Friday, December 16, 2005

[geek][politics] The "largest single threat to modern civilization"

So, what do you think constitutes the "largest single threat to modern civilization"? The West's disproportionate consumption of natural resources? Nope. Global warming? Uh-uh. The possibility of Peak Oil having been reached? Bzzzt; guess again. Increasing competition and friction between China, India, and the West? Man, are you far off. How about the escalation in sectarian strife we've seen of late? Culture wars, fundamentalist vs. humanists? I'm sorry, according to our judges, no and no. Give up? It's the video game:
No definitive link has ever been discovered showing violent video games cause violent behavior. Even so, thousands of law-enforcement officers on our streets are being told otherwise. Meet Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of law enforcement's most in-demand speakers and trainers. Grossman, an ex-Army Ranger and West Point psychology professor, has been on the road 300 days a year since 2001, speaking mostly to law-enforcement departments and academies. He's booked solid through late 2006. One of Grossman's key messages is that "violent media and video games are the largest single threat to modern civilization." Grossman claims to be one of the "world's foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime." He is founder and director of the Killology Research Group, a police and military consultancy, and since the Columbine massacre, he's become one of the game industry's most fervent critics.
"Killology." What bullshit. Okay, so maybe the culture war answer was partly correct, we'll allow partial credit on that one. I won't link to the schmuck - check out the full Wired article if you're interested in reading his blather. All I could think while reading this is that this is just like DARE, only with even less data to support it...


Anonymous Erwin said...

Having read his book "On Killing", I can definitely say that Grossman is not a schmuck.

The book carefully and closely argues that throughout history, soldiers have been reluctant at best to kill other people. Only 5% of the soldiers in the field can actually bring themselves to pull a trigger and end a life.

Up until Vietnam. Thanks to the work of Skinner, the army introduced operant conditioning- trainees shot at human likenesses instead of bullseyes. Bayonet dummies spurted fake blood. As a result, the kill rate shot up dramatically- and so did the incidence of PTSD among soldiers who killed by reflex, men who in another war never would have been able to kill.

He argues that this training to kill is a forerunner of the video games we buy our kids. And this is where, for me, his argument falls apart.

He argues that video games train killers, but his whole point is that operant conditioning bypasses thought and morality at the moment of decision. But he goes further to complain that we're training a generation of sociopaths. I can't make the connection stick in my head. The Vietnam vets who came back with PTSD couldn't reconcile their morality with their reflexive killing. So why would a kid, even with video game training, be any more likely to make the conscious choice to kill?

If all Americans constantly walked around with a pistol in their hand, and video game players were quicker to fire at any sudden noise, he'd have a point.

12/16/2005 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

Not having read his book, I can't comment on his scholarship per se - but that leap from conditioning to killing is way too big. IMLTHO, that rates being called a 'schmuck'.

Something to keep in mind with regards to PTSD is the relative newness of the diagnosis. My grandfather definitely had PTSD when he returned from WW2, and he did what so many vets did/do: he self-medicated. In Vietnam, this meant alcohol, pot or heroin; in WW2, alcohol only (unless you lived in San Francisco or NYC). The diagnosis didn't exist at that time; combat stress was seen as an acute condition, not a chronic one...

I'm also not sure that you can make a convincing link between the training methods of the modern military and increase in PTSD. Better access to services and improved awareness of the condition will lead to more diagnoses of PTSD; fluid and unstable combat conditions with no clear division between the front lines and the rear, along with a difficult-to-identify enemy result in higher rates of PTSD. PTSD rates in Iraq are running higher than they did in Vietnam; they are also running higher than they did in Gulf War 1, and our military was definitely a ruthless killing machine in GW1.

You've definitely given me some food for thought, though. Despite my initial reaction, I may have to see if I can pick up a used copy of Grossman's book.

12/16/2005 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Erwin said...

I recommend it highly! At least the first few chapters, when he's discussing how difficult it has historically been to make people kill on command. It's really, really, really interesting.

12/19/2005 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

I'm assuming you've read Chris Hedges' War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning? It'd be interesting to do a side-by-side reading of the two...

12/19/2005 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Erwin said...

Never read that. I'll look into it!

And here's a little piece of news that Grossman will shortly be cramming down the barrel of his media blunderbuss, if you'll forgive a militaristic metaphor-

12/20/2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

Erwin - PTSD in Vietnam may be down to things other than operant killing. Training after 1967 was slipshod bordering on criminal for officers and enlisted, focusing on ramming bodies through the system. Once there you were dropped into a unit with no emotional support etc.

Poorly trained draftees, no unit coehesion and lack of support when you get back is a prime recipie for PTSD.

I lack links to the studies but some battalions were cycled through Vietnam as coehesive units - they trained, deployed and came back together. PTSD incidents were lower for those units.

It is probable that your attitude going into a stressful situation is an indication of how you handle said stress. Lions (to quote Gene Duncan) don't get PTSD. Victims do.

At any rate while I did (1985 - 1993) spend a bit of time shooting at man-shaped sillouhettes I've never seen bayonet dummies spurting blood. Frankly I can't imagine that working in boot camp for logistic reasons.

12/28/2005 03:42:00 PM  

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