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1 antpogo  Fri, Nov 1, 2013 6:58:35am

Sam “torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror” Harris thinks that there are actually cultures which are — for all intents and purposes — psychopathic, in which you can put perfectly normal individuals, people who are neurologically intact, who don’t have any of the anatomical problems of psychopaths, but put them into a system of poorly aligned incentives and bad ideas and they essentially act like psychopaths?

Huh. You don’t say.

2 Decatur Deb  Fri, Nov 1, 2013 7:06:36am

” put them into a system of poorly aligned incentives and bad ideas and they essentially act like psychopaths”.

Two skips and a jump, and the concept of ‘psychopath’ disappears into ‘differently-raised normal’.

3 The Ghost of a Flea  Fri, Nov 1, 2013 9:25:02am


There’s some elisons in his argument that are…off.

Contextually, what does he mean by “culture”?

The Nazis weren’t in power long enough to assemble a totalizing worldview for most of their followers, just those that were, say adolescents. So how does Eichmann, who wasn’t born amongst Nazis, raised with Nazi ideas, inculcate Nazism so deeply.

There’s a similar problem with the Taliban reference. The Taliban specifically don’t practice the same form of Islam as their culture, and were not “raised” as Taliban…rather, many convert in their teens and 20s. If we stretch the timeline back to the pre-Taliban muhajadeen (ie, move the cultural goalpost back to the 70s), then maybe you could make the case that’s there’s one generation of Taliban potentially raised as such.

And that’s before you get to criticism of Arendt’s concept of banality of evil and Holocaust explanation. The commonly-cited idea that “ordinary men” did these terrible things doesn’t really bear up under scrutiny. Eichmann’s account of himself is unreliable, and the Nazi primary-sources demostrate that the men in Waffen SS units were selected for their predisposition to violence, and that unit attrition due to tramuatic stress continued to sort out the “normal” men over time.

The phenomenon he’s describing includes non-cultural self-selection. The Nazis and the Taliban were/are cultural institutions, but both are also examples of consciously-constructed cultures in which the majority of the participants buy in. It’s that last bit…that the culture is sustained by people that choose to operate within a compartmental .moral structure *(what I refer to as “tribal morality”..that makes the issue more complicated than presented.

There’s also the issue of power and the top-down dictation of a culture’s parameters. Again, in both the case of the Nazis and the Taliban in power…both are constructed cultural systems purpose-built to hijack the substrate culture(s). Nazism and Taliban Islamism both operate by claiming to be a necessary return to a pure cultural form (from a debased, pluralist one), and it’s built in on the ground floor that cultural participation will be enforced with violence. And in such situations of imposed culture, there’s always the ambiguity of genuine participation versus coerced.

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