Empathy is important in forming and sustaining social relationships. Yet, as Paul Bloom explains, for all the concern about “empathy gaps”, empathy does not help us solve all of our more dilemmas.
The NRA’s Wayne LePierrer made numerous empirically questionable statements. One of them is that media (television, music, film, and video game) violence is in part to blame for mass shootings.
I briefly want to address the empirical evidence for the role of media violence on violent behavior because on the right and left alike, and among gun control opponents and advocates, there seems to be a taken for granted notion that media violence and violent behavior are linked.
As of 2012, the research on violent media and violent behavior has not shown a consistent effect of violent media on violent behavior (Ferguson, Rueda, Cruz, Ferguson, Fritz, and Smith 2009; Valdez and Ferguson 2012; Trend 2007). When effects have been shown, they are typically in the 1-4% range of explaining variance in violent behavior (e.g. Anderson and Bushman 2001) and meta-analysis generally bring the positive and negative effects down to statistically insignificant levels or simply 0%.
Interacting factors such as exposure to family violence, street violence, and violence in schools (i.e. living in a world of danger and everyday violence) on the one hand and dispositional factors such as being male, genetic predisposition, less lead in the water (Nevin 2000), and even diet (e.g. Sanchez-Jankowski 1991) better predicts and explains violence than media (Paulle 2005; Ferguson 2007; Ferguson et al 2009; Pinker 2002).
There may be a role for media effects in how those that are likely to engage in violent behavior “stylize” their violence. For example, in gang violence, media may not cause gun violence but it may be relevant to the peculiar fascination that some gang members have had with shooting their guns sideways (not only a stylistic effect but one that greatly decreases their accuracy).
The other significant problem is that youth violence has declined steadily (van Dijk, van Kersteren, and Smith 2007) even as there has been a proliferation of violent media.
There is a great deal of police humor available on the web. The following email has been circulating and gathering attention in part because it deals with the tension between citizens feeling like they have been singled out for enforcement actions or are being harassed. I believe that most citizens, most of the time understand that if they are breaking a law that there is a certain probability that they will be contacted for an enforcement action. However, rational this background expectation maybe, I suspect that just like with health issues, when a citizen is contacted by the police they move from this probabilistic sentiment to one more of, “why me?” just as a patient diagnosed with a disease asks the metaphysical question to the doctor, “why me.” The police, on the other hand, instinctively answer, “I am just doing my job” and seem confused that this answer is rarely satisfactory to a citizen, however true it is that they are doing exactly what they are paid and mandated to do. The fine email bellow weaves deftly across these two frames of reference:
Recently, the Chula Vista, California Police Department ran an e-mail forum (a question and answer exchange) with the topic being, “Community Policing.”
One of the civilian email participants posed the following question, “I would like to know how it is possible for police officers to continually harass people and get away with it?”
From the “other side” (the law enforcement side) Sgt. Bennett, obviously a cop with a sense of humor replied:
“First of all, let me tell you this…it’s not easy. In Chula Vista, we average one cop for every 600 people. Only about 60% of those cops are on general duty (or what you might refer to as “patrol”) where we do most of our harassing.
The rest are in non-harassing departments that do not allow them contact with the day to day innocents. And at any given moment, only one-fifth of the 60% patrollers are on duty and available for harassing people while the rest are off duty. So roughly, one cop is responsible for harassing about 5,000 residents.
When you toss in the commercial business, and tourist locations that attract people from other areas, sometimes you have a situation where a single cop is responsible for harassing 10,000 or more people a day.
Now, your average ten-hour shift runs 36,000 seconds long. This gives a cop one second to harass a person, and then only three-fourths of a second to eat a donut AND then find a new person to harass. This is not an easy task. To be honest, most cops are not up to this challenge day in and day out. It is just too tiring. What we do is utilize some tools to help us narrow down those people which we can realistically harass.
The tools available to us are as follows:
PHONE: People will call us up and point out things that cause us to focus on a person for special harassment. “My neighbor is beating his wife” is a code phrase used often.
This means we’ll come out and give somebody some special harassment.
Another popular one: “There’s a guy breaking into a house.” The harassment team is then put into action.
CARS: We have special cops assigned to harass people who drive. They like to harass the drivers of fast cars, cars with no insurance or no driver’s licenses and the like. Its lots of fun when you pick them out of traffic for nothing more obvious than running a red light. Sometimes you get to really heap the harassment on when you find they have drugs in the car, they are drunk, or have an outstanding warrant on file.
RUNNERS: Some people take off running just at the sight of a police officer. Nothing is quite as satisfying as running after them like a beagle on the scent of a bunny. When you catch them you can harass them for hours.
STATUTES: When we don’t have PHONES or CARS and have nothing better to do, there are actually books that give us ideas for reasons to harass folks. They are called “Statutes”; Criminal Codes, Motor Vehicle Codes, etc… They all spell out all sorts of things for which you can really mess with people.
After you read the statute, you can just drive around for awhile until you find someone violating one of these listed offenses and harass them. Just last week I saw a guy trying to steal a car. Well, there’s this book we have that says that’s not allowed. That meant I got permission to harass this guy.
It is a really cool system that we have set up, and it works pretty well.
We seem to have a never-ending supply of folks to harass. And we get away with it. Why? Because for the good citizens who pay the tab, we try to keep the streets safe for them, and they pay us to “harass” some people.
Next time you are in my town, give me the old “single finger wave.” That’s another one of those codes. It means, “You can’t harass me.”
Sociologist, Nancy Berns, has written sociological analysis of the concept of “closure.” She was interviewed in the Boston Globe regarding her work (“The myth of closure – The Boston Globe.) where she discusses how “closure” as a form of accounting for grief or catastrophe can come to impact people’s lives in ways that are not always positive.
Berns argues that grief is a concept, used in talk, so that people can tell stories and make narrative sense of grief. But the current use of closure, she argues, has little to do with the way Gestalt psychologists originally used the term. Berns writes “Although there are numerous definitions and interpretations of closure that i will attempt to untangle in this book, closure usually relates to some type of ending. Closure typically implies that something is finished, ended, closed. Finally you can move on.” This is not what Max Wertheimer, an early Gestalt psychologist in the 1920s meant. For early Gestaltists, studying perception, “closure” referred to how discrete elements are as wholes. For example, the term was used to discuss how “gaps” in perception and sensory stimuli were “filled in” by the brain (e.g. the optic nerve creates a blind spot in the eyes field of vision. Yet the brain works so that we still experience the visual field as intact and continuous).
Sociologically and psychologically speaking, the kinds of things that “closure” is supposed to remedy or as an end state to be achieved by grievers, has little reality. Grief or trauma has no clear ends, nor is, for example, grief a bad thing or something that can’t be integrated, in a healthy way, into one’s life. In part that is why, she explains, that those who study bereavement don’t use the concept in the way that popular culture has appropriated it —as the correct response to grief and trauma that people should strive for. In other words, “closure” has become a “need” to be met, often by a variety of emotional peddlers selling the wares of grief counseling, self help, funeral home services, psychics, private investigators, and attorneys. It is also a powerful rhetorical political tool, according to Burns, that politicians use to organize and mobilize voters, e.g. in the war on terror.
This notion of closure, and its concomitant emotional services industry, become predominant in the 1990s in conjunction with the victims rights movement, court decisions, and a rise in the dominance of therapeutic goals and discourses as part of popular culture.
The danger of how “closure” is most frequently used is that it sets normative standards on how people “ought” to feel. As a “feeling rule,” to quote Arlie Hochschild, it tells people what kinds of emotions are important, sets normative expectations on how long sadness or grief should be experienced, and how to regulate the expression of public grief, traumas, etc. in public settings. In this sense, “closure” is one more way to rationalize and sanitize what are often quite reasonable emotions are re-packaged as “tidy, feel-good endings.”
While this article is certainly not how I would define the importance of sociologists to the future job markets, it least it is something on the topic in Forbes. Certainly, sociologists bring more to the table than social network analysis or the study of facial expressions (which is more the domain of psychology). But the article does address the issue of career trajectories.
“Dwelling on Dwell Time
By FIRST LT. MARK LARSON
FORT DRUM, N.Y. — “It must feel great to be back in the States, right?” I get this question all the time from friends who haven’t seen me since I got back from Afghanistan last December.
It seems like a simple enough question. Yes, it’s great to be around all the things that you are deprived of in Afghanistan: women, alcohol, not having everything you own covered in dust and sand. But the truth is that after six months of recuperation and rest, I’m ready to go back. Needless to say, my friends have quite the look of incredulity on their faces when I say that.