Sunday, 26 June 2011


Perhaps you are familiar with 2 quite famous experiments in psychology: the Stanford Prison Experiment, and the Millgram experiment.  If not, the summary is that when people are cast in a role, they change their behaviour to be more congruent with the behaviours expected of that role.  A film was made based on the Stanford Prison Experiment that is well worth watching (imdb=7.9), called "Das Experiment" (German - make sure you download the English subtitled version!).

This effect is part of what is known as Attribution Theory in psychology.  An everyday example of the application of this was discussed briefly in my post on persuasion - calling someone "mate" or "buddy" will help elicit trusting and loyal behaviour.

The effect also must be borne in mind when explaining how whole groups of people performed acts considered 'evil' such as all the Nazi guards herding the Jews to their deaths.  Humans seem to readily accept that there are psychological reasons excusing bad behaviour, but conveniently forget the other side of the mirror, that the same forces are at play in the other direction as well.

Soldiers, police, and firefighters are all called 'Heroes' if they go into a dangerous situation and get killed.  It is much more often when they are killed, possibly because you can't speak ill of the dead - so no-one is allowed to bring any evidence forward opposing the moniker.
After the 9/11 attacks the firemen (and women) who responded were called heroes.  I think most of the population, if they had worked in the fireservice for long enough to hold it close to their personal identity, would have done the same thing - in which case are most of the population heroes who just haven't had the circumstances to demonstrate it?

I think it's great people like that are publicly called heroes - they put themselves in harms way for my benefit, and if we didn't impose the expectation of them being heroes perhaps they wouldn't.  It is in society's interests to call them heroes (and mean it!) - and that is why that meme has evolved.
Sure, some may join up as a vocation, but I think most are probably sheep just acting out a role thrust upon them.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


So I tried out the Cleanmeter I saw linked on LostInIdaho's blog.

I was very disappointed!  Apart from the obvious fact that the cleanmeter's algorithm leaves a lot to be desired if it only picked up ONE mature theme and ONE reference to a deity, I realised that I simply don't swear enough.

As Stephen Fry said:
Swearing is a really important part of one's life. It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing... There used to be mad, silly, prissy people who used to say swearing was a sign of a poor vocabulary -such utter nonsense. The people I know who swear the most tend to have the widest vocabularies and the kind of person who says swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary usually have a pretty poor vocabulary themselves... The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest or -is just a fucking lunatic... I haven't met anybody who's truly shocked at swearing, really, they're only shocked on behalf of other people. Well, you know, that's preposterous... or they say 'it's not necessary'. As if that should stop one doing it! It's not necessary to have coloured socks, it's not necessary for this cushion to be here, but is anyone going to write in and say 'I was shocked to see that cushion there, it really wasn't necessary'? No, things not being necessary is what makes life interesting -the little extras in life. 

And aside from that, swearing like a fuck-cunt is actually good for you!  So, for the love of wank-shit why haven't I been swearing my shaven bollocks off?
The person I've wanted to be has always been someone who isn't driven by periodic outbursts of limbic emotion, such as anger, and therefore it has become habitual to restrain myself.  I take a mental step back and a deep breath and present a reasoned mask to the world anytime I am provoked when there is a recurring character in my life present.

That's part of the reason why I've really enjoyed the two long holidays I've taken alone, far away from anyone that knows me.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Changing Minds

Ten years ago in the USA 57% of the population opposed gay marriage, 35% were for it, and 8% were too dull/stupid to have an opinion.  Today it is pretty much neck and neck, at 46% vs 45%, with the dull rising to 9%.

I'd like to think that the swing is people changing their minds, but I suspect most of this change is simply bigots dying and being replaced in the polls by fresh young minds.

Politics is far too dominated by old twats set in their ways.  Democracy is fine for most things but on progressive issues of morality society has to wait for the young generation to grow up and become politicians before the 'right' policy is enacted.
I talked a bit about what the direction of law should be in my very first post, which TBH I'd like to get some comments on as it's an interesting topic!

I don't think I have a point, or a solution to this, so feel free to suggest one.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Life Worth

I've thought about suicide a lot.  Not so much doing it, though I have sometimes felt so bored of life that I've thought I may as well, but about why I or anyone else would do it.  When I've felt particularly bored of life - same ol shit, different day - I've essentially ended up chastising myself for being unimaginative or just downright lazy.  

Once someone contemplates suicide they essentially stop placing value on life, and when that happens the person is liberated to do anything.  A lone suicide means that the person values the life of others - they didn't use the terrible strength and freedom of that decision to go postal on their boss etc - and so from their lonely death arises the realisation of a value that may have justified their existence.

I don't feel that value.  I don't believe there is a god or any sort of afterlife/reincarnation punishment.  I believe that we are animals with instincts and when we die we cease to exist.  I don't believe in morals (right and wrong) but I do believe in a... malleable... sort of ethics - how to live your life.  I may not instinctively find worth in the lives of others but I would not have a better life myself if I showed this to the recurring characters in this drama we call life.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Stories from childhood 2

Ok so I wasn't a child when this one happened - but I was a very immature 21 year old.  My parents had gone on holiday after my graduation and my elder sister and I traveled back to the family homestead.  Our grandmother hadn't been answering the phone, and no-one had heard from her for several days, so it was a reasonable assumption that she had died.  My sister wanted to go over to her house ASAP; I wanted to relax for a bit first - if she was dead then there was no hurry.  I'm reminded of Tim Minchin relating a conversation with his wife about going to check on their baby, "well if she's dead we may as well watch the end of this film before our lives are destroyed by grief"

When we got there there was no answer at the door so we let ourselves in with the key we had.  We went upstairs end into her room.  There was a body in the bed turned away from us with the bedclothes covering her.  I went around the bed to her and saw she was in a comedy death pose.  It kinda reminded me of Nosferatu - the way her wrinkled face was in a slight grimace and she had one hand in a claw-like pose up near her face.

So I shook my head at my sister and went over to her; through some tears she said "did it look like she died peacefully?".  I figured she was never going to go over to look at the dead body so I said "yes, yes she just looked like she was sleeping".
We go downstairs and I call the ambulance and put the kettle on... and then my sister says she's going upstairs to say goodbye.

I still don't know to this day whether she actually went up to her and saw what I saw.