Nurture effect on caring relationships

81Hdo+Syg0Lby Anthony Biglan

[This essay is an excerpt from the author’s The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives & Our World, New Harbinger Publications, 2015]

I am convinced that caring relationships are the fundamental building blocks for creating the nurturing environments that are vital to everyone’s well-being, thus achieving the larger goals to which we aspire. In part 2 [of the book], I focused on relationships in families, schools, and young people’s peer groups. As the programs, policies, and practices I described become more widely available, our young people will increasingly go out into the world with the values and skills needed to live in caring relationships with others. However, it is much more likely that we will support this trend if caring relationships become foundational — not only to families and schools, but to all other relationships in society.

Imagine if Fortune 500 companies supported policies that enhanced the nurturance of families and schools because the executive leadership of these companies embraced the value of caring relationships. Would the materialism that so distorts our values and policy making recede? Would everyone insist on economic policies that ensured all members of society had their basic material needs met? How much more likely is it that young people’s caring would be nurtured if people throughout society — from grocers, policemen, and physicians to religious leaders, coaches, businesspeople, and neighbors — all embraced and acted on the value of caring for others?

If the well-being of others were at the forefront of our daily thinking, might we also be more likely to work for policies to reduce climate change [1] and other environmental problems? And while successful pursuit of caring relationships might not result in the lion lying down with the lamb, if it became a worldwide feature of human relationships, it might make even war a bit less likely.

Cultivating Forbearance and Forgiveness

The world has struggled with how to deal with others’ aversive behavior for millennia. The fundamental problem is to get people to not respond to others’ aversive behavior with their own aversive behavior because, more likely than not, doing so will simply perpetuate coercion and conflict. Instead, we need to cultivate forbearance and forgiveness as cardinal features of our culture. We look with wonder at examples of such behavior:

• When Charles C. Roberts stormed an Amish school house and killed five young schoolgirls before he killed himself, the Amish community expressed its forgiveness by attending his funeral and raising money for Roberts’s widow and three small children. Those three small children must live out their lives knowing that their father committed a horrendous act. They will face difficulties in any case. But which will be better for them: knowing that the families of their father’s victims hate them, or knowing that those families have forgiven their father and care for them?

• When Mohandas Gandhi vowed to fast until all violence between Hindus and Muslims ended, a Hindu man came to him and confessed that he had killed a Muslim boy as revenge for the killing of his son. He implored Gandhi to end his fast because he didn’t want to have Gandhi’s death on his soul. Gandhi told him that he could atone for his sin by finding a Muslim child whose parents had been killed in the religious riots and raising that child as a Muslim.

• In Matthew 5:38, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

• During Martin Luther King’s nonviolent movement to end segregation, civil rights activists subjected themselves to violent attacks. In so doing, they inspired the sympathy and support of enough Americans that segregation ended.

• In South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to address the many wrongs that had been done during apartheid. The commission invited victims of apartheid to give statements about their experiences. Perpetrators of violence were also invited to give testimony and could request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. The process is generally credited with having prevented a great deal of retaliatory violence.

• A mother patiently changes the dirty diaper of a crying child.

I hope you see how this last example resembles the others. In every instance, the key is that people choose not to retaliate or otherwise respond with aversive behavior. In doing so, they make it a little more likely that peaceful behavior will replace aggressive or unpleasant behavior. When they succeed, they build the capacity of others to react to stressful situations calmly and perhaps even warmly.

You might be inclined to respond to this line of thinking by saying, “Yes, we know all this. It is all in the teachings of people like Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, and many others.” That is quite true. It is no accident that each of these leaders had an impact on millions of people. However, I’m also offering something I believe to be new and I hope helpful: that the behavioral sciences have developed systematic ways to aid people in controlling threatening or antisocial behavior without acting in ways that simply provoke further aggression.

Only when we spread these practices throughout society and reduce the number of people who arrive at adulthood with coercive repertoires will we achieve the kind of peaceful society that Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King envisioned. Spreading warm, supportive, caring interpersonal relations requires that people have skills for dealing with others’ aversive behavior without further escalating it.

My admittedly behavioristic shorthand label for the skill we need is “stepping over the aversives of others.” It might also be called forbearance, which means “patient self-control,” “restraint,” or “tolerance.” Every one of the effective parenting programs developed over the past forty years helps parents get better at stepping over the aversive things that children naturally do: an infant cries and a mother who might otherwise respond abusively or neglectfully receives encouragement from a skilled nurse to step over this aversive behavior. The nurse teaches her to hold the infant and rock him, talking soothingly. The nurse makes it clear that the mother’s frustration and distress are natural and understandable (which is an example of the nurse stepping over the distressed behavior of the mother). The nurse commiserates with the mother while also modeling more patient — and more effective — ways of soothing the child.

In numerous family interventions, parents learn a variety of strategies for helping children develop the self-care skills and routines they need to get through the day. These may include praising and rewarding what the child does, or simply doing things together. In essence, parents get a lot better at responding not with anger or impatience but rather with support, interest, and calm, patient guidance, and they thereby help their children develop an ever-expanding set of skills, interests, and, most importantly, the ability to regulate their own emotions and restrain angry or impulsive behavior. In short, parents learn to ignore the milder forms of their children’s aversive behavior and simply do what it takes to comfort and soothe their children and guide them in developing new skills.

The same is true for couples who aren’t getting along. Psychologists such as Bob Weiss and John Gottman have carefully observed the interactions of couples in conflict, who often escalate aversive behavior because it may make their spouse stop doing something aversive. Effective couples therapy helps both partners replace cycles of criticism, blaming, anger, and cold silence with forbearance, patience, and positive activities. It doesn’t work in every case, but it does save many marriages.

Stepping over aversives is also useful in helping people who are depressed. Research I conducted with Hy Hops and Linda Sherman showed that depressed mothers got some respite from the aversive behavior of their family members by being sad and self-critical. When mothers acted this way, their husbands and children were just a little bit less likely to be angry or critical. No one was having fun, but the mothers occasionally avoided negativity from other family members. Based on that finding, other researchers tested whether reducing conflict between depressed women and their spouses would reduce their depression. It did.

So what we need to do is to build people’s repertoires of forbearance, forgiveness, empathy, and compassion. This will undoubtedly be a bootstrap affair. But every time we influence someone to replace coercive reactions with behavior that calms and supports others, we have one more person who is cultivating these same nurturing reactions in those around them.

_____

Anthony Biglan is a senior scientist at the Oregon Research Institute, and a leading figure in the development of prevention science. His research over the past thirty years has helped to identify effective family, school, and community interventions to prevent the most common and costly problems of childhood and adolescence. He is a leader in efforts to use prevention science to build more nurturing families, schools, and communities throughout the world.

[1] Removing the Rubbish: Consensus, Causation, and Denial, by Lawrence Torcello, Scientia Salon, 24  April 2015.

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51 thoughts on “Nurture effect on caring relationships

  1. Interesting book.

    Couple of questions for the author, for starters.

    1. What are some tools, in more detail, to “nudge” people or whatever? Massimo, of course, is a devotee of neo-Stoicism. A couple of regular commenters here use Buddhist tools.

    2. You say:

    Research I conducted with Hy Hops and Linda Sherman showed that depressed mothers got some respite from the aversive behavior of their family members by being sad and self-critical. When mothers acted this way, their husbands and children were just a little bit less likely to be angry or critical. No one was having fun ….

    How do these mothers avoid getting stuck in being “sad” on top of being depressed? Why, at least in some cases, related to that, doesn’t this instead intensify negative responses back from husbands and children?

    3. These are probably mainly for “lower-level” tensions, your family-related tools. But, you also mention King, Gahndi, etc. How much are these levels of forbearance teachable? And, to the degree certain psychological tendencies are heritable, how do we build on them, etc.?

    4. Given the previous essay here, do you favor government-conducted “nudges” or whatever, or not? If so, to what degree?

    Your response is appreciated, as are comments by others.

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  2. Too much aversion to aversion kills prevention.

    The author claims that:
    “The world has struggled with how to deal with others’ aversive behavior for millennia. The fundamental problem is to get people to not respond to others’ aversive behavior with their own aversive behavior because, more likely than not, doing so will simply perpetuate coercion and conflict.”

    The way the author has it, aversion causes aversion, which causes aversion… So what caused aversion in the first place? Aversion? It sounds like the chicken and egg problem: the egg gave the chicken, who made the egg… It’s the chicken and egg problem, without the chicken.

    The author blames responding to aversion by aversion. He advocates turning the other cheek, quoting Jesus, Gandhi.

    But he does not roll out the violent quotes of Jesus, of which there are several:
    Matthew 10:34. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Or Luke 19: 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.'”

    Or Jesus’ last message to his disciples: He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. [Luke 22:36.]

    Jesus knew that turning the other cheek was not the only valuable strategy to bring the reign of goodness.

    The author quotes Gandhi. However Gandhi, by posing in Hindu clothes, forever, and with Hindu symbols, such as the Wheel, antagonized the Muslims for decades. This boiled over in 1939. As the Indian Congress voted to declare war against the Nazis, Gandhi, who called Hitler “my friend”, did all he could, in vain, for this not to happen.

    In the end, Gandhi had to turn against the Hindus, and for the Muslims, and recognize Muslims should get their part of the national treasury. He was rewarded for this perceived “aversion” towards Hindus by being assassinated by Hindu nationalists.

    So the real fundamental problem of “aversion” is how does “aversion” arises in the first place. In general it does because human beings find themselves in adverse circumstances, or because evil tendencies by a few were not opposed early enough.

    So it is the lack of aversion to various adversities, as they are gathering momentum, which leads to large scale aversion appearing in the first place.

    An example is the Greenhouse Gas Crisis (“AGW”). If not opposed in a timely manner (and that will require some “aversion”), it will lead to large scale misery and war. Also North Korea, soon to have 40 nuclear weapons according to Chinese specialists, ought to looked at with appropriate aversion.

    Prevention of the causes of aversion is how to prevent aversion.

    [aversion: “a strong dislike or disinclination”.]

    Even more philosophically, it is too be feared that avoiding aversion at all costs may mean avoiding appreciation.

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  3. It’s good to know that some in the behavioral sciences are interested in the cultivation of sympathetic attitudes, among the members of our population. Nonetheless, I have concerns and they have to do, primarily, with the *methods* by which such sympathy is engendered.

    In the last century, BF Skinner made the case for a sweeping transformation in the way that society should be “managed.” (See his “Beyond Freedom and Dignity.”) While Skinner’s ends were entirely benevolent — he saw behavioral management as the only way of addressing humanity’s worst, most existential problems — the fact that such management involved bypassing the rational, critical faculty in favor of conditioning and manipulation, renders his project illiberal at best, totalitarian at worst, and certainly incompatible with democracy.

    Earlier, Edward Bernays, in his book Propaganda, made similar arguments that the public needed to be manipulated — via the use of crowd psychology and psychoanalytic techniques (he was Freud’s nephew) — both in the arena of politics and business.

    I am all for any and every effort to attempt to persuade our fellow citizens that they ought to be more sympathetic. But given the tactics and methods that social scientists-for-hire have employed in marketing, advertising, and politics, I am not particularly confident that the methods that would be employed to affect this greater sympathy would be any more compatible with liberalism and democracy than they have been, thus far. Certainly, we could use the techniques that psychologists have developed to sell the public products, services, and candidates, to make everyone nicer, but to do so points us in the direction of a world described nicely by Skinner and not-so-nicely by Anthony Burgess, in his *essential* book, A Clockwork Orange.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Hi Anthony,

    Very interesting article and a very important area of research. I know that this line of research is having some very useful results in the care of special needs children.

    On the point made by Aravis and while I am not an expert I do have some insight into how psychology is developing, I would say that they have gone beyond Skinner and back to freedom and dignity, but without losing sight of the insights that Skinner made.

    Strategies for parents like the “elephant peg” method and the “chessboard” strategy are behaviour modification approaches which Skinner might have approved, but which also recognise that the aim is to help a child reach the stage where he/she is an autonomous individual with control and responsibility for the self.

    To me it is a fascinating insight into what we mean when we say of ourselves that we have free will.

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  5. Robin, I’m going to be a little oppositional on this, partly for the sake of argument and partly out of conviction.

    I don’t know that psychological techniques of persuasion today need to be Skinnerian, in order to be objectionable, in the sense I am describing. It is one thing to go to a therapist for treatment for, say, anxiety attacks — something I have gone through — and for the therapist to use every efficacious method in her tool box, including those that bypass one’s rational agency. In that case, one has chosen it, in the service of one’s own interests. But it is quite a different matter, when one is trying to affect the behavior of the public, on behalf of a particular view of the public good. In that case, it seems to me that to employ techniques that bypass one’s conscious rationality and will is to violate the most basic principles of liberal democracy and of Enlightenment values, more generally. Kant described Enlightenment as the will (and the ability) to live under the light of one’s own reason. One cannot do that, if one is being manipulated by psychologists and social scientists. And at least since Mill, the dominant view in classic liberal thought has been that matters of fundamental values must either be kept private or discussed and negotiated publicly, via democratic processes.

    It seems to me that any actual public campaign of the sort imagined would almost certainly employ the sorts of psychological methods and techniques that one finds in marketing, advertising, and public relations. This strikes me as objectionable on its face. Indeed, it seems to me that the only method of trying to increase public sympathy that is acceptable, from the standpoint of the principles of liberal democracy, is by way of trying to persuade people, at the level of their conscious rationality, that they ought to be more sympathetic. In short, a public, *moral* conversation.

    One more thing. I don’t see why any metaphysically deep conception of free will is necessary to make this point. The only conception of agency involved is the one employed in the liberal democratic language game — i.e. the one in which it makes sense to speak of people as “voting”, “deliberating,” “accepting,” “rejecting,” and the like.

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  6. Hi Aravis,

    I wasn’t suggesting any metaphysically deep definition of free will, in fact I have always gone for the KISS principle in approaching free will. My point was that it gives some insight into what we mean when we say we have free will. That is a point about language and meaning, not about metaphysics.

    Unless I have misunderstood, the author is not suggesting any top down behaviour modification program, but strategies for individuals to interact with each other which, if they gained general acceptance, might lead to a better society.

    I was talking of a subset of this process – parent child relationship, which is always, let’s face it, going to be an exercise in behaviour modification. In particular I was referring to special needs children. There are two dynamics in child rearing – the need to influence their behaviour and the need to help them become independent, autonomous and self sufficient.

    The “stepping over the aversives of others” as the author puts it seems to be a big part of these strategies. Some of them can be very effective indeed, even in difficult circumstances (and perhaps the reason I still have a shred of sanity),

    And, let me underline this, the aim is not to have some sort of Clockwork Orange robotic behaviour, the aim is to achieve self reliance, autonomy and, yes, dignity and freedom. This may have always been the aim for children generally, but it was not always the aim for special needs kids.

    I don’t know much of how this applies to society in general, but I can imagine how it might work. A society is always engaged in mutual behaviour modification but you can look at this in a good way or a bad way.

    The bad way is to think of manipulating others. The good way is to think of this as “I learn my behaviour from others and so others learn their behaviour from me”. If I model the aversive behaviour of others then others will, in turn model it from me. If I sidestep aversive behaviour then there is one less model for aversive behaviour.

    But, as I said, I am no expert, I just have a little insight into they way similar approaches work in one narrow field and can imagine how it might be applied generally.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Aravis,

    I share your concerns; however, they may be misplaced in the current instance.

    The buzz-word here is “evidence based.” I was an LPN, and never finished my RN training (no time), but I remember my teachers in RN school discussing the need, in the present era, to phrase nursing practice in terms of “evidence based” research, in order to defend practices that were simply common-sense learned through decades of actual nursing. Grants and funding depend on it.

    ‘Common sense’ and learned wisdom are now discounted as ‘folk psychology.’ The health care industry (including psychotherapy, and pediatric and geriatric advising agencies especially those with public funding) is jiggered toward statistics-based models. One could be the most caring – and successful – child therapist, and get precisely squat from various agencies, unless a defense of practice is built from “evidence-based” modeling.

    Biglan’s work seems to me largely to provide weight to common sense practices. It’s actually common sense that a child who is held often without demands, will turn out more stable and better adjusted than a child who is pushed away, or one who is suffocated by an over-demanding parent. But if you’re going to ask for funding for a practice advising parents to act this way, you had better have statistics that demonstrate this ‘scientifically.’

    This is not to deny Dr. Biglan’s sincerity (or his many years of research). But in the last analysis (prior to reading his book), I wonder if Biglan isn’t 1) providing evidence for behaviors that are already in successful practice, while 2) making a larger claim (actually a suggestion) that we are already engaged in behavior modification, and ought to emphasize those forms of such modification that actually work to get what ethical practices we already claim we want.

    I see no danger in this.

    There is a wider historical problem: What does it mean to say that we now need statistical or clinical ‘scientific evidence’ for what any reasonable person can see is common sense practice that has long worked prior to demands for that evidence?

    This goes to the question SocraticGadfly asks, concerning tools we can use to improve our nurturing practices. As one who has used Buddhist tools for years, I know a) these tools work, even lacking ‘scientific evidence,’ and b) they have worked for centuries before there was any demand for such evidence.

    But the agencies, both public and private, are run by accountants who measure every physical or mental variable in order to determine the amount of money spent on this.

    “For example a jury places the daily value of pain and suffering for a victim of severe nerve injury resulting in paralysis at $300; this is multiplied by the number of days a victim is expected to suffer from the injures which is established by the court at 600.” http://downtownlalaw.com/average-nerve-damage-settlement-value-of-lawsuit/

    Now our bodies are commodities; our feelings are indicators of consumer satisfaction. That’s the problem.

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  8. Aravis suggests “persuad[ing] people, at the level of their conscious rationality, that they ought to be more sympathetic”!

    Given that it looks like the book in question is

    focused on relationships in families, schools, and young people’s peer groups…[so] our young people will increasingly go out into the world with the values and skills needed to live in caring relationships with others.

    is the suggestion we hold off education in such matters until 12, 18, or 21 years of age? Does he suggest we rely on parental preferences when the parent would prefer their child not to be so “nice”.

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  9. It is a remarkable fact that almost all wrongs are committed by people who know the act is wrong. For this reason an education/training based approach is suspect. 

    First it helps to establish the need. Are things so bad after all? 41 people in the US are murdered every day. 16,785 violent crimes are committed every day. 822 rapes/sexual assault are committed every day. The 6,126,420 victims of violent crime would think things are pretty bad and so would the 300,120 victims of rape/sexual assault. Data 2013, Department of Justice.

    So what is going on? Moral decisions are usually a conflict between need and principle. Need wins out when
    1. There is no emotional feeling of wrongness attached to the act.
    2. The victim lies outside our circle of compassion.

    Encouraging moral behaviour must address both these issues. Emotional feelings of wrongness must be attached to certain forms of behaviour and circles of compassion must be expanded to be more inclusive. This process starts in early childhood when children are most receptive to their parents’ feelings. Young children respond to both narratives containing implicit moral instruction and to explicit moral instruction.

    By far the most powerful influences are the narratives of the parents. These narratives implicitly define ethical behaviour and impart the parents feelings towards the behaviour. It is a form of instruction that is powerful because it is contained in the lived experience of the parents. It is powerful because the feelings of the parents attach emotional feelings of wrongness to certain categories of behaviour in their children. It is these emotional feelings of wrongness which ensure that principle prevails over need.

    So what do I mean by the narratives of the parents. Parents talk to each other giving accounts of their day and interactions with others. These narratives contain implicit moral attitudes and judgements. Young children are avid listeners to their parents’ narratives and quickly absorb the lessons contained in these narratives.

    Unfortunately, in today’s media driven environment, the parents’ narrative is being displaced by entertainment. The parents talk less to each other in the presence of their children, who in any case prefer media entertainment. This also provides a narrative, but it fails for two reasons. It lacks the emotional impact conveyed by the parent’s feelings and much media contains questionable moral lessons.

    What can be done about it? I remember so well my despair at being so unprepared for parenthood when my two children were born. Parents need to be better prepared for the task of raising children. There are three opportunities for intervention. It begins in school with lessons in parenting. The second opportunity is to provide lessons to the prospective parents at ante-natal clinics. The third opportunity is to provide lessons to parents of pre-school children who apply for places in a school. There would need to be some form of incentive to encourage people to take these lessons.

    The cascading effect of these three interventions would go a long way to prepare parents for all aspect of child rearing, including their moral development.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In some ways I found this encouraging, but I have to agree with Aravis that it is also terrifying.

    It’s good to see some research into Buddhism’s claim that aversion and attraction must be overcome for equinimity and that compassion must be practiced for happiness, but it seems almost beyond belief that the author makes no mention of thousands of years of practical research in this area. The idea that behavioural science is going to do a better job at engendering happiness and harmony than the practices of the wisdom traditions is hysterically naïve. Next they’ll be telling us they’ve invented the wheel.

    My apologies, Anthony, but I find your failure to mention the traditional ‘esoteric’ view on aversion and compassion narrow-minded and suggestive of an agenda. What is said in the article is news that was old before behavioural scientists were invented. I’ll bet a tenner that most meditative practitioners know more about the psychology of aversion and attraction than most behavioural scientists. . .

    What a strange situation. I find it hard to understand.

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  11. In the Aravis vs Robin debate, I think I side with Robin.

    We are all influencing each other all the time.

    Interpersonal interactions, government policies, advertising, economics, pop culturel, iterature and so on ad infinitum all influence behaviour to various degrees. Often this influence is rather indirect, occasionally it is entirely unintentional and has undesirable consequences.

    To me, Aravis seems to be presenting us with a false dichotomy: to influence or not to influence. Influence is inevitable, and so I personally can’t see the harm in seeking to understand the dynamics of how this influence works and seeking to direct it towards good ends rather than bad. This seems to be a better alternative than to let it all shake out however it’s going to and living with the consequences.

    In particular I can’t see the harm in fostering compassion and tolerance by demonstrating compassion and tolerance, and that is all this article seems to me to be suggesting.

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  12. Aravis Thanks for further extending these questions. I was asking primarily about self-applied “tools” in my first three points, though I moved on in point 4, and you’re asking about “other-applied” ones as the primary focus. But yes, with issues of “control,” etc., these are good questions to ask.

    Beyond “Clockwork Orange,” of course, “Brave New World” skipped psychology and went to physiology, with soma as the “nudge.” And, that leads to issues today. (I think BNW is more prescient today in several ways than “1984.”) What if the “nudge” for forbearance is Prozac? What if a big company puts Prozac in the company water fountains? (Or blows low-level THC in the HVAC system?)

    Or back to Bernays and the issue of subliminal messaging. What if the home office, to increase forbearance, has a subliminal puppy picture pop up on your computer every 15 minutes?

    There’s also, per Labnut, the question on what controls government, or even parents, have the rights to do with juveniles.

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  13. Hi Aravis,

    I didn’t get the sense that the author was advocating compulsory social engineering at all. I saw something more like “We are currently helping kids and others have more healthy relationships by means of instruments to promote care, and in these efforts it should be helpful for larger subjects (such as fortune 500 companies) to promote such virtues as well.” Thus he provided examples of care based situations which are commonly considered successful to help encourage institutional participation. Nevertheless I was planning to retort that modern humanity already has no greater faith based meme than “We must all display more care for one other” — perhaps even our religions aren’t so faithfully propagated! Since our parents, teachers, news programs, tv shows, and so on, constantly emphasize the great virtues of care (and yes I do so as a dad), how indeed might this message be promoted more aggressively than it already is? Perhaps the active social engineering that you’ve implied the author advocates, would indeed be all that’s left. Here I can imagine “Ebenezer Scrooge” situations from which the callous might be reformed.

    Actually however I see both old and new instruments from which to promote care in society, as a great distraction from what’s truly needed. (Incidentally I think I fell for this socialist hippie message far beyond most young children, which is probably what mainly pushed me so deeply into philosophical contemplation — I needed to develop a more effective ideology than the default “care” that had failed me.) Instead I believe that our mental and behavioral sciences must theorize philosophical dynamics of reality for themselves — they simply should not be whole given that their “circle” is now so incomplete in this regard. But this wouldn’t be ordinary philosophy — the task would be to figure out what we ARE, not standard speculation about what we might want ourselves to be. The key to this study I think, would be to determine the biological nature of good/bad for the conscious entity (as opposed to standard morality considerations).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am with Aravis on this one:
    it seems to me that to employ techniques that bypass one’s conscious rationality and will is to violate the most basic principles of liberal democracy and of Enlightenment values, more generally

    Disagreeable said, in reply:
    We are all influencing each other all the time.

    which rather misses the point. Let me give you an example. One of the main tools the state uses for influence is its tax policies. They offer me tax advantages to donate to charity and this undeniably influences me.

    But there is a vital difference. The tax influence is open and above board. I know about the potential influence and I can choose to accept or reject the influence. In this case the state respects my freedom by informing me of the tool it uses for influence and affords me the opportunity to accept or reject it.

    What is really wrong is to employ tools to influence the citizenry without their knowledge. When denied the knowledge they have no choice and that is wrong.

    The second way in which Disagreeable misses the point is the large difference between person to person influence and state to citizen influence. Person to person influence has limited powers of coercion while state to citizen influence has potentially vast powers of coercion. This asymmetry in favour of the state means that its powers should be carefully limited and should always be open to inspection.

    While the essay did not detail how social engineering could be implemented, what it did say was
    that the behavioral sciences have developed systematic ways to aid people in controlling threatening or antisocial behavior without acting in ways that simply provoke further aggression.

    We need to know more about this before we can know if influence will be used with our full knowledge and consent. The devil is in the details.

    Gadfly,
    Labnut, the question on what controls government, or even parents, have the rights to do with juveniles.

    Please clarify. Why have you addressed that comment at me?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I tend to be more sympathetic to DM’s take on this article when he writes, “In particular I can’t see the harm in fostering compassion and tolerance by demonstrating compassion and tolerance, and that is all this article seems to me to be suggesting.”

    I believe most readers of SciSal are sensitive to recitals of the potential and real dangers, abuses and fears that surface when the subject of behavioral contol is suggested, no matter how innocent or well-intended. But, perhaps, references to dystopian novels place an unwarranted weight on what seems to me Biglan’s contention that . . . “what we need to do is to build people’s repertoires of forbearance, forgiveness, empathy, and compassion.” So far as I can tell what Biglan suggests in this piece is hardly on the scale of a state-sponsored agenda of behavioral control that we encounter in Orwell, Huxley, or Burgess, not to mention the constant barrage of popular films that exploit our seemingly innate fears of being invaded by alien beings intent on controlling us. Perhaps, we are being overly sensitive to the negative connotations of the term “aversion therapy” and are overlooking that Biglan seems focused on encouraging the development of certain traits that allow others to flourish as individuals rather than taking approaches that are designed to encourage their submissiveness.

    BTW, for those interested, here’s a link to Burgess’s own reflections on “Clockwork” and you might then ask to what extent his concerns are reflected in Biglan’s piece:

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/06/04/the-clockwork-condition

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Aravis,

    I share your concerns; however, they may be misplaced in the current instance.

    The buzz-word here is “evidence based.” I was an LPN, and never finished my RN training (no time), but I remember my teachers in RN school discussing the need, in the present era, to phrase nursing practice in terms of “evidence based” research, in order to defend practices that were simply common-sense learned through decades of actual nursing. Grants and funding depend on it.

    ‘Common sense’ and learned wisdom are now discounted as ‘folk psychology.’ The health care industry (including psychotherapy, and pediatric and geriatric advising agencies especially those with public funding) is jiggered toward statistics-based models. One could be the most caring – and successful – child therapist, and get precisely squat from various agencies, unless a defense of practice is built from “evidence-based” modeling.

    Biglan’s work seems to me largely to provide weight to common sense practices. It’s actually common sense that a child who is held often without demands, will turn out more stable and better adjusted than a child who is pushed away, or one who is suffocated by an over-demanding parent. But if you’re going to ask for funding for a practice advising parents to act this way, you had better have statistics that demonstrate this ‘scientifically.’

    This is not to deny Dr. Biglan’s sincerity (or his many years of research). But in the last analysis (prior to reading his book), I wonder if Biglan isn’t 1) providing evidence for behaviors that are already in successful practice, while 2) making a larger claim (actually a suggestion) that we are already engaged in behavior modification, and ought to emphasize those forms of such modification that actually work to get what ethical practices we already claim we want.

    I see no danger in this.

    There is a wider historical problem: What does it mean to say that we now need statistical or clinical ‘scientific evidence’ for what any reasonable person can see is common sense practice that has long worked prior to demands for that evidence?

    This goes to the question SocraticGadfly asks, concerning tools we can use to improve our nurturing practices. As one who has used Buddhist tools for years, I know a) these tools work, even lacking ‘scientific evidence,’ and b) they have worked for centuries before there was any demand for such evidence.

    But the agencies, both public and private, are run by accountants who measure every physical or mental variable in order to determine the amount of money spent on this.

    I fear we are already some way down the path that concerns us both, toward governmental control of our ethical domain. Dr. Biglan’s offering seems merely a humane means to negotiate that path. I’m not sure if we can change pathways all together at this point.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Blurbs on Biglan’s book note that it’s good for “policy makers” as well as families, counselors, etc., and another mentions “fixing the problems in our educational system.” Until the author weighs in, it may be that he just intends “nudges” to be tools individuals use, as learned from individual or group counselors, etc.

    However, with those phrases that may NOT be the case, either. Also, the Oregon Social Learning Center notes it’s about helping “communities” as well as “individuals” and “families.”

    Burden of proof, if you will, in my mind rests on the author to … weigh in! In my first post, I invited him to do so, with some detail. I renew that invitation, and suggest he start sooner rather than later. Until he does, I don’t know if he’s advocating “compulsory” social engineering, or any social engineering outside of individual self-betterment, but he COULD be seen as advocating all of the above.

    And, I’m going to add one thing to that, especially in light of my Neo-Cynicism essay last year. If we’re talking about communities, and “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” choices, who decides what’s “healthy” and what’s “unhealthy”? I’d appreciate the author weighing in on this, too. It’s one of the biggest critiques of Cass Sunstein types, after all.

    EJ notes that this may be the coming wave; it already is in large companies, with wearable “devices.”

    A few other notes:

    First, many black, and many liberal white, South Africans, think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a paper tiger. Labnut’s welcome to respond more. Patrice, while telling a simplistic story of the British Raj that somehow ignores Jinnah’s role in partition, isn’t all wrong on Gandhi. Related to that, even if these gentlemen, Jesus, MLK, etc., weren’t perfect, they still stood out above the general crowd, and there’s still things to learn from them.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. “Based on that finding, other researchers tested whether reducing conflict between depressed women and their spouses would reduce their depression. It did.”
    Sorry, this banality, presented as the triumphant confirmation of a scientific
    program, strikes me as scientism at its insidious worst. I would go so far as to call it pseudo-science, tho that definition is contested. I realize that in our ever more rationalized society some sort of conflict amelioration protocol may be institutionalized on the basis of such work that will be seen as helpful, at least administratively.

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  19. On the other hand, with apologies, I acknowledge that very little can be accomplished in our mass society without some degree of scientification attached.
    Scientification of goodness is a nice goal.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. EJ notes

    I fear we are already some way down the path that concerns us both, toward governmental control of our ethical domain.

    Not to mention corporate control….

    I worry that so many want governments to be run like a businesses rather than providing services to all their citizens. It is the all versus part divide that makes the difference whether it is taxes, health care, education, justice, etc. We need to decide what every citizen should have access to versus what they need to pay for beyond taxes. Inequality drives much of what we deem ethical concerns.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Society exists as a function of positive feedback loops, but negative feedback loops still form. The larger philosophical question is addressing the nature of, as Eric put it, who we are, not what we want to be.

    Positive ideals give us hope and direction, but the larger reality has to be addressed, if we want understanding and not just comfort.

    Like the global warming issue, it is difficult to really begin to understand these problems, when they are taken in isolation from the larger context.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hi Labnut,

    You have outlined as the paradigmatic example of state influence how we are deliberately and openly influenced by incentives and penalties in the tax code.

    But this is rather too simplistic, in my view. You have not acknowledged the point that there may be surprising consequences by which the tax code influences us in rather more subtle, even unintended ways.

    For instance, on the face of it, it is plausible that increasing benefits and social security might encourage some people to avoid work, that subsidising one industry might put another out of business, that raising corporate taxes might influence corporations to funnel revenues through tax havens. These are just some of the most obvious. There are presumably many influences of tax policy that we are as yet unaware of.

    Apart from tax, it is possible that having a death penalty devalues human life and so indirectly encourages rather than discourages murder. Taking out Islamist militants in the Middle East may encourage rather than discourage terrorism. Banning narcotics may incentivise an illegal drugs trade and an attendant increase in violent crime.

    On the positive side, providing support services in the form of free education, healthcare and employment programs may help to guide certain people away from crime whether or not this is the stated aim for such projects.

    My point is that influence is unavoidable. Every government decision has all sorts of influences, many unforeseen. I don’t think there is anything more nefarious about an influence simply because it was understood in advance.

    Besides, if some of the recommendations made in the original post did make it into policy in some shape or form, I don’t see any reason for secrecy about the motivation for those policies. It could be just as open as the tax code.

    > The second way in which Disagreeable misses the point is the large difference between person to person influence and state to citizen influence.

    It is precisely because state to citizen influence is so outsized that the effects of this influence should be understood and the influence wielded advisedly. It is better that we have good understanding of this influence, both for the state when choosing policies and for the citizens to understand how they are being influenced. The idea that the state can simply choose not to influence is misguided in my view.

    There is nothing underhanded about influencing or being influenced. The choices we make are no less free because they have been influenced by our interactions with others and with the state. If they were then there would be no such thing as a free choice. It is not possible to make choices in a vaccuum.

    I am not saying that all influence is OK. It is better to be open about your aims than not, and it is better to influence others for good rather than for selfish or evil purposes. But the idea that there is something nefarious about influence per se (even state influence) is silly.

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  23. Hi ejwinner,

    What does it mean to say that we now need statistical or clinical ‘scientific evidence’ for what any reasonable person can see is common sense practice that has long worked prior to demands for that evidence?

    We need to be very careful in saying that we don’t need properly assessed evidence, and can just proceed on common sense or on “we’ve tried it and we know it works”.

    One can find plenty of people who swear that homoeopathy works, or that dowsing works, or that astrology is valid, because they’ve tried it and they know it works — yet the evidence refutes them all.

    When, back in the early 1900s, statisticians first started systematically assessing the efficacy of drugs, they found to their surprise that doctors were routinely prescribing some drugs that were doing far more harm than good. Why? Because the doctors had long been using them and “knew that they worked”. Every patient getting better was “see, it works”, whereas every patient dying was “oh well, it can’t work every time”. Humans are very bad at this sort of bias, and that’s why medical science today insists on double-blinded trials.

    Equally, “common sense” can mean the speaker’s intuition or ideology or biases, and again it can be wrong. As just one example, twin studies have shown that nurture has a lot less effect on outcomes than a lot of people’s “common sense” would suggest.

    Personally I think we need a lot more experiment and evidence-based decision making, in areas such as health (why is homoeopathy rampant across Europe when it doesn’t work?), education (policies are usually decided by ideology, not on evidence from comparative trials of different methods), economics, et cetera. But too many policy makers are too sure of their “common sense” ideas to see the need for comparative trials.

    I can understand that, in many areas dealing with humans, controlled trials can be difficult to do for practical or ethical reasons, but I’d argue that, where possible, a presumption in favour of them is a good thing.

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  24. Gadfly,
    First, many black, and many liberal white, South Africans, think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a paper tiger. Labnut’s welcome to respond more.

    I am afraid you have got it badly wrong. Sure, you will find many opinions and by asking the right person you can get any opinion you want. But a clear look at the hard facts tells a completely different story.

    My country fought a long and bitter war. I bore arms in that war and a great number, on both sides, died. The war left the country deeply divided with nearly irreparable chasms in society. We have 12 population groups with different interests and aspirations. These population groups had no experience of parliamentary democracy or the rule of law. They had no experience of local government. Hatred, resentment, suspicion and desire for revenge ran deep. The country was flooded with arms, people with the training to use them and the incentive to use them.

    We fully expected the country to collapse into a cauldron of violence such as happened in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.

    But that did not happen. Instead we made an extremely peaceful, orderly transition to a stable, liberal parliamentary democracy, sustained by the rule of law. There was no orgy of violence, there was no score settling, there was no forceful repossession of land, industries or property. A miracle had happened. No other revolutionary transition has made such a miraculous transition.

    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC) made this possible. It really did reconcile the opposing forces and heal the wounds. Of course it wasn’t perfect and there are still bitter people. But look where we are today, a modern, first world economy with a highly functional liberal democracy underpinned by a respected rule of law. Compare that with the rest of Africa and especially compare it with the so-called Arab Spring and you will see what I mean.

    We had designed and built our own nuclear weapons and we voluntarily, of our own accord, relinquished them. We are still the only nuclear capable state to have done this.

    The TRC was led by a remarkable person, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of the Anglican Church. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

    No Gadfly, it was anything but a paper tiger. If precedent was anything to go by, we should have been in a worse state than Libya. Instead we are a beacon for the rest of Africa. Sure, we have our birthing problems but look at the big picture, where we are, then look at the other revolutionary transitions and see where we could have been.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Coel,

    You’re effectively changing the context of the conversation. The context I was addressing was the involvement of agencies with purse-control over practice. The context you’re addressing is the historical development of modern medicine. The two over-lap, but are by no means the same. Using a scientific methodology to discover improved methods of diagnosis and treatment (which we can agree is good), is something different from an agency demanding that practitioners justify their practice according to agency-determined standards (which raises all sorts of questions).

    Notably, your counter-example is homeopathy; mine is nursing. The former requires a model alternative to established main-stream medicine; the latter requires experience in contact with living patients, and is complementary to established medical practice.

    The context of the article includes the kind of knowledge acquired in nursing practice. It has nothing to say about alternative medical models.

    It is true that the sensus communis has frequently proven wrong in the long run. It is equally true that it has frequently proven right in the long run. My question is, should various funding agencies be allowed to impose their standards to determine when and whether it is right or wrong? *

    You’re discussing a ‘common sense’ that is really a bias, and there are real problems with that, I agree. Bu the common sense of which I write is simply a matter of pragmatic insight into methods that work.

    “The way is the every day way,” wrote Lao Tzu. Before we chuck the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps we should remember that the baby has survived for a couple hundred thousand years, largely trusting to common sense, long before the advent of modern science. True, modern science has done a great deal to improve our lives; but there is still wisdom to be found in this old baby yet, just as it is.
    —–
    * It should be remembered that the funding agencies – public and private, including politically appointed health boards and insurance companies, among others – necessarily have their own biases as well. Two bad biases do not synthesize into one good bias; they simply cancel out.

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  26. Why is the homicide rate in South Africa at 31/100,000 (the average for Africa 12.5 (UNODC)) and rape rate at 132/100,000?
    The US homicide rate is at 4.7/100,000 and Mexico is at 21.5. The US rape rate at 29/100,000 and Mexico at 13.

    Not that these aren’t too high in the US, but if the UNODC is correct South Africa has the highest rate of rapes of any country reporting data. It ranks 11 out of 218 countries for murder and two higher are neighbors Lesotho and Swaziland. The US is 111th.

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  27. From the article:

    “However, I’m also offering something I believe to be new and I hope helpful: that the behavioral sciences have developed systematic ways to aid people in controlling threatening or antisocial behavior without acting in ways that simply provoke further aggression.

    “Only when we spread these practices throughout society and reduce the number of people who arrive at adulthood with coercive repertoires will we achieve the kind of peaceful society that Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King envisioned. Spreading warm, supportive, caring interpersonal relations requires that people have skills for dealing with others’ aversive behavior without further escalating it.”

    The idea that we can achieve a more peaceful world through broad institution of certain scientific therapeutic programs seems problematic in several ways:

    [1] It risks moral authoritarianism. It conceives science as having the answers regarding what constitutes moral excellence. This is likely to lead to a society in which people must observe a certain conception of morality or else be diagnosed with moral failings and sent off for mandatory moral re-education therapy.

    [2] It medicalizes morality. It sees moral excellence as a set of attitudinal and behavioral norms that can be ascertained by science and fostered or enforced in the population by a diagnosis/ therapy model. This is a false view of morality. Here “morality” is just subterfuge for tighter authoritarian control on the attitudes and behaviors in the population.

    [3] It’s shallow as a conception of morality. While the relevant therapeutic programs may be useful in more dire contexts, such as in reforming serial abusers, they are no substitute for morality. Jesus and Gandhi were not simply people with certain contextual social skills. They were people with deep understandings from which their contextual social skills arose organically. A more peaceful society requires people with deep understandings, not merely learned piecemeal social skills. If it believed science has those deep understandings, see item [1] above.

    In my view, if we want more peaceful, enlightened individuals, we need to look at the kinds of figures that are being offered to children as heros. Here it might be good to swap Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for Socrates and the Buddha. That said, people are perhaps rightly worried that in our competitive corporate world, it would be detrimental on both an individual and a societal level for people to become more enlightened. The industry needed to sustain life might require somewhat unenlightened people. Perhaps early education in Socrates and Buddhism would simply produce “slackers.” Still, I would say, teach wisdom early on and let the chips fall where they may. (Something easier to say when one is not a parent.)

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Since Aravis briefly brought up free will, and the title of the book in question was “Nurture Effect”, I did think of extensive literature on the authoritarian personality. This review article was quite nuanced, I thought:

    http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Carney,%20Jost,%20%26%20Gosling%20%282008%29%20The%20secret%20lives%20of%20liberals%20.pdf

    Anyway, if we did think there is a personality trait that seems to develop relatively early (from the above review):

    Block and Block (2006) revealed that many of the personality differences between liberals and conservatives that appear in adulthood are already present when children are in nursery school, long before they define themselves in terms of political orientation. Specifically, preschool children who later identified themselves as liberal were perceived by their teachers as: self-reliant, energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, and impulsive. By contrast, those children who later identified as conservative were seen as: rigid, inhibited, indecisive, fearful, and overcontrolled

    then we might embrace “nudges” and acquirable techniques that might ameliorate these tendencies, especially since they will install themselves as “intuitions” that will underpin moral judgments and reasoning later in life, quite aside from perhaps leading to personal unhappiness.

    I will briefly make an aside that just because these personality traits appear to be heritable in many studies merely indicates that differences in genotypes between individuals influence occurrence of the trait in the studied population given the existing mix of environmental factors such as familial and social institutional nurturing. That is. it says nothing about how such interventions might act on that population – “rigid, anxious” persons might make the greatest gains.

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  29. The nurturing and flourishing of individuals in a society cannot be separated from its politics and its government. There is one party (R) that advocates elimination or weakening of collective, redistributive institutions (universal health care, social security, education, …) and leaving “free markets” in their places, and the other party (D) that advocates the maintenance or strengthening of these government institutions. The choice people make between electing politicians (R or D) to run a government can have a direct impact on the improvement of lives. Corollary: Someone who is “caring” only with people around them but votes R into office may not be really caring after all.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Philip, I agree that nurturing and flourishing individuals cannot be decoupled from politics, that was Aristotle’s point: flourishing requires certain minimal conditions to be fulfilled (unless you are a Stoic…), including a degree of education, health, wealth, etc. The issue is what sort of interventions the state should implement in order to insure conditions for eudaimonia without interfering with individual choices about flourishing.

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  31. So right after I read this about not answering aversives with aversives, I saw this video:

    I tend to agree that people should not use deceptive means to influence others. To some extent it is the same as using a fallacy in argument. But I am not sure that anything the author describes requires us to jump to conclude such mind control tactics are being advocated.

    Every public school I have been in has certain virtues that they propagate. I tend to think caring for others is under-represented. I admit my experience is anecdotal. I just did a google search and found this:

    http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/An-American-imperative-Public-education-

    “Promoting common values

    In a free society, parents play an important role in conveying their values to their children through their own teachings and those of the religious and cultural groups of their choice. To complement those teachings, there is an appropriate array of values that advance the larger common good and enable our society to function. The public schools are uniquely positioned to convey these values, which include such vital concepts in our civil society as integrity, individual responsibility, fairness, justice, patriotism, respect for others, doing a good job, being on time, working well with others, being a good citizen, and exercising democracy in government and other interactions.

    – See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Public-education/An-American-imperative-Public-education-#sthash.waCNgeAP.dpuf

    I suppose “respect for others” might be seen as “caring for others.” But I would disagree.

    Most of the websites talked about what the educators valued in their school as opposed to what values they taught children.

    When I googled images I see less than half of public schools have caring for others as a value. It may be deemed as too Christian.

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  32. Massimo, on the question of “what sort of interventions the state should implement”, I would say that what people believe (and how they vote) related to that question is determined to a great degree by their (philosophical or ideological) wordview. As noted in [1], “we’re currently witnessing a resurgence of [the Christian libertarian] ideology in American law with the idea that corporations not only are capable of having religious beliefs, but that such beliefs make these businesses exempt from the laws of the regulatory state.” If that ideology is held by a large segment of the population, it will influence what is considered to be an “intervention” that should be allowed.

    [1] The dark capitalist roots of our country’s most destructive myth
    http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/america_is_not_a_christian_nation_the_dark_capitalist_roots_of_our_countrys_most_destructive_myth_partner/

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  33. Biglan wrote:
    “The fundamental problem is to get people to not respond to others’ aversive behavior with their own aversive behavior because, more likely than not, doing so will simply perpetuate coercion and conflict. Instead, we need to cultivate forbearance and forgiveness as cardinal features of our culture.”

    Once aversive behavior dominates even a subculture it may be too late. When tribal attitudes are entrenched they preclude the cultivation of forbearance and even punish it. Gaza/Israel comes to mind. It can only start with a parent who sees the light and actively promotes an adaptive attitude. General assertions by politicians and academics about the need for “cardinal features of our culture” may make us feel good but have little real-world impact. Of course it is trivially true that we don’t want them promote aversive behavior.

    From his website:
    “ORI (Biglan’s institute) is consistently one of the top 50 nonprofit institutions receiving federal funds in the country and is the largest independent behavioral research center in Oregon. ORI employs 200 people with 47 research scientists. In 2014, we have 61 research grants and a budget of $20 million.”

    47 research scientists at a cost of $20 million per anum to promote forebearance. Wow! I’m just trying to highlight the fact that this is not just an author with a well-intentioned book but involves 200 people funded by the government.

    Patrice Ayme wrote:
    “So the real fundamental problem of “aversion” is how does “aversion” arise in the first place. In general it does because human beings find themselves in adverse circumstances, or because evil tendencies by a few were not opposed early enough.”

    Good point and one reason why we should be careful about our epistemic confidence in the conclusions we reach on this subject, especially the actionable ones.

    davidlduffy provided the quote:
    “Block and Block (2006) revealed that many of the personality differences between liberals and conservatives that appear in adulthood are already present when children are in nursery school, long before they define themselves in terms of political orientation. Specifically, preschool children who later identified themselves as liberal were perceived by their teachers as: self-reliant, energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, and impulsive. By contrast, those children who later identified as conservative were seen as: rigid, inhibited, indecisive, fearful, and overcontrolled.”

    Liberal: self-reliant, energetic, emotionally expressive, gregarious, and impulsive. Conservative: rigid, inhibited, indecisive, fearful, and overcontrolled.

    I can imagine no greater example of the need for political diversity in the Academy.

    It is an interesting contrast between this thread and the last. I don’t believe I have read the word ‘liar’ a single time in this one even though the subject, aversive behavior vs. forgiveness and how to promote it, is divided along political lines – bottom up vs. top down. I wonder why climate science provokes not just emotion but presumption of disimulation, and ethics, with its undeniable effects on our “psychological climate”, can be discussed with equanimity. Any thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

  34. No Reconciliation Without Truth

    Mandela’s stroke of genius was to enable the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Truth & Reconciliation allowed South Africa to defuse great racial exploitation and its attending hatred, and the potential for terrible vengeance. (Contemplate Rwanda, or Shri Lanka.)

    How did truth do it? How does truth reduce aversion?

    Whenever truth is revealed, minds are changed. However changing brains requires energy, thus effort, pain. And any system of truth is related to a socio-economic order, a hierarchy. New and improved truth threatens existing hierarchies. They often resists, using whatever it takes. Thus new and improved truth often brings blood, sweat, and tears.

    Thus we see that truth augments aversion, emotion, even passion.

    Some specialists have claimed that a terrible civil war such as seen in Cambodia (superficially caused by a sort of left wing fascism), was facilitated by a (Buddhist inspired) aversion to truth.

    Therefore any mentality which privileges aversion to aversion above anything else, will see no reconciliation with truth. Searching for better truth is a war against one’s own past and present perception of reality.

    However, if one is not reconciled with truth, one keeps strong aversions inspired by past tribalism, something antagonistic to a globalized world.

    The truth is that racism, the aversion for people of different color or origin, is not just unjustified, but a source of harm.

    In the case of South Africa, the USA, people had to learn that truth. Forcefully. And fast. How does one learn the truth? By being exposed to the truth. Generally people who have done something wrong, or who are wrong, have a strong aversion to truth, as it will expose them to loss of privilege, or punition.

    The Truth & Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, removed the element of punishment, and thus the main reason for NOT telling the truth. So the truth blossomed.
    When Germany got denazified after May 1945, a similar process was engaged (this time by an exterior agent, the occupying Allies). The Germans themselves, in the following decades, learned to embrace the process of finding the truth about Nazism.

    SocratesGadfly: Glad to not be “all wrong about Gandhi”. No complaint about MLK. Jesus, though, apparently willing to teach violence for no good reason, has also things to teach us NOT to imitate.

    Nowadays, at least 99% of people in the West do not think that killing people just because they are not Christian is justified, so we have got out of the Jesus trance. However, in the Middle Ages, the (“Christian”) establishment thought “heresy” (“exerting a choice”) was worthy of the death penalty.

    What I mostly reproach to Gandhi was to view the minor problem (getting the British exploitation of India to stop) to be major, whereas obviously the major problem was the 1,000 war, inside India, with Islam.

    Confusing a major problem, and hiding it behind, a minor one, is a primordial cause of aversion. That Gandhi’s blind followers may only understand after nukes start exploding over South Asia.

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  35. Michaelfugate,
    Why is the homicide rate in South Africa….[so high]

    I suspect we are going seriously off topic. But I will reply briefly and leave it at that. Whatever else you say on the subject will get no reply since I don’t want to obscure the real debate.

    You are talking about a different issue. The TRC addressed reconciliation between warring factions to enable a smooth transition to a liberal, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. That goal was achieved with stunning success. It was achieved wholly without outside intervention, with almost no loss of life and today we have a well functioning democracy, perhaps the only true multi-party democracy in Africa.

    That leaves the high crime rate which is a separate problem and which cannot be addressed by the TRC.
    The new transitional government inherited this problem. It has made quite good progress addressing it. For example the homicide rate has come down from 55 to 31 per 100,000. That is an important improvement but much work remains to be done.

    The causes of the crime rate are complex. Basically it is the consequence of the rapid urbanisation of rural people in the worst possible way. The former regime tried to block this rural to urban migration by refusing to provide facilities. They came anyway in their millions and the result was a Dickensian nightmare of huge proportions. Vast slum townships formed with no sewage, no running water and no electricity. There were a few derelict schools, very little health provision and scant policing. Social order broke down and crime spiralled out of control. Rural culture and customs could not sustain people in these awful and unprecedented conditions. The new regime has lacked the funds to significantly improve infrastructure and so it makes slow progress reducing the crime rate.

    This is hardly a new problem. Britain experienced something like this(though not as severe) during the industrial revolution and they resorted to quite draconian measures to bring crime under control.

    I hope that you appreciate by now that a TRC is not the right tool to address the problems we face. We need an infusion of large amounts of money to rapidly upgrade our vast slum townships. The Catholic Church(among many others) is doing its utmost to help the most destitute. My own parish pays for the university costs of the brightest, but destitute, students. This is only one of the many things we do. This is our calling but there are not enough of us.

    Rather focussing your attention on your favourite theist I suggest we return to the main debate. Paul Paolini made some very good points and these are worth discussing. Aravis has concerns about social engineering while Disagreeable seems inclined to favour it in the form of influences, nudges, etc. I proposed that more needs to be done to prepare people for parenthood. These are important things really worth discussing.

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  36. labnut, first – my comment had nothing to do with your religion, so why bring it up? Second – your first comment throws out US crime stats and your second praises RSA as a beacon for Africa. I was surprised by the extraordinarily high RSA crime rates (much, much higher than the US) and thought the data both were relevant to your argument and others would find them useful. That is even before your dismissive reply to Socratic Gadfly on the TRC’s effectiveness in which you claim that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is, well, wrong. Were any of these things you brought up relevant to the discussion?

    I think EJ brought up an interesting point on individuality versus bureaucracy. Is there one right way to do things like nursing, teaching or parenting or are there thousands? Science can certainly look at the effectiveness of method A versus method B for meeting a specific goal. This can give us guidelines for which methods likely don’t work well, but we can’t conclude that an individual cannot do the job better using these or other methods. I know many frustrated doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. who feel their knowledge and experience counts for nothing due to behaviors imposed top-down. In many ways it comes down to feedbacks between individual autonomy and societal authority – the most efficient method, may not be the best.

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  37. Hi Socratic,

    Massimo Pigliucci reigns supreme as the patriarch and king of this forum, though many have shown that they do have the time and intellect to advance his noble cause of philosophical enlightenment. You are most certainly one of these, and thus one of the reasons that I find myself here as well. I do not have the ambition to provide you with “enlightenment” however — I currently seek nothing beyond your entertainment. Humor is my ploy to sneak my way up to the table at which you sit.

    An enormous straw man has now been constructed here, I think, and I condone this no less than you. If the question is, “Shall we do some “A Clockwork Orange?”, the inevitable answer will be, “Hell yes we should!” Like you I love the implication that this simple liberal psychologist seeks government funding for things like the administration of eyeball splints and Sesame Street. Is this man some kind of Nazi? Apparently we won’t know until/unless he comes on to say something like “Um sorry everyone… I was really just suggesting that we should be more caring with each other.” I’m literally on the edge of my seat!

    In the mean time however you’ve mentioned:

    >If we’re talking about communities, and “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” choices, who decides what’s “healthy” and what’s “unhealthy”?

    This is the kind of thing that my mother confounded me with back when I was a budding philosopher. If taken literally it seems as though the answer must be: “The powers that be.” This could be a parent, a teacher, that kid that can kick your ass, a boss, the government, social customs, and so on. This question isn’t actually meant to be taken literally however. We aren’t really concerned about “Who decides?” (since this is just the powers that be) but rather “What’s the best decision?” While some would imply that humanity will never achieve such understandings, I take the opposite position. I believe that the quite new institution of science will ultimately help show us how to lead our lives and structure our societies, and do so by demonstrating the nature of what we are.

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  38. Philosopher Eric wrote:

    An enormous straw man has now been constructed here, I think, and I condone this no less than you. If the question is, “Shall we do some “A Clockwork Orange?”, the inevitable answer will be, “Hell yes we should!” Like you I love the implication that this simple liberal psychologist seeks government funding for things like the administration of eyeball splints and Sesame Street. Is this man some kind of Nazi?

    —————————————

    Sorry you think I have set up a straw man, but this is entirely in your imagination.

    Notice that right after the post, in which I mentioned A Clockwork Orange, I said this:

    “I don’t know that psychological techniques of persuasion today need to be Skinnerian [or worse], in order to be objectionable, in the sense I am describing.” [Brackets added]

    I then went on to explain, in some detail, why the techniques psychologists typically use in the effort to persuade, are objectionable, when it comes to matters of value, which is what this is.

    Forget about A Clockwork Orange. Skinner wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity in the 1970s. Today, psychologists, working for industry, lend their skills to convincing people to buy products and services, many of which are quite harmful.

    The point has to do with whether we are being persuaded by appeal to our rational consciousness or whether we are being manipulated. Manipulation need not be Clockwork Orange-style or even Skinnerian, in order to be manipulation. And I’ve explained why manipulation is objectionable in a liberal democracy.

    So, if you would like to engage any of these points on their actual substance, I’ll be happy to respond.

    ——————————-

    There is an assumption on the part of the author that those who develop caring attitudes are going to agree with his policy preferences — in business, with respect to the environment, etc. This is obviously false, unless one wants to suggest that those who have contrary policy preferences are inevitably “uncaring.” That one cares means that one is emotionally invested in the well-being of others. The trouble is, of course, that there is wild disagreement as to what constitutes well-being. He also assumes that everyone will agree as to what counts as “aversive,” but this will also vary wildly, depending on a person’s fundamental values.

    And that’s the point. In a liberal democracy, matters of fundamental value must be either held privately or openly negotiated, publicly. To manipulate attitudes, with respect to questions of fundamental value is simply incompatible with liberal democracy as it has been defined since the Enlightenment. And manipulating people into being “nicer” and “more caring” is manipulating them with respect to fundamental values.

    Let’s also drop this reference to parents and children. Of course parents raise their children and such raising involves manipulation, especially when children are pre-rational. What I am talking about are efforts at the level of government, which is where they would have to be located, if one ever wanted to have some real effect on the country, rather than just talk.

    Liked by 4 people

  39. Hi Aravis,

    I was discussing parents and children as an example of how a similar approach works with nurturing relationships and how good evidence based science can be used to enhance personal relationships.

    I would suggest that it is you, perhaps, that should stop talking about governments manipulating people by bypassing their rational processes since I don’t think that anyone is suggesting such a thing.

    Can we all agree that governments or big businesses manipulating people by bypassing our rational processes is something we are not in favour of, and move on?

    That might have been the course of action suggested by psychology in Skinner’s time, but that time has passed.

    As I understand it, modern psychology looks at just the opposite process, understanding the exchanges and reactions that bypass our rationality so that we can avoid them.

    Every day in big and little ways, we are manipulating each other, bypassing each other’s rational processes, probably without even knowing it.

    Understanding how this works and being able to use it to our advantage, or to each others advantage.

    The trouble is, of course, that there is wild disagreement as to what constitutes well-being.

    There is a slight ambiguity in this statement I can’t stand rap music. My friend loves it.

    But we have no disagreement about what constitutes well-being here, only different things that provide well being for us. When he listens to his rap music and I listen to, say, 70’s punk, we are each experiencing well being.

    I would suggest, taking this distinction into account, that there is not really such a wild disagreement about what constitutes well being or aversives. It is just that for each of us well being

    And, in any case it would not be such a deal breaker if there was. A person acting in an arrogant fashion will not necessarily feel that his manner is aversive, but it is for others. If his manner triggers an irritated or sarcastic response he will not necessarily understand the source of their hostility. He may even feel justified in that his statements produce such an effect then he must be making a powerful point.

    Understanding this dynamic better helps us to bypass such pointless exchanges is not bypassing our rationality, it is avoiding exchanges that bypass our rationality.

    Liked by 2 people

  40. Thanks for the clarification Aravis — your response was well said and I do agree with it. Before posting I even thought, “Am I now setting up a straw man of my own, given that I’m interpreting someone else’s position in an unfavourable manner?” I decided that yes I was, but that this must be an unavoidable aspect of philosophical debate. Regardless, you are another of the reasons that I come here, and I do hope that we will have more discussions in the future.

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  41. I really don’t get it. It’s like being told that things fall down.

    “I am convinced that caring relationships are the fundamental building blocks for creating the nurturing environments that are vital to everyone’s well-being…:

    What does ‘nurturing environment’ mean if not a caring relationship?

    And don’t we all know already that smiling at people is a good idea if we want them to smile at us?

    All very strange.

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  42. That is my hope Philip, so thanks! At university I decided that our mental and behavioral sciences (psychology, cognitive science, and so on) remain quite primitive today given that there are philosophical aspects of reality which they refuse to address. The standard presumption here is that ethical dynamics of reality lie outside the scope of science. Observe that even the field economics, which is founded upon utilitarianism, does not technically violate this boundary. If anyone objects to its premise economists can always retort, “Hey we’re just describing how people seem to behave. Because people seem to ultimately want happiness, this is how our science has been founded. But we’re not further saying that happiness is inherently *good* for the human to experience. That sort of presumption would involve ethics, or something which lies beyond the scope of science.”

    Given the radical perspective which I’ve developed, there are two essential goals which I have. The first of them is to propagate the notion that our mental and behavioral sciences will remain quite primitive without a formal understanding of the good/bad dynamic of reality. Then the second of them is to have my own theory in this regard become sufficiently assessed, and so potentially become founder to our future mental and behavioral sciences. Hopefully the citizens of Scientia Salon will not mind hearing my radical ideas too much, and some will even take up this sort of quest for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Robin
    “Can we all agree that governments or big businesses manipulating people by bypassing our rational processes is something we are not in favour of, and move on?”

    Yes I think we can all agree we are against it.

    But I don’t think we should move on. Is this not inevitable in a country with free expression? It seems to me that emotional manipulation is often much more persuasive than reasoned discourse.

    This is true of political ads as much as it is of deodorant ads. I may be overly pessimistic but as I see it reasoned discourse is giving way to soundbites and ridicule which plays heavily on our emotional centers that cause us distress at the thought of rejection. (But again maybe that is always how it has been I don’t know but that is not really reassuring either.)

    If you are advising a politician in a campaign (or a company in marketing) you know your competition will pull the emotional manipulation strings. Are you going to honestly advise against it? How do we end this cycle? I think these are very important questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. I enjoyed the article, and at minimum I agree with Biglan in general terms, though I found some of his examples like ‘ the depressed wife’ ineffective or out of place.

    It surprised me that many commenters felt the author was promoting a negative form of manipulation. Based on the what I’ve read here the only reason I can see for that are the following:

    “As the programs, policies, and practices I described become more widely available, our young people will increasingly go out into the world with the values and skills needed to live in caring relationships with others.”

    “the behavioral sciences have developed systematic ways to aid people in controlling threatening or antisocial behavior without acting in ways that simply provoke further aggression”

    But I don’t see a problem and I don’t see how that’s different from how other educational or societal policies are arrived at, policies like discouraging bullying, promoting STEM fields in schools, or recovery models in mental health support services. And of course science can and does help (but it doesn’t decide) in all kinds of situations, and maybe especially so in cases like theses where the ‘folk’ knowledge seems present but it’s always put into question for one reason or another by a large part of society.

    http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/youthandthelaw/roots/conclusion.aspx

    Is that scientism?

    In other words, I was surprised the subject was brought up. I haven’t read Biglan’s the book so I don’t know if or how far the author wants to go down that road but from my perspective most of the article is about family, one on one relations, and how that invariably relates to community and tradition, or more generally, cultural assumptions.

    “every time we influence someone to replace coercive reactions with behavior that calms and supports others, we have one more person who is cultivating these same nurturing reactions in those around them”

    That seems about right to me. And it has the benefit that more calm and supportive environments promote more rational mental processes, more productive emotional connections, and less ‘running on auto-pilot’ behaviors.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Labnut,

    “It is a remarkable fact that almost all wrongs are committed by people who know the act is wrong. For this reason an education/training based approach is suspect”

    I wonder where you got that from, in my experience that is generally not the case.

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-12/uoc–tb122214.php

    From the link:

    “When someone does something to hurt themselves or other people, or to kill somebody, they usually do so because they think they have to … They think they should do it, that it’s the right thing to do, that they ought to do it and that it’s morally necessary … We’re talking about what motivates them to do it in the first place … when we say that violence is morally motivated, we mean that it is so in the mind of the perpetrator. We don’t mean that we think that violence is good”

    I think that can help us understand and it ties in well with Biglan’s point of breaking cycles of violence and with the video Joe posted of the mother hitting her son – as far as I can see the mother (I assume) is on automatic and is really unsure if her behavior will help her son move more in the direction she is hoping for (as a rule and in general it doesn’t and won’t).

    Philosopher Eric,

    “how indeed might this message be promoted more aggressively than it already is?”

    I think you hit on part of the problem. What the Biglan seems to be suggesting isn’t that obvious or simple to carry out. For example (though it’s a fairly tame situation as far difficulty goes) :

    “The nurse teaches her to hold the infant and rock him, talking soothingly. The nurse makes it clear that the mother’s frustration and distress are natural and understandable (which is an example of the nurse stepping over the distressed behavior of the mother). The nurse commiserates with the mother while also modeling more patient — and more effective — ways of soothing the child”

    If the nurse started out with an aggressive or ‘blame the other to help them change’ attitude, she’d probably get nowhere. Even if she started out with just a slight tone of frustration that she wasn’t even aware of, the situation could still easily escalate from there with frustration and negative emotions rising on both sides and ending up with each one blaming the other for the situation.

    ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ can be seen as a testament to how hard changing our behavior can be. But it’s not necessarily hard, or always hard, and I don’t think any conflict is really intractable.

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  46. Marc,
    You questioned my claim that people know when they commit wrongs and said this in rebuttal:
    They think they should do it, that it’s the right thing to do, that they ought to do it and that it’s morally necessary

    The explanation is in the third paragraph of my comment you refer to. Let me expand on that.

    Every moral decision involves two elements: 1) a moral principle and 2) a present need. Needs and principles are often competing forces. Bad moral decisions happen when need trumps principle. That need can be expressed as desire, lust, anger, a thirst for revenge, patriotism, nationalism, racism, a fear of consequences, self interest, hedonism, other pressing circumstances, etc. Once they decide to give priority to need, a process of rationalisation sets in and they construct reasons why they should have acceded to need. The end result of that rationalisation is “that they ought to do it and that it’s morally necessary“. Needs become rationalised and they are given moral clothing. The only wrongdoers who do not do this are psychopaths.

    Need has compelling power while rationality is only a weak form of restraint. The essential element of the moral development of people is to attach strong moral emotions of rightness, wrongness, goodness or badness to moral principles. The moral emotions reinforce the rational, ethical decision making process so that it has enough force to overcome need.

    Principled behaviour happens when Moral Emotions + Moral Knowledge >> Competing Need

    This is complicated by our circles of empathy. We are each situated at the centre of our own circle of empathy. Increasing distance of objects from the centre of our circle of empathy greatly attenuates our moral emotions. It is attenuated by physical distance, familial distance, racial distance, patriotism, anger, fear, technology, etc.

    The consequence of this is that we are far more ready to commit wrongs when the object lies far from the centre of our circle of empathy(CE) because our moral emotions are strongly attenuated.

    Taking this into account, our moral equation becomes,
    Principled behaviour happens when:
    Moral Emotions – Moral Attenuation(CE) + Moral Knowledge >> Competing Need

    Moral development is not just a question of ethical knowledge.
    1. Firstly, that knowledge must be given compelling power by attaching the moral emotions of goodness, badness, rightness or wrongness.
    2. Secondly, circles of empathy need to be progressively enlarged, ultimately to encompass our planet.
    3. Thirdly there needs to be regular moral priming to reinforce, reactivate or keep alive the moral emotions.
    4. Fourthly, there needs to be regular self examination where we conduct moral stocktaking.
    5. Fifthly, there must be a readiness to act on our moral beliefs.
    6. Sixthly, there must be a willingness to acknowledge and right the wrongs we have committed.

    Yes, it is a tall order. That is why there are so few saints and so many genocides.

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  47. Philosopher Eric,

    “The standard presumption here is that ethical dynamics of reality lie outside the scope of science.”

    Is ethics a dynamic of reality? What does that mean? Anyway, I would agree that it is a common presumption that ethical judgments are outside the scope of empirical science, as one cannot answer ethical questions with statistics or microscopes. However, if ‘science’ is taken in a very broad sense, we already have a science of ethics, which is the discipline within philosophy known as “ethics.” This is where ethical reality is most thoroughly studied on a conceptual level and the significance of empirical science to ethics is most critically and carefully considered.

    “Hopefully the citizens of Scientia Salon will not mind hearing my radical ideas too much”

    Actually, you sound exactly like Sam Harris to me. How do your ideas differ from his?

    Anyway, given this similarity, I’ll give a brief version of my critique of his program. While empirical science serves ethical understanding in the broad sense of growing our empirical understanding of reality, and thereby improving the content of our ethical understanding, empirical science by itself is impotent with respect to ethical questions without a substantial interpretive philosophical framework. One cannot go from scientific facts to how we ought to live or act without substantial philosophical interpretation and considerations of value. It’s because such a philosophical framework is necessarily at the center of ethical thinking that ethics is considered a philosophical discipline.

    So anyone who pretends to apply empirical science directly to ethical questions has at least an unwitting philosophical framework, one that any competent ethicist could disclose. A reason that it’s good to conceive ethics as a philosophical subject is that it’s good to keep ourselves aware and critical of the philosophical viewpoints that necessarily attend any ethical thinking.

    Ethics is primarily a conceptual reality, like logic, not an empirical reality. For this reason, philosophy rather than empirical science is the proper mode for dealing directly with this reality

    While empirical reality is relevant to ethics, the notion of studying ethics as if it were an empirical reality is perhaps one of the most spectacular confusions so far in the 21st century.

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  48. Hi Marclaves,

    >What Biglan seems to be suggesting isn’t that obvious or simple to carry out.

    Yes I do agree, but especially right now when accepted understandings regarding our nature seem so scarce. I don’t believe that his ideas are exactly wrong, but rather that his perspective isn’t large enough to understand what’s really going on regarding that nurse scenario, the depressed woman, Gandhi’s success, and so on. Why do we observe the “Do as I say, not as I do” phenomenon that you’ve mentioned? Because we are fundamentally selfish I think, and therefore the “Do as I say…” part exists as a social tool for us to manipulate others. Of course the condition here is that we must display personal unselfishness to thus get such services from others, so in practice this is exactly what we observe. (As mentioned, I believe that this is more prominently displayed in our cultures that religion.) But without formally accepting that personal good is all that’s ultimately valuable to us, our mental and behavioral sciences should remain quite primitive.

    Hi Paul,

    >Is ethics a dynamic of reality?

    Thanks for the question. Ethics is only a dynamic of reality if it’s defined as such, but please do attempt see my position rather than worry too much about the true meanings for such terms. As I see it we are simply biological entities, and so the only thing left is to figure out how we work. Scientists have been hesitant to explore philosophical aspects of our function however, and the most prominent omission here seems to be the nature of “good/bad” for us. Thus I see psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and so on, as fields which are not yet founded upon our most essential motivation. We need not refer to such exploration as “philosophy,” or “ethics,” however, and certainly not if the philosophy community objects. Nevertheless, in this manner scientists should ultimately attain accepted answers for their own versions of the questions which have always confounded philosophers.

    Consider what would essentially need to be added to one of our computers, to cause existence to be punishing or rewarding for it? I believe the answer to be “qualia,” “phenomenal experience,” “sensations,” though I ultimately refer to this as “self.” From this premise, or from another one, our mental and behavioral sciences should be able to teach us how to lead our lives and structure our societies “properly.” (Note that by “properly” I do not mean “morally” or “ethically” as the terms are commonly used. Instead I’m referring to the maximization of value for any given subject.)

    I’ve only just now taken a quick look at Sam Harris, but nothing much stood out. Apparently each of us are atheists, from southern California, and nominally a year apart. If he has a position which is similar to what I’ve mentioned above however, I’d expect Wikipedia to display this more prominently.

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  49. Labnut,

    Sorry for the broken link in my last comment:

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-12/uoc–tb122214.php

    “We’re not talking just about the way perpetrators excuse or justify their behavior afterwards … we’re talking about what motivates them to do it in the first place.”

    Philosopher Eric,

    After posting my last comment I realized that half of what I had directed at you was actually about what some other commenters had said, sorry if there was confusion.

    “Because we are fundamentally selfish I think”

    I don’t see how that description can fit with a social species. I wouldn’t say we are un-selfish, but the cooperation observed in human behavior at the biological, individual, familial, communal, institutional or infrastructural levels is massive. And like a brain needs other brains to do its job (and assumes their existence), our biology assumes cooperative relations between humans, and so too, ‘fundamentally’, does our cultural.

    “Why do we observe the “Do as I say, not as I do” phenomenon that you’ve mentioned?”

    Good question, but maybe too big for us to explore here without going way off-topic, but I think I touch on some reasons below.

    All,

    I think that what Biglan is talking about can be very hard to do. Teaching by example is not easy when disruptive emotions intrude. But having our emotions more in tune with our ‘lessons’ and less in tune with our negative rationalizations about the other’s motivations or what we think the other should be doing can be very productive.

    When we experience ‘disruptive’ emotions it’s often more about our rational (and emotional) preconceptions about who we are interacting with, rather than the difficulty of the task. For example, a community worker can be great with ‘difficult’ clients of all ages, but the same worker can ‘lose it’ when interacting on a with a family member on a relatively simple issue.

    “ways to aid people in controlling threatening or antisocial behavior without acting in ways that simply provoke further aggression … reduce the number of people who arrive at adulthood with coercive repertoires … spreading warm, supportive, caring interpersonal relations requires that people have skills for dealing with others’ aversive behavior without further escalating it”

    As others here have mentioned the ideas advanced by Biglan are not new, but I think the laying out of what works and what doesn’t, and the educational materials that follow, do help promote well-being and reduce conflict.

    Along the similar lines …

    “Mindfulness has been defined as the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. Such a purposeful control of attention can be learned through training in techniques such as meditation. The “observe and accept” approach, characteristic of meditation, refers to being fully present and attentive to current experience but not being preoccupied by it. Thus, meditation can become a mental position for being able to separate a given experience from an associated emotion, and can facilitate a skillful or mindful response to a given situation. Meditation is often contrasted with everyday, habitual mental functioning or being on “auto-pilot” (Zgierska et al. 2010)

    I think a lot of our problems with the doing or learning to support others effectively, especially in situations where we find it ‘difficult’ to help, can start to be addressed by putting into question both our rational and emotional responses and our judgements, and overall, I think it’s not about having less emotions, but about making room for more productive ones.

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