Monthly Archives: July 2013

On Oslo, junkies and the bystander effect

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Image taken from vg.no

The downtown core of Oslo is about a 20 minute walk from my place. Lately I’ve been going down there pretty much every day. I go because I have nothing better to do, and because I get very easily bored (ridiculously so. Relaxing is really not my thing).  Anyway, there are a lot of hard drug and alcohol addicts in Oslo. (If you’ve read the post on Western and Norwegian Drug Policy, you’ll know of this.)

If you go to Oslo’s Central Station (“Oslo S or Jernbanetorget”, our main train station) you’ll see them. They hang out in several different locations, but Oslo S seems to have the greatest concentration. They’ll get chased away by the cops, but they come back within a fairly short time. If you then walk up Karl Johan (the main street in the centre of Oslo), you will also find them; they might be selling =Oslo mags, or they may, as the one guy I met last night, lie on the sidewalk, seemingly unconscious.  I’ll get back to the (seemingly) unconscious guy, but I have to explain the psych-part first.

There’s this (horrible) phenomenon called “the bystander effect” (psychology majors will be fully aware of this). The bystander effect is simply explained; when we see someone who is in trouble, we frequently fail to react. If there are many people present, as was the case today, we are even less likely to act. It is a weird phenomenon, and it happens all the time. The first time it was adequately described was back in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered in New York. Kitty was attacked, she cried for help, and there were many witnesses.Several of the witnesses heard Kitty’s cries and some saw the event. What was common for them all was that they did nothing.

It would be easy to judge them as horribly incompassionate, but please understand that these weren’t bad people. They were just subject to the bystander effect. Our psyches are cruel though, so when we are aware that there are others witnessing the same event that we are, our minds tell us that  that it is not our responsibility; that we ‘should stay out of it and mind our own business’. We assume that someone else will take care of the problem.  The thing is, this fabled  ’Someone else’ does not take care of the problem, because the ‘someone else’ will likely take the same position as you. We see it in the case of ‘jumpers’ or people who accidentally fall down on railroad/subway tracks when there’s a train coming. The more people are present, the less likely someone is to react. If there is only one person present, she/he is likely to help, to assume responsibility, but when there are tens or hundreds, we all stand by and watch it happen while waiting for someone else to do something.

In becoming aware of the bystander effect I have deliberately chosen not to fall for it. When I see someone struggling, I react. It is not a matter of being in a compassio-thon of sorts, it is just about having the decency to ask if the other person is well. I have never encountered any problems in doing so; the maximum amount of effort I have had to put in was to place a call to the police/ambulance (in the case of a very psychotic young man). The guy yesterday was perfectly fine ( he was just high as all get out) and all I had to do to assure that he was fine (i.e., that he wasn’t in need medical assistance)  was to shake him slightly and ask him if he was ok. No effort, just a question and a gentle touch.

So now that you’re aware of the bystander effect, I hope you react when you see someone who looks to be in a bad way. The worst thing that might happen is you may be told to mind your own business, and though that may hurt a little, you’ll live, and you’ll know that you did the right thing.

On why you probably shouldn’t buy a new cell phone until your old one is busted

Coltanlady

I am not crazy about cell phones. I dislike all phones really, but I dislike cell phones in particular.  I am not important enough (in the big picture) to have to be available 24/7, and I am quite bad at talking on the phone. I interrupt the person I am talking to, because I can’t seem to figure out whose turn it is to talk. Then there’s the awful ‘stutter/talk over each other thing’ that usually follows after my interrupting. I am also slow at texting. These are (I think) pretty good reasons for disliking phones. There are much better reasons to dislike cell-phones (and many other electronics) though, one being the trade in coltan.

Coltan is used in electronics (and missiles, weapons-systems and more). It is  a metallic ore,  and it is mined in several different places in the world, among them the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC for short). I am sure everyone is aware of the trade in blood diamonds (there’s even a movie); coltan is the blood-diamond of metallic ore. The trade in coltan helps fund  the (incredibly bloody and brutal) war within the DRC. Coltan funds the activities of warlords. These warlords use militias who are frequently made up of child-soldiers and the militias are responsible for brutal/incredibly violent rapes and murders.

Image taken from www.whenthenewsstops.org

Image taken from www.whenthenewsstops.org

I have already mentioned that coltan is used in weapons manufacturing but I think it is worth repeating. Coltan has caused an increase in child labour (and thereby a decrease in school attendance) and has (of course) also been responsible for destruction of the habitats (and the killing off) of several already endangered animal species. And who profits? The large multinational companies. The already very wealthy. Trust me, the miners are not well paid, neither are the child soldiers. Not even the warlords are,  but the companies we willingly give money to in order to have the latest gadget, profit on a massive scale. The UN proposed sanctions against 85 multinationals, but after (vigorous) lobbying by member-states, nothing ever came of it.

Image taken from themartlet.ca

Child mining coltan. Image taken from themartlet.ca

All in all, our rampant consumerism has a very high cost. We don’t acknowledge that it exists though. We should probably reconsider our consumption, particularly when we are aware that it is costing lives.

Mind you, I am not innocent in this; I have a computer. I have a TV and I have a cell-phone (So, in the case of the cell, I only got a new one when I dropped the one I had inherited from my dad in my coffee-mug). I have many many electronic devices, but I am doing (and will continue to do) my utmost to keep it to a minimum. The people who would be impressed by my possessions are not people I really consider important to me anyway, so the brag-factor is absent. I am certain that I don’t need the Iphone 6, and I am pretty sure that most others don’t need it either.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Sorry about the depressing content, but awareness is a pretty good thing. Or so I think.

On Roma in Europe and Norway

 

This photo was taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old Roma woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer,and had she been allowed to live, she might have contributed  much more than she already has.   She was executed in 1943 for no other reason but having been born Roma.

This photo was taken in Berlin and depicts a 23 year old Roma woman by the name Erna Lauenburger. Erna was a skilled writer,and had she been allowed to live, she might have contributed much more than she already has. She was executed in 1943 for no other reason but having been born Roma.

(Again) note; I do not claim to have the answers as to how the problem of the Roma could possibly be solved,  I merely observe and write notes because I have nothing better to do.

Anyway..

I’m certain that whoever reads this knows of the Roma, but just in case you don’t, I’ll give a brief introduction. Roma were/are frequently referred to as “Gypsies” (Gypsy is considered an offensive term) and they are wanderers. They originated in the Indian subcontinent and are currently dispersed throughout Europe and parts of the Americas. Throughout time, the Roma have been persecuted (almost?) on par with the Jewish people, but there are considerable differences between the two groups. Where the Jewish people persevered (despite incredible hardships) and have managed to spread the word of their ill-treatment, the Roma have not. Literacy and education has made all the difference. Both groups have been denied entry to several countries (among them, Norway) and forced sterilizations carried out by the majority-population were commonplace in the case of the Roma.

The Roma were also persecuted during the Holocaust, and the only group treated worse were the Jewish people. We are (of course) aware that it did happen to Roma too, but there is not a whole lot of discussion of the Roma’s fate these days.

Now, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I am not suggesting that Roma are exposed to Holocaust-like conditions these days, but they are certainly marginalized and are treated inhumanely. They are frequently panhandlers and live on the streets. A number are virtually  illiterate, and in European society at large, they are not considered equals. Their kids are sent to schools for intellectually disabled or segregated into ‘all-Roma’ classes. They do not have access to the same healthcare as you and I, and their life-expectancy is considerably lower than ours. They frequently refuse to disclose their ethnicity to the authorities. Their ‘paranoia’ is very well-founded, but in withdrawing from the rest of society they create an even greater problem for themselves. Progress is (usually) achieved through interaction, and without it, they’ll likely remain where they currently are.

Back to Norway (and Europe, but my first-hand experience is naturally from the country in which I live). The trend is not changing. Roma are still persecuted, but in a ‘kinder, gentler way’. They are chased away by the cops when they set up camp. They have been attacked with fireworks.  A smallish Norwegian newspaper (fairly) recently printed an article in which it was claimed that the Roma eat pigeons (!), rats (!!) and dogs (!!!) (feel free to contact me if you want any of the articles translated). This claim about Roma eating rats was supported by a picture of a bone which appears to be from a chicken wing (check it out, there’s a cigarette-butt that serves as a size-indicator. Rat-bones are much much smaller so if that bone is from a rat, it would be a Monster!) I would call the article `weirdly-phrased and almost propaganda-y’.
These are people who do not eat shellfish, as they consider scavengers not edible, so the likelihood of these allegations being true are miniscule.

It was also alleged that they defecate outside, and that without properly wiping! (I would love to hear how Rusken-leader Jan Hauger, the person claiming this, would know anything about how the Roma wipe. I can not contest that they might ‘go’ outside, but how do you know about their wiping-habits Jan?).  I am not usually in the business of judging others, but I’ll make an exception for Mr. Hauger. What he said harkens back to 1930′s Germany.

An added problem is that of “helpful people” (in other, non-minced words; ‘well-meaning idiots’). We have a guy here, Bjønnulv Evenrud, who started an organization called “Folk er folk” (“people are people”… Yup, not a particularly clever name…) He decided that the smart thing to do was to print a magazine that the Roma could sell as a means to get some money. There is already an organization doing that;  =Oslo, a long established institution where the sellers are  addicts. I will always buy =Oslo, and I will never buy “Folk er folk’s” magazine. And it is not because I don’t empathize with the Roma. First, I am not too fond of Evenrud copying the idea of a street-magazine for people down on their luck. Secondly, it has (naturally) created a conflict between two marginalized groups whom both deserve better.

It should be said that the Norwegian government has tried to help in some ways. They have set up showers and porta-potties.  I must also commend many members of the Norwegian clergy; they have demonstrated on the Roma’s behalf, and I can honestly say that my respect rose considerably. It was a true act of compassion.

Anyway, To the psychology-part of this post; what does ‘information’ like what was printed in the newspaper article mentioned above do to our psyches? If we are gullible enough to believe it, it makes us consider the “vastly different” as not quite human. We are led to believe that they do things we would never do; they eat things we would never eat; they act in ways we (from our privileged positions) find to be awful. We do not acknowledge that they are living, breathing humans with the exact same emotional range as ourselves. When we dehumanize, it becomes much easier to treat people in ways that we would never dream of treating those we consider our equals.  These were the mechanism at work in the Holocaust, in former Yugoslavia/Bosnia, in Rwanda, Abu Ghraib and in countless other cases. By dehumanizing, we create ‘An Other’, and in the process,  our humanity, compassion and empathy evaporates.
A case in Italy illustrates my point; two Roma girls drowned during the summer of 08. Normally, those around would react with shock and horror, but instead they chose to continue sunbathing, just meters away from the dead girls.. If the reaction to young girls dying is that of nonchalance and indifference, it bears witness of a serious character flaw, both on a societal and on an individual level.

 

On Men’s Rights Advocacy Groups.

 

Ok, so we have feminists, of which I am one.

The men I know like and/or love are morally upstanding lovely people whom I deeply respect. I do not like generalized statements about either gender. I think statements who assert that ‘all men are….’ are ridiculous. I also think stereotypes about women, or certain sub-sets of women are dumb. Equally dumb are claims like “feminists are.. (insert broad generalization here)“.

But, there’s one exception to my refusal to stereotype, and the groups I do tend to stereotype are Men’s Rights Groups.

A little background on the Men’s Rights Movement. The group is mostly made up of white males. The most disenfranchised group, historically and currently (uhm..). I am not making the claim that white men have never been unfairly or harshly treated (it’s a class and money-thing), but if we were to compare to other groups in society, they’ve had a pretty good run.
Anyway, these guys feel that with the advent of feminism, they’ve lost fundamental rights. Most long for a more “traditional societal structure”, but not knowing the complexity of social structures around the world, what they’re really describing is fifties Western utopian ideal of sorts (2 parents, 2 children living in one household).  A place where women were dainty, feminine and submissive, and where men were allowed to set the rules. Such a structure may  have existed for a fleeting moment, but trust, it is an idealised image. Thus, not real.
Nevertheless. The Male-rights guys have started looking for women in far-flung corners of the world in the hopes that they might find the kind of woman they seek. I read one hilarious thread once (can’t find it now) where they were discussing this particular problem; one of the participants claimed that the Philippines was the place to go to find said submissive feminine woman. Another debater responded with a claim that Pinay-women no longer were any good because of Western influence. A third responded that there were still some good Pinay-women but that you had to go up into the small villages in the  mountains. And it left me with a mental  image of chubby little white guys trekking through the jungle in search of “the perfect woman” :D

 

Phil

Nevertheless, these men have a solid hatred on for women, and will rail against Western women as “shallow and obsessed with money and power”.

Such outrageous statements  would be quite funny (to me anyway) if it wasn’t for the fact that some of these guys do real harm. There was the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where nine women were shot and six killed. This by a man who claimed to be fighting feminism because feminism had “destroyed his life”. Then there was George Sodini. He went to a gym in Pittsburg and killed three women, and injured nine more. The reason was that he couldn’t seem to find women who would be with him (gee, I wonder why?). And of course, there’s a slew of other cases, just not on the same scale (I think. I am not sure).

I am not entirely unempathetic. It must be difficult not being able to find a mate. I do wonder though, what kind of woman is it that these men think they deserve? How do they treat the women they meet? And why are so many women victimized by men when all the men in my life manage perfectly well to treat the opposite gender with respect and love?
You guys should give classes.

On gambling, addiction, and how the government profits

 

Logo_NorskTipping

Keep in mind that this is written by someone who has no interest in gambling whatsoever. Ever since I learned (and since forgot) how to calculate probability, it has held absolutely no appeal. The odds of winning are so miniscule (particularly in the national/international lotteries) that I consider it a waste of money; I am indeed more likely to be struck by lightning than to win “the big one” . If you like gambling, I have no issue with that, it is just not my thing. I am also not talking about gambling that requires skill (say poker), but rather the random numbers-type games like lotto.

Now, anyone who has lived or lives in Norway knows that there are strict regulations in many areas (see post on drug-regulations for more on this).  The Norwegian government does not allow alcohol or tobacco advertising, and Norwegian television channels are not allowed to air ads aimed at children. I think it is a great idea, though I’m not sure how effective it is.

But, we have a government-owned institution called “Norsk Tipping”.  I’m sure the English speakers understand what it means, but just to make it perfectly clear, our government controls and regulates our lotteries.  Norsk Tipping (and  therefore by extension the Norwegian government) should cause anyone to question the moral fiber and ethics of the ones in charge.

First, let’s take a look at the psychology behind gambling and why it is so addictive to some. Many (if not all) of you have heard of operant conditioning. If we want to teach someone (human or animal) a new skill or task, we most frequently use operant conditioning. When said human (or animal) carries out a desired behaviour and we reward them for performing that behaviour, we are using operant conditioning. So a dog that receives a “sit” command, sits down, and subsequently gets a cookie has just been subjected to operant conditioning. In the beginning we have to give a reward (say a cookie) every single time the dog carries out the behaviour, but after a while, the dog will sit when you give the command, even if it doesn’t receive a cookie. The dog will be likely to repeat the behaviour most (if not all) the times you ask, again in the hopes of getting a cookie or another kind of reward (the reward can be anything the dog likes mind you- a pet, praise or likewise).

In operant conditioning  there’s something  referred to as reinforcement-schedules. “Reinforcement-schedule” is just a fancy term for how frequently you give the dog a cookie; or in the case of  gambling, how often the gambler wins. You can reinforce the behaviour every single time. A hungry dog would sit for a cookie every time, but a dog like my dog Niko (who is weirdly disinterested in food) will only sit if he feels like having a cookie.  You can reinforce every second (or third, fourth and so on) but most animals and humans will quickly figure out the pattern and make a half-hearted effort  the time it/she/he knows there is no cookie or reward. Imagine if you gambled and you know that you would win every forth time you pulled the arm of a slot-machine? It would take the fun out of gambling, right? Well, the reason why gambling is exciting, fun (to some) and absolutely addictive is because the reinforcement-pattern is so unpredictable. Take slot-machines for instance. People will sit for hours on end at the same machine; the machine will give them a little money now and then (normally much much less than what the person is spending) and the individual remains in the same spot, because the next pull might just be the one that pays off hugely!. This is why the elderly ladies (this might be all in my head, but I seem to recall seeing far more women using these machines than men) on the boat between  Norway and Denmark make their friends hold machines for them while they (quickly) visit the washroom. It is also why they become angry if anyone “steals their” machine. In lotteries the numbers drawn are completely random, and an increase in numbers decreases the likelihood of getting the right combination. I know that the top price in at least one of the lotteries here in Norway requires you to get 7 numbers correct.  You do however get a prize if you have 5 and 6 correct numbers (I think. As I said, I don’t play). The prize you receive is much lower than the top prize of course, but even if you receive only a 50-60 crowns (there’s about 6 crowns to a Canadian dollar) you’ll feel like you won. This is how they ensure that you’ll continue playing while they rake in an enormous profit.

So we have operant conditioning, a random reward-schedule that reinforces the behaviour, and the perfect setting for psychological addiction.

Back to Norway and our state-owned and sanctioned gambling. IT IS LITERALLY EVERYWHERE! I see ads for lotteries all over the place. Print-ads are frequently worded  in a “Check this guy out, he won a bajillion crowns! Maybe you’re next?” manner.  They use famous athletes as well as the everyman in advertisements. We admire the first, and if someone we admire sanctions a concept or an idea, we’re more likely to accept it and partake. We relate to the second  as “someone who’s just like me”; this reinforces the belief that it could happen to us as well.

 

Dale Oen, a famous (and now sadly passed) Norwegian athlete.

Dale Oen, a famous (and now sadly passed) Norwegian athlete.

In television ads they’ll display what crazy-cool stuff you can do with your new-found wealth. They’ve been known to lie outright; in one  case it was found that norsk tipping had created fictitious profiles of big winners and placed ads on finn.no (our equivalent of Craigslist/Kijiji).  The winning numbers appear in most (maybe all?) the newspapers. The draws for several of the big lotteries are also aired on television (prime time, in combination with the news even) and winners are called on the air. We get to see/hear how happy they are, we get to imagine ourselves in their place. We are constantly reminded that all our financial woes could be over in a snap. Now, many people face financial ruin because of their gambling. We have a show on tv called “luksusfellen” (“the luxury trap”) where people who are screwed financially receive help. Many of those who participate have gambled away large sums of money. What is just sad is that as the money disappears, the person is even more likely to gamble, in the hopes that a huge win is going to resolve the money-problems…

Lastly, I realize that I don’t know enough about the institution (norsk tipping that is), and it may be that some of the revenue is used for social betterment, but from where I stand, it seems like an awfully exploitative way to generate funds.