Natural Born Killers?

“Confessions of a Drone Warrior,” is one of hundreds of articles on the military’s use of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV), which began in the early 2000s. In many ways this new form of combat embodies the psychological distancing that typifies killing in the twenty-first century. The story about Airman First Class Brandon Bryant recounts his first day in a Nevada bunker, when the 22-year fired on two presumed Afghani insurgents on the other side of the world. An early recruit in this new kind of warfare, Bryant “hunted top terrorists, but always from afar” –– killing enemies in countless numbers, but not always sure what he was hitting. “Meet the 21stcentury American killing machine,” the story concluded.[i]

Of course, notions of aversion to fighting don’t sit well with either military doctrine or public belief. Behind America’s infatuation with high-tech weapons lie long-cultivated attitudes toward violence itself. In a class I teach on this, students often will express common sense views that fighting is “natural,” deriving from humanity’s animalistic origins, and often the only way of resolving conflicts. One sees this kind of thinking evident in permissive attitudes toward everything from boyish rough-housing to violent sports. The gendered aspects of violence receive less attention than they should, and will be addressed at length in Chapter 9. Suffice to say that aggression often is expected of men and boys, while also reflected in popular culture. Along with political partisanship, these attitudes help explain the deep divisions within the U.S. electorate over gun control and so-called “stand your ground” laws. Since even scholars often disagree over the issue of human violence, it helps to break the question into subcategories –– and to also point out how knowledge has changed over time in the fields of biology, psychology, and cultural analyses of violent behavior.

Continue reading “Natural Born Killers?”

How income inequality kills

Only a few miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Upton Druid Heights. But residents of the two areas can measure the distance between them in years—twenty years, to be exact. Today’s edition of The Nation explains:

“That’s the difference in life expectancy between Roland Park, where people live to be 83 on average, and Upton Druid Heights, where they can expect to die at 63.

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“Underlying these gaps in life expectancy are vast economic disparities. Roland Park is an affluent neighborhood with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, and a median household income above $90,000. More than 17 percent of people in Upton Druid Heights are unemployed, and the median household income is just $13,388.

“It’s no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America’s richest and poorest is the widest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America’s counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and Americans without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.

“On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders convened a hearing before the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee to examine the connections between material and physiological well-being, and the policy implications. With Congress fixed on historic reforms to the healthcare delivery system, the doctors and public health professionals who testified this morning made it clear that policies outside of the healthcare domain are equally vital for keeping people healthy—namely, those that target poverty and inequality. Continue reading “How income inequality kills”

What made the news

It’s no big secret that what people think has a lot to do with what they watch and read. While ideologies and other belief systems also underlie public opinion, there is no denying the role of “news” in shaping contemporary worldviews – sometimes in direct opposition to empirical data.

For example, while many parents now fear sending junior off to school each morning, the odds of a child being shot in Sandy Hook fashion stand at less than one in a million, as it has for decades. If anything, schools recently have been getting safer.

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After reaching a high of 63 deaths in the 2006-2007 school year, the number of people killed in “school-associated” incidents dropped to 33 in 2009-2010 – the lowest in two decades, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Continue reading “What made the news”