November 25th, 2006


You can't be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel

"...The hero is somebody who somehow has the inner qualities, inner resources, character, strength, or virtue—whatever you want to call it from Marty Seligman's Positive Psychology perspective—to resist those situational pressures. And we know nothing about those people. There has never been a psychology of heroism. For example, after the Holocaust it took 30 years before anyone asked the simple question of whether anybody helped the Jews. We were so obsessed with the evil of the Nazis that they didn't ask the question. When they asked, the answer was, Yes! In every country there were people who helped Jews. There were people who put their lives, and potentially the lives of their whole families, on the line to hide Jews in barns and attics when, if they were caught, they would be killed. Those are heroic deeds. When those people were interviewed years later, typically they said it was no big deal. They couldn't understand why other people didn't do it. It looked like they were a little more religious, but there is no research that studies the moment of decision when you are about to engage—to go along or to resist, to obey or to disobey. This is the kind of psychological research that would be exciting to do.

It can't ever been done again because all this research is now considered unethical, but in the case of Abu Ghraib we have a hero. A reserve specialist, a low-level guy, saw these pictures on a CD that his buddy gave him. He immediately recognized that this was immoral and wrong for Americans to ever do. At first he slipped the CD containing the images under the door of a superior officer. And then, interestingly, the next day he owned up to it. He said, "I was the one who put it there. I think this is wrong. You should take some action." I talked to some military people who say that it took enormous internal fortitude to do that, because as an army reservist in the military police in that setting, you are the lowest form of animal life in the military. It's only because he personally showed the pictures that they couldn't disown the fact that the abuse was happening, although they tried.

The paradox is that he's an incredible hero who is now in hiding. He's under protective custody. Soldiers in his own battalion say he disgraced them. Apparently there are death threats against him. But this whistle-blower's deed stopped the abuse. There's no question that it would have gone on. It's only because there is graphic visual evidence of how horrible these deeds are that the abuse stopped and led to more than a half dozen investigations. Again, here is somebody who fascinates me, because he is the rare person we would all like to imagine that we would be...."

If error seduce them

"The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."

Le Bon (1960: 110)


See also:

"Ripple is a monetary system that makes simple obligations between friends as useful for making payments as regular money.

Normally, if your friend Alice owed you $10, she would have to pay you back before you could make any use of that debt. If you were creative, however, you might be able to pass the debt on to someone else who knew and trusted Alice, in exchange for something you wanted. For example, you might be able to get a book you want from Bob, who also knows Alice, in exchange for letting Alice know that she now owes Bob $10. Instead of money, you used Alice's IOU to pay Bob. Alice acts as an intermediary between you and Bob.

Ripple does the same thing, only it takes the idea one step further. What happens if you want to get a haircut from Carol, who doesn't know Alice at all? Your $10 IOU from Alice isn't useful because Carol being owed money by Alice doesn't mean anything to Carol. But suppose you had a way to find out that Bob, who knows Alice, also knows Carol. You could talk to Bob and arrange for him to take Alice's IOU in exchange for giving his own IOU for $10 to Carol. Since Alice owes him exactly what he owes Carol, Bob is even on the deal. Both Alice and Bob act as intermediaries between you and Carol.

And that's how Ripple works. You create a profile on the system and indicate who you know and how much you trust them by connecting to people by email address and giving them credit limits. Then whenever you want to make a payment to another Ripple user using only friendly obligations, the system finds a chain of intermediaries connecting you to the person you want to pay, and records the payment in each intermediary's account all the way down the chain. You end up owing one of your "neighbours" on the system, and the payment recipient ends up being owed by one of her neighbours."