U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Grossman has become a sort of Oprah Winfrey for the hard core, a superstar among soldiers, police officers and martial artists. He talks openly about how it feels, what it takes on the inside, to do one of the most psychologically demanding jobs anywhere _ defend against human aggression, by killing, if necessary, while maintaining honor, dignity and sanity.
Though his focus is on martial matters, his ideas have broader applications. One idea is that while it’s important what you think, it can be even more important how you train. The idea is ammo for the argument that violent videogames (and TV and films) do influence kids to be more violent.
What brings this up is a recent feature story from The Tribune in Albuquerque titled “Violent TV can make children more aggressive.” The piece is an interview with Victor Strasburger of the University of New Mexico’s Pediatrics Department, whose need to make it is one of many signs that the message still hasn’t broken through.
Here’s how it works for Grossman, author of “On Killing,” psychologist and founder of “killology” (www.killology.com). With the notable exception of psychopaths, he says, it isn’t natural for people to kill one another. People must be carefully trained.
Grossman notes that the magnificent human forebrain _ the part capable of rational thought _ is impaired or even shuts down in the face of profound stress, such as an adrenaline-dump-inducing attack by a fellow human. Bullies and tyrants count on such paralysis to have their way with you.
What takes over at that point is the mid-brain _ he calls it “the puppy” _ which humans hold in common with other mammals. People who work in the medium of adrenaline dumps rely heavily on what the mid-brain has been trained to do.
The military wants soldiers to think through their commitment to the profession of arms and to do lots of book-learning. But it also trains the mid-brain rigorously. In addition to drilling soldiers to shoot when ordered, it also repeatedly puts the fear of God _ or the sergeant _ into soldiers so they use their weapons carefully, move automatically, obey their superiors, follow rules of engagement and so on. In short, they practice discipline.
Significantly, the military uses videogames as part of its mid-brain training regimen. Commercially available games such as “Full Spectrum Warrior” were developed originally for the military. The games don’t do it all _ they don’t inoculate soldiers against real battlefield stress, for example _ but they do help establish useful habits, such as pulling or not pulling the trigger when appropriate.
Violent-videogaming kids, by contrast, don’t get military values or discipline. Hour after hour, in thousands of repetitions and impelled by rewards, they train merely to pull the trigger, often gratuitously.
Gaming has good uses in proper contexts. It’s an inexpensive and effective way to reinforce socially sanctioned martial wisdom. Just be careful what you train on _ on the PC and elsewhere. Your mid-brain is watching. Check out www.killology.com.
(Jack Ehn is opinion editor of The Tribune in Albuquerque.)