Sunday, January 29, 2006

Beware the Chrysanthemum Men

Can Corporations Stop Doing Evil? "Aggressive and competitive tendencies assisted our ancestors to survive. That's why they are there. Effective channeling, not avoidance, seems necessary. We can do that with diversion ("Yay! The Steelers won! Woo hoo!") or direction (such as the very existence of the Special Forces and the CIA), but we had better not ignore it."

This posting reminded me of a few things that I had intended to blog but hadn't.

Are we designed for violence? "Anyone doubting that treating other people as more than instruments is founded in the brain would do well to look into developments in the study of self–other mapping. This has provided stronger and stronger evidence that these relationships are hardwired into us, strikingly with the discovery of mirror neurons that fire in the same way for events that occur to you or to those you observe (Gallese and Goldman 1998). Many argue that empathy is an outcome of these representations (see e.g. Frith and Frith 1999). And recent research demonstrates appreciating someone else's pain activates many of the same areas as experiencing it (Jackson, Meltzoff, & Decety 2004): good evidence for a VIM [Violence Inhibition Mechanism] -like mechanism, and certainly a rebuttal to those who think our withdrawal from violence is unnatural...We are not innately disposed to violence, or even indifferent to violence, we are neurologically bound away from violence. This understanding gives us a solid basis for treatment, and an honest beginning from which to address the continuing problem of violence in society."

Mirror neurons seems to be a theory that is reinforcing the idea of memes but also changing it slightly.

A NY Times article has more details (PDF) including the effect this might have on children: "Mirror neurons work best in real life, when people are face to face. Virtual reality and videos are shadowy substitutes...a study in the January 2006 issue of Media Psychology found that when children watched violent television programs, mirror neurons, as well as several brain regions involved in aggression were activated, increasing the probability that the children would behave violently."

This idea also has influenced other areas of research including: language, freedom of speech and autism.

Also, related is The Milgram experiment (as mentioned in "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") and an interview last year with Peter Cundall showing that the capacity to do evil is everywhere:
"ANDREW DENTON: How do you break a human being down to a point of amorality?

PETER CUNDALL: By giving them power. By giving them absolute power over people. I suppose I see, today, the biggest problem in society is what we call the "control freaks". These are the malignant narcissists, right. The people who are - and we've met them. Look, you can go to a tiny organisation, a school parents and friends, a trades union, ABC, we know who the control freaks - it's true, we know them, we know who they are and they want - that's right.

ANDREW DENTON: We've just been cut off.

PETER CUNDALL: But they're people without a gone conscience and without any pity, and there is not many of them. But when you and I are fast asleep at night, they're lying awake, scheming, and they're hard to compete with, and I'm not joking. You know - anybody that's worked in an office or anything, there is always someone that wants to take control, right. The supreme example, of course, is people like Stalin and Hitler. Hitler, don't forget, almost his last days, when he was in the bunker, he was saying at one time that, "The SS have betrayed me," because they retreated, and he had all his commanders executed. And almost his last words was, "The German people have betrayed me," you know. I mean - and this is an example of a supreme form of pathological narcissism and you do get it. You get it in politics. They're the people who can't admit that they have made a mistake.

ANDREW DENTON: Do you get it in gardening?

PETER CUNDALL: Absolutely. You get it in gardens and in gardening, right. You get somebody - mainly with blokes. Blokes and women are totally different gardeners. Blokes are single-minded, right. So you get these dahlia men, right - really, it's true - and they compete with each other, or the cactus men and they compete, right, and the chrysanthemum men."
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