Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

(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.)

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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.


BOOTLICKING, ger.  A popular American mass participation sport which is rapidly displacing baseball as the national pastime.

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– definition (not photo) from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, by Chaz Bufe, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover

Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are here in Arizona, up in Wickenburg at The Meadows, a very expensive ($58,000 for 45 days) 12-step treatment program.

This is ridiculous on more than one count, most importantly that Spacey and Weinstein are not afflicted with “sex addiction.” Rather, they’ afflicted with power-over-others “addiction,” and the abusive behavior that results from it. Give people power over others, and it’s a safe bet that a great many of them will abuse it.

Second, “sex addiction” is not a recognized disorder in the standard handbook on mental disorders, the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th ed.). It’s a pop culture term dating from the 1980s, whose roots seem to lie in the anti-sexual attitudes of conservative Christians and in the authoritarian, prudish feminism of figures such as Andrea Dworkin. It’s more of the “same old same old” pathologizing of sex that’s been such a dreary part of American life for centuries.

Third, the type of “treatment” Spacey and Weinstein are receiving for this trumped up malady is 12-step treatment, which is ineffective across the board. (See “Alcoholics Anonymous is Not Effective” for info on the granddaddy of and model for all subsequent 12-step programs; see also the authoritative Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches, by Reid Hester and William Miller.)

So, Spacey and Weinstein are receiving (insofar as it’s 12-step based) ineffective treatment for an imaginary addiction, while their real problem — their willingness to use their positions of power to exploit and abuse others — goes unaddressed.

In the end, it seems that all they’ve done is find a convenient way to remove themselves from the spotlight, while giving the appearance of doing something about their awful behavior. They’ll emerge from rehab in January, their PR flacks will proclaim them rehabilitated — and they’ll quite probably go back to business as usual, insofar as they can get away with it.

That’s a shame for both Spacey, Weinstein, and their victims, and for the rest of us, because sexual abuse by the powerful has wider than individual implications. It’s a symptom of the sickness at the heart of our current authoritarian, hierarchical political and economic organization that gives some vast power over others. This whole affair could have spurred much needed discussion about that sickness. But it hasn’t, and likely won’t, especially as it’s being addressed as a matter of individual failure rather than pervasive sociopolitical failure.

“Perhaps, if the existence of an evil being were allowed, who, in the allegorical language of scripture, went about seeking whom he could devour, he could not more effectually degrade the human character than by giving a man absolute power.

“. . . birth, riches, and every extrinsic advantage that exalt a man above his fellows without any mental exertion sink him in reality below them. In proportion to his weakness, he is played upon by designing men, till the bloated monster has lost all traces of humanity.”

–Mary Wollstonecroft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Arthur Schopenhauer

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs;  he is ready and happy to defend all its faults tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

–Arthur Schopenhauer, Aphorisms

Oliver Goldsmith

“[Y]ou will always find that those are most apt to boast of national merit, who have little or no merit of their own to depend on; . . .”

–Oliver Goldsmith, “National Prejudices”

Maurice Brinton

“It is obvious that if large sections of the population were constantly questioning the principles of hierarchy, the authoritarian organization of production, the wage system, or other fundamental aspects of the social structure, no ruling class could maintain itself in power for long. For rulers to continue ruling it is necessary that those at the bottom of the social ladder not only accept their condition, but eventually lose even the sense of being exploited. Once this psychological process has been achieved, the division of society becomes legitimized in people’s minds. The exploited cease to perceive it as something imposed on them from without. The oppressed have internalized their own oppression. They tend to behave like robots, programmed not to rebel against the established order. The robots may even seek to defend their subordinate position, to rationalize it, and will often reject as ‘pie in the sky’ any talk of emancipation.”

–Maurice Brinton, The Irrational in Politics (now included in the Brinton anthology, For Workers’ Power, published by AK Press)