Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category


Randolph Bourne

“War is the health of the state. . . . In your reaction to an imagined attack on your country or an insult to its government, you draw closer to the herd for protection, you conform in word and deed, and you insist vehemently that everybody else shall think, speak, and act together. And you fix your adoring gaze upon the State, with a truly filial look, as upon the Father of the flock. . . . A people at war have become in the most literal sense obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of that naive faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes care of them, imposes his mild but necessary rule upon them and in whom they lose their responsibility and anxieties. In this recrudescence of the child, there is great comfort and a certain influx of power. On most people the strain of being an independent adult weighs heavily.”

–Randolph Bourne, The State (1918)


Blue Front AmazonIn 2000, my old cat and best friend Spot Bob died. (“Spot” — think Star Trek NG and “Data” — and “Bob” — think Joe Bob Briggs, or as an ex-GF who grew up in a single-wide in a junkyard put it, “Joe Bob,” “Billy Bob,” “Spot Bob”.)

After he expired in my closet on a foam mattress, I swore I’d never have another pet animal. Ever.

Less than a month later, my GF at the time got in a horrible car crash after I dumped her. She was a hardcore hidden drinker, got abusive when she drank, and I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. The afternoon I said goodbye and said “call me when you stop drinking,” she drank a pint of vodka after I left, jumped in her car, and got in a head-on crash.

She left behind a baby parrot she’d been badly abusing. (She’d also cut herself up with razor blades, as I’d found to my dismay a couple months into the relationship.)

After she crashed, her ex didn’t want the bird, and neither did her two (barely) grown kids, who were, quite understandably, severely emotionally fucked up in their own right.

So, I took the bird and gave him a home — a year-and-a-half-old Yellow Naped Amazon. I had no idea how to properly take care of him. I just let him roam the house and fed him the food PetSmart sold me. He quickly became my best buddy. The only problem was that he attacked on sight any woman who came into the house, sometimes drawing blood. He drew no distinction between my horribly abusive ex and other women: he wanted vengeance..

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So, when women came over, I’d lock him up — but I felt guilty as hell about it. But he’d physically attack them — remove flesh — if I didn’t. (Now, he’s much better with women, still conflicted but nonagressive.)

Shortly after that, I met a woman in a web design class who was a volunteer with the local parrot-rescue group, TARA — Tucson Avian Rescue and Adoption.

I did 10 to 20 hours a week volunteer work for the next decade, doing fostering, behavioral rehab of abused and neglected Amazons (dozens), and parrot-care education classes, plus the web site.

Along the way, three more abused Amazons decided they liked it here and wanted to hang around. I couldn’t turn them away, so I now have four permanent three-year-olds with large powerful beaks.

I love them. They’re a pain in the ass, and it takes me about an hour a day to take care of them physically (cutting up veggies and fruits, cleaning water and food bowls, cleaning up the shit around their cages, changing the papers in their cages, etc.) Then there’s their demands on me: “Pick me up! Pick me up! Give me scrinches!” I spend several hours a day with a parrot on my shoulder. And it feels good. I’m doing something good for other conscious, feeling beings. (And you bet they are!)

It helps me get out of myself and care for others. I never had kids because I didn’t want to put them through the same emotional torture I went through as a kid — yes, “dumbth” on my part: generalizing from a sample of one terribly messed-up family that shouldn’t have and didn’t reproduce beyond me.

Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve been hoping that someone younger than I am would fall in love with the birds and would take them on after I croak. It hasn’t happened, and probably won’t.

As Albert Ellis said toward the end of his life, regarding death, “I’m not exactly looking forward to it.” Neither am I. But what I do worry about is what’s going to happen to my birds.


“There is one thing in the world more wicked than the desire to command, and that is the will to obey.”

–quoted by Charles T. Sprading in Liberty and the Great Libertarians


There have been many attempts to explain why Trump voters remain loyal to him. Given that Trump is an obvious bully, con man, hypocrite, boastful sexual predator, overt racist, pathological liar, and a rich kid who’s never done a day’s work in his life, many “analyses” get stuck at the “what in hell is wrong with these people?” stage. There are, however, some common analyses that make sense in part. We’ll get to them shortly.

But let’s first take a look at the best psychological explanation I’ve seen of why Trump voters haven’t fled him in horror. It’s “A Neuroscientist Explains What Could Be Wrong with Trump Supporters’ Brains,” by Bobby Azarian, a scientist affiliated with George Mason University. Azarian cites four reasons why many of Trump’s voters stick with him. (We’d encourage you to read the entire article.)

  1. Azarian quotes psychologist David Dunning as follows regarding how woefully misinformed many Trump voters are: “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Azarian adds, “Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” (Obviously, not all Trump voters fall into this category. Azarian doesn’t add, but should, that desperation and frustration will often lead people to take a chance, even a remote chance, on damn near anything that promises relief.)
  2. The second component in loyalty to Trump is fearfulness: A great many of Trump’s followers, especially die-hard conservatives, are fear driven. As Azarian puts it, “Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. . . . These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch.”
  3. Fear of death increases the effectiveness of Trump’s fear mongering. Azarian notes, “[W]hen people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis . . . By constantly emphasizing [supposed] existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric.”
  4. The fourth reason for Trump’s hold on his core voters is his showmanship: he’s a master at keeping his audience engaged. As Azarian says, “His showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level. . . . He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.”

There are other factors in Trump’s support that Azarian doesn’t mention, though many others have; the following are all commonly cited, and all have some validity.

An important factor is that conservatives, more so than progressives, tend to live inside a media bubble, that is, they seek out news and opinion outlets that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, fears, and prejudices, and “cluster around,” as a 2014 Pew report put it, a small number of news sources or, often, a single news source: Fox News. Not coincidentally, Fox and other right-wing media outfits, such as Breitbart and Sinclair Broadcasting, deliberately and consistently trigger Trump supporters’ fear response. Trump supporters tend to live in a news/opinion echo chamber where it’s “all fear all of the time.”

Another factor in Trump’s continuing support is that a great many Trump voters are in real economic distress; many are stuck on or near the lowest level of need: basic survival. Economic insecurity is the rule in the United States now — as an example of this, approximately 60% of Americans say they couldn’t handle an unexpected $500 expense without going into debt. Billionaire trust fund baby Trump talks about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and pretends that he’s a friend of those who work for a living, and many working people are so stressed and desperate that they grasp at the straws he throws them as they sink ever further into the economic quicksand.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if the Democrats weren’t controlled by corporatists (those funded by and serving the interests of the corporate world and the 1% who by and large own it). The corporate Democrats have controlled the party for roughly four decades, and when in power (Clinton and Obama) have done essentially nothing to address the ever-more-urgent problem of economic inequality and the despair and anger it spawns, even when they’ve had huge majorities in Congress. Instead, they’ve focused on identity politics issues that do not in the slightest threaten the financial interests of their corporate backers. (Of course, issues such as LGBT and women’s rights must be addressed — but it’s absolutely crazy to make them your primary focus while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla of economic inequality.) The corporate Democrats appear to be (and to a great extent are) elitists who are unconcerned about the economic well-being of average people, and who have been skating by for decades on the anemic message that “we’re not as bad as the Republicans,” while standing for essentially nothing.

That explains the astoundingly low rate of voter participation in American elections. In 2016, only 59% of those eligible voted — in a presidential election; in midterms the percentage is much lower — and a good majority of those who didn’t vote were low-income people, many of whom could have been reached with a message about jobs  and reducing economic inequality. The corporate Democrats wouldn’t even touch those and related issues, such as healthcare for all, and as a result huge numbers of people sat on their hands or voted for third-party candidates — or voted for Trump. (In the 2016 election, 41% of those eligible didn’t vote; Clinton received the votes of 28% of those eligible; Trump 26%; and about 5% went to minor party candidates.)

The only rays of hope are that there’s a revolt in the Democratic Party against the corporatists; Trump’s hardcore supporters are a minority of, at most, 35% to 40% of those most likely to vote; Trump is so loathsome, vicious, and dangerous that people opposed to him can’t wait to get to the polls; and Trump’s economic policies will screw his working class supporters in short order, and some of them will realize it — eventually.

These are small rays of hope, but they’re better than none.

 


Johann Hari

“For thousands of years we’ve known that if you think life is only about money and status, you’ll feel miserable. We know that a steady diet of junk food will make you sick. A steady diet of junk values does the same thing. . . .

“An intrinsic value is something you do for the joy of doing it. An extrinsic value is something you do because you have to. Dr. [Tim] Kasser found that when societies move toward extrinsic values, depression increases.

“A few years ago, Melania Trump was asked if she would have married Donald if he was not rich. Her answer was stunning. Do you think he would he have married me if I was not beautiful? she replied. This is a clear example of living extrinsically.”

–Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, in interview with Eleanor Bader

(The entire interview is well worth reading.)


Mr. Fish Donald Trump graphic

“Why the stupid so often become malignant – To those arguments of our adversary against which our head feels too weak, our heart replies by throwing suspicion on the motives of his argument.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

(graphic by Mr. Fish)


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is an expanded version of a post from 2014. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

* * *

The media is abuzz, and friends have been calling me, about the so-called Super Moon. We’re having one tonight, and according to the excited local media (TV weather forecasters) we’ll be having two more in January. Wow! . . . Well, maybe.

In reality, there’s nothing to get excited about here, folks: the (full) moon will be at perigee (its closest point to the Earth) and about 14% larger in diameter than it is at apogee (its farthest point from the earth), and only about 7% larger than the full moon is on average.

As regards brightness, the moon at perigee is about 30% brighter than at apogee, and about 15% brighter than average. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? — until you realize that the eye’s response to increases or decreases in brightness is far from linear, and that the sun is approximately 400,000 times as bright as the moon. Thus, the average ratio of the sun’s brightness to the moon’s is about 400,000 to 1, and the ratio of the sun’s brightness to the “Super Moon’s” is about 400,000 to 1.15.

So, if they didn’t read the hype, and hence didn’t expect to see something, very probably 99% of people wouldn’t notice these rather subtle differences in the moon’s appearance. And the other 1% would be amateur and professional astronomers who’d be aware of them, but wouldn’t get excited about it.

There are lessons to be drawn from this.

As Oscar Wilde put it in The Critic as Artist, “[Journalism] keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

And as Wilde put it so well in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, “[T]he public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.”

There’s very little to add other than that journalism has advanced significantly since Wilde’s day and now manufactures things not worth knowing.