Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Dave Grossman

The latest William Lind post is up. The boys at Dreaming 5GW are discussing it. One of the passages in Lind's post quotes a bit of pseudoscience that is oft quoted in military circles. He states:

"They spend their lives immersed in television, video games, the internet and so on. As Dave Grossman has demonstrated, those technologies can do an excellent job of turning loners into killers, both by overcoming their inhibitions to killing and by giving them refined shooter skills. The same technologies spread alternate loyalties, such as Al Qaeda, Deep Green environmentalism, (which has spawned numerous acts of terror, both here and in Britain) and a variety of other virtual worlds." (bold text added by me)
I like Dave Grossman's work. I think some of his training ideas, like not dying in training, are great. However, I have a number of problems with some of his core assumptions.

One that relates to the Lind post is that humans are loathe to kill each other and have to be coerced by some outside force whether that be authority or training. One of the core studies, that is the backbone of Grossman's work, is S.L.A. Marshall's 'Men Against Fire' which claimed that soldiers in the world wars were loathe to shoot at the enemy. For a quick overview involving the dodgy "research" that Marshall conducted go here. Steven Pinker also covers Marshall's claim in the chapter on violence in 'The Blank Slate' claiming that some of the Marshall interviewees weren't even interviewed. Pinker cites Joanna Burke's "An Intimate history of killing", Grave's "Naked truths for the Asking:Twentieth Century Military Historians and the Battlefield Narrative" and Horowitz's "The deadly ethnic riot."

Another problem is the quaint neo-luddite idea that visual and auditory communications like T.V. and Internet make killers out of people. Two sources that refute this idea is 'Why we watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment' which is edited by J.H. Goldstein. A second source is J.L Freedman's metastudy 'With and Without Television: Comparing Communities that have and do not have Television', in 'Media Violence and Its Effects on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific Evidence'.

'Why we watch' is a collection that argues that society is attracted to violent imagery rather than repelled by it. Some of the key ideas from the book include that aggressive play and violence has been around for centuries, and that certain types of groups or audiences - like aggressive sensation-seeking young men - are more likely to be attracted to violent entertainment than others. Television doesn't exist as some Orwellian mind-control to make us violent. We will be violent with or without Television. Television, and Internet for that matter, just happens to give certain groups or audiences what they need.

The book also claims that violence is most attractive when there is an element of fantasy e.g. a story of justice where good triumphs over evil. It is less attractive when this element is missing. Perhaps that is why Lind, and many other paleoconservatives, are against Television because the over arching justice narrative is one where the U.S. and the west are the "bad guy" and therefore it is not attractive to them (a key to future public diplomacy and psyops would be to take control of this narrative and spin it around).

Of course another problem is that the majority of psychological and sociological studies of violent entertainment have been on the effects not on the attraction. Which leads me to the other source - Freedman's metastudy.

The metastudy looked at five studies on violence and television by 14 different researchers that ranged from 1949 to 1992 that were conducted in the US, Canada, Britain and South Africa. These studies were chosen by Freedman because they represented the most prominently mentioned studies, up to this day, in politics and the media for the case against violent television. Freedman's conclusion goes on to say the presence of television may be a factor, among many, that affects violent behaviour. Freedman critically analysed these studies and found serious methodological flaws in the research and therefore the research wasn't an accurate assessment of the causal links between violence and television (Freedman's metastudy also has problems. One such problem is the effect of violent television in gap countries, which is also a problem for those that claim TV causes violence. Those genocidal maniacs in Africa must be watching A LOT of TV eh?).

So, count me as skeptical of not only Grossman's claims about violence but Lind's claims about it as well. That's not to say ALL of Grossman's ideas are baseless. As I stated above, I really like some of his work, but some of the assumptions that underlie his ideas aren't rigorous.


subadei said...

Lind does come across as something of a luddite, doesn't he? Painfully simplistic to lay responsibility for these "lone gunmen" in the lap of television and video games. As though prior to either such atrocities never took place.

Jeff said...

I read Grossman's 'On Killing' and afterward wondered if my young son's love of the video game 'Call of Duty' was healthy. Well, he hasn't turned into anything different yet.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Spot on1 Loved the killers in Africa must be watching a lot of TV bit. That was killer. No pun intended.