Sunday, August 31, 2003

Last night when I got home from the Pizza evening I started to read 'Medieval Thought' by Gordon Leff. This is an old Pelican book that I read sometimes when I am interested in obscure philosophy. Pelican books are usually quite well written and even though this book is old (1958) I quite enjoy reading it.

I was reading about the school of Chartres and the debate between dialecticism (logic / reason / debate) and the older approach of learning 'through faith'. He gives a very interesting quotation from John of Salisbury about the perils of the dialectic approach to life:

'Disdaining everything except logic, they spend their entire lives on it; having become old they are puerile doubters; they discuss every syllable and even every letter of words and books; they hesitate over nothing, they search everywhere and they never come to knowledge'

(Directed originally against the new school of logic on the left bank of the Seine under Adam of Petit-Pont.)
Although I haven't had a chance to study the article by Zimbardo, the aspect that interests me is the emphasis on how social situation determines the ethical / decision making process. He makes the claim that even those with 'high moral' feelings were still changed through extreme social situations (like in Nazi Germany) or were likely to be changed. This is something that we need to learn when we decide on how to make ethical decisions - we need to realise that we are strongly influenced by our environment and that we can be 'seduced' into doing bad things. Once we realise this we can work to minimise these effects.

It is also important that governments and organisations working for social change realise that a good social environment is crucial for a good society. I don't think you can just expect people to behave 'properly' - crime, terrorism etc needs to be fought not only in the minds but in the social conditions of where people live.
Hi Rod,

I've read the article by Zimbardo. There's an aspect related to the electroshock and the jail experiments I want to discuss here.
The first experiment is about behaving as someone deemed to be in authority directs us to. But the second is about behaving as it is expected according to one's social role -there wouldn't necessary be an 'authority', except that we consider a wider group or society at large as such. This makes the second example far more worrisome, as the 'script' is not written down by any person in particular -it's someting we all learn through socialization. In the first one, we behave in a given way because this is what we are told to do by someone whose authority we accept. In the second one, we behave in a given way because we know, or think we know, how a person in our situation would behave and we know, or think we know, that we are expected to behave in that way. It's a spine-shivering fact that this hypothesis has been widely validated!


Sunday, August 24, 2003

I stumbled across the incredible web page of Professor Zimbardo. He has a very interesting new publication which you can read online:

A Situationist Perspective on the Psychology of Evil: Understanding How Good People Are Transformed into Perpetrators. (2003)

In this article he explains his theory that it doesn't matter how much people try to think they are good and moral, when they are put under extreme social conditions they will start behaving exactly as they are directed, he even lists the conditions that have to be set up to create these changes, such as providing anonymity and giving the volunteers positions of responsibility.

Home page of Professor Zimbardo

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Just found another wonderful quote from 'America's receding future':

'Kiss the beautiful satin lining of her coat'

wow what a line!
Just finished reading the first chapter of 'America's receding future' by Ronald Segal. Written in the 60s it describes Dallas as the crime capital of America. With 10 murders per 100 000 people it was higher than New York or Los Angeles. Segal described the culture of vacant Dallas where money was the only important thing and culture patrons openly admitted they were only interested in classical music to get more money.

This is interesting considering that George W Bush sprent a lot of time in Dallas.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Hear this, O ye wayward winebibber, for you will be as welcome as a fart in the queen's bedchamber!

I could not resist giving you this quote from this very bizarre web site that I just found:

Biblical curse generator

It is supposed to be from Ezekiel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. - but I doubt it!

Ship of Fools seems also quite cool.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Just started to read 'Mystic River' by Dennis Lehane. This is proving to be an excellent book, I haven't read any of his books before so it is quite exciting. Mystic River is a stand alone crime book and even has a slight 'whodunnit' theme which doesn't seem to be that fashionable any more. It is based in Boston in the Irish community. It starts off with three school mates who are fighting in the middle of the street. A car pulls up with two bogus policemen, one of them gets in and from then on their entire lives change.

There seems to be a few extremes in crime books that I don't like, one extreme is the 'all evil' approach where crime is evil and we have to do our hardest to fight it, as seen in Patricia Cornwell. The other extreme is all crime is a reaction to the environment. Pelecanos, although he is an excellent writer reflects this and I don't really like it either. Lehane fits into the middle of this and I am enjoying his book. Of course a lot of other writers won't fit into this but - we'll just ignore them.