Sunday, December 30, 2007

A usable past for a society increasingly aware of its multiracial character

Op-Ed Contributor Forgotten Step Toward Freedom By ERIC FONER NYT: December 30, 2007 WE Americans live in a society awash in historical celebrations. The last few years have witnessed commemorations of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (2003) and the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II (2005). Looming on the horizon are the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (2009) and the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the Civil War (2011). But one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited.
This neglect stands in striking contrast to the many scholarly and public events in Britain that marked the 2007 bicentennial of that country’s banning of the slave trade. There were historical conferences, museum exhibits, even a high-budget film, “Amazing Grace,” about William Wilberforce, the leader of the parliamentary crusade that resulted in abolition.
What explains this divergence? Throughout the 1780s, the horrors of the Middle Passage were widely publicized on both sides of the Atlantic and by 1792 the British Parliament stood on the verge of banning the trade. But when war broke out with revolutionary France, the idea was shelved. Final prohibition came in 1807 and it proved a major step toward the abolition of slavery in the empire.
The British campaign against the African slave trade not only launched the modern concern for human rights as an international principle, but today offers a usable past for a society increasingly aware of its multiracial character. It remains a historic chapter of which Britons of all origins can be proud.
In the United States, however, slavery not only survived the end of the African trade but embarked on an era of unprecedented expansion. Americans have had to look elsewhere for memories that ameliorate our racial discontents, which helps explain our recent focus on the 19th-century Underground Railroad as an example (widely commemorated and often exaggerated) of blacks and whites working together in a common cause.
Nonetheless, the abolition of the slave trade to the United States is well worth remembering. Only a small fraction (perhaps 5 percent) of the estimated 11 million Africans brought to the New World in the four centuries of the slave trade were destined for the area that became the United States. But in the Colonial era, Southern planters regularly purchased imported slaves, and merchants in New York and New England profited handsomely from the trade.
The American Revolution threw the slave trade and slavery itself into crisis. In the run-up to war, Congress banned the importation of slaves as part of a broader nonimportation policy. During the War of Independence, tens of thousands of slaves escaped to British lines. Many accompanied the British out of the country when peace arrived.
Inspired by the ideals of the Revolution, most of the newly independent American states banned the slave trade. But importation resumed to South Carolina and Georgia, which had been occupied by the British during the war and lost the largest number of slaves.
The slave trade was a major source of disagreement at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. South Carolina’s delegates were determined to protect slavery, and they had a powerful impact on the final document. They originated the three-fifths clause (giving the South extra representation in Congress by counting part of its slave population) and threatened disunion if the slave trade were banned, as other states demanded.
The result was a compromise barring Congress from prohibiting the importation of slaves until 1808. Some Anti-Federalists, as opponents of ratification were called, cited the slave trade clause as a reason why the Constitution should be rejected, claiming it brought shame upon the new nation.
The outbreak of the slave revolution in Haiti in the early 1790s sent shock waves of fear throughout the American South and led to new state laws barring the importation of slaves. But in 1803, as cotton cultivation spread, South Carolina reopened the trade. The Legislature of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory also allowed the importation of slaves. From 1803 to 1808, between 75,000 and 100,000 Africans entered the United States.
By this time, the international slave trade was widely recognized as a crime against humanity. In 1807, Congress prohibited the importation of slaves from abroad, to take effect the next New Year’s Day, the first date allowed by the Constitution.
For years thereafter, free African-Americans celebrated Jan. 1 as an alternative to July 4, when, in their view, patriotic orators hypocritically proclaimed the slave-owning United States a land of liberty.
It is easy to understand, however, why the trade’s abolition appears so anticlimactic. Banning American participation in the slave trade did not end the shipment of Africans to the Western Hemisphere. Some three million more slaves were brought to Brazil and Spanish America before the trade finally ended. With Southerners dominating the federal government for most of the period before the Civil War, enforcement was lax and the smuggling of slaves into the United States continued.
Those who hoped that ending American participation in the slave trade would weaken or destroy slavery were acutely disappointed. In the United States, unlike the West Indies, the slave population grew by natural increase. This was not because American owners were especially humane, but because most of the South lies outside the tropical environment where diseases like yellow fever and malaria exacted a huge toll on whites and blacks alike.
As slavery expanded into the Deep South, a flourishing internal slave trade replaced importation from Africa. Between 1808 and 1860, the economies of older states like Virginia came increasingly to rely on the sale of slaves to the cotton fields of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. But demand far outstripped supply, and the price of slaves rose inexorably, placing ownership outside the reach of poorer Southerners.
Let us imagine that the African slave trade had continued in a legal and open manner well into the 19th century. It is plausible to assume that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Africans would have been brought into the country.
This most likely would have resulted in the “democratization” of slavery as prices fell and more and more whites could afford to purchase slaves, along with a further increase in Southern political power thanks to the Constitution’s three-fifths clause. These were the very reasons advanced by South Carolina’s political leaders when they tried, unsuccessfully, to reopen the African slave trade in the 1850s.
More slaves would also have meant heightened fear of revolt and ever more stringent controls on the slave population. It would have reinforced Southerners’ demands to annex to the United States areas suitable for plantation slavery in the Caribbean and Central America. Had the importation of slaves continued unchecked, the United States could well have become the hemispheric slave-based empire of which many Southerners dreamed.
Jan. 1, 1808, is worth commemorating not only for what it directly accomplished, but for helping to save the United States from a history even more terrible than the Civil War that eventually rid our country of slavery. Eric Foner is a professor of history at Columbia University.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The whole notion of men and women being “complementary but equal” is hypocritical

ned said, on December 28th, 2007 at 6:58 pm Dear Ali,
Perchance that this might be useful to this topic, I offer a mystical understanding of the male-female symbolism, the original dualism, as you insightfully put it, below. I believe this dualistic perception of man and woman as eternally separate is intimately connected to the perceived duality between Creator and creation as well. This is part of an essay I’m working on regarding the subject of gender and spirituality.
“The male and female represent an extended parable for the Divine and human life. In this instance, the masculine principle is the moving, approaching, desiring, penetrating, adventuresome divine impulse, which woos and seeks to unite with us in the realm of the feminine principle as willing, conscious beings, but will not enter without a complete and unreserved invitations, which is submission and reception, welcoming, and on both sides of course is Delight.
For those who by complete surrender receive the divine Presence intimately, there is a seed implanted, which in some spiritual traditions is called the Word, which must be nurtured, and must grow, and take on equally the qualities of (as it were) both parents meaning, in this case, the Absolute and the particular, the Divine and the human. This is a process which takes time, just like gestation, which is a living parable for it. And what is brought forth in the fullness of time, the product of Love in both its adventurous and receptive modes, and of ongoing suffering during the time of silence and waiting has all the possibilities in it of new life and energy for the salvation of the world.
Ultimately what emerges in this cosmic romance is the realization that it is nondual — that there is no divide between man and woman, Spirit and matter, Creator and creation.”
The crucial point here is that actually what the metaphor means is that *both* men and women (at the human and relative level) are to take a “feminine” position with respect to the Divine — and *both* will rise to their “manhood” through this relationship with the Divine. The metaphor is so beautiful, but look at the havoc it has caused in every religion and in every age because people took it literally! I always maintain that religious literalists are in fact materialists. They can only see physical thoughtforms, and not see the Reality pointed to by them — hence their spiritual poverty and moral hypocrisies.
The reason I bring this up is that I recently read “The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought” by Prof. Sachiko Murata which tries to justify the inferiority of women using precisely this sort of traditionalist cosmological reasoning, seeing man and woman as eternally opposed polarities of the universe. Murata quotes Sufi mystics like Ibn al-Arabi and Imam Ghazali to make her point. As a non-Muslim (but nevertheless as a spiritual aspirant), my personal understanding of this issue may not hold much water for an Islamic audience, but I found this book dry and mental, and found that Prof. Murata was just reading Ibn al-Arabi and the others in a purely intellectual way without ever touching the mystical core of what they were talking about. In other words, the book was too much head, and not enough heart (which was ironic because she was actually trying to show that the intellect is masculine and the soul is feminine, thus leading me to question *her* femininity ;-) ).
There was another book I read that reinterpreted the entire treatment of gender in the Quran in a Sufi way. All references to “woman” were interpreted as meaning the body, and all references to “man” were interpreted as meaning the soul, on a deeper esoteric level. This corresponds exactly to the Vedantic conception of the Purusha (soul) and Prakriti (nature, matter), and similar conceptions in other religions. This book was “Women in the Holy Quran: A Sufi Perspective” by Lynn Wilcox. What Wilcox was trying to get across, and what I’m suggesting from an esoteric perspective, is that both men *and* women belong to the realm of Prakitri. It is only delusion that leads men to think that they are intrinsically superior to women. The close we get to the Absolute, the more all these egoic distinctions start to blur and eventually disappear. My understanding is that everything is equal in the Absolute, the distinctions are all relative.
ned said, on December 28th, 2007 at 7:15 pm
One additional point I want to make is that the whole notion of men and women being “complementary but equal”, an assertion that traditionalists of virtually every religion often make (again using this cosmological reasoning), is hypocritical for many reasons. One is that in practice this sort of “benevolent patriarchy” always means that men get positions of leadership, value and meaning, whereas women are always relegated to the more boring or less intellectually challenging work. It amplifies the differences between men and women where what is in fact needed is for the man to develop more of his yin side and for the woman to develop more of her yang side. The whole thing is circular — it’s as if they are saying, men and women are eternally completely separate and different, because, well, we say so, and we’ll do everything we can to prevent anyone else from exploring other possibilities. It’s just so entrapping and spiritually toxic and doesn’t allow us to grow as human beings.
Referring to Prof. Murata’s book, I actually found her comparisons of Islam to Taoism pretty unconvincing — I mean I found it pretty unconvincing that she was talking about Taoism at all. She relied mainly on the I Ching, a text that is just as Confucian as it is Taoistic. The Tao te Ching on the other hand contains statements like the following:

“Know the masculine, but keep to the feminine: and become a watershed to the world. If you embrace the world, the Tao will never leave you and you become as a little child.” (Ch. 28)

So in the end Prof. Murata relies much more on Confucian notions of a divinely-ordained social hierarchy rather than the free-floating abandon and anarchism of Lao-tzu. And we don’t even need to talk about how much such rigid notions of gender have hurt people who are strictly speaking neither physically male nor physically female. As far as traditionalists are concerned, such people don’t even exist (or don’t deserve to).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Benefit from countless transactions among millions of strangers

Given interdependence of each on others, many, probably most, of whom we are unlikely ever to know, it is well that we can benefit from their actions without it being necessary for the happy bonds of ‘mutual love and affection’ to exist among us.
We only ever know a few of our relatives; cousins twice removed are usually strangers of whom we may know nothing at all. Our circle of friends is also limited, and while our acquaintances are a larger set of people, they are still dwarfed in numbers by the billions on the planet (even the millions in our respective countries’ or even those who live in the same town).
When Smith was teaching his classes, using materials that appeared in Wealth of Nations 17 years later, he focused on this factor in human life and explained how people could be in complex exchange links many intersections long and could still benefit from countless transactions among millions of strangers with whom feelings of ‘mutual love and affection’ were not realistic nor necessary. The key was the 'mercenary exchange of good offices' (TMS), or market-based exchanges, as elaborated in Wealth Of Nations.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Perversions are an essential way in which the human mind and psyche rebel against and seek to evade reality

Just yesterday there was a very important piece at American Thinker by psychiatrist Stephen Rittenberg, entitled Liberalism, Jihadism and Perversion. He points out the difficulty of "diagnosing" the barbaric jihadis -- as if they are Western psychopaths, when they are actually just craven conformists in the context of their own culture:
"It is the intense pleasure derived from religiously sanctioned murderous lust that makes the jihadis so dangerous. The degree of narcissism matters little; these are not people who can be 'treated' by shoring up their narcissism, and bolstering their self esteem. It is our very civilized, therapeutic culture that makes us flinch from taking the necessary measures needed to deal with such foes. In truth, it may be our own narcissism -- the need to reassure ourselves of our superior civilized nature -- that causes us to obsess about whether necessary measures for waging war, like water boarding, and Guantanamo constitute 'torture'."
Thus -- and this is a critical point -- there is actually an implicit dynamic between the bloodthirsty psychopaths of Islam and the narcissistic enablers of the left, and that is perversion. And what is perversion? Importantly, sexual acting out is not synonymous with perversion, but an effect of something much deeper. As Rittenberg explains, perversions are not just "sexual" in the more narrow behavioral sense of the term. Rather, they embody the idea
"that erotic pleasure [can] be intensified by the discharge of aggressive wishes, including the inflicting of, and submitting to, pain up to the point of death."
Rittenberg refers to the theories of Chasseguet-Smirgel, who
"found that perversions are an essential way in which the human mind and psyche rebel against and seek to evade reality,"
including the reality of male-female differences:
"The intolerance and fear of such differences can result in the practices of Wahabbi Islam, wherein women are so feared that they must be hidden and brutalized like beasts of the field. Muslim men's terror of women is undoubtedly accompanied by a high incidence of hidden (not so hidden when they travel to the Riviera) perverse sexuality."
This is true as far as it goes, but the question is, how do people -- and whole cultures -- end up this way? That is a question psychoanalysis in itself is unequipped to answer, since it is essentially a clinical practice that focuses on adult individuals as opposed to field study into, say, Muslim childrearing practices. This is what deMause's research attempts to do -- to link the kind of gross perversion we see in the Islamic world to concrete childrearing practices.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Such sweeping can be even more dangerous than anger itself

This post is a reflection on anger. Our society, with its continuous inability to stop and reflect, could actually be called an angry society. Nowhere else would “road rage” be the absolutely appalling phenomenon that it is. Also, the glamorization of violence in some of our youth can only be understood as a self-righteous defense of anger. Likewise, only our society continuously asks us to take courses in anger management; as if anger were a question of economics and not of understanding. Even more striking, our antidote to anger is a certain kind of permanent angry humor that avoids the issue itself, but allegedly gives us a temporary respite. On the contrary, reflective moderation is the necessary antipode to anger.
What is unique about anger is that if I were angry writing about it, I would hardly be able to write it. Of course, we think we could, but anger in its real and cruder form does away with reflection. Just remember the last time you “lost” it. Don’t you remember even kicking inanimate things as if somehow THEY had done you something! Odd indeed. Being angry is being unable to articulate. This is true not only when you yourself become angry and find yourself screaming to the top of your lungs’ possibilities, and at the same time throwing your arms all over the place (specially if you are Latino!). It is also true if you yourself are confronted by anger and remain in a dangerous form of paralyzed silence whose alleged defense is to “take in” the anger and quietly retreat into itself later on. That escape into submissive silence does not help either in understanding the phenomenon of anger, but likewise actually generates in the passive individual an angry posture towards him/herself. Freud has taught us much on this.
Both outward-tending anger and inward-tending anger reduce articulation to its bare minimum. This is, in part, the reason why there is much health to be found in the capacity for articulation, primarily in articulating what is darkest in us as human beings. But the darkest is the most difficult to access. As a matter of fact, speaking about anger and violence is the kind of topic which some in society seem to think is best swept under the rug. But such sweeping can be even more dangerous than anger itself.
When anger does appear, specially politically, it spills its darkness quickly over the whole community as a wildfire incapable of seeing the origins of its perversions. The Balkans are suddenly caught in this dynamic; Rwanda is suddenly caught up in this dynamic, Jews in WWII are suddenly caught up in this dynamic. Or closer to home. Today December 6th we celebrate almost 2 decades since the death of 14 women at L’Ecole Polytechnique at the hand of one angry young man in Montreal. I was living in Montreal at the time and so am unable to forget this infamous event. here Others will remember others; just now people who live in Omaha have their very own tragic case. Even today the issue of anger and violence towards women by many angry men in the private sphere still remains a topic which we find hard to articulate, find hard to recognize and confront in our anger-ridden society.
Why is it so hard to articulate anger? As I said before, precisely because when angry there is no articulation to be done. We all sense this once the anger passes; we look back and can hardly even recognize ourselves! “That was not really me,” we are told by those who live in anger. When you throw the object you can hardly believe you just couldn’t stop yourself. Likewise, it is difficult to articulate because the angry make us afraid for very important reasons, namely, our very emotional and mental security. But not articulating anger should make us even more afraid as anger —unless modified, redirected, or re-articulated— has a prolonged life of its own. We all have some examples of this persistence. I have seen many in my life (specially of the results in those who do not have the tools to confront the angry and therefore interiorize this outwardly generated self-hatred), but I will take up only two; one personal, one philosophical. (more…)

I'm truly embarassed that they share the same gender with me

See here. I'm truly embarassed that they share the same gender with me. For a full discussion of their intellectual and moral bankruptcy, you can check out this earlier post or this one.

Some degree of optimistic self-deception is critical for success

Knowledge@Wharton: In your chapter, "The Dangerous and Necessary Art of Self-Deception," you write that some degree of optimistic self-deception is critical for success, and that "depressive realists," with their more accurate view of the world, fall behind. What advice would you give to a board choosing a CEO? Is it better to have an optimistic self-deceiver or a depressive realist?
Cowen: For a CEO, I'd tend to go for the realist, because at the leadership level, the costs of hubris are very high. The problem with realists is they can get depressed and feel they are not going anywhere, but this is less likely to happen to CEOs, because they are in charge.
In the lower rungs of the company, however, I would favor overly optimistic people, those who are motivated by the idea that they always have a chance of being promoted or earning more money. The higher up you are, the more I would prefer realism. A president who won't listen can be pretty disastrous. But a senator who doesn't listen -- maybe it's not ideal, but there are checks and balances, and if the optimism gets the senator to work harder, then that is the compensation.
By the way here is a recent Indian review of Inner Economist, from Mint.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I am not arguing for a monocausal theory (like the so-called “vulgar-marxist” one that would reduce everything to an ultimate economic “base”)

David Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology is filled with interesting and provocative ideas. Graeber wants to ally the discipline of anthropology with the anarchist currents that have shown up, most recently, in the anti-globalization movement. Each, he says, has a lot to offer the other...
Graeber is far more interesting when he writes about what anthropology can offer anarchism: a wider range of both social theory and observation of social practices than is available in orthodox Western theory and philosophy alone. Graeber discusses Marcel Mauss’ theory of the gift as an alternative to orthodox economic assumptions about the centrality of markets and “exchange”, and Pierre Clastres’ arguments about societies that explicitly sought to avoid the formation of a State. He cites numerous anthropological examples of social formations that have not taken on the form of State authority, or that have existed in the interstices of States and that have “autonomized” themselves or exempted themselves from its control. He suggests ways that we can dispense with the myth of “revolution” as some ultimate and complete rupture with the past, without thereby resigning ourselves to what hardcore Marxists used to disparage as mere “reformism.” And, paralleling arguments that I am more familiar with in other fields (given my limited knowledge of anthropology), he critiques the common assumption that “modernity” itself represents a radical break from all the rest of human history. And I haven’t even scratched the surface here of the wide range of Graeber’s historical examples and theoretical suggestions.
Graeber’s ideas are rich and wide-ranging; he pushes us to expand the boundaries of what we admit to be possible, or even thinkable. It’s very much the exhilarating spirit of May 1968: be realistic, demand the impossible; though Graeber rightly does not couch his exhortations in the form of an appeal to return to the 1960s, or to any other mythologized past of radical political hope. There is, thankfully, no nostalgia, and no call to order, or reverencing of past political models, in this book.
The main problem I have with Graeber’s argument is this. Graeber’s emphasis on the State as the enemy misconstrues, I believe, the role of the “market,” and of concentrations of capital. Like many other anarchists, Graeber is all too ready to see “free market” capitalism, commodification and consumption, and the wage system itself — all of which he denounces — as being adjuncts and epiphenomena of State power. This seems to me to be exactly wrong. While capitalist markets, the wage system, the private ownership of the means of production, the ever-increasing “branding” and commodification and corporate appropriation of all forms of human creativity and activity, and so on, of course could not sustain themselves without relying upon State power, and more generally without exerting and monopolizing power in the political realm, this does not make them functions of State power. It does not follow that State power comes first, either pragmatically or ideologically. Rather the reverse. Marxist political economy, and Foucaultian analytics of power, different as they are from one another, both view State power as an effect and an instrument of social, political, technological, and economic power relations, rather than as the source, or the most basic component, of those relations.
I am not arguing for a monocausal theory (like the so-called “vulgar-marxist” one that would reduce everything to an ultimate economic “base”); and I don’t think that Graeber, in his focus on the State, is monocausally reductionist either. (He mentions, among other things, the differences between the State as an ideal, and the actual ways that peoples’ lives are controlled and constrained, and points out that these two need not correspond). But I do think the difference in emphasis is crucial. For one thing, Graeber’s overestimation of the importance of the State leads him to underestimate other (non-state) impediments to freedom. How successful can “self-organization” be, today, in the absence of any economic resources? Graeber adopts the Italian autonomists’ ideas about “exodus” and “engaged withdrawal” from “capitalism and the liberal state” (60ff), but he ignores, again, the autonomists’ grounding in political economy. There are a lot of things worse than the “liberal state.” So-called “free enterprise,” for one thing. The dismantling of the welfare state in the US and other Western countries over the last quarter-century has not led to more opportunities for self-organization and empowerment, but less. States have increasingly withdrawn from what Manuel Castells calls the “black holes of informational capitalism,” but the people unfortunate enough to be stuck in those black holes are still subject to the terror of the “free market,” and what Marxists used to call “the international division of labor.”
When Graeber really lost me, though, was with his praise of decision-making through “consensus,” instead of compulsion. Me, I don’t see much of a difference between having to obey hateful and stupid orders issued by clueless assholes (the Leninist model as well as the State and corporate one), and having to sit in meetings for hours on end while the same clueless assholes make endless objections and qualifications that all have to be worked through before the meeting can come to an end. It’s torture either way, and I’m not convinced that the one method is even any more “democratic” than the other. Anarchist “consensus” is just another way of enforcing conformity and group solidarity, by wearing people down until they are browbeaten into agreement; it’s every bit as stifling and oppressive as military hierarchies and fraternity initiations and the “discipline” of the “free market” are. Empirically, different mixtures of these procedures might be more or less oppressive, less or more democratic, in particular instances; there are cases where the looser form of self-determination that Graeber praises might be welcome in comparison to the alternatives. But let’s not kid ourselves that decision-making through “consensus” somehow eliminates inequalities of power, or that it expands human freedom, or that it’s a desirable social ideal. This entry was posted on Thursday, August 5th, 2004 at 9:10 pm and is filed under Books, Politics. RSS 2.0 feed.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

One of the reasons fewer women marry is because of the ideological success of feminism

Therefore, it should not surprise us that the Democrat party is the anti-marriage party, since the more people marry, the worse things are for them. To put it another way, their electoral success is directly tied to the weakening and/or destruction of the family as we know it. But I would guess that for most people -- and I don't need a study to prove this -- the greatest source of their happiness -- not to mention, mental stability -- is their family. Thus, the Democrats must again be the party of unhappiness and mental illness if they are to be a party at all.
One of the reasons fewer women marry is because of the ideological success of feminism, which has brainwashed women into believing that there are no intrinsic differences between men and women, and that a women certainly does not require a man or children to find fulfillment and to be happy. Thus, to the extent that a woman does possess a higher archetype of femininity, or that she requires loving relationship with a good man in order to find fulfillment, she will have a void that cannot be named and therefore addressed.
True, some women are no doubt happier droning away at some meaningless job than they are in being married and raising children, but it's not as many as feminists would have you think. Mrs. G. for example, thought she was happy as a career woman, but it turned out she wasn't -- that it was just a compensation for a choice she had been brainwashed not to make. 7:40 AM

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If you're a Dalit or a woman and want to liberate yourself from social constraints, learning English would be a giant first step

TODAY'S EDITORIAL: Freedom Language 24 Nov 2007
Globalisation is often assailed as increasing inequality across the board. But an interesting study in Mumbai, which deserves to be replicated in other Indian cities, suggests it can decrease gender inequalities and reduce the relevance of caste, a prime factor behind inequality in India. The study, based on a large sample and published in the American Economic Review, showed that access to English education increased the range of choices available to boys and girls coming from urban working-class homes where caste identities are still strong.
Those going to Marathi schools are likely to remain stuck in blue-collar occupations when they pass out, but those going to English schools often graduate to white-collar professions. And that may work in favour of girls. Boys are part of a network that funnels them from Marathi schools to traditional jobs in mills, factories, dockyards or construction. But girls, not being part of this network, can go to English schools and move on to white-collar jobs. Being part of the new economy also opens up choice in marriages. It was found that 31.6 per cent of those who went to English schools had inter-caste marriages, as opposed to only 9.7 per cent of those who studied in the Marathi medium.
Caste distinctions will soon blur if a large number of young people marry outside caste. The practical conclusion from such a study looks simple. If you're a Dalit or a woman and want to liberate yourself from social constraints, learning English would be a giant first step. It's interesting to compare this with the method for encouraging social mobility favoured by politicians: greater reservations for OBCs, a loose category within which all sorts of politically favoured constituents are included. The problem with that is it's a bit of a zero-sum game. To reserve a seat for someone belonging to a quota is to deny it to another, perhaps equally deserving candidate. It also undermines the principle of merit in educational institutions and jobs.
But to learn English is not a zero- or even a negative-sum game. Anybody can learn, and demand will follow supply. Moreover, it allows one to access opportunities in the local as well as global economy. When the Indian economy suffers from a skills shortage, there can't be anything wrong with this. It's been found that higher numbers of those educated in English migrate from their state. That not only weakens caste ties, but labour flows can follow the jobs, which is good for the economy. If it's serious about encouraging social mobility, the government should promote the use of English.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The capacity of empathy is multilayered. We share a core with lots of animals

What Makes Us Moral By JEFFREY KLUGER
TIME Cover Story Friday, November 23, 2007
The Moral Ape
The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you. And human ego notwithstanding, it's a quality other species share.
It's not surprising that animals far less complex than we are would display a trait that's as generous of spirit as empathy, particularly if you decide there's no spirit involved in it at all. Behaviorists often reduce what we call empathy to a mercantile business known as reciprocal altruism. A favor done today—food offered, shelter given—brings a return favor tomorrow. If a colony of animals practices that give-and-take well, the group thrives.
But even in animals, there's something richer going on. One of the first and most poignant observations of empathy in nonhumans was made by Russian primatologist Nadia Kohts, who studied nonhuman cognition in the first half of the 20th century and raised a young chimpanzee in her home. When the chimp would make his way to the roof of the house, ordinary strategies for bringing him down—calling, scolding, offers of food—would rarely work. But if Kohts sat down and pretended to cry, the chimp would go to her immediately. "He runs around me as if looking for the offender," she wrote. "He tenderly takes my chin in his palm ... as if trying to understand what is happening."
You hardly have to go back to the early part of the past century to find such accounts. Even cynics went soft at the story of Binta Jua, the gorilla who in 1996 rescued a 3-year-old boy who had tumbled into her zoo enclosure, rocking him gently in her arms and carrying him to a door where trainers could enter and collect him. "The capacity of empathy is multilayered," says primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University, author of Our Inner Ape. "We share a core with lots of animals."
While it's impossible to directly measure empathy in animals, in humans it's another matter. Hauser cites a study in which spouses or unmarried couples underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they were subjected to mild pain. They were warned before each time the painful stimulus was administered, and their brains lit up in a characteristic way signaling mild dread. They were then told that they were not going to feel the discomfort but that their partner was. Even when they couldn't see their partner, the brains of the subjects lit up precisely as if they were about to experience the pain themselves. "This is very much an 'I feel your pain' experience," says Hauser.
The brain works harder when the threat gets more complicated. A favorite scenario that morality researchers study is the trolley dilemma. You're standing near a track as an out-of-control train hurtles toward five unsuspecting people. There's a switch nearby that would let you divert the train onto a siding. Would you do it? Of course. You save five lives at no cost. Suppose a single unsuspecting man was on the siding? Now the mortality score is 5 to 1. Could you kill him to save the others? What if the innocent man was on a bridge over the trolley and you had to push him onto the track to stop the train?
Pose these dilemmas to people while they're in an fMRI, and the brain scans get messy. Using a switch to divert the train toward one person instead of five increases activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—the place where cool, utilitarian choices are made. Complicate things with the idea of pushing the innocent victim, and the medial frontal cortex—an area associated with emotion—lights up. As these two regions do battle, we may make irrational decisions.
In a recent survey, 85% of subjects who were asked about the trolley scenarios said they would not push the innocent man onto the tracks—even though they knew they had just sent five people to their hypothetical death. "What's going on in our heads?" asks Joshua Greene, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University. "Why do we say it's O.K. to trade one life for five in one case and not others?" Page 2 of 4 Previous 1 2 3 4 Next 12:16 PM

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Our brains lead us to self-deception

Your Mind's Effect on your Money, November 14, 2007 By Craig L. Howe " - Home of th... (Darien, CT United States) - See all my reviews
Controlling one's emotions is a major key to successful money management. No one who has withered under the emotional pressure of making split second investment decision will argue that it is not.
Financial writer Jason Zweig combining concepts in neuroscience, economics and psychology to explain how our biology drives us toward good or bad investment decisions. He argues our brains lead us to self-deception. We are loath to admit our lack of financial knowledge. We overestimate our ability to perform. We believe we're smart enough to forecast the future even when we have been explicitly told that it is unpredictable. Our impetuousness leads to mistakes of action rather than inaction. In short, although we see ourselves as rational beings; we make irrational investment decisions.
His book blends tales from his visits to neuroscience labs with stories of investing mistakes. From them he pulls lessons and counsel on how investors can make more profitable investment decisions. They are: 1. Take a global view. 2. Hope for the best: expect the worst. 3. Investigate; then invest. 4. Never say always. 5. Know what you do not know. 6. Past is not prologue. 7. Weigh what they say. 8. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 9. Costs are killer. 10. Eggs go splat.
Another that should be added to the list is The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. More general in its approach, it cites many of the same studies. Schwartz, a Swarthmore College professor, cited research from psychologists, economists, market researchers and decision scientists to make five counter-intuitive arguments: We would be better off if we: 1. Voluntarily constrained our freedom of choice. 2. Sought "good enough" instead of "the best." 3. Lowered our expectations about decision's results. 4. Made nonreversible decisions. 5. Paid less attention to what others around us do.
Thoroughly researched, Your Money and Your Brain needs to be studied by anyone seeking to make wiser and more profitable investment decisions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

16 basic human psychological needs

There are actually 16 basic human psychological needs that motivate people to seek meaning through religion, said Steven Reiss, author of the new theory and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University.
These basic human needs which include honor, idealism, curiosity and acceptance can explain why certain people are attracted to religion, why God images express psychologically opposite qualities, and the relationship between personality and religious experiences.
Previous psychologists tried to explain religion in terms of just one or two overarching psychological needs. The most common reason they cite is that people embrace religion because of a fear of death, as expressed in the saying ‘there are no atheists in foxholes,” Reiss said.
”But religion is multi-faceted it can’t be reduced to just one or two desires.” Reiss described his new theory which he said may be the most comprehensive psychological theory of religion since Freud’s work more than a century ago — in the June issue of Zygon, a journal devoted to issues of science and religion.” I don’t think there has been a comprehensive theory of religion that was scientifically testable,” he said.
The theory is based on his overall theory of human motivation, which he calls sensitivity theory. Sensitivity theory is explained in his 2000 book Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities (Tarcher Putnam).
Reiss said that each of the 16 basic desires outlined in the book influence the psychological appeal of religious behavior. The desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility... Home Blog Contact Us

Blacks and Jews are the most persecuted peoples in history

One Cosmos Under God Robert W. Godwin
Now, what do blacks and Jews have in common, culturally? Yes, they are the most persecuted peoples in history. That might come up later. We're not talking about that for the moment. What else?
Well, I can only speak as an outsider, but the Jewish wedding I attended last Saturday night once again reminded me that Jews have their own whacked-out version of the groove, and that it is as earthy and over-the-top as any black gospel performance before an audience of fervent worshipers, or by some R & B combo playing at 2:00AM before a crazed black audience on the "chitlin' circuit" in 1962.
Let me put it this way: I am very white. But I probably didn't realize the extent of my whiteness until I married into a Jewish family. Interestingly, being that they are largely secular Jews, they have no idea just how Jewish, which is to say ethnic, which is to say, non-white, they are. But for me, it has been an ongoing culture shock. (By the way, when I say "white," "non-white," and even "black," I assume you realize that I'm not talking about race, much less, "genetics.")
As I was watching the celebrants dancing with insane abandon to the bone-jarring rhythm of hava nagila -- which must have gone on for half an hour -- one thought came to mind: the idea of my parents ever engaging in such a frenetic celebration devoid of cerebration is literally inconceivable. Way, way too white.
But to see the men of all generations holding hands in a circle while kicking and jumping to the pounding beat -- true, they had the grace of a sleep-deprived and disinhibited Jerry Lewis lurching around the set at around hour 23 of the telethon -- but that's not the point. It was the complete absence of self-consciousness combined with the complete and joyous bypassing of the mind and immersion in the senses.
As we touched on yesterday, there has always been a certain life- and body-denying strain in Christianity. While it's not necessarily intrinsic, you have to admit it's there, a sort of distrust, sometimes verging on disgust, toward the human body and toward sensual pleasure in general. I constantly encounter this attitude among saints and mystics that I otherwise revere. In fact, it is also often present in Eastern religions as well -- is if physical pleasure is in the realm of "maya," and is to be shunned and transcended... posted by Gagdad Bob at 11/20/2007 08:33:00 AM 23 comments links to this post

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Most people don’t bother to make a pension plan.The child will take care of the parent because they are one and the same

When the average Indian middle class home gets a visitor, the person most traumatised would surely be the child of the house. Because the child’s performance would form a significant part of the guest entertainment schedule. It may start with reciting the legendary ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ and gradually move to the child displaying some raunchy Bollywood dance steps. If the child is learning to play any musical instrument or singing, it becomes completely traumatic for both the guest as well as the child. Usually then, it’s nothing less than a full recital performed in front of the guest. Children in India have the highest display value and ‘performing’ kids are always a source of pride for the parents.
But is it a typical Indian trait or is it an universal phenomenon? To get an answer, just do a search on YouTube. There is surprisingly high number of Indian posts where a child is performing something beyond the ordinary. The one I remember clearly is a little 2 or 3 year old rattling off the capitals of all the states of the US. Why would some parents force a child to memorise all state capitals and why would the proudly put it up for display?
The Indian obsession of putting a child on display has its roots in the way we have culturally looked at our progeny. Children are new improved versions of the parent –– they don’t and can’t have an identity of their own. The expectation of ‘extended self’ is so much that most people don’t bother to make a pension plan. It’s almost a given that the child will take care of the parent because they are one and the same.
The display value has got nothing to do with the child––it’s got everything to do with their parents. Most metro urban professionals measure their success by two factors –– where do they live and which school their children go to. When the father, most probably taught in a vernacular medium, waxes eloquent about his child’s fees in a Cathedral or Bombay Scottish School, he isn’t talking of the child. He’s talking about himself –– his graduation from a school somewhere down the hierarchy to a school of societal recognition and approval. When he’s asking the child to sing, dance or memorise state capitals he’s putting his own skills to display.
The child as a form of self-expression of the parents, essentially denies the role of child as an individual. The famous nexus between the grandma of the house and the child happened because both of them were denied their individuality. One was a form of responsibility and the other was an expression of achievement. Advertising, for many years, have leaned heavily on this concept of a ‘display’ kid. Most kid products were targeted at parental competitiveness. The visual vocabulary had clichés like trophies , ‘outsmarting’ other kids, winning competition etc. etc. This is, of course, the most expected ‘child product insight’ as viewed by an adult.
But what happens when children find an ally that can help them express their individuality and connect to a child-only world? The first impact is felt by the parents. Remember the ‘Pokemon’ mania? Most parents found the creepy looking characters extremely putting off but at the same time they couldn’t deny the force. They would have been comfortable if they understood it from the Disney-like wholesomeness––but here they had to accept something their ‘extended self’ was doing which they didn’t understand. They tried to resist it for as long as they could––but then finally gave in to the social pressure that was created by Pokemon. Most parental conversations were centering around Pokemon––desperately trying to measure each other up driven by a sense of inadequacy.
There is a recent urban phenomenon that has been jargonised as ‘kidfluence’. It’s the unabashed acknowledgment of the parent that their kids’ opinion counts. Some people have mistaken it as an indication for an increased acknowledgment of kid individuality by parents. That’s fundamentally flawed. It’s a reverse expression of vicarious living. Over last 10 years, popular culture has grown more complex and intellectually challenging. Try playing a new age computer game and you’ll know exactly what I mean. (The good old book reading was far simpler and less taxing.) So has been the consumption culture––it’s not only complex and layered, it’s fairly new to us as a society. Children have the capacity to interpret and adjust to these complexities better and Indian parents are using that to live vicariously through their children. The age old boasting of a child’s academic performance is now getting replaced by the ‘phenomenal dexterity with the mobile phone’ or ‘unbelievable savvy with gaming’. It’s just a change of form for the ‘extended self’.
Indian parents are far from giving up their legitimate demand on the child as a form of their own self-expression. Only change is that You Tube has replaced the neighbourhood discussion and the ‘performance’ for a visiting guest is upgraded to a reality show on the national TV. (Partha Sinha, Regional Strategist, Publicis Asia)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Near-worship of emotions and feelings at the expense of reason and thought

EGO-STROKING MADNESS from Dr. Sanity by Dr. Sanity
For years now, pop psychology and the ego-stroking madness of the self-esteem gurus have mesmerized the culture at large with their theories about how exceptionally vulnerable children are to not feeling 'special'. .
Specifically, there are three delusions that underlie the teachings of today's self-esteem gurus. This triumvarate of contradictions includes the hyping of
(1) self-esteem (increasing your self-worth without having to achieve anything;
(2) hope (achieving your goals without any real effort) and
(3) victimhood (it's not your fault that you haven't achieved anything or made any effort).
In a previous post, "Self Esteem Is Not Necessarily Good For You" I stated:
Our cultural focus on enhancing "self-esteem" has resulted in the near-worship of emotions and feelings at the expense of reason and thought; on emphasizing "root causes" and victimhood, instead of demanding that behavior be civilized and that individuals exert self-discipline and self-control--no matter what they are "feeling".
In discussing the elevation of victimhood to an exalted status -- both for individuals and groups; another post of mine pointed out:
[...] those searching for an expedited pathway into the exalted status of Victimhood. Becoming a victim --as we all have learned from famous TV stars, prominent politicians; religions, races, and even nations--is an advantageous state of being in many ways, several of which are:
  • -You are not responsible for what happened to you
  • -You are always morally right
  • -You are not accountable to anyone for anything
  • -You are forever entitled to sympathy
  • -You are always justified in feeling moral indignation for being wronged
  • -You never have to be responsible again for anything

As you can see, these are some heavy-duty privileges; and they are not given to just anyone. This list is not exclusive...

Most people confuse "self-esteem" with what I will refer to as a "sense of self". It is the latter--not the former, that is so often screwed up in the angry, violent, grandiose, and generally narcissistic people in the world. If you have a healthy "Self", you are likely to have a healthy self-esteem--which is not the same at all as a high self-esteem.

A healthy self-esteem is one that can handle a realistic appraisal of one's own particular capabilities. The psychological defect that leads to so many problems in today's world is not a lack of self-esteem, but a defective or distorted sense of one's SELF. The excessive self-esteem you see in a bully comes from a distortion of reality that person has with regard to their self. It was once widely believed that low self-esteem was a cause of violence--and you see that idea reflected today in the platitudes and rationalizations of terrorism-- but in reality violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves.

Do you really suppose that people like Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Bin Laden or Kim suffer from poor self-esteem? On the contrary. Exaggerated self-esteem; a belief that one is far more capable, intelligent or gifted than reality would indicate, is one of the hallmarks of a pathological narcissist or psychopath.

The cultural focus on enhancing a child's "self-esteem", instead of helping that child to appreciate his or her own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations (i.e. at the expense of reality) , has resulted in the near-worship of emotions and feelings at the expense of reason and thought; on emphasizing "root causes" and victimhood, instead of demanding that behavior be civilized and that individuals exert self-discipline and self-control--no matter what they are "feeling".

But the real victims of all this hype are our children, because these foolish notions, without a scintilla of scientific evidence and only becaue it makes some people feel good about themselves, have become the pop psychology dogma of public policy in education.

The psychological nonsense promulgated by the well-meaning and destructive self-esteem gurus only serves to reinforce the inappropriate grandiosity of young children; even as the "we are the world" antiwar, anti-capitalist, environmental doomsayers reinforce their malignant and self-serving idealism. (Both are discussed here)

Between the two influences unleashed on the vulnerable minds of our children, is it any surprise that by the time they get to college, kids are either dysfunctional self-absorbed narcissists, naively malignant do-gooders, or completely and irrevocably cynical about the pervasive indoctrination and anti-intellectualism they have been subjected to in their educational careers? As a writer in the LA Times said a while back somewhat understatedly, "Gen Y's ego trip is likely to take a nasty turn". Yes, it is --along with the society they will inherit.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Violence is not primordial

That's the new book from Randall Collins. The main argument is that people are not as predisposed to violence as we might think. Collins cites a wide array of evidence, from military behavior in the field to, most intriguingly, video studies of the micro-expressions of violent perpetrators. People are more naturally tense and fearful, sometimes full of bluster but usually looking to avoid confrontation unless they have vastly superior numbers on their side. The prospect of violence makes people feel weak and scared. The greatest dangers of violence arises from atrocities against the weak under overwhelming conditions, ritualized violence enacted in front of supportive audiences, or clandestine terrorism or murder.
"Violence is not primordial, and civilization does not tame it; the opposite is much nearer the truth."
Similarly, most political violence does not follow from centuries-old grudge matches, but rather from recently fabricated, dynamically dangerous social ritual interactions. Violence can appear on the scene rapidly but it can vanish as well, so there is hope for Iraq. In reality most violent encounters end almost immediately, contrary to TV and the movies. Someone runs away or a single punch ends the struggle. The actual gunfight at O.K. Corral took less than thirty seconds, whereas the famous movie scene extends for ten minutes. In combat it is just as dangerous to be a medic as a soldier, but medics experience far less combat fatigue. Collins argues this is because killing is in so many ways contrary to human nature...
I don't agree with everything in this book. I think Collins too quickly downplays the importance of evolutionary biology (most fights are between young males), and it is not always clear if he has a systematic theory or instead a catalog of causes of violence. Here is the book's home page, including chapter one. Here is a page on Collins. Here is an interview with Collins. He is now working on a theory of sexual interactions. Quite simply, Collins is one of the most important writers and thinkers today.
I know many of you have a bit of book fatigue from MR, but that is because it has been such a splendid year for the written word. Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory is one of the most important social science books of the last few years. I'll go even further and say the same is true for any random one hundred pages you might select from the volume; it is also a wonderful for browsing. It's due out January 10, you can pre-order at the links.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence

Comrades .... Of late I have acquired a deep interest in the works of the Late Bengali Revolutionary Aurobindo Ghosh who was the leader of the Armed Movement in Bengal in the early part of the 20 the Century. It was not overnight, I have been reading some of his works sporadically during the last one year but it is only of late that I have started making a concentrated effort at trying to understand his works more comprehensively. I feel there is a need that some of his works and commentary needs to be discussed, I think I smell a new blog cooking....will keep you all updated....Below I present an extremely relevant quote that I came across recently. Aurobindo Ghosh on Violence
War and destruction are not only a universal principleof our life here in its purely material aspects, but alsoof our mental and moral existence. It is self evident that in the actual life of man intellectual, social, political, moral, we can make no real step forward without a struggle, a battle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist and live and between all that stands behind either, It is impossible, at least as men and things are to, to advance, to grow, to fulfill and still to observe really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct. We will use only soul force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence? Good, though until soul force is effective, the Asuric force in men and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence...It is not enough that our hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world. - Sri Aurobindo Ghosh (1872 - 1950)
Posted by Abhay 10/22/2007 08:39:00 PM Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Acting out, reaction formation, denial, projection, displacement

THE REAL WAR ON CHILDREN: Jihadi Kids vs Metrosexual Kids from Dr. Sanity by Dr. Sanity Mark Steyn has a column that addresses the recent SCHIP controversy and the remarks of Democratic Rep. Pete Stark...
Pelosi and the Democrats go on and on blah blah blah about "the children", even as they continue to propose more and more entitlements/Ponzi schemes that will leave it to "the children" (when they are grown-up, of course) to figure out how they are going to pay for it. Steyn rightly points out the imminent societal collapses that can be expected in European countries who have been playing this game much more earnestly than in the U.S. Betsy has more on the fiscal aspect of Steyn's piece, which you should read in full.
From a wider perspective, though, what Steyn is talking about is the politicization of children; i.e., the use of children to advance a political or ideological agenda. This sort of child abuse is going on on a number of levels, both in Western culture and in Middle Eastern culture. Specifically, I want to focus on the hyper-sexualization of children in the West, and the concommitant hyper-"aggressivization" of children in the Arab/Islamic world. A recent search of the headlines will give us plenty to ponder on the sexualization being waged in the West. Consider this. And this. and this. In Norway: this Or how about this?
What does any of the above represent, except an all-out assault on the sexual identity and genitalia of today's children. Oh, don't bother to tell me this is all done with the best of intentions...quite frankly, I'm rather sick of hearing that particular line.
  • Don't these do-gooders ever consider the long-term consequences of their actions?
  • Or is it just enough for them to feel in the moment oh-so-good about what wonderful, modern, tolerant, progressive people they are?

They will conveniently forget that it was their policies and their agenda when the sexual chickens come home to roost (imagine an entire society of Brittainys and Madonnas and their male equivalents).

Meanwhile their socialist counterparts in the Middle East really have perfected a way to accomplish what the Stark Raving Mad congressman from Maine insinuated (i.e., "President Bush wants to breed a generation of sickly uninsured children in order to send them to Iraq to stagger round the Sunni Triangle, weak and spindly and emaciated and rickets-stricken, to get their heads blown off)--with one little creative modification!
When they blow their little heads off, they will be dying to blow yours off, too. These jihadi kids don't draw guns and play as a means of discharging youthful aggressive impulses on the road to civilized behavior; they shoot them for real, at real human targets and are rewarded according to how much they are able to express the uncivilized cultural hatred that motivates the adults in their society. Instead of learning civilized behavior, they learn to project their hatred onto Jews and Christians. This is a violent video "game" in real life.
Do you imagine there is not a difference between fantasy play (which teaches a child how to control impulses and tame his or her inner monsters in the safety of fantasy) and participating in real-life violence, brutality or sex (which gives tacit permission and actively encourages the child to become his or her inner monsters) ? If you are unable to distinguish the difference, then you must be a member of the so-called "reality-based" community who seem to specialize in utopian fantasies where human aggression has been magically eliminated from the species, and we all "make love, not war" in some utopian meadow of the not-too-distant future. Good luck with that.
Instead of channeling human aggression and sexuality into societally productive avenues that benefit both individuals and cultures in which they live, we are witness to the spectacle of the political left gleefully encouraging and supporting dysfunctional sexuality that reeks of entitlement, irresponsibility, and perversity. Their moral counterparts in the "religion of peace", channel it directly into hatred and religious fanatacism.
Frequent visitors to this blog might recall that I have written quite a bit about psychological defense mechanisms (and here, for example) which operate unconsciously for the most part; and that they exist in a spectrum from immature to mature. On the immature end we have psychotic denial and ordinary denial (which children engage in frequently). As they mature, ordinary denial will morph into psychological repression (a neurotic, lower level psychological defense) and with maturity, the individual may evolve into using a process of sublimation, one of the most mature defenses, to manage any inappropriate sexual or aggressive impulses.
Contrary to the usual marxist propaganda, it is not capitalism that is encourages the use of immature psychological defenses, but life itself. But, it is capitalism and the capitalist system that offer a healthy channel for the redirection of negative psychic energy into something positive for both the individual and the group at large.
Something, I might add, that marxism, socialism and all its malignant variants completely fail to do. In fact, what they encourage are the use of unhealthy defenses (acting out, reaction formation, denial, projection, displacement to name a few) which, because such defenses are suboptimal and even self-defeating in the long-run, do nothing to improve the lot of either the society at large, or the individual unlucky enough to be living in it.
Societies, like individuals, can adopt mature defenses and deal with reality; or they can deny reality and look elsewhere for the source of their problems. Many countries, like individuals, prefer to put the blame for their own failures onto an outside source, since that is safer for the self-image. In order to maintain the fiction that their problems are caused externally, a group or country or culture needs to indoctrinate children at the earliest age possible in order to make sure that their cognitive faculties are short-circuited and won't question the ideology or dogma.
A "healthy" country, like a healthy individual will utilize mature defenses to cope with their aggressive and/or sexual impulses. They are not afraid of their aggressive impulses because those impulses are reigned in by reason and not indulged in lightly. They are able to find pleasure and satisfaction in their sexual impusles, not by indiscriminantly indulging in every pleasurable urge or whim, but by harnessing that sexuality to values that promote true intimacy and happiness. Healthy societies do not encourage either sexual or aggressive (i.e. violent) acting out in their children. On the contrary, healthy societies encourge responsible sexual behavior and appropriate and realistic compromise and accommodation of others.
Sex and aggression are very closely connected. According to Freudian theory, all behavior can be thought of as motivated by a desire to feel pleasure. That motivation is organized and directed by two instincts: sexuality (Eros), and aggression (Thanatos). Freudian psychology in its earliest incarnations was almost obsesively preoccupied with sex. This is because Freud himself lived in a puritanical Victorian-era society and was reacting against the extreme prudishness of the age. The psychological symptoms Freud saw in his practice and described so brilliantly were to be expected in a society that ruthlessly repressed sex.
One does not need to wonder what kind of symptoms are to be expected in a society that, instead of repressing it, glorifies it and indoctrinates its children into sexual pleasures without concomitantly teaching them about personal responsibility or that there are real world consequences to one's behavior (something that can only be learned with maturity).
In my profession, we have been dealing with these "counterFreudian" symptoms since the "sexual revolution" peaked in the middle of the last century. Nothing like a little Utopian Marxism-gone-berserk to really alienate people from themselves, destroy interpersonal relationships and produce a society that joyfully celebrates sex without personal intimacy for the glorification of the state.
Here in the West, we have glorified one instinct (sex) while ruthlessly suppressing the other (aggression)
Meanwhile, children on the other side of the world are indoctinated into violence without benefit of conscience, as their religion and culture ruthless suppress sex and glorify aggression and violence in the name of god. Jihadi Kids vs Metrosexual Kids. Both are very similar psychic processes that pervert two natural human instincts and channel them them into mindless human actions, unconnected with human reason or compassion. Both have become deliberately politicized and foisted on children in order to advance a utopian ideology and agenda. Now that is a real war on children.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Written text allows for certain possibilities that oral traditions or the internet do not

larvalsubjects Says: October 17, 2007 at 4:48 pm I do, of course, agree that environment has a formative influence on us. This is what all my talk of individuation is about:
However, I would disagree that there are transcendent, transhistorical, non-situated values through which we might posit values to evaluate situations. Values must themselves be individuated or emerge out of the structure of situations. The person arguing that there is something intrinsically negative about immodest dress has a pretty tall mountain to climb: think of the Greeks, Romans, tribes that wear nothing more than a loin cloth.
It is difficult to see how the case can be made that such things have an intrinsically negative psychological or detrimental impact. Rather, just as written text allows for certain possibilities that oral traditions or the internet do not, while also closing off other formations, so too with modes of dress and forms of life. Simply going on the basis of my own readings of Scripture, I find the obsession of many Christians with issues surrounding sex to be bizarre. The Old Testament seems more worried about questions of food and hospitality than sex. The New Testament seems more concerned with questions of how we ought to relate to our neighbor and whether we should pray in public.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Envy is an aspect of what Freud called the death instinct

Gagdad Bob wrote:
One of the most important but little known concepts in psychoanalysis is that of envy. It is a term of art, not to be confused with the dictionary definition. While potentially present in all people, it becomes much more problematic when aggravated by primitive defense mechanisms such as splitting and projective identification. It is one of the most important "mind parasites" discussed in my book, One Cosmos Under God.
According to Webster's, envy is defined as "malice," and a "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, joined with a desire to possess the same advantage." The psychoanalytic understanding of envy is that it is an unconscious fantasy aimed at attacking, damaging, or destroying what is good, because of the intolerable feeling that one does not possess and control the object of goodness. As such, it is an aspect of what Freud called the death instinct, since it ultimately involves a destructive attack on the sources of life and goodness. Particularly envious individuals cannot tolerate the pain of not possessing and controlling the "good object," so they preemptively spoil it so that they don't have to bear the pain.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging

The Odyssey Years By DAVID BROOKS October 9, 2007
There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood. During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.
Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there’s bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don’t even detect a clear sense of direction in their children’s lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.
They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They’re delaying having children. They’re delaying permanent employment. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family...
Two of the country’s best social scientists have been trying to understand this new life phase. William Galston of the Brookings Institution has recently completed a research project for the Hewlett Foundation. Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has just published a tremendously valuable book, “After the Baby Boomers” that looks at young adulthood through the prism of religious practice.
Through their work, you can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.
Dating gives way to Facebook and hooking up. Marriage gives way to cohabitation. Church attendance gives way to spiritual longing. Newspaper reading gives way to blogging. (In 1970, 49 percent of adults in their 20s read a daily paper; now it’s at 21 percent.)
The job market is fluid. Graduating seniors don’t find corporations offering them jobs that will guide them all the way to retirement. Instead they find a vast menu of information economy options, few of which they have heard of or prepared for.
Social life is fluid. There’s been a shift in the balance of power between the genders. Thirty-six percent of female workers in their 20s now have a college degree, compared with 23 percent of male workers. Male wages have stagnated over the past decades, while female wages have risen.
This has fundamentally scrambled the courtship rituals and decreased the pressure to get married. Educated women can get many of the things they want (income, status, identity) without marriage, while they find it harder (or, if they’re working-class, next to impossible) to find a suitably accomplished mate.
The odyssey years are not about slacking off. There are intense competitive pressures as a result of the vast numbers of people chasing relatively few opportunities. Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives.
Rather, what we’re seeing is the creation of a new life phase, just as adolescence came into being a century ago. It’s a phase in which some social institutions flourish — knitting circles, Teach for America — while others — churches, political parties — have trouble establishing ties.
But there is every reason to think this phase will grow more pronounced in the coming years. European nations are traveling this route ahead of us, Galston notes. Europeans delay marriage even longer than we do and spend even more years shifting between the job market and higher education.
And as the new generational structure solidifies, social and economic entrepreneurs will create new rites and institutions. Someday people will look back and wonder at the vast social changes wrought by the emerging social group that saw their situations first captured by “Friends” and later by “Knocked Up.” David Brooks The Way We Live Now Share Your Comments About This Column The columnist posts about issues that shape his perspective and addresses reader feedback. Go to Columnist Page » Next Article in Opinion (7 of 17) »