Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Violence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Violence. Show all posts

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Do AI girlfriend apps promote unhealthy expectations for human relationships?

Josh Taylor
The Guardian
Originally posted 21 July 23

Here is an excerpt:

When you sign up for the Eva AI app, it prompts you to create the “perfect partner”, giving you options like “hot, funny, bold”, “shy, modest, considerate” or “smart, strict, rational”. It will also ask if you want to opt in to sending explicit messages and photos.

“Creating a perfect partner that you control and meets your every need is really frightening,” said Tara Hunter, the acting CEO for Full Stop Australia, which supports victims of domestic or family violence. “Given what we know already that the drivers of gender-based violence are those ingrained cultural beliefs that men can control women, that is really problematic.”

Dr Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer in media at Swinburne University, said the apps cater to a need, but, as with much AI, it will depend on what rules guide the system and how it is trained.

“It’s completely unknown what the effects are,” Barnet said. “With respect to relationship apps and AI, you can see that it fits a really profound social need [but] I think we need more regulation, particularly around how these systems are trained.”

Having a relationship with an AI whose functions are set at the whim of a company also has its drawbacks. Replika’s parent company Luka Inc faced a backlash from users earlier this year when the company hastily removed erotic roleplay functions, a move which many of the company’s users found akin to gutting the Rep’s personality.

Users on the subreddit compared the change to the grief felt at the death of a friend. The moderator on the subreddit noted users were feeling “anger, grief, anxiety, despair, depression, [and] sadness” at the news.

The company ultimately restored the erotic roleplay functionality for users who had registered before the policy change date.

Rob Brooks, an academic at the University of New South Wales, noted at the time the episode was a warning for regulators of the real impact of the technology.

“Even if these technologies are not yet as good as the ‘real thing’ of human-to-human relationships, for many people they are better than the alternative – which is nothing,” he said.

My thoughts: Experts worry that these apps could promote unhealthy expectations for human relationships, as users may come to expect their partners to be perfectly compliant and controllable. Additionally, there is concern that these apps could reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and contribute to violence against women.

The potential risks of AI girlfriend apps are still unknown, and more research is needed to understand their impact on human relationships. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and potential harm of these apps and to regulate them accordingly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

More than a quarter of U.S. adults say they’re so stressed they can’t function

American Psychological Association
Press Release
Originally posted 19 OCT 22

Americans are struggling with multiple external stressors that are out of their personal control, with 27% reporting that most days they are so stressed they cannot function, according to a poll conducted for the American Psychological Association.

A majority of adults cited inflation (83%), violence and crime (75%), the current political climate (66%), and the racial climate (62%) as significant sources of stress.

The nationwide survey, fielded by The Harris Poll on behalf of APA, revealed that 70% of adults reported they do not think people in the government care about them, and 64% said they felt their rights are under attack. Further, nearly half of adults (45%) said they do not feel protected by the laws in the United States. More than a third (38%) said the state of the nation has made them consider moving to a different country.

More than three-quarters of adults (76%) said that the future of our nation is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 68% said this is the lowest point in our nation’s history that they can remember.

Various disparities in stressors emerged among population subgroups. For example, 72% of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community reported feeling as if their rights are under attack, which is a higher proportion than non-LGBTQIA+ adults (64%). Younger adult women (ages 18 to 34) were more likely to report that most days their stress is completely overwhelming, in comparison with older women (62% vs. 48% 35–44; 27% 45–64; 9% 65+) and men ages 35 or older (62% vs. 48% 35–44; 21% 45–64; 8% 65+). Seventy-five percent of Black adults said that the racial climate in the U.S. is a significant source of stress, while 70% of Latino/a adults, 69% of Asian adults and 56% of white adults reported the same.

Furthermore, Latinas were most likely, among racial/ethnic groups, to cite significant sources of stress related to violence, including violence and crime (89% Latinas; 80% Black women; 79% Asian women; 77% Latinos; 75% Black men; 73% white women; 72% white men; 70% Asian men), mass shootings (89% Latinas; 78% Latinos; 77% Black women; 77% Asian women; 73% white women; 71% Black men; 67% Asian men; 66% white men) and gun violence (87% Latinas; 83% Black women; 77% Asian women; 76% Latinos; 75% Black men; 69% white women; 68% white men; 63% Asian men).

“It’s clear that the impacts of uncontrollable stressors are profound for most Americans, but psychological science shows us that there are effective ways to talk about and cope with this type of stress,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA’s chief executive officer. “Focusing on accomplishing goals that are in our control can help prevent our minds from getting overwhelmed by the many uncertainties in life. From using our breathing to slow racing thoughts, to intentionally limiting our social media consumption, or exercising our right to vote, action can be extremely empowering.”

Adults reported that stress has had an impact on their health; 76% of adults reported they had experienced at least one symptom in the last month as a result of stress—such as headache (38%), fatigue (35%), feeling nervous or anxious (34%) and feeling depressed or sad (33%). Seven in 10 adults (72%) experienced additional symptoms in the last month, including feeling overwhelmed (33%), experiencing changes in sleeping habits (32%), and/or worrying constantly (30%).

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Violence against women at work

Adams-Prassl, A., Huttunen, K., Nix, E., 
& Zhang, N. (2022). University of Oxford.
Working Paper


Between-colleague conflicts are common. We link every police report in Finland to administrative data to identify assaults between colleagues, and economic outcomes for victims, perpetrators, and firms. We document large, persistent labor market impacts of between colleague violence on victims and perpetrators. Male perpetrators experience substantially weaker consequences after attacking women compared to men. Perpetrators’ economic power in male-female violence partly explains this asymmetry. Male-female violence causes a decline in women at the firm. There is no change in within-network hiring, ruling out supplyside explanations via "whisper networks". Only male-managed firms lose women. Female managers do one important thing differently: fire perpetrators.


Our results have a number of implications. First, female victims of workplace violence have few economic incentives to report violence at work. Even in the relatively severe cases reported to the police in our data, the male perpetrator experiences relatively small labor market costs for his actions. This is consistent with the vast under-reporting of workplace harassment and abuse suggested by survey data. A major, known problem in preventing harassment at work is that victims rarely report the problem to their employer (Magley, 2002). Women under-reporting harassment and violence at the hands of a colleague (and in particular one’s manager) is easily reconciled with the comparative lack of career consequences for perpetrators of male-female violence we have documented.

Second, given that under-reporting is common, we are likely only observing a small fraction of all cases of workplace violence. As described in Section 2, just 10% of physical assaults are reported to the police in Finland, with lower reporting rates for crimes considered less serious by the victim (EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2015; European Institute for Crime Prevention & Control, 2009). Conservatively, this implies that the incidence of workplace violence is at least 10 times larger than can be documented by police reports. At the same time, under-reporting and selective reporting is relevant for the external validity of our results. While we provide the first evidence of the causal impacts of workplace violence on perpetrators, victims, and the broader firm we can only do so for the (likely) more severe cases reported to police. We might not expect to see quite as large of impacts on victims, perpetrators, and the firm from less severe abuse by colleagues.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

On and beyond artifacts in moral relations: accounting for power and violence in Coeckelbergh’s social relationism

Tollon, F., Naidoo, K. 
AI & Soc (2021). 


The ubiquity of technology in our lives and its culmination in artificial intelligence raises questions about its role in our moral considerations. In this paper, we address a moral concern in relation to technological systems given their deep integration in our lives. Coeckelbergh develops a social-relational account, suggesting that it can point us toward a dynamic, historicised evaluation of moral concern. While agreeing with Coeckelbergh’s move away from grounding moral concern in the ontological properties of entities, we suggest that it problematically upholds moral relativism. We suggest that the role of power, as described by Arendt and Foucault, is significant in social relations and as curating moral possibilities. This produces a clearer picture of the relations at hand and opens up the possibility that relations may be deemed violent. Violence as such gives us some way of evaluating the morality of a social relation, moving away from Coeckelbergh’s seeming relativism while retaining his emphasis on social–historical moral precedent.

From Conclusion and implications

The role of artificial intelligence or technology more broadly in our moral landscape depends upon how this landscape is conceived. The realist theory posited by Torrance which seeks to defend the view that moral concern is grounded objectively comes up short in its capacity to function as an explanatory framework which sufficiently accounts for changing moral sensibilities. On the other hand, Coeckelbergh offers a social-relational theory which, in contrast, argues that moral concern should not rest on the properties of individual entities but on the relations between them. While this view better allows for the consideration of social–historical information about relations, it seems to imply a sort of moral relativism and its focus on how things appear makes it blind to the reality of relations. Crucially, Coeckelbergh’s account cannot make sense of the role of power to the extent that it plays out in social relations and curates moral possibilities.

By drawing on an Arendtian and Foucauldian notion power as an attempt to control a situation and assessing the ways it may function in relation to moral situations, we understand how its presence makes relations morally interesting. Not only this, but a view of power also allows us to identify certain social-relational dynamics as violent. We have described violence as a restriction of potentiality, marking the end of a power relation. As we have discussed in relation to technology, this characterisation of social-relational dynamics gives us some basis to say of certain actions or relations that they are morally permissible or impermissible. This assessment retains Coeckelbergh’s emphasis on analysing social–historical relations, while allowing for some degree of moral judgement to be made.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Women Carry An Undue Mental Health Burden. They Shouldn’t Have To

Rawan Hamadeh
Ms. Magazine
Originally posted 12 June 21

Here is an excerpt:

In developing countries, there is a huge gap in the availability and accessibility of specialized mental health services. Rather than visiting mental health specialists, women are more likely to seek mental health support in primary health care settings while accompanying their children or while attending consultations for other health issues. This leads to many mental health conditions going unidentified and therefore not treated. Often, women do not feel fully comfortable disclosing certain psychological and emotional distress because they fear stigmatization, confidentiality breaches or not being taken seriously.

COVID-19 has put the mental well-being of the entire world at risk. More adults are reporting struggles with mental health and substance use and are experiencing more symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders. The stressors caused by the pandemic have affected the entire population; however, the effect on women and mothers specifically has been greater.

Women, the unsung heroes of the pandemic, face mounting pressures amid this global health crisis. Reports suggest that the long-term repercussions of COVID-19 could undo decades of progress for women and impose considerable additional burdens on them, threatening the difficult journey toward gender equality.

Unemployment, parenting responsibilities, homeschooling or caring for sick relatives are all additional burdens on women’s daily lives during the pandemic. It’s also important that we acknowledge the exponential need for mental health support for health care workers, and particularly health care mothers, who are juggling both their professional duties and their parenting responsibilities. They are the heroes on the front lines of the fight against the virus, and it’s crucial to prioritize their physical as well as their mental health.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Towards a computational theory of social groups: A finite set of cognitive primitives for representing any and all social groups in the context of conflict

Pietraszewski, D. (2021). 
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1-62. 


We don't yet have adequate theories of what the human mind is representing when it represents a social group. Worse still, many people think we do. This mistaken belief is a consequence of the state of play: Until now, researchers have relied on their own intuitions to link up the concept social group on the one hand, and the results of particular studies or models on the other. While necessary, this reliance on intuition has been purchased at considerable cost. When looked at soberly, existing theories of social groups are either (i) literal, but not remotely adequate (such as models built atop economic games), or (ii) simply metaphorical (typically a subsumption or containment metaphor). Intuition is filling in the gaps of an explicit theory. This paper presents a computational theory of what, literally, a group representation is in the context of conflict: it is the assignment of agents to specific roles within a small number of triadic interaction types. This “mental definition” of a group paves the way for a computational theory of social groups—in that it provides a theory of what exactly the information-processing problem of representing and reasoning about a group is. For psychologists, this paper offers a different way to conceptualize and study groups, and suggests that a non-tautological definition of a social group is possible. For cognitive scientists, this paper provides a computational benchmark against which natural and artificial intelligences can be held.

Summary and Conclusion

Despite an enormous literature on groups and group dynamics, little attention has been paid to explicit computational theories of how the mind represents and reasons about groups. The goal of this paper has been, in a conceptual, non-technical manner, to propose a simple but non-trivial framework for starting to ask questions about the nature of the underlying representations that make the phenomenon of social groups possible—all described at the level of information processing. This computational theory, when combined with many more such theories—and followed by extensive task analyses and empirical investigations—will eventually contribute to a full accounting of the information-processing required to represent, reason about, and act in accordance with group representations.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Morality as Fuel for Violence? Disentangling the Role of Religion in Violent Conflict

Cousar, K.A., Carnes, N.C. & Kimel, S.Y.
Social Cognition 2021
Vol. 39 (1)


Past research finds contradictory evidence suggesting that religion both reduces and increases violent conflict. We argue that morality is an important hub mechanism that can help us understand this disputed relationship. Moreover, to reconcile this, as well as the factors underlying religion's impact on increased violence (i.e., belief versus practice), we draw on Virtuous Violence Theory and newly synthesize it with research on both moral cognition and social identity. We suggest that the combined effect of moral cognition and social identity may substantially increase violence beyond what either facilitates alone. We test our claims using multilevel analysis of data from the World Values Survey and find a nuanced effect of religion on people's beliefs about violence. Specifically, religious individuals were less likely to condone violence while religious countries were more likely to. This combination of theoretical and empirical work helps disentangle the interwoven nature of morality, religion, and violence.


Past research on the relationship between religion and violence finds contradictory evidence suggesting that religion both reduces and increases violent conflict. However, here we explain how morality is an important hub mechanism that, when considered, clarifies the complicated relationship between morality, religion, and violence. Specifically, we have brought together independent theories on moral cognition and social identity that together provide the mechanisms that enable Virtuous Violence Theory to explain why morality motivates violence. Further, we take empirical data from the World Values Survey to further support our understanding of this relationship. More specifically, our analysis finds a nuanced effect of religion on people’s beliefs about violence, with an opposite pattern of results for both individuals and countries. In general, individuals were less likely to condone violence, which aligns with previous research on prosocial influence of religion (e.g., views about the importance of God), while countries were more likely to condone violence, which aligns with research on social components of religion (e.g., observant practice of attendance and prayer). This work emphasizes the importance of considering the influence of morality as a linchpin in intergroup relations, especially during relationships marked by violent conflict.

Monday, January 18, 2021

We Decoded The Symbols From The Storming Of The Capitol

We looked through hours of footage from the Capitol riot to decode the symbols that Trump supporters brought with them, revealing some ongoing threats to US democracy.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Religious Overclaiming and Support for Religious Aggression

Jones, D. N., Neria, A. L., et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science.


Agentic self-enhancement consists of self-protective and self-advancing tendencies that can lead to aggression, especially when challenged. Because self-enhancers often endorse aggression to defend or enhance the self-concept, religious self-enhancement should lead to endorsing aggression to defend or enhance one’s religion. We recruited three samples (N = 969) from Mechanical Turk (n = 409), Iran (n = 351), and the U.S.–Mexico border region (n = 209). We found that religious (but not secular) self-enhancement in the form of religious overclaiming predicted support for, and willingness to engage in, religious aggression. In contrast, accuracy in religious knowledge had mostly negative associations with aggression-relevant outcomes. These results emerged across two separate religions (Christianity and Islam) and across three different cultures (the United States, Iran, and the U.S.–Mexico border region). Thus, religious overclaiming is a promising new direction for studying support for religious aggression and identifying those who may become aggressive in the name of God.


In sum, individuals who overclaimed religious knowledge (i.e., claim to know fictional religious concepts) supported religious aggression and were more willing to engage in religious aggression. This finding did not emerge for secular overclaiming, nor was it explained through other measures of group aggression. Further, accurate religious and secular knowledge mostly correlated with peaceful tendencies. These results emerged across three studies within different cultures (the United States, Iran, and the U.S.–Mexico border region) and religions (Islam and Christianity). In sum, the present findings have promise for future research on identifying and mitigating factors related to supporting religious aggression.

From a PsyPost interview:

“Overconfidence in what you think God supports or what scripture says is toxic. Thus, humility is a critical feature that is needed to bring out the best and most benevolent aspects of religion,” Jones told PsyPost.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Stop Blaming Mental Illness

Image result for mass shootings public health crisisAlan I. Leshner
Science  16 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6454, pp. 623

The United States is experiencing a public health epidemic of mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. A convenient response seems to be blaming mental illness; after all, “who in their right mind would do this?” This is utterly wrong. Mental illnesses, certainly severe mental illnesses, are not the major cause of mass shootings. It also is dangerously stigmatizing to people who suffer from these devastating disorders and can subject them to inappropriate restrictions. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, the best estimates are that individuals with mental illnesses are responsible for less than 4% of all violent crimes in the United States, and less than a third of people who commit mass shootings are diagnosably mentally ill. Moreover, a large majority of individuals with mental illnesses are not at high risk for committing violent acts. Continuing to blame mental illness distracts from finding the real causes of mass shootings and addressing them directly.

Mental illness is, regrettably, a rather loosely defined and loosely used term, and this contributes to the problem. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior…associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” That broad definition can arguably be applied to many life stresses and situations. However, what most people likely mean when they attribute mass shootings to mental illness are what mental health professionals call “serious or severe mental illnesses,” such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Other frequently cited causes of mass shootings—hate, employee disgruntlement, being disaffected with society or disappointed with one's life—are not defined clinically as serious mental illnesses themselves. And because they have not been studied systematically, we do not know if these purported other causes really apply, let alone what to do about them if true.

The editorial is here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Somers Point therapist charged with hiring hitman to 'permanently disfigure' victim

Lauren Carroll
The Press of Atlantic City
Originally posted November 6, 2018

A Somers Point therapist told an undercover FBI agent posing as a hitman she wanted her Massachusetts colleague’s “face bashed-in” and arm broken, according to a criminal complaint filed with the U.S Attorney’s Office.

Diane Sylvia, 58, has been charged with solicitation to commit a crime of violence and appeared in Camden federal court Monday.

According to the criminal complaint filed Friday, a person contacted the FBI to report a murder-for-hire scheme on Sept. 24.

The informant is a former member of an organization criminal gang and was in therapy with Sylvia, a licensed clinical social worker. Sylvia allegedly asked the informant to help kill a North Attleboro, Massachusetts, man, the complaint said.

Sylvia’s lawyer Michael Paulhus of Toms River could not be reached for comment. Sylvia could not be reached for comment.

According to the court documents, Sylvia targeted the man after he threatened to report her to a licensing board. She wanted the man assaulted to “make (her) feel better,” according to court documents.

The info is here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How Trump’s Hateful Speech Raises the Risks of Violence

Cass Sunstein
Originally posted October 28, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Is President Donald Trump responsible, in some sense, for the mailing of bombs to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders? Is he responsible, in some sense, for the slaughter at the Pittsburgh synagogue?

If we are speaking in terms of causation, the most reasonable answer to both questions, and the safest, is: We don’t really know. More specifically, we don’t know whether these particular crimes would have occurred in the absence of Trump’s hateful and vicious rhetoric (including his enthusiasm for the despicable cry, “Lock her up!”).

But it’s also safe, and plenty reasonable, to insist that across the American population, hateful and vicious rhetoric from the president of the United States is bound to increase risks of violence. Because of that rhetoric, the likelihood of this kind of violence is greater than it would otherwise be. The president is responsible for elevating the risk that people will try to kill Democrats and others seen by some of his followers as “enemies of the people” (including journalists and Jews).

To see why, we should investigate one of the most striking findings in modern social psychology that has been replicated on dozens of occasions. It goes by the name of “group polarization.”

The basic idea is that when people are listening and talking to one another, they tend to end up in a more extreme position in the same direction of the views with which they began. Groups of like-minded people can become radicalized.

The info is here.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Forgiveness Therapy for the Promotion of Mental Well-Being

Sadaf Akhtar, Jane Barlow
Trauma, Violence & Abuse 2016 March 23


Interpersonal hurts and violence against the individual have a high prevalence and are associated with a range of long-term problems in terms of psychological functioning. There is a growing body of research highlighting the role of forgiveness therapy in improving different aspects of psychological health in populations who have experienced diverse types of hurt, violence, or trauma. This article reports the findings of a systematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy of process-based forgiveness interventions among samples of adolescents and adults who had experienced a range of sources of hurt or violence against them. Randomized controlled trials were retrieved using electronic databases and an examination of reference sections of previous reviews; each study was assessed for risk of bias. Standardized mean differences (SMDs) and confidence intervals (CIs) were used to assess treatment effects. The results suggest that forgiveness interventions are effective in reducing depression (SMD = −0.37, 95% CI [−0.68, −0.07]), anger and hostility (SMD = −0.49, 95% CI [−0.77, −0.22]), and stress and distress (SMD = −0.66, 95% CI [−0.91, −0.41]) and in promoting positive affect (SMD = −0.29, 95% CI [−0.52, −0.06]). There was also evidence of improvements in state (SMD = −0.55, 95% CI [−0.88, −0.21) and trait (SMD = −0.43, 95% CI [−0.67, −0.20]) forgiveness. The findings provide moderately strong evidence to suggest that forgiving a variety of real-life interpersonal offenses can be effective in promoting different dimensions of mental well-being. Further research is, however, needed.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Jesse Graham
Originally posted December 13, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

What we found was that dehumanising victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanising them eases our guilt. In contrast, seeing ISIS terrorists as less human predicted nothing about support for drone strikes against them. This is because people want to hurt and kill terrorists. Without their humanity, how could terrorists be guilty, and how could they feel the pain that they deserve?


Many people believe that it is only a breakdown in our moral sensibilities that causes violence. To reduce violence, according to this argument, we need only restore our sense of morality by generating empathy toward victims. If we could just see them as fellow human beings, then we would do them no harm. Yet our research suggests that this is untrue. In cases of moral violence, our experiments suggest that it is the engagement of our moral sense, not its disengagement, that often causes aggression. When Myanmar security forces plant landmines at the Bangladesh border in an attempt to kill the Rohingya minorities who are trying to escape the slaughter, the primary driver of their behaviour is not dehumanisation, but rather moral outrage toward an enemy conceptualised as evil, but also completely human.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Beyond Blaming the Victim: Toward a More Progressive Understanding of Workplace Mistreatment

Lilia M. Cortina, VerĂ³nica Caridad Rabelo, & Kathryn J. Holland
Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Published online: 21 November 2017

Theories of human aggression can inform research, policy, and practice in organizations. One such theory, victim precipitation, originated in the field of criminology. According to this perspective, some victims invite abuse through their personalities, styles of speech or dress, actions, and even their inactions. That is, they are partly at fault for the wrongdoing of others. This notion is gaining purchase in industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology as an explanation for workplace mistreatment. The first half of our article provides an overview and critique of the victim precipitation hypothesis. After tracing its history, we review the flaws of victim precipitation as catalogued by scientists and practitioners over several decades. We also consider real-world implications of victim precipitation thinking, such as the exoneration of violent criminals. Confident that I-O can do better, the second half of this article highlights alternative frameworks for researching and redressing hostile work behavior. In addition, we discuss a broad analytic paradigm—perpetrator predation—as a way to understand workplace abuse without blaming the abused. We take the position that these alternative perspectives offer stronger, more practical, and more progressive explanations for workplace mistreatment. Victim precipitation, we conclude, is an archaic ideology. Criminologists have long since abandoned it, and so should we.

The article is here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Root of All Cruelty

Paul Bloom
The New Yorker
Originally published November 20, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Early psychological research on dehumanization looked at what made the Nazis different from the rest of us. But psychologists now talk about the ubiquity of dehumanization. Nick Haslam, at the University of Melbourne, and Steve Loughnan, at the University of Edinburgh, provide a list of examples, including some painfully mundane ones: “Outraged members of the public call sex offenders animals. Psychopaths treat victims merely as means to their vicious ends. The poor are mocked as libidinous dolts. Passersby look through homeless people as if they were transparent obstacles. Dementia sufferers are represented in the media as shuffling zombies.”

The thesis that viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worst conduct would seem to explain a great deal. Yet there’s reason to think that it’s almost the opposite of the truth.


But “Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships” (Cambridge), by the anthropologist Alan Fiske and the psychologist Tage Rai, argues that these standard accounts often have it backward. In many instances, violence is neither a cold-blooded solution to a problem nor a failure of inhibition; most of all, it doesn’t entail a blindness to moral considerations. On the contrary, morality is often a motivating force: “People are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying.” Obvious examples include suicide bombings, honor killings, and the torture of prisoners during war, but Fiske and Rai extend the list to gang fights and violence toward intimate partners. For Fiske and Rai, actions like these often reflect the desire to do the right thing, to exact just vengeance, or to teach someone a lesson. There’s a profound continuity between such acts and the punishments that—in the name of requital, deterrence, or discipline—the criminal-justice system lawfully imposes. Moral violence, whether reflected in legal sanctions, the killing of enemy soldiers in war, or punishing someone for an ethical transgression, is motivated by the recognition that its victim is a moral agent, someone fully human.

The article is here.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Dark Side of Morality: Group Polarization and Moral-Belief Formation

Marcus Arvan
University of Tampa

Most of us are accustomed to thinking of morality in a positive light. Morality, we say, is a matter of “doing good” and treating ourselves and each other “rightly.” However, moral beliefs and discourse also plausibly play a role in group polarization, the tendency of social groups to divide into progressively more extreme factions, each of which regards other groups to be “wrong.” Group polarization often occurs along moral lines, and is known to have many disturbing effects, increasing racial prejudice among the already moderately prejudiced, leading group decisions to be more selfish, competitive, less trusting, and less altruistic than individual decisions, eroding public trust, leading juries to impose more severe punishments in trial, generating more extreme political decisions, and contributing to war, genocide, and other violent behavior.

This paper argues that three empirically-supported theories of group polarization predict that polarization is likely caused in substantial part by a conception of morality that I call the Discovery Model—a model which holds moral truths exist to be discovered through moral intuition, moral reasoning, or some other process.

The paper is here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What is moral injury, and how does it affect journalists covering bad stuff?

Thomas Ricks
Foreign Policy
Originally published September 5, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

They noted that moral injury is the damage done to a “person’s conscience or moral compass by perpetrating, witnessing, or failing to prevent acts that transgress personal moral and ethical values or codes of conduct.”

While not all journalists were affected the same way, the most common reactions were feelings of guilt at not having done enough personally to help refugees and shame at the behavior of others, such as local authorities, they wrote.

Journalists with children had more moral injury-related distress while those working alone said they were more likely to have acted in ways that violated their own moral code. Those who said they had not received enough support from their organization were more likely to admit seeing things they perceived as morally wrong. Less control over resources to report on the crisis also correlated significantly with moral injury. And moral injury scores correlated significantly with guilt. Greater guilt, in turn, was noted by journalists covering the story close to home and by those who had assisted refugees, the report added.

Feinstein and Storm wrote that moral injury can cause “considerable emotional upset.” They noted that journalists reported symptoms of intrusion. While they didn’t go into detail, intrusion can mean flashbacks, nightmares and unwanted memories. These can disrupt normal functioning. In my view, guilt and shame can also be debilitating.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How to Distinguish Between Antifa, White Supremacists, and Black Lives Matter

Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
Originally published August 31, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

One can condemn the means of extralegal violence, and observe that the alt-right, Antifa, and the far-left have all engaged in it on different occasions, without asserting that all extralegal violence is equivalent––murdering someone with a car or shooting a representative is more objectionable than punching with the intent to mildly injure. What’s more, different groups can choose equally objectionable means without becoming equivalent, because assessing any group requires analyzing their ends, not just their means.

For neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Charlottesville, one means, a torch-lit parade meant to intimidate by evoking bygone days of racial terrorism, was deeply objectionable; more importantly, their end, spreading white-supremacist ideology in service of a future where racists can lord power over Jews and people of color, is abhorrent.

Antifa is more complicated.

Some of its members employ the objectionable means of initiating extralegal street violence; but its stated end of resisting fascism is laudable, while its actual end is contested. Is it really just about resisting fascists or does it have a greater, less defensible agenda? Many debates about Antifa that play out on social media would prove less divisive if the parties understood themselves to be agreeing that opposing fascism is laudable while disagreeing about Antifa’s means, or whether its end is really that limited.


A dearth of distinctions has a lot of complicated consequences, but in aggregate, it helps to empower the worst elements in a society, because those elements are unable to attract broad support except by muddying distinctions between themselves and others whose means or ends are defensible to a broader swath of the public. So come to whatever conclusions accord with your reason and conscience. But when expressing them, consider drawing as many distinctions as possible.

The article is here.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Trouble With Sex Robots

By Laura Bates
The New York Times
Originally posted

Here is an excerpt:

One of the authors of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics report, Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, England, said there are ethical arguments within the field about sex robots with “frigid” settings.

“The idea is robots would resist your sexual advances so that you could rape them,” Professor Sharkey said. “Some people say it’s better they rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more.”

Like the argument that women-only train compartments are an answer to sexual harassment and assault, the notion that sex robots could reduce rape is deeply flawed. It suggests that male violence against women is innate and inevitable, and can be only mitigated, not prevented. This is not only insulting to a vast majority of men, but it also entirely shifts responsibility for dealing with these crimes onto their victims — women, and society at large — while creating impunity for perpetrators.

Rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime. We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab. Since that suggestion sounds ridiculous, why does the idea of providing sexual abusers with lifelike robotic victims sound feasible to some?

The article is here.