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01/31/2004

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ClockworkGrue

Except that the issue is not will people do something, it's should they do something, and should the rest of us celebrate that something. "Benevolent idealism" does not replace the old animal brain, but it is responsible for keeping it in check. Now one could argue that violent behavior is just a tool at humanity's disposal, one would imagine a totally non-violent human species not making it too far up the food chain, but not every manifestation of every aspect of our human self is equally worthy of adulation. The same people attacking the rapidly aging GTA games do not also attack WWII-based war titles, for example.

For myself, at least, there is very little compelling about simply living on impulse and animalistic behavior. Characters I am asked to identify with or embody should be capable of something higher, even if it is simply "honor" or "valor" or other "kill for the right reasons" aspects of benevolent idealism.

san

Grue:

We should or we should not. Doesn't matter: we will.

"For myself, at least, there is very little compelling about simply living on impulse and animalistic behavior."

Your ethical barometer demands more of you than others.

"'...honor' or 'valor' or other 'kill for the right reasons' aspects of benevolent idealism."

There are no "right" reasons for killing in the benevolent ideal. There is no killing.

davee

i think there is an important additional distinction to make between the animal brain and the ego mind. we experience the animal brain before first thought, like when you first walk into a room and notice that a chair has been moved. it is that first flash of awareness. then the thoughts come in afterwards, "hey, somethings different. how did that chair get moved?" etc.

what's interesting to me from this is that most of the human violence in the world comes after the first thought, it's usually based in the rationalization of anger or hatred. the energy of anger and fear and sadness is definitely from the animal brain, but the process which turns it into violence in humans is definitely the ego process which occurs 'after' we experience the underlying animal feelings.

i posit human violence is different from animal violence in this fundamental way.

so in your monkey examples, perhaps apes have the same mental thought process we do (though less refined) and actually do act 'because they didn't like the look of him'. but most animals i suspect are not acting in violence at that level. they're just down in the hunger emotion or the fear emotion and have no escape or ability to see outside the cloud of emotion like we do.

davee

i think there is an important additional distinction to make between the animal brain and the ego mind. we experience the animal brain before first thought, like when you first walk into a room and notice that a chair has been moved. it is that first flash of awareness. then the thoughts come in afterwards, "hey, somethings different. how did that chair get moved?" etc.

what's interesting to me from this is that most of the human violence in the world comes after the first thought, it's usually based in the rationalization of anger or hatred. the energy of anger and fear and sadness is definitely from the animal brain, but the process which turns it into violence in humans is definitely the ego process which occurs 'after' we experience the underlying animal feelings.

i posit human violence is different from animal violence in this fundamental way.

so in your monkey examples, perhaps apes have the same mental thought process we do (though less refined) and actually do act 'because they didn't like the look of him'. but most animals i suspect are not acting in violence at that level. they're just down in the hunger emotion or the fear emotion and have no escape or ability to see outside the cloud of emotion like we do.

ClockworkGrue

san:

"We should or we should not. Doesn't matter: we will."

Granted, but does inevitability warrant apathy in this case? Or should we "not go gently into that dark night/ [but] Rage, rage against the dying of the light"?

"There are no 'right' reasons for killing in the benevolent ideal. There is no killing."

I disagree. Trying to live according to a benevolent ideal does not presuppose that all others will also make that choice, or be able to live up to the rigors of that choice. Concepts like honor and justice are both benevolent ideals, and they may condone the killing of the fallen or wicked. This is not to say that concepts like love and compassion, also a benevolent ideals, would not simultaneously forbid the killing of the wicked in favor of a less violent solution, simply that there may be multiple factors to weigh in determining what the correct action is when one follows benevolent ideals, and that, occasionally, people must be hurt out of obligation to those ideals.

Of course, in the real world things are never so black-and-white, but philosophy as a rule, has little to do with the world as it is, but rather the world as it should be.

san

davee: Hunger is not an emotion. It's a biological imperative. Fear, yes, it's an emotion that most all animals feel at some time or another. So what's the difference between killing out of fear, rage or jealously? It's all killing on the basis of emotion.

As to animal brains and ego minds, if I'm not mistaken, you assign ego minds as a purely human trait. But non-human animals think "Hey, something's different. How did that chair get moved?" too.

I disagree with you that animal violence and human violence are fundamentally different. I would however say that human violence is often motivated by more complicated motivational factors. Sometimes we -- humans -- commit acts of violence in order to eat. Immediately that brings to mind images of animal slaugther or the hunt. But not necessarily so. Some people steal to eat and in doing so cause collateral physical harm -- violence -- to their victims. Animals also commit violent acts in order to eat. Sometimes they hunt, other times they just kill off the competition for the hunting territory.

Both human *and* non-human animals do kill driven by emotion. Perhaps -- perhaps -- human animals kill more often out of rage, spite or jealously while animals kill more out of fear. But, in the ultimate, emotion is emotion. Fear an emotion that we may have less logical control over, but still emotion. Field zoologists have documented cases where societies -- prides, packs, what have you -- of animals capable of aggression will seek revenge on another animal society for the harm or killing of one of their members.

san

Grue: Oh I think because we are -- some of us, anyway -- benevolently idealistic, we're not as a species apathetic. Still doesn't mean we won't create art from the pit of our being -- which includes blood, murder and mayhem.

"...but philosophy as a rule, has little to do with the world as it is, but rather the world as it should be."

Or the world as one would expect it to be if we could apply a common set of rules and stick fast to them. But still I insist there is no killing. In the ideal. The ideal is the goal; the closer we get to the goal, the better off we are as a species. But the ideal will never exist in totality. Instead, we compromise, we play God. You live. You die. Because. I said so. We play God because, well -- I'm about to step in it here -- we *are* God.

misuba

plenty of people will beat and rob your grandmother, use the proceeds to buy Vice City,

Dammit, when are some of these ruffians at least start picking on someone else's grandmother?

(That's about all the intellectuality I can muster for that statement, which works out nicely 'cause it doesn't deserve much more)

misuba

plenty of people will beat and rob your grandmother, use the proceeds to buy Vice City,

Dammit, when are some of these ruffians at least gonna start picking on someone else's grandmother?

(That's about all the intellectuality I can muster for that statement, which works out nicely 'cause it doesn't deserve much more)

san

Misuba: I've been mulling over whether or not the sentence you quote from my post needs a clarification; and since it's early in the morning, and the thought is still nagging at me, I suppose I'm going to bluster forth and clarify it even if it is unnecessary.

I wrote, "The violence, the killing, it's part of us: game violence is an outlet for that. It's damn sure not a prophylactic outlet; plenty of people will beat and rob your grandmother, use the proceeds to buy Vice City, go home, pop the disc in the PlayStation 2 and act out in the game what they just did in reality."

I meant that and *only* that: violent games aren't prophylaxis for violent behavior. There was in the past a psychiatric treatment regimen for pedophiles that involved supplying them with child pornography. I'm not sure if it's still in use; in the event, it's fallen out favor. But the line went that pedophiles could be stopped from acting out their urges upon real children by encouraging the fantasy, supplemented by pornographic images. According to studies following the patients in these programs, the regimen wasn't any more successful at preventing pedophiles from acting their urges than aversion therapy, or any other pyschological treatment methods for pedophiles. The same, I suggest -- actually, I insisit -- is true of violent games: they're not going to stop anyone from doing what they are for any number of reasons predisposed to do.

I surely wasn't suggesting that individuals who play violent games are more likely to commit violent acts, certainly not *because* they play violent games. I don't subscribe to that notion, popular though it may be of late. I *do* believe that what we experience in art and entertainment media affects us. However, I don't think anyone has yet established a quantifiable link between media and human behavior. We read sensationalized reports of entertainment violence begetting real violence, but they are almost always anecdotal accounts slapped together right after something *really* bad happens that also breaks *really* big in the national television news. But show me the numbers. Show me the studies that follow subjects from, say, their pre-teen years through adolescence and into maturity. I've yet to see any research that convinces me of a deep connection between violent entertainment and violent behavior. I *have* seen psychology and sociology commentators pop off on TV about the presumed link, but I don't see them spend a decade doing serious, structured studies that aren't heavily weighted to prove their initial hypotheses -- their brand of predictive research is mere junk science.

I hope I've clarified -- I read back over this comment: quite at length -- my original statement.

Phil

@san, on human vs. animal violence:

First, almost all animal violence (and especially lethal animal violence) is for reasons of survival. So are most things most animals do, of course, but I am yet to be made aware of animals killing for aesthetic, hedonistic or emotional reasons. If they are at leisure, they can't be bothered killing - there are far more fun things to do. The only two exceptions (other than humans) of which I am aware are the mink and the polecat. All other animal killing is related to either obtaining food and/or removing threats to survival.

Second, most animals have a deeply built-in instinct against killing their own kind. Even in deeply hostile breeding rights/turf wars between individuals or groups of the same species, lethal force is almost never used, and only ever as an act of last resort where both groups are clearly desperate. Human beings in general share this instinct, although it is muddied by our more sophisticated decision-making processes.

As an example, military historians have long been aware of the fact that the vast majorities of participants in most wars have actively tried to miss their "enemies". Estimates are that only 15-20% of WWII soldiers actually aimed to kill. (Grossman in the link above refers to an incident at Shiloh in which several hundred men ALL missed a large group of charging men at a distance of ten yards!) This despite knowing that the people you are sparing are nominally there to kill YOU, and by firing above their heads you are endangering your own life.

Most of the time, we seem to need a specific reason (and I use the word "reason" with a deep sense of irony) to murder the specific person whose life we are ending prematurely.

Unless our sense of what killing means is not a moral one, of bloodily ending the life of another human animal much like us and robbing their loved ones of years of their support, but a technical one of cunningly anticipating behaviour and cleanly lining up trajectories. Or an aesthetic one of appreciating the geometries and bright colours of sudden death. Or the sociopathic one of having asserted power over another human being, as though the imposition of a mortality we share with our victim somehow makes us better than them.

The difference between us and animals is culture - both at the macro, mass-distributed level and at the familial or communal level. Of course family or local mores are profoundly influential on individual behaviour as well - but to the extent that games are part of our experience, they feed into our behaviour like anything else.

While I accept that violence is nearly omnipresent throughout human history (though our historians' selections of what to report are partly responsible for that) I don't accept that intra-species violence is natural. I consider that the possibility for manipulating and even to some extent reprogramming our own natural instincts is part of human nature; and I think that a combination of cultural, nutritional and environmental influences are actively doing so for many, many people; but since that kind of reprogramming is also omnipresent in human history, it is impossible to assert from the evidence that human beings will kill each other as a matter of animal instinct.

I will concede that after millennia of murderous memes in our mental diet, and that in turn feeding back into genetic selection, our resistance to killing each other is probably relatively low compared to other species. But military history, and current military practice, suggests that it isn't entirely gone. And I do think that there's a lot of active (though mostly unconscious and all unintentional) reprogramming that goes into making contexts in which individuals actually think of killing as an option, and one which makes sense, and therefore kill. Witness the extraordinary variations in murder rates between cultures, even those with common genetic heritage.

And as a corollary of this: it is worth asking seriously which parts of our own cultures are contributing to that reprogramming, and how, and how they might be changed, and whether this might be a good idea.

san

Phil: Jinkies, write you're own article next time! (I'm kidding of course and appreciate the serious, thorough comments.)

"Fact: various military training facilities make use of violent 3D shooters... doesn't suggest to you... they are successful ways of foregrounding the... aspects of the experience of shooting another human being... [?]"

No. From my research, military training "games" are aimed at teaching tactics and squad-based cooperation. Indeed the military versions of these shooters are typically bloodless and rather antiseptic compared to their interactive entertainment industry counterparts. Some of this may be spin, but, generally speaking, military training shooters are a bore compared to commercial games.

"...programmably-targetable dehumanisation of others..."

I would suggest that the individuals in question have been programmed -- by society, parenting, peer group, what have you -- to dehumanize others *before* or concurrent with their initial gaming experiences.

"But that doesn't mean that violent games are not part, possibly a major part, of the causal tributaries that feed into the occasional murderous behaviour of some gamers. Doesn't mean it is, either, but I'm just not prepared to rule out the idea that anything someone spends hours a day doing is going to affect their ideas, thinking processes and ultimately behaviour."

No argument there, except I probably wouldn't qualify it with "possibly a major part", although "possibly" does give you some breathing room in your argument. "Anything someone spends hours a day doing is going to affect..." Most certainly. But I'm not prepared to even seriously contemplate a significant link to widespread violent behavior until some big brains really dig in and study the matter. Quite possibly, those who will be tipped over into violent acts will be tipped over by *something*, likely sooner than later. To quote Paul Simon, "Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts." Likewise, every generation alleges a new or revised art form or two is forthwith contributing to the overall decay of societal ethics.

We also have to consider that the majority of violent crime in the West is committed due to factors such as poverty and drug abuse; that is, by people who don't play games much if at all. It's the sensational high-school mass slaughter cases that get all the attention and they make up a statistically inconsequential fraction of violent crime. Just as mysterious kidnapping of little girls -- the Elizabeth Smart case in Utah, for example -- make all the headlines, garner all the attention, compel us to close our blinds and change our minds (thank you David Bowie), the fact is that stranger abductions in the US are on the decline and have been for something like 50 years. Indeed Smart's case wasn't truly a stranger abduction as the family was casually acquainted with the kidnapper.

[Phil, I'm going to read and respond to your next comment, then read the item you link to and comment upon it later, so I can give it the attention it is due.]

san

Phil: "The only two exceptions (other than humans) of which I am aware are the mink and the polecat."

Add to that the bottle-nose dolphin, gorilla, chimpanzee, several species of monkey, and others. Lot of higher primate and/or big-brained animals in there, come to think of it, but most humans still delineate between that lot and us.

"Second, most animals have a deeply built-in instinct against killing their own kind... Human beings in general share this instinct, although it is muddied by our more sophisticated decision-making processes."

Right-oh. Generally speaking, we *don't* kill each other in great numbers until some lunatic applies some of that sophisiticated decision-making process you mention and cranks up a genocidal rampage -- more often ethnocide, as the targets regularly come from more or less the same cultural background as the killers. However, both animals and humans do cross that instinctual line. And consider that "survival" is a moving target, philosophically speaking. A heroin addict might kill collateral to stealing or what have to buy more heroin. That's for survival. Granted, most heroin addicts don't die from cold-turkey withdrawal, but they *feel* like they are going to die; thus, they are killing for survival. Run any number of scenarios: you'll see how humans killing one another easily fits the "survival killing" model, thought it's not apparent at first blush.

"(Grossman in the link above refers to an incident at Shiloh in which several hundred men ALL missed a large group of charging men at a distance of ten yards!) This despite knowing that the people you are sparing are nominally there to kill YOU, and by firing above their heads you are endangering your own life."

I accept the fact of that but not your conclusion. Perhaps they missed in order to *save their own lives* rather than endanger them. Shiloh was a Civil War battle, at a time when infantry conflicts typically played out as one gaggle of armed men getting right close to another gaggle of armed men and blasting away at each other, really only a step up from the US Revolutionary war period of firing, kneeling to reload, letting the standing line behind you fire while you likely got shot dead in the interim. Also around that time, dueling was if not a common practice, still well remembered. As a matter of courtesy in dueling with single-shot muzzle-loaders, if the dueler with right of first shot missed, intentionally or not, the second shooter intentionally aimed to miss, both men survived, honor retained all round. Perhaps the shooters at Shiloh were acting under the presumption that If I don't shoot to kill, they won't shoot to kill. And that makes it a survival decision, albeit a complex one, rather than benelovence or instinct against killing their fellow man.

I've run on a bit. Bottom line: you make some good points; all the more reason for this matter to be seriously studied rather than knee-jerked by TV talking-head psychologists. I'll put that article you linked on my to-read list, somewhere ahead of the five-mile marker.

Lastly I note, especially considering I assess human violence and non-human animal violence as closely related, that I've argued against humans consistently acting on habituating stimuli like violent video games, yet massive quantities of data insist that non-human animals are, indeed, affected by habituating stimuli, and rather readily at that. Mutually exclusive arguments? Opinions?

Sir Robert

Rage is an illusion. Rage is just another case of us trying desperately to convince ourselves that we aren't really afraid.

san

"Rage is an illusion. Rage is just another case of us trying desperately to convince ourselves that we aren't really afraid."

Man with British title write wise words. Thank you, Robert: you hit upon something I was unable to properly articulate. And so marvelously succinct, too. Non-human animals may kill out of fear while we blame some human killing on rage. But rage is really just a symptom -- an emotive response -- of fear. A raging person is a fearful person; and if he kills in that state, essentially he kills out of fear.

Phil

@san:

Thank you for that reassuring parenthesis! I do try to be brief but it's just so interesting.

I am looking forward to your considered response. For my own consideration meanwhile, I would be interested in quick details of the murderous/violent behaviour exhibited by "the bottle-nose dolphin, gorilla, chimpanzee, several species of monkey, and others".

I did have some points arising from your two longer posts above, but don't want to crowd you while you are formulating YOUR responses, unless you (or other readers) would be interested to read them meanwhile. So I will hold off on posting them for a few days, to give you a bit of breathing room.

THE EXCEPTION:
"I'm not prepared to... contemplate a significant link to widespread violent behavior until some big brains... study the matter"

I suspect you are underestimating your own brain size.

I look forward to reading your responses.

Phil

Well, I've waited. Here are some quickish responses to some points you raise, to hopefully spark something off:

Boring training sims:
I was under the impression that the military used actual GAMES to instil a reflexive aim-accurately-and-shoot response to targets appearing, and perhaps a gleeful pride response to actual kills. This was anecdotal and I can't give you the source though. Can I ask about your sources?

Violence and poverty:
This ignores the incredible distribution of gaming technologies, which even quite poor people can have now, and of violence, which happens in wealthier environments too - it's just often better concealed there.

But ultimately the existence of other possible causes of/contributors to violence does not exonerate this one, so this point evades the questions. There are two. One is "What is the effect on individuals of experiencing these entertainments?" And for those purposes you need to be comparing individuals from the same backgrounds who either do or do not play these games. And the other question is "What effect does those individuals playing these games have on the wider culture - on the assumptions that most people base their decisions on?"

(Minor epiphany: Game theory [double sic] has a very real place in discussing cultural impacts of violent images as entertainment - as do our criticisms of media and political distortions of the issues - albeit in ways we do not usually raise.)

Shiloh:
What you propose is a hell of a gamble, and even if correct, is premised on a culture where assumptions of aversion to violence, or at least honourable conduct while violent, existed. Does the widely-known existence of participatory experiences of graphic death, injury and mutilation, undertaken apparently for enjoyment, really contribute to a culture in which such a decision is logical? And if not, how else does it make violence make sense, and make non-sense of non-violence? Where are OUR exemplars of "shoot-to-miss"?

And why are so few games (Blade Runner and Star Control II being the only ones I've encountered in 14 years of gameplay) modelling this same shoot-to-miss choice? (Game designers NB: exhilarating payoff moments in both cases.)

Survival killing:
I agree with you, and Sir Robert. Most serious violence is about the "rational" mind having such a configuration of ideas, associations, values and models of other people's behaviour that the I-might-die-or-lose-something-even-more-valuable-than-life fear response is triggered by something which is not an intrinsic threat, and suddenly killing makes "sense". My argument is that the violent ideas, images and experiences which we consume as entertainment could be part of shaping those "symbolic configurations" in such ways.

Logical inconsistency:
It is a little inconsistent, but you are asserting a relationship, not a total equivalence. There is room to move.

Just to be mischievous, though, let's raise marketing and its many sub-disciplines, which are premised on the idea that human animals are also "affected by habituating stimuli", and predictably so. This is true only on the aggregate scale at which marketing operates, of course... but isn't that a scale at which mass-produced games can be said to operate?

FIN

Looking forward to reading any further responses.

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