Sunday, July 19, 2015
How your prejudices can dictate your actions in a crisis
The story below gets a lot of things right but the mumbo-jumbo about neurology is a red herring that just distracts from the central point, helping the article to end up as a classic bit of Leftist obfuscation and evasion of the real problem.
But one thing they do get right is that stereotypes are flexible and can be changed. See the last paragraph below. I concluded the same from my survey of the research evidence about stereotypes. See here and here.
But they fail to follow through on the logic of that. If stereotypes are inherently flexible, why are some stereotypes persistent? Why do people persist in expecting blacks to be aggressive, dangerous and criminal? As Jesse Jackson once showed, even blacks expect that of other blacks.
It wouldn't be that the stereotypes are accurate, would it? It wouldn't be that many blacks, particulaly young males, REALLY ARE aggressive, dangerous and criminal, would it?
Black adult males are often aggressive and unco-operative towards police so is it surprising that a cop might be alert for aggression from a black adult male? And if the black is walking towards the cop holding a gun, what is the cop supposed to do? He's not a martyr. His first duty is to stay alive and his experience suggests that he might have only seconds to ensure that.
It is regrettable that blacks generate such stereotypes in others but it is their own doing. If by some miracle blacks became as law-abiding as (say) the Chinese, the stereotype would change.
UPON arriving at the park in Cleveland, Ohio, where Tamir Rice was playing, it took less than 2 seconds for police officer Timothy Loehmann to emerge from his car and shoot the boy, fatally, in the abdomen.
How was it possible for a policeman responding to a call about a person who was “black, male and armed” to decide so quickly that someone should be killed? Events unfolded too quickly for careful thought, so Loehmann’s actions were probably driven by automatic, perhaps even unconscious, processes.
To begin to understand actions at this timescale, it helps to consider how they could play out in the brain. This is where psychologists who study the neural and cognitive processes underlying prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination come in. By looking at the inner workings of the brain, we can examine the (often unconscious) prejudices that nearly all of us have. And we can begin to trace the split-second processes at work when a police officer sees a suspect and then initiates an action – to shoot or not shoot.
Stereotypes can profoundly shape how we see and act toward racial minorities, and studies of the neural mechanisms involved shed light on just how this happens (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 15, p 670). We know from decades of social psychology research that, for white Americans, “black”, “male” and “armed” are attributes that activate a network of information forming a stereotype and stored in the mind. Neuroscience is helping us to understand how this happens, and how a stereotype can influence our perceptions and actions.
Concepts about people and groups are stored in the brain’s temporal lobes. Through these networks, the term “black male” calls up concepts of hostility, threat and crime in the minds of many Americans. This stereotype information then feeds into the medial frontal cortex toward the front of the brain, where it is integrated into a first impression of the person. This all happens in a moment. In the case of police officers responding to a call, that moment is when they first hear a description from their dispatcher.
The medial frontal cortex is also involved when we take another person’s perspective in order to understand their thoughts and motives. However, research reveals a reduction in this region’s pattern of activity when we think about people from lower status groups. Given that African Americans are viewed this way, this suggests they are seen more as objects than as people. These factors – stereotyping and dehumanisation – conspire to produce the impression that someone is dangerous and that their life is not particularly worthy.
As emotions run high, brain structures that respond rapidly to threats, such as the amygdala, activate and prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response. The amygdala plays a critical role when snap judgements are made in response to threat. My research has shown that people’s prejudices are amplified when they feel threatened, and this is thought to be due to heightened amygdala activity. Importantly, the impact of racial bias on the amygdala appears to reflect associations learned from the surrounding culture rather than our personal beliefs. This means that the amygdala response to black people is not specific to bigots; it occurs for most Americans, even if they reject racial prejudice.
Let’s consider the Rice case. Police were dispatched to the park after a 911 caller reported a “guy with a pistol… he’s pointing it at everybody”. The caller also noted, “it’s probably fake” and “he’s probably a juvenile” – details reportedly not conveyed to the officers. And, of course, Rice was black. This was one of the details the dispatcher who took the 911 call sought to establish, insistently. Skin colour is an important identifier, of course, but “black” also suggests a profile. To the dispatcher, race seemed to be critical for constructing the scene: black, male, gun.
Rice was indeed playing with a fake gun – a replica semi-automatic – and he was, indeed, a juvenile. But although Rice was just 12, he was already 5 foot 7 inches (1.7 metres) tall and weighed 195 pounds (89 kilograms). When police approached, they probably saw what they were expecting – an armed adult male in an active shooter situation. Rice was sitting alone at a picnic table. As the car pulled up, he rose and began to walk towards it.
All of our research suggests that at such a moment, the police officer’s brain is primed to see a black criminal with a gun, prepared to shoot, even though it would be difficult to accurately make out the weapon in this time frame. We know from eye-tracking studies that shooting decisions – particularly when the suspect is black – are often made before the eye can fully process the object in the suspect’s hand. In these ways, stereotypes and expectations influence what the perceiver thinks they see.
Rice reportedly reached toward his waistband where the replica gun was tucked. Without hesitation, the officer fired two rounds.
Was the killing of Tamir Rice, like the deaths of many other black men at the hands of police, driven by racial prejudice? Overwhelming evidence from experimental psychology points to “yes”. But whose prejudice? Was it the officer who made the snap decision to shoot Rice? The dispatcher, who seemingly primed the officer to care more about Rice’s race, rather than his age or the notion that the gun was fake? A society that stereotypes young black men as criminals? Or a social system that perpetuates inequality along racial lines?
The answer is probably “all of the above”, but with an emphasis on culture and social systems. Unfortunately, these are the most difficult to change. So while systemic change may be the ultimate goal, interventions to reduce prejudice at the personal level may be most effective in the short term.
How could this tragedy have turned out differently? From studies, we know that it is difficult to control a non-conscious bias “in the moment”. The most promising approach, I believe, is through proactive control, which involves anticipating a potential problem and having a planned response. In the lab, we have found that such interventions can eliminate racial bias in shooting decisions, and we are beginning to investigate whether people can, with training, see greater humanity in those of other ethnic backgrounds.
You might think none of this applies to you, but you would be wrong. Virtually everyone has unconscious racial biases, in part because the mind has a natural tendency to categorise people and also because our culture exposes us to common caricatures about race.
Our research shows that even avowed egalitarians show bias in their behaviour when they have to make a snap judgement. These biases are also not limited to race but exist for almost any attribute, be it gender, nationality, sexual orientation or hair colour, and they constantly shape our judgements. Bias comes from our culture, it seeps into our brains, and unless we control it, it is expressed in our actions.
Are these biases hardwired? Far from it; with every new thing you learn, your brain changes. This means that our prejudices can change. A neuroscience approach is letting us begin to tease apart the different components behind a split-second prejudiced response, first to understand it, and then, perhaps, to find ways to change it.
Zero Tolerance for Confederate Flag, Nuance for Islamic Terror
By Jonah Goldberg in Vermont
“Nice flag!” the woman shouted sarcastically, adding: “F— you!”
The woman was seated on the patio of a restaurant overlooking Main Street in this famously liberal capital of this famously liberal state when a truck sporting the Confederate emblem passed by.
I could understand the sentiment (particularly given the fact that her lunch partner was an African-American man). When the woman saw my daughter and her friend, she apologized for her profanity.
And while I could have done without the f-bomb around two 12-year-old girls, my real objection was something different. The young woman’s outburst was exactly the reaction the buffoon in the truck was hoping for. After all, Vermont is the heart of union territory (and the first state to ban slavery in 1777). Even without the recent controversies, there’s no reason to fly a Confederate flag in downtown Montpelier except to offend.
But is that really the intent when the descendant of a Confederate soldier puts a flag on his ancestor’s tombstone once a year? According to many on the left, it is. “If we don’t eradicate the Confederate flag,” writes “social theorist” Frank Smecker, “we can only expect more of such racist, depraved acts (like Dylann Roof’s) in our future.”
I’m no big fan of the Confederate flag, but do serious people believe that if Roof didn’t have access to the banner, he would have pursued a life of peace?
It’s this lack of nuance and distinction I find so troubling — and hypocritical.
Claude Berube, director of the Naval Academy Museum, recently compared the rush to dig up Confederate graves and tear down statues in the U.S. to Islamic iconoclasm. The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas on the grounds that they violate Islamic law. The terrorist group Islamic State is ransacking historic monuments for both God and mammon.
The comparison has its obvious limits, but it does highlight a remarkable double standard. Islamic terror has been on the rise for decades, yet over that time the left’s calls for nuance, tolerance and understanding have only grown louder. Virtually no one condones or makes apologies for the Islamic State’s barbarity (one can’t say the same about Hamas or Hezbollah), but there has been a Herculean effort to put Islamic extremism in “context.”
President Obama insists that the Islamic State isn’t even Islamic and that the West should not get on its “high horse” about today’s Muslim atrocities given that Christians committed atrocities eight centuries ago. When Islamist radicals were thwarted in their effort to behead Pamela Geller for organizing a “draw Mohammed” contest, many in the news media were quick to argue that she was asking for it. When an obscure pastor wanted to burn the Quran, the U.S. government went into a panicked tailspin, begging him not to offend or radicalize peaceful Muslims. When jihadists attacked a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s greatest rhetorical fury was aimed at an obscure filmmaker who made an offensive video about Islam.
Shortly after the shooting in Charleston, S.C., the New America think tank chummed the waters with a tendentious study insinuating that Roof and his ilk represented the real terror threat. “Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11,” proclaimed a New York Times headline. Forty-eight Americans, including the nine killed in Charleston, have been killed by non-Islamist “terrorists,” compared with a mere 26 by avowed jihadists.
The study is a methodological mess, starting with the fact that it starts the clock immediately after 9/11, ignoring the 3,000 killed on that day. It counts dubious attacks as right-wing terror and ignores the fact that the U.S. has foiled and deterred numerous Islamist terror plots in the past decade. If you catch a bunch of rattlesnakes in your backyard before they bite and kill someone in your family, is that proof there is no threat from snakes?
It would be an improvement if the left could stick to either of its double standards. Personally, I think fellow Americans — even ones who wear Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts — deserve some of the nuance and understanding so many reserve for Islam extremism. But if you’re going to take your zero tolerance for symbols of 19th century slavery so seriously, maybe you should show the same myopic zealotry with regard to the forces who are enslaving people right now.
Life without parole is no substitute for the death penalty
AN ARGUMENT regularly advanced by opponents of the death penalty is that incapacitation doesn't require execution. Life imprisonment without parole is sufficient, they say: Put the most dangerous murderers behind bars and keep them there forever.
But "lock 'em up and throw away the key" is a delusion. Life without parole is no replacement for the death penalty when it comes to protecting innocent lives.
Understandably, many find it reassuring to believe that there is a way to protect the public from the worst killers without requiring the state to kill. National surveys find a preference for locking up murderers for life. In the most recent, a Quinnipiac University poll released in June, 48 percent of respondents said a person convicted of murder should be sentenced to life without parole; only 43 percent preferred death. But the last few weeks have provided vivid reminders that life sentences and high-security cells are no guarantee that deadly criminals have been removed from society for good.
When Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., on June 6, they triggered one of the most intense domestic manhunts in years. "Little Siberia," as Dannemora is nicknamed, is the largest maximum-security prison in New York — just the sort of impregnable vault intended to neutralize any possible future threat from remorseless sociopaths. Sweat had been sentenced to life without parole for the 2002 murder of Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Tarsia, whom he shot 22 times and ran over twice with his car. Matt got 25-to-life for torturing to death an elderly businessman, William Rickerson, then cutting up his body with a hacksaw.
By grace and good fortune, the fugitives were found before they could hurt or kill any new victims. But residents of northern New York had spent three nightmarish weeks on edge. They had reason to be unnerved: A startling number of murders are committed by criminals previously convicted of homicide. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 out of every 11 killers now on death row had already been found guilty of one or more killings before committing the murder for which they were sentenced to die. At least 30 of the 3,000 current death-row inmates were prison escapees when they committed capital murder. We can lock our most vicious killers behind bars, but some will find a way to get out — and some of them will kill again.
This week came word of an even more brazen jailbreak: Drug mobster Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, one of the world's most notorious criminals, broke out of Mexico's Altiplano, a "supermax" prison from which escape was considered impossible. Shockingly, this was the second time that Guzman, a narcotrafficker charged with numerous assassinations and acts of torture, had escaped a maximum-security prison. Perhaps he too will be captured or killed before he strikes again, but the last time he broke out he evaded arrest for 13 years.
Even behind the bars of an ultrasecure facility, convicted murderers can pose a lethal danger. Matt, Sweat, and Guzman had helpers on the inside and outside who facilitated their escape. Lifers may have followers prepared to carry out their orders and kill on their behalf. They may convince a governor or president to grant them clemency, or persuade some judge, someday, to order their release.
And, of course, they may kill behind bars. Massachusetts murderer Joseph Druce was already serving a life term in a maximum-security prison when he murdered fellow inmate John Geoghan, a former priest imprisoned for sexually molesting a child.
No living murderer is ever irrevocably incapacitated. Justice may not always require a killer's execution. But when it does, life without parole is an inadequate, and dangerous, substitute.
Big Brother Trumps Little Sisters
Little Sisters of the Poor, a missions-based Catholic organization strongly opposed to ObamaCare’s contraception requirement, suffered a legal setback on Tuesday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit refused to grant it an exemption.
The court ruled, “Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of Plaintiff’s beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights.”
What’s baffling is how badly the opinion clashes with the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling last year. In that case, the Court found that “HHS and the principal dissent [are] in effect tell[ing] the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”
You can blame the Obama administration’s craftiness for this week’s result. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Under alternative arrangements finalized by the Obama administration last week, employers who have [moral] objections must tell their insurance company or the federal government. The insurance company then takes over responsibility for providing the coverage to employees who want it.”
Here’s the problem, as explained by University of Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds: “The Tenth Circuit’s contortions to reach this result are remarkable. The court seems to have no recognition of the fact that the Obama Administration’s regulatory ‘accommodation’ is a sleight of hand, allowing the insurer/third party administrator to move the contraceptive coverage ‘off the books’ and ‘pay’ for it themselves.
But of course burdening the insurer/administrator in this fashion is merely a shell game, and the cost of contraceptive coverage is ultimately borne by the employer and individual beneficiaries. The coverage is not magically free, no matter how hard the Obama Administration tries to make it ‘look’ free via regulation.”
This case may end up in the Supreme Court — something it could have prevented had its ruling in Hobby Lobby not been so limited.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.