Re: [xmca] Pre-Textual (Mis)Understandings

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jul 15 2008 - 13:14:53 PDT

Andy (B):
Thanks for those comments. At first I wasn't quite sure what you meant about killing by video screen and then I thought about the Norden bomb sight, invented in World War II, and how it really made possible the form of warfare we now have in Iraq, where it is overwhelmingly civilians who die rather than the skilled and valuable human resources that armies have trained up to slaughter them.
About a month ago I took my little nephew Luc to visit the city of Hiroshima. My father claims that Robert Oppenheimer betrayed the bomb scientists (one of whom was his Ph.D. supervisor, Phil Morrison, the man who actually loaded the bomb for Hiroshima on Tinian Island). The bomb scientists had strongly urged that the bomb be "tested" on an uninhabited area of Japan.
The letter that they wrote is there in the museum, actually, along with the response from the military, putting Hiroshima on the black list and directing that no fire-bombing raids be conducted there so that the results could be tested.
The bomb was "tested" in another way too. Instead of dropping it over the Mitsubishi shipyards, or the weapons factory, the main bridge in the centre of the city was targeted using the trusty Norden bomb sight.
Because Hiroshima had not yet experienced American orchestrated firestorms (as had, for example, Tokyo), the government was taking moves to build one hundred yard wide fire lanes across the city in the even of fire-bombing. So that day the city's elementary school children and middle school children had been mobilized to pull down houses in the centre of the city.
In the museum, there are some scraps of uniforms, a lunch box with carbonized beans and rice still inside, and a bit of roof tile, melted, with some very small human bones mixed in.
There is a very ugly monument to them in the Peace Park. And that's it.
Luc is a middle school student too. He's going through something of a moral dilemma: he is strongly anti-war, but the video games he most enjoys are very strongly pro-war, and he is smart enough to know it.
He rationalizes it in an interesting way; the fight games he likes are games of "skill" (e.g. WoW based on sword fighting) while real war involves mere technological prowess, and always favor the more "advanced".
But the key similarity is the one you point to, Andy: it's the lack of any visible suffering, the lack of any way to internalize the result of your action, the total vaporization of the consequences as soon as you turn off the machine. It is regret-free killing.
There's an article by Michael Cohen (and much more difficult one by Marchiori and Warglien) on "regret-based learning" in the 22 February 2008 issue of Science. It's an economics article, but the basic argument is that models that are based on REGRET of past actions are better predictors of economic decisions than proleptic ones based on expectation of gain.
It's a little hard for me to understand how one is able to separate regret from expectation of gain in an economic model. The illustration is also rather unfortuanate, as it shows "Rock, Paper, Scissors", which is a good example of a game where regret-based learning is useless.
But it's easy to understand how regret-based learning is a very important part of ethical development. Maybe it is the regret-free aspect of WoW play that seems developmentally questionable. Chinese operas, on the other hand, always seem to have plots that hinge on regret; it takes a Chinese opera singer at least two hours to perform a murder or a suicide, and another two to regret having done so afterwards (Ghosts sing their hearts out in Chinese opera).
I think that ethical decisions do emerge from emotions like regret. But I guess that technology has developed ways for soldiers to circumvent regret just as it has made it possible for them to circumvent conception and venereal disease. The consequences of this regret-baffling technology, though far more serious, are also apparently far easier to ignore.
While Luc and I were looking at a statue of an elementary school teacher caught in the blast, sheltering the charred corpse of one of her students, I  was trying to remember the poem that David Preiss sometimes circulates in August to commemorate the great physics experiment that my father's professors performed on the school children below. Today I finally found it:
I came and stand at every door
but none can hear my silent tread
I knock, but remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead.
I'm only seven, though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I'm seven now as I was then
When children die they don't grow old.
I need no fruit, I need no rice
I need no food, not even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead, for I am dead.
All that I ask from you is peace.
You fight today. You fight today
So that the children of the world
May live and grow and laugh and play.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Tue Jul 15 13:16 PDT 2008

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