People do dumb things - get used to it
Posted by aogFriday, 14 May 2004 at 09:53 TrackBack Ping URL

Lots of people have been wondering what the picture taking idiots at Abu Ghraib were thinking when they recorded their transgressions. Lots of interesting theories, some of them deeply psychological, have been floated. I hew to a much simpler theory - they were being stupid.

Perhaps I am unique in this experience, but I’ve spent years observing people do stupid and self-destructive things that are of no benefit and trying to find out “what they were thinking”. I’m not talking about risky behaviour, like smoking, because while I don’t agree with the choice I can understand the motivation. I refer to just flat out dumb things, like storing important files on a single floppy disk and leaving it in the car. What I’ve found is that in these kinds of things, no thought at all is going on. There’s no deep psychology, no high abstract view of how history will view the action. In fact it’s the exact opposite - it is precisely the brain functions that abstract that are not operating. Instead it’s habit and laziness. One need not read News of the Weird for long to see this kind of thing in operation.

For the Abu Ghraib abusers, my view is that they simply have the habit of recording their group activities with digital cameras and did it in this case as well because they did not think about it. There was no motive, no plan, no consideration. Just habit.

For another parallel, look at all the dumb things people post on weblogs (I don’t mean stupid argued posts, like this one, but self-destructive ones). Did any of those people wonder about the effects of their posts on their lives? Or did they just write it up like they did other, trivial things, out of habit and a lack of higher level thining? It’s not any different in this case.