Thursday, May 24, 2012

CNN Story on Bastøy Island

CNN reports on Bastøy Island today, giving a glimpse of what punishment beyond retributivism might look like.

Here's a sample of the negative comments made on the CNN website in response to the story:

"if you kill someone in cold blood you should be locked in a 6x6 cell with nothing but a bed and toilet and thats where you stay till your debt to society is paid"

"The "Christians" in our society would never tolerate this kind of attitude towards sinners.
They would kill them."

"Treat our murders, rapists, and molesters better than honest, hard working, law abiding citizens, makes perfect sense."

"They should give this a trial run in the US. You could turn it into a reality TV show, and we could all watch it as it failed miserably."

And some comments that look beyond the confines of retributivism:

"Regardless of how this makes you feel this is Norway and not America. Look at the crime statistics compared to america.. If this works there then great and that's a good thing. But there's no point in getting upset over something that positively affects another country and doesn't here."

"kids, dogs, adults .. you can't beat them into being nice. Norway's approach makes sense. Our penal system sure doesn't work."


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Science Special Issue on Conflict

Science has a special issue on the evolutionary roots of violence. A sample from this article:

...Early and mid-20th century studies of ancient people seemed to confirm a more Rousseauian view in which scattered populations, minimal technology, and ample game limited human violent conflict in the distant past. Cave paintings in Europe from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago portray hunting of animals but not human-on-human conflict. Archaeologists found little evidence of murder and organized violence before the military empires of the Near East sprang up 4000 years ago. Studies of living hunter-gatherer tribes in the first half of the 20th century appeared to show low rates of violence: American anthropologist Margaret Mead concluded in 1935 that in the Arapesh tribe of New Guinea, “both men and women are naturally maternal, gentle, responsive, and unaggressive.” And initial primate research found fewer violent tendencies in humanity's nearest cousins.

This Rousseauian perspective began to lose favor a half-century ago. Early Neolithic cave paintings in Spain recorded in the 1980s show humans shooting arrows at one another. Primatologists discovered that warfare and murder are not unusual among chimpanzees. And more intensive anthropological work began to shed light on a more violent side of small-group society.

In 1996, anthropologist Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois, Chicago, published War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, based on a wide range of data from prehistoric sites, modern hunter-gatherers, and other groups living outside established states. He concluded that more than 90% of human groups engage in war, including small-scale groups. For those people living outside states, Keeley estimated that the average annual rate of death in warfare was 524 per 100,000 people—twice that of the famously warlike Mesoamerican Aztecs in the 16th century. By contrast, even during the bloodiest years of World War II, Russia and Germany had violent death rates of about 140 per 100,0000 citizens. He concluded that living in a small-group society is significantly more dangerous than being a member of a more complex one.

Pinker uses Keeley's data and unpublished studies by economists to argue that complex society brought standing armies, laws, walled cities, and other innovations that restricted tribal fighting and protected the average citizen from violent crimes. “Hobbes understood this without having the data,” Gat adds.

Pinker blames what he calls “anthropologists of peace” for distorting the record on small-scale group violence. “The classic ‘gentle people’”—the Semang of the Malay peninsula, !Kung in Africa, and Central Arctic Inuit—“turned out to have higher homicide rates than those of American cities,” Pinker says. He criticizes what he calls a single-minded determination “to make hunter-gatherers seem as peaceful as possible.”


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Syracuse Workshop on Virtue, Citizenship and Law

I am writing this post from Syracuse, NY where the Fourth Annual SUCOL Interdisciplinary Workshop on "Virtue, Citizenship, and the Law: Interdisciplinary Perspectives" at Syracuse University College of Law was held today. It was an excellent event, bringing scholars together from law, education, psychology, politics and philosophy to discuss issues and topics related to virtue.

The participants and papers (in order of presentations) were: myself on punishment, adaptation and prison (see the blog posts here, and here for a sense of the issues I address) followed by a commentary from Michael (many thanks Mike for your excellent suggestions and criticisms!); Linda with a paper on the government and civic virtues with a commentary from Emily; Jeremy then presented a paper on judicial wisdom with a commentary from Jeanine. We then had an excellent lunch here.

After lunch Darcia presented on attachment theory and moral development with a commentary from Elizabeth; then Sigal presented a paper on education and civic education, and we finished with Chapin's paper on private law and virtue ethics with a commentary from Tara. We all then had dinner at this very fine restaurant (highly recommended!) just outside of Syracuse.

I wish to thank Jeremy for his great hospitality and for inviting me to participate. I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary workshop. And participating in this event compelled me to develop my ideas about punishment. And Mike raised a number of useful points in his commentary which will give me plenty to think about as I develop that paper further.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Teaching Political Theory Survey

I just came across this interesting paper which surveys who (e.g. age, gender, rank) teaches political theory in the US, which thinkers they typically teach, and how they teach and assess their theory courses. Well worth the read to help one get a sense of the current state of the discipline. I found the table below especially interesting. I listed just the top 20 (+1 Dewey ;)) thinkers that received the most votes on the questions "should be taught more" and "should be taught less" (click table to view large image):
It appears there is a strong sentiment among those surveyed that Rawls should be taught less, and that the ancients (Plato and Aristotle) ought to be taught more. The three highest scores for "should be taught more" are Plato, Aristotle and Marx, something that coheres with my own view of things. It was curious that Marx also ranked #2 on the "should be taught less" list (Marx, you either love him or hate him I guess). The article also addresses the issues of the purpose of a political theory course, the type of readings utilized, methods of teaching and assessment. It is certainly worth the read and helps give one a better sense of the state of the discipline (at least in the US) today. Cheers, Colin

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Aging and the Maintenance Gap

The latest issue of Biogerontology has this interesting article on the evolution of aging. The abstract:
One of the prevailing theories of aging, the disposable soma theory, views aging as the result of the accumulation of damage through imperfect maintenance. Aging, then, is explained from an evolutionary perspective by asserting that this lack of maintenance exists because the required resources are better invested in reproduction. However, the amount of maintenance necessary to prevent aging, ‘maintenance requirement’ has so far been largely neglected and has certainly not been considered from an evolutionary perspective. To our knowledge we are the first to do so, and arrive at the conclusion that all maintenance requirement needs an evolutionary explanation. Increases in maintenance requirement can only be selected for if these are linked with either higher fecundity or better capabilities to cope with environmental challenges to the integrity of the organism. Several observations are suggestive of the latter kind of trade-off, the existence of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the level of maintenance requirement is in principle unbound. Even the allocation of all available resources to maintenance could be unable to stop aging in some organisms. This has major implications for our understanding of the aging process on both the evolutionary and the mechanistic level. It means that the expected effect of measures to reallocate resources to maintenance from reproduction may be small in some species. We need to have an idea of how much maintenance is necessary in the first place. Our explorations of how natural selection is expected to act on the maintenance requirement provides the first step in understanding this.
Cheers, Colin

Saturday, May 05, 2012

National Post Piece on Play and Risk

Today's National Post has this interesting article on the growing movement towards tolerating, indeed encouraging, some degree of risk (for the developmental tradeoff of more active and adaptive children) in the design playgrounds for children. Cheers, Colin

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Where the Action Is: On the Site of the "Playful" Life (Part 8: A Return to Play)

For the past 3 years or so my interest and passion for the topic of play (as well as the activity itself) has been growing. Recall the series of blog posts on play- part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7- I have been meaning to add to the series for a while now, but have been bogged down some other commitments that are now winding down. So I plan to return to the topic of play in a serious way over the coming months. This morning I came across this talk, which helped fuel the fire in my heart for the importance of play. In that talk the artist below is featured, singing about the video game Halo. I was so moved by her song that I looked up the full performance, which is below: My interest in play is also constantly fuelled by my 3 children. We all play (amongst other things) video games together. It is an amazing adventure. We interact with people from all over the world, venturing on different exciting quests. Our favourite game at the moment is Roblox, which I may post something about in the future. But another favourite game of my older sons is Minecraft. This trailer video made by a player of the game captures the mystery and excitement of playing the game: More to follow on play in the future.... Cheers, Colin