Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Why is the Hispanic death rate lower?

June 6, 2017

Click to enlarge

Compared to non-Hispanic whites and blacks, Hispanic Americans are survivors.

Why?

The Case-Deaton study and its new update showed that the death rate is rising among non-Hispanic white Americans while it is falling among citizens of every other important industrial nation.   Anne Case and Angus Deaton attribute this to the rise “deaths of despair”—from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The study showed something else that I think is equally interesting.  The death rate among Hispanic Americans has always been lower than among non-Hispanic whites, and it continues to fall, in line with trends in other industrial nations.

In the chart above, the bright red line is the death rate among non-Hispanic white Americans and the bright blue line is the death rate among Hispanic Americans.

The death rate among non-Hispanic American blacks is higher than among whites, but it is falling, not rising.

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Things (some) women don’t see about men

February 14, 2017

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Ian Welsh on happiness

February 12, 2017

Blogger Ian Welsh says the first step to being happy is to stop making yourself unhappy.

I live in a single room, in a downscale neighborhood.  I sleep on some pads on the floor.  I am in debt, and I have a couple of serious health problems.

Yukon raven by gavatronI am also happy most of the time.

I’ll be sitting in my garret and thinking, “God, life is amazing.  This is wonderful.”

And I’ll laugh and mock myself, “What’s good about this?  You’re poor, sick, overweight, and broke.”  All that is true, but I’m happy (and my health is improving, no worries, I don’t expect to die soon, though who knows).

So I’m going to give some unsolicited advice on how to be happy even though your life sucks, because, well, I’m pretty good at it.

The first step is to not be unhappy.

(Insert head smacking motion from readers.)

Seriously, though, start there. Or, as I like to say: “The whole of the path is not giving a fuck.”

Run out of fucks.  Do not restock.  Life will seem a lot better.

Please don’t mistake Welsh’s philosophy for indifference to the world or other people.   He is engaged with the world through his excellent political blog.   He is concerned about world events.  He just doesn’t let world events make him miserable.

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Rod Dreher on evil as a spiritual force

January 22, 2017

Rod Dreher, a traditional Christian, summed up his beliefs about evil:

  1.  The world is not what we think it is. What is unseen is as real as what’s seen.
  2.  People are not who we think they are; they are not even who they think they are. People will go to extraordinary lengths — including telling themselves outlandish lies, accepting what ought to be unacceptable and making their own lives and the lives of others miserable — to avoid facing truths that would compromise the worldview upon which they’ve settled.
  3.  The battle lines between good and evil, and between order and chaos, are not drawn where we would like them to be. The front is everywhere, most particularly within our own hearts.
  4.  Be wary of the treachery of the good man who believes in his own goodness.
  5.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Source: The American Conservative

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Trump’s election is not the end of the world

November 18, 2016

A few weeks ago, Democrats and liberals ridiculed Donald Trump for saying he might not accept the results of the Presidential election, and hinting of protests and riots if it was rigged against him.

Now some Democrats and liberals are protesting the results of the election and asking members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to go back on their word.

Clinical psychologists in New York City and elsewhere are flooded with calls from people who need help coping with their fear of Donald Trump.   Little Hispanic and Muslim children are terrified that Trump supporters are going to come after them.

Donald Trump giving victory speech (AP)

Donald Trump giving victory speech (AP)

They literally believe that the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to the election of Adolf Hitler.

I don’t want to make light of these fears.  I think people really are afraid.

Trump’s election was a bad thing.  A lot of people are going to be hurt because of the Trump administration (for that matter, many would have suffered under a Hillary Clinton administration).

American democracy survived Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy.  I am confident it will survive Donald Trump.  I highly recommend watching the 12-minute Ian Welsh video above and reading the links below for perspective.

Trying to negate the Electoral College vote is a terrible idea.  The effort is bound to fail, and will discredit future demands by liberals and Democrats to respect the rule of law.   Even if it succeeded, it would set a bad precedent of setting aside election results by fair means or foul.

The Electoral College has existed for more than 200 years.  It is what it is because of a compromise that was necessary to create a United States in the first place.   Progressive and liberal presidents have been elected in the past through the Electoral College system and have just as much chance of being elected in the future.

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The problem with a woman as President

August 2, 2016

thatcher-and-sisters

When I look at the lists of women heads of state and women heads of government since World War Two, I see more warrior queens—Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi—than I do motherly social reformers.

The problem with women leaders in a male-dominated society is that, in order to be respected by men, they often repress the so-called feminine weaknesses of compassion and empathy and emphasize the so-called masculine virtues of combativeness and unsentimental moral pragmatism.

I don’t know whether Hillary Clinton became a war hawk in order to earn the respect of powerful men, or whether she had the respect of powerful men because she already was a war hawk, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be a respected part of the political establishment if she were an advocate for peace.  The problem is that a war hawk is not what is needed now.

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Ramanujan and the nature of genius

June 25, 2016

Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar was a poor Hindu with only a basic mathematical education who, as a young man, made important mathematical discoveries.  He impressed the great British mathematicial, G.H. Hardy, who invited him to join him at Cambridge University in England, where the two had a brilliant and fruitful collaboration, cut short when Ramanujan died young.

ramanujan9781476763491_mti_cover-210I read Robert Kanigel’s The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan after seeing the movie based on the book.  The movie does justice to the spirit of the book and mostly conforms to fact, but cannot duplicate Kanigel’s richness of detail.

Both the movie and the book gave me food for thought on the nature and sources of genius.  I once thought of mathematical discovery as a logical, step-by-step process, but I now realize it depends as much on inspiration as anything else.

Some of Ramanujan’s theorems came to him in dreams, sometimes on scrolls held by Hindu gods.

Since I do not believe in the Hindu gods myself, how do I explain the fact that Ramanujan’s visions of the gods have him true mathematical theorems and also good advice on major life decisions.

I have to believe that his visions were manifestations of his subconscious mind.  Brain scientists tell us that most cognitive activity takes place below the level of consciousness.  I believe that most inspiration and creative thought arises from subconscious  sources, and that the conscious mind performs an executive function—deciding which intuitions have a basis in reality.

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Donald Trump as master persuader

March 24, 2016

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, thinks Donald Trump will be nominated and elected by a landslide.  He explained why on his blog.

Donald Trump is a con man.  He’s also a fraud, a liar, a snake-oil salesman, and a carnival barker.  Clearly he is running a scam on the country.

Trump calls himself a “deal-maker.”

I call Trump a Master Persuader.

Trump_1_21_againagainIt’s all the same thing.  Trump says and does whatever he needs to do in order to get the results he wants.  And apparently he does it well.  Given the facts, you can either see Trump as highly skilled or morally flawed.  Maybe both.  I suppose it depends which side you are on.

[snip]

Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal.  Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence.  Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants.  He understands humans as 90% irrational and acts accordingly.

[snip]

Trump knows psychology.  He knows facts don’t matter.  He knows people are irrational.  So while his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks –  Trump knows that is a waste of time.  No one ever voted for a president based on his or her ability to name heads of state.  People vote based on emotion.  Period.

 You used to think Trump ignored facts because he doesn’t know them.  That’s partly true.  There are plenty of important facts Trump does not know.  But the reason he doesn’t know those facts is – in part – because he knows facts don’t matter.  They never have and they never will.  So he ignores them.

Right in front of you.

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Ian Welsh on the culture of meanness

February 23, 2016

One of the most striking things about much culture in America is the simple meanness of it.  The cruelty.  Most of this seems to come down to three feelings.

  • Yukon raven by gavatronMy life sucks.  I have to work a terrible job I hate in order to survive.  I have to bow and scrape and do shit I don’t want to do.  You should have to as well.
  • Anyone who doesn’t make it must not be willing to suffer as I do, therefore anyone who doesn’t make it deserves to be homeless, go without food and so on.
  • Anybody who is against us needs to be hurt and humiliated, because that’s how I see my superiors deal with people who go against them. [snip]

This appears to be a result of something simple: at every stage of American life, it’s a zero or negative sum game, and who gets ahead is decided by authority figures.

Source: Ian Welsh

Not 100 percent true, I know of many exceptions, but becoming more and more true.  Welsh’s whole post is well worth reading.

Bernie grew up poor, Hillary didn’t: It matters

February 18, 2016

The cartoonist and writer Ted Rall, author of a new biography of Bernie Sanders, wrote a good article about how the political differences between Sanders and Hillary Clinton can be explained by the fact that Sanders grew up poor whereas Clinton didn’t.

One of the differences between people who grow up poor vs. people who grow up middle class is that the latter on average are better able to delay gratification in anticipation of future gains.

Bernie0.tedrallMiddle class moralists like to say this is because poor people lack strength of character.  I say the difference is that is hard to take the long-range view when you’re not sure week-to-week whether you will have food on the table or be able to pay the rent.

Psychological tests show that middle-class children on average are more likely than poor children to refrain from eating a marshmallow if they are promised a second marshmallow in return.

Middle class moralists say this is because middle class families have better moral values.  I say the difference is that it is easier to delay gratification if your life experience is that people keep promises and that nobody will snatch away what you have.

Bernie Sanders grew up in a home in which his parents lived paycheck to paycheck and never could be certain of the future even on a month-by-month basis.

Hillary Clinton never experienced anything like this.  She and her husband said they exited the White House $10 million in debt, but there never was any danger they would have to live on Ramen noodles or live in a homeless shelter.

So Sanders is passionate about immediate and drastic reforms of the economic system, and Clinton tells working people and the unemployed to be realistic and settle for tiny incremental under the existing system.

LINK

For Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Politics Is Personal by Ted Rall via Counterpunch.

Happiness and maturity: scarcer than you think

January 17, 2016

Andre Malraux once asked a Catholic priest what he had learned about people in 50 years of listening to confessions.  The priest replied that (1) people are much more unhappy than you would expect and (2) there is no such thing as an adult.

I thought about this when I read a blog post entitled How Bad Are Things? by a psychiatrist named Scott Alexander.   However bad things are, it’s highly unlikely you’re the only one (of whatever it is).

What we were afraid of in 2015

December 30, 2015

topfears2D6BC74000000578-3273130-image-m-74_1444858317411Source: Chapman Survey of American Fears.

Are conservatives mean-spirited?

October 8, 2015

There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.
       ==Ralph Waldo Emerson

Half the useful work in the world consists in combating the harmful work. A little time spent in trying to appreciate facts is not time wasted.
        ==Bertrand Russell

Liberals and progressives call conservatives mean-spirited.  Conservatives complain about this even as they speak and write about “bleeding heart” liberals and progressives.

The fact is that a large part of conservatism consists of warnings against acting on your generous impulses.

This can be mean-spirited.  It can be wise.  Sometimes it is both at the same time.

A basic conservative truth is that there are many more ways to make things worse than there are to make things better.  This is true no matter how bad things are.  Another is that people are much better judges of their own interests than they are of other peoples’ interests or of the public interest.

I don’t believe that being heartless makes you more realistic, but neither do I believe that good motives guarantee good actions.

‘The opposite of addiction is connection’

July 21, 2015

Hat tip to Andrew Tobias.

A controversial British journalist named Johann Hari has written a book, Chasing the Scream, (which I haven’t read) , arguing that drug addiction is not caused by the body’s response to the drugs themselves.

He said addiction is caused by people being so disconnected from society and so lacking in life’s normal satisfactions that the pleasure of taking drugs is life’s best alternatives.

Hari based his conclusion on two experiments.  One involved rats.  The other involved the people of Portugal.

Experimenters in the 1950s and 1960s found that caged rats, when offered the option of self-administering heroin, would take the heroin in preference to food and water.

But another scientist, Bruce Alexander, noted that rats are social, active and sexual creatures.  A rat in a cage is equivalent to a human being in solitary confinement.  He wondered what normal rats would do if exposed to heroin.

Starting in 1977, he created a “rat park”—a kind of paradise for rats—in which there was plenty of cheese, and brightly-colored objects, tunnels to hide in, plus other rats to hang out with, including sexy members of the opposite sex.

These rats had no interest in morphine-laced water, even when mixed with sugar to make it more attractive.

Furthermore rats that had been turned into heroin addicts in cages lost interest in drugs when released into the rat park.

Portugal’s experiment began in 2001.  The country had a serious drug addiction problem, and arresting and punishing drug addicts was as ineffective there as it was elsewhere.

So the government tried a different approach.  They reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs—a supply of less than 10 days—to a minor offense, equivalent to a traffic ticket.

But instead of just leaving it at that, the Portuguese government put the resources that formally went into drug enforcement to helping drug addicts lead a normal life—for example, by subsidizing salaries so they could get jobs.

There is something about this that doesn’t sit quite well with me.  Why should an addict get help from the government that is not available to someone who keeps free of addiction?  It is like Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son.  Why should the son who goes away and wastes his life be treated better than the faithful son who stayed at home and did his duty?

But this is not rational thinking.  The fact is that the Portuguese solution worked.  Drug addiction didn’t vanish, but Portugal has one of the lowest addiction rates in Europe.   Mercy, forgiveness and human kindness work (in this case) better than a narrow idea of justice.

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Wealth, hope, poverty and reality

April 27, 2015

Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.

==John Dickinson in the musical 1776

I’ve often heard this said.  Is it really true?

It’s common in the United States to hope for a better life, including a higher income, than your parents had, and to hope that your children will have a better life, including a higher income, than you had.

It’s common in the United States to hope for success in your chosen endeavor, which, if you’re an entrepreneur, involves getting rich, but not merely getting rich.

All or almost all entrepreneurs I’ve ever met hoped to accomplish something worthwhile and to be rewarded for it, which is different from the desire to acquire money by any means necessary.

I’ve also met people motivated by mere greed, but none of them that I know of ever accomplished anything worthy of respect.   Sadly, it seems to me that there are many such people in positions of power.

Our American culture emphasizes the responsibility of every person to earn their keep and pay their own way.  Those of us who’ve struggled hard to gain just a little are fearful of having that little taken away for the benefit of those who haven’t struggled.  Sometimes that’s a realistic fear, sometimes not, but that’s a topic for another post.

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

April 2, 2015

Update 9/16/2016.  Sorry if the older links don’t work.  Try thisOr thisOr this.

Some years ago I posted videos of “The Century of the Self,” the great four-part documentary by Adam Curtis about “how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.”

The videos were taken down from the Internet, but Jason Kottke found new iterations and linked to them on kottke.org.  Here they are.  If you haven’t seen them before, I highly recommend watching them.  Each one is a little less than an hour long.

Part One, Happiness Machines, is about how Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, created the profession of public relations in the 1920s and taught American advertisers how to link products with consumers’ unconscious desires, and how these ideas influenced politics in the 1930s.

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The battleline between good and evil

March 15, 2015

quote-the-battleline-between-good-and-evil-runs-through-the-heart-of-every-man-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn-174264

I believe there is such a thing as goodness, which is devotion to human flourishing in myself and others, and I believe there is such a thing as badness, which is the human weaknesses that prevent people from serving the good.

I also believe there is such a thing as evil, which is hatred of the good.

There are such things as good countries, which allow their people to flourish, and there are bad countries, where corruption, privilege and power without accountability prevent human flourishing.

And there are such things as evil regimes, such as those of Hitler and Stalin, which kill and torment people for no real reason except pure malice.

The ISIS regime and its allies such as Boko Haram in Nigeria seem to be pure evil, although they may attract followers who don’t realize what they’re getting into until it is too late.  If I could push a button and blow up all the ISIS leaders while sparing innocent human life, I certainly would do so.

At the same time, I recognize that the seeds of the ISIS atrocities and of almost every other bad and evil human action exist within myself.   I have never wanted to set anybody on fire or slowly saw anyone’s head off at the neck, and I have never fantasized about it, but I have thought and done things that, in their small way, were just as pointlessly malicious.

To recognize the evil in myself is not to deny or mitigate the evil of ISIS.   It is to recognize the truth of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian writer, once said, which is that the battleline between good and evil does not run between nations nor between individuals, but through the heart of every human being.

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The human mind: Links & comments 2/16/15

February 16, 2015

education-in-liberal-artsHow to Convince Someone They’ve Committed a Crime by Nathan Collins for Pacific Standard.

Brainwashing, which is my worst nightmare, may in fact be possible.  Evidently people can be made not only to confess to crimes they haven’t committed, but to come to falsely believe they actually have committed them.

Believing that life is fair might make you a terrible person by Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian.

People like to believe that the arc of the universe bends toward justice.  Faced with injustice they can’t do anything about, people tend to blame the victim.

Psychology: the man who studies everyday evil by David Robson for the BBC.

An experimental psychologist has confirmed that there are people who’ll pay a price just for the pleasure of inflicting pain on others.

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward, shy guys end up hating feminism by Arthur Chu for Salon.  [Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist]

It’s natural, but wrong, to blame other people for your internal problems.  That’s a different thing from the external threats faced by many women from misogynists.

Could You Go 40 Days Without Being Mean? by Sarah Miller for New York magazine.

The author experimented with being soft-spoken for 40 days and found, to her surprise, that it made her happier.

Race, IQ and Wealth by Ron Unz for the Unz Review.

The scientific evidence indicates that differences in IQ between nations and ethnic groups have much to do with affluence and development, and very little to do with heredity.

Brains Make Decisions the Way Turing Cracked Codes by Devin Powell for Smithsonian magazine.

Interesting and important work is being done on how the brain works, but this is not a solution to the mystery of consciousness.

Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?  by Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian.

I can’t even imagine what a solution to the mystery of consciousness would consist of.

The ‘Gestalt prayer’ by Fritz Perls

January 23, 2015

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

If not, it can’t be helped.

==Fritz Perls.

Do mean people tend to fail as entrepreneurs?

January 4, 2015

Paul Graham, a computer programmer, venture capitalist and wise essayist, wrote recently that mean people almost never succeed in starting successful businesses.

There is some evidence that some types of business, such as financial speculation, attract psychopaths, but the types of business Graham had in mind are those that create something new and valuable.

Graham-cover3The reasons why, in his experience, mean people rarely succeed are (1) a focus on crushing the enemy keeps you from focusing on the long view, (2) talented people don’t want to work for mean bosses and (3) creative entrepreneurs often have a vision of doing something that benefits humanity.

Successful creative entrepreneurs, in Graham’s experience, are more like great artists, writers and scientists than they are like great warriors, and, in a post-scarcity society, their qualities are more important than the warrior qualities.

I think there is some truth in what he wrote, and I would like to believe in it more than I do.  But I can think of examples of successful and creative entrepreneurs who were nasty human beings.

One example is the late Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple Computer, probably the premiere creative entrepreneur of our time.  Jobs had the perfectionist artistic temperament that Graham wrote about, and yet he was a bully, a liar, a manipulator, an exploiter of Asian sweatshop labor, a deadbeat dad, and an ungrateful son to his adoptive parents.  He was a great man, but he was not a good man.

Another example is Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.  His brilliant innovation has revolutionized the retail industry to the benefit of many, and yet he is using the power of his innovation to squeeze book publishers, authors and suppliers in the same way as Wal-mart does.  He also is a terrible employer.

Al Neuharth, the former CEO of Gannett Inc., entitled his autobiography, Confessions of an SOB, which I think was accurate.  Yet it was his vision that created USA Today, a successful innovation in journalism, at a time when printed newspapers were starting to fail.

I think Paul Graham may suffer from selection bias.   As a decent human being himself, he is predisposed to invest in businesses started by other decent human beings.  And many decent human beings do succeed in business.  But so do bullies and SOBs, just as they sometimes do in the arts and sciences and other endeavors..

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The passing scene: January 3, 2015

January 3, 2015

Social Programs That Work by Ron Haskins in The New York Times.

Many social welfare programs fail.  The Obama administration has identified some that succeed.   While this does not change my unfavorable opinion of the President’s policies overall, I think he is entitled to credit for having this research done.

This City Eliminated Poverty and Nearly Everybody Forgot About It by Zi-Ann Lum for Huffington Post.

Between 1974 and 1979, the small city of Dauphin, Manitoba, guaranteed all residents a basic income—employed or not, able to work or not.  What was the ultimate outcome of this radical experiment?  Nobody ever bothered to check and find out.

What’s Wrong With Georgia? by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin and Minnesota is the proof by Jimmy Anderson for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Georgia and Wisconsin are the latest American states to discover that a Third World economic strategy—low wages, low taxes, low services and low regulation—is not a successful formula for creating jobs and promoting economic growth.

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What influences a judge’s decision for clemency?

November 2, 2014

In April of 2011, a group of Israeli researchers published some remarkable research about decision-making, looking at more than a thousand judicial rulings by eight Israeli judges who presided over two different parole boards.  The rulings covered Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Israeli criminals whose crimes ranged from embezzlement and assault to murder and rape; the vast majority of the decisions involved requests for parole.  These were esteemed judges using their years of experience and wisdom to make critical decisions affecting not only the lives of the prisoners and their victims but also the well-being of the larger community.

So what was the biggest factor in whether a prisoner would go free or not?  True remorse, perhaps?  Reformation and behavior in prison?  The severity of the crime?

None of those, actually.  It turns out what mattered most was how long it had been since the judge had had a sandwich.

via Get more done by working fewer hours: Shorter days are more productive.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/6/14

October 6, 2014

Populist Former Senator Jim Webb Could Give Hillary Clinton Major Headaches in 2016 by Lynn Stuart Parramore for Alternet.

I’ve long admired Senator James Webb, the former Senator from Virginia.  A Vietnam veteran and Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, he switched from the Republican to the Democratic party out of disgust for the Bush administration’s subservience to Wall Street.  He has criticized the Obama administration on the same grounds.

Webb is an opponent of reckless military intervention abroad, a critic of the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration and a friend of working people.

I admire Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the way she stands up to Wall Street, but I agree with Webb on a broader range of issues than I do with her (for example, she goes along with the administration’s war policies).

Tech gives the rich new toys while perpetuating the criminalization of poverty by Nathaniel Mott for Pando Daily (via Naked Capitalism)

A new device allows subprime auto lenders to track the location of a debtor’s car and to disable the car if the debtor falls behind on payments.  The New York Times reported this has happened when the car is in motion.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 9/28/14

September 28, 2014

Emotion Is Not the Enemy of Reason by Virginia Hughes for National Geographic.

All normal human beings are both rational beings and emotional beings.  Someone who claims to be rational and above emotion is simply being dishonest, either with themselves or others, about their feelings.  Someone who claims to be intuitive and above reason is being dishonest, either with themselves or others, about their thought processes.

Rational people direct their feelings toward appropriate objects.  They fear that which is truly dangerous, admire that which is worthy of respect and yearn for that which will make them happy.

This is your brain on narcissism: The truth about a disorder that nobody understands by Sarah Gray for Salon.

Someone who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder has, on the one hand, an enormous sense of self-importance and entitlement and, on the other hand, an ego too fragile to accept criticism or recognize unwelcome facts.

Nations as well as individuals can be narcissistic.  Patriots are willing to defend their native lands.  Narcissistic patriots insist that their native lands are the greatest countries that ever were and any criticism or doubt is by definition disloyal.

Simplifiers and Optimizers by Scott Adams for boingboing.

Do you try to do things the best way, and never get done?  Or do you do things the easy way, and never get an excellent result.  Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, advises striving for excellence on the few things that are important to you, and looking for the simplest way to get through everything else.

 

Black and white ways of child-rearing

September 23, 2014

Brittney Cooper, who is black, wrote for Salon about why black parents are often so authoritarian and white parents are often so permissive.

In college, I once found myself on the D.C. metro with one of my favorite professors.  As we were riding, a young white child began to climb on the seats and hang from the bars of the train.  His mother never moved to restrain him.  But I began to see the very familiar, strained looks of disdain and dismay on the countenances of the mostly black passengers.

They exchanged eye contact with one another, dispositions tight with annoyance at the audacity of this white child, but mostly at the refusal of his mother to act as a disciplinarian.  I, too, was appalled.  I thought, if that were my child, I would snatch him down and tell him to sit his little behind in a seat immediately.

My professor took the opportunity to teach: “Do you see how this child feels the prerogative to roam freely in this train, unhindered by rules or regulations or propriety?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“What kinds of messages do you think are being communicated to him right now about how he should move through the world?”

And I began to understand, quite starkly, in that moment, the freedom that white children have to see the world as a place that they can explore, a place in which they can sit, or stand, or climb at will. The world, they are learning, is theirs for the taking.

Then I thought about what it means to parent a black child, any black child, in similar circumstances. I think of the swiftness with which a black mother would have ushered her child into a seat, with firm looks and not a little a scolding, the implied if unspoken threat of either a grounding or a whupping, if her request were not immediately met with compliance.

So much is wrapped up in that moment: a desire to demonstrate that one’s black child is well-behaved, non-threatening, well-trained.   Disciplined

I think of the centuries of imminent fear that have shaped and contoured African-American working-class cultures of discipline, the sternness of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ looks, the firmness of the belts and switches applied to our hind parts, the rhythmic, loving, painful scoldings accompanying spankings as if the messages could be imprinted on our bodies with a sure and swift and repetitive show of force.

I think with fond memories of the big tree that grew in my grandmother’s yard, with branches that were the perfect size for switches.  I hear her booming and shrill voice now, commanding, “Go and pick a switch.”   I laugh when I remember that she cut that tree down once we were all past the age of switches.

via The racial parenting divide – Salon.com.

I think there is a lot of truth in this.  How parents bring up children depends partly upon whether they see the world as a harsh and dangerous place, or whether they see the world as a place of opportunities to be explored.  (I’m writing now about normal families, and not about messed-up families without any real parenting).

The differences are not just between black and white families.  Blue-collar families, of whatever race, tend to more strict than upper-crust families.  Contrary to the stereotype that some black people have, not all of us whites are affluent, college-educated professionals.

I think there also is a generational divide.   Looking at the generations in my own family, my grandparents were much tougher disciplinarians than anybody would be today.   That was because of the customs of the times.  Nobody then would have thought that slapping or spanking a child was a form of abuse.  But those customs were a product of a much more demanding and unforgiving world than the one I grew up in.

One of the problems of the children of the Baby Boomers was that so many of them were raised to live in a kinder, gentler world than the one the found themselves in.

I think it’s tough to be a parent.   I don’t know how you strike the right balance.