Best Way to Prevent Rare Massacres: Focus on 'Routine' Violence
In the wake of the awful events in Newtown, a "national conversation" seems to have started about both easy access to guns and the ways we deal (or don't deal) with mental illness. Naturally their focus is on how to prevent another one of these mass killings. If it's to accomplish much, though, that focus should probably be elsewhere.
This is because the vast majority of our gun and mental-illness problems don't involve mass murder. Americans' access to guns leads to thousands of deaths each year in accidents, suicides, fights and crimes—mass killings are a tiny fraction of the toll. So getting a national handle on our gun problem, if effective, will mostly be about preventing those mundane kinds of deaths, not the sort of catastrophe that occurred in Newtown. (And that's why getting that handle, as Jonathan Chait explains, won't be the triumphant passage of a single bill, but rather a hard, long-term political grind). Meanwhile, a conversation about how better to address mental illness shouldn't just focus on mass killing—because, again, only a infinitesimal number of mentally ill people commit murder—but rather on preventing common forms of misery and injury: The suffering of people with these conditions, and that of those who care for them. (The latter, by the way, is the suffering to which the I-gotta-be mental-illness crowd is blind.)
Why does it take a Newtown to get us to talk about our more diffuse but deadlier troubles? The human mind, being tuned to stories of individual experiences and feelings, isn't good at assimilating information about large numbers of undifferentiated individuals. For example, 55,000 Syrians are estimated to have died in the civil war now under way in that country. But I'm far more traumatized by the deaths of 27 people last week in Connecticut. I can imagine 27 individuals (it is, after all, just a roomful of people). Upwards of 50,000? Can't do it. As the psychologist Paul Slovic has observed here about our insensitivity to numbers, it often seems as if "the more who die, the less we care."
This week, many Americans are experiencing an impulse to act fast in order to forestall a rare danger. We can let that impulse pass, as most do—or we can channel it into a methodical, longer effort to address common and quite foreseeable dangers as well. That would prevent much death and misery, and there is no downside: Effective action would reduce the chances of another Newtown as well.
Moving away from our current hands-off, what-can-you-do? approach to seriously scary behavior would be one such effort. Here's an example of conversation that might be aborning: The struggles detailed in Liza Long's post about her troubled son, which has been all over the Internet.
That post has brought out some intelligent expressions of sympathy (like this one from Rebecca Schoenkopf) and some intelligent criticisms (like this one). It also, predictably, got Long accused of dehumanizing the mentally ill—just the kind of "you're not allowed to say that!" sentiment that Americans need to set aside.
POSTSCRIPT, 12/18/12: As time passes, I expect that the conversation about "mental illness and violence" will address a profound question I haven't touched on above. Which is: What does it mean to say mental illness caused someone to kill? In that obvious-sounding claim, there are a lot of steps left out between attribute (mental illness) and action (murder). Which is obvious if you substitute other states of being for "mentally ill": A statement like "he cooked rice because he is Armenian" or "she fired the mailroom because she's black" wouldn't make much sense, unless it came with a substantial explanation. This doesn't mean, as some have claimed this week, that we can't draw any connection between some aspect of mental illness and mass killing. It just means that when we make the bare claim, we're just saying there must be something there. Not the same as understanding what the "something" is.
Daniel Lende ponders the connection, or absence thereof, here at Neuroanthropology, referencing Vaughan Bell's piece on the same issue. (Both pieces date from nearly two years ago, and stemmed from a different massacre. Sigh)
I certainly see the problem with hand-waving ascriptions of violence to "mental illness." Yet it seems to me people ought to be able to respond to alarming behavior, whatever arguments we're having about the condition that might have caused it. And I think this desire is compatible with my knowledge that most mentally ill people are harmless. Think of it this way: If my Armenian neighbors start stocking assault rifles, shooting stray cats and talking up the end of the world, I'm entitled to think they should have their heads examined, no? If your reply is "let your neighbors be! how dare you cast aspersions on Armenians!" then I think you should have yours examined as well.
Photo: "Non-Violence" (also known as "The Knotted Gun") by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd at the United Nations in New York. Via Wikimedia.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."
Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.