Back to previous post: Universal Wiretap

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: In Which I Kiss Off Any Remaining Chance Of Ever Being A Kool Kid of the “Netroots”

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 12, 2007

Unaccountable violence
Posted by Patrick at 04:15 PM * 343 comments

Ezra Klein has been blogging, repeatedly and well, about rape in American prisons, and American acceptance of the idea that it’s perfectly okay for prisoners to be subjected to it. As Ezra observes, “We spend a fair amount of time talking about detainee treatment and Guantanamo. But there are no greater, or more common, human rights abuses in America than those occurring in our overcrowded, constantly expanding jails.”

Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money adds some excellent points:

[O]ne of the most irritating aspects of CSI (which, sadly, I have been unable to break from) is the common, almost offhand manner in which the heroes threaten suspects with the prospect of rape in prison. It suggests to me that the public at large has simply concluded that a) rape is an integral part of prison life, such that a five year prison sentence automatically includes five years of rape, and b) that anyone who goes to prison is irredeemably besmirched, and thus deserving of constant rape.

To take this a bit farther, it’s interesting to compare modern conceptions of prison (sadly or no, I’ve never seen Prison Break) with the work of Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard. For Haggard or Cash, that a poor white family would have to deal with the prison system in some fashion was simply a fact of life, even if Cash himself only spent one night behind bars. Moreover, neither Cash nor Haggard dodged the question of guilt; even if the protagonists of their songs weren’t going away for life, they were usually guilty of something. At some point (probably as the War on Drugs saw a steady increase in the incarceration percentages of young black men) the idea that white people would have to deal with prison became alien. Is there music or other art today that deals with the possibility that guilty white folks might spend time in prison, and thus that prison should be made at least survivable?

Making a bigger leap, I think that the thread connecting 24, CSI, opposition to anti-bullying legislation, and in the past opposition to anti-lynching statutes is the conviction that society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together. On 24 (as ably demonstrated by Jane Mayer; more on this later) elite agents of the state murder and torture in the darkness to keep us safe. The heroes of CSI are agents of the state working in the open, but their main job is to track down deviants killing other deviants in order to send the first group of deviants to prison so they can get raped. As Sarah Posner discussed, opposition to anti-bullying legislation is founded on the idea that, without bullying, our children will be recruited into gay cabals, and society will crumble. Conservative opposition to efforts to stem lynching were explicitly about how lynching was a necessary tool to defending the social order of the South.

I think the idea that “society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together” is pretty much fundamental to the conservative outlook. Even more important, and useful as a tool of social control, is the idea that all wised-up people know and accept this. That’s the real message behind all those hectoring commands to smarten up, toughen up, get with the program, understand that “9/11 changed everything,” and so forth.

Both ideas are also deeply ingrained in science fiction and fantasy, including some of the genre’s most intelligent work; indeed, much of the genre works by appealing to our wish that the world’s extra-legal violence be under the control of the kind of smart people we admire. The Second Foundation and the X-Men—and, for that matter, the Scooby Gang and the Laundry—are all, to some extent, basically the Ku Klux Klan, except that the extrajudicial violence they carry out is (we’re assured) merited and just.

Comments on Unaccountable violence:
#1 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 05:08 PM:

Both ideas are also deeply ingrained in science fiction and fantasy

If I hear
"with great power comes great responsibility"
one more time, I'm gonna hurl.

#2 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 05:37 PM:

I think rape in US jails, and US media acceptance of rape in US jails is an issue which should be examined carefully in the US after you GET THOSE FUCKING CARRIERS THE FUCK AWAY FROM IRAN.

#3 ::: A. Nakama ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 05:44 PM:

The Second Foundation and the X-Men—and, for that matter, the Scooby Gang and the Laundry—are all, to some extent, basically the Ku Klux Klan, except that the extrajudicial violence they carry out is (we’re assured) merited and just.

That is a really interesting thought, and I have to wonder just how much genre fiction doesn't at least have some hint of extrajudicial violence. After all, genre fiction grew up as boy's fiction, and boy's just adore violence.

So, is there genre fiction about people we know are dumber than us refusing to be violent? Or relying on the justice system? Marxist genre fiction?

#4 ::: Marcos ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 05:48 PM:

"With great power comes great responsibility" is, by itself, an accurate and admirable admonition. It's certainly not an invitation to use said power for extralegal justice - even if that's essentially what Spider-Man winds up doing. (Though it's also worth noting that he only fights those who fight first, and he doesn't kill or maim - or rape - but trusses them up for the police afterward. His safety record in that regard would be much harder to maintain in real life, of course.)

I'm not sure the pervasive meme is that violence is a necessary evil, so much as that it's to some degree inevitable. There's a subtle but important difference in attitude there, even if the end result is the same (acceptance due to fatalism being acceptance nonetheless).

Also, regardless of how prevalent rape actually is in prison, its threat certainly adds to the deterrent value. Having the CSI guys capitalize on that is thus natural and realistic . . . which are two adjectives that don't come up often in conjunction with that show. :)

#5 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 05:54 PM:

This is a great topic. I think it gets to something fairly basic in the great divide, which isn't discussed much (as opposed to the need to control what other people do in their bedrooms, apparently felt by certain types of conservatives, which *is* discussed a lot).

I see, and am appalled by, the massive acceptance of prison rape, yes. The fact that innocent white guys "don't go to prison", yep. Idiots.

One important aspect you haven't mentioned -- lots of those people feel that prison had become "too easy"; it's supposed to be punishment, after all. So the occupants turning it into hell all on their own is perfectly appropriate, in that view.

On unaccountable violence as such, there's another issue -- the laws were never intended to define the edges of acceptable behavior. There are supposed to be consequences to bad, but not so bad as to be illegal, behavior, and those must occur socially rather than officially. Many of us would agree that, except for the case of necessary self-defense, violence shouldn't be involved there, but I can see getting frustrated with the damned bully and just wanting to pound the crap out of him. Punishment fits the crime, etc.

Then there's the fact that the police have been put on full-time drug patrol, so they don't have any time to waste on unimportant stuff like assault and rape.

#6 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:04 PM:

With great power comes great responsibility is not a license to torture. The whole point of that tag is that Spiderman cannot ignore injustice. Can you?

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:07 PM:

If our society requires extralegal violence to hang together, then I say let it crumble, let it collapse, let it die out. It's not worth it. Such a society does not deserve to survive; its collapse MIGHT pave the way for a better society arising after a period of chaos.

I do not, of course, believe that society has any such need.

Assuming you mean the original Scooby Gang (Scooby, Shaggy, Velma (hi Velma!) et al), and not the Buffy Scooby gang, they very seldom commit crimes any worse than trespassing. Sometimes they tie up the villain, but they always turn hir over to the police ("And I would have gotten away with it too, if..."), which to my mind gives it more the quality of a Citizen's Arrest.

If you DO mean the Buffy gang, they're much more violent, and they definitely cross the line by beating up informers and so on. But this post of yours is the first that made me realize what their vampire-slaying ethos is: a reification* of the dehumanization of real or alleged criminals. Vampires are not human, and they're dangerous to human life; therefore it's always OK to kill a vampire. That's a fantasy version of the phiosophy of every lynch mob: pedophiles are "monsters," so it's OK to kill them, or faggots are monsters, so it's OK to kill us.

Even if I thought this way, I'd like to believe I'd see what a slippery slope it is. Like the Thirty Tyrants crossing names off the Citizens List, all the powerful have to do is convince a couple of dozen people that a certain person or class of people is not entitled to human rights, and lynching them becomes acceptable.

Prisoners are already in that class. They're "animals," after all (not that some of these same people believe animals should be treated this way). There's no real consituency for prison reform because prisoners aren't allowed to vote. I think that's a good place to start; there's absolutely no justification for that. Having committed a felony doesn't make your opinion invalid, especially on the topic of prisons. Thus we have a system controlled solely by people who have never experienced it.

I'd also like to call for an end to the for-profit prison industry. Corporations are accountable to their shareholders: no wonder we have the highest percentage of our population in prison of any nation in the world. They're hardly motivated to set people on the path to a productive life on the right side of the law, are they?

*I'm not 100% certain I'm using this word correctly...

#8 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:10 PM:

Xopher, you used "reification" both correctly and cogently. Thank you.

#9 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:12 PM:

A. Nakama, the original Foundation series is based on the notion that Psychohistory is better than violence.

Mind you, given who ends up in charge, it's no wonder that Asimov tried to fix it decades later.

Given who ended up in charge of the fix-up, I'll stick with democracy.

#10 ::: Robert Legault ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:13 PM:

The whole idea of rape in prison is part of a larger issue: that weaker prisoners are under the domination of the stronger, hard-core criminals. They must pay the latter for their safety in some form or other.

Curiously, in The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn spends considerable time exploring the equivalent problem in Soviet prisons, whereby the political prisoners were ruthlessly dominated by the "thieves" (i.e., a hierarchical organization of career criminals). This is not exactly the same as in U.S. prisons, but it's more or less analogous: "organized crime" (Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood, Bloods, Crips, etc.) dominates ordinary criminals, who dominate everyone else.

According to Solzhenitsyn, this whole concept comes directly from the writings of Lenin, who considered hard-core criminals "socially friendly elements" who could be (and were) used by the Party to dominate "counterrevolutionaries." Eventually, in many cases the guards and the criminals were so inn cahoots that they werre more or less indistinguishable.

Although most U.S. prisons aren't as bad as the Gulag, they seem to be heading more and more in that direction. And given the creeping Stalinism of the people who send more and more people to within their walls, unless something is done to reverse the trend, it will only increase.

#11 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:14 PM:

I wonder if Americans fully understand how depraved they are making their society seem in the eyes of the rest of the world, when American TV shows and movies routinely treat (American) prison rape as natural, unavoidable and an "extralegal" punishment...?

This from the world's self-appointed moral arbiter?

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:17 PM:

Comparing the X-men and other comic-book characters to the Klan...

There is a fantasy element to comics. No, I'm not talking about the science-fictional fantasy of someone who can do all the things that Superman can do.

I mean 'fantasy' as in 'I know this would NOT be a good thing to have in the real world, but, hey, I'll ignore the negative aspects for the sake of... well... fantasizing...'

Whatever.

#13 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:25 PM:

Both ideas are also deeply ingrained in science fiction and fantasy, including some of the genre’s most intelligent work; indeed, much of the genre works by appealing to our wish that the world’s extra-legal violence be under the control of the kind of smart people we admire. The Second Foundation and the X-Men—and, for that matter, the Scooby Gang and the Laundry—are all, to some extent, basically the Ku Klux Klan, except that the extrajudicial violence they carry out is (we’re assured) merited and just.

I'm reminded of a certain fantasy series I read as a young teen. (Actually there may be several series with these events, but I'm thinking of one in particular, which was very popular at my junior high back in Utah.) In this series, the protagonists regularly threaten to torture their prisoners or opponents. They kidnap, threaten, or outright remove various political opponents. They fix an election. They use propaganda to start a war. They very often espoused the ideas that certain races and nations in their world were better, kinder, gentler than others. Their gods are better too. They got away with it because they were the Good Guys, capital G, and it was obvious that the Bad Guys were into nasty things like ritual human sacrifice. At the time, I loved these books, but eventually as I got older, I couldn't help noticing the weird discrepancies: the "do as I say, not as I do" attitude.


I have vague memories of a comic about a cleanup crew who followed superheroes around, cleaning up the messes made from their extra-judicial behaviours.

#14 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:30 PM:

The X-Men compared to the Ku Klux Klan is interesting as

a. both groups believe themselves to be part of a persecuted minority; and

b. both groups have the ability to act and react against the perceived persecution.

This sheds some light on what (probably) goes on in a secret society/terrorist cell - they believe they're heroes, fighting to protect their way of life. With secret identities and costumes.

Superman, of course, fought the Klan both on radio and in real life.

#15 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:31 PM:

Robert; that makes the Allied backing of organized crime to prevent Communist power (in Italy and Japan, e.g) an even stranger event. Perhaps the two actions are explainable if violence has more glamour in itself than do "the kind of smart people we admire".

Gwyneth Jones, linked from the main page, has an excellent essay on SF and love of violence.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:31 PM:

I think that there is a sizable segment of the population that believes that rape in prison is an appropriate and necessary part of punishment (necessary inasmuch as they believe that punishment should be long-lasting, painful, and humiliating). They thus see nothing wrong with it.

This isn't simply a belief in the necessity of extra-legal punishments, it is a belief that the law cannot ever provide adequate punishment for wrongdoers and that fear of extreme punishments is what keeps you and me from committing crimes, not education, decency, or any other moral cause. In the end, the people who believe this believe that morality is irrelevant to social order. I have a big problem with that.

And Patrick, this isn't just the Klan. It wasn't the Klan that killed Leo Frank (e.g.), it was the respectable bourgoisie of Marietta, GA, who felt that it was necessary to lynch him in order to satisfy the bloodthirst of the crowd. This is something that lies deep in American culture, and needs to be understood.

#17 ::: Tim Walker ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:35 PM:

At least in ~The Punisher~ (what a title!), the creators *sometimes* had the title character reflect on the moral gray areas his work took him into. Unless, you know, he was going after the Kingpin, or somebody *totally* bad like that.

Esquire's February story on Ramsey Clark's dogged legal defense of Saddam Hussein focused on Clark's political naivete, but also revealed how someone as privileged as Clark - someone who could collect a much larger fortune anytime he wanted - is motivated by a genuine, thorough, total belief in the *universal* applicability of due process.

#18 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:38 PM:

AR Yngve @11:
I wonder if Americans fully understand how depraved they are making their society seem in the eyes of the rest of the world

Not all Americans care. A certain proportion of US public opinion can be divided into:

1. The rest of the world has no right to an opinion on America
2. The rest of the world should appreciate America's good points (American exceptionalism). It is entitled to an opinion if the opinion is favorable.
3. There is a rest of the world?

Note that this does not prevent the same Americans from judging the rest of the world and finding it wanting.

(Extreme example: I was in the midst of a discussion about American foreign policy with a US resident in early September of 2001. On 9/10 she said, basically, "Why should we care about the rest of the world thinks?" She had the good grace to acknowledge that this position was untenable within the subsequent days, but I know plenty more who never did.)

For clarity: there are many Americans who do not share these views, just as there are many people in other nations who have their local equivalents. But the TV programs we're discussing are aimed at a populace that includes this demographic.

#19 ::: Robert Legault ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:44 PM:

clew #111: I don't know about Japan, but I feel like whether Italy has a Western-style democracy or a communist government, the mob will have their piece of it. It's not much different from, say, paying Trujillo to run the Dominican Republic to our liking...

#20 ::: Matt Stevens ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:49 PM:

Let's not forget that the (laughably optimistically named) Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed by a Republican Congress, and the one of the leaders of the anti-prison-rape movement is a Watergate conspirator. There are sick elements among the law-and-order crowd, most of whom are conservatives, but I wouldn’t frame prison rape as a conservative-vs-liberal issue. In fact, it could be framed as a law-and-order issue - we need to take control of our prisons! - and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.

#21 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:50 PM:

It is not just the US: This comment by Capt. Neil Carmichael of Dundee is typical of much of what I've seen on the BBC talkback from British citizens whenever inhumane conditions in UK prisons have come up the past couple years. Even saw one woman say that once someone is convicted, anything at all may be done to them without moral qualms or wrongdoing on the part of the state and its citizens who support it, and they just should be grateful that they're not being killed. Little Ease and Newgate would be back in play if it were up to the People Who Write Letters, it seems. None of it sounds any different from the Dittohead/Nixonite Tough-On-[Certain Kinds of]Crime talkers on this side of the pond who identify conviction with guilt, and consider all crimes equally evil save those committed by their own friends, family, and fellows.

Or --
"You want to be careful what you say, lad," he said.

"Yeah, but our mum says it's fair enough if they take away the troublemakers and the weirdies but it's not right them taking away ordinary people."

Is this really me? Vimes thought. Did I really have the political awareness of a head louse? (from Night Watch, 2002)

#22 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:08 PM:

Robert -- I can't remember the book or historian I got this from, but there is an argument that organized crime in Italy was much weaker before the US allied with bits of it to speed the end of WWII.

This is, suspiciously, a US-centric narrative in two ways, first that everything that really matters turns out to have been caused by a US decision; and second that hah! Italy can't produce the best Italian criminals; only the docks of {Chicago|New York} can do that.

I rather like the second for its biological parallel, though, making that particular crime organism something like a disease with reservoirs and vectors.

#23 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:09 PM:

"What about the Boston Tea Party? What about the spirit of the Lone Ranger? What about all those occasions when men have found it necessary to go masked in order to preserve justice above the letter of the law? Nova Express makes many sneering references to costumed heroes as direct descendants of the Ku Klux Klan, but might I point out that despite what some might view as their later excesses, the Klan originally came into being because decent people had perfectly reasonable fears for the safety of their persons and belongings when forced into proximity with people from a culture far less morally advanced." -- Hector Godfrey, editor, New Frontiersman, Oct 31, 1985

#24 ::: Greg Morrow ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:14 PM:

#13: Pixelfish, for the superhero-cleanup team, you're thinking of Damage Control, a very funny trio of four-issue mini-series by Dwayne McDuffie and Ernie Colón.

#25 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:15 PM:

OK, so Glen Reynolds linked to the articles, and some of his followers seem to be commenting on the "More On Prison Rape" post. They're *not* the usual Ezra Klein posters.

As far as I can tell, the Instapundit fans who dropped in are pro-torture racists.

Anyone surprised?

#26 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:19 PM:

The Second Foundation and the X-Men—and, for that matter, the Scooby Gang and the Laundry—are all, to some extent, basically the Ku Klux Klan, except that the extrajudicial violence they carry out is (we’re assured) merited and just.

This sounds familiar ... where have I heard it before? Ah, that's right: here:

What's more, the X-Men look to me a lot like a private paramilitary group or militia. Prof. X. talks the talk of a moderate liberal, but he walks the walk of extremism. The real difference between Prof. X and Magneto lies in some of the details of the execution of their programs.
#27 ::: murgatroyd ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:24 PM:

I think the idea that “society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together” is pretty much fundamental to the conservative outlook.

As an extension of that, the generally ingrained idea that 'soldiers preserve our freedoms by fighting wars' is really disturbing to me.

If I hear that spouted by some ignatz in a comment thread one more time, I'm gonna hurl.

#28 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:24 PM:

I can't be the only one here thinking of _The Watchmen_. The whole issue of extralegal punishment, power corrupting, etc., is a big theme there, with some of the implications of "with great power comes great responsibility" and a willingness to act outside the normal rules of decent civilization playing a big role in the ending.

#29 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:32 PM:

Holy crap, now that I've looked at those Ezra Klein posts, I'm sorry this thread is getting taken up with all the talk about superheroes.

"I was given a conduct report. I explained to the hearing officer what the issue was. He told me that off the record, He suggests I find a man I would/could willingly have sex with to prevent these things from happening." Jeezus.

#30 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:43 PM:

I notice no-one's mentioned the arch-exponent of extra-legal violence, everybody's hero, Dirty Harry Callahan...

#31 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:45 PM:

Patrick:

This seems more of an American thing than a right-wing thing. I've certainly seen and heard plenty of happy-sounding speculation from more leftish voices about extralegal punishment. Think of the discussions of what was going to happen to the LA cops in prison after the Rodney King beating, or the justifications for race riots you sometimes see, or the violent protests and death threats against some right-wing speakers (Arthur Jensen, Charles Murray, and Edward O Wilson are the examples that come to mind, but there are more). I've often heard people speculate about how some accused child-molester was going to have several years of hell on earth in prison, and I don't recall those comments being skewed left/right in any obvious way. More recently, there was certainly plenty of talk about what was going to happen to the Enron guys in prison that didn't sound especially right-wing, and that seemed to be quite happy with the idea of prison rape.

I think there's something intuitively appealing about the idea of some horrible person getting paid back for his evil deeds by fate--whether that's the cops beating him, the other inmates raping him, the prison guards beating him, his wife leaving him, his family disowning him, etc. And it's frustrating that the real world isn't built like that. But prison rape, or beatings by the cops, or whatever, isn't about justice, it's about power. The 6-5 250 lb sadistic serial rapist is unlikely to get raped in prison; instead, he'll be continuing his hobby inside, on the 5'9 150 lb drug dealer who got caught with a gun and some crack.

Similarly, there's something appealing about being able to bypass all those tiresome safeguards about law and courts and such, and just clobber the bad guys, beat answers out of terrorists, blackmail the evil people into doing the right thing, etc. But those are fantasies. If we put humans in the position of being able to bypass all those safeguards, they will almost inevitably misuse them. Failing to really understand this *does* seem more a failing of the right than the left, though it's certainly not a monopoly of the right.

#32 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:53 PM:

As somebody who enjoys reading comic books (well, once they're compiled into graphic novels -- I don't have the time to look for them issue by issue, and I like big books), I'm immediately defensive. But as somebody noted above, a whole lot of what superhero comics are is fantasy wish-fulfillment, and wishing that the line between good and evil were clean and easily discernable is, I think, completely fair. (Trying to apply that particular fantasy to real life is not.)

I'd also differentiate between heroes who fight evil because normal law enforcement is clearly outclassed, heroes who fight evil because normal law enforcement isn't competent to do so, and heroes who fight evil because normal law enforcement is possibly corrupt.

Superman is pretty easily the former -- if he's fighting Darkseid or whatever giant robot Luthor just flew in to terrorize the city, he's essentially slaying dragons. That's a fantasy of a big hero to write unwriteable wrongs.

Batman is (in many versions of his very long history) the middle version, and that's the one I find troubling. The hero who's fighting people that the police COULD fight, if they'd just get their acts together and not be so constrained by procedure. (And yeah, sometimes he's helping the police and working with them, but his most recent comic incarnations are quite a bit more distant than that.)

The final version could well be the X-Men -- a lot of the time, they're fighting a corrupt Senator's evil robots, or a rogue general's lab-grown supervillain. That actually bypasses the "incompetent law" angle that Batman uses and goes straight to "evil law", the notion that the law is flat-out working against the oppressed.

I wouldn't see the Klan as identifying with the X-Men, because the X-Men are deliberately set up as the minority Other that the conservative white folks detest and fear. I'd see the Klan as identifying more with the "incompetent law" comics -- which, offhand, would be Batman, the Punisher, and some of Daredevil. Those are the comics in which somebody is brave enough to go into the darkness to take down the ugly evil that the goodhearted but inept cops just can't handle themselves.

#33 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 07:57 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden writes: "...indeed, much of the genre works by appealing to our wish that the world’s extra-legal violence be under the control of the kind of smart people we admire."

That's a very depressing thought coming from you. It'd be nice if more of the genre were to "work" by making its appeal contingent on our better natures rather than our latent pseudofascism.

I fear that not a lot of the market wants fantasy about worlds where the "extra-legal violence" (the term itself makes me nervous when I think about unpacking it) is under the control of smart people we find mostly unsympathetic. I'd like to think that sort of thing is possible to produce without writing in the oh-so-unpopular dystopian mode, but I'm not so sure.

Perhaps, it's just not a very compelling fantasy unless the good guy is ForcedToBreakAllTheRules™ in the process of kicking the bad guy's ass. I wish I were smart enough to see a marketable way around that, but alas... I'm trying. I'm still trying, but I worry that I'm not up to it.

#34 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:12 PM:

I'm also reminded of an old Usenet discussion between Patrick and Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, through which I learned that there's a strong association between Tolkien fandom and neo-fascism in Italy. One of the points where the two hobbies intersect is, Anna pointed out, "the extollment of 'heroism' and the intrinsic, ancestral charisma of authority figures".

At which point somebody would have to bring up Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, so it might as well be me. There, it's done.

#35 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:13 PM:

Avram writes: "I'm sorry this thread is getting taken up with all the talk about superheroes."

I am too, but look at this way. This is a topic that most Americans find too squicky to contemplate with a rational mind. Let's be honest: most Americans are not too sure they want to take note of the fact that the coalition troops have not yet eliminated the "rape rooms" from Iraq— four years after deposing the Butcher of Baghdad...

It's pretty easy to imagine how so many Americans like having a prison sentence mean a constant threat of rape. For the rest of us, that's a deeply shameful thing to have to admit about our neighbors, families and coworkers. They really are that depraved— so what can we do about it?

#36 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:18 PM:

#4: "With great power comes great responsibility" is, by itself, an accurate and admirable admonition.

No. It assumes that some people have more power than others. In comic book, fantasy, and science fiction, this is generally played out in superpowers, magic powers, or some other power that sets some people apart from others. And because they have these powers, they must use them "responsibly".

and in every single gawddamnmutharfuwkingsumbitching superhero, science fiction, and fantasy story, 'responsibility' is an amorphous phrase which when applied to the world in which the characters live translates directly into:

We have to break the law to save the world.

The problem then becomes that fiction becomes the model for real life, and then egotistical assholes place their identification and ego in the power projection capacity of the United States Military/Police/Government in general, and these knuckleheads forget "responsibility" and remember the "true" meaning of christmas, i.e. we have to break teh law to save the world.

If you start your moral with "Great Power", you must, by necessity, have a power imbalance. Have's and Have nots. And while this reflects a reality of the physical world, it does not give you any morality beyond physical force. Those with "great power" define what "responsibility" is. And what you're left with is the morality of the physical domain: might makes right.

If you want a morality that transcends this brute force righteousness, you need to start with a different admonishment, such as:

All people are equal.

If you start there, then you end up at an entirely different place. You end up in a place where "Responsibility" isn't based in "great power" of some individual, but in the equality among all people. Rather than creating a morality of individual vigilanteism, it creates a universal morality.

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:19 PM:

Unless we could kill them all.

Nahhhh.

#38 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:36 PM:

Robert @10, Eugen Kogon describes the same mechanisms in Nazi concentration camps.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:49 PM:

One word (response to the original post):

Ouch.

#40 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 09:19 PM:

Both ideas are also deeply ingrained in science fiction and fantasy, including some of the genre’s most intelligent work;

I feel that most fantasy and SF riggs the game, though: Either by portraying the law as illegitmate (e.g., corrupt, or being in the hands of a fool or a tyrant), or by creating situations which the law-as-it-is is unable to handle.

The Sunnydale police is not able to go after Vampires and demons. They might have a better chance if they were told the truth and given trainig, but the PTB have no interest in doing so. Even if the police could catch them, there would need to be a system in place to deal with them, which is a whole different problem. So, both corruption and "extraordinary circumstances".

A little apart from that, and re: Xopher's point @8: Personally, I read Buffy not as a reification of the Other, but as an externalisation of internal conflict -- not only the monsters are mirrored to the outside, but so are the fights. Vampires have human faces, and the monsters are us.


#41 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 09:29 PM:

j h woodyatt @33: It'd be nice if more of the genre were to "work" by making its appeal contingent on our better natures rather than our latent pseudofascism.

But fighting unjust laws and tyranny is an appeal to our better natures... even in Star Wars...

#42 ::: Ragnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 09:57 PM:

Marvel makes a lot more sense if its accepted that Professor X is evil.

Batman, on the other hand, is mentally ill but the mental health system in Gotham City is inadequate, so he roams the city and fights the other mentally ill persons that Arkham was inadequately funded to treat. If Bruce Wayne stopped spending money on neat gadgets to fight the criminals, and instead focused that money on renovating Arkham Asylum's staff and facilities, there wouldn't be nearly as much trouble in Gotham City. Its a very depressing parallel to American Society, and that may be why I stick to Green Lantern, where the heroes, conveniently, are the police.

And has anyone ever tried telling one of these people who think that rape is part of the punishment in prison that the way we have things set up creates a class of people who are not punished, and are actually encouraged to act exactly as they want to despite all of the far worse things that they have done, and that a well-controlled and regulated prison system would be much more fair.

I haven't, but it'd be interesting to hear their reaction.

#43 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:07 PM:

I just left a long comment about prison injustices (not specifically rape) over at Ezra Klein's blog. My current roommate, who's also an old and dear friend of mine, just finished a five-year prison sentence. (That is, in fact, WHY he's living with me; there are hairy legal issues involved with him living anywhere much else at the moment.)

The stories he tells about conditions in prisons (and he was in several over the course of his incarceration) deserve a MUCH wider audience. He didn't, personally, witness any incidences of rape -- but the things he did see were, in many cases, MUCH worse. And the frightening thing, the thing that really drives home the horror of it all for me, is that he doesn't TELL the stories he tells in that teaching voice that says, "this was really awful." He tells them in the sort of casual voice in which you or i might relate an anecdote about our work day. This shit is *just that common*.

Here's the last three-quarters of my comment from over there, copied and pasted:

-----------------

A few examples: People dependent on medication are *routinely* denied it; one guy killed himself after being denied his mental health meds. One guy my friend knew died of a ruptured appendix while SCREAMING for medical help and being ignored (it wasn't the one-hour-per-day when medical calls are actually answered and inmates can go to the infirmary).

My friend worked as a prison cook in one of the places he was -- and the grain that was brought in for things like oatmeal routinely came in in bags marked "NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION." One of the other cook-assistants tried to smuggle one of those empty bags out of the kitchen; he was brutally beaten by the guards to the point where he couldn't walk. There's a particularly charming phenomenon called "stomping", where a guard stomps on the chain between an inmate's ankles -- my friend has ridges of nasty scar tissue from having this done.

The particularly awful thing is that federal (and many state) correctional institutions are more or less above the law. In most states, inmates can't sue for *anything* that happened to them while they were incarcerated. They mostly can't get access to their medical records (or any other documentation about them), which might support claims of what happened to them. (Or in the case of deceased inmates' families, provide fodder for a wrongful death suit.) Wardens and guards *know* that they're basically immune from any possible repercussions for their actions, and many of them act accordingly.

Frankly, i'm sort of at a loss as to why we think the people *incarcerated* in the prisons are the "real monsters" in this equation. Assuredly, some prisoners are montrous; equally assuredly, some of the people running the prisons are as bad or worse. (Several previous posters have mentioned women's prisons, where some male guards are given to behaving as if the female inmates are there strictly as entertainment. Several commenters and Ezra himself mentioned that wardens and guards ROUTINELY deny requests for protection when there *is* abuse going on.)

To me the lesson is that people who don't believe in the rule of law, who don't believe that rules apply to them, are the problem. No matter WHICH side of the bars they're on. The difference, though, is that prisoners are solely responsible for what THEY do; we're ALL responsible for what our appointed representatives, the wardens and guards, do.

-------------

--Adrienne

#44 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:08 PM:

See, this is why Hellblazer or Books Of Magic have always been my favorites.

They're not about justice, they're about either a total anti-hero, or someone who's gets handed power, and how he fails at living a normal life.

#45 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:09 PM:

I don't see where the idea that society requires extra-legal violence to function is a conservative viewpoint. I see plenty of people and groups of all political stripes all over the world who think that, and only some of them are "conservative."

On this thread I see anecdotal evidence from TV shows that some unguessed fraction of the public thinks prison rape is a proper "extra" sentence. What fraction? What are their politics? One of few named people (Bill Lockyer) who makes an approving joke about prison rape in Klein's series is a Democrat.

This should not be a liberal-vs-conservative issue; demonizing conservatives over it will just make a solution harder. This is an issue of prison culture, which has become disfunctional in this country to a degree which may be unique in the world (I don't know that for sure though). What needs to be done is to figure out how to change the prison culture. One way of doing it would be to aggressively prosecute prison rape, and those who allow it. Those convicted of it would be segregated in some way from the rest of the prison population.

This problem will not be easy to solve, because it feeds on the prison culture, the racial problems of this country, and so on. However, it is worth trying.

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:26 PM:

DaveL @ 45

Is that the Bill Lockyer who used to be CA attorney general? He's a Democrat about like Hillary is.

#47 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:31 PM:

#36 Greg:

I don't think "with great power comes great responsibility" leads to anything bad at all. The mistake is one step further in the argument, where someone justifies his actions with "with great responsibility comes great freedom from the rules that bind ordinary people." And that's ultimately a rehash of the old idea that the ends justify the means. I'm on a mission from God here, so it's okay for me to steal the women and rape the cattle. I'm fighting Islamofacism, so the normal rules of humane treatment of prisoners don't apply to me. I'm punishing evildoers, and just because some namby-pamby court won't let me sentence them to ten years of rape and maltreatment doesn't mean I can't do it.

There's this idea that's become part of our culture, that the rules of civilized society make us weak. A true hero would become strong by ignoring them.

And we all know this is crap from our personal lives, right? It's frighteningly easy to justify something to yourself because you want it to be okay, even though it's really not. Yes, he's married, but his wife doesn't understand him, and this is True Love. No, it's just ripping off a big corporation, not like stealing from any real people. No problem, I'm a better driver with four beers in me than most people are sober.

This idea--that refusing to be bound by any limits or rules is how you become powerful--is pure poison. But just about every cop movie, spy movie, etc., that you see follows this pattern, right? And pushing this idea further gets you to Dirty Harry and on to 24, and from there, to secret prisons and waterboarding and getting confessions by threatening suspects with rape by other inmates.

#48 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:34 PM:

I remember this subject was a slightly more frequent topic of public discussion not long after Joseph Darby's pictures from Abu Ghraib were published. I was among the people who were saying that if Americans can't deal with what they're seeing in those pictures, then they're really not prepared to cope with what's going on in our own prisons back home.

Where did we get the monsters who perpetrated those crimes at Abu Ghraib? From the same place we get most of the guards and wardens who run the prisons in our own country. And they get away with what we let them get away with because "a few bad apples" don't mean the whole apple tree is diseased.

I contend the phenomena under discussion here are tightly coupled. Props to Ezra for showing up, but I wish I were more confident that closer scrutiny will produce the public outrage we'd all like to believe it would. There's a deeper root cause here, and I think Patrick is right to point it out.

Maybe if we all just recited the Pledge of Allegiance a few more times, then we wouldn't have to think about these inconvenient data points that conflict with our civic religion. Who's with me?

#49 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:37 PM:

#44 Josh:

Or Sandman, who really is above the normal rules applied to people. And who holds himself bound to a different set of rules, which he won't violate even at great cost to himself. (Note how he ended up owning hell for awhile.)

#50 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:39 PM:

As an example of the other side of this, think of the movie _Munich_. The main character did the extralegal vengance thing, with the support of his government and compelling nationalist/ethnic identity reasons to justify it. But that didn't keep it from screwing him up beyond recognition.

#51 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:47 PM:

DaveL, there are plenty of conservative Democrats (Orson Scott Card, for example), and even some liberal Republicans. But the ideas that Patrick's talking about are intrinsically conservative. When liberals give in to the impulse for extra-legal violence (and they have been known to do so), they are acting contrary to the politics they claim to follow. When conservatives do so, they're acting on the conservative need for class and hierarchy and privilege.

#52 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:52 PM:

albatross, I was trying to point that "with great power comes great responsibility" doesn't have any direct negative real consequences itself, but that's only because "responsibility" is an abstract concept, subject to different interpretations. As soon as you get one step removed from that statement, the abstract "responsibility" becomes the concrete, and that's where the line gets crossed.

The other thing that should be pointed out is that its a perfectly fine statement, when "responsibility" gets an accurate interpretation. But people who get "responsibility" aren't the people committing murder and torture and rape, are they.

The problem I have with the statement is that its sufficiently ambiguous that it appeals to a wider audience than any less ambiguous statement would. It gives a lesson that decent human beings can understand, and it gives a justification that self-righteous sociopaths can slather on top of their crimes.

I mean, I'll go watch Batman as some entertaining escapism. But some guys will see it as a valid attitude for police work.

And the reason it's ambiguous is because it focuses on teh difference between the image of self and other, the "power", and leaves the implementation in the abstract term of "responsibility". Which is simply carte blanche for morally bankrupt folks (presidents and vice presidents included) to make "responsible" action be whatever they want it to be.

I'd rather see fiction adopt memes that aren't self/other, aren't white/black, aren't strong/weak. And while some can read "with great power comes great responsibility" and get something positive out of it. I think it's sufficiently ambiguous that it is an enabler for those looking to be enabled. So, it may not "lead to anything bad", for you, I think it can lead to bad things for a sufficient portion of the population that I think it needs an upgrade.

#53 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:56 PM:

As an extension of that, the generally ingrained idea that 'soldiers preserve our freedoms by fighting wars' is really disturbing to me.

The people who frighten me most are those who claim that only soldiers deserve freedom; soldiers are the only true citizens, civilians being decadent or gutless schmucks.

Zell Miller said something like this at the RNC a few years ago.

It's a regrettable attitude conveyed by some military instructors.

On a related topic, I am worried that American criminal law is now infested with right-wingers, who believe they have some kind of divine duty to put criminals away with maximum punishment. Their attitude to the law represents this extra-legal mentality. Though our legal system still has trial by jury and public defenders, typical juries probably have this tough-on-crime attitude, and the resources allotted to public defenders are pathetic.

The prison abuse is the bottom level of this phenomenon, but the fish rots from the head down.

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:57 PM:

#43 Adrienne:

Long ago when I knew something about this, the inmates were filing tons of lawsuits for any reason or none. My guess is that this is one of those pendulum-swing things, where the solution to too many frivolous lawsuits isn't to penalize the frivolous ones, but rather to choke off nearly all of them. (If this sounds like tort reform, you're catching on. And three-strikes laws, and sex-offender-mark-of-Cain kinds of laws, and....)

Prisons are inherently nasty places, because of the kind of people who get locked up in them, and because of the kind of people who work there. The guards (at least back when I saw this stuff) were taking a dangerous job that paid squat. The fringe benefits involved a lot of power over other people, getting to wear a uniform and be an authority figure, stuff like that. The inmates include a fair number of people who might just snap and kill or rape a staff person or a guard, even though they know that ten minutes later, a dozen guards will be beating them to a pulp. That might just be past their time horizon, or maybe they're just in a bad mood today, or the voices told them to, or whatever.

I expect we could stop prison rape if it were an issue we cared about. But I agree with some of the other posters, I don't think most Americans much care. And I think this is part of a bigger trend.

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 11:15 PM:

#52 Greg:

What would be a better meme, in the context of superhero kinds of stories and worlds? "Even the wise cannot see all ends?"

Can you think of superhero type stories (Bond is a superhero in this context, as is, say, Willi Wachendon in _The Peace War_) where the superhero thinks he's wiser than he is, and ends up realizing he's done horrible things?

Enders Game seems like one example. I'm a bit reluctant to start listing others (though they're not easy to think of) for fear of spoilers.

The real-world version of this is the way so many of the Manhattan Project scientists later were horrified about what they'd helped build. Probably some spies recruited by the KGB through idealism ran into the same issue, as they saw what they were really serving.

#56 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:34 AM:

Yesterday's 60 Minutes did a segment on how a mentally-ill inmate in a Michigan prison was starved to death. The text is there, but the video is sickening. Particularly when the woman in charge of prisons in Michigan smiles when told about some of the things that happened.

#57 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:58 AM:

#2, Niall McAuley: "I think rape in US jails, and US media acceptance of rape in US jails is an issue which should be examined carefully in the US after you GET THOSE FUCKING CARRIERS THE FUCK AWAY FROM IRAN."

Oh, put a sock in it. Yes, the imminent ginned-up war with Iran is important. No, it doesn't mean you, or anyone else, gets to order us around with regard to what we can and can't talk about.

#7, Xopher: "Assuming you mean the original Scooby Gang (Scooby, Shaggy, Velma (hi Velma!) et al), and not the Buffy Scooby gang

No, I meant the Buffy crowd. And I bow to no one as a fan of BtVS.

#12, Serge: "There is a fantasy element to comics....I mean 'fantasy' as in 'I know this would NOT be a good thing to have in the real world, but, hey, I'll ignore the negative aspects for the sake of... well... fantasizing...'"

You know, I'm very familiar with this transaction. I do it every day of my working life. If you think I'm saying "SF and comics are crap because of this moral insight I've had, and you're crap for liking them," you have another think coming. I take it as axiomatic that these stories work, that they get inside our heads, that they contain all kinds of real truth and value. For this reason I also take it as axiomatic that we owe it to ourselves to think about them with ruthless honesty. I'm not trying to debunk science-fictional power fantasies, I'm trying to improve them.

#29, Avram: "Holy crap, now that I've looked at those Ezra Klein posts, I'm sorry this thread is getting taken up with all the talk about superheroes."

Yeah. Those of you who haven't read the linked-to Ezra Klein posts, stop reading this comment thread and go catch up. Yeah, you.

#32, Patrick Weekes: "As somebody who enjoys reading comic books (well, once they're compiled into graphic novels -- I don't have the time to look for them issue by issue, and I like big books), I'm immediately defensive."

See response to #12, Serge, above.

#45, DaveL "This should not be a liberal-vs-conservative issue; demonizing conservatives over it will just make a solution harder."

Sorry, we disagree. To my mind it's the "liberal-vs-conservative issue." Does the consent of the governed matter? Does it matter if authority is duly constituted? Are we in fact striving toward a system in which everyone's voice matters, or is this just an ideal to which we pay lip service? These are real questions and important.

#58 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:02 AM:

Marilee, I saw that segment (neatly sandwiched between an Obama interview and a Norah Jones interview; what the hell were the editors thinking?). Horrifying isn't a strong enough word.

This was a 23-year-old mentally-ill kid who was shackled and chained, denied meds, denied water, and essentially left to die. And yes, the woman who had been in charge of the place (I think she was no longer there, but maybe I'm wrong) didn't seem to feel any responsibility for that kid's treatment or death.

#59 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:02 AM:

albatross: The Sandman, mentioned above, is a good example of this. In fact that's one of the reasons I like The Sandman so much -- because when you look back on the entire series, you realize that his fate is the inevitable result of *many* unwise decisions on his part, all cascading together.

In Traditional Medieval Fantasy, we're basically talking about a world of warlords who report to bigger warlords. Not to say that there aren't laws in this kind of world -- in fact, one of the most interesting things I've learned from reading the Icelandic Sagas is how important it was for our tough heroic manly Icelanders to follow the law and be "learned in the law." It's just that back then, being a great lawyer sometimes meant you had to go off and sink an axe into someone's skull.

In that sort of context, does it even make sense to talk about "extra-legal" violence? Or at least, the sort of extra-legal violence we worry about in the 21st century seems fundamentally different from what a medieval Icelander would consider extra-legal violence.

I think where Traditional Medieval Fantasy can really collapse under its own weight is not in the vigilante-style violence, but in having a too-naive perspective about the political structure. Many fantasy novels are all about restoring the Good King or the Lost King to the throne, so we can defeat the Bad King and start a new Golden Age. But as China Mieville (and others) have pointed out, why are we rooting for them to have any king at all? I can appreciate that the *characters* might think it's a good idea to have a Good King, but I hate it when the author just assumes that the *readers* have the same values.

#60 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:53 AM:

Remind me NEVER to go near the United States.

If countries were people, the USA would be the American prison guard.

#61 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:54 AM:

#32 Patrick Weekes "I wouldn't see the Klan as identifying with the X-Men, because the X-Men are deliberately set up as the minority Other that the conservative white folks detest and fear."

My thoughts exactly. They would be the Klan if the Klan were a group of blacks who played a dual role fighting other, malicious blacks and defending innocent blacks against the powerful but frightened white majority. In other words: not so much.

#36 Greg London: "If you want a morality that transcends this brute force righteousness, you need to start with a different admonishment, such as: All people are equal."

The basic problem being: people aren't equal. I cannot equal Stephen Hawking's intellect or Yao Ming's athletic ability. Neither of them can equal Bill Clinton's people skills. People are all unique, and different. Pretending like they are interchangeable gets you nothing good. So how about instead:

All people deserve equal treatment.

Now "with great power comes great responsibility" is in context. How are those who have been born exceptional, or find themselves in a position of great influence, to use their power? Pretending as if this never happens is useless. Demanding responsibility from those so blessed is not.

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:17 AM:

Returning again to the superhero branch of the thread (because I don't wanna read more about prison rape before going to sleep), the desire to see justice done is a powerful drive. So is the desire to have a law-abiding society. Where two (or more) powerful drives clash, that's where you find great stories. So of course there are lots of stories to be told about the tension between Law and Justice.

The good stories explore this tension. The author says "What if we've got someone caught between these two drives, what does he do? OK, that's what, but then this other thing happens, does he still pick the same answer? And then this other thing, still?"

The reason shows like 24 are dishonest is because the show's creators have decided where the shows stands (safety trumps law, so torture is justified), and they're willing to suspend plausibility to make things work out for the hero (so torture always works, except when the bad guys torture the hero, when it doesn't). Jack Bauer is something of a Mary Sue -- he's right because the writers want him to be right.

(Actually, I haven't seen any more of 24 then the first few minutes of the first episode, so I may be wrong about some of the above.)

There's another thing that's occurred to me, about Rorschach in Watchmen, how he never makes mistakes either, but that's because Alan Moore is examining his themes by having a bunch of different characters embody the theme from different angles and then crash them into each other at the end, and Rorschach needs to be the uncompromising paragon of Justice for the ending to work, and so Moore gives Rorschach odious personal habits to keep him from seeming Mary Sue-like, but it's past 2 AM.

#63 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Hey! We have perfectly good mafiosi without any need to import them from Chicago. Ours are meaner than yours. I mean, did John Gotti ever kidnap the twelve year old son of a rival chief, keep him imprisoned for two years, then personally strangle him and dissolve him in acid?

Thing is, nobody exactly knows where the Mafia came from, but one theory is that they used to be the feudal lords small-time enforcers. Same principle as the prison rape, I guess.

#64 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:33 AM:

If you'll allow unrealistic martial arts to qualify as fantasy (or superheroes), I think the best handling I've seen of the theme of violence, its uses and consequences would be Rurouni Kenshin. Seijuro and Kenshin have great power, but choose very different approaches to how they should use it. What they do, what happens as a result and how it changes them is pretty interesting - and moving - although the series is unfortunately occasionally prone to "Meaningless Villain of the Week" storylines. I won't spoil the specifics here, but the question of which of them was right about how to use power is, IMO, unresolved. In any case, with great power most certainly does not come a blithe disregard for the consequences of one's actions, and it's not only Bad Guys that can be hurt.


As for extralegal violence, it seems to me that its extralegality is of no consequence. The fact that it's violence already makes it a harm that dwarfs the harm of breaking the law; thus it can only be justified in the necessary service of a greater good (maybe, if you accept that kind of tradeoff) or to prevent a still greater evil (usually more violence, there isn't much higher than violence on the harmfulness scale).

To put it more simply, in any particular instance violence is just or unjust; legalizing unjust violence doesn't make it just, so why would banning just violence make it unjust? Any situation that can justify violence can certainly justify lawbreaking.

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:02 AM:

Is anyone else having disturbing thoughts about the parallels between these attitudes about prison rape, and the attitudes to which female victims of rape outside prison are regularly subjected? When rape is okay as punishment for male criminals because they "deserve what happens to them," and the same people who espouse that attitude are also the first to claim that any female rape victim "deserved it" because of something-or-other that she did or failed to do... in effect, these people are claiming that being female is de facto a crime.

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:10 AM:

Patrick @ 57... ...For this reason I also take it as axiomatic that we owe it to ourselves to think about them with ruthless honesty...

Of course. I made a comment about some of the problems with the premises behind comics and about what if those characters existed in the real world.

#67 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:55 AM:

(Typing past my sock) The Lord of the Rings is an example of a Restoration of the Good King by Defeating the Evil Lord, but it's also an alternative to the idea that the Good Guys must break the rules to take care of business.

Any one of Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond or Galadriel could probably have used the Ring and defeated Sauron, and each one has a chance to take it, and all of them turn it down.

#68 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:56 AM:

Oh, since we're talking among other things about how this plays out in actual storytelling, I have a recommendation.

The 13-episode anime series Arjuna takes a conventional fantasy setup and does something genuinely nifty with it. Our protagonist is a teenage girl who, not long after the story begins, lies on the bring of death. She's offered the chance to return to life as the new avatar of time, whose job is to protect the Earth from the hostile spirits devouring it. She accepts, and adventure ensues. The thing is that this time around, the Earth is serious about the mission - since hostility and rage are part of the problem, her early efforts to fight them raw supernatural power are doomed to failure. The enemy's weapons only serve the enemy. So the meat of the series is about her growing understanding of the world, its enemies, and the lacks and needs all around, so as to break the endless cycles and deal with the flaws that set them spinning in the first place.

To my taste, at least, the series manages the feat while continuing to produce shows that are funny, engaging, and exciting.

#69 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 05:18 AM:

Lee@65: I would make one significant distinction between the popular conception of prison rape of males and non-prison rape of females.

Prison rape is considered to be funny.

The rape of women, even if it happens to drunk skimpily-dressed 'bad' women, is not considered comedy material in the same way that prison rape is. When a high-profile court case ends with a man being sent to prison, the same "You sure got a pretty mouth, boy" jokes start flying all over the political spectrum. When Kent Hovind was sentenced, people whom I know would never-ever-not-in-a-thousand-years make jokes about the rape of women were giggling over the idea of him bent over a bunk.

#70 ::: Kylni ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:09 AM:

In the line of fantasy storytelling, the first thing that comes to mind to me is Death Note (anime and manga).

The premise is that the protagonist, Light, a genius student, acquires a notebook which has the power to kill anyone whose name it written in it. He eventually decides to use it to 'cleanse' the world of criminals. (Who needs to be killed is decided by him, of course.)

Of course, it quickly becomes clear that Light is a deeply creepy sociopath with a god complex. But I was poking around at some forums for a translation group and was shocked to see a thread titled, "Are Light's actions just?" Only the first few episodes of the anime were out, and he hadn't he'd killed any really innocent people yet. But it was still disturbing to see that there was even the question.

Interestingly, the genius detective who goes after Light uses fairly immoral methods as well - using a criminal as bait for Light to kill, unconstitutionally bugging his house, and eventually torture.

Really interesting stuff, and I think the way people react to it can say a lot.

#71 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:29 AM:

indeed, much of the genre works by appealing to our wish that the world’s extra-legal violence be under the control of the kind of smart people we admire. The Second Foundation and the X-Men—and, for that matter, the Scooby Gang and the Laundry—are all, to some extent, basically the Ku Klux Klan, except that the extrajudicial violence they carry out is (we’re assured) merited and just.

Mmf. Almost right. Here's why I think you're slightly wrong.
The X-Men, the Klan etc are self-appointed - that's the key thing about vigilantes. If you're Sheriff Gary Cooper and you go after bandits, you aren't a vigilante. If you're a normal bloke and Sheriff Cooper comes round and says "Come and help me go after these bandits", you aren't a vigilante. If you just decide to up and go after them yourself, you're a vigilante, because you don't have the sanction of the law (via the Sheriff) on your side.

I think this puts the Laundry on the side of the angels - it's an agency of the British government, it's subject to oversight (boy, is it ever!), it's in the same ethical position as the Army. If the Laundry were just a secret Anti-Demon Society, then they would be basically the Klan with a different objective.

We like reading stories about good people using violence against bad people. Of course we do. That's what makes good stories.

#72 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:38 AM:

The subject of official versus unofficial violence deserves going into. The intelligent conservative view is that there will always be unofficial violence in society, and that it is better that the otherwise lawless should be on the receiving end than that they should be inflicting it.

I don't much like this argument, but I don't see how to refute it. You can't stamp out bullying except with superior force, and a force sufficient to frighten all bullies will be potentially the most frightening of all. But it's still better than the rule of people who strangle their enemies' children and dunk the bodies in acid.

#73 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:45 AM:

Abi wrote:
----------------------
Not all Americans care. A certain proportion of US public opinion can be divided into:

1. The rest of the world has no right to an opinion on America
2. The rest of the world should appreciate America's good points (American exceptionalism). It is entitled to an opinion if the opinion is favorable.
3. There is a rest of the world?

Note that this does not prevent the same Americans from judging the rest of the world and finding it wanting.
--------------------------

And such attitudes might be feasible if the USA were completely isolated from the world -- like, say, North Korea.

However, the USA have the world's most ubiquitous mass media -- which are switched on all the time -- making it the world's #1 "celebrity" nation. This has consequences.

I recall that around the first time George W. Bush was elected, he actually said that America should be "strong but humble." Ironically, he was right...

The opposite attitude -- to be strong but arrogant -- will only lead to problems.

#74 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 08:41 AM:

Marvel makes a lot more sense if its accepted that Professor X is evil.

Interestingly, last time I looked at Marvel it was almost explicitely being written that way. Professor X had been banned from the X mansion for various reasons including being depowered by the Scarlet Witch (part of the House of M fallout) and having made Cyclops and the rest of the X-men forget about some former X-men. Ultimate Professor X has more or less always been extremely sinister. (Ultimate Marvel started some time in the late 1990s more or less from the beginnings of all the characters in the Marvel universe).

Batman, on the other hand, is mentally ill but the mental health system in Gotham City is inadequate, so he roams the city and fights the other mentally ill persons that Arkham was inadequately funded to treat. If Bruce Wayne stopped spending money on neat gadgets to fight the criminals, and instead focused that money on renovating Arkham Asylum's staff and facilities, there wouldn't be nearly as much trouble in Gotham City. Its a very depressing parallel to American Society, and that may be why I stick to Green Lantern, where the heroes, conveniently, are the police.

Re: Batman, hear hear! (I'm working on a fic in which Oracle, Black Adam, and a few others use the absence of the first line of DC heroes during 52 to sell/mass produce much of the supertech heroes use to actually improve the world). Re: GL, they are too overpowered for my tastes (and then there's the Will being All Important - a theory I detest).

#75 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:28 AM:

"Interestingly, the genius detective who goes after Light uses fairly immoral methods as well - using a criminal as bait for Light to kill, unconstitutionally bugging his house, and eventually torture."

hmm, I think if the "can torture ever be used" question implied a hypothetical 'the only way to catch a guy who has a magic notebook with which he can kill anyone just by writing their name in it involves torture, is it okay to use torture in that case?'

I would have to say that I would accept torture in the case of stopping the guy with the magic notebook.

#76 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:35 AM:

If our society requires extralegal violence to hang together, then I say let it crumble, let it collapse, let it die out. It's not worth it. Such a society does not deserve to survive; its collapse MIGHT pave the way for a better society arising after a period of chaos.

Granted that you added you don't really believe in this requirement, this alternative is actually no better--it's just more extralegal violence.

To some extent, the bloody-collapse-and-revolution fantasy is just the lefty version of the vigilante fantasy, just more thugs against the rest of us. At least, that's the conclusion that always stops me when I have these kinds of dark thoughts.

#77 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:43 AM:

PJ Evans: As far as I can tell, Hillary is not a Democrat only in the same sense that Bush is not a Republican, which is to say that some members of her party don't like some of her positions.

Avram: My point is that if this does become a liberal-vs-conservative issue, the problem will not be fixed or even addressed. Think of it this way: if conservatives and the electorate really are as much in favor of extra-legal punishment, up to and including rape, is a political effort by the left, or Democrats, or liberals alone, with no conservative cover, going to have a prayer of succeeding? Remember Nixon's Law'n Order campaigns? This needs to be a bipartisan effort to make any headway at all.

Patrick: Conservatism (no, not Bushism) is also linked to law, respect for tradition, and other virtues which militate against the idea of extra-legal punishment. Social conservatives, if I may utilize a stereotype, are from regions and economic situations where they are uniquely (for American Caucasians) vulnerable to forces that might have them end up in jail, either justifiably or unjustifiably. Add in the social conservative distaste for homosexuality, and you have a population that ought to be able to be enlisted in an anti-prison rape campaign. As I said in my first post, I'd love to see some survey numbers that back up the claim that people (of whatever politics) think prison rape is "okay."

I agree with those that say the hardest part of such a campaign is that it would probably rank pretty low on peoples list of issues they are concerned about, but then, that's what issue campaigns are for: to raise awareness.

I think the question of comic-book or SF/F treatments of extra-legal powers is interesting, but I wish it wasn't devouring this thread: the fact that it is is probably in part due to our ability to flee a distasteful, squick-inducing topic for one that's more congenial. (That's also why people make jokes about prison rape: cf. Siggy Freud's take on things we joke about).

#78 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:43 AM:

#61: So how about instead: All people deserve equal treatment.

I didn't think that needed clarification, but sure, all people are granted the same inalienable rights.

Now "with great power comes great responsibility" is in context. How are those who have been born exceptional, or find themselves in a position of great influence, to use their power? Pretending as if this never happens is useless. Demanding responsibility from those so blessed is not.

Oh good grief. I'll give you "context".

From the point of view of "all people have the same inalienable rights", the law is an extension of the will of the people. Government is subservient to the people because people are equals and together they create a government that is a collective agreement.

Most fiction stories that invoke the "with great power comes great responsibility" are stories that involve one or some small group of individuals who hold themselves above the law, because for some reason or another, the law cannot deal with some problem.

That's your "context" right there.

The context is an indirect way of saying that a government formed by an equality of the people will always be flawed, due process will never achieve justice, and these flaws of an equal society can only be fixed by SuperMan and a will to power.

The "context" is not about some "gifted" or "blessed" individual operating as an equal member of society. The "context" is that a society of equals produces substandard due process that allows guilty people to go free and produces weak police and military units that allows outside forces to overwhelm them. And these problems can only be fixed by some "exceptional" individual who does not submit himself as part of society but rather holds himself separate and distict from society. Someone who operates above the law. Someone who has the strength to do "what needs to be done".

People of "great influence" like Martin Luther King Jr. operated within society. They lead society to a better place by enrolling society into some higher principle and got society to be better than it knew itself to be.

Compare that to the use of force in your standard superhero comic. The hero does not "lead" society to some better place. Society fails to deal with some super villian because due process fails or because society is weak. And some super hero with "great power" uses "great responsibility" by acting outside the law, holding himself above the rest of society, and uses brute force against some unquestionable evil.

The context of "with great power" in standard fictional stories is basically "society is broken, you'll have to become a vigilante to find justice"

Society as a group of equals never means that everyone must be mediocre. This was a meme in "The Incredibles" actually. Superheroes weren't allowed to use their powers ever. The super-kid couldn't go out for sports because he was super-fast. and society wouldn't allow it.

Oh hell no. That's not what equality is about.

But that's the context of standard superhero stories. "equal" somehow means "identical in every way" or "everyone must be mediocre".

If you are a "blessed" individual, the idea of equality doesn't ask you to give up whatever it is about you that makes you blessed, unique, etc. Equality means that you work inside the rules to be the best you can be. and if there is some injustice in the system, you lead society to change the system. You don't simply force your will on those you view as evil doers.

#79 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 10:53 AM:

"Power" needn't mean the ability to zap supposed bad guys -- in #61, I think Heresiarch was talking about our own world of non-identical individuals, people who vary greatly in many ways. It's a place where county supervisors and senior librarians and police chiefs, etc. etc., have to make decisions more important than "What shall I have for breakfast today?" and should make them wisely, though all too often they don't.

Wish-fulfillment power, as seen in superhero comics and the pulpier forms of genre fiction, appeals to something more universal, and it's not just a desire for justice in an imperfect world. Justice can easily slide down into vengeance. I know I feel that impulse at times -- when I'd like to condemn child murderers and other violent pedophiles to be staked out in the desert, left for the sun to wither and scavengers to eat. Anger and disgust! (Apparently, pedophiles have a particularly hard time in prison too.) But I know that's the id talking, not the forebrain.

Some fantasy novels grow more interesting when their villains have genuine crises of conscience and their monsters wonder what it means to be "human".

#80 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 10:56 AM:

Niall@67: Quite right, in The Lord of the Rings, the heroes don't try to break the rules in order to take care of business. (And when, say, Boromir tries to break the rules, the plot punishes him.)

The real problem I have with the story is that archconservative narrative of "Daddy/King Aragorn is going to make things all better." As far as I can tell, Tolkein wants us to accept that idea uncritically.

#81 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:07 AM:

Andrew Brown, #72:

The intelligent conservative view is that there will always be unofficial violence in society, and that it is better that the otherwise lawless should be on the receiving end than that they should be inflicting it.

I don't much like this argument, but I don't see how to refute it.

How about this: decent people don't attack those who are powerless. Any "law", written or unwritten, which says it's okay to do that is evil. Prisoners don't get abused because they're lawless, or bad, or whatever. They get abused because they can't fight back.

What makes it acceptable for "lawful" folks to inflict unofficial violence? Once you do that, don't you stop being lawful?

#82 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:24 AM:

It's easier to construct a plot if your characters use extra-legal violence.

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:36 AM:

Faren @ 79... I know that's the id talking, not the forebrain.

"Morbius, what is the id?"
"Id, id, id, id... It's an obsolete term..."

#84 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:50 AM:

'Our' history shows that the members of a society accept laws and law enforcement institutions to protect those with little/no power from the depredations of those who are prepared to use the power they have to the detriment of those other members of society (that's a long, more than 2500 year struggle over here)

When individuals in those institutions permit those with power to abuse those without they - in effect - undermine what they appear to be protecting.

Rape is wrong. If you're reading this you don't need to be convinced of this, and just in case you do think 'prison rape' is acceptable, ask yourself how you'll feel if you are imprisoned and are spending your first night inside listening to the sounds of the jungle.

Its like torture. It is wrong, not just wrong if you're on the receiving end.

Its like empire. It is wrong, not just wrong when someone else's troops are on your street corner.

Wiser people than us knew that extra-legal violence is not acceptable in our civilisation. They were right, and as for translating 24/Spooks style 'entertainment' into real life, all we need to do is remember how easy it is to tell when any member of the 'intelligence community' is lying to us. Their lips are moving.

Its an old saying, but it should still send shivers down all our spines 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodies'.

#85 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:57 AM:

Philip Zimbardo has been going around talking about the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment in the context of Abu Ghraib, but it seems to me that it's just as relevant to prisoner rape. The two-credit summary: in 1971 Zimbardo took a group of Stanford undergraduates, randomly divided them into "guards" and "prisoners", and had them act out prison life. The guards got minimal instruction in how to be guards; the prisoners got put through a fairly realistic simulation of being arrested and thrown in jail. Within a few days the guards - mostly on their own initiative - were doing all sorts of abusive things to the prisoners. Zimbardo had to halt the experiment after six days of the planned two-week run.

Zimbardo's conclusion has been that an escalating spiral of abuse is intrinsic to the prison situation; you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get. It's not about "bad apples." I don't know if he has any concrete suggestions for what to do about it. To me it seems like a strong argument for not using imprisonment at all -- but I don't have an alternative. (An awful lot of the people in prison shouldn't be there in the first place, in my opinion, but what do you do about the Charles Mansons of the world?)

#86 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:03 PM:

I feel the need to come to the defense of Batman here.

One of the morals of many modern Batman stories is that no one else can be Batman. Somehow, through a bizarre series of events and efforts, Batman has become more of an elemental force than a person. Everyone else who tries to follow in his footsteps is destroyed one way or another... they break down under the pressure or they become a force for evil themselves. (It reminds me somewhat of the hitchhiker's guide anecdote about the man who accidentally became immortal, and the fate of those who tried to reproduce the accident.)

That was what my friends saw as the moral of "Batman Beyond." Batman Beyond was a cartoon about an aging Bruce Wayne who is no longer capable of carrying on the physical aspects of being Batman, so he ends up teaming up with a young "apprentice." After a while it becomes clear... while the kid is capable of fighting and doing some of the busy work of heroism, he tends to screw up, make mistakes, perform injustice, and kill. That's probably not how the majority of kids saw it (wheee, flying and batarangs!), but it came through clearly if you were paying attention.

I think that the message "Yes, in an ideal situation, it would be cool if someone would do these things. But only in an ideal situation. And not you" is sometimes more productive than "no one should ever do these things." It allows for optimism and freedom of thought without actually encouraging someone to try this at home.

And actually, I think this is a source of a lot of problems. Too many people today are weaned off of the fantastic before they're old enough to get the undertones. They read the Punisher when he's "cool" and then their collection gets thrown away or sold, and they never come back to him when they're old enough to read the undertones or take lessons from it. Kids are being left with the visceral black and white aspects of fantasy, and then are encouraged to abandon it before they get into the shades of gray.

#87 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:10 PM:

"Sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them."

#88 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:20 PM:

Evan Goer: As far as I can tell, Tolkein wants us to accept that idea uncritically.

You need to read the Appendices to ROTK, then. Not to mention the Silmarillion. And Farmer Giles of Ham, also by Tolkien.

If, after that point, you still can't tell-- [shrugs]

#89 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:29 PM:

#67 Niall McAuley "Any one of Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond or Galadriel could probably have used the Ring and defeated Sauron, and each one has a chance to take it, and all of them turn it down."

You might have missed that while the Ring has a will of it's own, it is intrinsically linked to Sauron. So while the ring survives, Sauron can not be defeated. The other thing that you glossed over is that even by taking the Ring and disbursing Sauron's will to the winds (which then make take him centuries to recover from), the victor will then be twisted by the use of the Ring into replacing Sauron on his throne, as his surrogate replacing a Great Evil with, maybe, a Lesser one. If you're only reference are the movies, revist the Test of Galadriel, she gets it in a nutshell.

Or, in other words, by the use of the weapon of the enemy, we become the enemy. The ends don't justify the means, and the bad guy wins.

#90 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Calvin and Hobbes had a discussion of this topic. Calvin wonders why comic-book heroes are so unrealistic, and wishes they could be more like real life. 'Yes', says Hobbes 'They could attend council meetings, write letters to the editor and lobby for action!'

'Hmmm', says Calvin, 'I begin to see the problem'.

Hobbes: 'Quick! To the Batfax!'

#91 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 12:53 PM:

Steve, no, my reference is certainly not the movies, which I regard as interesting animated illustrations by Alan Lee and John Howe. I have the extended editions on DVD, and enjoyed them along with all the documentary material, but rereading the books since I find that very little has made it across from the movies into my reading experience.

I think Séan Bean, Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee are the only ones whose characters are near enough to the text to get inside my head, and Edoras is the only location where Jackson's crew bettered my imagination.

I'm pretty sure that any of the four I named could have destroyed Sauron utterly using the Ring, it was his chief fear.

As you say, there would have been unfortunate consequences for the one who did it, but I think Galadriel in particular was very, very tempted (although that need not mean turning into a CGI green giant).

#92 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:17 PM:

Zack: Zimbardo's conclusion has been that an escalating spiral of abuse is intrinsic to the prison situation; you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get. It's not about "bad apples." I don't know if he has any concrete suggestions for what to do about it. To me it seems like a strong argument for not using imprisonment at all -- but I don't have an alternative. (An awful lot of the people in prison shouldn't be there in the first place, in my opinion, but what do you do about the Charles Mansons of the world?)

There's a very simple answer:

Abandon the toxic addiction to revenge that gives rise to the idea of punishment by imprisonment, and redefine the goals of the judicial system as (a) rehabilitation and (b) protection.

Let me take a stab at outlining what this would require ...

Many offenders have alcohol, drug, or other behavioral problems. Sticking them in a prison and tormenting them won't stop them going back to their old ways as soon as they come out. In contrast, a behavioral program aimed at breaking whatever maladjustment lies at the root of their offending, along with education and training, will help ensure that many of them don't re-offend subsequently. So the goal of imprisonment for these offenders should be to stop them re-offending by training, re-education, and treatment.

Some offenders (many of them) are suffering from clinical mental illnesses. They need treatment along with rehab; they don't belong in a punitive environment but nevertheless they may need to be detained to prevent them posing a threat to society. The goal for these offenders is therefore to stop them being a danger to society (by segregating them from the public), and then to treat their illness (to the extent possible). NB: this also entails protecting them from each other. They're human too, after all.

Finally you've got the hard core of irredeemably bad folks whose liberty is incompatible with public safety: psychopaths, serial killers, people with untreatable personality disorders, and so on. Highly dangerous, so we can't let them out -- but is it right to punish someone because of actions they can't help committing? I reckon how we treat such people says a lot about who we are. And so I'd prescribe segregation from society, for our protection and for theirs. Which may very well turn out to require life imprisonment in high security jails, but we should at least aim to make it a humane environment.

Finally: if you think I'm implying that we owe a duty of care to our offenders, you'd be dead right. They're social casualties, unable to function in our society without transgressing, but that doesn't mean we're entitled to wash our hands of them. Responding to brutality and lawlessness in kind is an abrogation of responsibility, not a solution, and I'd like to hope that one day we'll look back on the penal systems in use around the world today with much the same sort of shudder with which we consider, for example, the Bloody Code of England in the 18th century.

#93 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:22 PM:

It's easier to construct a plot if your characters use extra-legal violence.

Yep. the SF version of that is: It's easier to construct a plot if your starship captains don't act like actual military/naval captains. I still like watching Star Trek, though. (Well, some of it, anyways)

#94 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:31 PM:

One of the morals of many modern Batman stories is that no one else can be Batman. ... That was what my friends saw as the moral of "Batman Beyond."

I might have to find a copy of that, if it's still available. As for the moral, that would be exactly my point. Batman is different than everyone else, above them. He has "power" that no one else does. And because he is above everyone else, how can he let us mere mortals define what "responsibility" is for him? Hm, that's actually a couple of points for the "mary sue" test, which might be an indicator of how much Batman is a wish fullfillment device.

#95 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:43 PM:

Zimbardo's conclusion has been that an escalating spiral of abuse is intrinsic to the prison situation; you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get. It's not about "bad apples."

I think his suggestion that all will succumb to evil ways is a bunch of horse...t.

If your mental view of the world is one of ego/self/power and a thin veneer of "social responsibility", then yeah, that veneer will easily rub off.

#96 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:47 PM:

Greg: see also the Milgram experiment.

The body of behavioural psychology data in this field says that Zimbardo is right and you are wrong. Most people succumb in social situations which impose a toxic behavioural role on them: resisters are unfortunately not as common as we'd like to believe.

#97 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:49 PM:

I think a useful answer for the problem of American prisons is Matthew 25.

35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(KJV translation)

Prison visiting is one of the very few specific things Jesus tells people to do.

If everyone in the US who goes to church on Sundays visits a random prisoner once a month, I'd think that would in itself be sufficient outside oversight to prevent the worst abuses -- it might also discourage putting prisons in places impossible to reach. This stuff only goes on because it's tacitly condoned and because it's shut away where people don't see it or ever have to think about it.

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Luckily, he uses his power of super-weaving for Good and not for Evil.

#99 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Jo: One doesn't have to be a Christian to think that's a good idea.

#100 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:21 PM:

Leah (#86), I'd go even further. I'd argue that one of the messages of the modern Batman comics is that even Batman can't be Batman. This is purely subtextual, and is therefore sometimes lost under the rest of the text, but...

Since the death of Jason Todd in the mid-80s Batman comics, there has been an underlying thread that Bruce Wayne has been steadily losing his grip, and has been seeking a replacement as Batman. Each and every replacement fails in one way or another, and as this goes on, Batman starts making worse and worse decisions.

In the belief that he not only has to police Gotham, but also the rest of the world (and in particular, the meta-humans), he sets plans in motion to prevent against worst-case scenarios (see the Tower of Babel, War Games and OMAC story lines in particular). Each of these is triggered accidentally, with horrific results.

Batman also drives off every compatriot he has, once they've failed to prove themselves worthy of being the next Batman -- further exacerbating his own sense of isolation, paranoia, and belief in his own ultimate responsibility for the fate of not only Gotham, but the world itself.

I haven't been paying attention to DC since the latest reboot, but subtextually, the Batman comics have detailed Batman's steady alienation and decompensation, as well as the fact that his crusade, instead of being at worst a futile attempt to hold back the darkness, is in fact contributing to that darkness.

Just my two cents.

#101 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:27 PM:

#71: Good point about the laundry.

Many excellent posts here. I'm particularly struck by Avram's measured good sense in #62, Charlie's rationality in #92, and Jo Walton's suggestion in #97.

#102 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:32 PM:

A word about Buffy and the Slayerettes: whereas they begin as agents of extralegal violence, two other themes soon emerge. First, the role of Angel as a souled vampire introduces moral ambiguity as to the identity of the bad guys, which is expanded and ramifies throughout the series (and of course is the central issue of AtS), and second, the Council of Watchers is shown as a mature institution, bound to traditions which make no empirical sense (the trial of the Slayer on her eighteenth Birthday for most evident instance) and concerned mostly with preserving its own power and influence regardless of the success of its nominal goals.

//I was going to address the prison rape issue but the truth is, I can't make what I know about life inside (thanks to a cousin who spent most of his life in the correstional system as a mentally ill drug offender, and was, at one point, cell mate to Charles Rodman Campbell) and about the place of punishment in the American psyche (drop in to any online parenting community and follow, or try to follow, the discussion of corporal punishment) fit into a coherant statement beyond American society is addicted to the idea that punishment is essential to social order, and to learning, in the face of every piece of empirical evidence against.

#103 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:33 PM:

Bryan @75: hmm, I think if the "can torture ever be used" question implied a hypothetical 'the only way to catch a guy who has a magic notebook with which he can kill anyone just by writing their name in it involves torture, is it okay to use torture in that case?'

"The only way to catch" dodges the problem of torture not producing good intellligence...

(I haven't read "Death Note", but it sounds a lot like a True Name problem. As long as the guy does not know your name, he is powerless against you.)

#104 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:36 PM:

re: Prison reform - Charlie and Jo, you are very wise.

(And yes, when I read the mention of the Laundry in the OP, I went "ouch" too. And "but, but, but!" in response to the X-men mention, but then I haven't read the comics.)

#105 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:40 PM:

bellatrys -- I've read the ROTK appendices. And I don't see how Farmer Giles of Ham takes anything away from the intrinsic shinyness of King Aragorn. That said, I'll confess that I'm a Tolkein lightweight, since I've never been able to make much headway through the Simarillion. I'll give that another try.

#106 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:44 PM:

#96: Charlie, I was debating the suggestion that all would succumb. The shite would have to hit the fan quite a bit more than a week of simulated prison duty for me to succumb to evil.

Whether or not the correct number is "most" is also debatable, but I'll settle for "some". I'd also say that the number is probably a function of time, which is a reflection of social conversations/memes. I'd hope that there is a trend for the numbers to be decreasing over time (for decades or centuries of time).

#107 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 02:54 PM:

Inge @103: I've read the first volume of the Death Note manga, and yes, the detective who's hunting Light operates under a code name, without showing his face.

#108 ::: Karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:10 PM:

The various takes on the Laundry in this thread have brought back memories of Iran/Contra for me. I loved the conceit of agencies and actors outside the law but not outside the state in The Atrocity Archive and Jennifer Morgue. In real life, however, not so much. I was chewing on those memories when I read this description of Glenn Reynolds proposal for dealing the purported Iranian nuclear threat (I'm not linking to Glenn Reynolds.)

Seems like GR and HH have been reading to many comic books too. Or, as Avram suggested, watching too much 24.

#109 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:17 PM:

(<FX>Charlie hurriedly scribbles notes</FX>

Don't mind me folks, a large chunk of the plot of Laundry book #3 just came into focus thanks to this thread ...

#110 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:19 PM:

we once again see conservatives ... displaying an almost childlike faith in the competence ... of the federal bureacracy ... dishing out lethal force that they would never ... ascribe to, say, the people in charge of the Endangered Species Act.

wow. that about nails it.

#111 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:26 PM:

RE comics:

I read a fair number of comics, but I avoid like fuzzy green meat superhero and vigilante comics.

Too many seem to need to need to be set in what for lack of a better term I'll call the Judge Dredd world: Corrupt institutions, swaggering out of control criminals, sinister corporations, a public divided into a cloistered bourgosie and a struggling angry mob.

These ugly, stupid futures seem tailored made as a stage for adolescent power/persecution fantasies in.

No thank you.

(An interesting sub-case of this is Ellis' Transmetropolitan, which while set in a sometimes ugly weird-ass future has a hero who generally solves things with a pen more often than a gun. And usually the gun is a bowel disruptor.)

#112 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:27 PM:

#101: hey, I have to defend them; I'm a Laundry fan. Were I female, I suppose that would make me a Laundrette. (Please don't hit me. I couldn't resist the pun.)

#108: Karen, the Laundry isn't outside the law. IIRC it comes under the Official Secrets Act - which is kosher British law (albeit under a section of the act which is itself secret). It's secret, but not extralegal; don't forget it started out as part of SOE, which puts it under Hugh Dalton's Ministry of Economic Warfare. Of course MEW doesn't exist any more, so the Laundry's presumably under the Home Office or the MoD. But there's still a minister at the top and the Laundry is ultimately accountable through him to the Cabinet, and they're accountable to the Queen in Parliament, where British sovereignty is ultimately vested. They're no more outside the law than the Security Service.

Iran-Contra, by contrast, was actually illegal. It was an unofficial conspiracy to circumvent the expressed will of Congress.

#113 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:32 PM:

A few years ago on NPR was a show about slavery and the Underground Railroad. There's some "living history" museum somewhere (can't remmeber right at the moment) that has school groups come out. There's always the tough talk of, "I would have fought, I would never have behaved that way." And then they take the high schoolers out and put them in the situation. In less than a half-hour the kids are in full character as slave foremen, slave hunters, and good slaves, all through the use of verbal brutality by the park employees. So easily do the walls of correct/advanced society fall to brutalism.

#114 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:36 PM:

dishing out lethal force that they would never ... ascribe to, say, the people in charge of the Endangered Species Act.

This reminded me of my first encounter with 24-carat malign stupidity; the hobby of egg collecting. Ospreys, although common worldwide, are very rare in Britain, making their eggs even more valuable to collectors. The few breeding sites in Britain are guarded by Royal Marine reconnaissance patrols out of HMNB Faslane - the rest of their time, they guard nuclear warheads. They have been rather successful. The osprey chicks hatch peacefully because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on their behalf, as Orwell didn't say.

#115 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:43 PM:

#113: So easily do the walls of correct/advanced society fall to brutalism.

Do you want Bored of the Fries with that?
You can have mine.
I'm not eating them.

I do not subscribe.

#116 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:43 PM:

Evan #105: I slogged through The Silmarillion back in 1978, aged 13, after it was prised in succession from older by younger siblings, and it was the toughest thing I'd ever finished, and I'd read and liked Moby Dick. I re-read The Lord of the Rings itself many times before I picked up The Silmarillion to try re-reading it...

only to find that it's a breeze.

It must be a shock to people who've seen the movies and think that the Elves are perfect magical people.

#117 ::: Karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 03:45 PM:

The Laundry at the agency level is slightly constrained by hierarchical accountabily requirements but its individual agents are encouraged, or at least not discouraged, from acting outside the law (of whatever dimension.) The understanding is then like one of those standard espionage “if apprehended we will disavow all knowledge” type thingies. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I’d say that type of disavowal was in the mix during I/C .

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:02 PM:

Charlie Stross 92: Abandon the toxic addiction to revenge that gives rise to the idea of punishment by imprisonment, and redefine the goals of the judicial system as (a) rehabilitation and (b) protection.

Hear, hear!

Um...I'm not placing The Laundry at all. Someone want to enlighten me?

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:04 PM:

Just Googled it. *blush* Sorry, Charlie. I will read them, i will!

#120 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:06 PM:

Xopher, if you're an SFBC member, they're doing a special omnibus edition of both Laundry books round about now, titled "On Her Majesty's Occult Service". Or you can find them in the bookshops as "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue".

Karen #117: if you go back to them and try to identify the point where the protagonist first kills another human being, and under what circumstances, you might be surprised.

#121 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:26 PM:

Charlie @120: Or you can find them in the bookshops as "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue".

Only I can't find them at the moment. I need more bookstores around. Ordering from amazon is so boring.

#122 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:27 PM:

#115 Greg London, it must be tedious, at times, for one enlightened as such to see his fellow humans fail so often.

BTW, Greg, "With great power..." is a longwinded definition of Rajadharma. It's a very old concept.

#123 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:29 PM:

Oh, man, I'd forgotten about the Stanford Prison Experiment. (There's a German film called Das Experiment with Mauritz Bleibtrau that uses it as the basis of the plot, and there are some pretty brutal and horrifying moments dramatized therein.)

I like Charlie Stross's suggestions at #92 about addressing the real needs of the prison system. I've had an uncle go through a minimum security prison and he had "good cellies" and very little in the way of the problems outlined here...BUT very little was done to address the problems that landed him there in the first place. He did the time...then they released him. So, it was punitive, but did little to address the rehabilitation or future protection of society.

I was also thinking about the imperfections of our legal system, current, past, and future. We've imprisoned innocent people before--and if the consequence of removing them from society isn't enough, we've placed them into a dangerous and possibly unstable environment. Not that this excuses the crimes commited against prisoners at all, but it should at least give pause to the people who seem to feel that the prisoners deserve it.

It also strikes me that the whole "they deserve it" equation lacks parity. Because the prisoners perpetuating these abuses don't deserve the positions of power they've taken. And those who let them get away with it are rewarding them, letting them reshape the society and the environment inside the prison. If I was a warden, I'd be very concerned about letting that happen. It wouldn't make me feel like retribution was being dealt out but worried that the overall environment, for my guards and civilian workers at the very least, had become less safe.

#124 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Greg London #106: have a care before concluding that you're so much better than those people.

Another useful book on the subject of how easy it is for people to fall is Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.

#125 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:47 PM:

To paraphrase, "with great privilege, comes great responsibility". FDR believed this. I think GB Sr. believed it (before he was turned by the dark side of Republican politics). I doubt it GWB considers it at all.

#126 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:57 PM:

Stopping in briefly to make a couple of comments about prisoner's legal rights in the U.S.:

Adrienne @ #43: In most states, inmates can't sue for *anything* that happened to them while they were incarcerated.

If you are speaking about legal barriers, which I believe you are, this is not the case in New York, where I normally spend about 50% of my time on prisoner lawsuits.

I am reasonably certain that this is not the case in most other states.

I hope your friend is doing well.

Charlie @ #92: Finally: if you think I'm implying that we owe a duty of care to our offenders, you'd be dead right.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that the Constitution requires such a duty.

Ritual disclaimer: this is not a denial that many terrible things can and do happen in prisons. This is a comment about the state of the law.

#127 ::: Karen Sideman ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:57 PM:

Charlie Stross at #120: will do! How often does one get this sort of suggestion from the author? (Well for the convention-going folk here, probably more often than for me.)

I should clarify that I don't think the Laundry is an illegal covert conspiracy. It started this thread in a list of vigilante organizations (manned by smart people we admire) and got batted around into, um, another column. It was it's motion through the discussion that reminded me of Iran/Contra, not the thing itself.

#128 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 04:59 PM:

I just ran into this story on CNN's video page (no direct link because it requires popups) and here on Newsday. It seems a student opinion editor at a college paper wrote a "satirical" piece saying that rape was a magical experience for ugly women and convicts. A lot of outrage ensues....

#129 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 05:11 PM:

Charlie Stross @92:

I have a friend who's studying criminology, and one of her interests is how jails and prisons have become part of the problem (she's particularly interested in how prison contributes to gang violence). I'm not very educated on the subject, but what you say is similar to some things I've heard her say.

I think she'd be interested in this thread. If she has time, I'll encourage her to contribute.

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 05:39 PM:

Pixelfish 128: Rape, unfortunately, IS a magical experience (probably not in the sense the writer meant). Bad magic. Ritual desecration.

This reminds me that there was a group of Pagan women a few years ago who, as part of a rape-recovery program they were devising, did a ritual that amounted to a formal reconsecration of a rape survivor's interior space. You don't fight bad magic with anti-magic; you fight bad magic with good magic.

#131 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 05:44 PM:

#122: #115 Greg London, it must be tedious, at times, for one enlightened as such to see his fellow humans fail so often.

I find it tedious to be sarcastically derided for resisting the memes that portray man as absolutely nothing more than a function of his environment. I find it tedious to have to defend my objections to sweeping generalizations on how easy it is for advanced society to fall to brutalism with nothing more than an afternoon experiment involving high school students as its evidence. (that was my only point with #115).

Man is not a function of his environment alone. You do not plug a man into the prison experiment and automatically get a brute.

Imagine someone like Ghandi in your precious prison experiment and tell me that he too would succumb to brutality.

Either we can all become better than the prison experimenters who succumbed to brutality, or only certain rare individuals, such as Ghandi, have the power to resist temptation.

I say we can all do better. We can learn. We can choose. We can develop who we are.

Not just me. All of us.

And if that sort of attitude that we can do better gets a bunch of sarcastic shit from the peanut gallery, then fine. I still maintain we can do better as a people. I'll just have to extend my schedule a bit further out than I originally imagined.

BTW, Greg, "With great power..." is a longwinded definition of Rajadharma. It's a very old concept.

Raja Dharma's ultimate goal is Self Realization. If we are only a function of our environment, self realization is an illusion. Either we can all become better or none can. I say we can all achieve another level of self realization around something like the prison experiment, to the point that most people would "pass" the test.

Not just me.

All of us.

#132 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 05:48 PM:

Greg @ 131
Put an [/sarcasm] tag or something, because it doesn't always come through the tube so well, please?

#134 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Greg, I'm sure that even the experimenters would be prepared to bet that Ghandi, Jesus and the Dalai Lama would do better than the average college student.

I'm not sure where you get your righteous certainty that you are up there with Ghandi, or why you think the average plains ape is better than the data says they are.

Particularly right now, in the middle of one of the most pointless wars in history, and in the run up to one of the stupidest wars ever.

#135 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:09 PM:

Pertinent to the Stanford prison experiment, the Millbanks experiment, and the general attitudes of people in power towards the powerless, Terry Pratchett has this to say:

"There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed pyschopath that cannot be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do." --Small Gods

#136 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:09 PM:

your righteous certainty that you are up there with Ghandi

Fifty dollars if you can show where I made this claim.

#137 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:12 PM:

Gandhi. I can't spell Gandhi. Jesus Christ.

#138 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:17 PM:

Mispellings aside Greg, you put yourself up there with Gandhi in comment #131. You put me up there too. And all the students who already failed the test in the experiment:

Either we can all become better than the prison experimenters who succumbed to brutality, or only certain rare individuals, such as Ghandi, have the power to resist temptation.

I say we can all do better. We can learn. We can choose. We can develop who we are.

Not just me. All of us.

#139 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:32 PM:

Saying we can do better and citing Gandhi as an ideal isn't the same as saying anyone is up there with Gandhi.

When I was a kid, I remember watching a crop duster flying helicopter over our neighbors corn. I couldn't fly a helicopter then, but I saw somethign to strive for. And I ended up flying helicopters, though I never got to the point of having the skill that pilot did to fly by power lines and land on the back of a truck to refuel.

Either we are purely a function of our environment,

Or

we can improve ourselves.

If we can improve ourselves, then we have the potential to do better in the prison experiment. If we can improve ourselves, then certain individuals give us examples of what to strive for. But saying we can improve ourselves and using Gandhi as a possible goal to strive towards sure isnt the same as saying "I'm as good as Gandhi".

Gandhi was invoked as an example that disproves the blanket statement regarding the prison experiment. Not all people would succumb to brutality.

So the question is wehtehr or not we can strive for something better or whether we are a function solely of our environment.

#140 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:43 PM:

Either we can all become better than the prison experimenters who succumbed to brutality, or only certain rare individuals, such as Ghandi, have the power to resist temptation.

Which is it?

#141 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:48 PM:

So, back to prison rape. The comment threads depending from Ezra's posts are cancerous and revolting. In them you see examples of nearly every form of bigotry. "The power structure supports prison rape because they want to make us all gay." "Women are infantile and invent issues to get attention." "Finland has nice prisons because they don't have any immigrants." "White Power gangs do good because they defend whites from brown people who want to rape them."

Prison rape is like a seven-course sit down meal for bigots. Reading the thead reminded me of several posts I've read lately about other things: a survey of femininity touching on "women as the sex class". A post on what not to do as a white feminist wrt people of color: "So this should make you wonder how WOC are used in the mainstream media. Here's a clue, they're primarily used to perpetuate the idea that all MOC are evil-coloured-patriarchs and their cultures are backwards and stupid."

A lot of the previous discussion I've seen about prison rape jokes focused on whether they were just a way to be anti-gay without admitting it. Seems to me that the anti-gay part comes from the gender essentialist/sexist strain of anti-gay bigotry: the jokes are about how much it sucks to be the "catcher." They tend to ignore/excuse the "pitcher." Going back to the "lying with a man as with a woman" prohibitions, prison rape jokes are all about people being uncomfortable adding men to the sex class.

But you can't ignore the racist shit, either. Most of the prison rape jokes I've encountered follow the lines of "a big black man named Bubba". The idea behind this is that black people are stupid violent criminals, so just as prisons are full of black people they're full of rape.

All of this enforces ideas that racism has something going for it, and misogyny and anti-gay bigotry is funny. Prison rape serves not only to make us on the outside/on the top of the social heap feel superior, but also to keep us in our places.

#142 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:56 PM:

Greg, I think you're dancing close to the edge of a false dichotomy.

Your essential point is well-taken; of course we should strive to improve ourselves, and possibly even can. But we're in some degree the products of our environment as well. The lesson of the Stanford experiment isn't that this is the last word, it's that it's a factor, and one we ignore at our peril.

We need to consider the evidence of Stanford and similar studies if we ever have hope of being better, because we need to know that the Bad Guys don't have convenient black hats and that They Is Us happens all too easily. "The first step to avoiding a trap," yanno?

And I wonder, too, if your Lawful Goodness wants this to be more systematic and logical than it really is. But I don't think the beast in our nature is one we can defeat with Reason alone, and certainly not by pretending it's not there.

#143 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:01 PM:

One of the things that got edited out of my earlier post, because of my inability to synthesize what I know into something linear enough to inform others deals directly with rape as part of the punitive model. There is currently debate in the Washinton State legislature over a proposal by the Dept. of Corrections to supply inmates with condoms as a means to deal with a growing HIV epidemic in the state penal system. An argument against is that all sex in the inmate population is illegal, and providing condoms puts the seal of approval on illegal acts. Ignoring for the moment consensual sex, this puts the victim on the same level as the perpetrator of prison rape, and makes HIV a part of the penalty for breaking state law.

There's so much wrong with that reasoning that I can hardly bear to record it.

#144 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:04 PM:

Greg London - better yet, find an example where Zimbardo said that everyone would succumb in those situations. Or any of the other words you stuff into his mouth so that you may have an opposite to sanctimoniously oppose. The fact that most people go along to get along in pressure situations is a warning, not an excuse.

In the Milgram experiments, some people refused to participate, rebelling at an early and possibly unshakeable level. Very few reputable psychologists go around denying the existence of foundational research in their field. This may surprise you.

Back to the prison situation, Sara Robinson recently posted a letter from Soledad Prison on Orcinus.

#145 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:09 PM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy wrote Greg, I think you're dancing close to the edge of a false dichotomy.

I wish I'd read that before I posted, mumble mutter. This is an excellent point - human beings are not robots, and self-knowledge can change how we operate.

Another human tendency psychologists have documented is diffusion of responsibility. The reaction to this is not to quote Ghandi, but to incorporate into CPR training the lesson to pick specific people out of the crowd, require specific tasks and make eye contact. I'm sure there's at least one person here who can elaborate, if necessary.

#146 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:11 PM:

#140: Either we can all become better than the prison experimenters who succumbed to brutality, or only certain rare individuals, such as Ghandi, have the power to resist temptation.

Which is it?

Uh, I've answered this several times now. But OK. we can all become better than the prison experimenters who succumbed to brutality.

We can resist temptation.
Gandhi would probably resist temptation.
That does not mean we are "up there with Gandhi".

that's like saying:
I looked at the stars.
Galileo looked at the stars.
therefore I am just as smart as Galileo.

Gandhi was an example to break the sweeping generalizations being cast around regarding various experiments involving college students and high school students. Not all would fail the test. And even if we got to the point that we pass teh prisoner test, that doesnt' mean we're just as good as Gandhi.

Two (at least) different points have been rammed together.

#147 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:17 PM:

Before this turns into a dogpile, let me say that I quite agree with the principle Greg stated, that we can all improve. I hope that anyone who has seen the results of these tests will resist being carried along into viciousness and torture.

But I wouldn't bet money on it.

#148 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:28 PM:

Greg London - better yet, find an example where Zimbardo said that everyone would succumb in those situations.

Jumpingjehosifat.

This whole fricken misunderstanding started because I made a comment here. It was a response to a sweeping generalization that "So easily do the walls of correct/advanced society fall to brutalism."

Either you agree that's a sweeping generalization or you don't. I say it is. And I say it's false.

Because I disagreed with this, and apparently because Steve read WAAAAY more into it than I actually typed, he responded #115 Greg London, it must be tedious, at times, for one enlightened as such to see his fellow humans fail so often."

I parsed that as sarcastic bu****it. But maybe I read too much into it. Was it meant to be light hearted?

Then Niall came after me at #134 because she took two separate points and took them to mean I thought I was "up there with Gandhi" and accused me of self righteousness.


And I don't know if I actually said that Zimbardo said everyone would succumb. (Given how this thread is going, I think I probably didn't) But I have been disagreeing with the sweeping generalizations that have come along whenever those sorts of experiments are cited.

Actually, at #95, I was refuting the generalization that "you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get. It's not about "bad apples."

#135 quotes Terry Pratchett "There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed pyschopath that cannot be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do."

So, I believe whetehr or not Zimbardo said 'everyone would succumb to evil' is beside the fricken point. Quite a few people are willing to make sweeping generalizations to that very effect. Three times at least. On this very thread. In a few hours time.

And I disagree with the idea. But apparently I have done an attrocious job of pointing out that I believe these sweeping generalizations are false. Now I"m saying I'm Gandhi incarnate or something.

sheesh.

#149 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:47 PM:

It's probably worth noting that Gandhi by no means resisted all impulses to be domineering, dictatorial, and callous or even actively cruel to people with tastes different from his own. His achievement, the organizing and leading of a non-violent resistance movement long enough and in the right circumstances to get results, is huge and worthy, but he still wasn't a saint. End of footnote.

Tolkien and monarchy: I don't think he wanted people to accept the idea of an intrinsic social hierarchy lightly. I think he wanted people to accept it after due consideration and being convinced of its truth.

#150 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:49 PM:

The statement that otherwise rational and civilized humans fall easily into brutality, as a general (sweeping, perhaps) observation, is very clearly not false.

This is not the same as asserting that it must be true, always and forever, world without end. I would guess that all or most of the participants in this discussion agree (or at least hope) that this is not the case - otherwise there's no point even bringing up the original topic.

It's a fine distinction, but a vital one.

#151 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 07:56 PM:

#142 But we're in some degree the products of our environment as well.

yes. fine. but compare that to:

"duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day"

and

"you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get. It's not about "bad apples."

and similar statements, and these sorts of statements are far overextending what a couple of experiments have told us about being human.


it's a factor, and one we ignore at our peril.

I wasn't ignoring it. But we overextend the evidence at our peril too.

And I wonder, too, if your Lawful Goodness wants this to be more systematic and logical than it really is.

No. I understand we are messy creatures. But I think the above blanket statements are (1) false and (2) impediment to improvement. Why would anyone try to make themselves or others better if we are strictly a product of our environment. If you put us in the situation and we always react the same way, self awareness is an illusion.

But I don't think the beast in our nature is one we can defeat with Reason alone, and certainly not by pretending it's not there.

I know it's there. I know environmetn can have a huge effect. I was reacting to teh blanket statements that swept away free will and made us a product of our circumstance only. Put us in a prisoner scenario and we become brutal? No. Sorry. That is not hardwired into our programming. We can do better.

And now that I've compeltely blown my quota for the day....

#152 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 08:11 PM:

What struck me reading people piling onto Greg is how seductive the "we are a hair's breadth from barbarism" meme is. By now, we have had ample evidence of cases that prove this false. e.g., the behavior of New Yorkers in the aftermath of 9/11. All of the rapes and robbers which did *NOT* occur in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now, I grant that how people behave in an emergency situation may not be the way they behave when they are thrust into a position of authority. However, the "OMG, people will inevitably loot and maim in the absence of law enforcement" argument sounds an awful lot like the "OMG, people will inevitably abuse their power."

In both cases though, I see people strenuously arguing their own falability. This is why I think Greg's argument has hit such a sore point. He is seen as arguing his own infalability. Never mind that that's not what he's doing at all. I see his one statement about himself (#106) as a reflection of his innate Lawful Good nature and not relevant to his argument. However, I think everyone is reaction to that statement, and not his argument.

All he's saying is that it doesn't have to be a foregone conclusion that people, when placed in a position of authority, will inevitably become corrupt and abuse their power. People have choices over their actions. They can take the courage of their convictions and make the proper choices. Stated this way, I don't see why this is controversial.

He didn't say this was easy or that everyone would succeed. However, he also made a point to say (several times by now) that the decision to behave virtuously is one that anyone can make. If I read him correctly, the point is that it is not special, not great and it ought to be quite ordinary to do this. It ought to be what people do as a matter of course. Reserving such actions for the likes of Gandhi lets us off the hook.

I think I understood what he said because I read it within the context of his nature. (Having spent a weekend with him at a writers' workshop on Martha's Vineyard this past October, I'm quite convinced that he is, in fact, Lawful Good.)

What I find interesting though is how willing we are to believe the absolute worst about ourselves and how viciously we will defend those beliefs.

#153 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 08:20 PM:

As Phil Ochs once sang:

We're the cops of the world, boys
We're the cops of the world

#154 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 08:24 PM:

I suppose I disagree that those statements are overextensions. I very much believe that most ordinary people placed in situations where they can abuse power with impunity will do so in dreadful ways - unless they are vigilant and conscious of how easy it is to do so.

And I think we are right to resist this, and to do better. And I agree that it's not necessary to be a Bodhisattva to do this, no more than it's necessary to be a devil to go the other way. I think it is necessary to know how narrow the ledge is - not because we don't have free will, but because we, often tragically, do.

#155 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 08:49 PM:

Having spent a weekend with him at a writers' workshop on Martha's Vineyard this past October,

Totally unimportant correction of fact: I spent a week at the writers' workshop, not a weekend.

#154: There is an important distinction between insisting on being mindful of what may happen and insisting on what will happen. Until your comment, I saw a lot of the latter and not so much of the former.

#156 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:42 PM:

JC, I hope Greg doesn't feel I'm contributing to the dogpile, as I think I agree with at least half of what he's saying. I'm more than willing to believe that those points where we depart have everything to do with his deep and very apparent integrity.

Your points about the examples of humanity behaving admirably are well taken, but I might suggest that, if the focus here has been elsewhere, it's because those things don't illuminate usefully the issue at hand, which has everything to do with power and its abuse and the paths by which ordinary people act like monsters. (Though I have some issue with your post-Katrina examples; I don't think we get any points for the atrocities we don't commit, any more than the measure of a marriage is not indulging in abuse or infidelity. Sins avoided is, I think, a flawed metric of virtue.)

Anyway, if what's being knocked around here is the problem of how easily we wink at abuse in the name of "justice," and if part of that issue is that our thirst for punishment is linked to the ease with which we descend into brutality... then it's helpful to revisit some of the work that's been done looking into how and why this works, not because we're eager to believe the worst in ourselves, but because these are things we cannot avert our gaze from if we want to reach any kind of useful understanding of how to make it better.

#157 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:50 PM:

Jo, #97, a lot of USans who go to church on Sunday believe that the only reason to go to a prison is to lead the inmates to Jesus. Many of them also think the death penalty is a good thing.

#158 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 10:09 PM:

With the discussion here of the Milgram experiment and the prison experiment, I'm surprised that nobody has brought up the account (from the old CoEvolution Quarterly/Whole Earth Review) of a history teacher whose class argued that they'd never have become involved in the sort of thing the Germans did during WWII. The teacher dreamed up a social movement thing for the students called "The Wave" complete with salute which caught on like wildfire and at the big climactic meeting showed footage of the Nazis and said something along the lines of "and, like the Germans, you're all going to deny this happened." And they did. I'm told it was made into an especially sucky Afterschool Special, but if you read the actual account it sticks with you.

Zander:

I notice no-one's mentioned the arch-exponent of extra-legal violence, everybody's hero, Dirty Harry Callahan...

Sigh. Once again, I have to point out two details from the original film involving Dirty Harry. If you watch the entire film, soon after he gets his new partner they get a call involving a suicidal man. Harry goes up in a cherry picker to where the would-be suicide is going to jump and provokes the jumper into attacking him, which results in the attacker being subdued and brought down in the cherry picker. At that point he says to his partner "Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry. Every dirty job that comes along..."

Jump to the end. After Harry kills the psycho he takes out his badge, looks it over, and skips it across the pond in front of him. Clearly he understands that even though he's taken care of a truly "dirty job" he's thrown away his job and his career (hence throwing the badge away). Does this excuse what he's done all through the film? Hell, no! I'd argue, however, that this shows the character at least understands that while he did what he did for what he thinks are the right reasons he's going to have to pay for it in the end. I haven't seen the sequels, which I understand remove this note and change Callahan into a Batman in street clothes who carries a big honking gun, but there's more than that going on in the original film. And I think it's fascinating that it was written for Frank Sinatra, who decided it wasn't a good enough role.

#159 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 10:35 PM:

#156:Though I have some issue with your post-Katrina examples; I don't think we get any points for the atrocities we don't commit

Would it be better then, if I point to the self-organized communities that popped up in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina as documented by This American Life? (I mention what didn't happen in the case of Katrina because of the false reports of violence which were never substantiated.)

I should also point out that the TAL story also focused on the Gretna Police who seemed intent on breaking up these self-organized communities. So in one report, we have examples of both the instinct to organize benevolently and the instinct to destroy. What I find scary here is that the ordinary people were constructive and those trained to deal with extreme situations were the destructive ones. It makes me wonder about their training.

I understand that your point is that in the attempt to do the best we can do, we can not ignore that we also have an impulse to do the worst. I agree. I'm just trying to find a motivation for those, not you, who, in making their point, kept acting as if Greg had proclaimed himself as someone high and mighty who needed to be taken down.

#160 ::: Ragnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:04 PM:

#102 American society is addicted to the idea that punishment is essential to social order, and to learning, in the face of every piece of empirical evidence against.

This sounds like a job for education reform. So much could be fixed if we actually taught kids to think instead of just memorizing and regurgitating what they're told.

#161 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:33 PM:

Bruce @158: The Wikipedia entry on the Third Wave experiment -- the attempt by history teacher Ron Jones to give his students the experience of belong to a fascist movement -- includes a link to a page that has some primary sources on the matter, including a newspaper article about it written shortly after it happened, and photos of posters put up by anti-Wave dissent groups in the school. According to the article, some students even staged a putsch (Jones had promised to give an A grade to any students who pulled off a successful revolution against him) by "kidnapping" Jones on the last day of the experiment, planning to give speeches about democracy at the planned Third Wave rally, but he convinced them to release him by telling them he was ending it that day. So things aren't quite as dire as Jones's version of events implies.

Also, he didn't show Nazi footage at the final lunchroom rally (though that is how it was portrayed in the TV special, which I remember seeing), but just a TV set tuned to a dead channel.

#162 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 11:57 PM:

#131 Greg London, I'm awfully sorry if I disrupted your calm by returning your snark ("Bored of the Flies"). But really, the choice isn't nature vs. nurture, it isn't freewill (except in the most extreme existential aspect), it is about situation. These kids weren't given a free choice, nor were the prison experiments a free choice, nor really were African Slavery, WWII Germany, the Cultural Revolution, Pohl Pot's Killing Fields, the Armenian Genocide, Darfur, etc, etc. Are there examples of those who have resisted throughout history? Sure. And you do seem to be equating yourself with them in your earlier posts. But in these case the majority of people just went along with the program.

The choices in these situations are "do/accept this or suffer the consequences." Those consequences range from social disapproval to death.

You seem to have a "never in life" attitude toward such moral choices, or as someone else said, Lawful Good. I hope you are never faced with such a dilemma. But understand, there is no higher thought process happening in the situation, you are not given the moment to reflect. Humans are incredibly good adapters. It's our special niche. Most people will adapt to the situation in a way that allows them to survive.

There are thousands of such small examples that aren't as extreme as those given above. Corporations have more benign aspects of this same psychological compensation called, "being a team player" and "consensus building." There is the social aspect of "getting along." All of these involve persuasion and a willingness to put aside the individual for the group.

And, yes, brutality is right under the surface of "good" society. Does it always flair? No. The examples given above about Katrina and that we (at least appear to) move forward socially show that overall we can move "forward" (understand that's a cultural prejudice). History, though, is replete with examples of how quickly that "forward progress" can change with the slightest pressure in the right place. Examples for our own hosts' Particles and Sidelights, "The Radical Christian Right Is Built on Suburban Despair" and "Contract interrogator."

I'm glad you feel you can resist all of these things. I can resist much of it. But I also know where my bending point is, having been there a few times. And we all have bending points. It's either that or shatter.

Also, Raja Dharma is about duty and responsibility, not self enlightenment.

#163 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:09 AM:

Me @161: Looking through that guy's site a bit more, there's a definitely creepy anti-Semitic vibe. He does have good source material indicating that the Third Wave story has been exaggerated, but he also goes on to sort of imply some kind of Jewish media conspiracy behind the exaggeration. Ew.

#164 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:17 AM:

#92 Charlie Stross:

I think you need deterrence in there, as well. That's not the same as some urge to see people suffer, but plenty of crimes are pretty rational--think of embezzling or insurance fraud arson as examples--and the way you convince people not to do them is to make the cost pretty high. (To be clear, I'm certainly not suggesting that prison rape is an appropriate way to get deterrence.)

My impression is that rehabilitation programs haven't typically borne a lot of fruit, when looked at critically. This is particularly true of drug treatment programs--even when someone wants to break an addiction, it's damned hard to do; breaking someone's addiction when he doesn't even want to be there and is just trying to get through the four months without washing out and going to prison for a few years sounds almost impossible.

More generally, I think prison is pretty far down the chain of events that led the person to crime. By the time you end up in prison, you've often been pretty immersed in whatever kind of behavior got you sent there for quite a while, escalating to more serious crime or finally getting caught with enough evidence that you get charged or whatever. Trying to rehabilitate the person at that point seems a bit like trying to teach the guy in the middle of his sophomore year in college to read.

#165 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:27 AM:

#78 Greg London: "Most fiction stories that invoke the "with great power comes great responsibility" are stories that involve one or some small group of individuals who hold themselves above the law, because for some reason or another, the law cannot deal with some problem.'

You seem to be working with a definition of "responsibility" that sounds a lot like "privilege."* The problem here isn't with the idea of responsibility, it's in the minds of those who willfully misunderstand the concept.

*("Yes, thought Vimes. That's the way it was. Privilege, which just means "private law." Two types of people laugh at the law; those that break it and those that make it." -Terry Pratchett, Night Watch Funny how he keeps coming up.)

"The context is an indirect way of saying that a government formed by an equality of the people will always be flawed, due process will never achieve justice, and these flaws of an equal society can only be fixed by SuperMan and a will to power."

I do not believe that a people's government will always be flawed. Perfect government might be possible; who am I to say? However, such a government does not and has never existed. What we do in the meantime is a topic worthy of discussion.

That isn't even the point though. Whether or not society is just or injust, it is remarkably fragile. Any one of us can, at any point, break that social contract. Choosing, every day, not to abuse this power we have, is the essence of responsibility.

When I was a young driver, I got into a terrible wreck, fishtailing on loose gravel and flying off the road. When I got out, my vehicle upside-down in a drainage ditch, I looked across the road at a line of houses. It was pure chance I had caught traction angled away from them. For months afterwards, I couldn't drive without the painful awareness of exactly how easy it is to swerve off the road and cause incalculable damage, and how there is nothing there to stop you. Sometimes the feeling comes to me still. All of society is like this. We imagine there are walls, high and impenetrable, that keep us from doing all the terrible things of which we are capable. But we are wrong. All that is keeping us safe are lines, painted on the ground.

All of us have power, and with it comes responsibility. Some have greater power, be it through prodigous natural talent or pure happenstance. Upon them falls greater responsibility. Deciding that you, due to your great power, are not beholden to human law is the abdication of responsibility, and the assumption of privilege.

#166 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:29 AM:

Just as a general comment, a lot of people have commented on extralegal violence. I think the relevant issue is immoral violence. Prison rape wouldn't become okay if we passed laws saying it was okay, and shipping prisoners off to Jordan with a list of questions isn't okay, even if the law says it's okay.

In the context of fiction, I don't have particular qualms about a character ignoring or bypassing the law, but I do have problems with the character acting against his own moral code, as well as with him acting in ways I find seriously morally wrong. Someone who says "I'll get the job done, and to hell with morality" seems likely to end up as a monster.

#167 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:43 AM:

Greg, the part where you put yourself up there with Gandhi:

#106: "The shite would have to hit the fan quite a bit more than a week of simulated prison duty for me to succumb to evil."

#131: "Imagine someone like Ghandi in your precious prison experiment and tell me that he too would succumb to brutality."

Please tell me you can see how that could seem a tad egotistical.

#168 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:45 AM:

#162 Steve (and others):

My reaction to reading about these wonderful/creepy social psych experiments was to recognize that most or all people have the potential to just fall in and start abusing the prisoners, or administering electric shocks, and thus to try to build up some internal resistance to this. I don't think that's impossible. But it does seem like the first step is acknowledging that I could probably find myself administering the shocks, too. Once you get that, you can see what general moral principles you might try to adopt to avoid finding yourself there.

I've found myself in both kinds of situations since then--doing something pretty nasty without much thinking about it to get along with important/powerful people, and standing against something nasty being said despite this making me less popular.

This is why you have moral principles, right? Because you know your moment-by-moment evaluation of the rights and wrongs of the situation has all kinds of biases. If you've decided up front that you're not going to cheat on your wife, and thus you're not going to flirt beyond some very tame point, or go to the hotel room of a female coworker, you don't have to worry so much about hormones and horniness swamping your judgement. If you've decided up front that your response to people on your side of an issue proposing violence is going to be to speak out against it or walk out, then you don't have to decide, in the heat of groupthink, whether maybe this once it would be okay to beat up some prominent, offensive opponent of your point of view.

#169 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:50 AM:

I regret that I think Charles Stross's remedy impossible. I am not good enough, and I rather doubt that most people are. "Addiction to revenge" it may be, but I very much doubt that it will ever be possible for him to persuade me that the guilty should not suffer pains in just proportion to the pains they have inflicted on the innocent.

#170 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 01:50 AM:

Dave@169:

How sure are you that they're guilty? How much suffering will you do if you're wrong?

#171 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 02:02 AM:

#131 Greg London: "I say we can all do better. We can learn. We can choose. We can develop who we are."

"Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

People are people. You cannot ask them to change, to stop being human. You cannot base a society on the idea that people will face tough decisions and choose the "right" answer every time. "Not all would fail the test." So? How high of a failure rate would you find acceptable? How many prisoners could be abused before you thought we ought to change the system, instead of trying to change the people?

Changing people does not work. We are merely human, and human fallibility must be taken into account in our social structures. We must make being a good person as idiot-proof as possible. We cannot predicate the existence of a moral and just society on everyone becoming Gandhi.

#152 JC: "All he's saying is that it doesn't have to be a foregone conclusion that people, when placed in a position of authority, will inevitably become corrupt and abuse their power."

It's not a foregone conclusion. However, it is a statistical inevitability, especially given that people who seek positions of power generally want to use that power. Why not create the position in such a way that the power can only be used legitimately, and not have to worry about who gets the post?

#172 ::: narm00 ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 03:37 AM:

Malthus @ #100:

I haven't been paying attention to DC since the latest reboot, but subtextually, the Batman comics have detailed Batman's steady alienation and decompensation, as well as the fact that his crusade, instead of being at worst a futile attempt to hold back the darkness, is in fact contributing to that darkness.

Since the reboot - Infinite Crisis - Bruce's journey has been one away from the darkness. What we've been getting is a stabler, more human Batman, one who's less alienated, more willing to work with others. A Batman who, so far, has shown no sign of the belief /he/ needs to police the world, or that he can't trust others to do the right thing.

(DC have Paul Dini, one of the guys behind 'Batman: The Animated Series', writing 'Detective Comics'. 'B:tAS' portrayal of Batman was of a Batman more stable and balanced than the one then current in the comics, and Dini's brought that portrayal of Batman to his run.)

#173 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 04:46 AM:

"persuade me that the guilty should not suffer pains in just proportion to the pains they have inflicted on the innocent."

Some of the most horrible criminals are themselves victims of severe abuse; they have already experienced "comparable pain". What is the point in further torture? We cannot untorture any victim. And we cannot build social machinery that tortures without ourselves being corrupted by it--surely that is the whole point, here. Revenge is an attractive fantasy, but fantasy, I have come to believe, is usually all that it is. The reality is neither satisfying nor just.

"And many that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be so quick to deal out death to the living."

#174 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:05 AM:

Albatross, I think that's exactly right: knowing that a terrible thing is possible for us, we can look at what helps defend against it. And I think the right starting point is along the lines of "I don't know if I'm at risk for it. But I see that enough otherwise fine people are that I'd better hope I never get tested hard enough to find out."

#175 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:14 AM:

Avram@62: Rorschach made no mistakes? I seem to recall him going into a bar and breaking a man's finger to make him talk...and the man who no useful information at all. Hell, nobody in the whole bar did. And Rorschach didn't really have any good reason to believe that they did, either.

#176 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:27 AM:

"the man who" --> "the man had". Rephrased and somehow that word escaped change. Sigh.

#177 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:55 AM:

#171:It's not a foregone conclusion. However, it is a statistical inevitability

What is the difference between a "foregone conclusion" and a "statistical inevitability?" Aren't they both ways of saying "X will happen"?

#178 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 06:45 AM:

Avram@163: Definitely creepy and anti-Semitic. I really, really wish I hadn't looked at that from work now...

#179 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 06:58 AM:

pericat, that observation serves just as well to argue that nothing they don't like should happen to convicted criminals at all. After all, they might be still be innocent, for there is no form of justice system anywhere that is completely error-proof. The only certainty is imperfection, which is precisely to say that injustice will be done, from time to time.

Therefore, those convicted of crimes should not be institutionalised, nor coerced into rehabilitation programs, nor required to accept medical or psychological intervention, nor give up any of their freedoms, lest an injustice be perpetrated. But none of us believes that.

That is, the question of guilt is actually irrelevant. The question is not whether society may enforce sanctions on convicts. The question is what sort of sanctions, and for what reason.

I believe that society (as a whole, not one individual) has the right, not only to attempt the rehabilitation of criminals and to protect itself, but to punish crime.

Randolf Fritz: Nobody is advocating torture. In the local press today we had a report of a creature - I will not call him a man - who was given a lengthy sentence, essentially for pulling out his three-year-old stepson's fingernails with a pair of pliers. Certainly it would not unduly distress me to learn that he finds prison life very uncongenial, but I do not think that his fingernails should be similarly treated. With respect, I submit that there is some distance between the two.

#180 ::: John Dallman ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:08 AM:

One might claim that this kind of extrajudicial violence is fundamental to the "mainstream" American worldview. Certainly, I read quite a few articles at the time of the invasion of Iraq ayttempting to make sense of it on that basis.

The disconnect between the world's view of Gitmo and that of so many Americans certainly has a lot to do with this. It's made it obvious that, on the subject of prisons, the USA is not really a civilised country.

#181 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:20 AM:

There was a recreation of the Stanford Prison Experiment that was on TV. I didn't watch it, but from the FAQ page and newspaper reports, it had somewhat different results. This may have been to do with the place being full of TV cameras (which suggests at least one way to reduce prison abuse). Additionally there was apparently poor leadership amongst the guards, and good leadership amongst the prisoners.

#182 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 08:07 AM:

#168 albatross, yes, exactly, knowing that you could bend (maybe flex is a better word), knowing that you have, and working with those limits. Couple in the "moment-by-moment" evaluation with the knowledge of those limits, and the bar can be raised higher.

#183 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 09:11 AM:

Neil Willcox (#181): This may have been to do with the place being full of TV cameras (which suggests at least one way to reduce prison abuse). A Phoenix news station recently ran a piece about a prison beating that went on for at least 20 minutes, while a camera filmed it all, and drew no response whatsoever from the guards. So, alas, that's no guarantor of good behavior either.

It's a pity there's no universal Empathy Implant available. According to that "Nova" show, bonobo apes have the trait for it and so do we, while chimpanzees don't -- but to look at us, you could *sometimes* swear we're direct descendents of the most thuggish sort of chimps! (Only sometimes, not always.)

#184 ::: coffeedryad ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 09:34 AM:

WRT fantasy and the portrayal of extra-legal violence as a solution, I think one problem may be that it is very rare that the protagonists have to pay any price or suffer any consequences for their extra-legal actions. Bruce E Durocher II touches on this in 158 and notes that later portrayals of Harry wipe out what notes the first film touched. I'm sure that Icelandic saga and Greek tragedy have examples that just aren't coming to mind for protagonists who do righteous-but-unlawful things and then step up to take their consequences; what is coming to mind is the story of the 47 Ronin. "Thank you for turning yourselves in. You are righteous and honorable men and will be heroes to all Japan forever; now go committ seppuku."

#185 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 11:00 AM:

I spent quite a bit of time last night considering the fact that discussions and jokes about prison rape always focus on the victim. There's no discussion of what might motivate the rapist. (In fact, the existence of "the rapist" is ignored so thoroughly that it's almost as if he doesn't exist.)

But Madeline F. at #141 made pretty much all of my points, so now I have nothing to say except that I do think it's important.

Also, Greg London: please don't miss Heresiarch at #167.

#186 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 11:42 AM:

#167: Greg, the part where you put yourself up there with Gandhi:

#106: "The shite would have to hit the fan quite a bit more than a week of simulated prison duty for me to succumb to evil."

#131: "Imagine someone like Ghandi in your precious prison experiment and tell me that he too would succumb to brutality."


And yet, you didn't read 146. Since everyone seems to love to ignore what I'm saying and instead respond to their interpretation, I'll post it here again:

(paste)
We can resist temptation.
Gandhi would probably resist temptation.
That does not mean we are "up there with Gandhi".

that's like saying:
I looked at the stars.
Galileo looked at the stars.
therefore I am just as smart as Galileo.

Gandhi was an example to break the sweeping generalizations being cast around regarding various experiments involving college students and high school students. Not all would fail the test. And even if we got to the point that we pass teh prisoner test, that doesnt' mean we're just as good as Gandhi.

Two (at least) different points have been rammed together.
(/paste)

All I said was it would take more than a week of simulated prison duty to make me succumb. I know because I've been through worse crap than a week of simulated prison duty. And if that's egotisitical, so be it. I know what evils I'm capable of. But I also know that I'm capable of restraint at least out to some minimum point. But that sure as fuck didn't say I am going to non violently free a nation from empirialism and be a world leader like Gandhi.

I said I'd pass one week of simulated prison duty. that was it.

perhaps its fun to interpret it as being "up there with Gandhi and dog pile on me for how yuou interpret it.

But if you want to chide me for what I said, then all you can dogpile me for is having the nerve to know that I've been through worse situations than a week of simulated prison duty without succumbing.

That isn't even saying I'd pass every test. or that I'm perfect or infallible or anything else that would deserve all this "You think your shit don't stink" nonsense getting thrown at me by the peanut gallery.

I didn't say any such thing. All I said was I'd pass a week of prison duty without abusing prisoners. Wow. Sue me.

And while I understand I'm responsible for not making it painfully clear that the prison test and the Gandhi reference were relating to two different things and two different points, I feel that the glee and the tenacity and the absolute refusal to acknowledge any attempt I've made to clarify that I never put myself up there with Gandhi is not my responsibility.

#187 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 11:43 AM:

Albatross @164: I think you need deterrence in there, as well. That's not the same as some urge to see people suffer, but plenty of crimes are pretty rational--think of embezzling or insurance fraud arson as examples--and the way you convince people not to do them is to make the cost pretty high. (To be clear, I'm certainly not suggesting that prison rape is an appropriate way to get deterrence.)

It turns out that deterrence is a function not of the severity of punishment, but of the probability of punishment.

To someone contemplating fraud, it doesn't matter whether the sentence is one year or twenty, what matters is whether the probability of being detected and dealt with is 10% or 90%.

Heavy sentencing as a deterrent or "to send a message" has been tried repeatedly, and found wanting. If you want an example, try reading up on crime and punishment in 18th century England. Sentences were draconian by any estimate -- hanging for stealing two loaves of bread -- but they didn't result in a law-abiding populace; if anything, the great drop in British crime statistics in the 18th century coincided with a liberalization of the penal laws ... but also with the adoption of modern policing and the disarming of the aristocracy.

#188 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 11:52 AM:

d'oh ... s/18th century/early 19th century/

#189 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 11:58 AM:

#171: #131 Greg London: "I say we can all do better. We can learn. We can choose. We can develop who we are."

"Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

People are people. You cannot ask them to change, to stop being human.

Try reading what I write.
And stop adding your own shit to it.

I NEVER asked people to stop being human.
And twisting my words around so that
self realization and enlightenment and self
improvement and anything else that can make
a person better than they were and turning it
into somehow stumping for government control
through brainwashing is just pissing me off.

Are you purposefully reading every tenth word
of what I wrote?

Or is it just too damn fun to misinterpret
and dogpile?

Or are you seriously telling me that human
development is a black box? That we cannot
understand anything of how we develop?
Are you seriously suggesting that to ask
what is "Good" and how can we get there is
really on par with a government program of
social control through mind control and
brain washing?

Because if self examination is considered
taboo here, then I've obviously come to the
wrong blog.

Is telling people "Live like you were in the
early days of a better nation" mind control?
Is it asking people to not be human?

Is striving for something better really impossible?

Or are you completely misreading my posts
because you're having too much fun dogpiling?

#190 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:01 PM:

#187 Charlie Stross, I agree completely. Nobody plays the lotto/National Lottery to win second prize.

#191 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 12:08 PM:

Greg, please stop digging now, before you dig your hole even deeper.

#192 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 01:00 PM:

#85 "you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get. It's not about "bad apples."

#135 quotes Terry Pratchett "There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed pyschopath that cannot be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do."

#171: We are merely human, and human fallibility must be taken into account in our social structures.

Ah, it just clicked. All these statements go back to one of the earliest known false dichotomies: original sin. In his natural state, man is doomed to spend eternity in hell. His only possibility for salvation is some supernatural intervention so that, by the grace of God, he can go to heaven.

The moral of the story of Lord of the Flies is that the natural state of humans is barbarism. It proposes that if you strip away the thin veneer of civilization, we must neccesarily devolve into chaos. The only time some semblance of order is hinted at in the book is the very end when the navy captain shows up to take the boys back home, and enforcing order on the barbarians.

What does "you put ordinary people in these roles and this is what you get" saying other than in our natural state, we are barbaric. What does it say of mankind if a "normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day" can easily create the same excesses as a psychopath?

I believe the tale of original sin is not limited simply to the christian faith, but is one of the deeper bits of firmware in our brain. Anyone who thinks there is something fundamentally wrong in the world and that something is "people", is entertaining the fiction of original sin.

And I call it a fiction because I do not believe in Original Sin.

It is a false dichotomy. It casts the world into angels and demons and says the natural state of man is to be demonic. There is no room for human improvement. In fact to suggest that humans can make themselves better can actually get one accused of arrogance. But that makes sense in a world of nothing but demons and angels. THere is no in between. For a demon to think they can save themselves can be viewed as nothing but arrogance. The only way for a demon to improve in the world of Original Sin is divine intevention. ANd the person saved isn't saved because they deserve it, but because God graced them with salvation.

But secularists have their own version of Original Sin. Heresiarch said "We are merely human, and human fallibility must be taken into account in our social structures", which is what made it click for me. B.F. Skinner was an atheist and a determinist who thought man could be saved by social engineering. Of course, he was a psychologist who would be able to provide that very engineering.

I have never advocated any such social structure. All I have said is that humans can improve their lot in life. We are not demons doomed to burn in hell unless some deus ex machina saves us in the end. I have advocated nothing but that we have free will, we can learn, we can improve, and we can choose.

But deeper than that, something that goes back thousands of years in our social consciousness and is almost so subtle that it is like the air we breathe, is various forms of Original Sin. Of the terribleness of mankind.

And talking of free will and talking of self improvement and talking of people making the world better than it was, is all nonsense when listened through the filter of Original Sin. If man has fallen from grace, if man is unworthy, then talk of free will and self improvement is a waste of time. You must be saved by divine intervetion or the proper assembly of "social structures".

Now, if you just objected on the grounds that we need a state because there are bad people, criminals, terrorists, roaming the land, and therefore man has fallen and I'm wrong, then you've missed the point of the false dichotomy.

It isn't a world of just demons and angels. Saying we can improve ourselves isn't a demon saying we can become angels. It is a spectrum.

But I have as my base belief the notion that people have intrinsic value in and of themselves. They don't need divine intervention to say "you are worthy". The natural state of people is to be whole and complete. We do not start innately flawed and then are saved by god or society or some state-enforced rehabilitation program. We start innately whole and then only fall from grace by our actions.

And if we fall from grace, and it seems to be a natural condition of being human since we are not perfect, we are not angels, then if we can fall from grace on our own power we must also be capable of recovering on our own somehow. Divine intervention isn't needed to save us.

Which means talk of self improvement is not arrogant, it is a natural outcome of viewing the world not as angels and demons and divine intervention, but viewing it as a far more complicated but fully human endeavor.

If we can fail by our own actions, we must also be able to recover on our own. If we can fall back, we must also be able to move forward on our own.

And THAT to me is what it means to be human. To be able to make mistakes and clean them up, to be able to make ourselves better than we were, to learn, to improve. To move forward. To move backward. And to have every movement be our choice.

#193 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Oh, and while we're on the topic of psychological experiments, there are two that I can't remember the name of.

The first involved chimps (I think). Chimps were given a token of some kind and were trained to learn that giving the token to a human would result in them getting some kind of treat. Some chimps consistently got a small treat and some consistently got a large treat. All this training was done in isolation from other chimps. Then the chimps were brought together and what the experimenters saw was that when all the other chimps saw another chimp trade the exact same token for a big treat, some of the chimps who got small treats would throw their token away.

Some folks consider this experiment to show that the idea of "fairness" is not a strictly human capacity, and that it is something innate in higher-thinking animals. The idea being that to throw the token away and give up getting a treat would only make sense if the chimp viewed the system as a whole as being somehow unfair.

The other experiment involved children. An experimenter would bring two children to a table. They'd select one child randomly and give that child a bag of treats. The experimenter would then tell the child that he can divide the treats with the other child any way they want. most of the kids would give the other kid one or two treats and keep the lions share for themselves.

The experimenter then turned to the second kid and told them that they can either (1) accept the division of treats and take what was given them or (2) reject the division and no one would get any treats at all. (this wasn't explained until after the first kid divided the treats) Apparently, a number of kids would reject the division of treats if it were sufficiently lopsided. Which, from a purely logical poitn of view, doesn't make sense: get a few treats or get no treats at all, you'd logically go for get a few treats. Whether someone else got even more treats should be irrelevant from a purely cost/benefit view. But some look at that experiment and say it reflects the idea the "fairness" is an innate capacity in human beings, and that the way the experiment was done, the second kid would generally only accept the division of treats if they seemed somewhat close to "fair". If they didn't view it as fair, they'd reject all the treats.

Anyway, if anyone has a URL to the details of these experiments, I'd appreciate it. I'm recalling this from faulty memory.


#194 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 01:59 PM:

Greg, you said:

All I said was it would take more than a week of simulated prison duty to make me succumb. I know because I've been through worse crap than a week of simulated prison duty.

But you didn't make clear in your original post that you were speaking from personal experience. That makes a big difference (although technically, without knowing the history of the people in the experiments we can't say it's the determining factor.)

#195 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 02:02 PM:

coffeedryad@#184: I'm sure that Icelandic saga and Greek tragedy have examples that just aren't coming to mind for protagonists who do righteous-but-unlawful things and then step up to take their consequences

In fact, Njal's Saga -- generally conceded to be the greatest of the "big" Icelandic sagas -- is among other things an extended examination of the problem of violence in society (complicated by a legal system that essentially left all enforcement in private hands.) The titular character isn't a violent man at all -- his signature Famous Saying from the story is "with laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste" -- but he ends up burnt alive in his own house just the same.

#196 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 02:02 PM:

#192 Greg London.

Greg, meet Mr. Straw Man. Mr. Straw Man, this is Greg.

#197 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 02:03 PM:

I'm not 100% sure of that phrase "statistical inevitability." Maybe I'm showing off my ignorance again (cf. bodies in vacuum) but surely statistics do not prove that anything is inevitable? They describe past occurences, and we take them to model future probability, but they don't prove. They certainly don't provide causal necessity. Therefore none of their findings are "inevitable."

Granted, in practice, a high enough statistical probability closely resembles inevitability in appearance, but it's appearance only. 95 people acting with brutality doesn't point to any law of nature precluding 100 saints next time. It only prepares us for the extreme unlikeliness of that outcome.

Right?

Or wrong?

Please feel free to shout "bats aren't bugs!" at me again (cf. Calvin and Hobbes) if I'm embarrassingly off the mark here. I do learn, eventually.

#198 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 02:13 PM:

Having no dog in the pile, I am nevertheless reminded of three things:

1) I have, on one memorable occasion, been given the opportunity to partake in bullying a classmate. I am ashamed to say I took to the opportunity with gusto. For my sins, I was given a spectacular black eye and had to admit that the most despised student in our class was responsible for it.

2) I have, on many many occasions, been given the opportunity to stick up for the underdog on campus, mostly due to my own perrenial status as nearly-most despised student in the class until at least sixth grade. I am proud to say I rose to those opportunities, even when one of the bullies was the teacher. My actions weren't often effective, however.

3) When people start playing the "what would you do" thought experiment, I get very uncomfortable and leave the room before they can get to me. I have an iron-clad superstition (or else an understanding of how magic works) about that. I'm certain that, were I to aver that in X situation I would do Y, the Universe will find a way to put me in X situation and tell me, "Well, go ahead. Do Y, just like you said you would. Isn't so simple, is it?"

Besides, I've done bad and I've done good. I like to think I do more good than bad as I get older/wiser/more-mature (yeah right), but Gods forfend I be given the chance to disillusion myself about it.

#199 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 02:26 PM:

Greg, link to experiment involving capuchin monkeys:

Monkeys Show Sense Of Fairness, Study Says, National Geographic.

From the article: "Brosnan said the response to the unequal treatment was astonishing: Capuchins who witnessed unfair treatment and failed to benefit from it often refused to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers they received for their labors, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at human researchers."

#200 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 03:03 PM:

One of my favorite blogs is the surrealist Hitherby Dragons.

It has a number of stories that touch on the discussion here, particularly on the discussion between Greg et al. Here is one of the most appropriate.

#201 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 03:22 PM:

Dave Luckett: pericat, that observation serves just as well to argue that nothing they don't like should happen to convicted criminals at all. After all, they might be still be innocent, for there is no form of justice system anywhere that is completely error-proof. The only certainty is imperfection, which is precisely to say that injustice will be done, from time to time.

Well, no. I think there's quite a lot of room between "they should suffer in just proportion to the suffering they've inflicted" and "nothing they don't like should happen to them."

In order for someone to suffer to that degree, another has to see to it, deliberately. In the jokes made about prison rape, that person is an archetype: Bubba the Cellmate. Bubba has no conscience. Bubba has no social ties. Bubba is bigger than you are, and stronger. Bubba is never punished, because what Bubba's doing has social approval. Bubba is inflicting suffering on someone we think should suffer.

I don't want to be Bubba. I don't think anyone wants to be Bubba, at least, no one I would want to know. But if you wish for suffering to be visited on people convicted of crimes, Bubba's where that wish leads.

If it then turns out that Bubba's victim is innocent after all, and I wished Bubba into being, then would it not be justice for me to find Bubba on my doorstep?

#202 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 03:34 PM:

Greg,

I don't believe in original sin and I do believe humanity is more good than bad, but I also believe that there's a lot of potential for bad in most people, if they're put into the appropriate context.

That's the light in which I see the Milgram experiment and its like.

#203 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Now there's a plot-bunny for you: Bubba the Tulpa.

#204 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 04:27 PM:

David @175: That's what I get for posting at 2 AM.

What I meant by Rorschach not making mistakes was that we don't get a scene where Rorschach decides some guy is a horrible death-deserving criminal, tracks him down, kills him, and then it turns out he got the wrong guy.

Breaking the guy's fingers in the bar isn't a "mistake" in that sense -- Rorschach clearly intends to (1) torture the guy for insulting him, and (2) intimidate the members of what he considers a permanent criminal underclass. This illustrates an inevitable outcome of the conservative class-based worldview -- the arbitrary torment of the lower classes, who are considered automatic criminals by the enforcers of the social order.

Also notice how Moore comments on this worldview, by having Rorschach state it outright ("I leave the human cockroaches to discuss their heroin and child pornography. I have business elsewhere with a better class of person."), and then ironically refutes it (the "better class of person" is the perpetrator of the very crime Rorschach is investigating).

#205 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 04:47 PM:

194: But you didn't make clear in your original post that you were speaking from personal experience. That makes a big difference

I said I could go a week in the prison experiment and pass. For that I'm accused of being arrogant. If I actually DID pass, how exactly does that change anything? I'm arrogant if I predict I'd pass? What's that make me if I actually did it and am talking about it after the fact? Boasting?

How about folks jumped to a fricken conclusion based on their view of people in general and decided it must, by neccesity, apply to me?

Never mind that I've gotten piled by a number of people who took a completely unrelated reference to Gandhi and ran with it until it turned into me saying I'm comparable to Gandi. If you parse what I said, the only way to get from my actual words to an interpretation that I believe I'm on equal footing with Gandhi is to take two different posts, take two sentences out of context, and jam them together. Then ignore every post by me that clarifies that wasn't the case.

#206 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 04:49 PM:

#199: pericat, that's it! Monkeys, not chimps. probably would have helped my google search. Thanks.

#207 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 04:52 PM:

#196: Greg, meet Mr. Straw Man. Mr. Straw Man, this is Greg.

Your logical argument slays me. You win. I'm a loser.

Feel better?

#208 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:09 PM:

[mom]
I want you all to go to your rooms, sit quietly, and think about what you said.
[/mom]

#209 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:14 PM:

Greg London said:

I said I could go a week in the prison experiment and pass. For that I'm accused of being arrogant.

The thing is, we're told that all those people who were involved in the experiment also said that they wouldn't succumb, and they were proved wrong.

They said the exact same thing that you're saying. So what exactly makes you different from them?

You say, "I've been under similar conditions and didn't succumb." That is meaningful. It may differentiate you from them. But you didn't make that clear up front. How are we supposed to know it if you don't tell us? We can only go on the data that we have.

I think this is a miscommunication issue. It's not a question of anybody being right or wrong.


#210 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:22 PM:

"Also notice how Moore comments on this worldview, by having Rorschach state it outright ("I leave the human cockroaches to discuss their heroin and child pornography. I have business elsewhere with a better class of person."), and then ironically refutes it (the "better class of person" is the perpetrator of the very crime Rorschach is investigating)."

Personally I think Rorschach meant better class of person ironically. Veidt is, after all, "possibly homosexual", hypocritical, and a manipulative profiteer on acts of heroism in Rorschach's eyes.

#211 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:23 PM:

#202: I don't believe in original sin and I do believe humanity is more good than bad, but I also believe that there's a lot of potential for bad in most people, if they're put into the appropriate context. That's the light in which I see the Milgram experiment and its like.

That seems like an accurate assessment.

So, the question then is can people change? Or are humans human and will always be human?

Would it be possible for people to change, to learn from something like the Milgram experiment, and to make themselves better? Could it be possible that at some point in time, some psychologist could create some variant of the experiment, take a group (maybe even randomly sampled from the whole population), subject them to the test, and find that most of them pass?

Or it is arrogant and foolish to suggest we can do better? Does past performance define the complete range of possible future results? Or do we have some wiggle room?

I'm not talking about perfection as Malthus seems to be digging at in #200. I never said I could be perfect. To be human seems to mean falling and picking ourselves up. I'm just wondering if we can also take some measurable step up once in a while.

#212 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:32 PM:

meta-comment: Is it a full moon or something? Everyone I know, on and off the internet, including myself, are finding that all their conversations and actions are blowing up into giant shtstrms. Everyone is angry and/or hurt and no one seems to be able to communicate with anyone else. Most of the time, everyone involved has a point, but no one seems to be able to get through to anyone else.

I am informed that Mercury is retrograde, but a) am not one for astrology and b) it started happening before that anyway.

#213 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:48 PM:

Greg @211: Zimbardo's answer, anyway, seems to be yes. He seems to think we can and should learn from experiments like his, to study why and how some people risk societal disapproval, or life and limb, to help others in situations where every self-interested choice would be to hurt others -- and teach everyone how to do that.

http://www.prisonexp.org/edge/page7.htm

The hero is somebody who somehow has the inner qualities, inner resources, character, strength, or virtue—whatever you want to call it from Marty Seligman's Positive Psychology perspective—to resist those situational pressures. And we know nothing about those people. There has never been a psychology of heroism. For example, after the Holocaust it took 30 years before anyone asked the simple question of whether anybody helped the Jews. We were so obsessed with the evil of the Nazis that they didn't ask the question. When they asked, the answer was, Yes! In every country there were people who helped Jews. There were people who put their lives, and potentially the lives of their whole families, on the line to hide Jews in barns and attics when, if they were caught, they would be killed. Those are heroic deeds. When those people were interviewed years later, typically they said it was no big deal. They couldn't understand why other people didn't do it. It looked like they were a little more religious, but there is no research that studies the moment of decision when you are about to engage—to go along or to resist, to obey or to disobey. This is the kind of psychological research that would be exciting to do. [...]

[...]We don't know what that special quality is. Certainly it's something we want to study. We want to be able to identify it so we can nurture it and teach it to our children and to others in our society.

#214 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:51 PM:

They said the exact same thing that you're saying. So what exactly makes you different from them?

Look. This isn't a communication problem. It's a worldview problem. We're not talking about some mathematical thing like the odds of winning the lottery. We're talking about human beings. If you view people as unchangable, as "human" and always will be "human", then for someone to think they can do better than someone else did before will be viewed as arrogant for proposing the impossible. If you think people can learn from the past, and improve themselves, then for someone to say they think they can do better is automatically in the realm of possible.

Not to mention, I believe the acutal Milgram experiment showed even then that not all succumbed. Were these individuals completely random? Were they flukes? Did they just get lucky? Was a reflection of character? There is a whole lot of stuff that happened in the Milgram experiment that qualifies as undocument variables in the experiment. Which would automatically mean that statistically, you can't make any predictions about how any single individual would react. Nor can you make any predictions if your random sample happened to be police officers heavily trained in proper proceedures. The experiment was a randome sample of college students if I remember correctly. You can't even extend that experiment to middle aged people. What if you happened to randomly select some WW2 vets who knew the importance of humane treatment because of some nasty shit they saw the enemy do? I believe other psychologists have even mentioned various issues they have with the experiment producing any sort of usable information because of teh way it was conducted.

And yet, some are so eager to embrace the irredeemable savagery of mankind that they swallow this one experiment as the word of God himself. And then ride my ass for the audacity for suggesting I might pass the test.

#215 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 05:56 PM:

Caroline @ 212

It's new moon, or will be tomorrow. Whether that makes a difference is another matter. Maybe it's just 'stupid time'.

#216 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 06:39 PM:

On the monkey/child fairness studies, Greg writes:
Which, from a purely logical point of view, doesn't make sense: get a few treats or get no treats at all, you'd logically go for get a few treats.

This is only true if the monkeys/kids know that this experiment is a one time only artificial thing which will never be repeated.

Smart monkeys/kids will apply the rules they have learned from years of experience in the real world: if the experimenter is acting like a bollocks, it's probably because he is a bollocks, and throwing the cucumber at him and refusing to cooperate is the sensible course of action.

It's only 'illogical' if you pretend that the monkeys/kids are brand new logic engines fresh from the assembly line, who've never met an actual bollocks before.

#217 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 06:39 PM:

Greg @211, first off, I wasn't implying anything by my post in #200. I merely thought the story was good and relevant.

Secondly, here's a little analogy to explain why people might be upset by your comments. I'll assume we've all known belligerent drunks, and that moreover, we know that a certain proportion of these drunks are perfectly pleasant people -- when not drunk.

Now along comes someone who's never had a drink in his life, and who says that a) if he were to drink to excess, he wouldn't be an unpleasant drunk, and b) it should be possible to teach people not to be so unpleasant when drunk.

It might not be unreasonable for people to then say a) you don't know that, and b) yes, that would be nice, but it's not likely, so we should make sure to cut people off before they get to the point of belligerence.

I think part of the acrimony in this discussion is that Laurence, PJ et. al. are taking offence to your part a), seeing it as a claim that you are better than what they believe to be the vast majority of humanity. Also I think that they have a distrust of statements like b), since such statements have occasionally led to horrors in the past.

Laurence, PJ, I think Greg meant it more in the way of say, a social reform movement which, in addition to prison reform, would incorporate, say, formal or informal grade-school education on how to behave when in a position of authority. Also, it is not the vast majority of humanity which behaves this way when put in these situations. It is, however, a significant supermajority.

#218 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:08 PM:

#60 Dave Bell

Wait. You're in the UK, who the fck are you to talk? Go read some of your country's history.

#219 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:14 PM:

#217:Now along comes someone who's never had a drink in his life, and who says that a) if he were to drink to excess, he wouldn't be an unpleasant drunk, and b) it should be possible to teach people not to be so unpleasant when drunk.

I think part of the problem is that people jumped to the conclusion, based on nothing, that he had never had a drink in his life when he actually had real life experience being a pleasant drunk when having drunk to excess.

#220 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:19 PM:

Josh, I agree that the Brits have very little excuse to bitch about the USA, since Blair belongs in the dock at the Hague with Bush for the crime of starting a war of aggression against Iraq.

When they've locked Tony up for his part in murdering a half million Iraqis to get Bush re-elected, then they can bitch.

Meanwhile it's you that should be afraid of your government, not Dave.

#221 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:20 PM:

JC, he says he's a pleasant drunk. Drunks usually do.

#222 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:35 PM:

here's a little analogy to explain why people might be upset by your comments.

Now along comes someone who's never had a drink in his life, and who says that a) if he were to drink to excess, he wouldn't be an unpleasant drunk, and b) it should be possible to teach people not to be so unpleasant when drunk.

It might not be unreasonable for people to then say a) you don't know that, and b) yes, that would be nice, but it's not likely, so we should make sure to cut people off before they get to the point of belligerence.

Wow. You know. If anyone had replied half as politely as you've portrayed in your analogy, I probably would haven't batted an eye. Instead, what I got was an eyefull of sarcasm, beligerence, name calling, among others, all of which basically boiled down to "How dare you, you arrogant ____".

So, perhaps, rather than rewrite history into a nice, clean, and sanitized version of reality, perhaps we ought to stick with what really happened.

Not to mention, your analogy is flawed in two important aspects. First, you reframe a moral choice of of the prisoner experiment into a chemical reaction of drinking alcohal. And unless you are saying free will is an illusion and determinism is reality, that turns your analogy into a strawman. Second, you assume to know me and that I've "never had a drink in my life".

But were we to play in your analogy, all that happened is someone said "So and so's experiment shows that most poeple become obnoxious when they get drunk." and all I said was "I'm a happy drunk" and a number of people got all pissy because studies and statistics are never wrong, and how dare I be so arrogant as to suggest I wouldn't be a terrible drunk too.

Well, how the hell would you know how I am when I get drunk? If people get upset by my "i'm a happy drunk" comment, they're misuing and abusing their statistics. It's not like anyone asked me. It's not like anyone was nearly as polite and proper as your analogy suggests. It's not like anyone realized that statistics don't apply to individuals such that everyone must fall into the biggest part of the bell curve. No. I got dogpiled for being so arrogant as to suggest I'm not statistically normal, by people who assumed to know me.

#223 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:56 PM:

#221: I believe the pile on occurred before anyone had said anyone about the sort of drunk he is. That's my point. People jumped to conclusions based on nothing.

While I take your point, I don't believe it's actually relevant to my argument.

#224 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 07:57 PM:

Greg is a good guy. Everyone should lay off dogpiling him.

I'd like to think I'd've done better than the guys who were the guards in that experiment. Part of the reason I think I might is that I've heard of the experiment!

Also, I'm not a college student. College students are notorious for killing each other when they were only joking.

In any case, the difference between you all and Greg is that he think humans have the capacity to be better to each other than that, a viewpoint I share. The subjects of that experiment did not have the training or experience to withstand those stresses. Being put (naive to the psych and at college-student age) into that experiment is not something I've experienced, and thank gods, but there's really no reason to jump all over Greg.

He's a good guy, as I think I said.

Greg, I'm sorry it took me so long to come and defend you. I've been wrapped up in my own shit.

#225 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 08:38 PM:

We've already had the "discussion on something important turns into a discussion on whether or not Greg London is a fool" for this twelvemonth. Maybe it's a half-yearly cycle, but I'm hoping that instead we can ignore the entire subthread and talk about something important. I think everyone's points are clear. The discussion from early this morning before the Greg subthread reappeared was getting somewhere interesting.

#226 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 08:53 PM:

To continue Dave Bell's analogy, the UK would be one of the prisoner-trustees. Maybe when the prison riot breaks out, we won't be getting a shiv in the back, if we're lucky. Maybe that's taking the analogy too far.

The people of the UK are stuck in a similar position to you, JC: we can't get rid of the slimy git in charge, either. We thought we could force him out by swapping him with Brown, but the guy's still holding on to the door jam, refusing to budge.

#227 ::: Laila ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 09:30 PM:

With all due respect, Patrick, I think you've missed the mark on the "extra-legal violence" thing. The problem is rape and our culture's acceptance of torture and degradation, not extra-legality. Extralegality and vigilantism can be a problem, certainly, but it's not THE problem when it comes to prison rape. Would the rape be any less appalling if it were a legal, procedurally-instituted punishment as it has been in other societies? We don't even need to go back to ancient Rome to find examples of that--remember the Mukhtaran Bibi case in Pakistan? Procedural, legal gang-rape. The will of society, expressed through law in a formal and correct way.

Legality is the least important issue here. It's the way our culture gets off on sexual degradation of those we hate, despise or are simply indifferent to.

#228 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 09:58 PM:

Greg, I don't mean to dogpile on you here, but you were the one who started with the sarcasm (see #95 and #115). And yes, your tone was more than a little arrogant. My post was intended to defuse the rhetoric on both sides, and that's why I toned it down.

As to my analogy being flawed: I apologize for assuming "you've never had a drink in your life". You are correct, I don't know you, and don't know whether or not you've ever been in a position where you had ultimate authority over others with minimal oversight, nor how you behaved when and if you were in such a position.

However, I believe that the remainder of my analogy is valid. I believe in free will; I believe we still have free will while under the chemical effects of alcohol. What I also believe is that, like alcohol, being put in a position of authority where no one else can check your behavior has a profoundly disinhibiting effect on the human psyche. This effect might be even greater than alcohol in the long run, since most people have had experience with alcohol and most know how to moderate their behavior while under the influence -- while most have not had that experience with virtually unlimited authority.

As a slight sidenote, I just today came across a blogpost describing a recent power-related psych experiment.

#229 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 09:59 PM:

pericat,you say, "if you wish for suffering to be visited on people convicted of crimes, Bubba's where that wish leads."

I would rejoin, not necessarily. I do think that felons should suffer pains in some way proportional to the enormity of their crimes. That is not to say that I think they should be raped and assaulted and tortured. I think being bunged up with their own toilet, as Rumpole put it, is enough, if the period be commensurate, though I would add that the bed should be hard, the accomodations spartan, the food institutional, and personal contact minimal. I think the treatment should be disinterested, impersonal and cool.

Even this regimen I would not apply to those who suffer a psychological illness. I admit that there is difficulty in some cases in deciding what is a psychological illness and what is wilful criminality; these cases should receive the benefit of the doubt. But I deny that such a regimen amounts to torture, and I hold that it is no more than just.

#230 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Now might be a good time to offer a brief comment about why the phrase "extra-legal violence" sticks in my craw. It suggests a distinction between "extra-legal" and "legal" violence. Perhaps we might have an attorney in the house who would be willing to comment on the topic of "legal violence" because, as I'm given to understand (tho, let's be fair, I am a clueless idiot), "violence" has a specific meaning under the law, i.e. it's pretty much synonymous with "unlawful use of force."

So, um, yeah— getting back to the point, tacking on that "extra-legal" modifier makes me nervous because it sounds like "extra-extra- double unlawful use of force," i.e. there's unlawful, and then there's what we really find unacceptable.

Which brings me around to the topic at the top of the discussion. Is the constant threat of rape in American prisons a case of "unlawful" use of force, or is it a case of "extra-extra-double-secret-really-seriously-this-time-cross-your-heart-hope-to-die unlawful" use of force? Because, if it's the latter and not the former, I would have expected our prisons to have been reformed over a hundred years ago.

#231 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 10:51 PM:

#230 j h woodyatt, our prisons have been reformed several times as society vacillates between "Prison is for reforming criminals" and "Prison is for punishing criminals." We've done that flip-flop a couple of times. Currently we're in the latter ideology right now, although I feel the pendulum swinging to the former.

The "extra-legal" or "super-legal" title to me has always meant "above the law." Or that there are agents we specifically grant license, or those that "empower themselves," to act beyond the laws. All of it is illegal action (violates separation of powers and oversite or is vigilantism). Sometimes it hits into areas where if the action was committed one way, it would be illegal, but since we did it on the last Thursday of the Month, while going widdershins that there is no "supervising legal authority" to prosecute the crime.

#232 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 12:29 AM:

One thing about prison rape is that it happens with the substantial knowledge and acceptance of the authorities, even though it's not officially sanctioned or done by them. It's in a kind of in-between state, not an official act but unofficially winked at.

#233 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 12:47 AM:

#187 Charlie Stross:

Do you have some data to back that up? You seem to be saying that the deterrent effect is completely independent of the punishment--that raising the penalty for speeding from a $100 fine to ten years in the salt mines has no effect on speeding, that dropping the penalty for murder from life in prison to community service has no effect on the murder rate. That seems implausible to me.

I would expect the severity of the punishment, the probability of having the punishment happen given that you commit the crime, and the delay between the crime and the punishment to all have an impact. I expect that one of the best things we could do to maximize deterrent effect is to minimize the time between crime and punishment, since people discount future costs relative to current ones. (This is why anybody ever starts smoking--dying of lung cancer is a high cost, but it's decades away when you start.) Eliminating plea bargaining would also help, since the probability of punishment would go up.

David Friedman has some really interesting discussion of these issues on his website, and in his book _Law's Order_. His assumption is basically that the deterrent effect of a law is based on the discounted (for time) expected punishment. Most kinds of punishment are inefficient, in the sense that you make the criminal much worse off (killing him or wasting years of his life sitting in prison) without making anyone else better off--it's a complete loss. So where possible, raising the probability of punishment and decreasing the delay for punishment is a big potential win--you can have a lighter punishment with the same deterrent effect.

I suspect that deterrence in general works less well on the kind of people who commonly get into trouble with the law, since they tend to be less intelligent and more aggressive in terms of personality than the surrounding population. And the deterrent effect of prison is much lower for someone whose father and brother have done time, say, since it won't be a scandal that shocks and shames his family and friends.

#234 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 03:09 AM:

Dave Luckett, I don't think you substantially disagree with most posters here. Most accept that prison should have some punitive element, and I don't like to use the phrase "all right-thinking people", but I think it applies in this case: all right-thinking people agree that the punishment should not go as far as torture.

Trying to define the exact details of how a prison system should work in an ideal society is an interesting philosophical exercise. However, in this actual society, people are getting raped in prison, and this is tacitly accepted by both the prison authorities and the general public. This can't be justified because sexual torture is "commensurate" with any crime that the victims might have committed. It is a horrendous injustice, and we all want to remedy it.

Meanwhile, a relevant thought experiment couched in terms that may appeal to fans.

#235 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 04:10 AM:

j h #230, there are people who are licensed by society with applying violence legally: the police and the armed forces. That violence is limited and controlled in various ways, but when we want doors kicked in and truncheons swung, the police are the people we employ.

Various kinds of violence are also legal for ordinary citizens, such as in self-defense.

In fact, in the first Bronson vigilante movie, Death Wish, our hero begins his career as a vigilante by walking through dangerous parts of town and defending himself when attacked (he does have a legal issue with carrying a load of loose change in a sock, an offensive weapon in some jurisdictions, but anyhow...)

#236 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 04:16 AM:

Greg London:

I have no desire to dog-pile, Greg. My disagreements with you have very much do with what you are, in fact, saying. So, in the spirit of amity, two apologies: I am sorry you read my post re: Greg=Gandhi to mean that I thought that you had made such a claim. I should have been clearer. My intent was merely to show you where that misunderstanding had come from. They were wrong, it seems, but it was an easy mistake to make. Second, I am sorry that my Serenity quote made it sound like I thought your genuine desire for human self-improvement is equivalent to a government brain-washing scheme. It is not. However:

#192: "But secularists have their own version of Original Sin. Heresiarch said "We are merely human, and human fallibility must be taken into account in our social structures", which is what made it click for me."

I cannot speak for anyone else you accuse, but I myself am no believer in original sin. For one so sensitive about having beliefs you do not espouse thrust upon you, you are quite quick to do the same to others. I never suggested that anyone is predestined to be anything, be it angel or demon, and I never suggested that we "doomed to burn in hell unless some deus ex machina saves us in the end." I believe that we are all responsible for our own actions, no matter the extenuating circumstances. I firmly believe that the only thing we can be made to do is die--everything else is a choice of one sort or another. This is not, I should note, the same as believing that environment does not affect people's actions.

"And THAT to me is what it means to be human. To be able to make mistakes and clean them up, to be able to make ourselves better than we were, to learn, to improve. To move forward. To move backward. And to have every movement be our choice."

If it were all that easy, I wouldn't have any problem letting people make all the mistakes they wanted, and learning from them, or not. But it isn't that easy: mistakes have consequences. Other people get hurt, and suffer. And the biggest, nastiest consequence of making mistakes is that it tends to cause other people to make mistakes too. If it were simply a matter of "cleaning up" afterwards then I wouldn't care. But hurt can never be undone. A molested child can never be unmolested. And so as long as people are capable of hurting other people by their mistakes, I will never endorse a view that holds that placing responsibility is more important than prevention.

In the end, who or what is responsible for the harm is irrelevent. I am supremely uninterested in the ultimate epistemological nature of the perpetrator's guilt. Societal pressures, their own free will, I don't give a fuck. I am interested in one thing only: how to prevent these bad things from happening. Finger-waving, and saying how much better you would do in the same position accomplishes precisely nothing. Self-improvement is ultimately inward-facing: it can only be initiated by oneself. It cannot be forced. Recognizing that behavior is influenced by environment, and that modifying the environment can encourage good behavior--that is useful.

#237 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 04:40 AM:

#177 JC: "What is the difference between a "foregone conclusion" and a "statistical inevitability?" Aren't they both ways of saying "X will happen"?"

I'm not a statistician, so I am more or less making this up, but in my mind a foregone conclusion is like dropping a rock: it will fall. There are no cases in which it is not true. A statistical inevitability is something like the chance that I will die: at any given moment (or in any given case), it is uncertain, but over a long enough timeline (or sample size), it will be true.

#214 Greg London: "We're not talking about some mathematical thing like the odds of winning the lottery. We're talking about human beings."

Actually, we're talking about both. What is the percentage, of all the human beings put into positions of power, who will abuse that power? It doesn't have to be a very high percentage to be pretty scary. So why this emphasis on the fact that "not all succumbed?" The scary thing is that any of them did.

#233 albatross: "Do you have some data to back that up? You seem to be saying that the deterrent effect is completely independent of the punishment--that raising the penalty for speeding from a $100 fine to ten years in the salt mines has no effect on speeding, that dropping the penalty for murder from life in prison to community service has no effect on the murder rate. That seems implausible to me."

Agreed. However, it does seem that the likelihood of getting caught would be the more important of the two. If you don't expect to get caught, then who cares what the punishment is? Making the likelihood of getting caught high enough is a requisite for making people even think about the potential consequences.

#238 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 04:52 AM:

Greg: You really don't get what I mean when I say people will always be people. I don't mean they will always be petty and cruel. I mean they will always be exceptional and amazing and kind and mediocre and petty and terrible and cruel in the same bizarre, human mix that they've always been. They'll use that crazy "free will" of theirs to do both the things you approve of and the things that you don't, just like they always have. Free will is, well, free: you can't expect it to do what you want. If you want to effect a big, universal change in human behavior, you can't look to the free will. You must look to the social environment.

#239 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 04:57 AM:

Dave #229: I disagree with you, very strongly. I don't think that vengeance is an acceptable motive to do anything. We're supposed to be civilised people, not Pashtuns.

Prison is supposed to have three functions: deterrent; protection; rehabilitation. Making prison unpleasant, as a deterrent or for the sake of answering society's desire that "criminals should not have a good time", turns out to undermine the rehabilitation side of things - as soon as you release the criminals, they reoffend.

Charlie has a point: the effect of more severe sentences has a negligible effect on crime rates. Criminals, like other people, aren't economically rational (note that this is Friedman's assumption, not his conclusion); in reality it's far more effective to double the chance of detection than to double the sentence on conviction. This isn't just me saying this; this is based on conversations with people who work in the field.

I'm not aware of any work on the effect of cutting time between arrest and sentencing - as I say, nice economic arguments about discounting don't always work. Of course, doubling the sentence doesn't mean doubling the penalty even in economic terms, because the second half of the sentence is served far off into the future...

#240 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 05:59 AM:

Individ-ewe-al, there you are, someone disagrees with me strongly. Which is fine, of course.

ajay, you call it revenge; I call it justice. I hedge it with a number of caveats, exclusions and exceptions, as above; but when you come right down to it, I affirm the principle that society has the right to punish criminals for their crimes, because it is just that they be punished. I am sorry that we must disagree on this.

#241 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 06:56 AM:

OK, what priority does that desire for justice have? I mean, in the (arguably real) case that harsh punishment actually makes people more likely to reoffend than rehabilitative treatment, would you still support harsh punishment because it's more just, even though it's worse for society? To take it to an extreme, suppose it were proven that prison has no deterrent or rehabilitative effect whatever; and that a night in the Savoy rehabilitated criminals with 100% success. Would you still argue for prison? Because I'd be sending them to the Savoy.

This touches on one of the big political philosophy issues - principles v.utility. I may not personally think it's just for anyone to have more than, say, $1m in assets, but I won't argue for confiscatory laws, because I think their consequences would be pretty bad for the economy. I don't think it's moral for people to commit adultery, but I'm not about to support a massive anti-adultery surveillance program. Similarly, I don't think it's immoral not to feed a parking meter, but I support penalties for not doing so.

My view is that laws are about the good of society. (Salus populi suprema est lex.) Leave justice to the next world.

#242 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 06:59 AM:

Dave, I think people will agree that punishing people is just, but what's the underlying purpose beneath the concept of justice?

Like the cucumber-throwing monkey, I believe in fairness and justice, but I think that these concepts exist because they facilitate deterrence of bad behaviour in social animals, protection from abusive individuals through shunning or banishment, and through tit-for-tat-with-forgiveness rules of thumb, rehabilitation of offenders.

So Justice *is* the things Charlie says prison should be, and punishment is only a way to bring one or two of those things about, and possibly not the best way.

#243 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 08:37 AM:

Heh, there should be some kind of blog law that if anyone comments to say: nobody really disagrees with you, by the time they've reloaded the page there will be a comment explicitly disagreeing with the person addressed! Touchée, Dave Luckett.

Seriously though, I still maintain that we don't disagree with you at a level that is important for this discussion. Some people think prison shouldn't be punitive at all, and you think justice demands that crime is punished. But whatever side of that debate you fall on, you can still agree that it is outrageously unjust for prison sentences to include rape de facto.

#244 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 09:10 AM:

Malthus,

#222: all I said was "I'm a happy drunk"

Actually, that doesn't take my original comment and map it properly to the drinking analogy.

I said #106: The shite would have to hit the fan quite a bit more than a week of simulated prison duty for me to succumb to evil.

So, that's more like someone saying "So and so's study, suggests that most people become obnoxious drunks after 4 beers." And I said "It would take more than 4".

Madeline:

#222: The discussion from early this morning before the Greg subthread reappeared was getting somewhere interesting.

Thanks. Yeah. I am a fool. I must learn that once someone interprets a post to mean something I didn't say, trying to straighten it out is a waste of time. I think I'll write that one down, just to save you from the trouble of other people misinterpreting what I said getting in the way of your entertainment.

Heresiarch:

#238: If you want to effect a big, universal change in human behavior, you can't look to the free will. You must look to the social environment.

Exactly the thing I disagree with. You're saying that Free Will is actually beyond the control of the person. If a person has control of their own free will, then they would be able to learn, to improve, to train, so that the next time the very same test comes along, with the very same environmental conditions, they can CHOOSE BY THEIR OWN FREE WILL to do something better than they did last time.

How did Martin Luther King Jr. change the world's view towards equality but by teaching people, showing them the ugliness of racism, showing them the higher principle of equality, and getting people to take it on as their own so that before they were indifferent, but afterwards, they chose to support civil rights.

He didn't change people's environments and then the world supported civil rights. He changed people's thinking, even while these people maintained free will, and then they voted to change the environment.

#245 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 09:26 AM:

Re the Stanford Prison Experiment, it might of course say something very true and valid, but there is something I've always wondered about, and that I wonder whether psychologists have taken into consideration when describing or even critisising the experiment. That is, how much of the guards' behaviour might be ascribed to, well, live roleplaying? After all, it would make little sense to play guard and do it badly.

It is always a bit different when it's real life. Back in the 80ies, my country here in Europe still had national service (well, we still do, but they mainly specialise in elite reaction forces for NATO rather than mass mobilisation nowadays, and I doubt that my 19 year old self would have been of much use there). Outside of my first few weeks, I didn't mind my year "inside" (not that great a soldier, but wanted to do my bit), but there were some in my unit that minded very much, and tried to get out of all kinds of work, even spending more energy in doing so than just doing the work would entail.

The point being, I doubt very much that somebody would role-play that kind of prison guard (especially with a grading professor watching :-).

#246 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 09:27 AM:

#243: I'm not sure. Once you surrender to the possibility that prison should be unpleasant, not for any purpose this might serve (protection/rehabilitation/deterrence) but as a matter of justice, the rest is only a matter of degree. Dave has already suggested that "the bed should be hard, the accomodations spartan, the food institutional, and personal contact minimal. I think the treatment should be disinterested, impersonal and cool" - simply because he believes that they deserve it.

Leave aside the point that "minimal personal contact" is what the secret prisons use to drive people mad.

Dave presumably doesn't believe that prisoners should be beaten daily. But I can't really see a bright line between his idea of deliberately unpleasant surroundings, on one side, and beatings on the other. (Solitary confinement? Unpleasantly hot or cold? Lights on all night? Loud noises? Sleep deprivation? Stress positions? Beatings? The thumbscrews? Electrocution? Rape?)

Either way, you're harming people because you think it's just.

Here's what I think. Prisons exist to take people dangerous to society out of circulation; to reform them; and to act as a deterrent. In that order. Confinement and loss of liberty should be enough of a deterrent by itself that we don't need to add other torments - we should cause the minimum amount of harm consonant with achieving our other objectives. (Obviously, we have to confine them. And things like deprivation of alcohol, for example, help rehabilitation. But what good does deprivation of mattresses serve?)

#247 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 10:41 AM:

#244 Greg London: "You're saying that Free Will is actually beyond the control of the person."

No. (I'm not even sure how that makes sense--what is a person other than a free will?) What I am saying is that YOUR free will is beyond MY control. So if I am looking to, for example, keep you from killing my cat, any attempts on my part to modify your free will are doomed to failure. It's even hard to write a sentence about the idea, it's so bizarre. All I can do is attempt to modify the environment in order to influence your decision--remove my cat from your vicinity, or maybe ask you not to kill her. Your free will is utterly beyond my reach. Your environment is not.

Martin Luther King Jr. changed the semantic environment, through the use of exquisitely delivered rhetoric. He gave people new ideas to consider, and new ways of looking at old ideas. He didn't reach into anybody's head and make them think anything they didn't, at some level, choose to.

#248 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 12:48 PM:

ajay @239:

Making prison more boring, uncomfortable, and unpleasant also makes them increasingly unsafe for both prisoners and guards. Any time that it's proposed to remove radios, TVs, or books from cells or cut opportunities for education or recreation, the guards' union is usually second in line to the ACLU to testify against.

That there is plenty of empirical evidence that prisoners who are given opportunities to learn and to find some comfort (even if it's just watching soap operas) are less likely to be disciplinary problems inside and to reoffend when released. That such evidence is consistently ignored by people who believe in the punitive model is at the root of the need to build prisons at a rate entirely out of proportion to population growth.

#249 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 12:55 PM:

(Note to self: fever does nothing good for sentence construction.)

#250 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 12:57 PM:

So if I am looking to, for example, keep you from killing my cat, any attempts on my part to modify your free will are doomed to failure. All I can do is attempt to modify the environment in order to influence your decision--remove my cat from your vicinity, or maybe ask you not to kill her.

But you assume I'm going to kill your cat unless you do something about it.

There is the question of how to best design a system such that people of different tolerances can be plugged into various positions and still yield a good result. It's like understanding how to design an amplifier so that you can have transistors of different gains be put into the system and still get the best sound (which I used to do).

But I wasn't talking about system design.

I was talking about whether or not people must have the system first before they'll produce a good result or whether they can produce good results first, part of which is designing the system in which they'll operate.

Must people have the proper environment to do the right thing, are they doomed to fail and can only be saved by the grace of god or a properly designed (though perhaps not perfect) system of government?

If you put people in the exact same environment of the prison experiment, must the majority of individuals always fail? Or can you have people learn and advance and adapt and improve so that were they to find themselves in the same environment that caused most people to fail in the past, will cause them to "pass" now?

If people can do that, then the environment is irrelevant to the moral standing of a human being. It would probably be smart to understand system design and understand that people are not all Gandhi's or whatever and have a system that can handle individuals within a range of tolerances.

but the thing I keep getting at is that some people see the prison experiment and say people are fundamentally flawed and can only be saved by changing the environment in which they operate. I say that people can learn and develop and improve such that if they found themselves in the exact same environment that caused a bunch of people to fail in the past, they could still pass the test.

Back in my rocket scientist days, I used to design fault tolerant systems for space stuff. We'd design systems so that any individual part could fail completely and the system would still operate properly. Generally, the result was that many individual parts could go bad, and the system would still function properly.

But the thing is that if more than half of your components are bad, it was impossible to design a system that would function properly. So, that's my basic point. While more than half of the people selected in the prison experiment failed that test, that does not mean that more than half of the people in the world are fundamentally bad parts. If they were, no system of government could be designed with enough checks and balances to produce a good result over time. If they were, all systems would eventually fall apart, and human progress over time would devolve rather than evolve.

Some folks see the prisoner experiment and say that shows mankind is fundamentally broken and can only be saved by some outside force, God, Government, or the proper amount of brainwashing.

#251 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 01:19 PM:

albatross #233: Eliminating plea bargaining would also help, since the probability of punishment would go up.

I don't think so; it's my understanding that plea bargaining happens because the prosecution would rather take a sure punishment than risk a trial. Also, plea bargaining makes the justice system in general cheaper and quicker. Without it, punishment would be far more delayed, which is what we're arguing is a bad thing.

ajay #239: I don't think that vengeance is an acceptable motive to do anything. We're supposed to be civilised people, not Pashtuns.

Wait, what? You're saying Pashtuns aren't civilized? That's rather unfair, because they clearly do have a civilization, and also because we're currently occupying their country. Better to say "We're supposed to be civilized people, not Musketeers" or "not Aaron Burr". ;)

#252 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 03:24 PM:

#228: And yes, your tone was more than a little arrogant.

It would be arrogant to suggest I am better than everyone else. But that was not what I suggested. To abbreviate, I suggested that everyone is better than you think they are.

(substitute "you" for whoever thinks man needs a proper environment to do right.)

#253 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 04:54 PM:

ajay @246, thanks, that's a really thought-provoking answer to my dismissing Dave's argument. I was getting somewhat frustrated by debating the philosophical question of whether it's just (and socially beneficial and so on) to punish criminals, because it's such a distraction from the core point of this post.

Thinking about it, I'm not sure I can come up with historical examples where torture has been used as a punishment. To extract information (yes, we know it doesn't work, but various cultures have tried it). To extract confessions. To intimidate. Maybe even as revenge in personal vendettas (shades of the superhero topic at the beginning of the thread?) But as judicial punishment, I'm not sure. It might be that crucifixion is the major counter-example, actually. But it seems that there is a fairly broad consensus that it is reasonable to be unpleasant to criminals, but that justice requires defined, measured punishments which do stop short of torture.

#254 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 05:39 PM:

I'm not sure I can come up with historical examples where torture has been used as a (judicial) punishment.

The English Bill of Rights (1689) and the US Bill of Rights (1787) must have said the government shall not inflict cruel and unusual punishment for some reason.

#255 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 05:47 PM:

per @245, That is, how much of the guards' behaviour might be ascribed to, well, live roleplaying?

Interesting question. I've seen my part of role playing scenarios gone bad, and I feel that social worker and folks who hold management training courses have about the same rate of failures that your average DM has.

In my limited experience, the most tangled messes happen if everyone tries to cooperate, but they do not know on what. The players might feel that the GM wants more method acting, while the GM feels that s/he owes it to the players to tolerate their method acting, although it benefits neither the group nor the game, until someone's comfort limits have been breached to a degree that they throw in the towel (and the door, and the tea service) and the whole construct goes down into a screaming disaster.

So far I haven't applied those experiences to understanding experimental psychology, maybe because I feel that psychologists should have a better clue of what they are doing to people than weekend DMs, but you made me wonder...

#256 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 06:01 PM:

251 Madeline:

Isn't that a resource issue with courts and prosecutors? There doesn't seem to be an inherent reason we couldn't process all or most serious criminal cases through the court system, though we might need more judges and prosecutors. The value there is to decrease the uncertainty of the punishment, hopefully without increasing the delay from crime to punishment.

#257 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Greg #252 writes:
I suggested that everyone is better than you think they are.

What comes across is you saying that everyone is better than these experiments show they actually are.

Since the experiments show that people are actually much worse than anyone expected, including the authors of the experiments who had to stop them because of the utterly appalling results, you appear to be saying "People are actually OK, just as we believed before these awkward experiments came along and showed otherwise, because I say so". When challenged, your response has been "I'm sure myself and Gandhi are, anyhow", and then "I know I am, because of some experience I had, and you can trust me on that".

But actually, those experiments? That's actual data, not just your opinion. Unless you've got some actual published data, you are whistling against the wind.

I am not a believer in original sin, God, vampires, werewolves or people who dispute published science with intuition or stories about their personal experience.

If I gave credit to arguments like yours, the world would suddenly be six thousand years old, and MMR vaccine would cause autism.

#258 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 07:03 PM:

Individ-ewe-al #253 "I'm not sure I can come up with historical examples where torture has been used as a punishment."

Quite a lot of the public punishment and execution in Europe up until that much-execrated Enlightenment towards the end of the eighteenth century sounds a lot like torture. The guillotine was invented as a merciful alternative.
Flogging, breaking on the wheel, boiling in oil or lead for coiners, 'hanging, drawing (disembowelment) & quartering' for traitors are just a few examples. Hanging itself until the late nineteenth century was slow & uncomfortable, with friends & relatives sometimes pulling on the victim to hasten their death, hence the nobles were beheaded. If that wasn't deliberate, why not use garrotting, as some places did? I'm not mentioning the special religious punishments, just standard civil judicial sentences.
Pillorying or putting in stocks aren't necessarily all that bad, but anyone could throw what they liked at you, rotten vegies, dead animals, stones; people were killed. Branding is more equivocal, permanent body marks probably need some pain.
I'm sure there are others here who have both deeper and wider knowledge of world history who'd be able to produce quite a few examples.

#259 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 07:04 PM:

Ajay is doing a fine job of articulating things I've been thinking about while wandering off to the woods and back. If I have a choice between methods that satisfy my sense of 'justice' and methods that serve to enable criminals to change their behaviour so that they do not reoffend, I'll go for the latter and to hell with justice.

Historically, when crime rates rise (or for propaganda purposes, are trumpeted as rising), the cry goes up for us to cease 'coddling criminals'. Thing is, actually coddling criminals has never been tried, to my knowledge. When prisoners are housed, clothed and fed by the state (a relatively recent development in itself), it's only seen as justice if prison conditions are at least slightly worse than those endured by the free poor. Any better, and suddenly we're coddling them again. "They've got it better on the inside than they would on the outside, why shouldn't they want to go back?"

There is a chance that, positing we can reform prisons to the extent that they really are nicer than minimum-wage life on the outside, prisoners might get a taste for decent living conditions. If they get used to eating wholesome food prepared well, their brains might actually start working at a level above survivalist thinking. If their caretakers exhibit an interest in their wellbeing, prisoners might start believing that, however badly they've behaved, the society against which they've offended still values them.

It's entirely possible that they might develop a sense of remorse for what they've done, rather than an entirely new set of grievances for what's being done to them.

#260 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 07:41 PM:

Niall: those experiments? That's actual data, not just your opinion. Unless you've got some actual published data

Data? Allow me to introduce you to teh wikipedia article for your precious prisoner experiment over here:

(paste)

The experiment was widely criticized as being unethical and bordering on unscientific. Critics including Erich Fromm challenged how readily the results of the experiment could be generalized. Fromm specifically writes about how the personality of an individual does in fact affect behavior ... counter to the study's conclusion that the prison situation itself controls the individual's behavior. Because it was a field experiment, it was impossible to keep traditional scientific controls. Zimbardo was not merely a neutral observer, but influenced the direction of the experiment as its "superintendent".

Conclusions and observations drawn by the experimenters were largely subjective and anecdotal, Some said that the study was too deterministic: reports described significant differences in the cruelty of the guards, the worst of whom came to be nicknamed "John Wayne," but others were kinder and often did favors for prisoners. Zimbardo made no attempt to explain or account for these differences.

Lastly, the sample size was very small, with only 24 participants taking place over a relatively short period of time. And given that all 24 were interacting in a single group, it may be more correct to regard the true sample size as 1.

Haslam and Reicher (2003), psychologists from the University of Exeter and University of St Andrews, conducted a partial replication of the experiment with the assistance of the BBC, Their results and conclusions were very different from Zimbardo's. While their procedure was not a direct replication of Zimbardo's, their study does cast further doubt on the generality of his conclusions

(/paste)

Unscientific, unreproducable, a small sample size of 1, subjective and anecdotal conclusions, Zimbardo made no attempt to explain guards that were good. And the results could not be reproduced in a similar experiment.

You call this "scientific data"? How about you've got anecdotal evidence in an event called the "stanford prison experiment" and it doesn't prove anything scientifically?

Meanwhile, the one piece of data it observed, you apparently ignored:
"One-third of guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine" sadistic tendencies".

Wow. One third. How arrogant of me to suggest I might be in the majority of guards who did not become sadistic.

So, once again, my original objection to mentioning of this experiment is that some people cite the experiment and use it to draw the conclusions they want to draw, namely that man is inherently evil and irredeamable. Meanwhile ignoring the fact that the experiment itself is considered crap by a number of other scientists, is anecdotal, can't be reproduced, yada, yada, yada.

Niall: I am not a believer in ... people who dispute published science with intuition or stories about their personal experience.

Published science? Look, you've got some anecdotal evidence called the "Stanford Prison Experiment". You apparently subscribe to the idea that mankind is inherently evil, and this anecdotal evidence supports that idea. So you defend it as if it were real, uncontestable science. Never mind how unscientific it is and all the scientists who criticize its conclusions.

Meanwhile, you call me arrogant for suggesting I wouldn't succumb to evil, yet apparently your own "evidence" says two-thirds of the guards didn't either. Wow. How arrogant of me. Do you even know the data of your "science"?

And while you swallow your anecdotal and subjective "experiment" as scientific "fact", you refuse to believe my point because its based on "intuition and personal experience". well, at least I was there during my anecdotal evidence.


#261 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 08:15 PM:

I didn't say the scientific data were "facts". I said they are published scientific data, and so they are. Yes, the study has been criticised, it's also been widely cited. Zimbardo is today Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford, and has not disavowed his conclusions.

When your intuition is funded by the Navy, published in a journal, or entered into evidence by a House committee, let us know.

Until then, it's no more scientific data than the fact that the guy the Greys probed was there during his experience.

#262 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Do you understand the difference between an appeal to authority and science?

Mentioning the Navy, or the fact that he is a professor, or that his experiment was published, is all appeal to authority.

Scientifically, it's a six day long anecdote. Pardon me if I don't bow down and worship at the trough of human evils that it concludes.

And if appeal to authority overrides scientific empericism for you, then Fromm (you know, the guy who called the conclusions of the experiment a bunch of crap) became a professor at the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico) and established a psychoanalytic section at the medical school there. He taught at the UNAM until his retirement in 1965. Meanwhile, he taught as a professor of psychology at Michigan State University from 1957 to 1961 and as an adjunct professor of psychology at the graduate division of Arts and Sciences at New York University after 1962. He even published something that concluded the opposite of what the prison experiment concluded. That people react based on their personality, not their environment. Published. so it must be true.

The stanford experiment is a load of bullocks. And anyone who cites it as saying anything definitive about the moral standing of mankind is doing so because it gives the answer they want to hear: that man is inherently evil, or made evil by appropriate environments. Original Sin and the fall of man comes in many different flavors. Usually told in the form of a narrative tale. This is just another example.

Oh, here's another appeal to authority: Lord of the Flies implies that man's natural state is savagery, and tells it in a narrative form. It was published. Throw in an argument ad populum, because it has been read by so many people it must be true.

And meanwhile, you completely ignore your own data, that only one-third of the guards became sadistic, and how that jives with me being arrogant for suggesting I wouldn't succumb to evils. Your own data would suggest that "not being evil" would be the most probable outcome of any randomly selected individual of college age who needed money and agreed to do a two week experiment, let alone someone with a bit more life experience.

#263 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 08:59 PM:

Oh, and two other psych professors (Haslam and Reicher) tried to repeat the experiment and got complete different results.

If you were honestly scientific about this, you'd give both equal weight.

That you prefer one over the other would suggest personal bias, not science.

according to Haslam and Reicher, my suggestion that I'd pass is expected by the data. according to the Stanford experiment, I'd have a 2/3 chance of passing. According to you, I'm arrogant for even suggesting I'd pass.

So who's citing science and who is citing their personal beliefs?

#264 ::: JQM ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 10:41 PM:

So, I feel like this discussion has something to do with what I was supposed to get out of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Isn't Severian's august Guild the legalization of what is currently extra-legal punishment?

This was certainly the first example I thought of after reading that "both ideas are also deeply ingrained in science fiction," although that may have to do with the fact that I just finished re-reading those books.

#265 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 11:21 PM:

#250 Greg: "But you assume I'm going to kill your cat unless you do something about it."

The example was chosen for its outlandishness. Attacking it on the grounds of its improbability misses the point. What if I am worried you will steal my gummy bears? Is that sufficiently plausible for you? They are delicious, you know.

"But I wasn't talking about system design."

I am. Because my goal here isn't to determine which people are moral and which aren't. It is to prevent bad things. So if I have shown, statistically, that a significant percentage of actual prison guards actually do abuse their power, it's not about saying "well they sure are naughty! They could do better if they just tried harder!" It's about preventing this abuse from taking place. Sure, there are people who, no matter how bad the situation, will not act immorally. Possibly, anyone could do so. It doesn't matter, because people do act badly and it needs to be stopped. The cost in innocent human suffering is too high to leave to chance (which, to me, the exercise of your free will is).

"I say that people can learn and develop and improve such that if they found themselves in the exact same environment that caused a bunch of people to fail in the past, they could still pass the test."

I agree. And they will learn that by being taught to be aware of their own potential weaknesses and how to defend against them. In other words, by changing their environment.

(P.S. In what concievable way is it acceptable that even one third of the "guards" succumbed? In my mind, that is one third too many.)

#266 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 12:37 AM:

#253 Individ-ewe-al: "Thinking about it, I'm not sure I can come up with historical examples where torture has been used as a punishment."

Well, any shame punishment (putting them in stocks, cutting off hair, etc.) is really nothing more than a form of psychological torture.

There are a lot of potential purposes for the criminal system: revenge, punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and so on. I think a big part of the problem is that people tend to buy into all of them to some degree, creating a big, illogical morass where they can easily slide from "It's for their own good" to "Wait 'til Bubba gets his hands on 'em, that'll learn 'em" without the slightest bit of cognitive dissonance.

#267 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 02:18 AM:

What if I am worried you will steal my gummy bears? Is that sufficiently plausible for you?

Not in a box. Not with a fox. not in a house. Not with a mouse. Not here nor there, not anywhere. I will not steal your property. For I will not steal. Can't you see?

my goal here isn't to determine which people are moral and which aren't. It is to prevent bad things. it's not about saying "well they sure are naughty! They could do better if they just tried harder!"

If that's what you've heard me say so far, then there is a flembot jamming up the channel.

Me: if they found themselves in the exact same environment ... they could still pass the test."

they will learn that by being taught to be aware of their own potential weaknesses and how to defend against them. In other words, by changing their environment.

One of us has a funny definition for "environment". I'm pretty sure it isn't me, though I'm a bit stumped what to do about it.

I'm starting to wonder if we're talking about exactly the same thing using words with completely different definitions. When I say "point up", do you aim your finger at the ceiling or do you sing Prince tunes at the top of your voice?

Me, tarzan.
You?

In what concievable way is it acceptable that even one third of the "guards" succumbed?

OK. So, here's how we play Greg's game called "I can misquote you for $50": If you can find any post made by me in this thread that actually said that it was "acceptable" for the guards to succumb to evil, I pay you fifty dollars. If you can't, you either pay me $50 or you publicly acknowledge that you misquoted me, misread me, whatever.

In my mind, that is one third too many.

See, this sounds like we're playing the "They sure are naughty" game, rather than focusing on system design. The components are never all perfect. The system may never be perfect. but if you have a bag of components were at least half the parts are in good, working condition, you can build a system that will produce a good result.

That doesn't mean the third of the parts that failed are "acceptable" parts. That means the system can still work with a third of the parts broken.

===

Now, you said your goal is to prevent bad things. So, lemme just state what my original goal was aroudn the time this whole thing blew up: Somewhere along the line I said something about people citing this prison experiment and using it to make sweeping generalizations about mankind.

I wasn't talking about how this would affect system design. I wasn't pointing this out to determine what percentage of the people in the planet are "naughty". I was pointing out that people have a worldview and sometimes that worldview causes them to bend things to their interpretation.

Some people will notice they're looking through the world with evil tinted glasses and reevalutate. Some won't. My point in saying it in the first place was (1) to stop a faulty worldview from getting passed off as fact and (2) maybe get some folks to see they're filtering the world through their view.

See, I don't think any conversation here is going to have any direct impact on prison rape. But I think there's value in getting the information out about it and about prisons and about guards and all that because the more people get more information, the better they can improve themselves.

(This is where we have a break in communication because I view this as improving the individuals, the components in the system, you keep refering to their learning as their "environment", which is a term I would reserve for the "system" of checks and balances people operate inside of. but whatever)

But the problem I have is that people can't better arm themselves to do the right thing if misinformation is getting passed off as fact. The prison experiment didn't prove anything about individuals. Another near identical experiment was unable to reproduce the same breakdown in humanity.

Meanwhile, I mentioned a couple of experiments that show that "fairness" may be an innate capacity in people and even monkeys.

So the notion that the majority of individuals are bad parts seems an inaccurate assessment. Why is this important? Because if people think the majority of individuals are bad, they may react inappropriately to real life situations. They may be put into a real life situation and because of their fear of what others might do to them (1) chose some action that causes them or others more harm than other choices would yet (2) the fear is completely not reality-based.

Can you see value in that? Or at least see my point? A grunt that we are actually communicating something would be really cool right about now. It feels like its been ages since anyone actually read something I wrote and got it as what I intended, rather than how they interpreted it....

So, while I probably won't be able to have any direct impact on stopping either prison rape or guard abuse while talking on this thread, I might be able to make a difference in getting some individuals to see some undeserved fear they have of people.

Because there's this neat thing about system design, you can get a better result by either designing a better system to handle a wide range of individuals or improve the individual components. It's actually possible to build a system that can handle the complete range of components, but when you plug in the good components, the system produces awesome results. Best-case gets better without making the worse-case worse.

Unfortunately, somewhere along teh line, I shaved my head, put on a robe and sandals, and declared myself Gandhi, and... well, not really, but... anyway, it feels like its mostly gone downhill and off into the ditch since then.

#268 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 04:56 AM:

Greg writes:
Do you understand the difference between an appeal to authority and science?

Yes.

Mentioning the Navy, or the fact that he is a professor, or that his experiment was published, is all appeal to authority.

Wrong. Publication is of vital importance in science. Works which are published and widely cited are significant. Many significant papers draw a lot of criticism, this is normal.

#269 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 05:11 AM:

Greg in #267: Somewhere along the line I said something about people citing this prison experiment and using it to make sweeping generalizations about mankind.

When I go back and check, I find that Greg's first words about Zimbardo and the Experiment were actually in #95: I think his suggestion that all will succumb to evil ways is a bunch of horse...t.

The disconnect between what you are saying, Greg, and what you think you have said is what's causing a lot of the unnecessary heat here. You may have the last thousand words on that topic.

#270 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 05:39 AM:

#248, #249: JESR, fever has not done your syntax much good but it appears to have left your thoughts unclouded.

#251: a side issue, but actually, no, I don't think Pashtuns are civilised, because I regard the transition from a vengeance-based to a law-based society as one of the defining features of civilisation. (See: the Oresteia, for example). Plus, their habit of glorifying theft, treachery and murder reminds me of nothing so much as my own family, whom I don't think were civilised either. They have a culture - all humans do - but they aren't civilised. They could be called pre-civilised, but I find that term a bit Whiggish.

#271 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 08:51 AM:

#266 Heresiarch:

I'm not quite convinced that these are all the same thing, though I can't draw a line and defend it. On one extreme is something like the death of a thousand cuts or boiling in oil or crucifixion, where the goal is to give someone a truly horrible death. On the other extreme is something like having your face in the newspaper for your domestic violence charge or being stuck doing some unpleasant work like picking up trash along the road. Both extremes involve inflicting a certain amount of suffering on the person, but they sure seem to have a qualitative difference. The consequences of getting convicted of a serious crime need to be somewhat unpleasant, to act as an effective deterrent--even just being locked away for a few years with boring food and spartan accomodations may be enough, but it's certainly inflicting a certain amount of suffering.

That said, sentencing someone to prison in a place where we know he's going to be raped and beaten till he finally dies of his injuries sounds a hell of a lot closer to crucifixion than it does to picking up trash alongside the road.

I'd add to this the wonderful coverage (on _The Agitator_) of no-knock SWAT team raids for drug offenses. The commonality here is that there's public acceptance for the state doing really awful things to people. You can't successfully fight off the state, whether you're the subject of a politically motivated witchhunt by the local prosecutor, or just some small-time drug-dealer who's being sent to prison for ten years. Shoot back at the cops and you're likely to be killed, and certain to do serious time. (By contrast, if they shoot you during a no-knock raid on the wrong address, it's a regrettable mistake.)

And then you're put into a place where you can't defend yourself except by getting more involved in serious crime by joining a gang for protection--assuming you can find a gang to accept you. My guess is that prisons, which are seriously overcrowded, don't have enough space to house more than a small fraction of inmates in protective custody of any kind. So if 1/3 of all inmates are being raped, they probably really can't put them all in PC.

The consequences of this are genuinely nasty. If you join a gang for protection, you're still a member, with obligations, when you get out of prison. If you get HIV and other STDs in prison, you'll probably spread them around on the outside. The threat of a ten year sentence of rape and beatings is probably enough to get a lot of innocent people to plead guilty to something that will keep them in a minimum security prison, or to come up with evidence to send someone else up for a long time (whether they're guilty or not).

We should stop this crap, as we should stop torturing prisoners. In both cases, I think we don't because at some level, many or most Americans think these horrors make them safer, and have conveniently labeled the victims as "them."

#272 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 08:57 AM:

#259 pericat:

I think there's been a lot of variation at different times about how aggressively criminals were prosecuted, and whether they were sentenced harshly or not. That's not about coddling prisoners, but it did seem to make a difference in crime rates. (Though this is observational data, during times when many other things were changing in the society, so it's hard to know what conclusions you can safely draw.)

The thing is, there's really good data on some kinds of crime--the FBI does a nice survey of people asking if they've been victims of crime, and murder rates tend to be pretty accurate historically (it's hard to ignore a corpse). So while there's certainly some media and political manipulation of the public perception of the danger of crime, it's not like this is impossible to get to the bottom of!

#273 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 09:05 AM:

#246 ajay:

I think this is substantially right. The only good purpose I see in the suffering of prisoners is for deterrence--otherwise, it's just pointless suffering going on in the world. We ought to look for ways to get more deterrence with less suffering (higher probability of punishment and less delay in punishment), since that decreases the suffering in the world without making crime more appealing.

One of the many bad things about using prison rape as a part of increasing the deterrence is that it's very uneven in its effects. Big, tough people and gang members have their stay either not affected by rape or made more pleasant by the chance to rape others. Small, weak people and people without gang ties have a much harsher punishment. It seems like we probably want to deter crime by gang members and big, tough people *more* than others, not less.

#274 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 09:55 AM:

Niall in #268: Greg in #267: Somewhere along the line I said something about people citing this prison experiment and using it to make sweeping generalizations about mankind.

When I go back and check, I find that Greg's first words about Zimbardo and the Experiment were actually in #95: I think his suggestion that all will succumb to evil ways is a bunch of horse...t.

The disconnect between what you are saying, Greg, and what you think you have said is what's causing a lot of the unnecessary heat here. You may have the last thousand words on that topic.

Oh, get over yourself. my second post about the prison experiment was this:


#106: I was debating the suggestion that all would succumb. The shite would have to hit the fan quite a bit more than a week of simulated prison duty for me to succumb to evil.

But of course, everyone ignored the first sentence being about generalizations, and dogpiled me for being so "arrogant" to suggest that I'd pass some experiment that says two-thirds of the guards passed.

My next post about citing the experiment for generalizations was here:

#131: I find it tedious to be sarcastically derided for resisting the memes that portray man as absolutely nothing more than a function of his environment. I find it tedious to have to defend my objections to sweeping generalizations on how easy it is for advanced society to fall to brutalism with nothing more than an afternoon experiment involving high school students as its evidence. (that was my only point with #115). ... Imagine someone like Ghandi in your precious prison experiment and tell me that he too would succumb to brutality.


But of course, everyone ignored those references to sweeping generalizations and decided I must be saying I'm Gandhi, leader of the free world, and all must follow me.

And you are so wedded to the notion that the test PROVES that ALL MUST FAIL that you can't even look at your own data. Only one-third of your guards became sadistic, that means that statistically, two-thirds of people would pass the test. Gandhi would probably be one of them. And I said if you put me in a week long simulated prison test, I would too. Just looking at your results, the idea that I'd pass is statistically the most likely outcome. And yet I'm arrogant for suggesting it, which indicates you aren't looking at your own data, you're looking through your own worldview that most people would fail.

So, yes, somewhere along the line, very near the point wehre the conversation first turned to the prison experiment, I said not once, but twice, that I had issue with people who cite the experiment and use it to make sweeping generalizations about mankind that aren't reality-based.

Other experiments failed to produce the same failure rate, but you have chosen to cherry pick your data. You completely ignore that test. Other experts have found that people make choices based on WHO THEY ARE, not simply the environment they are in. But you ignore those experts and chose only the experts who give the conclusion you agree with. Other experts questioned the methods used in the Stanford experiment as unscientific, with the results being only subjective and anecdotal, but you ignore those experts as well, and not only do you conclude the Stanford experment was right, you extend the one-third failure rate to the point where ANYONE who even suggests they would pass the test must be arrogant.


#275 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Greg in #267: I said something about people citing this prison experiment and using it to make sweeping generalizations about mankind.

Niall in #269: The disconnect between what you are saying, Greg, and what you think you have said is what's causing a lot of the unnecessary heat here.

Greg in #106: I was debating the suggestion that all would succumb.

Greg #131: my objections to sweeping generalizations on how easy it is for advanced society to fall to brutalism

So, is the disconnect between what I said in 267 and what I actually said in 106 and 131? Because it seems that what I said and what I think I said pretty much line up.

Could it POSSIBLY be that the disconnect is between what I said and what you decided to focus on and some misinterpretations you made along the way?

#276 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 10:35 AM:

More posts that would seem to indicate that what I think I said about sweeping generalizations and what I actually said, may, in fact, line up pretty nicely. I believe the disconnect is to be found somewhere else.

#146: Gandhi was an example to break the sweeping generalizations being cast around

#148: This whole fricken misunderstanding started because I made a comment here. It was a response to a sweeping generalization that "So easily do the walls of correct/advanced society fall to brutalism."

#151: these sorts of statements are far overextending what a couple of experiments have told us about being human.

#214: some are so eager to embrace the irredeemable savagery of mankind that they swallow this one experiment as the word of God himself.

#260: people cite the experiment and use it to draw the conclusions they want to draw,

#277 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 10:42 AM:

So, is the disconnect you refer to here between what I said and what I think I've been saying? Or is half a dozen or more posts enough to cause you to reevaluate?

#278 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 11:00 AM:

That was only 882 words.

#279 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 11:10 AM:

I don't understand, Niall.

Did I or did I not say something about sweeping generalizations? Do I have a disconnect between what I said and what I think I said? Or is the disconnect with you?

Is seven posts not enough for you?

At what point do you admit a mistake?

Or do you change the subject and give me word counts?

I think that should put the total over a thousand words. Does that mean you'll answer the question now?

#280 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 12:04 PM:

#267 Greg London: "Not in a box. Not with a fox. not in a house. Not with a mouse. Not here nor there, not anywhere. I will not steal your property. For I will not steal. Can't you see?"

Okay, okay, you convinced me. But what about him?

"One of us has a funny definition for "environment"."

Environment is where you are. It is all the influences and constraints under which your free will operates. Environment is your physical environment and also your semantic environment--it's the ideas that come into play in your decisions as much as it is the physical location. It is memories, instinct, whether or not you had coffee this morning, anything.

"That doesn't mean the third of the parts that failed are "acceptable" parts. That means the system can still work with a third of the parts broken."

If by "work" you mean "not collapse in a fiery orgy of nuclear destruction," then yes, society can tolerate a rather large number of failed parts. My definition of "work" is more along the lines of "manage not to cause undue human suffering." Our success on that front leaves me unimpressed.

A one-third failure rate isn't unacceptable because it disturbs my delicate sensibilities. It's unacceptable because it results in actual people suffering. That this happens at all is unacceptable.

"(This is where we have a break in communication because I view this as improving the individuals, the components in the system,"

My first problem with your argument is that I keep hearing you say that doing better can only be a result of the application of individuals' free will: that if people just tried harder, (learned more, improved themselves) they would be able to do better. Well, of course. The problem is, they don't. So what do we do now? We can make self-improvement easier--perhaps by vocally advocating it, or we can modify existing social structures to incentivize moral behavior. I think both of these things fall into the realm of modifying the environment, even by your definition.

"So the notion that the majority of individuals are bad parts seems an inaccurate assessment."

My second problem with your argument is that I don't regard humans as inherently good. Humans are inherently human, with the great capacity for both good and evil that that entails. I expect that when put in tough situations, some humans will excel, and others will crumble. While the Stanford experiment has never seemed terribly conclusive to me (I prefer the Milgram experiment), it does tend to agree with what I have noticed elsewhere: being a good, all-around decent human being in day-to-day life doesn't necessarily correlate with being a decent human being when the going gets tough. You can call this pessimism if you like, but I have read of too many atrocities performed by otherwise normal people to doubt its essential truth. To screw up is just as human as to excel.

"It feels like its been ages since anyone actually read something I wrote and got it as what I intended, rather than how they interpreted it...."

This seems to happen with some regularity. Why do you assume the problem is on our end?

#281 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 12:55 PM:

Environment is your physical environment and also your semantic environment--it's the ideas that come into play in your decisions as much as it is the physical location. It is memories, instinct,

well, we'll just have to agree to disagree there. Environment to me is the system you design for the individual components. You can't design someone's instincts unless you're talking about brainwashing. MLK may have created a semantic environment, but poeple still chose to adopt or reject it, and you can't control or design that.


G:"That doesn't mean the third of the parts that failed are "acceptable" parts. That means the system can still work with a third of the parts broken."

H:My definition of "work" is more along the lines of "manage not to cause undue human suffering."

Well, now we're getting into saying whether or not the system is naughty, rather than the individuals. My definition of workable system is simply that it generally improves over time. maybe there are oscilations as it operates, which means you've got some pendulum effects, swinging back and forth, but the average over time generally improves.

If you want to define good as "never going down, ever", i.e. no pendulum swinging at all, then you need either a completely different system design or far better components. I'm not sure which it is. If you want it to get better faster than it is now, then maybe you could tweak some of the components and keep the system the same.

But that's getting way beyond the simple point I was trying to make about people making sweeping generalizations about mankind based on questionable evidence.

I don't regard humans as inherently good. Humans are inherently human,

Well, that's basically saying that if you want to consistently produce a "good" result (for whatever definition of good), then you must force individuals into an environment that will create that output.

I'm not an anarchist calling for the dismantling of governmental systems, but I do believe the anarchist idea that people don't need government. That without governmetn, the system will still produce a "good" result in the idea of generally tending towards improvement. It's just that the oscillations may be a lot bigger, and a handful of bad individuals in the right spot could produce irrecoverable failures.

But the majority are still good and would produce a good result. The system, then, really, is to keep the few bad individuals from ever being able to game the system.

The majority of people in New York could handle a lack of police force, it's the few bad individuals that give cause for the system.

New Orleans didn't tear itself apart after Katrina in widespread waves of human violence.

This seems to happen with some regularity. Why do you assume the problem is on our end?

because of stuff like this:

Greg in #106: I was debating the suggestion that all would succumb.

Greg in #131: my objections to sweeping generalizations on how easy it is ...

Greg in #146: Gandhi was an example to break the sweeping generalizations being cast around

Greg in #148: It was a response to a sweeping generalization that

Greg in #151: these sorts of statements are far overextending what a couple of experiments have told us about being human.

Greg in #214: some are so eager to embrace the irredeemable savagery of mankind that they swallow this one experiment as the word of God himself.

Greg in #260: people cite the experiment and use it to draw the conclusions they want to draw,

Greg in #267: I said something about people citing this prison experiment and using it to make sweeping generalizations about mankind.

Niall in #269: The disconnect between what you are saying, Greg, and what you think you have said is what's causing a lot of the unnecessary heat here.

Greg in post 275 and 276: I point out to Niall all that the disconnect is not with me.

Niall in 278: That was only 882 words.

So, the problem is at least partly on someone else's end. Given a history of half a dozen posts showing me talking about "Sweeping generalizations", Niall can't even concede a single mistake. Instead of admitting the disconnect was on Niall's part, Niall comes back with some smart ass remark counting my words.

Niall's insistance that I'm at fault for some disconnect, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that Niall has selective memory, seems to indicate that the problem is not entirely with me.

Generally, if I say something sloppy and it's shown to be wrong, I own it as my mistake. However, if people start lighting into me with insults and accusations of arrogance, not because of something I actually said, but because of something they inferred, and if they CONTINUE to insist on that assessment even after I clarify that I never actually said that, then I will go so far as to do my best to clarify, but I refuse to say, "Yes, I claimed to be Gandi reincarnated."

I refuse to lie as much as I refuse to steal. I will apologize for any wrong I do or say, but I will not apologize for some percieved crime that only happened in someone else's mind.

#282 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 01:19 PM:

#256 albatross: Even if we could decrease the time-to-trial by adding more people and funds to the justice department, I still think plea bargains would have a place. As I said, they wouldn't happen if the prosecution didn't agree to them. I imagine that all sorts of things can go wrong with a trial... The main witness the wrong color for the likely jury, the evidence is all circumstantial, the judge hates the prosecutor... A few years back in Oakland we had a trial of four cops (well, three: one fled the country) who beat people up and planted drugs to get them to turn other people in. The all-white jury listened to the all-black witnesses and then let the cops off, saying, "We can't beleive that cops would do such things!" So if the prosecutor thinks it's a good idea to let the defendant admit guilt and take some smaller punishment, I figure they probably know what they're doing.

Different bit: you put it well in 273, "One of the many bad things about using prison rape as a part of increasing the deterrence is that it's very uneven in its effects. Big, tough people and gang members have their stay either not affected by rape or made more pleasant by the chance to rape others. Small, weak people and people without gang ties have a much harsher punishment."

#270 ajay: "Civilised" is a word with good connotations. To arbitrariliy deny it to a whole people is ...unfortunate. Many argue that all Gypsies glorify theft and all Jews glorify treachery and all Africans under dictatorships glorify murder, and that hasn't really worked out for any of those groups or the world. Likewise, you could say that CEOs walking off with millions of shareholder dollars glorify theft, and people enjoying spy movies glorify treachery, and Texans glorify murder: but for people in this country, like your fmaily, you make distinctions person to person, which isn't fair.

In every culutre you're going to find strains of revenge. More scrupulous not to dis entire other cultures for it in an attempt to elevate your own.

#283 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Tim Walker, #17: At least in ~The Punisher~ (what a title!), the creators *sometimes* had the title character reflect on the moral gray areas his work took him into. Unless, you know, he was going after the Kingpin, or somebody *totally* bad like that.

For the last several years, the main writer on The Punisher has been the very talented Garth Ennis, who has been writing it as a crime story, not a superhero story. His Punisher is a monstrous figure, a soulless abomination less kin more akin to a superhero than to a serial killer--one whose victims are all, themselves, monsters.

#284 ::: Adrienne Travis ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 02:06 PM:

#126 Ms. Nepveu,

I'm glad to hear that's the case in NY -- and i don't know about some other states. I do know that there are weird restrictions on filing lawsuits against the Federal Board of Prisons. I also know that there has been a large amount of weirdness in Michigan that more or less denies prisoners the right to sue -- but i think it got overturned. MO also has a weird set of restrictions, to the best of my knowledge. But on ALL of these, please bear in mind that IANAL.

#251 On the subject of plea bargaining: to my mind, it'd be REALLY nice if people would just STOP. If you didn't do it, or if you think they can't prove that you did it -- make them take you to court! Yeah, it'd overstrain the system; things would grind to a screeching halt if they actually had to PROSECUTE everyone they wanted to prosecute. And y'know what? That's a GOOD thing, i think. Prosecutors and governments would have to actually decide who's a REAL criminal, and who's not. I figure at least it couldn't be any worse.

#285 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Re: #235, "j h, there are people who are licensed by society with applying violence legally: the police and the armed forces."

Maybe this is just me making a pointless display of my antifascist hypersensitivity, but I'm not happy about the ambiguity in the meaning of the word 'violence' here. On the one hand, it's commonly used as a synonym for a physical assault, intimidation or mayhem. On the other hand, it has a more precise legal definition: the unlawful use of force.

My concern is that one of the indicators of rising incipient fascism in a culture is the glorification of violence for its own sake, and I'm sensitive— as I said, possibly hypersensitive— to the muddying, maybe deliberate muddying, of the distinction between 'violence' and the lawful use of force. (It's particularly dismaying when the people who are supposed to be trained in this distinction are helping to erase it, but that's another complaint.)

The phrase "extra-legal violence" is a really curious construction to me. By implication, it assumes that the law sanctions not just the use of force, but the application of some violence in the use of force. That's what worries me.

#286 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 04:14 PM:

Way back@33:

That's a very depressing thought coming from you. It'd be nice if more of the genre were to "work" by making its appeal contingent on our better natures rather than our latent pseudofascism.

One of the things that surprises me about Iain Banks's "Culture" novels is how often and in how many ways extralegal violence - or, at least, extralegal torture or death - is avoided. This applies even (especially?) to exactly those groups - "special ops" types - who are generally assumed to naturally commit extralegal violence in our world.

#287 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 06:49 PM:

Eve, #69: That's a legitimate point, but I think you're talking about a difference in degree, not in kind. I've heard some awfully tasteless jokes about women who've been raped -- go read right-wing discussions of the Duke lacrosse team case for some examples that'll make you reach for the brain bleach.

I submit that the real difference here is not "prison rape is considered funny, while rape of women is not" -- it's "rape is considered funny if you believe that the victim deserved it." What you're seeing is a reflection of the fact that more people are now willing to believe that a woman who's been raped MAY not have automatically deserved it.

Which, of course, brings us back around to the original point.

#288 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 09:52 PM:

#285:

I'd never seen this distinction, which seems really unintuitive to me. Does this mean that a would-be murder victim shooting her attacker is not using violence? Or that a policeman subduing a suspect in a legal way is not using violence? How odd.

#289 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 10:10 PM:

Adrienne @ 284: Here's why people plea bargain. Let's say you are innocent but accused of some serious crime, based on some kind of circumstantial evidence - or worse, false informant testimony.

If you are not incredibly rich and readily able to afford a good - and I mean good - lawyer, refusing to plea bargain could mean 1) you stay locked up in jail for a couple years while awaiting trial, and then 2) if you get convicted, you end up convicted of a much more serious crime than you would have been if you plea bargain, and then 3) if you do get convicted you get a sentence near the maximum end, because you weren't properly repentant - you didn't even acknowledge your guilt! Even if you're acquitted, if you don't have big bucks for bail, you could spend as long in prison while you're fighting it as you would be sentenced to on a plea.

If I were accused of something really serious, like premeditated murder, and I had the opportunity to bargain it down to a lesser crime like negligent homicide or manslaughter, I would sure consider it, even if I were completely innocent. I'd have to be pretty damn sure I could absolutely prove my innocence before I'd risk it.

#290 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 10:17 PM:

#287 Lee:

I think what's happening is more fundamental than just thinking the victim deserved it. I think this ties into the "us" and "them" distinction, which seems to be hardwired into people. We batch people into groups or tribes or whatever in our heads, and we assess our feelings toward them partly or mostly based on our assessment of the group. And for unfriendly groups or tribes or whatever, it's *easy* to see them as deserving whatever horrors happen to them, and not uncommon to laugh about it.

Criminals are "them" for most of us--they're not people we know or associate with or sympathize with, they're people we're scared of. So when something nasty happens to someone in that group, we can find ourselves nodding and thinking "The bastard had it coming." For some people, women who dress the wrong way and hang out in the wrong places and such are also "them."

#291 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2007, 11:40 PM:

Lee, albatross: I think you are arguing the same point. "They" always deserve it--whatever "it" is. Women, even the ones who dress the wrong way and hang out in the wrong places, are no longer automatically considered "them" any more, thanks to decades of shrill feminist advocacy. The next step, I guess, is to make people remember that people in prison are still people.

"I think the idea that “society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together” is pretty much fundamental to the conservative outlook."

I think it was on this site that I heard something like "A large part of conservatism (libertarianism?) is basically the desire to do what we want and somehow, have it work anyway." (Ring a bell, anyone?) Part of the appeal of violence is that anger is the natural result of seeing something you don't like happening, and anger always wants violence. Wouldn't it be nice if that rage I feel was actually capable of fixing things without being mediated through zillions of intermediate steps? Anime in particular LOVES this fantasy: if only you get angry enough, then you'll find the power to defeat your All-powerful Nemesis. If you just get angry enough, anything is possible.

The hippie inverse of this fantasy is the "if you love enough, all your problems will be solved!" which also crops up in spec fic a lot.

#292 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 08:35 AM:

Yeah, I wonder how much political ideology is really dressed up wish fulfillment. If only we could go back to the country's values as I perceived them as a kid, things would be better. If only we could eliminate all the prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., the world would be a better place.

And some people take that starting beautiful picture, and run with it, ignoring contrary evidence. Others think it through and make serious proposals. The second group is probably more reasonable, but I suspect the first group has more impact. It's easier to get welfare reform through when you're talking about steak-eating, Cadillac-driving welfare queens than when you're talking about perverse incentives and skyrocketing illegitimacy rates.

#293 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 09:58 AM:

Greg has said that in the Stanford experiment some people didn't go along with it. The Stanford experiment, and Milgram, and the Third Wave and so on are examples of how to get people to act like Nazis, of how it wasn't a bizarre aberration that the Nazis acted like that, but something quite a lot of people would do in the circumstances.

That's a valuable point that shouldn't get lost, but it's also worth pointing out that Greg is in fact right -- not everyone will do it.

In Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland Browning looks at some examples of massacres of Jews by German police in Poland in 1942. Lots of the policemen went ahead and shot the Jews, but some of these actual Nazis in Nazi uniforms faced with actual Jews wanted to be excused from the killing -- and were, and suffered no penalties. Thirteen men from a battalion ordered to shoot 1800 Jewish villagers stepped forward and said they didn't want to, and at least as many declined to shoot any more after shooting their first victim.

Would we have been in that thirteen?

Certainly it's easier to live with oneself if one can feel sure of that.

But they're not such heroes as all that. The massacre went ahead without them and the Jews were just as dead as if they had joined in.

One of them, a lieutenant, actually protested. He was sent back to camp, and later transferred back to Hamburg, without even a black mark on his record. He didn't stop the massacre, but he was only one man.

Had everyone stepped forward and declined to shoot, the massacre wouldn't have happened, at least not that day.

Had everyone protested, things could have been very different.

All we can do individually is be individuals and each say that we're not going along with even this little bit of evil, even if it doesn't hurt us personally, even if it's off over there, even if this is the way things are done and the means to an end.

Meanwhile, have you visited a prison this week? I haven't.

#294 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 10:44 AM:

jh woodyatt @ 285: By implication, it assumes that the law sanctions not just the use of force, but the application of some violence in the use of force. That's what worries me.

That's exactly what the law does. It authorizes the use of violence, but attempts to put boundaries around it. For instance, it's OK to knock someone down at the risk of serious injury to stop them, but not OK to beat the sh*t out of them once they're down. (Especially when there's a video camera nearby.) The principle works fine, the application has a ways to go.

I had a professor when I was going to CCNY (probably an old-school American Socialist) whose primary thesis seemed to be that the objective of the state was a "monopoly on violence." For better or worse, we're nowhere near that in the US.

#295 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 01:46 PM:

Larry Brennan @ 294: That's close, but not the same, as something my poly sci prof used to say: the definition of "the state" is "that entity which lays claim to the legitimate use of force."

#296 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 02:01 PM:

Larry @294: The definition (not the objective) of the state as the entity which has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within the region it controls dates back to Max Weber, and has wide currency in modern political science (or so I've been told by the political scientists I know).

#297 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 05:01 PM:

I think it's retaliatory force. Just about everyone seems to believe you ahve a right to self-defense within some limits. You can fight back and try to chase the mugger off, but you can't chase him down and beat him senseless for messing with you.

#298 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 05:28 PM:

Albatross @ 297: In Weber's model, no, the state retains the monopoly right to violence. It may delegate this to other parties, by (for example) granting you the right to use force in self-defense.

#299 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 09:14 PM:

Avram #296: That's correct. Weber's definition (made in Politics as a Vocation) is the one generally used in political science. "The state is that entity which claims and can enforce a monopoly on the legitimate means of violence within a given territory." (Quoted from memory.)

#300 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2007, 03:23 AM:

#270 ajay: "I regard the transition from a vengeance-based to a law-based society as one of the defining features of civilisation."

Ah, definition of civilization #37: Being guilty of that which my culture is guilty of too (but not as guilty). Sandwiched between #36: Arbitrary distinction that happens to leave Them on the other side and #38: Excuse for invading other countries and taking their women/wealth/resources.

#301 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 05:05 PM:

Jo Walton Meanwhile, have you visited a prison this week? I haven't.

I haven't for many decades, not since I went to a Pow Wow at McNeil, when it was still a federal pen and full of men who had committed trivial felonies on Indian Reservations and ended up in the Federal system.

Even when you are there as a visitor, the major penalties of being inside become clear: You can only be where you are required to be, you can only eat what you are allowed to eat, you cannot see anyone except who you are allowed to see, you cannot get away from people you do not want to be with, you cannot go anywhere without prior permission, and you must go everywhere you are told to go.

#302 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 10:45 AM:

I’ve been lurking here all weekend, saving up thoughts. I’m another person who has been involved in an exercise in simulated unfairness, though in my case it was a smaller-scale version of “A Class Divided.” Being in that exercise makes the rule of “people default to this” ring false to me. Kids didn’t default to things, they were pushed or directed towards those things by teachers.

I feel that the problem there wasn’t extralegal violence or a tendency towards bullying, but rather ingrained obedience to certain authority figures. This trained obedience is especially evident with regards to teachers, and indeed teachers are involved in some way in almost all the experiments and exercises referenced in this thread. Some of my friends would say the problem is that the modern public school system was designed to churn out little factory workers, efficient at completing seemingly pointless tasks over and over without complaint or question. While that may be a little extreme, I'm inclined to believe that the public school system as it exists is a primary reason for the mindsets and behaviors we've been discussing in this thread.

While many kids today may grow up instilled with varying amounts of doubt in the government and the military and law enforcement, most children are told pretty constantly that teacher knows best. In fact, obeying the teacher is one of the primary marks of being "good." Kids aren't presented with much media where teachers end up being very wrong, whereas they are presented with lots of examples of the police, military, or government being seriously wrong. I know kids who are constantly praised as being "good" who would stab a classmate if a teacher asked it, and consider the fact that it was hard to do and they did it a testament to their goodness.

There's an awful and funny letter, reproduced here, that demonstrates both that problem and a somewhat inspiring exception to the rule.

Now I'm not blaming teachers in this, but rather the way kids are taught to think about teachers. I know that "always listen to teacher" may be easier, but I think it's equally important to connect that to the alternate moral of "if anyone tells you to do something that is wrong in your moral code, you have the right to respectfully decline. If it is going to seriously harm others, you have the right to peacefully protest."

I think I'm largely agreeing with Greg here. I don't think that the abuses of authority and mindless obedience people see as the default are the default of humans, I think they're a behavior taught in factory-school cultures.

#303 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 11:59 AM:

Jo at #293 and Leah at #302:

For demonstrating a willingness to stand up for what you believe in, even if it means you may be called a fool, arrogant, or worse, I say thank you.

#304 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Leah, also, wanted to point out that not all formal cultures shun initiative and disobediance.

this discussion about the various generations of war, mentions that in the 19th century, some officers were trained by giving them problems that could only be solved by disobeying orders.

I think the idea of defering to other may be a default, untrained condition. evolutionarily speaking, children probably need to default to listening to their parents so they don't get eaten by sabertooth tigers. But somewhere along the line, it would probably help improve the quality of individuals if they recieved training in disobeying orders.

Some other parts of the system might not like that. But I think it would be good.


#305 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 09:25 PM:

albatross (#233), Madeline (#251), Adrienne (#284), and Clifton (#289) talked about plea bargaining.
It's this sort of thing that reminds me how much I really regret there not being a substantial set of DVD, or even VHS episodes of 100 Centre Street (the address of the central criminal courts in New York City). I remember it dealing with some of the reasons why things work out as they tend to do in the US courts, and other related parts of the system. If it had got beyond 2 seasons, maybe there'd be more chance of it getting repeated. even tho' the Sidney Lumet sympathies have been unfashionable for some years.

[Note, if anyone, anywhere sees it on a TV schedule, spread the word wide, and, for goshsakes, start recording it ASAP before it disappears. It would be sad to have another 'O! What a Lovely War' situation.]

#306 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Zimbardo has said about their experiment that the worst abuses occurred on the night shift. Boredom contributes greatly to cruelty. http://www.prisonexp.org/edge/page5.htm is part of an interview with Zimbardo talking about his experiment and Abu Ghraib.

#307 ::: M. Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2007, 09:08 PM:

I'll reinforce an argument made a little while back by Greg London, and which jibes with an obsession of mine: American antinomianism. It shows up as "Dirty Harry" and the acceptance of prison rape; in the admiration of the super-rich and the hatred of the supposedly not-humiliated-enough welfare mother. For the Elect, all is permissible, to the Damned anything may be done...and there is a line between the two that really can't be crossed.

It shows up in Cheney's fury at talk of Mary's baby and his own policies: she isn't lesbian (Preterite), she's from a rich and powerful family (Elect).

Some people want to believe they deserve all the good things they've got; one way to do that is to believe that _everyone_ has got what they 've deserved (and it's not, at least in their own case, the whipping King Lear suggested).

I don't buy the Warrior Cult meme that's invaded our minds---wars are won by soldiers, and the "honour" of the Warrior usually never extends to respect for anyone but---but I can't help but wonder what older codes of honour would say about a salvation completely unearned and undeserved.....

#308 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 11:44 AM:

#227, Laila: "With all due respect, Patrick, I think you've missed the mark on the "extra-legal violence" thing. The problem is rape and our culture's acceptance of torture and degradation, not extra-legality. Extralegality and vigilantism can be a problem, certainly, but it's not THE problem when it comes to prison rape."

You're right that the problem with prison rape isn't that it's "extra-legal," it's that it's wrong. At the risk of seeming defensive--I don't feel defensive, but I do want to make a point about the nature of blog posts--I do want to note that I didn't exactly "miss the mark," I changed the subject slightly in the course of a post. More precisely, the subject changed in the middle of the bit from Robert Farley that I quoted, and I had some things I wanted to say in the lead-in to that quote, and some slightly different things I wanted to say following it.

#309 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 11:59 AM:

#238, Heresiarch: "[P]eople will always be people. I don't mean they will always be petty and cruel. I mean they will always be exceptional and amazing and kind and mediocre and petty and terrible and cruel in the same bizarre, human mix that they've always been. They'll use that crazy "free will" of theirs to do both the things you approve of and the things that you don't, just like they always have. Free will is, well, free: you can't expect it to do what you want. If you want to effect a big, universal change in human behavior, you can't look to the free will. You must look to the social environment."

I agree with this entirely. Note that Heresiarch isn't saying that it's impossible for individuals to do better than you might expect. She or he is saying that if you want to make universal changes, you have to change universal conditions.

#280, Heresiarch again: "My first problem with your argument is that I keep hearing you say that doing better can only be a result of the application of individuals' free will: that if people just tried harder, (learned more, improved themselves) they would be able to do better. Well, of course. The problem is, they don't. So what do we do now? We can make self-improvement easier--perhaps by vocally advocating it, or we can modify existing social structures to incentivize moral behavior. I think both of these things fall into the realm of modifying the environment, even by your definition."

It's worth noting that the belief that social problems can be solved "if people just tried harder" carries its own load of social toxins. Among other things, it provides the fortunate with a fabulous defense against the sting of conscience: the less-lucky must simply not have tried as hard. Personally, theology aside, I've always found the idea of "original sin" to be deeply sane: it's a model of the human condition in which it's understood that everyone screws up sometimes because out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made. When that's understood, it's a lot easier for us to forgive one another and move on. Yes, I know quite well that "original sin" can be used to justify a misanthropically hateful view of humans and the human prospect (see Jansenism for one of many good examples) but overall it seems to me that the doctrines that urge individuals to strive for personal perfection (Mormonism and Objectivism both come to mind) produce measurably more actual craziness. Your Mileage May Vary. Personal biases may be in operation in the vicinity. After ingesting, do not operate heavy machinery.

#293, Jo Walton: I'm glad to see someone noting that Greg wasn't all wrong in that lengthy food fight. Some people do resist social pressure to do evil, and that fact is as important as any other.

#310 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 12:41 PM:

overall it seems to me that the doctrines that urge individuals to strive for personal perfection (Mormonism and Objectivism both come to mind) produce measurably more actual craziness

Compare and contrast the successes of Continuous Quality Improvement with the failures of Zero Defect. Generalize.

See also assertions that Libertarianism is a vector without a destination. Sadly so is Socialism.

“society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together” is pretty much fundamental to the conservative outlook
Perhaps and perhaps Socialism requires extra-legal violence to build it.

#311 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 03:09 PM:

theology aside, I've always found the idea of "original sin" to be deeply sane: it's a model of the human condition in which it's understood that everyone screws up sometimes

Theology aside, yes. But my point around original sin was the theological, or the deus ex machina, one.

Everyone screws up sometimes. But my understanding of original sin is that the focus isn't on the "screwing up" part, it's on how to recover. While a humanist might say "humans are screwed up and humans will have to deal with each other's screw ups", there is a vein of original sin that says "humans are screwed up and the only way to be saved is by (insert deus ex machina solution here)".

The point being that folks who think people are screwed up and can't fix themselves put their faith in God (or other outside intervention) saving people. How often do you hear someone from the Religious Right give the argument that without God telling us what is right and wrong humans would quickly devolve into savagery? But it isn't just God. And you don't have to be a theologist to believe in some form of original sin. There are those who propose taht people are broken and must be reined in by a strong centralized police force. Or that the only way man can be saved is with a proper government with sufficient checks and balances. Or by a government built up by the Guardian class in Plato's republic. Or by a sufficient welfare system. Or with bread and circuses.

There are justifiable reasons to have a police force, a well-designed government, welfare processes, oversight on prison guards, and other corrective systems, but fixing some percieved fundamental flaw in humanity is not one of them.

The notion that people are, for the most part, flawed and need some form of external salvation goes way, way, way back. And it is inherent in many of the memes that underly a great many attitudes present today.

I'm not sure what the proper term is for an ideology where you believe people are imperfect but that they will be able to work it out amongst themselves without some outside intervention coming in to save them. It's a mix of human imperfection meets basic human goodness. So I suppose the point being that "Good" doesn't mean "perfect", just heading in the general direction of improvement.

I see "original sin" type stories as saying humans are imperfect and will generally head towards dis-improvement if left to their own devices, and that some outside force, some deus ex machina, some external salvation, is needed to correct that.

I certainly wasn't trying to say humans are perfect.

#312 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 04:04 PM:

"The notion that people are, for the most part, flawed and need some form of external salvation goes way, way, way back."

I'm in favor of the notion that people are, for the most part, flawed and need each other.

#313 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 04:25 PM:

Without getting into excessive theological discourse, let me suggest that the apparent contradiction in these two formulations (human beings are flawed and need each other; human beings are flawed and need some outside force, some external salvation) is reconciled, in Christian doctrine, in the Incarnation. We need God's help to put the world back to rights, but the help God gives us exists precisely and directly in the help we give each other.

"We are the hands of Christ. Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours. Ours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion on this world. Ours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Ours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.

Ours are the hands; ours are the feet; ours are the eyes, ours His body.

Christ has no body now
on earth but ours."

-- St. Teresa of Avila


#314 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 06:27 PM:

As Auden put it, 'We must love one another, or die'.

#315 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 06:56 PM:

Pertinent to the subject of people withstanding social pressure. Apparently February 22nd is the day for commemorating the White Rose, a German group resisting the Nazi regime. Creek Running North on the White Rose group. More details are at The White Rose: A Lesson in Dissent. In the latter, he says that these days every German has been taught about them.
Distressingly, I don't know how much they are mentioned in the education of the Allies' children. In Australian schools in the 1960s and 1970s, I never heard of it, and read of them only a few years ago. Today, I don't know about schooling, but the story should be better known than it is.

#316 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Patrick: I'm in favor of the notion that people are, for the most part, flawed and need each other.

I'd agree with that. I just wouldn't consider it an instance of "original sin". humanity can save itself.


Lizzy: We need God's help to put the world back to rights, but the help God gives us exists precisely and directly in the help we give each other.

I'm not familiar with that idea in Christianity. I was more pointing to the idea that original sin in christianity being the idea that humans have sinned simply by being born and because they've sinned, they can't get into heaven, but because god is benevolent, he sent his son to die for our sins, and only by accepting that act of grace of God can humans go to heaven. I believe standard christian doctrine is that humans cannot go to heaven by the virtue of their acts alone. They must ask for God's grace.

This was what I was trying to get at about people being fundamentally bad and needing outside assistance. Maybe Christianity says humans can set the world right among other humans, but I'm pretty sure that no human goes to christian heaven but by the grace of God alone. We aren't good enough on our own to go to heaven.


#317 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 07:45 PM:

I was starting to wonder if I was misusing the phrase "original sin" so I looked it up.

Wikipedia says:

Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin agree that humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception. This inherently sinful nature (the basis for the Calvinistic doctrine of "total depravity") results in a complete alienation from God and the total inability of humans to achieve reconciliation with God based on their own abilities.

#318 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 07:52 PM:

In the same Wikipedia article, the Roman Catholic definition is rather different. This is a hint that you can't pick the Calvinist definition and generalize to all Christianity.

#319 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 08:46 PM:

Try this, Greg: Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

That's from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

#320 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 10:44 PM:

I always saw original sin as an explanation of the fact that we all fall short of our best intentions.

#321 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 10:54 PM:

The article says at the top: For Christians, atonement for original sin (and actual sin) requires the redemption of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. Subsequently, many mainline Christians require baptism to wash away this sin

The point was not to argue which flavor of christianity believes it and which do not. No doubt the individuals here who do not believe in original sin will be adamant to argue that their strain of christianity does NOT subscribe to this idea of original sin.

That is not the point.

The point is that the IDEA of original sin EXISTS and that there are similar versions that are NOT CHRISTIAN in nature but have the same narrative: That humanity, left on its own, will fall short, and must need outside assistance.

Those who believe that most people will fail the prison experiment, those that believe most people would see the failings of the prison experiement and nod understandingly, those that believe people need some sort of external oversight, some external check and balance, some environmental condition, to protect humanity from humanity, are all different variations of the same theme that humanity is not good enough on its own and needs some form of assistance to do right.

The christian version (stop right there. That is to say the christian version, for those varieties of christianity who believe in it. If you insist your version of christianity does not subscribe to this, then pick another variation that does. Unless you insist that no version of christianity believes in this form of original sin, any objection on this part is missing the point) is that man has fallen short and cannot be saved except by the grace of god. That we are naturally sinners who will burn in hell and can only be saved and go to heaven, not because of our own actions, but because of God's grace.

So, the POINT I was trying to make was simply that when I talked about original sin, the objection I had was not the idea that humans are imperfect. I make no claims for human perfection. But I was objecting to the idea that humans can only be saved by god, environment, checks and balances, oversight, or some other form of external salvation. That without this external compensator, humans would fall further into savagry.

I do not believe that to be the case.

Now, whether you believe that or not is up to you. My point of bringing this up in the first place was to point out how pervasive a meme this is, how a lot of people have this worldview and view the world through this filter, and how people interpret evidence so that it fits this worldview. Some people read about the prison experiemnt and even though only one-third of the people became sadistic, they interpret it as proof of their worldview that the overall direction of mankind is downward.

That isn't to say I think people are perfect, but I think poeple are for the most part doing more right than wrong. I know its a filter, but I'm at least aware that I have that filter. And I was trying to point out the original sin filter that was showing up here: the idea that humanity is for the most part doing more wrong than right and needs some sort of external intervention to prevent the downward trend. The idea that everyone must fail the prison experiment test, and to suggest otherwise is arrogance. These attitudes come out of the world view that man falls short on his own. And I do not subscribe to these beliefs.

I've been trying to point out that what some people have been asserting as absolute fact is actually an outcome of their belief that man falls short on his own.

#322 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2007, 11:30 PM:

Greg, I understand your point. Allow me to clarify: one of the reasons I am a Christian is because the concept of "original sin" makes so much sense to me.

I believe it is true that "man falls short on his own" -- to use your phrase -- not because I am a Christian and it is Christian doctrine, although that's accurate, but because 60 years of observation and experience of the world, plus a fair amount of historical knowledge, seem to me to support that belief. I recognize that other people have also observed the world and read history and don't believe in some version of original sin. [I think it matters, by the way, which version you look at.] One can say that this is a matter about which people of good will can disagree. One might also say that the folks who don't believe in original sin are viewing the world through Enlightenment-colored glasses.

Chicken, meet egg.

#323 ::: M. Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 12:15 AM:

I don't have the Latin, neither for the rigourous Judging Exam or (more to the point) to say properly that "Sola scriptorum" always means "Scripture alone, as interpreted by you and men who can convince you with words or weapons that they know better,"....

If one is an atheist or near that, the idea of relying on an external source for salvation (as opposed to relying on each other for doing better than we have) seems particularly dangerous because there is no external source. Those who think they're relying on God are actually still relying on their own, flawed, selves and other people's, but will tend to give them the credence due an infallible and benevolent source. This simultaneously ignites my atheist crap-detector and my Jewish training's loathing for idolatry, which can involve big molten or graven images, but always involves setting up something else in God's place...better that the universe be sedevacant than to bow before a squatter.

The closest I'll come to the idea that this a Fallen World is an acknowlegement that the Evil Inclination usually has an easier time of it, entropy being what it is...so, for example, post-Beard/Kinney, the National Lampoon devoted itself to afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable, it's much easier that way.

#324 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 12:38 AM:

For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. T. S. Eliot

As I said previously, we are meant to help each other. Salvation I hope for, but when it comes to the work of this world, I look to my fellow human beings, just as they look to me. I also trust in God's grace. These are not contradictory positions. Now I'm back where I started in this conversation, so I think I'd better go to bed.

G'night, Gracie.

#325 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 01:11 PM:

I believe it is true that "man falls short on his own" ... because 60 years of observation and experience of the world, plus a fair amount of historical knowledge, seem to me to support that belief.

Lizzy, I'm not trying to prove or disprove the accuracy of anyone's filter. I was simply trying to point out to some people that they were looking through a filter that was coloring their vision. When the prison experiment was brought up some immediately brought their own filter that all must fall and interpreted all facts to fit that filter. The experiment said only one-third of the guards failed, yet when I suggested I'd probably pass a week of guard duty, I was called arrogant. The facts of the prison experiment do not support the idea that everyone must fail. Also, those responding that I must fail don't actually know anything about me. But their filter demands that all must fall short, so I must fall short.

I wasn't trying to prove or disprove the filter in general. I was trying to point that some people were looking at the world through their filter to the point that they were ignoring their own statistics and were making wide assumptions about someone they don't know.

I believe people in general tend towards good. I can't prove it. I don't know if it is a provable statement even. But I know that it's a filter I have, and I do catch myself occaisionally putting too much confidence in some individual because of my filter.

If you believe that people in general tend to fall short, I can't disprove it. I can point to some things that may indicate a different trend, but it isn't proof. The capuchin monkey experiment and various other experiments around similar concepts of fairness and whatnot. Growing up in a small town where the fire department and ambulance are all volunteers, and where neighbors helped neighbors in need, would seem to indicate at least some people have a tendancy to do right. But it isn't proof. And trying to prove one over the other will just go in circles.

Like I said, I was trying to point out that the filter exists.

One thing that I don't quite understand in your view is what exactly "fall short" means to you. To me, everyone falls short of perfection, but I think if you did an average of everyone's morality, I think the result would be positive rather than negative.

-infinity -1000 -100 -1 0 +1 +10 +100 +1000 +infinity

So, +infinity would be perfection and maybe only God hits that point. -infinity might be the devil. And some humans are -1000, and others are +1000 and if you added everyone up and averaged them out, I think the tally would be greater than zero. Humanity still "falls short" of perfection, but humanity can improve itself because it's morality is positive rather than negative.

so where would you put "fall short" on the scale of things?

#326 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 01:18 PM:

And I don't expect you to prove your answer, since none of this is provable. A gut answer would be fine.

#327 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 11:22 PM:

Greg, check your e-mail.

#328 ::: MNiM ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 10:56 AM:

I've been reading Making Light (backwards) for the last several days (it's worse than TV Tropes, honestly, for sucking you in). I'm actually back as far as May 14th 2005, but I haven't been able to get this post out of my head since I read it. There are a couple of other posts like that, but this is the only one I feel qualified to offer any opinion beyond a few bewildered meeps.

I've seen a few instances of people returning to long buried threads, and I hope that no one minds that I have done so.

I will confine my remarks to the last two paragraphs -- I can't add anything to the topic of prison rape that hasn't been said better by others. At least I think I'm offering something new, or new-ish, with the following.

It would be ridiculous to say that you can't compare the KKK and the Scooby Gang, because clearly, you can. But extra-legal violence is about where the comparison ends, and not simply because we're told by smart people we admire that it's merited and just (and I agree that that's a bad reason to go along with something.)

The fact is that legality is not morality, or, to put it in terms that would get me funny looks almost anywhere else, just because something is Lawful doesn't mean that it's also Good. The fact remains that law is a neutral category (though not necessarily a Neutral one). For example, slavery has been legal, but that didn't make it moral/ethical/right. I won't pretend to be an expert on the institution of slavery anywhere, let alone across the board, but it isn't much of a stretch of the imagination to think that when and where was slavery legal, that interfering with it, whether by running away, freeing other slaves, or aiding freed slaves was also illegal. It also isn't much of a stretch of the imagination to think that where such extra-legality took place that it was also accompanied by violence.

Similarly, revolutions -- American, Irish, French, etc -- have often been achieved though violence that was, by definition, extra-legal, and did not have the universal support of those it claimed to represent.

In the real world, in functioning democratically-elected republics, laws should derive from the will of the governed, and extra-legal violence should be deplored by society. But we also know that even in mostly democratically-elected republics that laws don't necessarily derive from the will of the governed -- often they only derive from the will of some of the governed, and leave out entire groups of people. In the case of women, for example, this was slightly more than half the population. (This is leaving aside all discussion of children as voiceless governed.)

We have wonderful examples of non-violent struggle toppling oppression -- India, the US civil rights movement -- but we tend to forget that the ultimate success of non-violent struggles depends not solely on the oppressed, but also on the oppressors. They have to be unwilling to escalate the violence further -- (versus, for example, China).

In fiction, extra-legal violence is often (though not always) placed against the backdrop of a society/world that even more flawed than our own. The characters face a lesser-of-two-evils scenario (see also, the principle of the double effect). Let's take (a very flat reading of) the X-Men for our example. The mutants are a despised and oppressed group; there are those among them that consider themselves superior to non-mutants (and those who reach the same conclusion, that they have to be on the top of the food chain, if only to stop their own persecution). Individual X-men don't agree, but they are faced with a choice -- go about their business as any non-mutant would have to do (eschewing the wrong of extra-legal violence, but thus not intervening where they could have saved lives, whatever, etc.) or acting (thus saving lives (or whatever) but only by application of extra legal violence). Practically, they must do one or the other; morally the must pick the lesser of the two wrongs.

In the case of the X-Men and the Scooby Gang, they are also circumscribed by the reality that the normal proper authorities are manifestly incapable of handling the threat, which makes it easier for the characters (and author, and readers) to justify the heroes' choices. (The X-men, also, are excluded from the social contract in ways that the Scooby Gang simply aren't, but that's a different essay.)

The KKK have no such dilemma: there is no evil avoided by their choice, only evil committed.

That's not the sole thing that differentiates the KKK from heroic fictional characters -- it's also the choice of targets. It's a bit of stretch to equate the conflicts in the above examples (though some more than others) with war, but not so much so to not apply the standards of the Just War doctrine to them. Our heroes may pass or fail the test of proper authority, depending on specific circumstances, and how much leeway you wish to give them (and, historically, it has been a moveable bar). What constitutes a legitimate target has endured less change, and vampires killing and hurting people, and mutants killing and hurting people, are legitimate targets. Ordinary citizens going about their ordinary business are not legitimate targets.

None of the above is to say that all so-called heroes are justified in what they do. 24 is a great example of the dangers of not problematising the author's message -- I haven't seen it (full disclosure: I watched the first episode and thought it was unbelievably stupid (it was the number of times the daughter escaped and was captured if you're curious), but from what I've heard, it's basically a paid ad for "torture works!"

It's also not to say that characters (and authors) who mostly get it right don't ever get it wrong, and while I disagree with equating the Scooby Gang with the KKK, I'm really glad this point got brought up, both as a reader and a writer. I'll be a lot more careful about asking myself about the violence in my stories, and what I'm putting across by using it.

Okay, I'm going to stop fiddling with this and just post, and hope it makes sense.

===
Also, on a separate note, I want to say thank you to Making Light, and the hosts and commentators thereof. This is one of the smartest, most civil places I've ever been, in either the physical or not-quite-so-physical world. I feel smarter for having read so much intelligent (and often hilarious) discussion. Growing luminous by eating light, indeed.

#329 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 11:07 AM:

MNiM: Welcome to the Fluorosphere!

#330 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 11:47 AM:

"In the case of the X-Men and the Scooby Gang, they are also circumscribed by the reality that the normal proper authorities are manifestly incapable of handling the threat, which makes it easier for the characters (and author, and readers) to justify the heroes' choices. (The X-men, also, are excluded from the social contract in ways that the Scooby Gang simply aren't, but that's a different essay.)"

That's a particularly good set of points, within a longer comment that's full of them. I can't perfectly speak for the me who wrote the original post more than three years ago, but re-reading it, there's a whiff of suggesting that there's something wrong with enjoying stories of this sort, and I don't actually think there is.

#331 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 11:53 AM:

MNiM@330 - I second TexAnne's welcome. The reason we keep the old threads open despite the spam risk is precisely to enable this kind of thoughtful contribution.

I had never actually seen this thread, and I now realize I'm guilty of the same thing, from way back in my antispam days, talking about prison rape in somewhat elliptical terms in reference to what spammers deserve. It makes me wonder what present activities I'll be ashamed of in another fifteen years. Perhaps I should be more proactive.

#332 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 11:56 AM:

Shoulda previewed. Patrick, I think the vigilante theme - the political underdog winning the day - is an inevitable trope. We all like it, as long as it's the Good Guys that win. What's interesting is where the slippery slope starts - where do freedom fighters stop and terrorists begin? Or is it just a matter of perspective (i.e. whether it's your tribe they're fighting)?

#333 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 01:17 PM:

MiNM, #330: That's an outstanding analysis, and IMO more than sufficient proof that you should feel free to comment on anything that takes your fancy. I hope you'll drop by some of the more current threads and join in.

#334 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 02:02 PM:

MNiM @328:
I've seen a few instances of people returning to long buried threads, and I hope that no one minds that I have done so.

As Michael Roberts says, yes, we're happy to have old threads reactivate. And I for one am grateful; rereading the comments, I see a bunch of stuff that strikes off of me more now than it did at the time.

One thing about your comment that really interests me is somewhere in here:

In the real world, in functioning democratically-elected republics, laws should derive from the will of the governed, and extra-legal violence should be deplored by society. But we also know that even in mostly democratically-elected republics that laws don't necessarily derive from the will of the governed -- often they only derive from the will of some of the governed, and leave out entire groups of people. In the case of women, for example, this was slightly more than half the population. (This is leaving aside all discussion of children as voiceless governed.)

We have wonderful examples of non-violent struggle toppling oppression -- India, the US civil rights movement -- but we tend to forget that the ultimate success of non-violent struggles depends not solely on the oppressed, but also on the oppressors. They have to be unwilling to escalate the violence further -- (versus, for example, China).

OK, wait, two things.

First of all, I think you're quite perceptive in teasing out the relationship between extralegal violence and the will of the people as a factor in making the laws. It really does focus the implict question in the original post: in a democratic society, why would extralegal violence be necessary, or a good thing?

That leads me to a very interesting point about the upswing in really loathsome laws these days. Things like the Arizona "papers please" law didn't need to be laws when the people harassing brown people knew that the authorities shared their worldview. Whether it was law enforcement officials or vigilantes, the existence of a shared set of values about who is inherently suspicious and who's not meant that the acceptability of these actions didn't need to be codified.

It's only now that The Other Folks are perceived* to be in the ascendancy that these nods and winks have to be on the statute books.

Another example: the classic "ticking time bomb" scenario as a justification for a law permitting torture. The classic retort is that an interrogator who honestly thinks torture is the only solution† will go ahead and do it anyway and trust the legal system to vindicate him. But, of course, if he feels that the system will not see it his way, then he wants the protection of law ahead of time.

Second thing, though the first thing about your comment that struck me: I think there's a large variance among people of good will about the degree to which extralegal violence for a just cause is permissible or a good idea. Call it the MLK - Malcolm X distinction‡. I may be misreading you, but I see a defense of necessary violence/Just War in your comment, and I'm not sure I'm entirely in agreement with it. (Actually, I'm fairly sure I'm not, if it's there.)

How much more or less effective are the people on the flotilla to the Gaza Strip depending on whether you believe the Israeli Defence Force's narrative ("Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that's 100% clear") or that of the activists, who said they were unarmed?

I think there are still interesting and plausible narratives where the moral suasion of the unarmed is greater than that of the armed. Of course, we don't yet know who will come out on top in current events; it's possible that India and Selma were the last of their kind of effective action. But I wouldn't put money on it.

(This is not to say that, in fiction, there is not a plethora of good and compelling story to be told about necessary violence and the difficult choices it entails. But I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the swift dismissal of nonviolence as a tool of change.)

-----
* I'd dispute whether Obama is quite the force of change that the Tea Party paints him as. But perception, in these matters, is what counts; it motivates reaction.
† In a make-believe world where torture works, for this argument. Note that even China is getting off that bus.
‡ This is unfair to the reality of Malcolm X, as opposed to his public perception.

#335 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 02:32 PM:

Abi @334: It's only now that The Other Folks are perceived* to be in the ascendancy that these nods and winks have to be on the statute books.

Well, maybe. But in a democratic republic, there's another reason for laws: Legislators can propose and support laws as a form of advertising. "Remember me next election day, because I Did Something about That Thing You Care About!" Even if it didn't really need to have anything done about it. Even if the thing he did is actually counter-productive.

depending on whether you believe the Israeli Defence Force's narrative ("Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that's 100% clear") or that of the activists, who said they were unarmed?

Funny thing about the IDF's narrative. Here's a statement from the IDF's official blog:

According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was attempting to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines.
So, according to the IDF itself, the activist's weapons came from the IDF, which implies that the activists were unarmed (or armed only with knives, axes, and improvised weapons) prior to the boarding of their ships by the IDF in international waters. Unless maybe those activists swam over to an IDF ship, swiped the guns, and then swam back to their own ships.

#336 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2010, 05:21 PM:

Something funny is going on in the last couple of threads over on the Nigerian scam thread. Much as I don't like scammers, I don't like incitements to violence on ML either.

(Apologies to busy moderators who also have Real World lives too)

#337 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 02:56 AM:

praisegod barebones @336:

Cleaned up. You're right, it was ick.

#338 ::: MNiM ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2010, 12:26 PM:

Many thanks to everyone for their gracious welcomes!

Michael Roberts @332:

where do freedom fighters stop and terrorists begin? Or is it just a matter of perspective (i.e. whether it's your tribe they're fighting)?

I've seen this answered a few different ways (and most of them, are highly partisan); the best answer I've seen (and I apologize that I can't offer a reference, but I don't remember it, and don't have it to hand; it isn't mine) is again, a question of targets.

I'm going to take a step back (and hopefully no one will mind), and expand a little on the subject of the Just War doctrine, for those who might not be familiar with it.

It gets its name from the Catholic Church, but predates it (early examples go back to Pagan antiquity). There are two main parts: jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Broadly, these cover just cause, and just conduct, and a war can only properly be considered just if it meets both requirements. Just cause covers why wars may be fought (and who may declare them); just conduct covers how may be fought, who may fight them, and who are legitimate targets.

The 'who may declare them' part rests on other areas of political philosophy (sovereignty, social contract). Freedom fighters are generally on somewhat shakier ground here, in traditional terms, as the original philosophers weren't really thinking about internal revolutions (or, in some cases, even about the will of the governed at all).

Even leaving that aside, the authority part of most freedom fighter/whatever organization is pretty much always on shaky grounds -- that may claim that they're fighting on behalf of a wide group, but at best, they're taking that on faith.

But where freedom fighters really diverge from terrorists is their choice of whom to target: no matter how just their grievance, or how widespread and legitimate their support, nothing justifies deliberately choosing civilian targets. That's really the litmus test, or at least the best one I've seen so far -- but don't expect to see government or media applying it any time soon. Terrorism is a very useful word.


abi @334

Second thing, though the first thing about your comment that struck me: I think there's a large variance among people of good will about the degree to which extralegal violence for a just cause is permissible or a good idea.

Actually, unless I'm missing something, both of your examples are really about legal violence: loathsome laws are laws.

(As for the just-cause excuse, I think I covered that above.)

I may be misreading you, but I see a defense of necessary violence/Just War in your comment, and I'm not sure I'm entirely in agreement with it. (Actually, I'm fairly sure I'm not, if it's there.)

You're not misreading me, though you may be misinterpreting what it means. I'm not a pacifist (though I respect those who are). To the extent that I am not a pacifist, clearly I believe that violence is at least sometimes justified. When that violence is a war, yes, I believe that it should have a legitimate cause, be declared after proper deliberation and exhaustion of other options, by proper authorities, and have legitimate targets, etc.: i.e. that it meets the requirement for the Just War doctrine.

That said, I also believe in democracy, the will of the people, and the social contract; I'm not suggesting that most excuses for violence are valid.

I think there are still interesting and plausible narratives where the moral suasion of the unarmed is greater than that of the armed. Of course, we don't yet know who will come out on top in current events; it's possible that India and Selma were the last of their kind of effective action. But I wouldn't put money on it.
(This is not to say that, in fiction, there is not a plethora of good and compelling story to be told about necessary violence and the difficult choices it entails. But I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the swift dismissal of nonviolence as a tool of change.)

I agree with you, on both points actually: I very much doubt we've seen the last of successful nonviolent struggle, and my comments should not be taken to mean that I think it can or should be dispensed with. That was not what I was going for at all. But the moral suasion of the unarmed only works against an opposition that's willing to be persuaded. Where the opposition is both able and, crucially, willing, to escalate violence, you will not get the same outcome.

It also only really works in certain types of situations - India and Selma were acts of civil disobedience; if Florin attacks Guilder for the purpose of invading it, and Guilder offers no resistance, then all that's happened is that Florin's had a very easy invasion. And if Florin is sufficiently motivated to do it, no amount of the rest of the world urging them not to will automatically stop them. Assuming they're willing to brave the sanctions imposed on them, it's still a win for them. Depending on what Florin wants, that might be fine (for varying values of 'fine'). But if their purpose was genocide, nonviolence will not stop them.

All of that said, just because nonviolence won't always work doesn't mean that it will never work. It also doesn't mean that we shouldn't pursue nonviolent options whenever possible in real life, and include it more, for that matter, in fiction.

#339 ::: [silinmiş spam] ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2011, 08:41 PM:

[79.143.71.113 gönderdi]

#340 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2011, 08:46 PM:

Didn't you just ban this twerp?

#341 ::: Tom Whitmore sees a new type of spam probe ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 02:27 PM:

There are a bunch of them around this message in several different threads!

#342 ::: Caroline sees possible spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 02:28 PM:

The past several comments in Recent Comments (on several old threads) seem to be some kind of attempt to defeat a Bayesian spam filter by copy and pasting lines from news stories?

#343 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2011, 02:29 PM:

Jinx!

*high fives Tom Whitmore*

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Jim Macdonald, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

If you are a spammer, your fate is in the hands of Jim Macdonald, and your foot shall slide in due time.

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.