told, both America and the Soviet Union told third world countries that they would not steal from them or enslave them like their other surely would, only to both be guilty of similar forms of corrupt authoritarianism.

A great book to read on all of this is John Perkins’ book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. He actually came to BCC last semester for a reading, but I had my other job. As Perkins says so perfectly, in American foreign relations we try to get people in debt to us because that binds everyone to our economy and our desires. I know firsthand from UCB Hass Business School students that indebting the poor here in America and poor third world countries is an open practice, spoken of openly in instruction. The financial crisis today was clearly caused by irresponsible and predatory lending. Our newspapers never speak of these things, but a piece on NPR my friend gave to me will tell you just as clearly and honestly an economics professor at Hass. CREDIT is itself like money, a device that has its advantages but also its disadvantages, especially for the disadvantaged. If our economy falls far from where it is today, it could very well be due to the disadvantages of credit and capital that we have stalled and distanced from ourselves for the time being as a privileged and advantaged culture. The point is: money helps the advantaged steal from the disadvantaged, even as it helps the disadvantaged gain advantage! This is why Americans are relatively wealthy yet there is an increasing gap between rich and poor here as well as in the third world. While the ‘American way’ sometimes allows the poor to get rich, it also very much allows the rich to get much richer and there is only so much in the pot.

Of course, the rich are also more encouraged than ever to steal from the rich as well as from the poor. Consider in 1996 CIA convicted of manipulating business to favor Americans over Australians. Neither Australians nor Americans can recall this, due to lack of media coverage in both locations. Since America and Australia are both wealthy Capitalist countries, you are only doing the system disservice by making such a scandal public.

Now that we have briefly examined the history of money and advantage, we have set the stage to ask the question of theft. The Ethical question we must ask is: Is theft ever justified?
We can use our Ethical concepts we have studied to give various answers to this question. While I will not say that there is a certain answer here, we can see that there are many ways of answering the question but each has its problems. This is how we know we are investigating the question in matters of real life and not in an ideal construct.

Kant, of course, would give the first and most positive answer to this question: NO, theft of property is NEVER justified. Notice that Kant, living in the German Enlightenment of the 1700s, is very proud of the culture of property and considers the possession of property to be an entirely reasonable and principled act. This is questionable when we trace its roots all the way back to chimpanzee behavior, of course.

This answer has the obvious advantage of never getting one involved in most questions of stealing, but there remain issues. What if one’s society is stealing from another, and legally one has become wealthy within the stealing society? While we could imagine that one is ignorant of the ongoing theft and therefore not DIRECTLY guilty of theft, one is INDIRECTLY guilty. Societies, especially America, store their wealth in the pockets of the wealthy. America stores its wealth in its millionaires and billionaires primarily, and encourages these individuals economically to siphon money from other economies and put it in their pockets because this is the central way that America gets wealthier. Thus, while one may hold fast to the principle of ‘I shall not steal’, one could be complicit in groups and cultures that are engaged in theft that benefits the individual and the individual actively supports (even in the absence of conscious consent).

Virtue & Consequence
According to the concept of ethical virtue, theft is fully justified as long as the individual is virtuous or becomes virtuous through the act of theft. In a very similar way, Utilitarians and Consequentialists would argue that theft is justified if in the long term it results in good and justice, much happiness and prevention of harm. Seems impossible? Robin Hood is the perfect example for consideration. If I rob the evil rich people and give to poor people who are starving (i.e. if we construct an example in which many would agree), many would say that I am virtuous and that I have acted for the best ends in the long view. I may be hanged for the crimes, but my actions benefit others and can be argued to benefit my own character (though this is debatable).

The concept of balance draws our attention not only to the duality of stealing and not stealing but also to the duality of possessing and forgetting about possession, grasping and letting go. There is a great passage of the Dao that says, ‘if you want to be free from robbers, do not store up treasure in your house’. If one stores up wealth, one brings theft to one’s doorstep. If one stores up wealth and becomes attached to it, one brings fear of theft to one’s mind (a Zen koan theme is calling intention in the mind a thief, that the grasping of desire in the mind is the real thief). If you do not worry about money, not only do you not have to worry about stealing from others, you do not worry about others stealing from you, no matter how much one has!

Also, consider that if one steals and gets away with it, this makes the compulsion for stealing stronger. One continues to steal, and then gets caught. Getting away with stealing can be a major cause of getting caught stealing, a paradox similar to the bad example attack on Utilitarianism (in this case, ‘good’ examples can lead to bad just as bad examples can lead to good).

One problem with using balance here: should we think that we can do bad as long as we balance it out with good? If we give to charity every time we steal, does this balance things for our own merit or for the shared situation?

Drive and Self Interest
At first, it seems that this concept would tell us, ‘steal to your heart’s content’. This may prove harder than it sounds. Is it in one’s self interest to steal from everyone? Not if everyone has large sticks and helmets haven’t been invented yet. Unfortunately, this concept is best for understanding the international situation and the reading I gave you from Zinn. America today feels that it must indebt the third world to itself to strengthen its capitalist way of life, as it did during the Cold War. Supporters of the Vietnam war as well as the ‘War on Terrorism’ today say openly on the News that we need to ‘defend America’s interests’. Thought the word ‘economic’ is left off the front of ‘interests’ here, this is essentially what is being argued. America is a very fine omelet (a money credit omelet, if you will), and this means eggs need to be stolen from the hen house. Perkins’ book gives us excellent insight into its mechanisms.

Perspective and Intersubjectivity
To repeat what was said at the beginning, we have all had the experience of stealing and having things stolen. Hopefully there is something that moves us towards wisdom in not stealing even though theft seems an inevitable and in fact integral part of our world. Aside from the ‘Golden Rule’, there is likely no other constant source of deterrence from theft considering that the government that prints the money and prosecutes the theft also in some circumstances supports theft between its citizens and steals from other governments in the name of life.

To further show the mechanisms and complexity of theft in the modern world, there is no better nor more relevant documentary than ‘The Corporation’. In it, we learn that corporations are considered artificial persons, and since they put profit before all other concerns, they behave much like sharks and sociopaths.


Individuals and groups manipulate the truth to serve their own ends, in a conscious/unconscious way that often resembles denial. Speech means that we can tell the truth or tell lies. This has been an issue for humans before they were even human, like theft and violence.

Apes and Lying:
In one of the most fascinating stories of ape behavior I have heard, researchers documented that a young male baboon made the mistake of trying to force himself sexually on a high ranking female baboon of his tribe. When the female screeched, the rest of the tribe began chasing the young male along the ground floor. Suddenly, the young male turned and gave the call for leopard. The chasers dashed up into the trees and out of sight, while the young male stood, watching them leave, on the ground in no danger from any leopard. The researchers concluded that they had witnessed and documented an ape lying to save his own skin. Thus, we can assume, humans have been lying since before they were human.

Children and Lying:
Interestingly, we believe in lying to children as a matter of raising them. Children before the age of seven are quite incapable of telling the difference between fiction and reality or understanding sarcasm. This is why young children believe in Santa and wonder where Thomas the Train Engine lives.

There are two amusing stories I have on this. One of my students in a response paper wrote that as a young girl she had a pet goldfish and accidentally killed the fish by cleaning its bowl with hand soap. When she saw her fish was dead her mother, who did not want to torture the young girl with the truth, told her that the cat had walked by and the fish had a heart attack. Notice the utilitarianism here, and that Kant would be mortified. Secondly, there was a news story last year about a boy in Thailand who was stuck on the roof of a tall building, and he would not climb into the arms of the police who ascended a ladder to rescue him. One of the police dressed up in a Spiderman costume, and the boy threw open his arms and leapt into the waiting embrace of Spiderman, who carried him down to a cheering crowd.

Children believe in superheroes and villains. One would like to think that the use of heroes and myths ends with childhood, but the literature on propaganda tells us that all civilizations make myths that glorify themselves and demonize their enemies, both internal and external. Because children are raised with these myths, they often do not think to question them even when they are quite past the age of seven.

Consider the use of superheroes in comics, fighting criminals at home and enemies of America.
Watchmen is a good look at some of these dynamics. Consider that Iron Man was originally from Korea, then the recent movie puts him in the middle east. We still use superheroes to stand for “truth, justice and the American way”, but we have subtler ways. I think you can look at Iron Man and the new Batman movie and see distortions that we not only pass on to kids and teenagers but the adults in the audience as well.

City States and Rock Edicts:
The Assyrians were masters of propaganda, and they were one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. Most of their conquest was through trade, though they invented all of the siege weapons used through the European middle ages. Rock edicts, tall carvings in cliffs and on monuments, declared glorious meanings for the common people to consume. Interestingly, the common people could not read, and someone who could read and pass the messages to others was called “one who makes the stones speak”. Just like a modern textbook, the human authors are lost and the media simply speaks for itself.

Here we come to the old and the new style of propaganda. The old propaganda model is simple, and it is still in use particularly by traditional and communist countries: We are the King/State, we tell you what you need to know, namely that we look after you and our enemies are evil. WE are the great multicultural empire that looks after everyone (Assyrian did not denote a race, but a citizen of the empire), but our enemies will oppress you and kill you for no good reason. Very little has changed over several thousand years.

The new propaganda is even more effective, and strangely it does not call itself propaganda at all. In China today, the communist government says openly that they use propaganda to educate the people, and the same was admitted in the United States and Britain until just this last century. The government tells you “brush your teeth, it is good for you” and this is acknowledged as a message coming from authorities telling you what you should know and do. Chomsky, who we will study today, is quite clear on this point, as is Bernays. Propaganda only recently became something evil, something that the enemy does.

I am going to focus on American propaganda from WWI through the Cold War, and then talk about Chomsky’s theories on propaganda models and the American media’s role in American empire and economics.

Hegel tells us when we haven’t looked into an issue, perspectives are polarized. Here in America, similarly in Britain, it is thought that we are free and love democracy, but other cultures (especially the Germans in WWI and II, the Russians in the Cold War, and Islamic extremists) are not civilized but rather lie as much as they can because ‘they hate our freedom’.

We have failed to have a real discussion about censorship and bias in America. This means ‘THEY’ are simply biased and put forth propaganda, and WE would never do something like that. This is not only the basic human frame as before, but Americans and British got set in this in a particular way through WWI and II. In WWI, propaganda became something the Germans do, not the Belgians, British or Americans. In WWII, the Germans and Japanese do propaganda, and in the cold war the Russians. The British and Americans, however, would never do ‘propaganda’ by name, as they are the champions of liberty, democracy and freedom from tyranny (even as Britain and then America plundered and sought empire in the same way that the Germans, Russians did). Today, this is ‘Islam and the West’ where we have unbiased journalism while they simply put forward obvious propaganda (watch ‘Control Room’ for the best of this).

What we need? We need to see how people censor and authority is abusive in comparison, and this is what is never done. Rather than hear one line of Chinese media through ours and say “Propaganda!” we need to compare censorship operation by the government in both places and see the complex similarities and differences. I am going to show human overall consistencies while describing the particular way that Americans are involved in the inscription of messages and ideology in our society. That way, we get beyond the strange complex of saying that in America there is no propaganda while living in an America that knows how to sell and spin professionally better than anyone ever has.

WWI (the British/Americans vs. the Germans)
The Germans invade Belgium, and the British make up all sorts of things. The Germans become the evil Hun, and the Belgians the poor victim, even though they had just gotten bad world press by systematically killing 10 million Africans in the Congo.

The British run propaganda in America to get us into the war, and teach us the techniques of British style empire and propaganda. You set up ‘free’ reporters to say your messages, rather than do the old way like Germany and Russia with a Ministry of Propaganda.
Thus, after the horrors of WWI, ‘propaganda’ became a bad word in Britain and America.
Since then, we do not do propaganda at all. We do ‘education’, ‘information’, ‘public relations’, ‘human relations’, and in time of war we may engage in psychological warfare, but we never do ‘propaganda’.

Propaganda is not an evil conspiracy. Consider great example of guy who did ‘Birth of a Nation’, KKK film, being jailed for 10 years for his next movie showing British and Natives committing war crimes against Americans.

Basically, the British and Americans lied as much as possible about German atrocities, the French and British took most of what Germany had after WWI, the Germans fell even lower in the 20s with the market crash, and they came back as the Nazis, NOW as bad as the British and Americans had led others to believe.

Consider that Irish newspapers in NY were shut down for telling people that the British have been evil in Ireland, Scotland, India, Africa, all while calling themselves the defenders of democracy and freedom. At this time, government censorship during time of war was unquestioned (story about Pentagon lifting ban on coffins today).

Bernays book Propaganda:
Chomsky says that Bernays was one of the first propaganda specialists in America and he is quite open about praising the use of propaganda. Bernays says, during WWI, that it is remarkable that the moment America propaganda explodes (advertising, PR), becomes a necessary tool of corporations, it becomes ‘evil’ in name. PR went from being Barnum and Bailey to every corporation running spin and ad campaigns. Bernays invented the committee of Doctors who tell you to eat eggs and bacon for a ‘hearty’ breakfast, saying old way is ‘Eat Bacon!’, new way: ‘Drs say, ‘Eat bacon’’. This is ‘free expert’ style of propaganda.

In 1938, writing his book, Bernays says that half the front page of NYT is identifiably propaganda, stories planted by interested parties. He says the NAACP is a great PR group, and show a strong hand holding their annual conference in Atlanta. He got out of cigarette ads in the 40s, tabloids having picked up on the health risks. It wasn’t till the 1970s that major media carried the story at all. 1953 Bernays helped United Fruit convince everyone that Guatemala was a communist threat, so the US overthrew the elected leader with a CIA coup and we supported dictatorship there for cheap labor to supply Americans with cheaper fruit.

Nazis and WWII:
Hitler says: We did not have as good propaganda as the British and Americans, but next time will be different. Nazi TV, engineering goes to American, America rises above Britain in wake of WWII. During WWII, the Americans and British praised Stalin and his Red Army as they all fought the Nazis. Then, as soon as the war was over, the British led the Americans in the Cold War anti-communism campaign. This is where stuff gets REALLY INTERESTING: US vs. Soviet Union. Both say, ‘THEY do all of this, so WE HAVE TO’, in the official channels, but the story for the masses is: only THEY would do that.

The following material is drawn largely from the book The Cultural Cold War by Saunders.
Post WWII, the French and Russians had largely convinced everyone that America has no culture, only cheap commercialism, and America talks a lot about Freedom, but look at how they treat black people. US and Soviets started ‘Congresses’, (Soviets for World Peace, US for Cultural Freedom). It is now know that these were the two big umbrella groups for a lot of fronts for propaganda campaigns. These groups used historians, scientists, poets, artists, philosophers, professors, you name it, to give the impression that individuals were lining up against ‘the evil’ of the other. The US wanted to fight the ‘French Flu’ and push European intellectuals away from Marxism as liberation towards free market capitalism as liberation. Ex: US intellectual goes to Paris, gives a talk about the ‘Negro’s progress in America’. Then when he is heckled (“possibly by communists”), brings out black band to do jazz all night.

US used CIA and many fronts to tour black performers through Europe, increase publication of certain books (Camus, not Sartre example, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, introductions written to spin Animal Farm and 1984 by Orwell, who hated both). The idea was to promote the NONCOMMUNIST LEFT. (Sartre and Merleau-Ponty not studied in America, as they boycotted Congress of Cultural Freedom invitations due to US treatment of Black people).

The US had spent $34 million on this by 1950 (also, wealthiest country at this point, passing Britain in financing the rebuilding of Britain, Germany and France). The money quadrupled in rate of expense after 1950, as China became the world’s largest communist country. The CIA set up French literature reviews, toured the Boston symphony orchestra, approached wealthy individuals about setting up art collections that praise US art and European art that honors the US.

Pollock and others (though communists) praised and toured through Europe to show that American has genius painters after all. Agent as director stockpiled abstract minimalist art at the NY Moma (Contemporary Chinese art exhibit in Berkeley today). The Ford and Rockefeller foundations remain serious fronts for money dispensed in America to artists, writers and performers who do work that promotes America even as it is avant-garde art.

At home, Billy Graham got money knowingly from intelligence, toured America telling Christians that ‘Communism is masterminded by Satan’, never mind that the first communes were French Christian communes. John Wayne and Ronald Reagan were promoted as Soldier/Cowboys, both spied for the FBI against communism at home for the house of un-American activities committee of McCarthy. Disney and Warner brothers made cartoons for the US in WWII, then denounced their writers and animators as communists when they went on strike. Disney spied for the FBI, testified for HUAC, while he was doing illegal things to his workers like sending strike breakers to beat people up and the FBI looked the other way.

In films, token black people began appearing well before the civil rights movement. Documents of agents who worked with studios on scripts say, ‘took out a drunk, added a black person’. One of the best examples is a black golfer and caddy added into the background of a scene on a golf course, at a time when white Catholics and Jews had a rough time getting into golf clubs. Consider that the civil rights movement was partly started by seeing token black people in the cinema, like the golfer and caddy, and wondering aloud why this could not become a real lived reality. Both US and Soviets fought over who liberates and who oppresses. In 1956, the ‘Melting Pot’ became a slogan for the US. We can see that many Russian films and Korean propaganda posters deplore the evils that America has done to black people as a simple tactic.

Today, if your movie has anything to do with police or military, they will give you heavy support as long as they go over the script and ok it. Six media owner companies means each needs a cushy relationship with both cops and military. That means: America is well aware of the streamlined view of America put out all over the world in TV and Movies. They are the BEST form of propaganda. There are consulting firms who specialize in getting your script ready for police and military approval, so that you do not get charged extra by the official government representatives who review the scripts for a fee.

Meanwhile, stories pepper the news about how “Iran censors movies” and “China might be censoring the internet”. No further detail is drawn. This is the British/American style: THEY simply censor, without any comparison of us and them. THEY censor (so, we don’t?). Recently the media corporations agreed with the government not to show footage of coffins coming home from the war. Is there ever a need for a conspiracy when power works the way it always has?

There is no better book on American propaganda and the stories both promoted and ignored by the American media. The book argues that the mass-media protects the interest of the wealthy and powerful individuals and institutions in America by promoting particular views and filtering out others. This process involves the ownership of media groups, the reliance of media on the government for information and support, the reliance of media on advertising revenue, flak heaped upon dissident views (particularly socialist views and those critical of business interests).


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
2) Remorse (move from positive to swing negative)
3) Rationalization

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.