20 Responses to Reviewing moral disengagement and engagement

  1. Jonathan says:

    My Father told me recently about one of the weekly progressive discussion groups he hosted. He said the topic was, “What Gives You Passion?” i.e. what gives you the motivation to do something. He was surprised to discover that the discussion ended up being about how depressed everyone was…

    It is interesting to think of that question in the context of Moral Agency. I suspect one becomes depressed when one feels that their attempts at taking responsibility are limited or co-opted in such a way as to render them useless.

    Is it not the impression that “you can’t make a difference” which leads to apathy and in the worst cases violence?

  2. Jenna says:

    In regard to fostering moral engagement, I think that having some optimism about the future can contribute to living a principled life and becoming an active agent for peace. A number of students enjoyed a lunch seminar with Dr. Kathleen Malley-Morrison during her visit to Swarthmore College on November 3, 2010. At the end of the seminar, Dr. Malley-Morrison asked each student to describe one thing that gave them some optimism about the possibility of humanity not destroying human life on earth. The answers that ensued are promising signs of new seeds of peace sown on the campus. From the recent World Cup, for its steadying influence on a social climate heated with racial tensions and its ability to tone down nationalistic fervor to the loving embrace of a lion on his human rescuer from six years ago and the more serious prospects of the affectionate encounter for inter-species cooperation, the responses spanned a range of topics, from the academic to the real world and beyond.

    “The notion of PTSD as a ‘moral injury,’” one students says, on a topic that was discussed during the seminar, “gives me hope because it suggests that humans aren’t innately violent and that we weren’t made to harm each other. If we weren’t meant to be killers or aggressors, then the possibility of living in a world without war is very real. Peace, then, would not require suppressing some imaginary human tendency towards aggression but rather merely embracing who we are deep down — peaceful, good people.” Another student replies, “Just as humans construct the physical world, they also construct the social world. We are responsible for creating a world where violence and war are acceptable solutions to conflict. However, we are also capable of creating a new world where violence and war are unacceptable. Though the path might be difficult, it is both possible and necessary to create a world without violence.”

    “Despite the continued ethnic tension between previously warring groups,” another student continues, “local and governmental activist efforts have begun to rectify these strained relations with the use of social-psychological techniques,” commenting on the remarkable efforts that have already been undertaken by local governments and organizations to foster peace. “For example, researcher Ervin Staub describes a local radio program supported by the Rwanda government designed to provide the various ethnic groups involved in the genocide a platform for storytelling. Forced to listen to the experiences of the different actors involved in the conflict, participants develop a sentiment of shared history as well as empathy for those they had considered “other” before, effectively helping to facilitate healing in the community. This example demonstrates how local efforts bolstered by institutional structures provide optimistic results for the reduction of violence and conflict in previously war-stricken areas.”

    Other students seemed to agree in their admiration for groups that sought to create peace and to prize it above war. “My optimism comes from knowing that there are activists out there,” one student says. “People still care about the world enough to want to make a difference and not destroy the world.” Another echoed these sentiments by citing the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the new UN Gender Office as good examples of human rights activism. “The move by members of Congress to support the U.S.’s ratification of the treaty is a great step forward, and we should combine forces with the UN to establish the importance of women’s rights as a peacebuilding mission and as a priority of the U.S.”

    In conclusion, there seem to be a number of reasons to be hopeful about the future of humanity. “I have a great deal of faith in human ingenuity,” one final student shares, reflecting on the creative and innovative capacity of the human species and raising questions about peace activism on a global scale, besides. “It took a motivated populace and a well-funded group of scientists fewer only 66 years to develop flight from the Wright brothers’ flimsy planes to putting the first man on the Moon. When the world realizes the imperative nature of preserving what we have, and I think the groundwork for that realization is being laid now, I believe that our collective energies will be able to invent the tools we need to preserve the environment.” From local war-torn populations to international organizations, from social norms that are changed at the grassroots level to the common humanity that connects all of mankind, there is a growing body of people that is committed to making peace a reality. And now, it seems like, more than ever, we have the tools and know-how to do it. So, how do we effectively mobilize these resources for peace? The answer remains to be seen, but it seems that at least these few Swatties are well on their way.

    • kathiemm says:

      My visit to Swarthmore College last year was one of the highlights of the year.
      Having the opportunity to talk with an extremely bright, thoughtful group of young people at lunch was one of the great highlights of the great visit. They had intended to ask me a lot of questions, but I was so eager to hear their ideas they never got a chance to ask much. It is meeting members of the younger generation who are devoted to the pursuit of peace that regularly reinforces my optimism for the future.

    • Etsuko Hoshino-Browne says:

      Jenna’s summary of the lunch seminar with Professor Kathie Malley-Morrison at Swarthmore is wonderful. It captures the importance of realistic optimism. It’s important to have faith in our capacity to achieve peace. But it’s also important to pay attention to our reality — all the conflicts that are going on in the current world. Bandura’s mechanisms of moral engagement and disengagement are truly useful in understanding why we engage in war, genocide, and conflict. The mechanisms are also encouraging as they show us our capacity to make peace.

  3. midnight wonderer says:

    I have seen too many monsters in my lifetime. I remember the ocean liner that held the Jewish immigrants during the late thirties or early forties. Our government would not allow it to land, nor would any other nation. They returned to the death camps. We left Vietnam, and they slaughtered millions, including those who had supported our cause. I never had a clue why we were there in the first place. Everybody is against a womans right to choose, the taking of innocent lives, but what about the flower of youth that is blown up on distant battle fields. I feel more and more like Alice down the rabbit hole. I do not know any more what is real, and what is just smoke and mirrors.

  4. Tom Zajc says:

    When Richard Nixon was elected the President, he told the American public that “I have a plan that will end our involvement in Vietnam, once and for all.” This plan included doing that which no nation, leader, or organization had and still has ever done in world history: He attacked and bombed the neutral country of Cambodia, in order to cut off the supply lines that the Vietcong received, and also to hurt the spirit of the Vietnamese. A NEUTRAL country, one that played no role in the war. What was done by President Nixon represents perhaps one of the most powerful examples of moral disengagement. The so-called moral justification for attacking of a neutral country comes from the belief of the Nixon Administration and the United States Army and Marine Core that it would hurt the enemy, both physically and morally. No doubt that the Cambodians were also blamed for having their rivers used as a supply line for Vietnamese goods and weaponry, which emphasizes the Presidency context of blaming the victim, in acts of moral disengagement. Also, as the people of Cambodia were another Asian country, the, regarded them as just another enemy, no different from the Vietnamese, making them , as they say in the Army, “just another bunch of gooks.” Such foul behavior exemplifies misrepresentation and thus minimizing the consequences of what occurred, the U.S. government failed to regard that they were committing a crime against humanity, they were able to justify destroying a neutral, non-involved country simply because they were similar to the enemy, at least in terms of appearance. Innocent blood was spilled, because the US failed to regard differences of a bother country, just because the looked like the enemy, and were so close to enemy territory, it was ok to destroy them. This is a crime that no one has been charged with, even though it is very clear who is guilty, and who is innocent.

  5. Amanda says:

    Nazi Germany was a prime example of Bandura’s moral disengagement. The Nazis were brainwashed and believed that they were doing good by “cleansing” society of Jews and Gypsies, looking at them not as people, but as a disease that must be stopped from spreading. They exterminated them, rather than kill them, which gave them a likeness of termites rather than human beings, therefore dehumanizing the Jews. The displacement of responsibility by soldiers was very present because they claimed to be carrying out orders, not murdering people. No soldier was solely responsible for the killings, but instead they banded together as a group who were given orders that were to be carried out, or it would be them who suffered consequences. Everything that happened during the Holocaust was kept very secret and inside camps that were not seen by outside parties. This made their actions less severe in their eyes because no one else was there to see it or reprimand them for it. Moral disengagement was the product of a political power in Germany by Adolph Hitler, who dictated and brainwashed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to carry out the murder of millions of innocent people based on a religious difference.

  6. Whitney says:

    I completely agree with you that Hitler engaged with his fellow Nazi Germans and caused a mass of people to become morally disengaged, some out of fear, but also potentially because they were actually trained to think the way Hitler did. I think this happens in many places and under different circumstances. Like we discussed in class, it happens on the sports field. The coach is not a dictator necessarily, but they can be seen to persuade the players to perform under their watch.
    I think that this moral disengagement starts happening at an early age, and then if forced into war the magnitude is much greater. By a coaches simple demands of their plays they choose to teach a basketball team, it can be seen as disengagement because the players themselves don’t get to choose what they are doing. This argument definitely isn’t too the extreme of war in anyway, but it follows the same trends that Hitler made his men do.
    Another example of this moral disengagement can be seen with how Osama bin Laden created the Taliban. I’m not sure of the specifics of this group, however I know that the men in the Taliban thought they were doing justice under their god. Therefore, since so many other people in the world follow the Muslim religion, and do not become suicide bombers or hijack planes that in turn kill people, it can be said that these specific Taliban men were brainwashed. It will never be known if they went into the Taliban knowing that they would get to kill and therefore they sought killing out, however, due to this idea that Bandura has come up with, it appears that these men were taught to believe in an irrational and inhumane way.

    • Dahlia Wasfi says:

      We don’t have to go back in time to Nazi Germany, or across the world to the Taliban in Afghanistan to find systematic moral disengagement. It is at your local recruiting station. Vulnerable youth are drawn in by promises of money and respect and then spend 3 months in basic training, being “taught to believe in an irrational and inhumane way.” What Martin Luther King Jr. said in the Vietnam era still applies today: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.” And the violence, rape, and murder is carried out by men and women with the US flag on their uniforms. We do know that many young soldiers DO know they will get to kill and they seek killing out in order to prove their masculinity. This is what our society teaches.

      Osama bin Laden did not create the Taliban. He was Saudi Arabian and came to Afghanistan during the 1980’s to support the mujaheddin battle against the Soviet invaders. The US was also supporting the fight against the Soviets in the name of battling communism. The American CIA gave Osama bin Laden far more weapons and support during the 1980’s than the Taliban ever did. Many of those who end up being labeled mortal enemies–Osama bin Laden, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein–were once CIA operatives. Then we kill thousands to millions in the name of rooting out such evil which we empowered in the first place.

  7. heshi says:

    I agree that the relationship between moral disengagement and brain washing is significant in understanding how people can do such terrible things. It seems to me that brain washing is an extension of moral disengagement which makes me wonder to what extent is brain washing used in societies today. The examples presented in these comments, especially those of Hitler and the Taliban, are obviously negative groups that use the techniques to dehumanize and justify terrible acts of violence and hate. Is brain washing something that is also used within our own American war culture? If moral disengagement is a way of resolving cognitive dissonance, what does brain washing do to an individual’s ability to reason and assess the world around them. I understand how someone can use moral disengagement to assuage guilt, but I’m not sure how someone can completely deny all rational thought because of an overemphasized belief. I also wonder what specifically has to be done in order to successfully brain wash someone, ie how long does it take, what methods are used to manipulate, etc…I feel like these are issues that shape the world we live in, but that most people are unaware of.

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