August 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Did Your Brain Make You Do It? (JOHN MONTEROSSO and BARRY SCHWARTZ, July 27, 2012, NY Times)

In our experiment, we asked participants to consider various situations involving an individual who behaved in ways that caused harm, including committing acts of violence. We included information about the protagonist that might help make sense of the action in question: in some cases, that information was about a history of psychologically horrific events that the individual had experienced (e.g., suffering abuse as a child), and in some cases it was about biological characteristics or anomalies in the individual's brain (e.g., an imbalance in neurotransmitters). In the different situations, we also varied how strong the connection was between those factors and the behavior (e.g., whether most people who are abused as a child act violently, or only a few).

The pattern of results was striking. A brain characteristic that was even weakly associated with violence led people to exonerate the protagonist more than a psychological factor that was strongly associated with violent acts. Moreover, the participants in our study were much more likely, given a protagonist with a brain characteristic, to view the behavior as "automatic" rather than "motivated," and to view the behavior as unrelated to the protagonist's character. The participants described the protagonists with brain characteristics in ways that suggested that the "true" person was not at the helm of himself. The behavior was caused, not intended.

In contrast, while psychologically damaging experiences like childhood abuse often elicited sympathy for the protagonist and sometimes even prompted considerable mitigation of blame, the participants still saw the protagonist's behavior as intentional. The protagonist himself was twisted by his history of trauma; it wasn't just his brain. Most participants felt that in such cases, personal character remained relevant in determining how the protagonist went on to act.

We labeled this pattern of responses "naïve dualism." This is the belief that acts are brought about either by intentions or by the physical laws that govern our brains and that those two types of causes -- psychological and biological -- are categorically distinct. People are responsible for actions resulting from one but not the other. (In citing neuroscience, the Supreme Court may have been guilty of naïve dualism: did it really need brain evidence to conclude that adolescents are immature?)

Naïve dualism is misguided. "Was the cause psychological or biological?" is the wrong question when assigning responsibility for an action. All psychological states are also biological ones.

A better question is "how strong was the relation between the cause (whatever it happened to be) and the effect?" If, hypothetically, only 1 percent of people with a brain malfunction (or a history of being abused) commit violence, ordinary considerations about blame would still seem relevant. But if 99 percent of them do, you might start to wonder how responsible they really are.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Russia, China & Israel against Islamism? (Daniel Pipes, July 3, 2012)

The Middle East's most consequential divide is no longer the Arab/Israeli one but the Islamist/non-Islamist one, with Iran in one corner, Israel in the other, and other states somewhere between. It's far from a linear alignment, with plenty of incongruities; the revolutionary Islamists in Tehran and the evolutionary ones in Ankara, for example, increasingly are at odds, while the Tehran-Damascus axis flourishes as never before.

The Russian and Chinese actions point to these alliances shaping the foreign policies of outside powers too. Whereas the European Union and the U.S. government are increasingly sympathetic to Islamism, in part as a way to tame their own Muslim populations, Moscow and Beijing have a history of open conflict with their Muslim populations and therefore adopt policies more hostile to Islamism in the Middle East.

Even if we weren't allied with the Islamists for ideological reasons, the fact that they're going to destabilize China and Russia would make us de facto allies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Obama authorizes secret U.S. support for Syrian rebels (Mark Hosenball, Aug 1, 2012, Reuters) 

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Defense cuts won't hurt that much (Lawrence J. Korb, 8/02/12, CNNMoney)

If automatic reductions in defense spending go into effect, the fiscal year 2013 base (or non-war) budget will be reduced by $55 billion to $500 billion and remain at that level in real terms for the next decade. This will result in a total reduction of $500 billion over a decade from projected levels of defense spending.

But it also means the Pentagon will still be spending more in 2013 after sequestration than it did in 2006, at the height of the Iraq war, and more than we spent on average at the end of the Cold War and during the first Gulf war.

Moreover, the United States will still account for 40% of the world's military expenditures -- 70% if you combine that with what our allies spend.

These cuts come after 13 straight years of defense increases, which brought defense spending to levels not seen since World War II.

Are those hyperventilating about sequestration really claiming that we wouldn't be able to provide for national security?