October 7, 2014

Human Belligerence is Here to Stay.


Many of us felt great relief and renewed hope when the Soviet Union fragmented and Russians met with Americans to reduce the insane stockpiles of nuclear weapons. At this writing, the relief and the hope has been cancelled. In my book, Surviving Human Nature, I wrote a brief summary of Russian alienation from the USA and European countries. My thesis is always that human nature involves inevitable belligerence and sustainable progress toward peaceful co-existence has never been achieved:

NATO and Russia

European countries have a long history of shifting alliances and wars. Most battles were fought because of territorial ambitions or disputes, conflicting religious beliefs, ethnic animosities and the petty quarrels among aristocrats. As Europe emerged damaged and confused after the second world war, it seemed like a good idea to maintain and expand the alliances that defeated Germany. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created from an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe in 1949. The stated role of NATO was to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means.

Regrettably, Russia was not included in NATO, but instead remained a principal adversary. The blind paranoia that developed in the US and the willingness of all parties to engage in nuclear insanity was the greatest accomplishment in human perversity. NATO was not off to a good start with mutually assured destruction. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union,  Russia resigned as enemy number 1 and a rather weak alliance was formed between Russian and NATO, first with a reciprocal commitment “to work together to build a stable, secure and undivided continent on the basis of partnership and common interest” in 1997.

A NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002 with the idea that representatives from the 26 NATO countries and Russia would meet regularly “to pursue opportunities for joint action as 27 equal partners.”    The expansion of NATO into East Central Europe was  alarming for Russia. Their concerns were increased when the US made deals with Poland and the Ukraine to build their radar and missile sites in the countries, formerly controlled by Russia. One can only guess what the Putin Russians really thought about the US, but the conspicuous aggression and delusions of grandeur displayed by the Bush administration could hardly be reassuring.

Among the discussions of the NATO-Russia Council in 2003, arms control and confidence-building measures were a priority.  The assurance of NATO member states was that “decisions taken by the Alliance at its summit meeting in Prague are not directed against the security interests of Russia or any other Partner state. “  

Russia invaded its neighbor, Georgia, a recent NATO member and Russian/NATO collaboration began to disintegrate. Anti-government protests in the Ukraine in 2014 have led to Russia asserting its historical alliances with military might. Russia exploited unrest in the Ukraine and annexed Crimea. NATO woke up to the consequences of keeping Russia isolated and resumed referring to a new "Cold War".  No NATO coalition could or should enter into battle with the Russians. For those of us who grew up with the cold war, a recurrence of US-Russian, aka NATO-Russian hostilities has been a dreaded possibility. But the law of Karma suggests if it happened before, it will happen again. It is hard to shake the conclusion that the reptilian brain remains in control of human affairs. People elected to office and diplomats are no exception. NATO is obsolete, but since perseveration is the major operating principle of human groups, some version of NATO will likely persist in a dysfunction manner, helping to create more conflicts than it can resolve.
From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

Alpha Online: Drugging Children

Alpha Online: Drugging Children: See the Book of Children

Feeding Children

Children and the Family

September 27, 2014

Paranoia - Possibility Becomes Probability

Paranoia
The psychiatric literature describes paranoia as mental illness, but, unfortunately, everyone is paranoid to some degree some of the time. What is paranoia?  This is a cognitive bias, best described as the tendency to suspect others of conspiring against you and wanting to hurt you. You could argue that there is healthy kind of paranoia, useful whenever people are really out to get you. A sick version of paranoia exaggerates this possibility.  Sick paranoia involves suspicion and projection of suspicions and fears unto others. The sick paranoid suspects and blames others too often, too intensely and may attack innocent others who are seen as hostile.

Where does suspicion fit in? We are all obligated to scan our environment in search of signs of danger. Often, we detect subtle clues that there may be danger lurking but we are not sure. Suspicion is the tendency to treat uncertainty as threatening. Suspicion triggers anxiety and fuels gossip and self-talk.

Underlying suspicion is subconscious evaluation of the danger potential of your environment. Correct evaluation of danger potential is difficult and is not always possible. You could argue the healthy aspect of aspect of paranoia is that by being wary and looking for clues of danger, you are protecting yourself from harm that might lurk behind every tree, in every alley, in every park, and on every busy street. For as long as life has existed on earth, more vigilant animals have survived longer than less vigilant animals.

However, vigilance need not turn into paranoia. Although many humans now enjoy relative safe environments, information about crime, accidents and natural disasters, raises the level of suspicion and fear. Some humans adapt better to safer environments and become less vigilant and more trusting. This is a “taming” process. Others remain wary and some are possessed by excessive suspicion.

Wild animals can be tamed. The essence of taming a wild animal or human is to replace wariness and suspicion with relaxation and trust.  The result is that in safer environments, tamed humans are less likely to anticipate danger and perceive most events most days as impersonal, routine and safe.

One of the technical challenges in evaluating the meaning of events is to connect events that are likely related to one’s own activities and interests and to treat other events as more or less spontaneous and unrelated to oneself. Normal vigilance and appropriate suspicion are successful in sorting events into the relevant and non-relevant categories. Sick paranoia involves an exaggeration of event relevance and poor judgment in assessing the meaningful connections among events that are essentially unrelated.

The human tendency is to invent relationships that are non-existent, to be superstitions and to believe in magical connections that relate unrelated events.

What if you become overly sensitive to mild or even innocuous signals that you should ignore? You pass a nice man on your walk and he smiles. You could think:”… that’s nice; he’s a friendly guy who probably likes the way I look.” Or you could think: ”..that smile is suspicious – he must know something about me; he must be part of the conspiracy that is tracking my movement; he was probably reading my mind.” The latter style of thought is paranoid. The paranoid person exaggerates his or her importance and exaggerates the ability of others to sustain secret, well-focused conspiracies. We invent stories and talk with others to probe the meaning of clues about danger that may be lurking in the shadows. These stories blame others for any distress and misfortune.

Paranoid stories that focus on conspiracies and imminent danger might be true; however, they are usually improbable. When paranoid thinking takes over a person’s cognitive processes, even remote possibilities turn into probabilities. The self-centered nature of the human mind tends to go this way and can move into an absurd form of narcissism.  You become so important that it is entirely plausible that the CIA, FBI, your co-workers, your family, even creatures from outer space have nothing better to do but to watch you and conspire against you.

Psychiatrists tend to think of paranoia as personal – one isolated person with false beliefs, but paranoid thinking is characteristic of group activity. If you tell a friend: “I think they are out to get me.” Your friend agrees and says: “Yes, they are out to get me too.” You have moved from paranoia to consensus. With three people agreeing, you have a local reality system.

Conspiracy theories are common and almost everyone in conversation with friends will join in a conspiracy talk. This is distance paranoia. The mildest form is to refer to an anonymous but powerful group called “They”.  They are distant or concealed and you know very little about them except they are up to no good.  A common subject for gossip is to speak about what “They” are doing. They are spying on us. They are incompetent. They are to blame.

If you look closely at any human group, large or small, you find constant disagreement and a tendency for all affiliations to fall apart. Agreements within and among groups are notoriously difficult to achieve and hard to maintain.  Real conspiracies do exist, of course, and most human groups are busy creating and attacking enemies, but there is a reassuring, irregular and inconsistent incompetence in all this activity even among professional conspirators.  Coherent conspiracies are not long-lived and a single dominant conspiracy is not usually part of the enduring fabric of any society.

If paranoid thinking progresses towards a disabling mental illness, “They” take over NBC and sitcoms have cleverly disguised messages directed at you alone. You have to decipher the code since the true message is hidden in the dialogue.

In the good old days of science fiction, the plots were placed in a fictional spacetime zone – there was no confusion about fact or fiction. The paranoid drama of the 1990s and beyond was sicker, occurred in the suburbs and presented itself as almost true if not truly true. I am concerned that too many members of the audience were encouraged to develop their paranoid tendencies. If you practice paranoid thinking, you can get good at it. Television programming and movie scripts thrive in paranoid territory. Increasingly, scriptwriters hold large audiences with conspiracy plots, aliens, and all the weird stuff that plagues paranoid schizophrenics. The TV series, the X-files, was good example of psychotic material and, while I liked the look and calm demeanor of the actors that play FBI Agents, Mulder and Scully, the plots were demented and the success of the series spoke to a troubling receptivity to paranoid ideation. The actors put a more or less reasonable face on script content that was fundamentally insane.

Paranoia flourishes in larger organizations where people compete for power, money and prestige. Larger organizations generate more paranoia because each human can only know and understand a small number of co-workers and all the people who are out of close-range tend to blur into one large “conspiracy.” Large organizations do best when they inspire company loyalty and provide an abundance of common signals that reassure participants that they are safe and part of a cooperative family.

In complex societies such as the USA with enclaves of political and economic power and organizations that employ secrecy and engage in covert actions, a high level of suspicion is common. Suspicion is appropriate if you are involved in competitive and covert transactions. The history of covert CIA operations, for example, is not reassuring that things are as they seem. Professional conspirators, working in their “nation’s best interest” have a tendency to get it wrong and often to do more harm than good. One version of USA paranoia is the belief that the federal government and its military are conspiring to end the rights and freedoms of average Americans and must be opposed by internal revolution. There have been many versions of anti-government groups; some are militant and others form legitimate lobbies The White House administration of Bush and Cheney appeared to be successful in confirming the worst fears of the most extreme paranoiacs as well as confirming the fears of better informed, more rational critics of the government.

Paul Wolfowitz was Deputy Secretary of Defense for President, G.W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. His chief responsibility was starting the Iraq war. New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd described Wolfowitz as a “demented visionary” who helped Vice President Cheney get rid of anything cooperative and multi -- multilateral treaties, multilateral institutions, multilateral alliances, multiculturalism. Dowd reported: “Multi, to them, meant wobbly, caviling, bureaucratic and obstructionist. Why be multi when you could be uni?  Wolfowitz mismanaged the world most powerful army. Shattered the system of international diplomacy that kept the peace for 50 years. Undermined the credibility of American intelligence operations. Needlessly brought humankind to the brink of nuclear war and destroyed Iraq.”  After leaving his US government job, Wolfowitz became the President of World Bank: 2005-2007. In this job, Dowd suggested that he: “Paralyzed the international lending apparatus to the point where small countries had to max out their Visa cards to pay for malaria medicine. He learned the traditions of many cultures, including those of Turkey, where you apparently are not supposed to take off your shoes at mosques to reveal socks so full of holes that both big toes poke blasphemously through.”  

Although American law forbids government agencies from engaging in illegal activity close to home, the evidence that leaks out or is declared by whistle-blowers reveals that the CIA and other secret organizations, including paramilitary groups sponsored by the CIA, routinely engaged in illegal and immoral activities at home and abroad. These revelations support paranoia in a regrettable way.

The idealist hopes that a free democratic society can achieve 100% honest and lawful activities even among its agencies that specialize in secrecy and deception. The idealist assumption is that an honest, right-thinking citizen should have confidence that his or her government is trustworthy and obeys its own laws. A desirable assumption?  Yes. Realistic?  No.
 
From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

September 20, 2014

Nature and Nurture


Nature and Nurture


Humans evolved from primate ancestors and retained features of brain construction, mind and behavior that have been present in animals for hundreds of millions of years. Each one of us is the reincarnation of a long-lineage of ancestors. Species memory, perceptual skills, needs, drives, feelings, desires and behaviors are built into us and begin operating in utero. The human brain is most evolved organ with the most complex assemblies of old and new parts.

The first principle of bodybrainmind is that each person has a repertoire of innate programs and some choice how the programs are going to be expressed. Innate programs have been called "instincts."  The old definition of "instincts" - behaviors that arise spontaneously and are not learned – needs modification since innate programming has to be practiced and is molded by learning. The distinction between strictly innate and strictly learned behavior is artificial. Some of the systems in our brain are designed to be modified and elaborated by the experience of the individual. Bodybrainmind is to some extent an open-ended system that will evolve a unique identity in the lifetime of each individual. Humans live in a tense matrix of innate tendencies that tend to prevail forces that modify and elaborate these tendencies.

Bodybrainmind has evolved in interaction with world-events and is indistinguishable from world events. The modification of brain structure and function is "learning." Learning involves all experience and not just time spent in school. Learning is dependent on the availability of innate programs that organize the acquisition of skills and knowledgeable.  A newborn baby cannot talk in coherent sentences even if both parents prompt him 24 hours a day. The baby and the parents have to wait until the brain has grown and organized the language circuits which come on line in a predictable sequence.

Innate Tendencies


Innate tendencies are constant features of human nature, buried deeply in the human psyche. Innate tendencies are not rigid forms but are patterns of organization that collect individual, biographic content. Innate programs are the form and biographical details are the content. There are two essential principles:

1. Innate tendencies exert a persisting motivational force even though new learning may override them.

2. New learning is added to, but cannot replace old tendencies.

Recurrent patterns of behavior in human societies reveal innate tendencies. Similarities in emotional expressions in animal and humans reveal innate tendencies. Brain function has evolved conservatively so that old features of the reptilian brain remain intact in modern humans and the best new features such as detailed, declarative languages have evolved naturally by the elaboration of older communication systems shared by many animals. The more cognition is studied in other animals, the more obvious it is that most "thinking" is nonverbal and is well distributed in nature. We have to assume that at some level or other, dinosaurs were thoughtful. Other animals may not think in the same way humans do and no other animals rely on language, but all animals communicate using different strategies for encoding and decoding information. Most animals are specialized for specific environments and, if we competed on their turf, they could probably beat us in many ways. 

The mind of a Bonobo and a chimpanzee exists in our mind; we have some modifications and a few added features. Old programs include some of our most negative qualities such as predatory and territorial aggression and anger. Some of our most positive qualities are also innate such as the tendency to bond, care for infants and form cooperative social units with altruistic features. The old brain remains in control of our bodies and often controls our minds. Schools have emphasized learning reading and writing, but no school is capable of designing and installing language processors in the brain. Schools add content to and exercise the already-existing language processors. Children learn spoken language naturally and spontaneously but, left on their own, most will not read and write. Human destiny as a species still lies with the programs in the old brain. Individuals can transcend the old programs by diligent learning and practice but individual effort and learning does not change the genome. Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be practiced anew and stored as modifications of each person's neocortex.

From Neuroscience Notes   by Stephen Gislason MD

July 26, 2014

Surviving Human Nature

Surving Human Nature

Preface

Aging brings some  wisdom and some acquiescence to the world of Samara – the swarming of humans in ephemeral groups, driven by needs and desires that can never be satisfied. I am convinced that human nature involves a collection of tendencies and contradictions what  have prevailed for hundreds of thousands of years and will not change in the foreseeable future. The huge increase in population and the spread of new global ideas and methods of wealth creation should moderate and sometimes overwhelm human nature but only the names and places change – the behaviors remain the same.  I am impressed by optimistic humans who work to solve the world's problems even when successes are modest. Problems recur. Success turns to failure. In this 21st century, a more realistic philosophy of human life is required as we recognize that it is impossible to permanently change human nature by social and political means - by education, persuasion, coercion and law. Technological innovation may reduce carbon emissions, for example, but the energy needs of a growing human population will be difficult to satisfy.
Leaning and Guha-Sapir summarized the threats to humans in the 21st century:” The effects of armed conflict and natural disasters on global public health are widespread. In the years ahead, the international community must address the root causes of these crises. Natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change. Organized deadly onslaughts against civilian populations will continue, fueled by the availability of small arms, persistent social and political inequities, and, increasingly, by a struggle for natural resources. These events affect the mortality, morbidity, and well-being of large populations. Humanitarian relief will always be required, and there is a demonstrable need, as in other areas of global health, to place greater emphasis on prevention and mitigation... armed conflicts persist, with entrenched internal violence lasting for years, in countries such as  Sudan, The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.) Advances in small-arms technology and struggles over natural resources of international value (oil , natural gas and rare minerals) make conflict resolution challenging.
Civilians bear the burden. Families are forced to move from their homes to escape internecine violence. Refugees cross national borders and are legally entitled to assistance in United Nations (UN)–managed camps. But increasingly since the mid-1980s, people have been unable to cross international frontiers and so remain internally displaced  They are often at higher risk for malnutrition and disease than residents or refugees." 



[i] Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict, and Public HealthJennifer Leaning, M.D., and Debarati Guha-Sapir, Ph.D. N Engl J Med 2013; 369:1836-1842 November 7, 2013




 

September 27, 2013

Intelligence

Intelligence

Stephen Gislason MD    

The challenge is to become intelligent about intelligence. Humans have a great interest and ability to create nonsense. You could argue that many of the features of intelligence are deployed in the cause of nonsense but nonsense is not intelligent.

Intelligence is really about survival in a threatening world. Humans survive because of the genius abilities such as vision, hearing, skilled movement and speech; abilities that are built into their brain, innate gifts from nature. Humans do not learn how to see or how to hear what is going on out there, but they do have to learn what it means to them today. This is an interactive process. Speech is a form of sound interaction.

Although modern humans tend to emphasize individual thought and expression, most “thinking” is talking in groups. The value of speech is to connect individuals in “thinking” groups. Books and other publications link large numbers of humans in common patterns of language-dependent thinking.

The newest human abilities are more dependent on learning and are the least reliable. Reasoning, planning and learning to tolerate other humans in a friendly constructive manner require the most sustained practice.  The term, “nice,’ refers to these characteristics and therefore nice people require sustained learning to remain reasonable, to tolerate others and to behave in a friendly, constructive manner. To become nice and to remain rational and skilled, a human must belong to and work within a supportive group that shares these characteristics. Human groups often have the opposite effect, supporting intolerant and irrational thinking and bad behavior.

In the recent past new knowledge and abilities have proliferated in every human population with only a few humans doing well at cultivating the new abilities. In higher education and other life contests, general ability has been traditionally desirable. The "well-rounded" individual was a generalist, good at everything but perhaps not outstanding in one skill.

The key to human survival is group cooperation and individual specialization. The group tends to smooth out the negative effects of individual limitations and irrationality. In an affluent urban society, a small subpopulation cause most of the trouble and consume most of the social and medical resources available. Often the understanding and solution of “social problems” involves the interaction of elite and educated group with a sick, aberrant, dysfunctional group. Their interaction involves a persistent, inevitable misunderstanding arising from incongruent needs, values, information and capabilities. Human societies involve increasing specialization of individuals who are skillful at performing single tasks. The income of an individual often depends on this specialization and does not depend on a general or comprehensive understanding of how their society works and his or her place in it.

A similar description applies to individuals in many animal groups, beginning with the social insects. Humans and ants have much in common; the most compelling similarity is that individuals achieve viability on the planet, not by solitary activities, but by participating in a meta-order that involves the entire group.

Most humans live at a minimum level of overall comprehension and, even if they become more or less civilized, they will tend to regress to old and innate patterns of intolerance, hostility, aggression and conflict if the supportive infrastructure is inadequate to sustain external controls over competitive and hostile behaviors. It is to argue that many to most humans can remain misinformed and unreasonable as long a small number of more intelligent and skillful humans build and maintain infrastructures that support the others.

Neuroscience views minds as manifestations of the living processes found in brains. Brain science does not "explain" mind, or consciousness, but does give us strategies for understanding the properties of mind. Neuroscientists have made rapid progress in the past few decades and some of them are asking the same sorts of questions that only philosophers used to ask. The difference is that neuroscientists are sometimes able to ask more specific questions that may lead to more insight into the basic principles of the human experience. Neuroscientists are motivated and equipped to find real and practical answers to philosophical questions, leaving philosophers behind in an anachronistic philological niche, repeating discussions of what philosophers said hundreds to thousands of years ago.  This is not to argue that all neuroscientists are philosophers or that all neuroscientists understand the human mind, since many are focused on highly specialized tasks that reveal little or nothing about how the whole system works.

Humans are born with a somewhat defined intelligence potential. The spread of IQ scores in any population represents a combination of genetic determinants that cannot be changed and environmental determinant that operate in a sequential manner and can be changed.

Environmental determinants can be separated into two groups:

  1. determinants that are sequence critical and
  2. determinants that operate all the time.

Key nutrients must be supplied as the brain forms in utero on a daily basis. Deficiency may cause irreversible damage. If the same nutrients are deficient in an older child or an adult temporary and relatively milder functional impairment occurs that can be reversed by correcting the nutrient deficiency. The most common cause, in third world terms, of low intelligence is iodine deficiency during pregnancy and infancy.  Iodine deficiency has profound implications in terms of economics, politics, human rights and dignity. Low intelligence populations will not do as well as smarter populations and will not be capable of fully participating in a technological 21st century. In affluent populations children may still be malnourished and suffer from neglected problems such food excess, nutrient disproportion and food allergy.  We can equate normal intelligence with normal brain function. Not all brains are created equally and some brains are not constructed properly or are damaged before and during birth. The world offers abundant opportunities to interfere with normal brain function. The overwhelming task is to avoid foods, drugs, and environmental chemicals that make people less smart and even demented. Alcohol intoxication for example is a temporary dementia that becomes permanent if it is repeated too often. Brain injury adds to the negative effects of using alcohol and other psychoactive chemicals.

Leda Cosmides and John Tooby suggest:[i]  “The brain is a naturally constructed computational system whose function is to solve adaptive information-processing problems (such as face recognition, threat interpretation, language acquisition, or navigation). Over evolutionary time, its circuits were cumulatively added because they "reasoned" or "processed information" in a way that enhanced survival....our minds consist of a large number of circuits that are specialized. For example, we have some neural circuits whose design is specialized for vision. All they do is allow you to see. Other neural circuits are specialized for hearing -- they detect changes in air pressure, and extract information from it. Still other neural circuits are specialized for sexual attraction -- i.e., they govern what you find sexually arousing, what you regard as beautiful, who you'd like to date, and so on.… you can view the brain as a collection of dedicated mini-computers -- a collection of modules… whose operations are functionally integrated to produce behavior...So it is with your conscious experience. The only things you become aware of are a few high level conclusions passed on by thousands of specialized mechanisms: some that are gathering sensory information from the world, others that are analyzing and evaluating that  information, checking for inconsistencies, filling in the blanks, figuring out what it all means.“

Smart people learn faster and learn more than not so smart people. Smart people also are more curious, seek more diverse experiences and absorb more information. Intelligence is manifest in the ability to acquire complicated skills and excel in performance by practice and progressive improvement. Competent people are smart people who have the discipline to practice and improve their performance.

There is a relationship between being nice person and being a competent person. In demanding, professional environments the nicest people tend to be the smartest and most competent. There are exceptions. 
Read Neuroscience by Stephen Gislason and

 Intelligence and Learning


[i] Leda Cosmides & John Tooby Primer of Evolutionary Psychology: Center for Evolutionary Psychology University of California, Santa Barbara

March 14, 2013

Adolescents


Adolescents


Childhood ends with the onset of puberty. Teenagers undergo profound changes in mental tendencies and abilities as their brains change during and after puberty. Puberty raises the ante so that the relatively safe play of younger children is replaced by the more dangerous and consequential play of teenagers. Parents are often unprepared for the major transformations that occur after puberty and feel estranged from the new person emerging awkwardly and contentiously in their own home. I noticed a bumper sticker that said: "Teenager for sale cheap - take over the payments." 

Parents of teenagers will often doubt that they have any role to play except to offer custodial support and then recognize that their jurisdiction is limited.  I have attempted to help many parents change the diet of their sick adolescents and often failed. The reasons for failure are apparent to most parents. Let us review the status of adolescents hoping for some insight:

The time-honored principle of adolescent management is to fill idle time with useful work, learning and supervised play. Otherwise, teenagers use idle time to hang out in groups and engage in activities that frighten the adult community. Idle time is dangerous time. 

Teenagers are in the business of separating from their family and are drawn to the values, activities and norms of their peer group. They seek role models in the media and imitate examples of costume, values and behavior that seem attractive to them. You could argue that other teens, movies, “music” and television programs are strong influences, stronger than parental example or advice.

Old and New, The Teenager's Limbo


Teenagers have a tense mix of old primitive features in their mind and new modern ideas. They tend to manifest old primate group behavior and at the same time develop individual, modern personalities. Adolescent society is stratified, competitive and relatively unforgiving. Teenagers cluster in small groups with strict inclusion/exclusion rules. They manifest ancient human social patterns spontaneously and the importance of group affiliation with their peers takes precedence over family affiliation. Family values and teenager group values often conflict and the conflict is seldom resolved in favor of the family unless parents are determined and on the job 24 hours a day.

The parents’ main task is to locate their children in peer groups that have the most congruent values with their own. Teens who hang out on the street inevitably resist, oppose and challenge societal values. They get into trouble fast. Individual teenagers may have a well-developed understanding of the adult rules, but even those with a well-developed sense of local mortality will participate in behaviors that the adult community finds unacceptable.

Girls, like boys, cluster in small tribal groups with strict inclusion/exclusion rules. Teenagers tend to invent their own vocabulary and use jargon to identify members of their own social group. Teenage groups are not kind to outsiders and adolescent society reflects all the strengths and weaknesses of an adult society sometimes in exaggerated, dramatic ways.

Teenagers of both sexes are narcissistic and are often trapped in selftalk and case making. Girls are gossips and use language as a weapon. Some teenagers are kinder than others and develop an idealistic view of human life and may be at risk because they are too trusting and suggestible. Other teens are more cynical and aggressive and practice power politics in school hallways and cafeterias.

Group Membership


The greatest cause of teenage suffering is to be excluded from a desirable group. Members of inferior groups are treated badly by members of superior groups and outsiders emerge who are isolated and alienated individuals. Inferior or isolated individuals are taunted, threatened, pushed, bullied, ridiculed, sexually harassed, beaten, robbed and sometimes killed, even by nice children in affluent Canadian and American suburbs. Alienation pushes an unwanted teenager toward one of four destinations:

1.    Creative alienation – poetry, music, art, political activism

2.    Withdrawal, depression and sometimes suicide.

3.    Revenge, antisocial ideas, and affiliation with groups that express hatred

4.    Crime

Alienated individuals can form groups that express their disappointment and anger in destructive ways. Often these groups borrow costumes, ideology, ritual and values from old malevolent ideologies. The skinheads, for example, adopt fascist values and admire German Nazis of the 1930’s and 40’s who now epitomize, to most reasonable adults, evil intentions and despicable deeds.

 The greatest cause of suffering among teenage girls is to be excluded from a desirable female group. The next greatest cause of suffering is to be rejected by a desirable male. Members of inferior groups are treated badly by members of superior groups and outsiders emerge who are isolated and alienated individuals. Inferior or isolated individuals are taunted, threatened, pushed, bullied and ridiculed even by nice female children in affluent suburbs.

According to Campbell:[i]Campbell found that female adolescent disputes often center upon three issues relating to successful mate choice: management of sexual reputation, competition over access to desirable males and protecting established relationships from take-over by rival females. Interestingly, the peak age for female assault occurs at ages 15-19 compared to the male peak at 20-24 reflecting girls earlier sexual maturity… suggesting that the rise in female aggression during adolescence, like that of males, is associated with mate selection. Nanci Hellmich,[ii]  writing about mean teenage girls in the USA suggested: “Experts use the term "relational aggression" to describe the cattiness, meanness and nastiness that happens between some people, but especially among girls… Girls may gossip, spread malicious rumors, write nasty e-mails, give the silent treatment, exclude people from social events, betray secrets, snicker about someone's clothes or mannerisms behind their backs. They may tell a girl that they're not going to be friends with her unless she does what they want.”

The process of become a civilized, competent, compassionate human is arduous and some teenagers do not make it.  Teenagers tend to invent their own vocabulary and use jargon to identify members of their own social group. Teenage groups are not kind to outsiders and adolescent society reflects all the strengths and weaknesses of an adult society sometimes in an exaggerated, dramatic way. Food sharing is one the most basic tribal bonds and teens with deviant (i.e. healthy) food habits are not well-tolerated. Parents who want their teenage children to follow a rational family plan, for example, will have two choices:

1. To separate their teenager from his or her peer group

2. Involve the peer group in the rational plan

Teenagers are prone to anger and question the values of their parents. They are sensitive to cheaters and some become disillusioned with the values of their family and community when they discover discrepancies and deception in the stories they have been told. This is the Santa Claus/God problem. Some teenagers become contemptuous of adult society that appears to them to be shallow, hypocritical and futile.

A young child will be eager for reassurance and gifts from apparently benevolent characters in adult stories, but teenagers feel cheated or betrayed when they fully comprehend the deception involved. Disillusionment may push a sensitive teen into an angry withdrawal, seeking escape from the deceivers or occasionally, teens seek revenge by engaging in criminal and random, destructive activity.

JD Salinger's Catcher in The Rye, published in 1951, remains a contemporary description of the sensitive, disappointed adolescent who finds himself or herself in limbo, the transition from child to adult. The book begins with Holden Caulfield stating: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” [iii]

Dougan, a teenager writing in a New York Times 2010 discussion had this to say:" Asking a bunch of adults whether or not Catcher in the Rye will really reach teenagers is pretty funny, if you ask me. This only helps prove Salinger’s point — adults were once young and disillusioned themselves, but they’ve grown out of it, and they assume the rest of the world has grown with them. I’m 18 years old and every bit as confused and wandering as Holden. When I read this book for the first time, I laughed so hard I cried and cried so hard I could barely breathe. Yeah, my generation has Twitter and Facebook and cellphones and what-have-you. The world is always changing in little ways like that. It’s the big things that don’t change — and even in an era of such impossible interconnectedness, there is no way to circumvent the feeling of being utterly alone and misunderstood. Plenty of teenagers still love Catcher in the Rye. In fact, my Facebook feed was full of tributes to Salinger the day he died. If that doesn’t prove that this book has got appeal that spans generational differences, I don’t know what could." [iv]

From Children and the Family. Stephen Gislason Persona Digital books






[i] Anne Campbell Staying alive: Evolution, culture and women's intra-sexual aggression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, XX (X): XXX-XXX. a.c.campbell@durham.ac.uk


[ii] Hellmich, N Girls' friendships show aggression at younger ages. , USA Today. 04/09/2002 


[iii] See Obituary by Charles Mcgrath. J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91. NYT. January 28, 2010


[iv] C. M. Dougan. Crying and Laughing With Holden. NYT Feb. 1, 2010.

November 26, 2011

Governments and Disappointment

Governments and Disappointment


An African chief stated that there are only two problems in Africa – rats and governments. The chief’s obvious disappointment with governments is shared by people all over the world. There are different kinds of governments based on different assumptions.



A reasonable argument is that humans prefer autocratic leadership in the form of kings and queens or charismatic leaders with a military background. Humans have an impressive tendency to form hierarchies with groups, large and small. This is a tendency derived from an instinctual social order that relies on groups organizing around leaders, alpha animals, who by ability or inherited status can control others. In small groups, leaders are more visible and more accountable to other members of the group. Small group leaders must court favor on a daily basis or rely on intimidation of critics and competitors. As groups enlarge, leaders are less visible and less accountable and hierarchies become better defined and more fiercely defended. Dictatorship is the oldest and most prevalent form of government. The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy index 2010 reported on 55 authoritarian regimes in the world. They suggested that democracies were in decline.



The hope, of course, is that the autocratic leader is benevolent and shares the wealth with his or her devoted subjects. Hopeful citizens are usually disappointed. History tells us that wealthy aristocrats who fail to share the wealth can be deposed and killed by rivals or revolutionaries. Governments in Africa are often corrupt and belligerent. They sometimes organize mass killings to remove groups that are no longer wanted or needed. Any opposition is rewarded by imprisonment or death. The aberrations of African countries are consistent with human history and mirror the worst conduct prevalent in Europe over many centuries. Recent events in Arab countries are further repetitions of age-old struggles with ruthless elites using force to suppress dissent.

The invention of more or less stable civil service organizations is the real basis of government and the key to social stability. In democracies, politicians are elected to pass laws and may act as temporary executive officers of government institutions. They are seldom qualified for the responsibilities they assume. In the best case, government institutions are staffed by well-educated, well-informed experts who advise and guide elected administrators, accept some of their ideological biases without compromising the conduct of the institution's business.  Seldom is the best case achieved and instead, in many countries, citizens discover that they are victims of the worst case mismanagement of institutions – often a product of political meddling and nepotism. You could argue that the real result of elections is guaranteed incompetence of elected lawmakers.
Democracy Flaws



Democracy and freedom are not necessarily linked. An alert, well-informed citizenry and a politically independent judiciary are essential to the preservation of some personal freedom. A civil society develops multiple overlapping levels of dispute resolution with the right to appeal bad decisions that are common and inevitable when local tribunals decide who is privileged and who is not. A champion of civil rights is often in the uncomfortable predicament of defending the rights of humans he or she disagrees with, dislikes and even fears.
All governments are inefficient and are prone to corruption. In every large institution, there is a tendency to fascism, the dictatorial rule of an elite group who believe only they know what is right and true. A fascist displays innate tendencies, modified by learning, but devoid of compassion. A fascist promotes arguments and dissension, developing the idea that only some citizens have rights and privileges and others become outsiders who must be constrained, imprisoned, deported or eliminated.  A fascist leader is a dictator. The idealistic notion that governments only exist to serve the needs of the people turns out to be a denial of human nature. Attempts within governments to regulate themselves appear in the most affluent nations where the people are well educated and well informed. Well qualified citizens often demand better performance from their elected officials and their media often broadcast news of wrong-doing. An elected official representing well qualified citizens has a vested interest in protecting his or her reputation by behaving correctly and following ethical rules.  This peer pressure dynamic is essential for small group regulation and may work to some degree in larger groups because of the increased ability of private citizens to broadcast disapproval.

Elections are often thought to be the essence of democracy, but as human groups grow larger and social organization more complex, the ideal of citizen controlled government becomes impossible.  The Economist Intelligence Unit assessed the kind and quality of governments in 167 countries during 2008. Only 30 countries had full democracies, representing 14.4% of the world population.



Type

Countries

 % countries

 % population

Full democracies

30

18.0

14.4

Flawed democracies

50

29.9

35.5

Hybrid regimes

36

21.6

15.2

Authoritarian

51

30.5

34.9

Five European countries Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands and Denmark had the highest ratings for fully functional democracies. Canada was eleventh and the US 18th on the list. North Korea had the lowest ratings as a dysfunctional authoritarian regime.[i]

By the end of 2010, full democracies decreased to 26 (12.3% of world population) and flawed democracies increased to 53 (37.2%). The democracy score was lower in 2010 than in 2008 in 91 countries out of the 167 they surveyed. They attribute the decline to economic distress in the afflicted countries.  [ii]

The Economist democracy report of 2008 stated: “Flawed democracies are concentrated in Latin America and Eastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in Asia. Despite progress in Latin American democratization in recent decades, many countries in the region remain fragile democracies. Levels of political participation are generally very low and democratic cultures are weak. There has also been significant backsliding in recent years in some areas such as media freedoms. Much of Eastern Europe illustrates the difference between formal and substantive democracy. The new EU members from the region have pretty much equal levels of political freedoms and civil liberties as the old developed EU, but lag significantly in political participation and political culture—a reflection of widespread anomie and weaknesses of democratic development. Only two countries from the region—the Czech Republic and Slovenia (just)—are in the full democracy category. Hybrid and authoritarian regimes dominate heavily in the countries of the former Soviet Union, as the momentum towards "color revolutions" has petered out.”

The Economist's 2010 report stated that:" The dominant pattern in all regions over the past two years has been backsliding on previously attained progress in democratization. The global financial crisis that started in 2008 accentuated existing negative trends in political development."

Kershaw recalled Hitler’s rise to power, exploiting democracy to create a demonic dictatorship. Other countries continue on a fascist course in the 21st century. Kershaw asked: “Could something like it happen again? That is the first question that comes to mind when recalling that Hitler was given power in democratic Germany 75 years ago. With the world now facing such great tensions and instability, the question seems more obvious than ever. Hitler came to power in a democracy with a liberal Constitution, and used democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy itself. That democracy, established in 1919, was a product of defeat in a world war and revolution and was never accepted by most of the German elites, notably the military, large landholders and big industry.  The Nazis’ spectacular surge in popular support reflected anger, frustration and resentment that Hitler was able to exploit among millions of Germans. Democracy had failed them, they felt. Their country was divided, impoverished and humiliated. Scapegoats were needed. It was easy to turn hatred against Jews, who could be made to represent the imagined external threat to Germany by both international capitalism and Bolshevism. Internally, Jews were associated with the political left which was held responsible by Hitler and his followers for Germany’s plight. These distant events still have echoes today. In Europe, in the wake of increased immigration, most countries have experienced some revival of neo-fascist, racist movements. Skillful politicians around the globe have proved adept at manipulating populist sentiment and using democratic structures to erect forms of personalized, authoritarian rule.” [iii]

From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

[i] Democracy report 2008 Economist Intelligence Unit http://www.eiu.com/index.asp
[ii] Economist Intelligence Unit’s  Webinar.  Democracy In Retreat: The EIU's Democracy Index 2010 . December 15, 2010  Online.
[iii] Ian Kershaw. How Democracy Produced a Monster. NYT February 3, 2008

November 24, 2011

Happiness

Happiness

When all the arguments about human needs and tendencies subside, one simple idea always works. Humans want to be well fed and safe. Happiness begins with shelter, healthy air, adequate food, and clean water available in a secure environment. To remain happy, each person must be accepted by a social group that provides access to resources, employment and human rights. Do humans understand how to become happy? Yes and no. Humans have restless minds and generate dissatisfactions at a greater rate than they generate contentment. The restless, nomadic human is driven every day to emerge even from a stable, comfortable home to satisfy these relentless urges and drives.

Happiness may be equated with affluence but there are problems with affluence. I occasionally visit people who are rich and live in big houses. You can tour someone's elegant mansion and admire his or her couches, paintings, lavish bathrooms, wardrobes and swimming pool. While I live simply, I do have an appreciation for domestic comforts, interior d├ęcor, art and finely crafted art and artifacts, I know that being rich does not increase mind space nor does it decrease the constantly regenerating drives that sustain a state of dissatisfaction in all humans. A rich man with a big house may find that he is most comfortable sitting in his smallish study, in an old leather chair that is a little beaten up but fits his body after many years of daily contact. He might spend his leisure time watching videos, especially old movies that he has collected. The other 10,000 square feet of his mansion sits idle, except when he has parties but he does not enjoy those much anymore; he is tired of the ingratiating behavior of relative strangers, their idle chatter and malicious gossip. This is not to argue that having money and property will always make you miserable, as some poor people like to think.

One problem of affluence is that humans repeat behaviors that were once gratifying and successful. It makes sense to repeat drinking a glass of water when thirst recurs, since water flows through us and must be replaced continuously. If you add alcohol to the water, having the second and third drink turns a pleasurable experience into to pathological experience: a nice person may become a monster; a healthy person becomes mentally and physically ill. The absurd consequences of typical human behavior have been broadcast by centuries of literature and self-help advice.

As soon as an object becomes “mine”, its value increases. An object possessed becomes an object that possesses the owner. If you enjoy buying objects and taking them home, the numbers of objects increase over time and you have to buy a bigger home. If buying one pair of shoes made you happy, you go back for a second and a third pair. If one car makes you feel good, buy two or three. This tendency to repeat acquisitive behaviors is built into marketing strategy- merchants offer "two for the price of one" or "buy one at the regular price and get one free."

Some individuals rationalize their compulsive acquisitive behaviors and refer to themselves as collectors. They promote interest in their collections and inflate the value of their objects. Others simply fill the space available to them with inexpensive junk and then rent storage to handle the overflow. Others fill small living spaces with newspapers and magazines until their dwellings resemble the underground burrows of acquisitive rodents. We know from common observation and formal study that acquisitive behavior is an old animal pattern that is built into our innate tendencies and is not going away. Some individuals thoughtfully regulate their consuming habits, having understood and learned to control their innate tendencies to hoard and consume more. The best advice for humans is "do more with less."

Philosophers have noticed the human tendency to desire anything and everything. As soon as you have satisfied one need, another arises. They have recommended less material preoccupations and a more contemplative life. In contrast to constant preoccupation with devouring the world out there, a contemplative human needs spaciousness and contentment rather than consumption. You need a few hours to relax at home and say (with a sigh of relief) I have, at least briefly, everything I need.

One of the Buddha's insights is stated simply: "The cause of all suffering is desire." He would suggest that the route to happiness is to decrease expectations and needs and not to consume more of everything. Appreciating one flower, one friend, or one precious artifact is more gratifying than trying to have a hundred of each. Money does not buy happiness, but, if spent wisely; more money can achieve comfort, and relative security in healthier more pleasant environments. In the best case, more money gives you more options and more freedom denied to less privileged people, including the philanthropic option, helping others by donating money to worthy causes.

From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason. The book a 21st century description of anthropology, sociology, psychology and neuroscience - disciplines that need to be integrated as they are in this book. The topics are essential to understanding human nature, its origins and its problems.