The thesis of the article was simple: though the content of schizophrenic delusions changes wildly in different cultural contexts, there’s an underlying motivation for them that never varies and produces a fundamental sameness.
The simple, constant thing is that delusional schizophrenics lose the capability to identify all the thoughts in their head as belonging to themselves. In an effort to make sense of their experience, they invent elaborate theories which attribute their disconnected thoughts to external agencies. Gods, demons, orbital mind-control lasers — the content of such delusions varies wildly, but the function is always the same — to restore a sense of causal order to the schizophrenic’s universe, to impose a narrative on the eruptions that he or she can no longer recognize as “self”.
It’s a startling shift in perspective to realize that the construction of schizophrenic delusions arises from the same drive that yields scientific theory-building. Both are Heideggerian rearrangements of the cognitive toolkit, strategies driven by the necessity of coping with the experienced world. The schizophrenic’s tragedy is that the most important fact about his or her experiential world (how much of it is self looking at self) is inaccessible.
Eric S. Raymond, “Sometimes I hear voices”, Armed and Dangerous, 2013-10-06
March 2, 2014
February 27, 2014
In The Atlantic, Claire Dederer writes about the problems women have in writing about sex. Remember the old saw about men not understanding women? (Hint: they don’t.) Dederer admits that women also don’t understand women, at least when it comes to sex.
By now, of course, it’s difficult to think of female desire as in any way hidden. The cultural speculum has been firmly inserted for a good look around. Women have long since learned all about how our tucked-away stuff works, with pioneers of second-wave feminism as our guides: Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically standard-issue along with the dorm-room furniture when I arrived at my very liberal college in 1985. Meanwhile, female lust has been thoroughly documented (or at any rate, endlessly and theatrically depicted) by the adult-film industry. How would porn get along without horny females? Science, too, has lately been busy substantiating the existence of girl lust. In his recent tour of burgeoning research into female desire, What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner reports a current verdict: women are at least as libidinous as men.
There it is. We can finally all agree that women want to have sex. Variously portrayed in the past as tamers of men and tenders of children, we’re now deemed well endowed with horniness. But does that mean we experience desire in the same way that men do? My lust tells me we don’t. Mine, I confess, isn’t blind or monumental or animal. It comes with an endless internal monologue — or maybe dialogue, or maybe babel. My desire is always guessing, often second-guessing. Female lust is a powerful force, but it surges in the form of an interrogation, rather than a statement. Not I want this but Do I want this? What exactly do I want? How about now? And now?
At least that’s how it’s always been for me, and I experienced a sense of relief and recognition while reading a recent crop of memoirs whose authors go to great lengths to get at this double- and triple-think thrumming in female desire — only to discover, as I have, just how hard the quest is.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
February 23, 2014
What is one to think of a man so asinine that he looks for gratitude in this world, or so puerilely egotistical that he enjoys it when found? The truth is that the sentiment itself is not human but doggish, and that the man who demands it in payment for his doings is precisely the sort of man who feels noble and distinguished when a dog licks his hand. What a man says when he expresses gratitude is simply this: “You did something for me that I could not have done myself. Ergo, you are my superior. Hail, Durchlaucht!” Such a confession, whether true or not, is degrading to the confessor, and so it is very hard to make, at all events for a man of self-respect. That is why such a man always makes it clumsily and with many blushes and hesitations. It is hard for him to put so embarrassing a doctrine into plain words. And that is why the business is equally uncomfortable to the party of the other part. It distresses him to see a human being of decent instincts standing before him in so ignominious a position. He is as flustered as if the fellow came in handcuffs, or in rags, or wearing the stripes of a felon. Moreover, his confusion is helped out by his inward knowledge very clear if he is introspective, and plain enough even if he is not that he really deserves no such tribute to his high mightiness; that the altruism for which he is being praised was really bogus; that he did the thing behind the gratitude which now assails him, not for any grand and lofty reason, but for a purely selfish and inferior reason, to wit, for the reason that it pleases all of us to show what we can do when an appreciative audience is present; that we delight to exercise our will to power when it is safe and profitable. This is the primary cause of the benefits which inspire gratitude, real and pretended. This is the fact at the bottom of altruism. Find me a man who is always doing favors for people and I will show you a man of petty vanity, forever trying to get fuel for it in the cheapest way. And find me a man who is notoriously grateful in habit and I’ll show you a man who is essentially third rate and who is conscious of it at the bottom of his heart. The man of genuine self-respect which means the man who is more or less accurately aware, not only of his own value, but also and more importantly, of his own limitations tries to avoid entering either class. He hesitates to demonstrate his superiority by such banal means, and he shrinks from confessing an inferiority that he doesn’t believe in.
H.L. Mencken, “Scientific Examination of a Popular Virtue”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.
February 12, 2014
Megan McArdle gets to the source of so many writers’ problem with getting the writing done:
Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talent kept them at the head of the class.
This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English class. Your stuff may not — indeed, probably won’t — be the best anymore.
If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.
Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fear of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fear of turning in something terrible. But I’ve watched a surprising number of young journalists wreck, or nearly wreck, their careers by simply failing to hand in articles. These are all college graduates who can write in complete sentences, so it is not that they are lazy incompetents. Rather, they seem to be paralyzed by the prospect of writing something that isn’t very good.
Update: I just added this comment on the Facebook link, and realized it should have gone into the original posting. “Do read the whole linked item … I just grabbed a small section that talks particularly about writing. If you suffer from “impostor syndrome” or have experience (either side) with “helicopter parenting” or if you are (or work with) Millennials, there’s something in this you should read. (It’s excerpted from her new book, which I’m adding to my “must obtain soonest” list.)”
January 23, 2014
No one who has given any study to the development and propagation of political doctrine in the United States can have failed to notice how the belief in issues among politicians tends to run in exact ratio to the popularity of those issues. Let the populace begin suddenly to swallow a new panacea or to take fright at a new bugaboo, and almost instantly nine-tenths of the master-minds of politics begin to believe that the panacea is a sure cure for all the malaises of the republic, and the bugaboo an immediate and unbearable menace to all law, order and domestic tranquillity. At the bottom of this singular intellectual resilience, of course, there is a good deal of hard calculation; a man must keep up with the procession of crazes, or his day is swiftly done. But in it there are also considerations a good deal more subtle, and maybe less discreditable. For one thing, a man devoted professionally to patriotism and the wisdom of the fathers is very apt to come to a resigned sort of acquiescence in all the doctrinaire rubbish that lies beneath the national scheme of things — to believe, let us say, if not that the plain people are gifted with an infallible sagacity, then at least that they have an inalienable right to see their follies executed. Poll-parroting nonsense as a matter of daily routine, the politician ends by assuming that it is sense, even though he doesn’t believe it. For another thing, there is the contagion of mob enthusiasm — a much underestimated murrain. We all saw what it could do during the war — college professors taking their tune from the yellow journals, the rev. clergy performing in the pulpit like so many Liberty Loan orators in five-cent moving-picture houses, hysteria grown epidemic like the influenza. No man is so remote and arctic that he is wholly safe from that contamination; it explains many extravagant phenomena of a democratic society; in particular, it explains why the mob leader is so often a victim to his mob.
H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, Second Series, 1920.
January 20, 2014
An interesting article by Andrew Anthony in the Guardian talks about an assault on the “mathematics of happiness”:
“Not many psychologists are very good at maths,” says Brown. “Not many psychologists are even good at the maths and statistics you have to do as a psychologist. Typically you’ll have a couple of people in the department who understand it. Most psychologists are not capable of organising a quantitative study. A lot of people can get a PhD in psychology without having those things at their fingertips. And that’s the stuff you’re meant to know. Losada’s maths were of the kind you’re not meant to encounter in psychology. The maths you need to understand the Losada system is hard but the maths you need to understand that this cannot possibly be true is relatively straightforward.”
Brown had studied maths to A-level and then took a degree in engineering and computer science at Cambridge. “But I actually gave up the engineering because the maths was too hard,” he says, laughing at the irony. “So I’m really not that good at maths. I can read simple calculus but I can’t solve differential equations. But then neither could Losada!”
He went back over Losada’s equations and he noticed that if he put in the numbers Fredrickson and Losada had then you could arrive at the appropriate figures. But he realised that it only worked on its own terms. “When you look at the equation, it doesn’t contain any data. It’s completely self-referential.”
You might even call it the “hockey stick model” of psychology.
Following much negotiation, Brown, Sokal and Friedman had their paper accepted by American Psychologist and it was published online last July under the only slightly less provocative title of The Complex Dynamics of Wishful Thinking [PDF]. Referring to the bizarrely precise tipping point ratio of 2.9013 that Fredrickson and Losada trumpeted applied to all humans regardless of age, gender, race or culture, the authors — in fact Brown, in this sentence — wrote: “The idea that any aspect of human behaviour or experience should be universally and reproducibly constant to five significant digits would, if proven, constitute a unique moment in the history of the social sciences.”
The paper mounted a devastating case against the maths employed by Fredrickson and Losada, who were offered the chance to respond in the same online issue of American Psychologist. Losada declined and has thus far failed to defend his input in any public forum. But Fredrickson did write a reply, which, putting a positive spin on things, she titled Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios [PDF].
She effectively accepted that Losada’s maths was wrong and admitted that she never really understood it anyway. But she refused to accept that the rest of the research was flawed. Indeed she claimed that, if anything, the empirical evidence was even stronger in support of her case. Fredrickson subsequently removed the critical chapter that outlines Losada’s input from further editions of Positivity. She has avoided speaking to much of the press but in an email exchange with me, she maintained that “on empirical grounds, yes, tipping points are highly probable” in relation to positive emotions and flourishing.
“She’s kind of hoping the Cheshire cat has disappeared but the grin is still there,” says Brown, who is dismissive of Fredrickson’s efforts at damage limitation. “She’s trying to throw Losada over the side without admitting that she got conned. All she can really show is that higher numbers are better than lower ones. What you do in science is you make a statement of what you think will happen and then run the experiment and see if it matches it. What you don’t do is pick up a bunch of data and start reading tea leaves. Because you can always find something. If you don’t have much data you shouldn’t go round theorising. Something orange is going to happen to you today, says the astrology chart. Sure enough, you’ll notice if an orange bicycle goes by you.”
January 18, 2014
Scott Adams thinks he’s identified a trend, and it’s a troubling one if he’s right:
I have been seeing a pattern in the past several years that makes me wonder if a sizeable portion of the public has become anti-success. The media has pitted the general public against the one-percenters for several years, so that might be a factor. And the bottom-feeders on the Internet (Gawker, Jezebel, etc.) have business models that involve taking celebrity quotes out of context to demonize them. So it would be no surprise if the public disliked successful people more than ever.
But I have also lately observed people who seem to reject their own best paths to success in favor of paths that are clearly bad. Let’s call those choices “loser choices” because any rational and objective observer would see it that way. I wondered if I was seeing an emerging pattern or an illusion.
And in a follow-up post:
The other day I asked aloud in this blog if there might be some sort of anti-success trend emerging in society. I think I found it.
Some folks emailed me directly to say they believe it is a waste of time to pursue success because it is a zero-sum game. In other words, they believe they can only be successful by making someone else less successful, on the theory that there isn’t enough success in the universe for everyone to get a meaningful slice. They tell me it would be “wrong” on some level to pick the pockets of strangers for self-enrichment.
And there it is.
I doubt that sort of thinking would have existed before the massive media campaign against the “top 1%.” The power of the top 1% story is in the false impression that rich people stole the money from the poor and middle class, and therefore it would only be fair to give most of it back.
Clearly some of the financial titans are doing little more than picking pockets. But those are the exceptions. Most one-percenters are growing the economy and creating jobs. That’s obvious to people who were born in the “rising tide lifts all boats” era. And it’s obvious to anyone with a bit of economics education.
But if you are in your twenties, with no deep understanding of economics, wouldn’t you believe success is evil? That’s the dominant story of their generation.
Why do so many people believe in a god? Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is an attempt to examine that question, for Christian fundamentalists, Islamic teachers, Buddhist monks, atheists, and others. He begins by pointing to the commonality of pre-scientific answers in groups of people: “How do thunderstorms happen?” answered by “It must be someone up there with a giant hammer” (our example, not his). Then, probably after a minimum of discussion, a name such as “Thor” becomes agreed. Having successfully sorted out thunderstorms, in the sense that you now have an agreed answer to why they happen, other forces of nature are similarly identified and named. Soon you have a pantheon, a community of gods to blame everything on. It’s very satisfying when everyone around you agrees, so the pantheon soon becomes the accepted wisdom, and few question it. In some cultures, few dare to question it, because there are penalties if you do.
Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, & Jack Cohen, “Disbelief System”, The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day, 2013.
January 13, 2014
Virginia Postrel is interviewed at Paleofuture:
I think of glamour as a form of communication, persuasion, rhetoric. What happens is you have an audience and you have an object — something glamorous. It could be a person, could be a place, could be an idea, could be a car — and when that audience is exposed to that object a specific emotion arises, which is a sense of projection and longing.
Glamour is like humor. You get the same sort of thing in the interaction between an audience and something funny. It’s just the emotion that’s different. So when you see something that strikes you as glamorous, or you hear about or see something glamorous, it makes you think, “If only. If only life could be like that. If only I could be there. If only I could be that person, or with that person. If only I could drive that car, fly in that spaceship, or whatever.”
And there are always three elements that create that sensation: one is a promise of escape and transformation. A different, better life in different, better circumstances. The other is there is a sense of grace, effortlessness, all the flaws and difficulties are hidden. And the third is mystery. Mystery both draws you in and enhances the grace by hiding things.
Another way of thinking about glamour is to think about the origins of the word glamour. Glamour originally meant a literal magic spell that made people see something that wasn’t there. It was a Scottish word. A magician would cast a glamour over people’s eyes and they would see something different. As the word became a more metaphorical concept, it always retained that sense of magic and illusion. And where the illusion lies is in the grace; in the disguising of difficulties and flaws.
January 4, 2014
From the last issue of the City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple‘s critique of the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes a rather wide-ranging diagnosis that applies to a huge number of people:
The overlap between straightforwardly pathological conditions (in Szasz’s sense) and those that result from social, psychological, or personal factors, or from bad moral choices, suggests that psychiatrists should show discretion in what they regard as genuine illness. The state of ignorance in which psychiatrists now practice, which will probably endure, ensures that they will often be wrong; but no one who has encountered, say, a manic in full flight is likely to doubt that he is in the presence of illness. But nor would it be easy, then, to see so-called factitious disorder, which consists of “falsification of physical or psychological signs and symptoms, or induction of injury or disease, associated with identified deception” in quite the same light: that is, to grant the same status to someone pretending to be ill as to someone genuinely ill.
Yet this is precisely what the DSM-5 does, establishing its authors’ lack of common sense, the quality that psychiatrists, perhaps more than any other kind of doctor, need. The manual’s lack of common sense would be amusing were it not destined to be taken with superstitious seriousness by psychiatrists around the world, as well as by insurers and lawyers.
The section of the volume devoted to personality disorders proves the point. Among the criteria for personality disorders in general are the following:
A: An enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, in fields such as thought, emotion, interpersonal relations and impulse control . . .
B: The enduring pattern is inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of personal and social situations.
C: The enduring pattern leads to clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
D: The pattern is stable and of long duration.
The DSM-5 then informs us that more than one in seven people have such a lifelong disorder — adding up to 45 million Americans and even more Europeans. These astonishing numbers give the authors not a moment’s pause (any more than does the fact that their own prevalence rates suggest that the average American suffers from more than two psychiatric disorders in any one year). Several undesirable characteristics must be present in an individual for a diagnosis of personality disorder to apply. Considering those characteristics, and that such a significant portion of the Western population supposedly exhibits many of them, either a mass outbreak of human nastiness and inability to deal with everyday life must have occurred, or the whole business of diagnosis must be dubious or even ridiculous.
Here is a random list of some of the characteristics that, in the DSM-5, make up personality disorders of various kinds:
Unjustified suspicions that others are harming, exploiting or deceiving.
Detachment from social relations and limited expression of emotion.
Behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric or peculiar.
Indifference to risk to self or others.
Irritability and aggressiveness.
Lack of remorse.
Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilation.
Inappropriately intense anger, frequent displays of temper.
Rapidly shifting and shallow expressions of emotion.
Use of physical appearance to draw attention to self.
Requirement for excessive admiration.
Sense of entitlement.
Lack of empathy.
Enviousness of others.
Arrogance and haughtiness.
Unwillingness to become involved with people.
Sense of social ineptitude and inferiority.
Avoidance of risk.
Difficulty in expressing disagreement with others because of fear of disapproval, i.e., pusillanimity.
Feeling of helplessness when alone.
Preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization or schedules.
Excessive devotion to work.
Over-conscientiousness or scrupulousness.
Reluctance to delegate.
Rigidity and stubbornness.
The diagnoses for most of the disorders require at least four of the undesirable characteristics to be present, predominant, and persistent. One is reminded of the King of Brobdingnag’s view of Gulliver’s countrymen: “I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” Lest anyone object that “only” one in seven people suffers from personality disorders, and that therefore the King of Brobdingnag’s opinion of Western humanity — that it suffers from the “worst effects that avarice, faction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, and ambition, could produce” — is not relevant, one must add that, for the DSM-5, people with personality disorders are merely the most extreme exemplars of their type. And if only the extremes have four or more undesirable and frequently horrible dominating characteristics, many individuals must have one, two, or even three such characteristics. If the DSM-5 reflects the American Psychiatric Association’s views, then that organization clearly views humanity with Swiftian distaste. Yet its distaste is not that of a disappointed lover (and certainly not expressed with Swift’s genius) but is motivated, one suspects, by the hope of an endless supply of patients. For those with psychiatric disorders need psychiatrists.
December 23, 2013
Psychiatry does not seek “to colonise everyday life – rather, everyday life now invites colonisation by psychiatry”
In Spiked, Sandy Starr reviews Gary Greenberg’s recently published The Book of Woe:
There is an inevitable contingency about diagnostic categories, particularly when it comes to psychiatry. Greenberg argues that for all the useful work that goes into constructing these categories, psychiatric diagnosis has a ‘self-validating nature…by which once you’ve created a diagnostic category, the fact that people fit into it becomes evidence that the disorder exists’. Greenberg reminds us that ‘while many diagnoses are made on clinical signs and symptoms rather than on lab tests or other external validators, only in psychiatry are all diagnoses made that way’.
It’s worth adding that this may be changing. As psychiatry seeks to predicate itself more and more upon genetics and neuroscience, there are expectations in some circles that biochemical diagnostic tests for psychiatric disorders will follow ineluctably. This prospect does not reassure me. Psychiatry is attempting the difficult feat of relocating its foundations without toppling its façade, and this involves elisions — several of which are discussed by Greenberg — that leave me feeling less persuaded of the profession’s credentials, not more.
That said, one can certainly appreciate the need for psychiatry to appear coherent and confident, given the far-reaching consequences of the DSM’s contents. Greenberg explains, for example, how the use of a single ‘and’ where an ‘or’ might have been used, in the definition of ‘paedophilia’ that made its way into the fourth edition, inadvertently made it far easier for US authorities to detain indefinitely (on psychiatric grounds) people who had been convicted of sexual offences against minors. In other words, a single use of the word ‘and’ in the DSM led to a complex domain of morality and law — the culpability (or otherwise) of people charged with sexual offences in various circumstances, and proportionate sentencing for their crimes — becoming subordinate to the considerations of psychiatry.
‘Once you start to think of your troubles as a disease, your idea of yourself, which is to say who you are, changes’, warns Greenberg. But while psychiatry gives a diagnostic imprimatur to our expectations of ourselves and of one another, psychiatry is not solely capable of bringing about a wholesale alteration of these expectations. To understand what else might account for a psychiatric turn in society, one needs to recognise that we live in a culture in which our adult capacities are constantly denigrated, in which victimhood has become one of the few widely recognised sources of authority, and in which we are constantly encouraged from all directions not only to put our problems on public display (rather than addressing them within the intimate confines of trusted friends, family or — in extremis — psychotherapists or even psychiatrists), but also to assume that our problems will most likely afflict us in perpetuity.
It’s not so much the case that psychiatry now seeks to colonise everyday life — rather, everyday life now invites colonisation by psychiatry. In circumstances such as these, even the most well-meaning and scrupulous psychiatrist might struggle to parse the suffering and idiosyncrasy they encounter, so as to partition it sensibly into the pathological and the normal. Greenberg’s barbs against psychiatry may be well deserved, and are certainly grounded in tantalising insider detail and no small amount of wit. But they represent an incomplete picture of the dynamics he sets out to get to grips with, which lie outside the institution of psychiatry as much as they lie within.
December 21, 2013
In the Guardian, Sam Leith says the push to eliminate gender stereotypes from toy stores is really for the parents, not for the children:
My daughter wasn’t yet three when it started. First she refused to wear anything that wasn’t pink. Then she announced that she wanted to change her name to Cinderella Barbie Sleeping Beauty. This was an achievement.
We owned no Disney princess DVDs, had never uttered the word “Barbie”, and she wasn’t yet at nursery so it couldn’t have come the route of the nits.
Are the spores of this stuff, I wondered, in the air?
Now my son is two and a half. Dollies delight him not, no, nor fairies, though by your smiling you seem to say so. The two things in the world that interest him most are fire engines and (oddly) zebras. He has a special dance that he does on sighting a fire engine. When he wakes up in the morning and you ask him what he dreamed about, he says: “A fire engine and a zebra.”
Now Marks & Spencer has joined a growing number of retailers in announcing that all its toy marketing will be gender-neutral. Does that mean my next child will grow up free of these obsessions? I’m not counting my fluffy pink chickens.
I don’t want to troll all you good people by trying to make the case that marketing toys by gender is a positive social good to be applauded. But I think there is a case — a pretty strong case — for not getting ventilated about it. And — not to make the perfect the enemy of the good — for seeing the battle against it as a sideshow, and potentially one that could distract us from the main event.
December 19, 2013
Paul Rowan Brian explains where the suddenly omnipresent term “microaggressions” came from:
Microaggression is a term first coined by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Chester Pierce in the 1970s that, at least in original meaning, describes situational, spoken or behavioural slights (especially unintentional) that convey ignorance, hostility or dismissal toward individuals belonging to minority or marginalized groups.
Pierce is also quoted as saying that all children of five-years-old entering school are mentally ill. The reason they’re mentally ill, according to Pierce, is the children’s loyalty to their parents, the Founding Fathers, and belief in God or a Supernatural Being. The education system must seek to correct these mental illnesses, Pierce argues. Which is all to say that Pierce is certainly not one to overstate matters or let his rhetoric get away on him. (Not that anyone was worried about that, right)?
To look at how subtly microaggression may manifest, let’s take an example.
A middle-aged, white male in a city with a white majority offers his seat to a kindly-looking black lady of an older age on a crowded subway train; nobody looks twice, perhaps the lady even smiles as she accepts the offer.
But did you know that the male individual may well have committed microaggression?
Well anyway, he likely wouldn’t know if he had, by definition.
In offering his seat to the kindly-looking older black woman (or even, God forbid, thinking of her in those stereotypical terms), the white man has made hurtful assumptions about her needing the seat more than him including her identity as a woman, older individual and member of a minority. Even if none of these thoughts or impressions crossed the man’s mind or the woman’s, they have subtly-imbued the interaction with a harmful aspect, potentially causing or contributing to long-term feelings of marginalization, ‘otherness’ and psychological damage for the woman.
A number of other variables including the woman’s sexual orientation, socio-economic status and religion could make the seemingly-harmless and chivalrous interaction a double, triple or even quadruple microaggressive whammy.
December 17, 2013
Writing in Time, Camille Paglia tries to counter some of the received wisdom of academic feminism:
If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct — unless we rush down that ominous Brave New World path where women clone themselves by parthenogenesis, as famously do Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks and pit vipers.
A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism. Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment. Ideologue professors at our leading universities indoctrinate impressionable undergraduates with carelessly fact-free theories alleging that gender is an arbitrary, oppressive fiction with no basis in biology.
Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves as women.
From my long observation, which predates the sexual revolution, this remains a serious problem afflicting Anglo-American society, with its Puritan residue. In France, Italy, Spain, Latin America and Brazil, in contrast, many ambitious professional women seem to have found a formula for asserting power and authority in the workplace while still projecting sexual allure and even glamour. This is the true feminine mystique, which cannot be taught but flows from an instinctive recognition of sexual differences. In today’s punitive atmosphere of sentimental propaganda about gender, the sexual imagination has understandably fled into the alternate world of online pornography, where the rude but exhilarating forces of primitive nature rollick unconstrained by religious or feminist moralism.
December 12, 2013
In the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman talks about how we sometimes sabotage our own best intentions:
The great Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner, who died earlier this year, wrote a famous article entitled How To Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion (pdf). It concerned a very specific kind of mistake, which he labelled the “precisely counterintuitive error” — the kind of screw-up so obviously calamitous that you think about it in advance and decide you definitely won’t let it happen:
We see a rut coming up in the road ahead and proceed to steer our bike right into it. We make a mental note not to mention a sore point in conversation and then cringe in horror as we blurt out exactly that thing. We carefully cradle the glass of red wine as we cross the room, all the while thinking ‘don’t spill,’ and then juggle it onto the carpet under the gaze of our host.”
This is an example of what psychologists call an “ironic effect”: it’s not just that we fail in our best efforts, but that we fail because of our best efforts. If you hadn’t given much thought to the wine, you’d probably not have disgraced yourself.
The depressingly popular field of “positive thinking” is basically one long litany of ironic effects, because trying too hard to be happy makes people miserable. (I explore this in my book The Antidote — and now I just have to hope that this self-promotional reference doesn’t have the ironic effect of making you less likely to buy it.) But ironic effects have been cropping up in a whole range of other contexts, too
Three recent reports of ironic effects he mentions:
- Stigmatising obesity makes overweight people eat more, not less
- Supporting a good cause on Facebook makes people less likely to give money or time
- Awareness campaigns get forgotten by the people who need them most