Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hammer Control?

Many are arguing that Wayne LaPierre argued that violent movies and violent video games share some of the blame for the recent school shooting in Connecticut, that he was undercutting the traditional argument that "Gun's don't kill people, people kill people". The problem with that observation is that guns are tools, just like hammers are tools. Movies and Video Games are mediums, and mediums communicate information. If we have lots of video games in which people went around cracking people's skulls with hammers, and we had movies that glorified killing people with hammers, we would probably see a rise in murders committed with hammers. If we did, hammers would not share equal blame with those movies and video games.... hammers are tools, which can be put to either good or bad uses. The answer is not hammer control, or limiting the size and weight of hammers.

Human beings have a natural aversion to killing other human beings. You have to train a person to kill another person. Guns cannot train anyone, and neither can hammers. Movies and video games can train people.

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman observed in his article "Trained to Kill", without training, human beings are very ineffective killers:

"In more modern times, the average firing rate was incredibly low in Civil War battles. Paddy Griffith demonstrates that the killing potential of the average Civil War regiment was anywhere from five hundred to a thousand men per minute. The actual killing rate was only one or two men per minute per regiment (The Battle Tactics of the American Civil War). At the Battle of Gettysburg, of the 27,000 muskets picked up from the dead and dying after the battle, 90 percent were loaded. This is an anomaly, because it took 95 percent of their time to load muskets and only 5 percent to fire. But even more amazingly, of the thousands of loaded muskets, over half had multiple loads in the barrel--one with 23 loads in the barrel. In reality, the average man would load his musket and bring it to his shoulder, but he could not bring himself to kill. He would be brave, he would stand shoulder to shoulder, he would do what he was trained to do; but at the moment of truth, he could not bring himself to pull the trigger. So, he lowered the weapon and loaded it again. Of those who did fire, only a tiny percentage fired to hit. The vast majority fired over the enemy's head."

However, with training, people can become killing machines:

The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers would go into the ditch and bayonet "their" prisoner to death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being. Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually killed in these situations, but by making the others watch and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of atrocities to classically condition a very large audience to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and to so-called comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing violent acts with pleasure. The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning (which we will look at shortly) teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it.

Violent movies and video games train people to kill. That doesn't mean that everyone who watches violent movies or plays Halo is going to kille 20 little kids, but those things do make you capable of shooting another human being in a way that people in the Civil War were not, even though they all had access to guns.