Let the market save the wilderness?

The previous two posts have dealt with the Harper government in Canada, in particular, and with the doctrines of neoliberalism, in general.

This post focuses on another arm of the neoliberal beast: “New Conservation.”

The traditional conservation movement is being challenged by a new species of “environmentalist” with the goal of reframing conservation efforts by replacing “conserve” with “manage.”

The core of this approach is the idea that the only way that we can motivate the level of political and financial support needed for conservation is to give up on trying to save the earth, the animals, the plants, or the climate because they’re intrinsically worthwhile or valuable. Instead, their argument goes, it’s only when we frame the struggle for survival in terms of entirely human goals and needs that success will be possible.

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All the Uzis you can shoot!

OK, America, you’ve done it again.

Considering that you’re the country of my birth, where I lived until my mid-twenties, it shouldn’t be this easy to shock me.

The latest tragedy is today’s headline story of a 9-year old girl killing her gun instructor with, and this is the first shocker, a fully-automatic, live-round Uzi. You know, the Israeli submachine gun that’s designed to shoot Palestinians, not Americans.

When I read about this sort of thing, it reminds me just how far I’ve drifted from the “values” of my homeland. To be fair, I never much wanted to shot (at) things when I was a teenager. I’m sure that this lack of blood lust contributed to my eventual decision to tell Richard Nixon what he could do with his “Greetings from the President of the United States” letter, and a little while later my exodus from the land of the free-at-any-cost.

There are several more levels of shock and dismay in this story.

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Back in the virtual saddle

It’s been almost a year since I last posted anything on this page. I’ve been concentrating on book reviews and longer essays, on my other page, but the modest but persistent interest shown in the old posts on this page has led me to think that it might be time to post some topical articles again. (The two pages have now accumulated more than 75,000 reads.)

I still have strong opinions on the subjects about which I used to write, and so much has happened in the last year that would have been worthy of comment. So, I’m back. Perhaps not with my former frequency, but I hope with as much clarity and specificity as I can muster.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to read the book reviews, which will continue to be posted on More Notes from Aboveground.

See you soon.

 

New look at baby study shows weaknesses of behaviour interpretation

I’ve argued here more than once that, when it comes to psychology, measurement trumps interpretation. That’s one big reason that I am less critical of brain scans than some others are. To the extent that you have to interpret a game or speculate about a gesture, you’re on potentially shaky ground.

A newly-published study provides evidence of some of the potential problems that can plague research that may appear to be empirical, but really isn’t.

The study, “Social Evaluation or Simple Association? Simple Associations May Explain Moral Reasoning in Infants,” published by PlosOne on August 8th, re-evaluates a landmark experiment that used a toy scenario to conclude that infants have an innate preference for “moral” helpers. Continue reading

Brain states trump abuse as criminal excuse?

It’s hard to imagine a case that could bring the questions about moral and legal responsibility that are raised by neuroscience any more front and centre than the upcoming investigation of the motives and culpability of Aurora mass murderer James Holmes.

We now know that Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist before his rampage. And his dazed behaviour during his first court appearance suggests that he may be so seriously unhinged that it will be very difficult to hold him criminally responsible for his actions.

Many people suspect that the neuroscience student’s “insanity” is a carefully and cynically planned “get out of jail free” card. They worry that he’ll get away with it, avoiding the harshest versions of the retribution that his crime deserves.

There have been several posts here on whether and to what extent neuroscience should mitigate criminal responsibility, most recently “But it’s the other guy in my brain who’s guilty.”

Many experts, among them Michael Gazzaniga (article here), have argued that brain science is nowhere near complete nor definitive enough to inform decisions about criminal guilt. One of the most recent forays into this contentious legal arena is a New York Times piece by psychologists John Monterosso and Barry Schwartz.
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Sure it’s a tragedy, but in America freedom = guns

Part of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s initial reaction to the Aurora theatre massacre was to assure citizens that the act of a “deranged” individual would not be allowed to take away Americans’ freedom to lock and load with private arsenals of assault weapons.

Boy, am I relieved. For a moment there, I thought that yet another slaughter of the innocents might threaten Bubba’s right to own enough weaponry to wage a small civil war.

No one is talking at the moment about the squirrel gun in the barn, or even the .38 Special in the nightstand. Maybe some places have too many squirrels, and maybe some neighbourhoods have too many thugs.

But when Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin responded to the immediate calls for a little gun control by suggesting that a well-armed “responsible citizen” in the movie theatre might have prevented some of the carnage by cutting loose with his own weapon(s), you really had to wonder just what planet these people inhabit.
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But it’s the other guy in my brain who’s guilty

When a personality that’s not me commits a crime, is it a fair punishment to incarcerate the body we share?

And if it’s not, then doesn’t a part of me that I don’t even know get away with it, even get away with murder?

These are the kinds of brain-twisting questions that loom over criminal justice thanks to advances in neuropsychology. And these are the questions that give nightmares to the many who worry about a science-induced end to criminal justice as we know it.

In “Split personality crime: who is guilty?” — a soon to be “paywalled” article published by New Scientist on July 5th — Jessica Hamzelou reports on a study of patients diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder.
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What about morality — does it need religion?

This has turned into a week about the social roles of religion.

On Monday, I presented Scott Atran’s summary of the research into religion’s role in creating and, more important, it  turns out, supporting war.

And last time, I wrote about the contention of Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, that without religion, an enduring civilization is not possible.

Today’s last piece in the series considers the argument that is a favourite of believers:  without religion there can be no true morality. And many of today’s prominent agnostic and atheist thinkers accept that religion has served historically as the “social glue” that keeps us from expressing our selfish and violent human natures.

There are many ways to counter this claim, including the unwelcome but accurate observation that close observance of all of the rules and moral laws of the Koran or the Bible would quickly earn you a life sentence in prison. The Bible passes more death sentences than does a typical Texas judge.

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Is religion crucial to civilization?

Some believers are like loud children, banging on their drums of faith in an insistent, unchanging, ultimately numbing rhythm.

Others, like the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks, are more nuanced, and they can produce beautiful melodies that make their claims seem natural and desirable.

In the end, alas, the basis of the Chief Rabbi’s music, of his faith, is as vain and insubstantial as is that of the beaters and bleaters.

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