Have I Got Dissonance? Don’t Ask

March 10, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Want a good explanation or example of cognitive dissonance? Look no further than last night’s Colbert Report.

Stephen didn’t use the phrase “cognitive dissonance,” but he did explain why he opposed allowing gays in the military: he categorically supports the military and categorically condemns homosexuality.

As long as the two are kept separate, no problem. But if the two are allowed to overlap . . .

(Apologies for the fuzziness of the picture. It's a screen grab expanded to match the first picture.)

. . . he’ll either have to support some homosexuals or oppose some of the militray. Cognitive dissonance. Or as Colbert puts it, “Repealing don’t-ask-don’t-tell would threaten the miliatry, and more important, it would threaten my beliefs.”

The entire clip is here. The relevant part begins at about 1:40.

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There is no evidence that allowing gays to serve openly in the military has any negative effects. So Colbert’s rant makes it clear what this is all about. Opposition to repealing DADT isn’t about preserving “the mission”; it’s not about preserving morale or cohesion. It’s about preserving the beliefs.

(An earlier SocioBlog post on cognitive dissonance is here .)

No Harm, No Norm-Violation?

March 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

I should spend more time in the supermarket check-out line.

Lisa at Sociological Images has a nice post about a magazine cover I’d missed.

Lisa focuses on the social-control angle, or as she calls it “policing.” For most of us, the pressure to follow norms comes from friends, family, and others we interact with. For celebs, it comes from the media.

More interesting, at least to me, was the implication that violating a norm must be harmful, not just to the general society but to the norm violator. Life&Style phrases it as a question – “Is it harming the 3-year old?” Like other such questions (“Is Martha cheating on George?”) the actual answer, on the story inside, is less important than the implied answer contained question on the cover. The real answer, after all, is probably either “no” or “we don’t know.”

But with just the question, “Is it harmful?” of course it is. It’s our old friend, Lindesmith’s evil-causes-evil assumption: If something is wrong, it must have negative consequences. It’s wrong to give a girl a “boy’s haircut.” Nothing good will come of this, and probably something bad will.

But the other thing in the photo that struck me was how much Shiloh, especially in her girl haircut, looks like her grandfather.*

Maybe the real danger isn’t that she’ll grow up confused about gender roles, but that she’ll be a right-wing nutter.

*In the pictures above, Voight is a 30-year-old man; Shiloh is a 3-year-old girl. I chose it because it shows Voight in his best-known role. There must be other pictures of Voight where the resemblance is even clearer, but this is the best picture I could find for current purposes in a quick search.

Psycho Killers

March 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

When a sociology professor joked on her Facebook page about wanting to kill her students, her university put her, temporarily for now, on its no-teach list. A comment on my previous post agreed: even a joking reference to wanting to kill someone should be taken literally, and all such instances should be examined and investigated.

I wondered how big a job that might be, so I Googled a few phrases to see if there were perhaps one or two other potential killers out there. Here are the results.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

I also tried these using Bing, which returned huge numbers – more than 50 million for each of these.

Some of the hits were serious, taken from statements by real killers. And some of them were from novels or songs (though if jokes reflect a person’s inner reality, so do fiction and lyrics). But many of them were the kind of “killing” that most of us have heard in everyday discourse.

A Yankee fan said of manager Joe Girardi,
I gotta admit there was a time last year when we weren’t hitting I just wanted to kill him.
(How many umpires have actually been killed?)

Hockey elicits murder scenarios that are even more specific :
When the Sharks were playing Calgary in the ‘04 WCF, I wanted nothing more than to choke the life out of Nieminen because he was running around, kicking ass all over the place with that stupid perma-grin on his face (I once read that his nickname is “the joker”). I just wanted to kill him!
Also, to nobody’s surprise, the teacher-student homicidal urge runs both ways.
I agree with Mr. _____ being the worst! I had him for 2 years and I just wanted to kill him. I even shouted at him because he was making me retake an exam I didn't want too. [Posted on a Facebook page]
Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of potential killers are out there. And if Prof. Gadsden’s Facebook entries are cause for concern, someone should be checking up on these potential killers as well. They are lurking at sports, school, work (bosses, customers – be very afraid), even friends:
I took my friend to see [District 9] the other day . . he was bitching about it so much I just wanted to kill him >:| [Note to investigators: ignore the smiley face.]
But most of the death threats, as you probably guessed, were all in the family. Husbands, it seems, are especially at risk.
I made a BEAUTIFUL Chateau Briand and my husband put KETCHUP on it. I just wanted to kill him!
Ketchup on Chateaubriand?? Not guilty, your honor.

(What I find most interesting in these quotes is that the word “just” functions much the same as the smiley face to indicate that the words are not to be taken literally.)

Lagging Behind the Internet

March 3, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

“I’m gonna kill you,” the woman next door used to scream at her kids loud enough for anyone in the neighborhood to hear.

“Ah, but she never does,” sighed my mother.

This was a long time ago in an upper-middle class suburb. The neighbors who heard the yelling knew what she meant and what she didn’t mean. Nobody called the cops or the child protection agencies.

That was then.
had a good day today, DIDN'T want to kill even one student :-). Now Friday was a different story.
The professor, Gloria Gadsden, who posted this on her Facebook page has been suspended. She was joking – note the smiley face – but administrators at her university (East Stroudsburg) found a similar remark on her Facebook page a month earlier:
Does anyone know where I can find a very discrete* hitman? Yes, it's been that kind of day . . .
Here’s the school’s justification for suspending her:
“Given the climate of security concerns in academia, the university has an obligation to take all threats seriously and act accordingly,” Marilyn Wells, East Stroudsburg’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said in a written statement. “The university’s knowledge of the online statements comes with a responsibility to act in a manner that ensures the safety of our students, employees and our campus community.”
That “climate” includes several multiple killings on campuses in the past few years, especially the very recent one by a professor. The East Stroudsburg administrators probably feared that if Prof. Gadsden had shot a student or hired someone to do the hit, the university would be liable and be accused of not connecting Prof. Gadsden’s Facebook dots.

The “university’s knowledge of online statements” is the part that seem problematic. The Internet is changing our definitions of public and private in ways that are still not clear. The provost’s statement seems to treat all online statements alike. But most of us make distinctions. What is a Facebook post anyway? A diary entry that you show to a few friends? Or to hundreds of of Facebook friends? A public statement like a blog post that anyone can read, the more the better?

Several comments on blogs about this story blame Prof. Gadsden for not knowing how to change her Facebook settings. These comments assume that statements made under one privacy setting should not be treated the same as those made under another setting. We also make a distinction among online sites. Another comment (at the Althouse blog as I recall), said that if Prof. Gadsden had posted her question about a hitman on Craig’s List rather than Facebook, there might have been more cause for concern.

Even the status of one-to-one electronic communication isn’t clear – e-mail, IM, text messages, pictures sent from one cell phone to another. Yes, people could violate others’ expectations of privacy with pre-electronic communication as well. You could repeat something told to you in confidence, someone might show your letters to others. But the Internet multiplies the number of people who can violate this privacy and the number of people who they can reach. It also greatly multiplies the number of people who can misunderstand a facetious comment and misattribute all kinds of intent.

As I said in the previous post, the Internet is bringing changes that we are still trying to get a handle on. Nobody pays much attention to William Ogburn, and you don't hear the phrase “cultural lag” much these days. But maybe it’s time to reconsider.

* Many comments on the blogs had fun with this mistake (better a discrete hitman than a continuous hitman) and noted with some glee that Prof. Gadsden is a sociologist – as though the Facebook postings of other academics are exemplary in their grammar, spelling, and diction.