Oracle, Optimist, Ostrich, or Obfuscator? Part 5. The slippery slope to moral disengagement

Lethal injection room at San Quentin, built in 2010

Lethal injection room at San Quentin, built in 2010
Image is in the public domain.

Moral disengagement, as discussed frequently on this blog, allows individuals to participate in or at least tolerate inhuman behaviors such as homicide and torture. Major forms of moral disengagement include misrepresenting, minimizing, or denying the consequences of one’s violence; making advantageous comparisons between one’s own violence and other forms of violence that are made to seem more frightening or odious; and displacing or diffusing responsibility for inhumane behavior—e.g., by “blaming the victim.”

Unlike members of that notorious group, the military-industrial complex, Steven Pinker does not explicitly endorse violence and other forms of inhumane behavior; as far as I know he is not encouraging the United States corporate power structure to become involved in yet another war. However, he appears to relish the details he provides on the horrors of human violence in the past and to be wearing extremely effective blinders relating to the often deadly exploitation of poorer nations by the West. Moreover, in lauding the peacefulness he attributes to the West, he uses processes identified by Albert Bandura as forms of moral disengagement.

Consider, for example, his assertion that “daily existence is very different if you always have to worry about being abducted, raped or killed”—a state of anxiety that he views as gone from today’s enlightened democratic societies. Is he right or is he minimizing the dangers facing many immigrants and people of color in the nation in which he has become a highly paid celebrity?

And how about his claim that “by standards of the mass atrocities in human history, the lethal injection of a murderer in Texas, or an occasional hate crime in which a member of an ethnic minority group is intimidated by hooligans is pretty mild stuff”? Does that assertion smack of both minimization and advantageous comparison?

Also, in discussing the aberrant period of increased violence in the 1960s and 1970s, which he views as hitting the African American community particularly hard, Pinker suggests, “widespread fatherlessness can lead to violence” because “all those young men who aren’t bringing up their children are hanging out with one another competing for dominance instead.” Can we see an element of displacement of responsibility here?

What do you think?

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

Posted in culture of violence, Human rights, Moral disengagement, police violence, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Teaching Peace Through Popular Culture

Book Title: Teaching Peace Through Popular Culture

Edited by: Laura Finley (Barry University), Joanie Connors (Western New Mexico University), and Barbara Wien, (American University)

Review by: Guest Author Dr. Michael Furtado, St Mary’s in Exile Community, Brisbane, Queensland, AUSTRALIA

Authored by scholars from a variety of disciplines, including English, Theology, Philosophy, Communications, Sociology, Humanities, and Peace Studies, this edited volume provides detailed descriptions of the many ways in which popular culture can be used to teach peace.

Chapters discuss documentary and feature films, music, television, literature, and more, providing both educators and the general public with a timely and useful tool for thinking about ways to promote peace. From popular dystopian novels like The Hunger Games to feature films like The Matrix to modern rap and hip-hop music, contributors to the book  provide not only critical analyses of the violence in popular culture but also an assessment of how the same or alternate forms can be used by peace educators.

Additionally, each chapter provides synopses and teaching ideas, as well as recommended resources. In a world that often overwhelms us with stories of death and destruction, an era in which many people feel helpless in response to human brutality, this book helps remind us that there are things we can all do both to recognize the messages of violence permeating our culture, and act instead to promote recognition of the possibility of peace.

Michael Furtado is a former school-teacher in Catholic schools in the UK and Australia. He was not a success at school in India, where he was born, and so pursued alternative paths of education that took him to London, Strathclyde and Oxford universities. From there he migrated to Australia to explore the possibility of alternative schools for marginalised children. Catholic schools account for between a quarter and a fifth of all Australian schools and so are major Australian educational providers. Michael did a Masters at the University of WA and a PhD at Queensland University, while gaining experience in post-Vatican II approaches to human development and religious education. From 1985-92 he was Education Officer (Social Justice) at Brisbane Catholic Education. Michael currently works in a social inclusion education project, called Discovering Disability and Diversity, with a colleague with a disability, Sharon Boyce.

Posted in Book reviews, Peace studies, Poetry and the arts, Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Warning: this disease is contagious, deadly, and right in your own backyard

No racism.
Image by Martynas Barzda and is in the public domain.

Racism is as deadly as AIDS, as contagious as influenza, and as contemptible as human sacrifice—which indeed is what it is.

It has reached epidemic proportions in the US, and not for the first time.

As with most diseases, some groups appear to be particularly vulnerable both to becoming infected and to spreading their infections to  others;  these groups include, in frightening proportions, people responsible for the public welfare such as the police.

Even in the corporate media, and especially in the alternative media, evidence of brutal police harassment of people of color seems nearly ubitquitous:

Episcopal priest on road trip with interracial family shares harrowing story of police harassment

Police Harassment and Violence Against the Transgender Community

Undoubtedly, you are already  aware of the rash of recent incidents wherein police attacked unarmed people of color and beat and/or murdered them by one means or another—in public places or paddy wagons or jail cells.

Here are a few  recent cases you may have missed:

Walter Scott

Andres Green (15-years-old)

And here is a broad sampling of people of color killed in police custody between 2005 and 2014.

Virulent diseases can evolve into a number of different forms, and in the case of racism, forcible invasions of the vaginas of women of color are among the loathsome  manifestations of the disease.

Imagine such things happening to you or someone you love.

But also recognize that while pernicious, the disease is not irradicable.

Sometimes a single person speaking out against injustice can make a difference:

A White Woman Confronts Police Harassing a Black Man, and the Result Is Stunning

And it took just one person to start a petition that gained thousands of signatures asking  the United States Department of Justice  to take over the investigation of the death in police custody of Sandra Bland :

Take Over The Investigation Into The Death of Sandra Bland From The Waller County, Texas Police Department.

Moreover, in the wake of the long overdue and desperately needed media attention to police lethality, major group initiatives have emerged, such as Black Lives Matter. Read this article about the significance of this movement

Black Lives Matter joins a long line of protest movements that have shifted public opinion — most recently, Occupy Wall Street

Climb aboard and be part of the solution.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

Posted in culture of violence, Human rights, police violence, racism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments


By Guest Author Tom Greening

We knew we could count on you

to continue our mission for us.

We destroyed your World Trade Center

but that was only a dramatic means

to a greater end.

We knew you rich and industrious Americans

would soon rebuild the towers

bigger and better.

Our more ambitious goal

was to expose your barbarism

behind your pretense

of practicing humanitarian justice:

We got you to reveal your depravity

and become torturers.

At Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib,

at dark sites, we seduced you

into destroying yourselves

as moral human agents.

Tom Greening was educated at Yale, the University of Vienna, and the University of Michigan. He has been a psychologist in private practice for over 50 years, and is a retired professor from Saybrook University, UCLA, and Pepperdine. He was Editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology for 35 years. He is a Fellow of five divisions of the American Psychological Association and Poet Laureate of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry.

Posted in Poetry and the arts, September 11, 2001, Torture | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments