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 Meditation on personal ethics prompted by tragedy
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 08/21/2009 :  13:25:27  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I find myself thinking a lot about the difference between the philosophies people claim to live by and the philosophies that they actually live by as evidenced by action. A college friend of mine was murdered by her ex-boyfriend a couple weeks ago. This is what happened: http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2009/08/10/a2dead.html?sid=101

The perpetrator of this horrible act of violence had seemed quite the standard critically-thinking Libertarian type, and everyone in her circle of friends enjoyed his company and thought he was a swell guy. And then I guess he just had a psychotic break, lured her to his house, shot her in the head, burned down both their houses, called the police, then shot himself. I can't say that this incident has changed my own worldview at all, but it has served as a powerful reminder that while populations follow tendencies we can track with statistics and studies, individuals are ultimately unpredictable.

I'm reminded of an anthropology course I took in college and reading an essay about the Khoi San people in Africa who were still espousing their historically egalitarian values while beginning to behave in a manner which showed their values were changing and being influenced by neighboring populations they traded with. They denied what was obvious even when it was pointed out to them. This same pattern of values-lived verses valued-articulated is talked about in Marc Hauser's book "Moral Minds." I wish it were as easy as simply asking someone what they think is right and wrong and what they believe about the world, but it's just not that simple.


"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Dr. Mabuse
Septic Fiend

Sweden
9672 Posts

Posted - 08/21/2009 :  14:21:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Dr. Mabuse an ICQ Message Send Dr. Mabuse a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by marfknox
I'm reminded of an anthropology course I took in college and reading an essay about the Khoi San people in Africa who were still espousing their historically egalitarian values while beginning to behave in a manner which showed their values were changing and being influenced by neighboring populations they traded with. They denied what was obvious even when it was pointed out to them. This same pattern of values-lived verses valued-articulated is talked about in Marc Hauser's book "Moral Minds." I wish it were as easy as simply asking someone what they think is right and wrong and what they believe about the world, but it's just not that simple.

That pretty much lines up with my experience of Christians I've met:
They do like to think themselves better and morally superior, but when push come to shove, they are just as bad or even worse than average Joe.


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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/21/2009 :  14:57:26   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
If it was a psychotic break, then it was no more predictable than a gas-line explosion or an airplane crash, and quite a bit different than people proclaiming some set of values while following another due to social pressures, yes?

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dglas
Skeptic Friend

Canada
397 Posts

Posted - 08/21/2009 :  15:11:57   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send dglas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I'm sorry to hear about your friend, and your distress over her death, Marf. Sometimes things hitting close to home can profoundly affect one.

Seems to me "psychotic break" is just another way of saying "just snapped" or some other equally non-explanation.

I admit, some of my attitudes, especially about ethics and social context, arise from an equally violent episode. A friend of mine, whom I'd been playing snooker with less than 10 hours earlier, shot his girlfriend and another man at a nightclub with a shotgun and then turned it on himself. People say that kind of thing is an aberration, alien and strange, unpredictable. But none of that kept me from feeling like I failed in some way. I stopped thinking of people as islands that day.

I suspect that the idea of morality as a something individuals hold, independent of the context around them, is a tragic error - indefensible and unworkable, despite our best efforts to foster such an idea.

--------------------------------------------------
- dglas (In the hell of 1000 unresolved subplots...)
--------------------------------------------------
The Presupposition of Intrinsic Evil
+ A Self-Justificatory Framework
= The "Heart of Darkness"
--------------------------------------------------
Edited by - dglas on 08/21/2009 15:12:59
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 08/21/2009 :  17:02:59   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave wrote:
If it was a psychotic break, then it was no more predictable than a gas-line explosion or an airplane crash, and quite a bit different than people proclaiming some set of values while following another due to social pressures, yes?
I was thinking of it more as the most extreme example of someone's expressed values not lining up with their actions, but the way you've framed it might be more accurate. I don't know enough about psychotic breaks.

I do know that during a psychotic break, the mentally ill person flips to a completely different personality unrecognizable from the person they normally are. And while in cases like these this is an extreme change, much more subtle changes happen within the psychologies of perfectly healthy people all the time. Often people make plans that sound appealing to us when we make them, but when the time comes to live it out, we end up in a totally different mindset and either cancel or resent the commitment. One of my friends likes to joke about why he doesn't like to attribute any single label to his worldview because, "On my good days I'm a secular humanist, but on my bad days I'm sometimes an Objectivist." I laughed when he said this, but I've noticed that depending on my mood and immediate circumstances, I might tend more toward nihilism than humanism. It seems that the establishment of personal values usually comes before our reasoned explanations for adopting those values. And so in Ed's altered, psychotic state, his violent actions probably made perfect sense which is probably why he sounded so calm on the phone with the police. (He had planned the whole thing, even dropping his dogs off at a shelter beforehand!) His rational mind was able to instantly make sense of the horrible actions that his feelings compelled him to do, even though previously he would have been incapable of such violence. The speed at which people are capable of switching like that just boggles my mind.

dglas wrote:
Seems to me "psychotic break" is just another way of saying "just snapped" or some other equally non-explanation.
Not at all. I used that term because it was suggested by a psychologist my friend spoke with about the matter. Not that psychology is a hard science or that the experts in the field can neatly answer all our questions about human psychology, but I very much meant the term in the sense that the guy was clearly mentally ill and that this sudden, violent series of acts on his part was due to some particular psychological malfunction.

With mental illness people often speak about certain mental states as being "not who the person really is. I've known a lot of people with chronic mental illness, and whenever the more obvious, textbook symptoms of their disorders appear, most of their friends and family try to separate those characteristics from the person they know and love. But on the other hand, if such characteristics aren't part of the "real person", then who do those characteristics belong to? I don't think there is any easy way to talk about mental illness. But we also can't deny that mental illness is very real and can be devastating. Our explanations and treatments for most mental problems might be as of yet insufficient, but they are better than nothing.

I suspect that the idea of morality as a something individuals hold, independent of the context around them, is a tragic error
Yes - a very apt way of putting it.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 08/21/2009 :  22:37:50   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I'm really horrified to read of all this. My sympathy to you for your old friend's sake.

This guy's actions show that sometimes a person can be completely normal and apparently well-socialized and still turn out to be a bomb waiting to blow up. This wasn't one of those "he was a quiet fellow, kept to himself" guys that are so often described after their rampages. This was a very sociable, intelligent fellow who did volunteer work that contributed to his community. Who could expect his actions?

I'm trying to get inside the guy's head. I don't think he "snapped" in the usual sense of having a psychotic episode. This is a very wild guess, but here's what I think may have happened:

I suspect Edward Offord was always a closet sociopath. I'm guessing Offord was a man who generally enjoyed interacting with people, but didn't think they were nearly as important as himself. And he was intelligent enough to keep this opinion to himself. When Krista Winger gave him the boot, he simply assessed his life, and decided he'd be better off dead. Killing her was almost an afterthought, a bi-product of his suicide. Once he'd decided to end his own life, he figured he might as well get a little revenge as well, and go out in a blaze of imagined glory. The value of his ex-girlfriend's life meant nothing to him.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
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