Friday, November 28, 2003


if you get a chance to see this, DO IT. The tour is in support of the Maitreya Project -- I can't wait to see it realized.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

this time, sociology and the military and killing

one more of my posts to a sociology list...

I wanted to make a comment on the observation of the killing during Vietnam.

Last year, I purchased a book written by an Army psychologist entitled, “On Killing.” Great book and one I would recommend. He makes the case that we have gotten better at killing (or at least the military has) and uses data to support this. He notes that during WWII, the fire rates (i.e., the percentage of those soldiers who actually fired their weapons at the enemy) was about 15 – 20%. In Korea it was 50 - 55% and in Vietnam it was 90 – 95%. He accounts for the differences (and subsequent increase) on the training that had been developed to increase fire rates. I don’t recall if he detailed what that training consisted of, but I suspect it had some kind of behavioral component to it other than better instruction on firing one’s weapon.

He also notes that distance has much to do with killing an enemy – the farther one is from an enemy the easier it is to fire a weapon (long range artillery, missiles, bombs, etc.). Hand-to-hand combat is the most difficult as one knows fully well that s/he is attempting to kill another human being. Furthermore, he discussed how many, if not most, soldiers were/are not bloodthirsty, i.e., enjoy killing. Those that do and/or have little compunction about killing, according to him, are diverted into special forces, or some other kind of more clandestine unit.

I also seem to recall that part of his argument for making it “easier” to fire a weapon and kill an enemy is not seeing them as human, as “objectifying” them. This makes sense in light of the intended purpose of firing a weapon (killing someone else). However, one has to wonder, what effect this has not only on the individual doing the objectifying, but on the culture that supports such a notion.

A recent example…I found it interesting a week or so ago reading about the intelligence officer who was being charged with cowardice (charges since dropped) because he got sick and was disturbed at seeing an Iraqi man cut in half by a machine gun. I think this is quite a “normal” response, one, in fact that gives me some hope in humanity. Curiously (or not), he was admonished by a superior to “get [his] head out of his ass and get in the game” – I think we all know what this means. I suspect in a situation like that, not a bad thing to do as a way of protecting oneself and one’s peers, and perhaps an example of precisely what the author of the text I reference is talking about in not seeing another human being as a “human being,” but as an object.

Again, the question for me is, do we want to live in a world in which shrugging off the sight of another human being mangled by a weapon is an “appropriate” response?

sociology and the military

a sociologist and ex-military person posted a question to a sociology list about the apparent incompatibility of sociology and the military; my response:

I was going to respond yesterday, but couldn’t quite formulate my thoughts in time. I had been thinking about my small tear for awhile, so that was easier to post.

I don’t want to add too much more to what has been said as I appreciate everyone’s perspective and their input. I am grateful to be part of a group that has discussions like this on a list (and I hope we have more).

In brief, I agree with what some others have said, which in my words is, “if it involves people, it involves sociology” so I see no disconnect between the military (i.e., people in groups with institutional structures) and sociology. I think most, if not all, would agree with this.

I can’t say I am opposed to the military as that would mean I am opposed to people, which I am not. I guess if I am “opposed” to anything having to do with something called “the military” it is the seeming need to have one in the first place. It appears that I am na├»ve enough to think that if we spent the same amount of time, effort, and money to create some institutional arrangement that would dramatically increase the likelihood of more peaceful interaction and cooperation among people, we could possibly make “the military” obsolete. I do like to think that big, I think that is what our current world situation calls for. I heard someone say that what we need is a “Manhattan Project” on poverty – similarly, a “Manhattan Project” on peace and cooperation. I just can’t imagine that with all of that talent that exists in this world that we can’t come up with something that is more conducive to life and human thriving than what we have going on right now. I guess that is why I am a member of this organization.

RE: treatment of veterans in our country…I think that most “negative” reactions to veterans is due to ignorance on the part of the person being negative. That doesn’t make it right, but at least it allows for some learning to take place. I think that gov’t “ignorance” of veterans is inexcusable, however. The notion of charging veterans in the hospital $8 a day for their food is unconscionable. If anything, veterans should be getting more benefits for free, not less. Talk about being “unpatriotic” and duplicitous!

Okay, time to go now, rant coming on…


(son of a WWII vet, whom, as family history has it, had an appointment to West Point yet was unable to get in due to poor eyesight; the grandson of a German Kriegsmarine who fought on “the wrong” side in WWI but who had enough sense to leave Germany after the war and tried to convince other family members to leave when Hitler came to power and was later questioned by the FBI because his last name was “Hess”; and the brother to three Vietnam era men who, for different reasons, were not drafted – much to our mother’s delight as she was readying their flight to Canada if they were)

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

wow, those Italians are incredible!!!!

posted to sociology list...

Sorry, small tear…

Did anyone else see the article last week about how the brain is “hard-wired” for empathy? Brief summary:

“Researchers used a tool called functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to monitor the brain activity of 14 [Italian] men as they watched short movies of people smelling pleasant, disgusting and neutral odors. Brain activity was also monitored while participants themselves smelled a variety of odors. The researchers found that a part of the brain called the anterior insula, which previously has been linked to feelings of disgust, was activated not only when participants smelled something disgusting but also when they watched others take a whiff of something stinky.” (I added whatever these things [ ] are called – brackets?)

And the researcher had this to say about “things cultural” and empathy…

“Although Keysers said that empathy for others is often thought of as a matter of morals, "in our study, on the other hand, we show that empathy is a very basic, simple and automatic process," he said.”

So, there ya have it, 14 Italian men have set the standard for empathy worldwide; 14 Italian men represent the entire depth and breadth of humanity, regardless of culture, ethnicity, gender, etc. 14 Italian men have the exact same physiological response as EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEING in the world. So, simple, how come we never knew this before??? We need these 14 Italian men for more testing on other nifty things, eh? These guys are going to be popular! I can see a reality TV show emerging from this – “The 14 Italian guys and fantastic scientific discoveries!”

And this is accepted as “science” – amazing, isn’t it? I am not even going to comment on how they operationalized “empathy.”

Hmmm, we sociologists DO have a lot of work to do, don’t we????
the agony and the ecstasy

something that is true, yet I don't think we consider very often, if at all, is that those feelings of deep joy, ecstasy, bliss, etc. are always within us. I find myself dreaming about being in Northern California, or in Hawaii, or some other very cool locale (Canda, Europe, anywhere but here!). In my mind, I am happy and blissful there. Indeed, when I go to those places (like on vacation), I do feel happier, more content, with a greater sense of ecstasy. I associate those feelings with the place(s) and think that I need to be "there" to feel those wonderful feelings.

The feelings, however, do not belong to those places, they belong to me. As such, they can arise at ANY time, wherever I am, not just when I am somewhere where I think they should arise. In fact, they are with me ALL the time or at least the potential for their emergence is.

How easy it is to forget this, though.

All I need to do now, then, is realize them as each moment passess...

Monday, November 10, 2003

solutions? let's see 'em!

from a post i sent to a sociology list...

"I like the approach; I just have one question (and this is not just to you, but to ALL members)...

> There Are Solutions...
> And We Have Some...

Do we really? If so, what are they? Where are they? Where can I find the step-by-step directions on how to:

Improve the failing education system
End poverty
End hunger
End economic inequality
End domestic violence
End racism
End sexism
End homophobia

I was fortunate to be invited to be on the SAS plenary panel and this was one of the things that I said we needed to do to resolve our "identity crisis" -- develop "turn-key" applications for these and other social ills. Having ready-made (or at least templates) applications that are based on research that we can provide to people, IMO, will raise our level among the public and clearly identify us as a discipline separate from other social sciences.

Bill DuBois argues that we have over 150 years of research on human behavior and we know what works and what doesn't (and I agree with him). If so, where is the knowledge about how to make use of all of this research? Where are the texts, manuals, etc., on how to change institutions, strengthen communities, increase human thriving? Are they buried in scholarly journals somewhere? Do they exist at all?

I think it is our task to build these applications and get them out there for people to use. Not to be relegated to a journal, but to be USED by people who want the world to be different.

If they do exist already, then let's develop a centralized database where people can access them. Or let's put them into a workable framework that someone without a Ph.D. can read and go, "hey, I can do this!"
what if?

what if there is no such thing as "insanity," there is only sanity and sane people just do really weird and terrible things?

Saturday, November 08, 2003


i have bitten off more than i can chew of late, hence the long hiatus. that and i am in the process of living. "john" is an interesting incarnation -- moody, depressed at times, feeling low, self-critical, and then, those moments of bliss and wonder. ahh, to live in those...

i am teaching a course on the sociology of family violence this semester -- went from what i thought was a class of eight to ten graduate students to a class of sixty plus undergrads. i found out five days before the semester was supposed to begin. have been playing catch up ever since.

i found myself coming home from my day job and working more at home -- all extra-curricular stuff. no time with my family, getting irritated with the kids for "interfering" with my work...yadda, yadda, yadda,...not who i want to be. so, i have been NOT doing things for awhile. i am planning on not teaching next semester and letting go of some other things. i hope to have more time to write.

i have one post from a list i am going to post here and i have a couple of "rants" coming on, I can tell. almost got them out yesterday, but didn't have time -- that damn day job again.

more later and not too much later, i hope. in the meantime, wonder a lot, don't conclude, just wonder...that is truly miraculous. if you need assistance in doing this, buy this little book, it is worth the $$.