Pinker on Violence (1) & A Question about Contagion

I'm going to post occasional impressions, as I read Steven Pinker's new book Better Angels of Our Nature (acclaimed by Peter Singer here).  The first chapter is about violence through ages, with the evidence drawn partly from literature.  There's all the ghastly violence in Homer, the bible, and  Shakespeare, for example.

I had no problem with this sort of evidence-gathering until I went to a movie on Sunday and sat through 20 minutes of previews depicting scenes of horrific carnage.  Let's hope nobody in 1000 years digs up our movies and draws any conclusions about what we were like. If they did, they'd be wrong. Couldn't it be that the violence in the literature of 2500 and 500 years ago was hyped up for entertainment purposes?  After all, these poor souls didn't have movies to go to when they wanted to watch people slaughter each other.  (Why do we enjoy that so much?) 

The problem of using literature as evidence is particularly obvious in the case of the bible.  After an amusing recital of horrors, Pinker says something like "but never fear, none of this ever happened."  Alright, then why bring it up if you're writing a history of violence?

Now about Contagion (which wasn't as good as I was expecting)--  There's a scene in there I found baffling, and I'm hoping someone saw the movie and can explain.  The CDC guy, played by Laurence Fishburn, finally gets some vaccine and gives it to the janitor's son and to his fiance. I gather we are to believe he doesn't take any himself. Nevertheless, he puts on the "I've been vaccinated" bracelet, sending a false message to others that he's "safe".  Any CDC chief would understand that this is  a total breach of ethics.  So ... did I miss something?  Did he actually get himself vaccinated?  Thank you for your kind assistance, if you know the answer.


Charles Sullivan said...

You wondered why we enjoy watching people slaughter one another in our dramas.

This is just a hunch, but seeing the 'good guys' get revenge on the 'bad guys' can have a cathartic effect on the viewer.

This doesn't explain all dramatic violence, but it covers a good bit.

Wayne said...

No he didn't get vaccinated... but he needs to put on the bracelet, otherwise, people would know that he gave away his vaccination to someone else. Assumedly, he would be able to get vaccinated surreptitiously, as it wouldn't be terribly difficult to do. Or he could simply self quarantine until he does find an opportunity to. But really by the end of the movie, everybody is self-quarantining themselves. Those that have the vaccine are assumedly safe, so if he mingles with them, no harm. Those who haven't, aren't mingling with others because they don't want to catch it, so they don't stand a significant threat to Fishburn's character either. Since Fishburn isn't sick, giving the perception to unvaccinated people doesn't really put them in harm's way. So I'm not sure there is any real harm that he commits.

He's not the most ethically squeaky clean guy after all. He lets his wife in on the quarantine team's advancement too, which is a pretty significant breach. Giving the vaccine to the child out of order, is unfair to the majority, but no doubt compassionate to the child, but a breach of his professional code probably.

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Jean Kazez said...

Wayne...Hmm! That seems very unsqueaky clean to me. The bracelet is supposed to mean "I'm completely safe," not "I'm probably safe."

Squiggle--Cool. I've always been baffled by John Gray and his tirades against people who believe that humanity is making progress. That looks like fun.