Archive for June, 2010

A coworker directed me to a quote by Don Cherry, a Canadian hockey commentator, and said succinctly, “I love this guy.” Here is the subject quote:

If hooking up one rag-head terrorist prisoner’s testicles to a car battery to get the truth out of the lying little camel-shagger will save just one Canadian life, then I have only three things to say: red is positive, black is negative, and make sure his nuts are wet!!!

No doubt this is inflammatory and provocative, as color commentators and shock jocks are wont to be. What is disheartening is not that some high-profile media fool has no compunction about expressing something so bigoted and barbaric but that so many others agree with him and cheer him on. My coworker evidently thought it was very funny to joke about torturing people. In contrast, I’m repulsed by the idea of torture, which I’ve blogged before about being a taboo.

Not to parse Cherry’s statement too finely, but there’s a big, glaring if at the start, though with all the other loaded language, the overall intent is still pretty clear. Whereas some might hang on that if, I rather doubt that Cherry or those who agree with him, such as my coworker, are really all that concerned about saving just one Canadian (or American) life. Truth be told, anecdotal, historical, and scientific evidence is mounting that torture doesn’t work for its stated goal.

Their real interest, if I’m allowed to make the obvious mistake of the intentional fallacy, is callous, capricious use of force against others for the sheer fun of it (which is what many of those Abu Ghraib pics look like they were up to — cruel, inhumane fun). If Cherry and my coworker weren’t merely talking about torture in the hypothetical sense, I’d like to believe that being torturers themselves or at least first-hand witnesses would cause them to feel some shame and horror. However, the human empathetic response is so muted these days that I have little faith this is just posturing. I take it as a sign of the times that some of the most brutal, inhumane treatments of others we can imagine pose no problem for lots of people.

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This YouTube video is interesting:

The underlying message of the video is that we don’t truly understand our own motivations. In short, scientific studies demonstrate that attempts to modify behavior through a system of rewards and penalties don’t always obtain expected results. It pleases me to see evidence in the video that financial rewards sometimes fail, that above a certain level of comfort, we’re really interested in different things. It bugs me, however, that the video is about extrinsic motivations offered to shape behavior, especially in the workplace. By discussing forces operating on us, it’s a dangerously short step from empowering employees to manipulating them. Subtle manipulation is also the domain of subliminal advertising, which people rebel against once they catch on.

The pitfalls of intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, are embodied in numerous aphorisms, sayings, and folk wisdom, the principal one being, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” The familiar parable of the genie and the three wishes also warns that obtaining one’s fondest wishes might not be a good thing as the results tend to boomerang and leave the wisher worse off than before the wish was granted. Intrinsic motivation isn’t really discussed in the video, which is perhaps understandable since the most common character type in modern American culture is outer directed and lacks all but the most hardwired (instinctual) intrinsic motivations. That means they also lack the restraints and controls that go with intrinsic motivation and inner directedness and are easy marks for advertisers.

The other remarkable thing is the sugarcoating the presentation gets by virtue of the live-action illustration. If the attention span of the average viewer is too short to withstand the stand-and-deliver lecture style of the classroom, the added element of watching the illustrator recreate the presentation, sometimes using text functioning as callouts to reinforce key points, rivets the viewer. The slickness of the presentation shows how its creators supply the motivation to stay with the entire 10 min. video rather than click away to something else, which is more typical of Web surfing.