The Virtue Of Those Common Flowers

[A pendant to this post.]


“That night we were just in time. One more so small child was missing, and we find it, thank God, unharmed amongst the graves. Yesterday I came here before sundown, for at sundown the Un-Dead can move. I waited here all the night till the sun rose, but I saw nothing. It was most probable that it was because I had laid over the clamps of those doors garlic, which the Un-Dead cannot bear, and other things which they shun.1

We resumed our places, and Dr. Van Helsing went on with a sort of cheerfulness which showed that the serious work had begun. It was to be taken as gravely, and in as businesslike a way, as any other transaction of life:—

“Well, you know what we have to contend against; but we, too, are not without strength. We have on our side power of combination—a power denied to the vampire kind; we have sources of science; we are free to act and think; and the hours of the day and the night are ours equally. In fact, so far as our powers extend, they are unfettered, and we are free to use them. We have self-devotion in a cause, and an end to achieve which is not a selfish one. These things are much.

“Now let us see how far the general powers arrayed against us are restrict, and how the individual cannot. In fine, let us consider the limitations of the vampire in general, and of this one in particular.

“All we have to go upon are traditions and superstitions. These do not at the first appear much, when the matter is one of life and death—nay of more than either life or death. Yet must we be satisfied; in the first place because we have to be—no other means is at our control—and secondly, because, after all, these things—tradition and superstition—are everything. Does not the belief in vampires rest for others—though not, alas! for us—on them? A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century? We even scouted a belief that we saw justified under our very eyes. Take it, then, that the vampire, and the belief in his limitations and his cure, rest for the moment on the same base. For, let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India, even in the Chernosese; and in China, so far from us in all ways, there even is he, and the peoples fear him at this day. He have follow the wake of the berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar. So far, then, we have all we may act upon; and let me tell you that very much of the beliefs are justified by what we have seen in our own so unhappy experience. The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time; he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty. But he cannot flourish without this diet; he eat not as others. … It is said, too, that he can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide. Then there are things which so afflict him that he has no power, as the garlic that we know of; and as for things sacred, as this symbol, my crucifix, that was amongst us even now when we resolve, to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect. There are others, too, which I shall tell you of, lest in our seeking we may need them. The branch of wild rose on his coffin keep him that he move not from it; a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead; and as for the stake through him, we know already of its peace; or the cut-off head that giveth rest. We have seen it with our eyes.2

“My friends, we are going into a terrible danger, and we need arms of many kinds. Our enemy is not merely spiritual. Remember that he has the strength of twenty men, and that, though our necks or our windpipes are of the common kind—and therefore breakable or crushable—his are not amenable to mere strength. A stronger man, or a body of men more strong in all than him, can at certain times hold him; but they cannot hurt him as we can be hurt by him. We must, therefore, guard ourselves from his touch. Keep this near your heart”—as he spoke he lifted a little silver crucifix and held it out to me, I being nearest to him—“put these flowers round your neck”—here he handed to me a wreath of withered garlic blossoms—“for other enemies more mundane, this revolver and this knife; …3


Undead and garlic

All undead dislike garlic, not only V vampires . Garlic has the following effects:

  • If you polymorph into an undead monster, then eating garlic will make you “feel incredibly sick” and cause you to vomit.
  • If you wield a clove of garlic, and use it to attack undead, it will cause them to flee for a moment. The same should happen if you throw garlic at them, but it must hit.
  • No undead except ghosts and shades will enter a square with a clove of garlic on it.
  • Undead pets will not eat garlic. Currently there are no herbivorous or omnivorous undead who might have eaten garlic in any case.4

Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening – Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association

Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires. We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally. Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead. In strictly standardized research surroundings, the leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases (95% confidence interval 50.4% to 80.4%). When they preferred the garlic the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand (p < 0.05). The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true. This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Therefore to avoid a Balkan-like development in Norway, restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.5)

On the morning of this past Isru Hag Tishah Be’Av, my friend M.W. and I exchanged queries that had been posed to us on the nexus between prayer and the learning of Torah on Tishah Be’Av. He had been asked the fairly well discussed question of Psalms,6 while I had gotten the more obscure one of the שש זכירות.‎7 I showed him the relevant discussions in the נטעי גבריאל, and this, along with my prior references to the work in the context of other Nine Days’ discussions (including the shaving of legs and eyebrows8), prompted his observation of my apparent fondness for the work.

“Well,” I responded, “while the truth is that there are certainly other works that one can turn to for these sorts of questions, the נטעי גבריאל is likely unique in being a reliable resource for potentially valuable and useful information on questions such as Judaism’s stance on the power of garlic to ward off the undead.9

The primary Jewish reference to the belief appears in the eighteenth century Kabbalistic-ethical work שער המלך:

והנה מנהג ישראל שיהיה אצל כל אחד שום כשהולכין לבית הקברות ומשליכין שם על הקברים כל מנהג ישראל תורה היא

ויש ליתן טעם כי האריז”ל כתב שאין לילך על הקברות מחמת שמתלווים ומתדבקים אליו החיצונים: בשאר ימות השנה אין אדם הולך בלא מצוה ובלא תורה אם אינו לומד תורה מהרהר בדברי תורה בזה מבריח החיצונים שלא יתלוו אליו ובתשעה באב שהוא הולך ערום ויחף בלי מצות ובלי תורה מחמת האבילות שאסור להרהר בדברי תורה ויש חשש שלא יתלוו אליו ח”ו וסגולה היא ומרגלא בפומי דאנשי שהשום דהיינו ריח השום הוא גם כן מבריח החיצונים לכן נוהגין מנהג זה

והא שמשליכין שם על הקברים שיהא לסימן להנפשות המרחפים על הקברים ולפעמים המה בפמליא של מעלה כמו שמצינו במסכת ברכות במעשה דשמואל שאזל לחצר מות ואבוהו דשמואל היה נפשו בעת הזאת בפמליא של מעלה לכן משליכין שם השום כדי שיהא לסימן שיכירו הנפשות שהיו שם החיים לבקש לבל יהיו כמתים וכאשר יראו המתים שום היתומים שפחתו והותירו מעט מהרבה יבקשו רחמים עליהם

וגם שום הוא לשון שום ושממון ועד מתי יהיה השום והשמ[מ]ון בארצינו10

A century later, R. Avraham Bik tell us that throwing garlic on the graves was customary in Poland. We have seen that the שער המלך is moderately defensive about the custom (feeling it necessary to remind us that “every custom of Israel is Torah”); R. Bik admits that “gedolim mocked it”, although he, too, defends it, albeit without reference to its alleged proof against the undead:

וזה דרכי בספרי הזה. לרמוז בכתובים דברי חכמים במדרש והלכה וגם מנהגי ישראל כי המה תורה ואין להלעיג עליהם …

וגם מנהג של מדינות פולין שזורקים שומים על הקברות בימים שמקיפים אותם אשר גדולים שחקו עליו לפי דעתי נבנה על דברי חז”ל בשבת קנ”ב שמי שאין לו קנאה אין עצמותיו מרקיבים ובשום אמרו בבבא קמא פב. שמכניס אהבה ומוציא קנאה כי כן ירמזו שהתופס במדה זו בקבר יצליח:11

R. Bik was sufficiently proud of his justification that he reportedly presented it to Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson when they visited a cemetery together one Tishah Be’Av. [Unfortunately, we are not told of R. Nathanson’s reaction, or his opinion on the custom in general.]:

ואמר לי [ר’ ביק] .. בחורף תרנ”ה, שאמר זאת להגאון ר’ יוסף שאול ז”ל בעת הלך עמו בתשעה באב על בית הקברות.12

  1. Dracula, Chapter XVI – link. []
  2. Ibid., Chapter XVIII – link. []
  3. Ibid., Chapter XIX – link. []
  4. Nethack Wiki contributors, ‘Clove of garlic’, Nethack Wiki, [accessed 30 September 2013]. []
  5. Sandvik H, Baerheim A, Does garlic protect against vampires? An experimental study, in Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen, 1994 Dec 10;114(30):3583-6 – link (h/t: io9). []
  6. נטעי גבריאל, הלכות בין המצרים, חלק ב’ פרק ע”ה סעיף כ”ב – קשר []
  7. שם פרק ס”ב סעיף ד’ – קשר []
  8. שם פרק י”ט סעיף ו’ והערה י’ – קשר []
  9. שם פרק פ’ הערה א’ ד”ה ובספר שער המלך – קשר []
  10. שער המלך (ר’ מרדכי בן שמואל, אב”ד ווייעלקאטש: גרודנו ה’תקע”ו) שער ד’ ראש חודש ותשעה באב פרק י’ שער המלך עמוד קיב: ד”ה הרי לפי זה – קשר []
  11. בכורי אביב (ביק: לבוב ה’תרל”ג) הקדמת המחבר – קשר []
  12. שו”ת שיח יצחק או”ח סימן קמ”ט []

Integrity, Socio-Economic Class and Moral Licensing

From a recent Science article by Elizabeth Norton (h/t: /.):

To see whether dishonesty varies with social class, psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues devised a series of tests, working with groups of 100 to 200 Berkeley undergraduates or adults recruited online. Subjects completed a standard gauge of their social status, placing an X on one of 10 rungs of a ladder representing their income, education, and how much respect their jobs might command compared with other Americans.

The team’s findings suggest that privilege promotes dishonesty. For example, upper-class subjects were more likely to cheat. After five apparently random rolls of a computerized die for a chance to win an online gift certificate, three times as many upper-class players reported totals higher than 12—even though, unbeknownst to them, the game was rigged so that 12 was the highest possible score.

The Gemara (as explained by the commentators) mentions the opposite idea, declaring that typically, a borrower will trust a lender, “for if he were not a trustworthy and upright person, he would not have been made rich by Heaven”, whereas a lender will not trust a borrower, “for if he were not a betrayer and a deceiver, he would not have been required by Heaven to become a borrower”:

אמר רב הונא משביעין אותו שבועה שאינה ברשותו מאי טעמא חיישינן שמא עיניו נתן בה …1

רב הונא בר תחליפא משמיה דרבא אמר רישא דסיפא תיובתא לרב הונא סלע הלויתני עליו שתים היה שוה והלה אומר לא כי אלא סלע הלויתיך עליו סלע היה שוה פטור ואם איתא לדרב הונא מגו דמשתבע מלוה שאינה ברשותו לישתבע נמי אגילגול שבועה כמה היה שוה

אמר רב אשי אמריתה לשמעתא קמיה דרב כהנא ואמר לי תהא במאמינו …
ונהמניה מלוה ללוה דקים ליה בגויה לא מהימן ליה
ומאי שנא לוה דמהימן ליה למלוה ומאי שנא מלוה דלא מהימן ליה ללוה
לוה מקיים ביה במלוה תומת ישרים תנחם מלוה מקיים ביה בלוה וסלף בוגדים ישדם: [רש”י: לוה מקיים במלוה. מקרא זה תומת ישרים תנחם אם לא שאדם נאמן וישר הוא לא היו מעשרין אותו מן השמים שנאמר תומת ישרים תנחם:]2

ומלוה אינו מאמין ללוה דקים ליה בגויה משום דמקיים ביה וסלף בוגדים ישדם דאי לאו דבוגד ורמאי הוא לא היו מצריכין לו מן השמים שיהא לוה.3

More from the study:

In a final experiment, the researchers took their hypothesis to the streets. At a busy intersection in the San Francisco Bay area, the team stationed “pedestrians” at crosswalks, with instructions to approach the crossing at a point when oncoming drivers would have a chance to stop. Observers coded the status of the cars’ drivers based on the vehicles’ age, make, and appearance. Drivers of shiny, expensive cars were three times more likely than those of old clunkers to plow through a crosswalk, failing to yield to pedestrians as required by California state law. High-status motorists were also four times more likely than those with cheaper, older cars to cut off other drivers at a four-way stop.

In an interesting twist, about one-third of Prius drivers broke crosswalk laws, putting the hybrid among the highest “unethical driving” car brands. “This is a good demonstration of the ‘moral licensing’ phenomenon, in which hybrid-car drivers who believe they’re saving the Earth may feel entitled to behave unethically in other ways,” Piff says. (The Prius results were observed but not analyzed for statistical significance in the study.)

Ed Yong on moral licensing:

Our moral thermostat – why being good can give people license to misbehave

What happens when you remember a good deed, or think of yourself as a stand-up citizen? You might think that your shining self-image would reinforce the value of selflessness and make you more likely to behave morally in the future. But a new study disagrees.

Through three psychological experiments, Sonya Sachdeva from Northwestern University found that people who are primed to think well of themselves behave less altruistically than those whose moral identity is threatened. They donate less to charity and they become less likely to make decisions for the good of the environment.

Sachdeva suggests that the choice to behave morally is a balancing act between the desire to do good and the costs of doing so – be they time, effort or (in the case of giving to charities) actual financial costs. The point at which these balance is set by our own sense of self-worth. Tip the scales by threatening our saintly personas and we become more likely to behave selflessly to cleanse our tarnished perception. Do the opposite, and our bolstered moral identity slackens our commitment, giving us a license to act immorally. Having established our persona as a do-gooder, we feel less impetus to bear the costs of future moral actions.

It’s a fascinating idea. It implies both that we have a sort of moral thermostat, and that it’s possible for us to feel “too moral”. Rather than a black-and-white world of heroes and villains, Sachdeva paints a picture of a world full of “saintly sinners and sinning saints”.

In her first experiment, Sachdeva asked 46 students to copy a list of nine words that were either positive (“caring”, “generous” or “kind”), negative (“disloyal”, “greedy” or “selfish”) or neutral (“book”, “keys” or “house”). The recruits were told that they had signed up for a study on the psychology of handwriting, and they had to write a story about themselves that included all of the words they saw. They then completed a filler task, after which they were asked if they wanted to make a small donation to a charity of their choice.

Sachdeva found that the students who described themselves with positive words gave the least to charity – a measly $1.07. That was less than the average $2.71 donations of the group that used the neutral words, and about a fifth as much as the $5.30 contributions given by the negative-word group.

Of course, the volunteers’ essays may not actually have affected their moral identity. Indeed, they had a tendency to use the positive words to describe themselves, but the negative ones to portray someone else in their lives. To control for that, Sachdeva repeated the experiment with another group of 39 students but this time, she randomly told them to write specifically about either themselves or someone they knew.

Among those who described other people, the nature of the words they used had no significant bearing on the amount of money they donated. But among the group who wrote about themselves, those who described themselves positively gave less to charity ($1.11) than those whose choice of words were negative ($5.56). It seems that a person’s propensity for selflessness changes when their self-image shifts.

A third experiment supported that idea. After completing the same task as before, 46 students were led to what they believed was a second unrelated study. They were role-playing as the manager of a manufacturing plant, which was facing pressure from environmental lobbyists to reduce the pollutants from its smokestacks using expensive air filters. Other managers had agreed to run them for 60% of the time.

Amid a smokescreen of general questions, Sachdeva asked the volunteers to say how often they themselves would run the filters for. Their answers showed the same trend as the first experiment.

Those who saw the negative words were extra-cooperative, running the filters for 73% of the time. The neutral group ran the filters 67% of the time. And the positive-word group were the least cooperative, running them just 56% of the time. They, in particular, were more likely to think that the plant’s profits outweighed environmental concerns. However, when Sachdeva asked them to predict what proportion of the other managers would stick to the 60% agreement, the three groups gave similar answers. Again, it was their own self-image that mattered.

In all three studies, Sachdeva believes that her story-telling task psychologically primed the volunteers with positive or negative traits. They either wanted to cleanse themselves morally, or felt they had license to kick back a bit and let their wicked side out.

Other groups have found similar results before. In 1969, Merrill Carlsmith and Alan Gross found that people are more compliant to a researcher’s requests if they had previously been forced to deliver painful (and fake) electric shocks to a (pretend) victim (but not if they just watched this happening). Their motive was to alleviate their own personal guilt, for they behaved in the same way even if the researcher was apparently unaware of their wrongdoing and even if their act of restitution had no impact on the shocked victim. I’ve also blogged before about situations where people will prefer cleaning products and will physically clean themselves if they remembered a past misdeed.

Sachdeva also cites several studies which have found that ethical behaviour provides a license for laxer morality. People who can establish their identity as a non-prejudiced person, by contradicting sexist statements or hiring someone from an ethnic minority, become more likely to make prejudiced choices later.

There are many potentially fascinating ways of expanding on this study. For example, it would be interesting to see if asking people to remember many instances where they behaved ethically would produce a stronger license to misbehave than recalling just a single good deed.

Even better, you could see if changing a person’s self-image would affect their tendency to cheat in psychological games. That would tell us whether moral licensing gives people an excuse to avoid actively doing good deeds, or whether it actually increases the chances of immoral behaviour, perhaps by lowering the bar for what is deemed acceptable. Do people just avoid being good or would they actively be bad?

Sachdeva is also interested in the types of situations where people seem to break free of this self-regulating loop of morality, and where good behaviour clearly begets more good behaviour. For example, many social or political activists drop out of their causes after some cursory participation, but others seem to draw even greater fervour. Why?

Sachdeva has two explanations. The first deals with habits – many selfless actions become more routine with time (recycling, for one). As this happens, the effort involved lessens, the “costs” seem smaller, and the potential for moral licensing fades. The second explanation relates to the standards that people set for themselves. Those who satisfy their moral goals award themselves with a license to disengage more easily, but those who hold themselves to loftier standards are more likely to stay the course.

Janet D. Stemwedel:

The moral thermostat and the problem of cultivating ethical scientists.

The general attitude that emerges from these studies seems to be that being good is a chore (since it requires effort and sometimes expenditure), but that it’s a chore that stays done longer than dishes, laundry, or those other grinding but necessary labors that we understand need attention on a regular basis.

As someone who thinks a lot about the place of ethics in the everyday interactions of scientists, you can imagine I have some thoughts about this attitude.

Sadly, a track record of being ethical isn’t sufficient in a world where your fellow scientist is relying on you to honestly report the results of your current study, to refrain from screwing over the author of the manuscript you are currently reviewing, and to make decisions that are not swayed by prejudice on the hiring committee on which you currently serve. But Sachdeva’s experiments raise the possibility that your awareness of your past awesomeness, ethically speaking, could undercut your future ethical performance.

How on earth can people maintain the ethical behaviors we hope they will exercise?

As Ed notes, the research does not rule out the possibility that mere mortals could stay the ethical course. It’s just a question of how consistently ethical people are setting their moral thermostats: …

Within the community of science, there are plenty of habits scientists cultivate, some conscious and some unconscious. From the point of view of fostering more ethical behavior, it seems reasonable to say that cultivating a habit of honesty is a good thing — giving fair and accurate reports ought to be routine, rather than something that requires a great deal of conscious effort. Cultivating a habit of fairness (in evaluating the ideas and findings of others, in distributing the goods needed to do science, etc.) might also be worthwhile. The point is not to get scientists to display extraordinarily saintly behavior, but to make honesty and fairness a standard part of how scientists roll.

Then there’s the strategy of setting lofty goals. The scientific community shares a commitment to objectivity, something that involves both individual effort and coordination of the community of scientists. Objectivity is something that is never achieved perfectly, only by degrees. This sets the bar high enough that scientists’ frailties are always pretty evident, which may reduce the potential for backsliding.

At the same time, objectivity is so tightly linked with the scientific goal of building a reliable body of knowledge about the world that it’s unlikely that this lofty goal will be jettisoned simply because it’s hard to achieve.

I don’t think we can overlook the danger in latching onto goals that reveal themselves to be impossible or nearly so. Such goals won’t motivate action — or if they do, they will motivate actions like cheating as the most rational response to a rigged game. Indeed, situations in which the individual feels like her own success might require going against the interests of the community make me think that it’s vitally important for individual interests and community interests to be aligned with each other. If what is good for the community of scientists is also good for the individual scientist trying to participate in the scientific discourse and to make a contribution to the shared body of knowledge, then being good feels a lot less like altruism. And, tuning up the institutional contexts in which science is practiced to reduce the real career costs of honesty and cooperation might be the kind of thing that would lead to better behavior, too.

Our own ethical-spiritual tradition certainly acknowledges the pitfalls attendant upon the self-perception of moral accomplishment, but in my experience, the concern is generally with the potential for the feeling of conceit, complacency, smugness and contempt and condescension toward those perceived to be of lesser spiritual stature, and not the broader concept of moral licensing:

אך הגאוה שבמעלות הרוחניות מתחלקת לשני חלקים. אחד מהם מגנה, והשני משבח.

המגנה, שיתגאה האדם בחכמתו, והצדיק במעשהו, וגורם לו שירבה בעיניו, ויספיק אצלו מה שקדם לו מהם, ולחשב שדי לו במה שיצא לו מן השם הטוב והשבח אצל בני אדם, ולבזות בני אדם, ולגעול אותם, ולספר בגנותם, ולהיות חכמי דורו וגדוליהם פחותים בעיניו, ולהתפאר בקצור חבריו וסכלותם, וזה הוא הנקרא אצל רבותינו זכרונם לברכה: מתכבד בקלון חברו. וכזה לא יהיה נכנע ולא עניו.4

תמיד כשאדם מצליח באיזה ענין של עבודה, או קנית איזה מידה – מיד הוא מזלזל באחרים שאין להם מדרגה זו, ממילא מיד כשאדם משתדל להשיג איזו מעלה הוא צריך יחד עם זה לעבוד על כך שלא תתעורר בו גאוה על השגתו וזילזול באחרים שאין להם אותה מעלה. או – שיתאמץ למצוא בחבריו מעלות אחרות שאין לו אותן מעלות, או שלעומת המעלה שקנה, יכניע את עצמו ביודעו כמה חסר לו במידות ועבודה.5

  1. בבא מציעא לד: – קשר []
  2. שם לה. – קשר []
  3. תוספות יום טוב שבועות ו:ז – קשר []
  4. רבנו בחיי אבן פקודה, תורת חובות הלבבות (ירושלים תשס”ה) תרגום ר’ פנחס יהודה ליברמן, שער הכניעה פרק ט’ ד”ה אך הגאוה, עמוד קי. אני מודה לחבירי ח. א. שהזכיר לי את קטע זה []
  5. ר’ שלמה וולבה, אגרות וכתבים ממרן המשגיח זללה”ה (ירושלים תשס”ו) סימן ס”ד עמוד ס”ו []