Video Games, Movies & Violence

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Each time a mass shooting occurs in the United States, there is an effort to determine the causes (or lay the blame). This process generally follows a predictable script. Those who hate guns, blame the guns. Those who love guns say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Those of the cult of pop psychology appear on the news shows to discuss whatever “theory” they are currently selling in their self-help books. Those who study the workings of the mind present their latest theories. And, of course, there is the ritual blaming of violent video games and violent movies. This time around, the National Rifle Association explicitly blamed Hollywood while proposing that the United States should post an armed guard in each school.

While I have written often about video games, movies and violence I clearly have my own small part in the scripted play and here I am writing about them again.

The archetype argument for the claim that the arts (in this case video games and movies) can cause people to behave badly is based on Plato’s argument in the Republic. In that work, Plato contends that the arts can corrupt the soul and cause people to give in to feelings such as lust, anger and humor in ways that they should not. In the case of mass shootings, the basic idea remains the same: exposure to violent content in video games and movies can cause people to engage in real violence, such as engaging in a mass shooting at a movie theater or school.

The idea that violent video games and movies can affect people is not implausible. In fact, I have my two standard arguments in support of the claim that violent media can play a causal role in actual violent behavior.

First, repeated exposure to game or movie violence can condition a person to accept violence as normal. This is because people generally base their conception of normal based partially on what they generally experience. So, if fictional violence becomes a normal part of a person’s life, it makes sense that she might become desensitized to violence (or accustomed to it) and thus less more likely to give in to violent impulses.

Censoring such violence would reduce the exposure of people (or certain people) to virtual violence and thus they would presumably be less likely to be violent.

My second standard argument is based on the idea that the violence of movies and games is a curriculum of virtual violence that often teaches that violence is an effective and acceptable solution to problems. Popular video games such as Halo 4 and World of Warcraft are focused on violence, albeit in the context of science fiction and fantasy. There are also popular first person shooters, such as the Call of Duty series, that involve engaging in violence against other virtual humans. There is also the infamous Grand Theft Auto series of games in which one plays a bad person doing bad things. In the case of movies, even movies such as the Avengers and the Hobbit include considerable violence. Given the lessons taught by these movies and games, it makes some sense to think that people exposed to them might be more inclined to consider violence an option, perhaps in emulation of the games or movies. As such, perhaps some blame can be placed on video games and movies.

While a reasonable case can be made in favor of being suspicious of violent video games and movies, there is the rather important matter of sorting out the extent of the influence. That is, working out the causality of the matter.

Obviously enough, exposure to violent movies or games is not a necessary condition for a person engaging in violent behavior. A necessary causal condition is a condition that is required for the effect to occur. Put another way, without the necessary condition, what it is necessary for cannot be the case. For example, the presence of oxygen is a necessary causal condition for human life.

While humans have been engaging in violence since there have been humans, movies and video games are rather recent inventions. As such, exposure to them cannot be a necessary cause of violence. After all, there would have been no violence until they were invented if this were the case.

Naturally, it could be claimed that any violent art (such as a story about war) or violent games (like chess) can cause people to be violent and these are rather old. However, the obvious counter is that humans were probably killers before they were artists and gamers.

Equally obvious is the fact that exposure to violent movies or video games is not a sufficient cause of violence. A sufficient causal condition is such that it will bring about its effect by itself. For example, decapitating a human is sufficient to cause death.

Millions of people (including me and many of my friends) have played violent video games without ever having engaged in acts of significant violence, such as murder or mass murder. Also, billions of people have probably seen violent movies without engaging in such violence. As such, exposure to violent movies or video games is clearly not a sufficient condition.

As might be imagined, sensible people do not claim that such exposure is a necessary or sufficient cause of violence. However, there are other types of causal connections.

One plausible type of causal connection is that exposure to such video games or movies is a contributory cause. That is, such exposure is one more straw on the camel’s back and the weight of various causes can result in that final break. On this view, merely seeing such virtual violence would not cause someone to engage in violence. However, it does contribute to the person’s tendency towards violence and hence is a causal factor.  As might be imagined, determining the contribution of a contributory cause can be challenging—especially if the contribution is fairly weak.

Sorting out such weak casual factors typically requires relatively large causal scale studies (or experiments). In such cases, the goal is to determine the effect of the alleged cause on the population in question. When talking about causation in a population, the bar is set fairly low (but sensibly so). To claim that cause C causes effect E in population P is to say that there would be more cases of effect E in population P if every member of P were exposed to C than if none were so exposed. This does make sense. After all, if C does bring about a difference, even a tiny one, it would be a causal factor.

On the face of it, it is not implausible to claim that exposing everyone on the planet to violent video games or violent movies would result in some (more than zero) increase in violence. However, this is no doubt true of many other things—even seemingly innocuous things like refined sugar or Justin Bieber’s music.

Even if it is assumed that such exposure can have a causal role in actual violence, there is the rather obvious concern about the extent of the casual role and to what extent (if any) this warrants controlling people’s exposure to these violent movies and video games.

As noted above, people who were never exposed to violent video games or movies have engaged in violence over the centuries. Also, the overwhelming majority of people who have been exposed to violent video games or movies have not engaged in unusual acts of violence. As such, the causal connection (if there is one) seems to be extremely weak.

Given such exposure could play a causal role it might be tempting to support the censorship of such violent works. After all, reducing the chance of violence might be regarded as worth the infringement of the freedom of expression. As might be imagined, when people are still emotionally reeling from a terrible event there is often a desire to do anything that might lower the chances of such a thing happening again. Of course, making a rational decision requires considering the matter properly and this involves considering the potential harms and costs of such an approach, however well intentioned.

Obviously enough, human societies typically operate in a way that involves tolerating things that cause harms based on the perceived benefits of those things. For example, although tens of thousands of people die each year in events involving automobiles, we tolerate automobiles because of their benefits. As another example, we allow drugs with awful side effects to be legally sold presumably because of their benefits. We also tolerate war because of the alleged benefits. We do, of course, ban some things because of the harms they do (or could do). For example, people cannot legally sell contaminated food. As another example, I cannot legally own biochemical weapons.

Sorting through the various things that are banned or illegal, it would seem that we are generally willing to tolerate a considerable amount of harm provided that there are some benefits (typically profits). Consistency would, of course, require us to apply the same principle to violent movies and violent video games.

As such, one way to look at the matter is to imagine that violent movies and video games were pharmaceuticals, foods or automobiles and apply the same basic standards used to assess whether such things should be banned.

As noted above, millions of people are exposed to violent video games or movies. These people typically enjoy them and most of them certainly seem to be unharmed. In fact, people seem to be in far more danger from the junk food they typically eat and drink at the movies or while playing video games. They are, obviously, vastly less dangerous than automobiles in terms of the body count generated—even if we assume that such exposure does cause people to behave violently. Video games and movies are also big money makers.

Violent video games and movies also seem to have far fewer negative side effects than many legal medications—even those sold without prescriptions. Also, there are reasonable grounds to believe that people can, as Aristotle argued, experience an emotional catharsis by being exposed to the arts. As such, while some people might experience negative side effects from such exposure, other people might be “medicating” themselves by exhausting their violent impulses in art rather than reality.

As such, if censoring video games and movies would be warranted because of the alleged harms, then consistency would require that we also ban many other things that are clearly far more dangerous. After all, if the goal is to prevent harm and death, it hardly matters whether those who die do so because of a bullet, a car, a pill, or a Big Gulp.

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57 Comments.

  1. You make a good argument vis-vis violence and violent video games. There are, however, other negative effects of video games, violent and otherwise. That is the excessive time spent playing them by adolescents who could, and probably should, be doing other, more productive things. As a high-school teacher, I see the lack of productivity by precisely those students who are enamored of them. I can, with very good accuracy, predict who will do poorly in my class; those with problematic home lives and those who play video games excessively.

  2. must concur with Mark Russell’s observation, re addictive time-sink risks of video gaming for some personality types (myself included, esp. in younger years) — and would add the cautionary note that anecdotal theorizing is perhaps less useful than actual “large causal scale studies (or experiments)” as you point out …

  3. Mike – I have never before agreed so entirely with a blog. Just two comments:

    Re
    “people who were never exposed to violent video games or movies have engaged in violence over the centuries”.

    I think this is covered by your initial point that “people generally base their conception of normal based partially on what they generally experience”.

    Unfortunately everyday violence – as opposed to war films or games – may now touch more lives than in the past due to immediate and widespread media coverage. Video games and films are just one more contribution to ingraining a cultural sense that violence is normal – and moreover fun.

    Re Mark Russell’s comment.
    I agree with that too, but it is not what this blog is about.

  4. It’s surprising to me that violent video games are not more damaging. I remember classmates having earnest conversations about the practicalities of sleeping with prostitute on Grand Theft Auto and then murdering them and taking their money. As far as I know, they are all functioning and sociable young men now. This is not true of other video game fans, and their leisure pursuits may have contributed to their violence, but the extent to which hundreds of thousands of people can restrict their sadism to the virtual realm is intriguing.

  5. Re Mark:
    “… the overwhelming majority of people who have been exposed to violent video games or movies have not engaged in unusual acts of violence. As such, the causal connection (if there is one) seems to be extremely weak.”

    Maybe the connection is not weak but highly complex.

    Bensix proposes that “the extent to which hundreds of thousands of people can restrict their sadism to the virtual realm is intriguing.”

    Among other complexities such restriction shows that these “hundreds of thousands” do not regard everyday personal expressions of violence as normal. It also shows that anger, frustration and envy (normal human emotions) can be sublimated in virtual violence, which, just as viewing pornography may keep rape off the streets, may prevent them from expressing their feelings in actual bodily violence.

    A broad and honest survey might reveal significant statistics on the direct influence (or non-influence) of video games and films on violent behaviour. From a solely utilitarian perspective it would then be interesting to assess whether allowing participation in them, or banning them, would cause more harm than good to society.

  6. Mike LaBossiere,
    Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, and it’s not the gift that you have to worry about. The Greek world of Aristotle’s time was a pretty brutal place. His student Alexander completely decimated Thebes. Perhaps the kid missed a lesson or two.

    But I wonder: why do we indulge mental disease in a way we do not for infectious disease. If someone has a highly infectious condition, ‘we’ jail the person (i.e. quarentine) to protect the public. With that thought in mind. Why don’t we use video games to detect the highly whacko (or do ya’ll spell that ‘waco’)? Thus, if some guy squeezes over the limit, it’s off to the asylum for him.

  7. There’s a lot to be said, but linking video games to sprees of nihilistic violence in this instance is really just quasi or neo puritanism – (a manifestation of Freud’s Death Drive). A calamity has befallen us. This must be the result of some sin. What is pleasurable is sinful. This catastrophe has happened because somewhere someone was having too much fun.

    Of course the men of the NRA know that it couldn’t possibly be their pleasurable indulgences – they are pure, they have self-control, they can defer gratification, they only enjoy their just rewards that God has granted them for their goodness – going to a gun range, firing at a target in the shape of a human silhouette, while fantasizing you are causing lethal damage to the organs of a real human being (bad guy of course – which makes it okay), is a perfectly noble and clean activity, that could have no possible bearing on the plague of spree killings.

    The hedonism that is inducing the wrath of God has to be elsewhere. And of course it was staring us in the face all the time; the cheap entertainment of young people – who are probably poor; which clearly demonstrates even more their wickedness and lack of grace in the eyes of God. Remove their instruments of pleasure, and God will be pleased. The school shootings will abate – we will feel more righteous. And we can get back to polishing our gun collection with a loving attention that verges on the masturbatory.

    The reality is Adam Lanza did not take a Playstation and a copy of Grand Theft Auto to a school and corrupt over twenty small children with pleasure. He took a gun. And filled them with bullets.

    I would be angry but I’m trying to adopt a more calm personal philosophy (“Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do”). The NRA, wish to redeem themselves and the world, through the punishment and deprivation of others. This isn’t limited to video games – it’s all number of social cruelties. They are neurotically opposed to gun control, and have a callous indifference to the death and suffering this causes, as they experience gun control as the threat of castration.

  8. Boreas, Why don’t we use gun collections to detect the highly whacko (or do ya’ll spell that ‘waco’)? Thus, if some guy owns more than a hunting rifle, it’s off to the asylum for him.

    Yes, Boreas, I did cut and copy your comment, but not out of laziness, more playful intertextuality.

  9. Margaret Gullan-Whur,
    Methinks you have a workable idea — not a good idea but one that can be used as a base for a treatment to ease the pains of the survivors.

    By good legal and economic principles, lets us suppose that the small pleasures of hoi pampolloi (‘the all many’) may have a value that exceeds the terror, pain and anguish of a few. We just need some legal mechanisms to distribute the value in monetary terms.

    By the way, we already do this sort of thing. In a northern vastness not so long ago a small number of elders died from food poisoning (listeria on prepared meats). They were partly to blame, being old and all that. Many young people ate the same meat, and only suffered tummy upset and/or the runs. Still, the elders were victims, and compensation was in order. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Canada_listeriosis_outbreak#Class-action_lawsuits).

    So we have precedents and possible paradigms. Okay, next step. Tax all those who produce ways and means of having violent enjoyments (i.e. guns, movies, games, toys, books, songs etc.) to fund ‘Victims of irrational violence compensation’. Bottom-line: when there is an incident of mass murdering, the severely injured and survivors will receive compensation.

    How much? Why not $2 million to the estate of each dead, and $1 million to surviving spouse, child or sibling? Except in Utah or remote parts of a provincial region, it should be $2 million per surviving spouse.

    So Sandy Hook would cost about $50 million for the dead. That’s not a lot of money per unit cost increase compared to improved the quality of life and happiness of the people who enjoy those sorts of violent things.

  10. Boreas, Sandy Hook was only 26 people. $50 million doesn’t sound like much, but if you take into account there are an annual 12,000 fatal shootings in the US each year, that’s $24 billion. After paying a tax like that, the producers of violent entertainments might not have much money left over.

    Or have you some other way of making the figures work?

  11. JRMC,
    So… what don’t you like about the idea?

  12. By coincidence I was speaking to my son last night who is a school teacher. He told me that in his school there is a significant number of male students who are obsessed with killing. Yes they play computer games devoted to killing but in addition desire actually to enter a life of killing their fellow humans. A large number of them intend to enlist in the military in order to see real action. They are apparently oblivious as to the horror of taking human life and appear to be most excited when the instrument of death is particularly gruesome even to the point of genocide. Reasoning with these boys and saying there is something far more worthy in life than killing bounces off them like bullets from armour plate. They understand little of politics, history, religion, etc, and are only interested in science where it can be applied to military or similar matters.
    Next time I see my son I will ask him if these boys are ever interrogated as to their feelings concerning the fact that rather than the killer they may well become the killed, and that could be fairly soon in their career. Their responses could be interesting.

  13. Boreas, what you’re talking about there is blood money. Valuing human life in monetary terms.

    Marxists would argue that capitalism at some point would commodity everything, and they were dismissed as shrill and hysterical. But this is exactly what your suggesting – that the pain and suffering of Sandy Hook can be canceled out by the enjoyment of $2 million dollars.

    Maybe I am wrong and you could convert me.

    But let’s go through some more of the details. Sandy Hook is in a wealthy area. I would be sure a few of those grieving parents would already be multi-millionaires. Would $2 million be enough for them?……

    Some more details, please.

  14. Don Bird, the kids dreaming about becoming soldiers are in an enjoyable fantasy. It’s an adventure. Like being in a film, were nothing is really real. And any complicated details that get in the way of the entertainment are removed.

    And if you’re curious to know whether they imagine they will be killed – they don’t. I knew an army psychiatrist. He said the very young soldiers, and they are incredibly young, believe they are immortal. They do not believe they may die in battle – they believe it will be the other guy. Conversely, older soldiers believe they will be the ones killed every time they go into battle. So there is a preference for very young soldiers.

  15. JMRC,
    And Don Bird too. Blood money is money after it is laundered by bank deposit. If a dead six year old boy or girl is not worth nothing (incidentally, double negatives are good Greek), what should a dead boy or girl be worth? ‘Nothing monetary’ seems pretty callous.

    By the way, who in America pays for the mental health recovery of the parents, relatives and friends? The US army takes care of its deranged. Who takes care of civilians? Just curious.

    Perhaps a better answer would be ‘The state should buy replacement children for the affected families’. Russian children may not be available, but there are other sources. Years ago (about 90), surplus British children were shipped out to other parts of the Empire. I’m old, not ancient, to know these things.

    But this is not answering the question. Valuing human life in monetary terms is not dogma of capitalism. It is legal system dogma and ritual. Justice for dead people is something that lawyers do to earn income. My proposal, then, derives from a paradigm case: If justice can be obtained for old people killed by bad food, let there be justice for children that who are killed by life imitating bad art.

    Lately I’ve been reading some Xenophon. (Wink: Waterfield is very good on Socrates and Xenophon). Soldiers today are not what they used to be.

    “The generals, then, after being thus seized, were taken to the King and put to death by being beheaded. One of them, Clearchus, by common consent of all who were personally acquainted with him, seemed to have shown himself a man who was both fitted for war and fond of war to the last degree. [2] For, in the first place, as long as the Lacedaemonians were at war with the Athenians, he bore his part with them; then, as soon as peace had come, he persuaded his state that the Thracians were injuring the Greek, and, after gaining his point as best he could from the ephors, set sail with the intention of making war upon the Thracians who dwelt beyond the Chersonese and Perinthus. [3] When, however, the ephors changed their minds for some reason or other and, after he had already gone, tried to turn him back from the Isthmus of Corinth, at that point he declined to render further obedience, but went sailing off to the Hellespont. [4] As a result he was condemned to death by the authorities at Sparta on the ground of disobedience to orders. Being now an exile he came to Cyrus, and the arguments whereby he persuaded Cyrus as recorded elsewhere; at any rate, Cyrus gave him ten thousand darics, [5] and he, upon receiving this money, did not turn his thoughts to comfortable idleness, but used it to collect an army and proceeded to make war upon the Thracians. He defeated them in battle and from that time on plundered them in every way, and he kept up the war until Cyrus wanted his army; then he returned, still for the purpose of making war, this time in company with Cyrus. [6]

    “Now such conduct as this, in my opinion, reveals a man fond of war. When he may enjoy peace without dishonour or harm, he chooses war; when he may live in idleness, he prefers toil, provided it be the toil of war; when he may keep his money without risk, he elects to diminish it by carrying on war. As for Clearchus, just as one spends upon a loved one or upon any other pleasure, so he wanted to spend upon war— [7] such a lover he was of war. On the other hand, he seemed to be fitted for war in that he was fond of danger, ready by day or night to lead his troops against the enemy, and self-possessed amid terrors, as all who were with him on all occasions agreed. [8] He was likewise said to be fitted for command, so far as that was possible for a man of such a disposition as his was. For example, he was competent, if ever a man was, in devising ways by which his army might get provisions and in procuring them, and he was competent also to impress it upon those who were with him that Clearchus must be obeyed. [9] This result he accomplished by being severe; for he was gloomy in appearance and harsh in voice, and he used to punish severely, sometimes in anger, so that on occasion he would be sorry afterwards. [10] Yet he also punished on principle, for he believed there was no good in an army that went without punishment; in fact, he used to say, it was reported, that a soldier must fear his commander more than the enemy if he were to perform guard duty or keep his hands from friends or without making excuses advance against the enemy. [11] In the midst of dangers, therefore, the troops were ready to obey him implicitly and would choose no other to command them; for they said that at such times his gloominess appeared to be brightness, and his severity seemed to be resolution against the enemy, so that it appeared to betoken safety and to be no longer severity. [12] But when they had got past the danger and could go off to serve under another commander, many would desert him; for there was no attractiveness about him, but he was always severe and rough, so that the soldiers had the same feeling toward him that boys have toward a schoolmaster. [13] For this reason, also, he never had men following him out of friendship and good-will, but such as were under him because they had been put in his hands by a government or by their own need or were under the compulsion of any other necessity, yielded him implicit obedience. [14] And as soon as they began in his service to overcome the enemy, from that moment there were weighty reasons which made his soldiers efficient; for they had the feeling of confidence in the face of the enemy, and their fear of punishment at his hands kept them in a fine state of discipline. [15] Such he was as a commander, but being commanded by others was not especially to his liking, so people said. He was about fifty years old at the time of his death.” Anabasis 2.6

    Say… maybe some of you young philosophers might wanna make a game of X’s Anabasis? Aristotle’s student Alexander read Homer and Anabasis to make a game of conquering the Greek World.

  16. Mark,

    True-video games do have the power of distraction. When I was a kid, we had other stuff with which to waste our time. But, I would agree that modern video games have a greater time consumption capacity than other pastimes.

  17. Margaret Gullan-Whur,

    True-people do have extensive exposure to violence via the news and in person.

    While I do take the criticism of video games seriously, even if they had a causal contribution to violence, I’d say that our resources would be better spent directly addressing real violence.

  18. BenSix,

    People seem to have considerable resilience in the face of violence, be it fake or real.

    If evolution is correct, it makes sense that humans would be capable of enduring violence while remaining functional in society. I suspect that most social animals have this trait. For example, wolves kill prey, yet interact peacefully with their own pack.

  19. Margaret Gullan-Whur,

    Based on my own extensive experience with video games, I think that they can have a cathartic effect-at least on some people. To use an analogy, people are often able to burn of steam or anger by playing sports.

    However, I do think that both video games and sports can also have some negative impact on a person. However, I’d say that both can be generally positive.

  20. Boreas,

    Perhaps some day there will be reliable tests for mental illness on par with the tests we have now for physical illness.

    This does raise various moral issues regarding locking people up. In the case of physical diseases, we tend to regard this as okay because of the clear danger. In the case of mental illness, the connection between the illness and the potential for harm seems less clear. After all, a person with the plague will probably infect others. However, someone with a mental illness might never harm anyone.

  21. JMRC,

    I wouldn’t consider gun ownership a sign of mental illness, anymore than I’d consider collecting cars or philosophy books a sign of mental disturbance.

    However, people can exhibit their problems via collecting things.

  22. Don,

    When I was a kid, I knew boys like that-interested in killing things. I think most boys go through some degree of an interest in destruction. If you ask most men, they probably have some story of shooting a bird or other animal with a BB gun or sling shot. Most of them will add that they felt bad about it.

  23. Boreas,

    Civilians are usually on their own, although the community will often offer some degree of support.

  24. Mike LaBossiere,
    In your post, you touch on two health issues for which Hume needs to be put up on charges and taken to trial for corrupting (in some languages, the use-meaning of ‘corrupting’ includes the sense ‘buggering’) the concept of causation.

    Look at the causal paradigms that epidemiologists use. The root of ‘epidemiology’, by the way, translates as ‘against the people’. While it is true that the majority of people (about 85%) do not become obese from eating junk food or that the vast majority do not become severely violent from consuming entertainment that imitates violence, epidemiological reasoning indicates that junk food triggers a predisposition for obesity for a significant minority and, similarly, entertainment that imitates violence triggers a predisposition for violence and cruelty. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology .

    In this, a better concept of causation would assume that a cause is a linked pair of an active substance or energy and a passive receptor with a disposition to be altered by the substance or energy. By this concept, those who sell goods that make a customer obese or enthuse a customer with pleasures by imitations of violence should be held accountable and responsible for the harms they cause. In short, violent video games and movies make some (few) people mentally ill, and the producer needs to pay. Philosophically speaking, Hume’s notion of causation is not competent for protecting the health of the people.

  25. Re: Mike LaBossiere December 29

    When you were a kid and a little bit longer ago than that, I am ashamed to tell, for myself, we used to play war games and Cowboys and Indians. However, and I can really only speak for myself, this was not played out against a background of public entertainment, and reality in which killing and ill treatment predominated. Sure there were gangster films but to a large extent right was seen to be done in the end. These days there seems to be wars and bloody revolutions here there and everywhere. Modern information technology is able to show us first hand war and killing almost as it happens. Additionally due to technology, such events can now be incorporated realistically into games where one can participate to such a intense level so as to be actually mentally transported onto the very action itself. Killing becomes a fact of life over which we shed no tears. Bombarded thus, the young male mind, which evolution has in any case decreed will physically defend and attack, where necessary to survive, is exacerbated out of all reason in so far as killing and maiming and defeating is concerned. Fortunately social, religious, educational, and cultural pressures conspire to control these desires and tendencies and in many cases they diminish in the course of time. However this is not always the case and we are left with sufficient numbers of people who lack compassion, approve of violence, and take pride in their acquired skill of depriving others of life limb and possessions be it in fact or fantasy. For these reasons I consider Computer war games have considerable efficacy in nurturing man’s innate desires for defending, attacking, killing and maiming.
    I recently read the obituary of Stormin Norman. A fascinating character I think.

  26. Boreas,

    If it can be shown that violent media has the same degree of causal connection to harm that tobacco, junk food, alcohol, cars and such have, then the media should be treated the same way.

  27. Don Bird,

    I spent much of my youth playing war and other such games. We imitated movies, comic books, what we learned in class and so on. But, as I recall, we did not have to be pushed to engage in such play.

    Video games do seem to have more deductive power, though. Plus the violence in such games is far more than the “bang bang” of the war games I played as a kid.

  28. I think we have reached the limits of philosophy re the impact of video games and movies on actual human behaviour. I suggested earlier that a broad and honest survey would reveal such impact and I find this set of facts more satisfactory even than that:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2012/04/19/as-video-game-sales-climb-year-over-year-violent-crime-continues-to-fall/

    This dramatic graph shows an inverse relationship of the growth of sales (in the US) of video games to the recorded incidence of violent crime (in the US) during the same period. It implies that the former has not only not impacted negatively on the latter, but that it could be reducing actual violence (the sublimation/catharsis principle). This kind of research is more valid than subjective anecdote, and more of it would be welcome into, among other factors, the actual behaviour and attitude to violence of parents of young children.

  29. Margaret Gullan-Whur,
    Your suggestion is not persuasive. Nor is your source objective and independent. On the first point, the problem is that we do not have perfect (which I take to mean ‘complete’) information on the forces or factors that move the line of incidences up or down. Specifically, if we had perfect information, we might know that the line of incidences would have been lower excepting that violent games and other such entertainment have been a significant countervailing force in the trend to peace and goodwill among men.

  30. Boreas -
    The FBI records on forcible rape, murder and non-negligent manslaughter, aggregated assault and robbery, when timeline-matched with the industry’s records on rising sales of video games, from which the composite graph is constructed, are more persuasive to me than personal anecdotes – which are invalid philosophising – and hypotheses and speculation based on no records at all. See also the list of neutral learned papers at the industry’s website accessed via the ‘sales’ link.

  31. Margaret Gullan-Whur,
    I do not dispute your graph. I dispute your Humean causal reasoning. Here’s some equally good Humean thinking: Concurrent with the rising sales of video games, the miscreants given to violent crime were signing up in droves as day traders. And so instead of playing video at night and bashing people in the day, those boys played video at night and traded over the internet during the day.

    “…neutral learned papers at the industry’s website accessed”: learned + industry = horse-feathers.

  32. Boreas –

    http://videogames.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=003494

    In the Footnotes and Sources list below I have omitted the 4 entries from the Entertainment Software Association website. The rest of the papers may be somewhat outdated, but – horse feathers? All of them?

    All I am proposing is that so far in this debate – given the graph which you do not question – there is more evidence for Mike LaBossiere’s suggestion that “the overwhelming majority of people who have been exposed to violent video games or movies have not engaged in unusual acts of violence. As such, the causal connection (if there is one) seems to be extremely weak.”

    Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olsen, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, Apr. 2008
    Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence, 1999
    Susan Villani, Cheryl Olson, and Michael Jellinek, “Media Literacy for Clinicians and Parents,” Child Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, July 2005
    Elizabeth Carll, “Violent Video Games: Rehearsing Aggression,” Chronicle of Higher Education, July 2007
    Michael Reagan, “US Military Recruits Children: ‘America’s Army’ Video Game Violates International Law,” Truthout website, July 23, 2008
    “Crime in the United States, 2008,” FBI website, Sep. 2009
    Steven Malliet, “An Exploration of Adolescents’ Perceptions of Videogame Realism,” Learning Media and Technology, 2006
    Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, 2002
    “2008 CESA Game White Paper,” Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association (CESA), 2008
    “Crime in the United States, 2005,” FBI website, Sep. 2006
    “White Paper on Crime 2006,” Japan’s Ministry of Justice website, 2006
    “Critics Zap Video Games: Senators Urge Government Action to Curb Video-game Violence,” Bnet website, Jan. 3, 1994
    John Harlow and Sarah Baxter, “Hillary Opens up Morality War on Violent Video Games,” Times Online, Mar. 27, 2005
    “Crime in the United States, 2008,” FBI website, Sep. 2009
    David Wilkerson, “‘Call Of Duty 2′ Grosses $550M In First Five Days,” Wall Street Journal website, Nov. 18, 2009
    Andrew Heining, “Modern Warfare 2 Airport Terror Attack Stirs Controversy,” Christian Science Monitor website, Oct. 29, 2009
    PricewaterhouseCoopers, Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2009-2013, July, 2009
    SOURCES
    “2008 CESA Game White Paper,” Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association (CESA), 2008
    “Policy Statement – Media Violence,” American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Oct. 2009
    “Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media,” American Psychological Association website, Aug. 17, 2005
    Craig Anderson, Akira Sakamoto, Douglas Gentile, Nobuko Ihori, Akiko Shibuya, Shintaro Yukawa, Mayumi Naito, and Kumiko Kobayashi, “Longitudinal Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression in Japan and the United States,” Pediatrics, 2008
    Craig Anderson, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescent, 2007
    Christopher Barlett, Omar Branch, Christopher Rodeheffer, and Richard Harris, “How Long Do the Short-Term Violent Video Game Effects Last?,” Aggressive Behavior, Feb. 2009
    Christopher Barlett, Richard Harris, and Callie Bruey, “The Effect of the Amount of Blood in a Violent Video Game on Aggression, Hostility, and Arousal,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Oct. 2007
    Christopher Barlett, Richard Harris, and Ross Baldassaro, “Longer You Play, the More Hostile You Feel: Examination of First Person Shooter Video Games and Aggression during Video Game Play,” Aggressive Behavior, 2007
    Bruce Bartholow, Brad Bushman, and Marc Sestir, “Chronic Violent Video Game Exposure and Desensitization to Violence: Behavioral and Event-related Brain Potential Data,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2005
    Lillian Bensley and Juliet Van Eenwyk, “Video Games and Real-Life Aggression: Review of the Literature,” Journal of Adolescent Health, Mar. 2001
    Raymond Boyle and Matthew Hibberd, “Review of Research on the Impact of Violent Computer Games on Young People,” Interactive Software Federation of Europe website, Mar. 2005
    Sandra Calvert and Barbara Wilson, The Handbook of Children, Media, and Development, 2008
    Nicholas Carnagey and Craig Anderson, “The Effects of Reward and Punishment in Violent Video Games on Aggressive Affect, Cognition, and Behavior,” Psychological Science, Mar. 2005
    Tracy Dietz, “An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior,” Sex Roles, 1998
    Christopher Ferguson, “Evidence for Publication Bias in Video Game Violence Effects Literature: A Meta-analytic Review,” Aggression and Violent Behavior, Feb. 2007
    Christopher Ferguson, Stephanie Rueda, Amanda Cruz, Diana Ferguson, and Stacey Fritz, “Violent Video Games and Aggression: Causal Relationship or Byproduct of Family Violence and Intrinsic Violence Motivation?,” Criminal Justice and Behavior, Mar. 2008
    Jeanne Funk, Heidi Bechtoldt Baldacci, Tracie Pasold, and Jennifer Baumgardner, “Violence Exposure in Real-life, Video Games, Television, Movies, and the Internet: Is There Desensitization?,” Journal of Adolescence, 2004
    Douglas Gentile, David Walsh, Paul Ellison, Michelle Fox, and Jennifer Cameron, “Media Violence as a Risk Factor for Children: A Longitudinal Study,” American Psychological Society 16th Annual Convention, May 2004
    Douglas Gentile, “Examining the Effects of Video Games from a Psychological Perspective: Focus on Violent Games and a New Synthesis,” National Institute on Media and the Family website, Nov. 2005
    Jeffrey Goldstein, “Immortal Kombat: War Toys and Violent Video Games,” Why We Watch, 1998
    Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olsen, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, Apr. 2008
    Chris Kohler, “July 29, 1994: Videogame Makers Propose Ratings Board to Congress,” Wired website, July 29, 2009
    Amanda Lenhart, Joseph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh, Alexandra Macgill, Chris Evans, and Jessica Vitak, “Teens, Video Games and Civics,” Pew Internet & American Life Project website, Sep. 2008
    Ingrid Moller and Barbara Krahe, “Exposure to Violent Video Games and Aggression in German Adolescents: A Longitudinal Analysis,” Aggressive Behavior, Oct. 2008
    Cheryl Olson, Lawrence Kutner, Dorothy Warner, Jason Almerigi, Lee Baer, Armand Nicholi, and Eugene Beresin, “Factors Correlated with Violent Video Game Use by Adolescent Boys and Girls,” Journal of Adolescent Health, Jan. 2007
    Cheryl Olson, Lawrence Kutner, and Dorothy Warner, “The Role of Violent Video Game Content in Adolescent Development: Boys’ Perspectives,” Journal of Adolescent Research, Jan. 2008
    Cheryl Olson, “Media Violence Research and Youth Violence Data: Why Do They Conflict?,” Academic Psychiatry, 2004
    Mary Ellen O’Toole, “The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective,” FBI website, 1999
    Dorothy Salonius-Pasternak and Holly Gelfond, “The Next Level of Research on Electronic Play: Potential Benefits and Contextual Influences for Children and Adolescents,” Human Technology, Apr. 2005
    Stephen Siwek, “Video Games in the 21st Century,” Entertainment Software Association website, 2007
    Karen Sternheimer, “Do Video Games Kill?,” Contexts, 2007
    “The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States,” United States Secret Service website, July 2004
    “The Report of the Task Force on Violent Interactive Video Games,” General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission website, Dec. 2008
    Dmitri Williams and Marko Skoric, “Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game,” Communication Monographs, June 2005

  33. A very well written article. I think there are many contributing factors that cause these people to do these things. The fact that millions of people play video games and don’t commit violent acts, says to me that video games are not the main cause. I also don’t think children should be playing violent video games or watching violent movies at all, it’s the parents job to follow the ratings system and limit the exposure to their children.

  34. Margaret Gullan-Whur,
    Sorry I wasn’t back sooner but it’s the last day of the year and I had some trading to do. Markets are closed tomorrow so it’ll be a good day for… Ah? Where was I? Oh ya, mass murderers and violent video games.

    The Guardian reports “Anders Breivik ‘trained’ for shooting attacks by playing Call of Duty: Breivik tells court he practised his shot using a ‘holographic aiming device’ while playing video game.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/19/anders-breivik-call-of-duty

    It can be agreed that the vast majority of nitwits who waste time and value playing violent video games are harmless (to others?). Somewhere on this thread there is the knot of the idea that when the (dollar?) value of the small pleasures of hoi pampolloi (the all many) exceeds the cost of the emotional pain and suffering to a very few people, let the cause of the small pleasures be a cause of the pain and suffering of a few. The related question arises ‘Is the harm and loss suffered the victims an act of the gods, their bad luck; and too bad that they have to pay their own costs or what?’

    It is my view that the producers of games that simulate violence and killing should pay a tax to fund the recovery of individuals and families who have been harmed because of individuals like Breivik.
    By analogy, Breivik’s pre-existing mental condition was like a disposition to a rare type of cancer that occurs when the receptor patient is exposed to an environmental trigger. The ‘scientific’ fact that the vast majority do not suffer such a cancer when exposed to a trigger is irrelevant to the reality that a few people do get the cancer when exposed.

    Bam, bam, bam… your argument is dead.

  35. No, I don’t think so within the limitations of this blog.

    But a Happy (and peaceful) New Year anyway.

  36. Boreas,

    And if it is shown that violent media played no role in a particular case of violence, would you still require payment from these sources?

    Mike has shown a number of times and given a number of arguments for why violent games and movies provide a very weak (weak at best) factor in the perpetuation of actual violence. In that case, if the producers of violent media are required to pay some ammount as compensation, would it not have to at least be proportionate?

    The bottom line is, the people who do these despicable things were already ill. They were already down this path. We can’t blame the producers of violent media simply because the murderer enjoyed them. No more than we could blame the “Biebes” because some murder listened to his music a lot.

  37. Margaret,

    Although I don’t think that your graph provides enough evidence to support your ‘video games provide a cathartic outlet’ theory completely (i.e. there could be any number of extraneous circumstances to explain the drop off in violence), I think it does shed significant light on the weakness of the claim that violent video games make us more violent. Because if that were the case, the line would not be going down.

    Even if, then, the data is not “perfect” or complete, a sample of this size and nature would still support the claim that video games promote or increase violence. At least, a little bit. This chart clearly does not.

    It is certainly not a trump card but it puts a great deal of pressure on the folks who assert that violent media is that dangerous, because they have to show why that is despite what the data suggests.

  38. Margaret Gullan-Whur,

    True-violence has been (in general) declining, even as violent video game sales continue to grow significantly (millions of copies sold for games like Halo and Call of Duty). As has been noted, if video games contributed to violence, we would expect an upward swing in violence in general and specifically from gamers. However, we do not see that. Now, it could be that violent video games do make people more violent, but there is some other factor or factors that is curbing violence. Perhaps violent video games are making people more prone to violence, but Facebook is keeping them too busy to act on those impulses?

  39. Ben Myers-Petro,

    People actually have tried to sue video game companies (such as Rockstar Games, the folks who did Grand Theft Auto) on these grounds. So far, these attempts have failed.

    I would say, to follow your approach, that any contribution by video games is minuscule and hence any moral and financial accountability would also be proportional. There is also the reasonable concern that even if the games affected particularly vulnerable minds, the game companies are not accountable for that vulnerability. To use an analogy, if someone eats peanut butter and has a terrible allergic reaction to the peanuts, the company that makes the peanut butter is not to blame. After all, they are not responsible for the allergy and the majority of people eat peanut butter with no problems. We do not ban peanut butter because some small percentage of the population is allergic to peanuts.

  40. Mike,

    True-Your peanut Butter analogy expressed my argument better than I did. But that was what I was suggesting. That people adversely affected by violent video game content had a vulnerability that existed before they ever even considered playing video games.

  41. Mike LaBossiere and Ben Myers-Petro,
    So if you wanna keep your ass sued-on, you gotta be accountable and responsible for your nuts.

    Re: peanut butter that killed a Brown University student in 1986

    Nothing’s Safe: Some Schools Ban Peanut Butter as Allergy Threat
    By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
    Published: September 23, 1998
    Correction Appended

    As any parent can testify, there is probably no surer staple of childhood than peanut butter: a pure product of America, consumed at an annual rate of three pounds per person, invented by George Washington Carver, the brown-bag-and-grape-jelly backup for millions of schoolchildren who gag at peas and pre-emptively detest anything cooked in a school cafeteria.
    Now peanut butter is under attack at the schoolhouse door. Cheap, nutritious, popular and traditional, it has nonetheless taken its place on the list of substances, like asbestos and lead, that send shivers down the spines of school administrators.

    Prodded by parents warning of lethal allergies, by the contentions of some researchers that peanut allergies are on the rise and, not least, by a fear of litigation, growing numbers of public and private schools across the country, including many of New York City’s most selective independent schools, have banned peanut butter from their cafeterias. Others have declared peanut-free zones or set up committees to figure out what to do.

    For rest of story, go to
    http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/23/nyregion/nothing-s-safe-some-schools-ban-peanut-butter-as-allergy-threat.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

    Most allergic children, excluding the very youngest, know they should not eat peanut butter, he said. It is the hidden sources that are dangerous, he said, like the chili thickened with peanut butter that killed a Brown University student in 1986.

    Trevor’s shift to a peanut-free school came last spring, at the instigation of Diane Schechter, whose daughter, now a first grader, is severely allergic to peanuts, she said. Ms. Schechter approached the school nurse and administration and canvassed other parents in the campaign that led to the ban. Her contention was that a schoolwide effort would lessen the anxiety for students worried that they might unwittingly make her daughter sick, while reducing the stigma for her daughter.

    Ms. Schechter asked that her daughter not be named, for fear of a backlash. She said the child’s allergy had been detected when she was 8 months old. ”My husband ate a peanut butter sandwich,” she said. ”He must have touched her face, because she blew up as if she had been boxed.”

    The child wears a fanny pack containing epinephrine at all times. Ms. Schechter has made a list of safe foods, inspected the cafeteria and called suppliers to insure their products are safe.

    Lisa J. Alberti, director of the Trevor elementary school, said that despite some grumbling, the ban was worth it.

    ”It makes it easier on us to be this clear-cut about it,” she said. ”We’re not talking about her getting the sniffles.”

  42. Boreas,

    Alright, you have perhaps exposed PB as a miss-analogy, along with my ignorance of the steps taken to avoid such allergic reactions.

    However,

    These facts do not show in any significant way that the producers of Peanut Butter are responsible for children’s pre-existing peanut butter allergies, and therefore should be punished, charged, whatever, if a child consumed it and had ill-effects as a result. If anything, it is the dangerous mishandling of peanut butter that is the concern of the school boards. They cannot trust that the product will be handled safely and honestly.

    The story does illuminate how we should be mindful of potential risks and take steps to safeguard when necessary.

    The last issue here is that there is no reason given for why we should think that video games provoke a reaction as extreme, or as commonly, as peanut butter does. Of course it is possible that they are that dangerous, but why could they not be closer to a less common allergy like apples or avocados?

    The bottom line is, that the specific allergen is not germane to the argument itself. Which is: That the producers of certain food items are as responsible for the reactions of people who are allergic to these items as violent video game producers are for the the people who are allergic to violent video games.

    Both “allergies” would exist even if neither allergens were still being produced.

  43. Ben Myers-Petro,

    Peanut butter has served me well over the years. :)

    I do agree with you on that point-the people who engage in such violence are probably vulnerable to such influences to a degree that normal people are able to resist. But, I am sure that each and everyone of us has a cracking point-fortunately, most of us get through life without being exposed to what could break us down into madness or evil.

  44. Boreas,

    I did vaguely recall some schools banning or trying to ban certain food products because of allergies. Thanks for digging up the specifics.

    So, I’ll have to qualify my point: we don’t ban peanut butter from being sold, although some places do apparently ban it for safety reasons when someone is at extreme risk.

    Perhaps the same could be done with video games: kids could be tested for “allergies” to violence and then kept on a “restricted diet” if they are especially vulnerable.

  45. “Perhaps the same could be done with video games: kids could be tested for “allergies” to violence and then kept on a “restricted diet” if they are especially vulnerable.”

    If it is an innate disposition to violence then it may need to be a diet for life.
    I used to be violently allergic to grass pollen being hospitalised with asthma on one occasion. a malady from which I do not normally suffer. I have not had hay fever for many years now, and a recent skin test conducted by myself showed negative for grass pollen. Such experiences can cause psychic trauma, and I still ensure I have an asthma decongestant inhaler to hand just in case. I have never used it.
    I am now accordingly speculating about the prognosis of innate behaviour patterns, and allergies, and what essential points in common there may be.

  46. Videogames und Gewalt | vita philosophiae - pingback on January 3, 2013 at 8:28 am
  47. Kata Pantoon:
    Peanut butter is just a small example of the legal principle ‘He who harms must be accountable (i.e ‘fess up’) and responsible (i.e. ‘pay up’).’ The larger issue is Humean causation.

    The FDA uses Humean causation to allow drugs to market. God help anyone whose nature is different from the majority of test-subjects. The poor souls will get drugs that the med techs are 95% convinced the drugs work for 100% of the pwebbles when in fact they don’t.

    Too bad philosophers haven’t done a better job of causation. They leave the field open for lawyers, those valiant seekers of the persuasive truth. The legal process is like the Odyssey. Much property and many lives are lost even as the one man or principle battles his or its way to claim a castle full of many dead citizens.

  48. Boreas,

    Legally, Jiffy is not held responsible for everyone that has an allergic reaction to their Peanut Butter.

    Just so that I understand, you are of the opinion that producers of products to which people have adverse reactions to are at fault?

  49. Boreas,

    While the FDA can be legitimately criticized, even extensive and proper studies and experiments will still not catch every possible type of reaction. As such, as a practical matter we will have to expect some unexpected results. This is not because of a concept of causation, but due to the fact that there are variations in the population that probably will not be included even in a large and thorough study/experiment.

    To test everyone before releasing a product would be cost prohibitive in many ways.

    In short, we do what we always do: accept some risk because of cost savings and practical concerns.

  50. Yes, as I read him throughout this comment thread, Boreas consistently defends a principle of EITHER banning any product or activity which can cause harm or incite others to cause harm (however few persons are involved) OR charging the producer of that product or activity via taxation or other penalty to in order to routinely compensate those harmed. I argued earlier that this kind of universal principle is inapplicable in such cases as violent video games or gun crime. Now we are seeing that if it is applied universally to products which have the potential for harm in the wrong hands (medications, trampolines, glass bottles, electrical tools) almost no product would be allowed to reach the public (or the manufacturer would go bust).

    I did also say earlier that reactions to violent video games and movies were complex. It is therefore very hard to single out susceptible people in advance. Here in Britain gun licences are granted only after though investigation into character and criminal history, but we still have plenty of unpredicted tragedies.

    While Boreas is welcome to hold his views, this one is as strange to me as the refusal of some sects to make use of blood transfusions. I believe that in advanced industrial nations with high consumer demand, empirical science and data processing may be inadequate but they are our best defence against abuse.

  51. Margaret, Mike and Ben,
    Just so that we understand: producers of products to which people have adverse reactions are at fault when (x(a), x(b), x(c), …) The devil and the legal fees are in the ‘x’ findings and closing args. The principle, I dare say, is well established in advanced industrial nations, even in England and most of its former colonies.

    There are two very different kinds of causal explanation. Type A for class behavior and outcomes: say, the traffic engineer who deals in variables of the masses, and uses statistical analyses, modelling and similar to predict class behavior under varying conditions, blah, blah. So a kind of Humean causation on steroids, eh?

    Type B for individual events: say, the traffic accident — which by the way includes non-being as a cause for failure and negligence — where the cause has existence as a particular event at a specific time for which some individual person must be held responsible.

    Margaret, you offend my sensitiveness. There is nothing advanced about a nation that lets some few individuals suffer harm even loss of life just so that some large corporations can be mega-profitable and the all many can have their bloody trivial pursuits.

  52. Boreas,

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “Humean causation.” I know what Hume meant, but it doesn’t seem to be quite the same as what he meant.

    But, to get back to the main point about responsibility: the idea that someone is morally responsible for anything they have even the slightest causal contribution to seems to be absurd. While I agree that people are responsible for their actions in general, the responsibility would seem to be proportional to various factors, such as the strength of the connection.

    Going with foods, people have a huge variety of allergies to various food items. For example, some people are allergic to shellfish. As another example, some folks react badly to wheat. If we ban all the things people are allergic to, we’d have a limited selection of foods to chose from. Also, in terms of culpability, companies that sell things like peanuts or bread are selling products that are safe for the vast majority of people seem to be clearly distinct from those that are generally harmful.

  53. Boreas -

    First, I apologise for offending your sensitivities. I actually have much sympathy with you on the matter of modern commercial and general greed. I was moreover a pacifist for several years and still am in my heart.

    However, I now doubt – thanks mainly to Spinoza -if we can live happily or usefully in this world by trusting our hearts. In the present debate, using our heads, specifically the analytical skill you clearly have in abundance, works against your final sentence “There is nothing advanced in a nation that lets some few individuals suffer harm even loss of life just so that some large corporations can be mega-profitable and the all many can have their bloody trivial pursuits.”

    If you limit the products of large corporations to video games and movies, you will understandably see them as conferring no good in the world at all. But (as discussed above) there is a place for the view that playing/watching them sublimates the anger and killer instinct common to human nature, and so prevents actual bodily violence. In the case of other products which may harm a few individuals, they may be marketed for profit, but they are only successfully marketed to meet demand, and that demand is often wholesome if not always targeting a necessity to well-being. I’m sorry but I stay with the utilitarian principle, just so long as there is transparency in advertising (and a listing of side effects, of drugs for example)and a robust legal system in place for justifiable compensation.

  54. Boreas,

    Would you please explain a bit more clearly what you mean by this? Like what you hold “a,” “b,” and “c” to mean.

    “Just so that we understand: producers of products to which people have adverse reactions are at fault when (x(a), x(b), x(c), …) The devil and the legal fees are in the ‘x’ findings and closing args. The principle, I dare say, is well established in advanced industrial nations, even in England and most of its former colonies.”

    I don’t think I asked my original question very clearly either. What I mean to ask is: Do you hold companies that produce things to which people have negative reactions, responsible for any(every?) negative reaction simply because they continue to produce these products?

  55. Mike, Margaret and Ben:

    Ben, each case must be judged on its own merits. I use the example of peanut butter at school cafeterias to show that school boards have a legal risk from allowing some very few (and possibly unknown) children to be exposed to an otherwise nutritious food product. More generally, it is because some few people can have adverse reactions to common household products that we have much and many product label warnings. One thing the warnings do is to absolve the producing companies. But the underlying principle is that he who unknowingly harms others shall be held responsible unless blah, blah, blah. I’m just saying ‘Widen the circle of accountability and responsibility to include makers of imitative violence’.

    But at the same time, Margaret, as you suggest, I too believe ‘Let the marketplace decide’. The best way, I figure, would be something like a carbon tax. Go ahead: Let companies pollute the four elements and our social awareness. But make them pay for it. And direct the tax proceeds to a fund that benefits victims in an efficient and effective manner. Do not doubly victimize those harmed by forcing them to take the long legal dirt path to contingency fee justice.

    Of course, Mike, I slur Hume’s good name when I complain about Humean causation. Let me use a few examples. Where there is a class of homogenous subjects, say wheat farms, efficient causation is okay. Where the class has diverse subjects, say load-bearing materials for construction, the causal factors must include the nature of the materials (wood, different metals, stone, etc) as well as physical forces and stresses. My point is that if philosophers want to talk about causation, they should walk-around to observe how the many life- and material-sciences and technologies actually do their particular type of causal reasoning. For bridge causation, who would want to drive a loaded semi (i.e. ‘lorry’) across a bridge that is reliable for only 99.99% of the vehicular crossing. So, there are causal sets for which we insist on 100% performance for a long time. How’s the roof on your residence, by the way? Has time (a ubiquitous non-spatial causal agent) worn down the roof? In the New York Times Sunday Magazine, from time to time, they have stories on diagnosing rare diseases; those too have causes.

    Shall we gather at the river to make the circle wider still? Whenever, eh? And a belated ‘Happy New Year to you too’ for Margaret.

  56. My use of “causation” tends to be in accord with the usual critical thinking model. That is, sort of a basic science version without much in the way of odd add-ons.

  57. nathan tuiasosopo

    :evil: violence is bad

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