Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Happy Slapping" and Humour

The account below is taken from the BBC web site. It summarizes an episode of "Happy Slapping," a form of violent bullying in which victims are assaulted by some members of a gang while others record the proceedings with their mobile phones.

The gang in question attacked a string of victims, one of whom died. One member of the gang was Chelsea O'Mahoney - the youngest, the only female and the only one to indicate any remorse. She is reported to have said that she had found the violence "funny."

I find this sort of thing interesting, especially from the point of view of my work on the theory of humor -
I would like to document more examples of the links between violence and the humor, the funnyness, that is experienced by people as they engage in violence, both criminal violence and also legally sanctioned, as in war or combat sports.

Can members provide any examples of?

1. Similar, documented examples of the funnyness of violent assaults.

2. Examples of people finding the acts of combat, or the processes of going to war, funny. Here, I am thinking of examples separate from normal group joking. For example, I have heard of, though I cannot document, an episode during the D-day landings when a landing craft crew, who previously quite silent, began to laugh during the run up to the beach.

Youths jailed for barman killing

Four members of a gang who attacked strangers at random, apparently filming some on mobile phones, have been jailed for the death of one of their victims.

A 16-year-old girl, Chelsea O'Mahoney, was among four people who kicked David Morley's head "like a football" on London's South Bank in October 2004.

Reece Sargeant, 21, Darren Case, 18, and David Blenman, 17, were sentenced to 12 years each for manslaughter.

O'Mahoney was given an eight-year custodial sentence. The gang, from Kennington, south London, had been acquitted of murder.

Mr Morley was sitting on a bench with a friend on the South Bank when they were approached by the gang, who launched a sudden attack - smiling or laughing as they battered the pair, the court heard.

He died from multiple injuries later that night - his friend Alastair Whiteside still suffers from nightmares and insomnia.

Eight people were beaten and stamped on that night, in attacks carried out for pleasure, it was claimed.

In CCTV footage of the gang's last attack that night, on a homeless man who was kicked as he slept, O'Mahoney is seen holding a phone up, apparently filming the attack.

No pictures were recovered, but the judge, Brian Barker, Common Serjeant of London, said he had no doubt O'Mahoney was filming the assaults. Sentencing the four, he said: "You sought enjoyment from humiliation and pleasure from the infliction of pain and you were clearly determined to continue and take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.

"You called this `happy slapping' - no victim on the receiving end would dignify it with such a deceptive description."

Mr Morley, 37, from Chiswick, west London, was a gay barman who had survived the Soho nail bomb attack in 1999.

Det Insp Nick Scola said: "For him to lose his life in such a cowardly and pointless attack was a tragedy in every sense of the word," he said.

The gang was told they would each have to serve at least two-thirds of their sentences before being released on licence for the remainder of their terms.

The four were also convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.

O'Mahoney's lawyer said she was the child of heroin addicts, who had been found wandering the streets of London aged three or four and had had a "particularly chaotic and fragmented life".

The others were also described as immature and vulnerable to peer pressure - Sargeant was said to feel "deeply ashamed".

Mr Morley's father, Geoffrey, 76, said he was pleased the sentence reflected the seriousness of the offence but said he had seen little remorse from the defendants. "Nothing will bring my son back," he said. "At least it will be better for the public at large and perhaps better for them that they have a sentence that fits the crime."

Posted originally to evolutionary psychology list - 23/1/06

Monday, August 15, 2005

Group Selection Discussion

Posted 15 August 2005 to and in response to EvePsychGroup

Dear Pascal,
It is nice to see someone examining a dissenting opinion, instead of just following the flock. I am sure Sober's aim is to determine the best viewpoint, which is not something to be alarmed about. Gould also rejected the gene-centred view of evolution in "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" I agree with their judgment that it is a logically incoherent approach. I think their their arguments FOR group selection seem clear and reasonable, as does the evidence supporting it, but their ideas seem incomplete, in that they do not offer an alternative, unified foundation for evolutionary theory. (Also, Gould believed in species selection but there I do disagree with him. I find that genes, organisms and groups can be legitimate units of selection, in that they can all be associated with self-bounding data sets. By contrast, the data set defined by the species is not SELF-bounding but is bounded by the restraints arising from environment and competition. Hence, the species cannot be a unit for evolutionary selection.)

The most obvious error in gene selectionism is the failure to recognize that the genome contains data that is not associated with any gene, only with the organism. Such data cannot be subject to selection in units of genes, only in units of organisms. For example, consider the evolved data set represented by the sequence of genes on a chromosome. A rearrangement of the genes on a chromosome is likely to impair an organism's viability, even though no one gene has been altered. Natural selection will operate upon such sequence of gene rearrangements even thought it cannot be operating upon any one of the genes. Hence, the natural selection that operates upon data contained in the sequence of genes operates on the viability of the whole organism. Therefore, this is an example of organismal selection not gene selection.

It is troubling that so many people act as if Dawkins' ideas on evolution were beyond criticism. They seem to exhibit a quasi-religious commitment to his gene-centred approach but I think their stance is wrong; Dawkins is a scientist, not a priest, and his work is as subject to criticism as is that of any other scientist. Dissenters, like Sober, are not committing a heresy by disagreeing with him, they are criticizing his ideas; they are arguing a good case and there are serious grounds to think that they are right. Certainly, their criticisms deserve a more serious reply than I have yet seen.

Once you allow that both genes and organisms can be units of selection, you effectively create an evolutionary hierarchy. You become obliged to ask about the general nature of these units and about what general criteria that might define units of evolutionary selection. Depending upon the answer to that inquiry, you must consider other units, particularly groups, and ask about their evolutionary role. In other words, the recognition that gene selection and organism selection both occur accepts a hierarchical view of evolution. If that hierarchy is real, what other steps are found in that hierarchy, how do you distinguish them and what kinds of items are found on those steps? Like genes and organisms, groups carry self-bounded data sets down the generations. Why not allow a third step and accept groups as units of selection alongside these other units?

In any event, please, do not just blindly subordinate your thought to the established religion of the gene. Think about what Sober, Wilson and Gould, and even myself, are saying. Consider the evidence and weigh the arguments. Genes, organisms and social groups are all products of evolution and all carry evolved data (knowledge) down the generations. To me it seems ridiculous merely to proclaim one of them, the gene, as the true messiah, the sole true and valid basis for evolution, while dismissing all others as derivative. Reasons must be given for such choices.

Finally, and in reply to Val Dusek, Herb Gintis and other followers of scientific philosophy, I would like to note that the philosopher Francis Bacon is widely credited with having founded science. Also, I believe that it was Leibnitz, a philosopher, who largely developed the calculus in the coherent way that is now used. Newton, a scientist, had previously developed his "fluxions" but his was a rather "dotty" symbolism that is now seen as unsatisfactory. He was, moreover, less than forthcoming about his methods when he wrote Principia. As for Popper – I find his work outstanding.


John Hewitt

Message: 21
Date: Thu, 11 Aug 2005 22:31:34 -0500
From: "Pascal Bercker"
Subject: Sober on Dawkins

I'm reading Elliot Sober's Philosophy of Biology textbook (1993,
recently reissued as a later edition.) Sober is highly regarded in philosophy of biology, but I just ran into a paragraph about Dawkins that stopped me cold. If he's right about Dawkins I've been wrong about Dawkins all these years. In a chapter on the unit of selection problem, he writes the following:

"Here, I am treading on controversial territory. Everyone grants that what may be good for the group may not be good for the organism. However, Dawkins (1976) thinks of the genic and the organismic points if view as EQUIVALENT [emphasis mine]. I will argue otherwise. But there is more. Some of the arguments that Williams and Dawkins present for the thesis of GENIC SELECTIONISM - that the gene is the unit of selection - have a curious characteristic" (Sober, p. 95).

I thought I understood Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1989) so that EQUIVALENT can't possibly be right? Am I right, or have I been in the wrong ball field all this time? Am I needlessly alarmed? (Or is Herbert Gintis's unflattering opinion of philosophers right after all?)

Pascal Bercker

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Aims of the Blog

"Sex and Philosophy"

This is the Sex and Philosophy blog written by me, John Hewitt, and linked to my web site of the same name. The topic of the blog is the same as the web site. Evolutionary theory is very basic to biology but, my recent work points out, evolutionary theory can be generalized by taking data, rather than genes, to be its basic concept. The result, as developed by myself, is bioepistemic evolution and there are various theories of human nature that emerge from this form of evolutionary theory - notably theories of sexuality, the nature of humor, social organization and epistemology.
I am just beginning with blogs, so I am not yet fully clear about how they work. They often seem to personal things, much more transient than web sites, but this blog is not private and it is written under my real name. Some readers might see the title and look for something a bit racy but they will find my efforts disappointing. My writings will interest readers with a serious interest in the evolutionary origins of human nature and my discussions of sexuality and humor will not normally be either sexy or funny, they will address the nature of these traits in humans.
I hope that the blog will have educational value and will help people to learn about my ideas - some of these topics are important and wide ranging.
Still, this blog is just a place to write things down as they occur to me or as I come across them. I hope people will join in and respond.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Sex and Philosophy - Blog File

This is a new blog and is entered here for trial purposes.

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