Sunday, October 30, 2016

New Fallacy

If you go to the Graph Paper Diaries post about Forrest Gump in the sidebar, you get a chance to reflect and comment on your own political development/changes.  Good times.

Fracking Clarification

I made the claim recently that fracking has been upholding the American economy, which would be bad without it.  It occurs to me that I am only looking at a narrow slice, leaving my statement technically accurate but possibly not very helpful. 

My reasoning was simple.  The economy has grown at ridiculously low rates for years.  Cheap oil has provided a significant boost to the economy.  Therefore, without that boost, we would be trending red instead.  I think that is straightforward.

However, there could be a dozen other things that are more important that I am ignorant of or neglecting. Two huge offsetting factors might be the real story, and fracking just a side dish. I shouldn't have come anywhere near implying that it was the central pillar.  It may be, but I don't know that.

Obama Memes

If you are on Facebook you have probably seen variations of this as well.  There are posters lauding the Obamas for being scandal-free, for being wholesome, for having nice kids - and what a relief and contrast that is to drunken Bush girls and whatever.

It's a nice thing to compliment, I suppose.  But I always think people are taking a big risk whenever they such things.  Not only are there claimed scandals that have simply been held apart from scrutiny - those may or may not turn into something - but the last few weeks should make everyone a little cautious about making no-scandal, wholesome-family claims.  I can't imagine doing it myself.  It would mean that I might have to eat my words later. Why don't people think of these things?  Why expose yourself to humiliation unnecessarily?

It's another example of people not thinking the same way that I do, and I think it is related to the tendency to self-examination that is less universal than I expected.  People don't worry about those possibilities, because they aren't going to do anything about it later, if their words are thrown back at them.  They will just revert to their usual refusal to deal with such things.  Change the subject to how someone else is worse, for example.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Underground DSM-IV - Full Version

Further slight editing 10/31.
Addition 11/22

Someone at work requested that I print out the whole thing in 2011, and I have had a recent request to reprint this.  It is ten years old now.  I have edited it, primarily by removing some sentences I no longer think are that defensible.   The following is a collection of empirical observations about people with various diagnoses.  Some are a bit unfair, and I plan to attend to that when I improve it and add pieces to it.  soon, I hope. 

Uses the phrase: “Head games”= Borderline PD
“Deep” depression Dependent Personality, or less often, Borderline or Histrionic.
  (“very, very” is also a bad sign. I spoke with a woman yesterday who used three "very's" a half-dozen times while describing her history. Her children are very, very, very, important to her.  Except operationally they aren't.

“…died in my arms.” = Antisocial Personality Disorder.   It’s amazing how often this is claimed, and how seldom it is true.  Of political note: Jesse Jackson claims that MLK died in his arms. He didn’t. So now we know Jesse’s diagnosis.
The wife or mother of the violent sociopath who says “I just want him to get help” is going to take him back (See “I need therapy,” next.)
“I need (undefined) therapy.” Means I feel bad and think I will feel better if other people listen to me endlessly. Our other offerings, including group therapy, DBT, skill-building, IMR, etc won’t be considered real therapy.  Real therapy might mean no homework and a person of the opposite sex to say “there, there.”    But even short of that, it means other people will just listen. Variations include “I haven’t gotten any therapy here.”

Identifying “low self-esteem” as your problem means you want someone else to fix it. Self-esteem (in the popular sense, not the older, precise sense) is entirely subjective.  Self-respect is based on actions. Seeking self-esteem is seeking to feel better without doing anything, and does you no good.   But no matter how far down you go, you can always do something to increase your self-respect. I think of that when public figures have screwed up. One can usually tell pretty quickly quickly whether they are protecting self-esteem or self-respect.

If you take an antisocial male on a ride near his home community he will keep claiming to see people that he knows, or their trucks or motorcycles. (“That’s Tiny’s Harley!”)

Not original to me:  Tatooing L-O-V-E on one fist and H-A-T-E on the other is a type of intimidation that Antisocial Personality Disorders are fond of.  It's your fault if they have to hit you, y'see, because they are basically peace-loving people who aren't looking for a fight.

When a patient claims that the hospital doesn’t know him, and therefore has no right or foundation for evaluating him, he means that the objective evidence should be ignored in favor of his rationalizations.  "That doctor only spent five minutes with me."  Dude, I had 90% made up my mind just reading the first page of your chart.

 Related: “No one is listening to me,” means “no one is agreeing with me.” This has been remarkably durable over my career.  The idea seems to be "If you were really listening to me you couldn't possibly disagree."  Countering with the statement "I hear what you are saying, but i don't agree with it" can actually provoke assaultive rage.  It must come near the core of problem.

 Pts. referring to length of time they have been in hospital as an argument for privileges or discharge means they still don’t get it. Similarly, arguing "But it's my daughter's birthday party this Saturday" or "I'm supposed to be at work today.  I could lose my job," mean much less after a suicide attempt.  What was your daughter going to do if you were dead? These are, sickeningly, often followed by "My children are everything to me."  Your actions say the opposite is true. But if that ever sinks in, you probably will commit suicide, so I don't say it out loud.

Gazing intently slightly upward -- choosing among several things to say (Lots of people do this.)
 The further up the gaze, the more possible responses - usually not a healthy sign.
Gazing at ceiling: = Choosing among a multitude of things to say, i.e. lying.
Turning back to interviewer, spinning in chair:  Antisocial PD

Commenting that there are a lot of people in the interview room.   = Borderline PD.
(Thinking it or acknowledging it doesn’t count. Anyone might do that.) I don't know why.  There may be something around the insecurity of managing so many emotional dyads.

Shaking hands with more than one person = manic.   More handshakes, more mania. Today I had someone who wanted to high-5 everyone in the room.

Substance Rehab excuses:
Meatloaf version: I would do anything for rehab (said Monday), but I won’t do that (said Tuesday.)
Goldilocks version: That Rehab is too far. That Rehab is too near. No rehab is just right.
 Wearing clothing with beer logos to your rehab interview suggests you aren’t serious.

Chronic pain really can make you look like a Borderline or Dependent Personality.  It’s harder than it looks.  Mania can also make you look like an antisocial.  Be slow on the blaming attitude with these.

Paranoids have an uncanny ability to make their worst fears come true.   Eventually, everyone is watching them.
Borderlines seeking cool alternative diagnoses have an uncanny ability to locate the only private therapists who can’t help them.
Manipulating staff or lying is a high-level skill indicating significant organization and readiness for discharge. Sicker patients try to manipulate staff but do it poorly. To the complaint “but she’s just telling you what you want to hear,” my response is “I’ve got a caseload full of people who would love to tell me what I want to hear, but can’t.”

Some staff consider that a patient enjoying anything is a bad sign. “She likes it here,” is synonymous with “she’s not sick, she’s malingering.”
People who have a “problem with women,” or “problem with men,” reveal behaviorally in about 24 hours that they don’t do well with the other sex either.   Ditto for “problems with authority:” those folks tend to also show “difficulty working independently” and “difficulty sharing responsibility.” What’s left?

Rescuing women often accept the reasoning from the violent men in their lives that those just need to “get their anger out" somehow.  Actually, these guys get their anger out just fine. It’s keeping it in we want them to work on. This seems terribly unhealthy to both the violent male and his rescuing female, who are puzzled that mental health professionals do not understand this very obvious psychological need to get anger out.   This particular bit of faulty reasoning is often paired with needing “therapy,” as above. No one understands them, it seems.

What I call Oppositional Treatment Design is remarkably accurate.  If you want to sleep, we want you to get up.  If you want to be up, we want you to sleep.  If you want meds, you probably shouldn’t have them, but if you don’t want them they are likely to be exactly what you need.  If you want to leave, we make you stay.  If you want to stay, we make you leave.  If you’re blaming yourself, you should stop that.  If you’re blaming others, you should start blaming yourself.  It’s not as stupid or mean as it sounds.  People usually come to the hospital because of a particular point of contention with the usual flow of life.  That inability or refusal to change is usually the central difficulty getting along in the world.  The patient will usually hand you the opening, though it’s wiser to use a Colombo indirect approach than a direct confrontation. “People say I’m getting manic, but they just don’t understand that I have a lot of energy.”  That may sometimes be true for folks getting along in life, going to work, paying bills.  Involuntary arrival at a psychiatric hospital is usually an indication that something has gone wrong, however.

The content of paranoia is often a function of what is floating about in the air at the time of the first breaks.  In the early 70’s it was the CIA.  During the era of the Godfather movies it was the mafia. Radio waves were big for a while.  Now it’s computers or satellites, and implanted chips are going to have a strong run this decade. Plus, there's always the old reliable "drug dealers are after me because I told the cops that Bennett and Preston are using drugs."  Dude, the cops know all about Bennett and Preston, it's proving it that's the problem.  People of religious leanings might have demonic or angelic interpretations to their voices.    Movies may figure prominently.   Trying to tease out other meanings provides lots of exercise for ego-analytic psychologists, but no objective help to the patient.
If one staff member moves to rescue a patient with Borderline Personality Disorder, someone else will lean toward punishment to an equal degree. “You’re giving her everything that she wants!”  In large groups the mathematics of balance is more complicated but the principle is the same: the group will balance its negative feelings.  Moving to the extremes just increases splitting: shift wars, team vs. line staff, community vs. hospital.  The longer the staff discussion is going on, the more likely it is that this patient has Cluster B traits.  Everyone wants the last word on those.

The Rorschach protocol measures the psychologist’s ability to consider alternative diagnoses.

The closer you are to the situation, the more you are convinced the other person is being bad on purpose.  The more distance you have, the more you are convinced that non-elective forces are driving the behavior.  Both are inaccurate. Choices are always mixed, driven by both will and external factors. This is not patient-nature, this is human-nature.
If it’s Friday afternoon and it’s a crisis, there’s a personality disorder behind it.  But 50-50 it’s a staff member who’s got the Cluster B traits that are sucking the flouride out of your teeth.
You can’t reach much of anyone on a Friday afternoon, but those you do reach are usually pretty competent. The others left them in charge and snuck out the back way.
Punching the wall is not something to be congratulated for just because you wanted to hit a person instead. You are still rehearsing violence. In fact, you are ably demonstrating how unconcerned you are with your own pain, so long as you get to show how angry you are.  It’s an intimidation tactic.

Multiple personalities usually add up to less than one.

New social workers want to intervene in everything at once: couples counseling, substance rehab, going on disability, finding a self-help group, etc. This is the human services equivalent of invading not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but North Korea, China, France, Mexico, and the Maldive Islands, all at once. Addendum: If you suggest this to social workers, they won’t understand the analogy, noting irrelevantly that they were against going into Iraq.   Note:  This is changing.  I am noticing a trend of social work interns wanting to change the agency, and its institutional racism and sexism.

Naming your daughter after an alcoholic beverage is a bad sign (Brandy, Margarita, Champagne, Martini).   Exception for Margarita if you are from a culture where the name is historically common.
In every generation there seem to be given names of children associated with a much higher proportion of pathology.   No recent DCYF worker will be naming her own daughter Crystal, for example. (Crystal is now passe.)  The mechanism for this is opaque to me.  Most Justins and Jasons are just regular people of course, but somehow an enormous number of pathological mothers decided that those were the best names for their sons.  This annoys the hell out of the regular Crystals, Justins, and Jasons, who usually sense that they share their name with a lot of delinquents pretty early.  Just ask them.  The delinquents themselves never pick up on it – it’s always a surprise. “Krystl, that is like so amazing!  My boyfriend last summer was like Justin, too, and he had to go to rehab too!” Amber, Brandon, and Sean were problem names earlier. (Update: Sean not so much now.)   Cheyenne and Dakota may be on the rise. (Update: I was right.) Raven. Cody.

People who work at developmental agencies are concrete and fearful of change, like their clients.  We don’t know who gets it from whom.

Seeking guardianship is a measure of staff frustration.

If an experienced social worker has arranged a placement with only a small window of availability, the patient automatically becomes clinically ready to go, and you’d damn well better agree.
Otherwise, the SW will bite your head off the next time you ask about discharging someone.
When line staff says, “He needs to be discharged,” they mean “I’m sick of him.”

When psychiatrists are finished with med changes, they conclude the patient is at baseline, independent of any data.

When anything changes, the psychologist will find a way to interpret it as progress.

The difficulty with being a MHW (psych tech) is the social and emotional battering they receive from both patients and ungrateful staff. Stress reduction classes make this worse. Encouragement might work, but no one’s ever tried it.

Intense borderlines tend to live near the hospital and interact with each other. When any one of them dies, or especially if one commits suicide, several others will have short memorial admissions to the hospital. I no longer think this is a bad thing. 

When a patient challenges your credentials, no credentials will be good enough. There will always be something you lack. “Oh, so you’re not a psychonutritionist.” I have come to understand that this applies to everyone, not just psychiatric patients and their families.  When someone challenges or asks for your credentials, their only intent is to tear them down. This may be strongest in the social sciences, where credentials can be kinda fuzzy and science not well-regarded to begin with.   I have found that this is true of everyone, not just psychiatric patients and the       

When a patient – and some providers – claims a “right to be angry,” there will be a sudden shift in the meaning of ordinary words. That one is entitled to ones own feelings and opinions will be made to equal “I am justified yelling at people. Or worse”

Bonus international political comment. France is a glamorous borderline personality disorder – the cause?  An abusive incestuous relationship with Germany.  Much of European politics suddenly becomes clear if you keep this in mind.  The rescuing Americans are the bad parent who didn’t rescue enough, and so get blamed more than the perpetrator, who she has now gone back to live with.

Russia tends to paranoid personality disorder, and about half of the Arab nations are narcissistic personality disorders. Societies which oppress women tend to raise entire generations of narcissistic males. It is not a healthy thing for a boy to pass his mother in cultural status, for nothing that he has earned, when he is still a complete twerp.

11/22/16 Bethany thinks it should be a whole book.  But really, I don't think I've got much more material.  However I have things to add today, and maybe I should just keep adding that into the larger post.

When someone says anything about honesty -
Can I be honest?
Not gonna lie
I'm just being honest
I truly think
I'm not sh---- you here
I really, really want
 - they usually mean something else.  Sometimes they mean candor, or bluntness.  Sometimes it's a feeling that they have no supporting evidence for. Sometimes they are saying true things, but leaving out other information that is important.  Sometimes it's just lying.  People who are speaking the truth generally don't reference "hey, did I mention that this is the truth?" They certainly don't make repeated references to how truthful and honest they are being.  In a side note, any political or religious organisation that uses the word "truth" in its name should be watched with the closest scrutiny.

This may be connected to the Biblical admonition of "Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay." (James)

Perhaps relatedly, many statements in mental health bureaucracies don't mean what their content would suggest, and I suspect there are parallels in your industry as well.  "I just want what's best for the patient," or "Look, we all want what's best for the patient here" usually means "Let's do what's best for my agency," or even, horribly, "we don't want to put in much effort to fix this and you're stuck with him, so we don't much mind if the patient is not being served."

Oh, oh, that reminds me.  When the hospital is discharging a patient over the objections of the family*- and this is often a risky proposition that we are wincing at and crossing our fingers over - I breathe a sigh of relief when someone shouts into my phone "If you discharge him today, I guarantee you he will be dead before midnight."  Whew.  So this is just a family that postures in overdramatic fashion, and the patient is cut from the same cloth, so their cat-and-mouse about suicide is mere drama. Good to know. The few actual suicides usually take us more by surprise.

And speaking of suicide, remember that there is a suicide rate for people leaving banks, people leaving schools, people leaving work, and people leaving hotels. The suicide rate for people leaving psychiatric hospitals over the next 30 days is only marginally higher.  It's just that ours make the newspapers and people think we should have done...something.

*this happens all the time and often really does suck for the family, who are up against it and have legitimate gripes, and a hospital is at least a safe and treatment-oriented environment for their brother, daughter, whatever. It's brutal to have a mental illness, and sometimes it's brutal to even be close to it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

I thought it was evidence of the increasing ridiculousness of some of the Nobels and haven't paid much attention. But I think this may turn out well after all. I suppose I should find something of his to link to. Something with the proper sense of irony.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Election Thoughts

We are likely past the point of persuasion for anyone, so I feel free to make observations while it is still fresh.

I will be voting for Evan McMullin. You can spare me the observation that I am voting for Hillary/Trump by not voting for Trump/Hillary.  I already covered two weeks ago that my individual vote has no effect. If NH comes down to a few votes - mine plus the 100 people I have 5% effect on - you can chastise me then.  Except there would be a recount, which would change things one way or the other.  It is not the vote itself but all the imperceptible influences we have on our friends and acquaintances in the runup.  Those influences must be anchored in a legit secret ballot, else we have 99% votes for a dictator, because people do not dare go outside the lines even in private.  But mostly, it is a measuring stick for ourselves.  Why does this outrage me and not that? Am I swayed by seeming and feeling? James rightly noted that a personal examen of decades is a bit steep, but you can practice a bit here.

I have waited twenty-five years for Clinton dishonesty and accompanying media sycophancy to be finally exposed*, and this is the hour, but I cannot participate. Luther said he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian, which I guess can be stretched to cover wise rulers of low character, but I don't see the "wise ruler" part in Trump. In my Jesus Freak days there was a festival in Washington that some of my friends went to. The theme from Scripture was 2Chronicles 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. I didn't agree with the interpretation that any nation could just automatically claim this promise made to Israel, but I noticed tonight something quite special about this.  The intent was that we Christians were supposed to pray, and live justly, and God would take care of the rest. I don't hear that now, except in quiet corners.

As to media, I read that Chris Wallace was fair as a moderator, and Jake Tapper is an honest man.  I also note that it is primarily the national media that shows up badly in the favoritism of Democrats in general but very specifically of Hillary Clinton. The city and regional media lean left, but not as much, and I am hopeful this will be a wakeup call that there are acts of prostitution, not romance, lying ahead of them.  Some will, some won't I suppose. It is disappointing that the same people who believe that implicit racism is responsible for all manner of ills regard implicit media bias as having negligible effect. Subtext, word choice, framing, facial expressions, and tone either matter or they don't.  They can't have a huge effect in one place and no effect in the other.  Escaping to institutional doesn't change that either, because the media outlets in question are very much long-standing institutions.

I am quoting Wikileaks, because I believe the information is true.  We should be cautious in what conclusions we draw, however.  The information released is true, but selected. There may be other bits that would swing us a different way, were they made available.  If some new emails came out that either made Hillary look better or Trump worse, there would of course be an annoying hypocritical flip-flop, but that aspect should be disregarded. And because no one can be unrelentingly evil, I imagine there are some benign things out there. So regard this as a palantir, that can show true things, but can still be bent to evil purpose. As for the idea that we shouldn't allow foreigners to try and influence our election, I think that's not clear-thinking.  I don't see a sharp line between Europeans reporting things - sometimes bad things that we have done - around the world that the American papers won't, in an effort to break through to influence our voters, and Wikileaks. Obama not knowing which countries his contributions came from is worse. Democrats are objecting to this theft because Hillary left the keys in the ignition.

BTW, because Wikileaks is calculated in its timing, there is likely something left to know.

We vote myths, and I think Trump's appeal is that of Samson. (What's Hillary?  Fairy Godmother?  I think that's how her supporters see her.)  Well, yes, Samson was used of God, but there are reasons mothers don't name their sons after him.

"Rigged" is a big word.  Trump is using it, and a few are following, but it's crazy.  However, shading an election, putting a thumb on the scale, is not crazy. People try to do it all the time, and sometimes they succeed. (My irony of this week is the psychiatrist who assured me about five years ago that "Jeb was never going to allow his brother to lose Florida" is complaining now that the Republicans are wild conspiracists for suggesting the election could be rigged.) You can slash the tires of the vans that are giving rides to the polls. You can be Mayor Daley and bring the dead to life, just for the day. I don't know that there are recent elections where we think that moved the dial more than 1% in a state, or even 5% in a precinct. Except Atlanta.  I understand Atlanta is lots of paid votes for mayor, or was.

*And as I should have guessed, they are even worse than the right-wing crazies predicted.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Emotional Salience

There is a new antipsychotic out, Vraylar (cariprazine). I haven't seen anyone who's on it yet, but it targets an interesting symptom. (Okay, it targets receptors, but you know what I mean.) Emotional salience is the sense that something is important. I liken it to the background music in movies, where a dump-ta-DUM signals to the audience that something important just happened. Many psychotic people have delusions without hearing voices, because they find emotional salience in odd places. Random, benign events are highlighted by their brains as Important. They just feel it strongly, sometimes overwhelmingly, that the white car driving past their house has something to do with them. These reinforce each other, and a whole delusional system gets built up.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hard Rain

James links to David Warren's Hard Rain Chronicles. It puts me in mind of the Benedict Options, which Rod Dreher is a fan of.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


I went to my 45th HS reunion.  Very pleasant.  I didn't hear the words "Trump" or "Hillary" all night.  the only person to make jerk comments was me.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Always, Never, Least, Most

We are in the grip of an Election, so it is not surprising that rhetoric is intensifying and people are getting carried away in their claims.  I keep seeing that Obama has endured the most criticism, or has been the least something-or-other.*  That we have never had a political candidate like  Trillary/Hump, or that the Republicans have always been Friends of the Devil or Protectors of Virtue or whatever.

The first level of hoping people will just calm down is to say that we will all come to our senses shortly, and even if we don't change our minds we will at least be less insufferable after inauguration day, and get back to being unified Americans, all pulling together for the common good.  The implication is that the wisest, most gentle response is to just mildly state our own opinions, wait out the excitable and passionate friends, and take a sort of resigned detachment.

I think that view is dangerous. What is the evidence that this is true, other than cowardice? The evidence over the last seven election cycles,  or perhaps twelve, is that these bleed over into the following years, and are cumulative.  We are not calming down, we are becoming meaner.  We increasingly nominate candidates who don't refrain from polarising, but actively embrace it. (I don't think there is anyone who can be blamed for starting this, yet I think there are clear inflection points downward in my lifetime.) In marital therapy, the counselor is trained to be especially alert to the person saying always/never. It signifies a person who has stopped thinking rationally and wants only to punish the other. That is the partner who wants to win, not arrive at the truth, or any kind of negotiated arrangement.  I don't see things as all that different in political discourse. I don't think it is merely being emphatic, stating your opinion, speaking truth to power, being forceful or prophetic in warning or whatever. I think it's evil.  If you doubt that, you might reflect that there is a Commandment, one of the Big Ten, about bearing false witness against a neighbor.  Or perhaps recall the specks and logs.

You said I was stupid. You pretend you were talking about those others, but that's just saying I'm one of the good niggers. I won't bring it up again, but I'll remember.  You accused me of hypocrisy (because I am in that group you called hypocrites) even though I'm the person who buys lunch more often and has a better track record for putting in the time and money.  You insulted me and my people at work while I was standing there. You left me with two choices: challenge you and be seen as the source of contention, or suffer in shame.  

 I also don't think it is mere inattention, a technical mistake, or cultural/literary convention. I believe that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Both Luke and Matthew record this from Jesus.) People are scandalised when challenged on the point, because they don't think of themselves as divisive, accusing people. They think it is those other people who are the problem.

Trust me on this, folks are deeply insulted that you say they are being insulting, when they think of themselves as the gentle, peaceful ones.  They double down pretty quickly.

*I keep thinking that one-word - one-name - answers should not only bury those claims, but make the person who said it ashamed to even speak up again. Nixon? Johnson? Reagan? Lincoln? Hoover? Clinton? Are you serious? Which other presidents/candidates were you talking about, exactly? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Voting Part IIB - Bad Reasons

To review 1.) Your vote doesn't count but you should do it anyway.  2.) You will cast your vote for bad reasons.

Voting - Part IIB: Bad Reasons

(I tried not to be tedious.  I failed.  It isn't in me, perhaps. Too long, too many references.)

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt , in his 2012 book The Righteous Mind, clearly, emphatically stated that one of his objectives was to convince Democrats and liberals how to use his principles to win elections.  There is a website derived from the book, and today's blogpost by Haidt is "How Democrats Can Use Moral Foundations Theory Against Trump."   Why then would a clear, emphatic postliberal like myself want to talk about him so much and give him so many precious pixels?  Because he is simply right about some core issues of bias, persuasion, memory, and moral understanding.  I continue to have disagreements about major points, but he is doing work that no one else seems to want to touch.  I must have written about him twenty times over the years,  including one as recently as yesterday.

Our imaginative picture of ourselves is of a stalwart, decisive individual, considering competing ideas, weighing alternatives, and rationally deciding.  We might allow, with a shrug, that we have some foibles which cause us to be a touch emotional rather than fully rational about some topics.  That is a quite new picture of human beings. The ancients (up through the Enlightenment) thought differently, and used the mixed image of a strong rider, reason, mastering an unruly horse, emotion.  Haidt reverses this progression entirely, and claims that our decision-making is more like a (rational) rider on an (intuitive) elephant, having some effect but no control. We know this to be true about those who disagree with us yet exempt ourselves, and certainly exempt those who sound most rational of our tribesmen and allies. Surely, someone, somewhere, has thought this out and we have been wise enough or lucky enough to have discovered them and listened to them, and are at least mostly independent deciders and Have Got It Mostly Right, because, well,  just look at those idiots over there.

Haidt's not just making this up, ivory tower.  He is concluding this from evidence he was very uncomfortable with at first. Me too.  We want to think that free will means we are 90% in control, not 10%. That's not looking promising at present.  Some brief Jonathan Haidt quotes. "The First Rule of Moral Psychology: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second."   "We are emotional actors! We are highly intuitive beings who act first, and justify later. Our beliefs, convictions, and values are far less “rational” than we imagine." 

So, Jonathan Haidt.  Books, TED talks, magazine articles, published scholarly underpinnings that he has already pushed into replication studies. I found a new author for you to absorb who will modify your views on many things. Excitement!

Six years ago I did an extended series May WeBelieve Our Thoughts? which also came out to about twenty essays.  These covered psychiatric conditions, personal memories, religious and political opinions, and social influences. Those interested in only the political parts will find them in #6, #9, #11, Opinions, #15-16, Self-Observation, and sorta #8 and Dunning-Kruger. 

There's plenty of other readings on the subject.  I've got more, if anyone's interested. For openers, the NPR series of a few years ago, the NY Times series of a few years ago,  and the book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).

I write all this introduction defensively, because the upshot is that Haidt is saying very nicely, with a positive spin, that which I think is darker: you hold your opinions for bad reasons. You aligned yourself years ago with some tribe you either come from or wanted to become part of, for largely selfish reasons, and have been selectively editing subsequent information according to confirmation bias ever since. It is very unlikely that you have examined your motives for this in anything more than a cursory way.  Well, that's cheery, eh?

Hahahaha.  It gets worse.

Let me assure you that this doesn't get any better as an election comes around. You are thus on the verge of making your most biased, least rational decision of the year, with your full focus on how it's those other guys who are being dangerously evil.  There may be good, rational, reasons for voting for Candidate A or against Candidate B, but those aren't your reasons, Charlotte.  Those are later rationalisations you tacked on.

And worse still (Jeezum crow, doesn't this guy ever let up?) It's really hard to fix. However, for the intellectually curious, I do have something fun coming up.

Here is a place where I am repeatedly puzzled.  I reflexively wonder about my motivations for what I do all the time, have done it for years. I can't imagine anything differtent. All those spots in CS Lewis (Screwtape, The Great Divorce,  A Grief Observed, Till We Have Faces, God In The Dock...) where this self-examination shows up were not anything new to me, but clarifications and explanations of what I already knew.  I continually default to the idea that others must do this too - not so much as I, perhaps, but a lot. I think of it as the natural mode of thought - to ask, as an actor does "What's my motivation here?" Or What am I getting back from this?  Am I just virtue signaling? Is this an automatic response borrowed from my main peer group?  Is this just a 20th-21st C idea that we've swallowed whole for no reason?  Could the opposite be true? What would Frodo advise? What would Ransom say?  What Would Jesus Do?

Yeah, you're right, not many people do that.  It sounds exhausting. Most moral obligations are.

So, your vote doesn't count, it's mostly irrational, and you really should fix that. The last bad part is that you can't make a dent in that this election season. There are just too many button-pushers around.  The moment you think that staying home or leaving a slot blank is the only way to sanity, some joker will cross your path to tell you that you just don't hate Trump/Hillary enough, so let me tell you one more bad exaggerated thing about him/her, and you are off to the races again. Hell, even without them, you will push the buttons all by yourself at this point.  You will get yourself stirred up.  Every four years I watch a new version of Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros"  play out again.

Get a grip.  Let me tell you about elections in Romania sometime. Or better still, here is the exercise that will bring calm.  Consider past elections.  Now that you know what came after, and how your hero or enemy exceeded or fell below expectations, don't things look different?.  It's kinda fun, actually.  It's not just "In retrospect, would you vote for Bill Clinton in 1996, Bush 41 in 1988, John Anderson in 1980..." but looking at yourself, voting, in that slot. Did you predict wrongly what he would be like?  Did the SOB change? Did you think the world worked in a certain way then, but you think now that it works somewhat differently?  Were you just posing for the camera to the people you worked with, or a girl you were trying to impress?  Were you, in fact, a complete dink who should not have been allowed to vote? Whether you have Strange New Respect for the villain of 1984 or greater irritation for your hero of 2004 is not the point.  The point is you.  Elections are report cards about your personal growth.

You can't answer that sort of question about yourself while you are in the heat of an election.  Even obsessives like me have a hard time with it. But you will find it not only possible, but wryly entertaining when you cast eye backward. It's not really painful at all after the first few times, and it is very instructive and amusing.  Go backward, skipping 2012, which is still too close.  How do 2008 and 2004 look now?  What about Ross Perot and what you said about him then? What do you think Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon actually did right, did wrong, compared to what you asserted so confidently then? Take a drive or a long walk.

For pity's sake, don't write any of your bad motives and jerk ideas down, where others can possibly discover them and hold them against you.  If you can't remember details, write them in some shorthand or code. And criminy, don't tell your wife or husband or anything. Do the exercise back to your childhood, but don't tell anyone for a few years.  Let's not get crazy here.  This is not an area where those closest to you are the safest.

If you don't learn something, then really, don't bother to try and think hard again. You might hurt yourself.  The second benefit is that after you've finished you will be less insufferable in 2020, and the country will be less divided.

This is the secular version.  I have additional comments for Christians in an upcoming post, which don't apply to the rest of you so I will leave out.  If someone wants to warm up for those, I have a few short things to get you started. Virtue Signalling. 
Preparing for Elections

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wait But Why - Second Presidential Debate

Hysterical. Language


My admiration for Jonathan Haidt is high, and he will figure prominently in an upcoming post. However I have always objected to his contention that liberals stress only two of the moral foundations, while conservatives stress all six more equally.  I find that liberals stress disgust/purity a great deal, and the remaining three foundations more than he credits. I think his original research focused on things that were more likely to elicit a purity/disgust response from conservatives, and had he asked about other items we would see a greater consonance.  Food or environmental concerns, for example, are often framed in terms of disgust. Some things disgust most human beings, others are more variable.

The current election is bearing me out.  Disgust is absolutely a moral foundation in play in liberals’ – and not them exclusively – rejection of Donald Trump.  That was even more strongly in play this past weekend, when a recording of him talking about groping women, with more graphic and vulgar terms than has been usual even for him, surfaced.  After what we saw this weekend, don’t tell me liberals aren’t motivated by disgust.  Which is fine, BTW.  I agree with them on this disgust.  The only way it could have lessened was with a really good apology geared to quieting disgust, and Trump didn’t come close to achieving that.

His defenders moved to highlight equivalences with a previous vice-president and more especially, a recent president, both Democrats, who had not been treated with the same rejection by Democrats that Trump is receiving.*  But in making that comparison they moved off the Disgust foundation to the Fairness foundation. Different rules apply there. Ironically, Fairness is the least fair of the foundations, as events are easy to rationalize in any direction, to make them look more similar or less similar. Disgust is more automatic, harder to get around.

Yes, it is objectively far worse that Bill Clinton raped women, and that Hillary was party to the silencing and discrediting of them.  If you could get those matters before Martian judges evaluating fairness, you would win hands down.  That this does not happen is infuriating to all those who believe that it would, except for media bias.  Perhaps so, but only in part. People will minimize the sins of their tribesmen and maximize the guilt of their opponents quite well even without help from media sources. 
Either way, Bill Clinton’s raping of women is not much imagined by his supporters, and the few surviving quotes and descriptions that might elicit disgust may not even be known to them.  “You better put some ice on that” seems to show up mostly in the conservative press.  Hillary’s creating of the “War Room” is even less in their minds, eventhough the story has credible backersIt is a convenience that virtually all groups and individuals use.  If someone doesn’t admit guilt, then you can keep up the charade that they didn’t “really” do it.  Even a conviction in a court of law is not a guarantee that they will abandon you.  And absent a formal conviction or a confession, no amount of evidence will convince some people.   That’s not just liberals, that’s human nature.

Thus, disgust is taken out of the picture, and the argument to hypocrisy moves to the more malleable Fairness foundation.  Apples and oranges.

I wonder how it all fits with the concept of embarrassment as a moral disqualifier.  It shouldn't be that deeply related, but the complaints about Trump's vulgarity come as a package with shudders about his hair, and his facial expressions.  Well, small sample size on that:  on my FB feed and where I work there are plenty of mini-rants about how infuriating it is to listen to him and look at him - grown women talking like sophomore girls. Worse, that is what attracts all their energy, though they are educated enough to develop a coherent argument based on policy and principles.  Lord knows Trump supplies enough material to not have to be distracted into discussing how he is just such an impossible man.   I don't get it.

*One more example of people rewriting their own histories to suit their needs.  Every woman I read this year who addressed the issue of Bill Clinton 1996-1998 claimed that she had greatly disapproved of his actions then. Yet they recalled only Monica Lewisnky and minimized the events as mere cheating on his wife.  No settlement with Paula Jones, no Linda Tripp, no Vernon Jordan, no perjury was remembered.  Also, his popularity among women rose starting in 1996, peaked in 1998 and did not drop until the middle of 1999, when it dropped among everyone.  One wonders what form their disapproval took, then.

Saturday, October 08, 2016


For Christians, it is not going to matter much in the long run who we elected.  What we did while electing someone, however, will have long-term, and possibly eternal consequences.

Side Stream from "Voting"

I think we are going to be facing hard times. Fracking is holding aloft an economy that would otherwise be in decline.  Had the decline started, it is even money whether it would have been gradual or spurred a crash of major or minor proportions. Cheap oil and other technological advances may continue to stave off serious collapse.  Yet the lack of collapse encourages us to keep doing what we are doing, personally and in government, so we spend what we do not have and do not stop the bleeding in other places. That may make things worse in the long run (Nicholas Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, believes this is so).

Which people, and especially which party is responsible for that I am not examining here. If Amity Schlaes can be re-interpreting the conventional wisdom about the Great Depression 85 years later (I was taught the CW in 11th grade 45 years ago.  High school textbooks aren't usually cutting-edge for theory, so the CW had been in place a long time), I can't pretend to have the True Interpretation of the Obama years versus the Bush years versus the Clinton years vs...the Truman years. I only note that things don't look good, and we don't seem to have been finding ways to spend less money, neither as families nor as nations.

Foreign affairs do not look encouraging.  They never look wonderful, but there are two contradictory values that are increasing in force: the idea that if anything bad is happening in the world it is at least partly our fault, so we should therefore fix it, contrasting with the idea that whatever we do abroad seems to make things worse, or at least, cost lots of money without helping much.  Some folks would say it's all the fault of the West, especially America - and even the jingoists would point to things (different things) we have screwed up. Additionally, there are those who believe America should stop suffering wherever we find it, regardless of who is at fault.  Because it's suffering, Jack, and we don't like to look at it. There is an isolationist streak re-arising that shakes its head.  Our attempts to fix that makes it worse.

I am also not identifying who's at fault here, nor even which value should prevail.  That is a different day.

But going forward, we know we are not going to be well-governed in these matters, at least for the near future.  We might get lucky.  The faults and virtues of any politician are usually closely related, and the crises that come might match the strengths that would be weaknesses in normal times. I wouldn't count on it, but it could be.  Or the other branches of government, for their own selfish reasons, might compensate for presidential overreach.  Sanders may be the leader of a Democratic delegation that Hillary can't control.  Trump certainly has a host of Republicans looking for a chance to dig in against him.  Where will it lead?  Will it all neutralise, and we test the old saying "The government that governs least, governs best?"

We face looming crises and we will not be well-governed.  That is the most likely outcome. My growing thought is that it all matters less than we think, for good or ill.

How shall we then live?