Why now is the worst time to respond to the Paris attacks

politics, society, terrorism

Huffington Post, 25 November 2015

People do things when they’re angry and scared that they live to regret. This is an everyday truth, but when the deeds are done by governments the consequences can be calamitous.

There’s a small field of psychology, known as terror management theory, that studies this kind of behaviour. Its practitioners test people’s responses when they feel their lives are under threat, such as after a terrorist attack. What they find is that at such times people cling ever more closely to their own worldviews (cultural, religious, nationalistic) and to those who share them, and turn ever more hostile towards members of out-groups who hold opposing views. Or as one of the leaders of this field puts it, we become intent on showing that “our god is better than your god and we will kick your arse to prove it”.

Paris (França) - A Torre Eiffel foi iluminada com as cores azul, branco e vermelho da bandeira francesa (Divulgação Prefeitura de Paris)

Paris (França) – A Torre Eiffel foi iluminada com as cores azul, branco e vermelho da bandeira francesa (Divulgação Prefeitura de Paris)

Advertisements

The Judicial Hysteria of the 2011 Riot Trials

politics, society, UK

Huffington Post, 27 October 2014

Judges and magistrates are often assumed to be beyond prejudice, immune to the behavioural and cognitive biases that would sway the rest of us. Of course they are not. But just how vulnerable they are was made plain this week with the publication of a study in the British Journal of Criminology on the excessive judicial sentencing that followed the 2011 English riots. Its general conclusion: the courts were almost as impulsive and ill-disciplined in their judgements as the behaviour they were supposed to be assessing. “An air of prosecutorial zeal and judicial abandon was commonplace,” say the authors.

London riots

It is tempting to see this as an example of human fallibility amid the madness of crowds, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead it is a story of political influence, of public officials and commentators drumming up a populist narrative of fear and recrimination that not even the judiciary could resist. The implications, for those involved in the trials and for society at large, are worrying.

Multiculturalism is Not Enough

politics, society, UK

Huffington Post, 2 June 2014

How well do you know your neighbours? By sight? By name? Well enough to know the names of their children? In multicultural Britain we should be asking this question more often, for the answer matters a great deal.

ethnic_density1

All the main political parties except Ukip promote multiculturalism as a social model (or at least they did before the recent European elections). As Malory Nye pointed out in his Huffington Post blog on Thursday, it is already a reality on the ground: ethnic diversity is part of Britain’s modern identity.

But what Nye and most politicians do not acknowledge is that stable societies require more than co-existence. Cooperation, particularly during times of economic or social insecurity, requires a level of solidarity that simply living side by side will never provide.