Psychology

Antisocial Media’s Funniest Conservative and Far Right Self-Owns of 2018

Christmas and the New Year is the time when the media traditionally look back over the events of the preceding year. It’s in this spirit that left-wing YouTuber Antisocial Media presents this video of what he has judged to be the funniest Conservative and Far Right self-owns of the past year. As a run down of the right’s greatest fails, it naturally has the old Top of the Pop’s music, which was played when the programme went down the charts for that week. It also begins with someone who looks a bit like Trump, or maybe is Trump, dancing with a load of other businessmen. Antisocial Media says he’s had to leave many fails out, simply because there’s been so many of them and he doesn’t have time to fit them all in. But if there’s enough interest, perhaps he’ll do another video looking at other fails.

These fails are all attempts by the Conservatives and the Far Right to ‘own the libs’ by triggering them. These have repeatedly backfired to such an extent that Trump aide Nikki Haley has appealed to college Conservatives in the US not to do it. But like the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the World, ‘still they come’.

The first fails covered include Charlie Kirk, an American right-wing media voice, losing his temper and trying to start a fight with Cenk Uigur of The Young Turks at Politicon, a Conservative gathering. Kirk also made himself look massively stupid by posing outside a university wearing a nappy and with a baby’s dummy. Presumably this was done to try to suggest they were all sensitive crybabies. It didn’t work, and Kirk was just left looking stupid. These fails are all just shown in passing, before Antisocial Media goes on to give a more detailed look at particular instances of spectacular right-wing failure. These are

* The Trumpy teddy bear, that came complete with an American flag stuffed inside it.
* Canadian right-wing psychology professor Jordan Peterson, for saying in an interview that men and women can’t work together because of lipstick; and for publicly opposing pornography as harmful, then appearing – clothed, mercifully – in the pages of Penthouse, a pornographic magazine.
* A member of Fascist gang, the Proud Boys, trying unsuccessfully to rip up a placard he’d just snatched from left-wing Antifa protesters.
* Female YouTube gun nut Gun Girl trying to sell her fans T-shirts with the slogan that nothing would make feminists angrier than buying it. Because feminists are angry at the patriarchy, not someone trying to rip off their fans.
* The Generation Identity anti-immigration group building a fence on the Franco-Swiss border to prevent illegal immigration. A fence so flimsy that illegal immigrants could knock it down or jump over it.
* Right-wing internet personality Ian Mile Cheong getting grumpy on Twitter because of a woman’s comeback to one of his tweets.
* James Wohl, a 20 year old MAGA troll and massive Trump fan, who was caught for his part in a massively inept plot to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a sexual predator.

And then comes Antisocial Media’s top 3 greatest fails. They are, in reverse order

At No. 3, the NPC Meme. This is an internet meme of grey people all repeating the same empty slogans and phrases. It was supposed to show how the Left is all mindlessly alike. But instead, it’s popularity shows how mindlessly alike the Right are with their limited vocabulary of slurs and insults like ‘Soyboy’, ‘Cuck’ and so on.

No. 2, internet right-wingers Carl Benjamin, AKA Sargon of Akkad, Mark Meechan, alias Count Dankula, Paul Joseph Watson and Milo Yiannopolis joining UKIP. UKIP as a party are irrelevant and nearly dead. They campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, and achieved it with the referendum. There is thus absolutely no point to them. This section of the video also shows former Tory MP Neil Hamilton welcoming them into the party. Antisocial Media remarks that no-one really remembers him either. If they do, they’ll probably be like me, and remember him primarily because of the court case between him and Mohammed al-Fayed, then the owner of Harrods. Al-Fayed had bribed him to ask questions in parliament, which is illegal. Hamilton took the money without doing what the Phoney Pharaoh requested, so al-Fayed sued him for breach of contract. It was the kind of case you wished both could lose. And then there is was the instance where Benjamin, who believes he’s ‘centre left’ and a liberal, albeit of the ‘classical’ type, showed himself cutting up his Conservative party membership card and displaying his new, UKIP card. Obviously, he would have a Conservative membership card if he was really a liberal. Then the party put up a poster with Benjamin, Dankula and Watson on, proclaiming that it was ‘the party of British values’. This failed because they were all shown looking utterly miserable. And then there’s Gerard Batten’s utterly reprehensible appointment of Islamophobe Tommy Robinson.

But at No. 1 is the balloon satirizing Sadiq Khan. Antisocial Media says he chose it because it’s not just one fail, it’s thirteen all rolled into one.
The balloon was supposed to be a response to the Trump balloon, which showed the American president as a literal manbaby in a nappy clutching a mobile phone. This instead showed Sadiq Khan as an adult wearing a bikini. Here are some of the reasons it failed.

* It was changed from the initial design, which was a straight out copy of the Trump balloon design.
* It came two months after the Trump balloon.
* The balloon’s bikini has to be explained. It’s a reference to Khan’s banning of an advertisement telling women to get ‘beach body ready’. But everyone’s forgotten that. In fact, Khan banned the advert for a very good reason. He was afraid that it would promote an unhealthy obsession with body image in girls. And I think he was right.
* They gave the balloon a hooked nose, which Khan doesn’t have. Yanni Bruere, who organized it, was also caught tweeting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. A law student told him online that he had just destroyed any chance he had of a legal career.
* It was a colossal failure to provoke Khan. He not only approved the balloon’s flight, but was entirely untroubled about people trying to send him up.
* Bruere himself lives in Spain, not London, so it’s a good question why he’s bother about the safety of Londoners.
* He also gave up a managerial job, because they wouldn’t give him the time off to organize his balloon and demonstration. So he made himself unemployed.
* It cost 60,000 pounds to make and organize, and hardly anyone turned up.

Antisocial Media concludes that the Right could cure depression if they put on a stunt like this every week, and calls for them to carrying on doing so!
He also attacks Piers Morgan for getting upset about the Trump balloon passing the statue of Winston Churchill. So Trump balloon had an added bonus for upsetting him. It’s always good to annoy Piers Morgan, now destroying Susanna Reed on ITV’s breakfast TV.

This obviously isn’t a complete rundown of right-wing madness and ineptitude, but it does include some of the best. There are some others, which weren’t in there. Like deranged conspiracy theorist Alex Jones coming on his show dressed as a gay frog. It also doesn’t have Tweezer dad-dancing onto the stage at the Tory conference. However, it does show some of the greatest, most ridiculous antics of the transatlantic right, which are well worth laughing at. And I’m sure this year will bring us many, many more.

Narnia’s Pevensies And Personal Identity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/12/2018 - 1:38pm in

Readers of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe will remember the novel’s dramatic ending: Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan, now all grown up and ruling as noble and just kings and queens of the land of Narnia, set out to hunt a mysterious stag; their hunt leads them into the woods, toward ‘the lamp post’–the one that had brought them to Narnia in the first place, and then suddenly, as Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan find themselves back in ‘the wardrobe’ all too soon, they are back in England, back in the here and now, and barely an instant has passed. (Many Narnia years you see, only amount to a second or so of Earth time. Indeed, it is not clear at all that any time elapses while the children are in Narnia; the two timelines are disconnected.)

Of course, because only an instant has passed, the children are children again–they are not adults any more. They have shrunk, physically. But presumably they have shrunk psychically too; after all, back in Narnia, they were adults, and their growth into adults would have involved progression in the physical and psychological dimensions. Interestingly enough, the children remember their experiences in Narnia; which means they have memories of their growing up, their transformation into adults. This journey back to ‘the real world’ is likely to be far more disruptive, then, than C. S. Lewis lets on; Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan, are, on their return to earth, facing possibly one of the most hallucinatory of all experiences: years and years have passed by, and then, one day all of a sudden, you find yourself a child again, but  this is not any ordinary child, this is a child with memories of having been an adult once. So, even if this child does not have its physical child capacities any more–perhaps they pre-pubescents again–it still remains an open question whether this child remembers its adult responses in the emotional and psychological dimensions. Does the child now behave as an adult might? What is the effect on the Pevensies as they continue their lives, with these memories reminding them of what they once were? Note that had the children gone to Narnia, and spent say, a few months there, and then been shot back through the wardrobe to land up back in England in the same way as before, these questions would not have arisen. They arise only because Lewis insisted on giving the Pevensies a full-blown reign in Narnia, a long and prosperous one of fifteen years.

Lewis has thus created a tricky situation for the Pevensies. As they grow up here on Earth, they will slowly become adults but they will not be the adults they were in Narnia; after all, Earth is not Narnia: its lands and peoples are significantly different. The Pevensies will have different experiences, encounter different circumstances and react differently. Of course, since they carry around their memories of their psychological growth, they might use those as inputs into their development in this ‘new life’ but they will still certainly not be identical to their Narnia selves. They will have multiple personalities of a sort–perhaps akin to that of the immigrant, who remembers an older world, an older self, older ways of behaving and responding to the world’s offerings. Their friends and lovers and family might find their repeated invocations of their past irritating and bothersome at times, but also of singular interest; the Pevensies for their part, if they play their cards right, will ‘enjoy’ having lived two lives–once again, much like the wise immigrant does, who considers himself fortunate to have experienced ‘two worlds for the price of one’–even if such experiences do bring their own fair share of heartbreak. (The novels featuring the Pevensies themselves span nine years–from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to The Last Battle.)

A budding writer could do worse than to write a novel that tracks the Pevensies’ developments as adults, back here on Earth, when they are done with the Narnia phase of lives, but with those Narnia memories animating their hybrid selves.

Hack Gaps and Noble Lies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/12/2018 - 7:37pm in

These days we are healthily cynical about the omnipresence of motivated reasoning in cognition and communication. Everyone is working to fool everyone, starting with themselves. (It used to be you had to read Nietzsche to learn this stuff. Ah, those were the days.)

Self-delusion squeezes the space for deliberate deceit. It is tempting, then, to believe that lies – that is, conscious untruths, told with deliberate intent to induce false belief in an audience – are … well, let’s start by saying: rarer than you might think. Let’s talk politics. When politically-motivated untruths are told, tellers are as victimized as audiences. To a first approximation, everyone is high on their own supply.

Politics is complicated. It’s easy to make mistakes and miss things and not understand things and not know relevant things. It’s easy to spend your scarce attention on convenient truths and downplay inconvenient ones. The will to believe will have its way.

So if someone says: politics, all lies! You should correct them: mostly delusions.

I confess to a skepticism about bullshit, in Frankfurt’s technical sense. Truth-indifferentism, that is. It’s interesting and real, but I tend to think the intense, self-righteous desire to have truth on your side swamps that effect. Indifference to truth doesn’t explain much. It’s a noble gas, you might say.

Obviously a lot of people are liars. Q is a liar, I assume. But Qanon is a broad base of delusion.

A lot of political actors – including politicians, needless to say – lie a lot to do their jobs. They know what is true and deliberately lie about it.

A lot of political actors are also pretty clearly severely delusional. They are ideologues or partisans who have cognized themselves into a pretty severe state of denial. (Just because you’re a liar about how they are out to get you, doesn’t mean you aren’t paranoid about how they are out to get you.)

Trolls are like liars, at least part-time, and there are plenty of trolls.

There are disinformation campaigns, massively well-funded.

But I’m still always a little surprised when I see professional or amateur pundits – thought-leaders and would-be thought-leaders – peddling what I think they themselves must think are ‘noble lies’, in Plato’s sense.

I was struck by an example from Rich Lowry this morning, and then – coincidentally – I read Kevin Drum saying he was pissed off at the obvious lie. It is pretty obvious. Like Drum, I find it hard to believe Lowry didn’t have a chuckle to himself about what a whopper it was, while he wrote it. But, then again, it’s no good as a noble lie unless it fools folks into believing what you want them to believe about justice. If it fools folks then, on average, it will fool the fool who tells it – who’s just folks. So perhaps Lowry’s brain succeeded in locking down, for the time it took to compose his nonsense, his awareness of its nonsensicality. Yet it allowed him access to some facts, and a crippleware logic engine. Oh, what a piece of work is man!

Here’s another example that struck me, from Mark Levin, a couple days ago. Again, not important, but striking because I have a hard time believing Levin – who is quite sharp, in a way, and legally trained – didn’t think to himself: ‘eh, I’ll tell my audience a silly lie about the Constitution. If any of them check Wikipedia, or think about what I’m saying for five seconds, the gig is up, but what are the odds?’

Then again, I think Levin is a nut, so why should I be surprised his paranoid craziness has spread to the point of infecting his grasp of (gasp!) the point of the emoluments clause itself? Why should his deceiving demon – a.k.a. Mark Levin – have trouble getting him to think whatever it wants him to think about emoluments? That’s straining at gnats.

I guess it comes down to this. I take for granted Sarah Huckabee Sanders knows the important part of her job is to tell lies. (Any fool can tell the truth.) I imagine it’s exhausting – an uncomfortable, undignifying mental juggling act. But you are getting paid, and you believe the country is better off, on the whole, if more people believe the lies. You think the small truths that are on the side of your enemies are the spear tips of their Big Lie; whereas your small lies are the spear tips of your Big Truth, yesterday and tomorrow. You are making a basically utilitarian calculation.

Politics is a trolley scenario and, somehow, the trolley always needs to run over some truth. So you keep pulling that switch, deliberately. You see yourself doing this.

But, despite being a utilitarian who thinks you should generally pull the switch, and a Plato scholar, I find the life of the Noble Lie cognitively alien and weird. I have no doubt that I engage in motivated reasoning all the time. I have many a time deliberately encouraged people to help themselves to enough rope to hang themselves, in debate. There’s an element of lying in that sort of Socratic maneuvering. (Heighten the contradictions. Things have to get worse before they get better.) But, to my recollection, I have never, in my life, with conscious, deliberate awareness and full intent, tried to reinforce someone’s healthy political belief (or undermine their unhealthy belief) by telling them what I myself regard – at the moment I tell it – as a ridiculous and utter untruth. One my interlocutor is, odds on, likely to swallow. Honestly, I couldn’t do it if I tried. It’s not principled squeamishness. I just couldn’t make my brain look for the bank shots and actually try to take them. I couldn’t be a politician. Or a press flack. My digestion would be shot in a week.

Just as pushing the fat man is viscerally unpleasant to contemplate, pushing the fat lie – even in a good cause! – triggers inner resistance.

Am I weird?

People tell lies to defend themselves and, in general, when their interests demand it. I don’t think I’m more truthful, under pressure, than the next person. I’m no moral hero. But few people’s interests truly demand going online and telling deliberate lies to trick people into believing some supposed, larger truth. A bit of trolling, sure. Some sophistical shading and coloring and emphasizing and de-emphasizing. Who can resist? It’s recreational. But out-and-out lies?

I think lying about politics sounds like a no-fun job, so for sure it’s a terrible hobby. (But I admit trolling is a popular hobby. But that’s roleplay.)

I guess I really don’t think I know how many liars are out there.

Does everyone who works for FOX News think that it’s a Noble Lie Factory? But the pay is ok and otherwise the Democrats will take over.

How self-aware is Trump of his penchant for lying?

What do you think? Tell me true.

The Shames Of Anger

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/12/2018 - 9:53am in

I’ve written before, here on this blog, about the pleasures of anger, of holding on to grudges–the two are, of course, inter-related, for very often it is the pleasure of experiencing anger that allows us to retain a long-held grudge. These ‘pleasures,’ such as they are, have a role to play in the economy of our lives, it is why we experience them as such–they ‘work for us’ somehow or the other, which is why we seek them out and retain them. But they do not come for free, not without their own incurred costs, ones we are willing to pay; the devastating and melancholic shames associated with the expression of anger and the retention of grudges. The shame of anger is experienced most directly when the effects of our anger are visible: the hurt of a partner or friend we have tongue-lashed or driven out of our lives, the fear and sadness and confusion of a child who has encountered our furious loss of self-control, the sometimes irrevocable damage done to relationships, romantic or familial.

These are powerful reminders of our lack of virtue; haunting indicators of how far we need to go in asserting mastery over ourselves. We are reminded violence comes in many forms, and is expressed and experienced in a rich and uncomfortable diversity; we are reminded too, by way of introspective contact with our own hurts and unresolved resentments that the injuries we bear and nurse are not always visible; the effects of the ‘blows’ we have landed through our anger are only partially visible to us–there is more to this landscape of fear and hurt than we can ever possibly know; much of it remains unaccounted for. We are reminded of the humanity and vulnerability of others when we remember and relive the effects of others’ anger being visited on us. That fear, that panic, that urge to flee– we induce those feelings in others through our thoughts and deeds; they experience the same painful affects we do. (Allied with the shame engendered by such thoughts is yet another variant: we might seek forgiveness for our anger, beg to be forgiven, and yet we do not move forward, unwilling to descend from our perches–for we are reluctant to admit guilt, to encounter another shame that our selves might send our way, that of having ‘backed down.’ In this kind of situation at least, masculinity has a great deal to answer for.)

The shames of anger remind us of why anger is considered corrosive–these signposts in our minds that we are not ‘quite together,’ that we are disordered, are powerful covert agents, inhibiting us, consuming our psychic energies in consoling ourselves, in providing ourselves palliative diversions and distractions. It becomes yet another component of our ongoing dissatisfaction with ourselves, yet another reminder that for all the blame we may send the world’s way, we always find the finger pointing back at us.

Climbing And The Persistent, If Irrational, Fear Of Falling

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/11/2018 - 8:55am in

Tags 

Psychology, fear

A curious experience in roped climbing (whether on auto-belay, top-roped climbing, or following a leader on a multi-pitch route) is the presence of instinctive fears that should have no rational basis for persistence. Like the fear of falling, for instance.  There you are, tied in with your faithful figure-eight knot into your climbing harness, which is snug around your waist, connected to your belayer who is clipped and locked into the belay loop. The knots are good, the gear works, your belayer has you; you cannot fall. And yet, as you step out to make a move that requires some balance, or that might not offer the best grip, you experience a sudden sickening sensation; you are afraid; you become aware of the number of feet you are off the ground; you feel your palms grow sweaty, your heart starts to beat a bit faster. You are in trouble.

You aren’t. But you feel it anyway. Old habits and instincts die hard. I’ve always been terrified by heights, by the sickening vertigo and nausea they induced in me. Overcoming that fear was one of the reasons for my taking up climbing a couple of years ago; I hoped that ‘controlled exposure’ to heights would help me become more familiar with these fears; I would never ‘master’ them but I could learn to work in their presence; perhaps working through some task or problem at hand even while I was afflicted by them. The good news is that these expectations have been borne out by my experiences. Very often, over the last couple of years, I have found myself in places (precarious belay ledges) and situations (negotiating narrow exposed traverses) that would previously have terrified me in incapacitating ways. But the fears are always there, anchored in instincts and reflexes that have hardened over the years.

And so, even when I’m indoors, inside a comfortable climbing gym, tied and clipped in, with nowhere to go in the case of a slip but slowly, smoothly down, riding a rope all the way, when my body senses, even if for only for a micro-instant, that slight absence of security or solidity that signals the earth opening up under my feet, I retreat (or rather, am forced back) to an older me. This particular instinctive reaction will, of course, become familiar in its own way; I will learn to anticipate it, welcome it, live with it. As I never fail to notice during my indoor climbing sessions, when I start climbing for the day, such reactions are at their most visceral, and are attenuated as I continue to climb. Some of the intensity of my instinctive responses then will be tempered, by greater experience; as my body learns that these falls do not end in anything more bothersome than some swinging through air, or a painful bump against an exposed hold (I’m not counting falls taken by lead climbers which can result in serious injuries.)

Of course, by the time I get to that stage, I will have discovered newer fears to work through. And hopefully, improved my climbing.

Cussin’ In The Classroom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/11/2018 - 1:28am in

Of late, I’ve noticed that I have begun using more profanity in the classroom than I ever have previously in my teaching career. (Strictly speaking, I do not ‘use’ more profanity; I ‘mention’ it. That is, rather than using the word ‘fuck’ in a sentence like “This is a fucking crazy argument,” I mention it as in ‘Then someone might say, “Look, fuck it, I’m not going to obey the law.’ In the first case, I have used the word ‘fuck’ myself; in the second, I have quoted someone using it.) I do not exactly know why this is the case. For the first dozen or so years of my teaching career, I studiously eschewed mentioning profanity in the classroom; my style of teaching saw me stick pretty close to the assigned reading and the written notes I had prepared on it. Of late, my teaching has become more unstructured; I rely less on notes and more on the text (and on student responses to it); I consider most of the teaching in the classroom to happen when my students and I build on the textual material to explore applications of it in our daily lives. I supply more examples to my students now, and spend considerable time making them as elaborate as they need to be in order to illustrate the point I am trying to get across. I’m also more comfortable now in my skin as a teacher, more confident about the material I teach (even as many new existential doubts have also crept into my self-assessments of my intellectual and pedagogical worth.) These changes have, over a period of time, resulted in–when things are going well–a more informal classroom space.

This ‘loosening up’ has, I suspect, also loosened my tongue somewhat. I do not mind the tangents I go off on; I’m more inclined to be facetious in class, to invoke levity into its proceedings. Some of my students have told me that they quite enjoy my historical asides, the stories I tell to supply some historical context to a particular philosophical debate; this has encouraged me to be more discursive in my working through the material being discussed in a class. And so, I have found that often times, when constructing some imaginary conversation for an example, to illustrate some political or ethical issue, I will throw some profanity into the mix to make the reported conversation more dramatic, more realistic. I hope.

My students do not seem to mind; no one ever looks shocked. Most students occasionally snicker; there is a noticeable relaxation in the classroom atmosphere. (For some strange reason, this is also the case whenever the topic at hand invokes the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.) I suspect that to a certain extent, my language humanizes me for my students–for better or worse. I’m ‘distant’ from my students in many ways–this language brings me ‘closer’ to them, again, for better or worse. I do not think that I’m currying favor with my students by employing this language; it has come naturally to me as my classroom methods of interacting with students have changed. For what it is worth, I curse a lot in my conversations outside the classroom, so I’m slipping into a mode of discourse that comes naturally to me. About fucking time.

That Alex Honnold MRI In ‘Free Solo’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/10/2018 - 7:26am in

One of the most commented on segments of Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarelyhi‘s ‘Free Solo‘–the film that details Alex Honnold‘s incredible free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park–is that of the MRI of Honnold’s brain. This MRI is performed in an attempt to solve the mystery of how Honnold is able to calmly scale a three thousand feet cliff without any ropes or aids, without apparently suffering the terror that would afflict most human beings engaged in any task that approximated Honnold’s feat. We learn that Honnold’s amygdala–the part of the brain supposedly activated by our fear–just doesn’t light up all that much in his case. See? He’s just built differently from us.

But we were also given some psychological insight, of course: Honnold himself is asked how he does it and he offers some interesting introspective takes on it on fear, risk, consequences, and existential choices; other climbers–like Tommy Caldwell and Jimmy Chin–also chime in. And those around Honnold offer us some explanations of his behavior and attempt to determine its psychological foundations.

Such explanations do not satisfy all–especially those who find MRI scans more convincing than verbal reasons for human behavior:

Unfortunately, Free Solo suffers when Vasarhelyi and Chin psychologize Honnold or attempt to explain his drive for death-defying climbs. It’s understandable why the filmmakers would want to examine Honnold’s psyche, given that his Spock-like demeanor and curiously casual approach to soloing does raise certain questions about his mental stability or lack thereof. Yet every “answer” they ascribe to him (or he ascribes to himself) feels pat and unconvincing. Honnold mentions his father, who was emotionally unavailable to Honnold’s mother but also spurred his son’s interest in climbing. He describes his “dark soul” as a child and his “bottomless pit of self-loathing.” There’s some talk about being a loner in school. Yet none of those explanations are as persuasive as an MRI diagnosis that simply concludes he requires more stimulus than most people. Similarly, Free Solo’s fixation on how soloing affects Honnold’s relationship with his girlfriend feels transported from a more banal film altogether. At best, this material is uninteresting filler, and at worst, it’s a distraction

Now, I hate to have to break the news but ‘pat psychologizing is what we do all the time, every single day of our lives. In fact, if we didn’t indulge in it, we wouldn’t know how to live with each other. Think about our language of everyday social, political, and ethical interaction–replete with wants, desires, beliefs, motivations, the whole gamut of psychological attitudes. We use this language all the time to predict and anticipate the reactions of others; we do not go around conducting MRIs to find out what our fellow humans want or desire or believe; we observe their behavior, we ask them questions, we correlate their behavior with their verbal pronouncements for further refinement and we muddle right along. In courts of law, when we want to know why someone did something, we ask them or other human beings to explain their behavior; we don’t cut open skulls or run scans to elicit reasons–though some neuroscientists want to do just that. All of which is to say that there is nothing ‘pat’ about the psychologizing in ‘Free Solo’; we make this assessment at the risk of being similarly dismissive of most of our daily conversation and our best tool for dealing with other humans.

But the attitudes expressed in the review above are not outliers. ‘Pop psychology,’ ‘psychobabble,’ ‘amateur psychologizing’–these are all apparently Bad Things; we should look for more Scientific Explanations. A laudable sentiment, but one which is too caught up in reductionist fantasies to be anything more than grossly misleading. In the realm of human behavior, psychological explanations are useful, elegant, and successful; and it is neuroscientific ones that have a long way to go:

The fundamental problem…is the urge to ‘reduce’ psychology to neuroscience, to reduce mind to brain, to eliminate psychological explanations and language in favor of neuroscientific ones, which will introduce precise scientific language in place of imprecise psychological descriptions.  This urge to eliminate one level of explanation in favor of a ‘better, lower, more basic, more fundamental’ one is to put it bluntly, scientistic hubris….It results in explanations and theories that rest on unstable foundations: optimistic correlations and glib assumptions are the least of it. Worst of all, it contributes to a blindness: what is visible at the level of psychology is not visible at the level of neuroscience. Knowledge should enlighten, not render us myopic.

The urge to rely on neuroscientific explanations is easy to understand: human beings are complicated creatures; we are creatures of biology, culture, and psychology; to understand what makes us tick is hard.  Some pat neuroscientific explanations seem quite tempting. But what at cost? What, if anything, have we learned about Honnold from his MRI that is genuinely useful–especially since that MRI rests upon a series of as yet unconfirmed assumptions?  That ‘pat psychologizing’ that Honnold and those around him indulge in is far more enlightening; they place Honnold’s behavior in the domain of human relationships and motivations, far more comprehensible for us as human beings, and far more amenable to utilization in our future interactions with our fellow human beings.

Video of Three Military Robots

This is another video I round on robots that are currently under development on YouTube, put up by the channel Inventions World. Of the three, one is Russian and the other two are American.

The first robot is shown is the Russian, Fyodor, now being developed by Rogozin. It’s anthropomorphic, and is shown firing two guns simultaneously from its hands on a shooting range, driving a car and performing a variety of very human-style exercises, like press-ups. The company says that it was taught to fire guns to give it instant decision-making skills. And how to drive a car to make it autonomous. Although it can move and act on its own, it can also mirror the movements of a human operator wearing a mechanical suit. The company states that people shouldn’t be alarmed, as they are building AI, not the Terminator.

The next is CART, a tracked robot which looks like nothing so much as a gun and other equipment, possibly sensors, on top of a tank’s chassis and caterpillar tracks. It seems to be one of a series of such robots, designed for the American Marine corps. The explanatory text on the screen is flashed up a little too quickly to read everything, but it seems intended to provide support for the human troopers by providing extra power and also carrying their equipment for them. Among the other, similar robots which appear is a much smaller unit about the size of a human foot, seen trundling about.

The final robot is another designed by Boston Dynamics, which has already built a man-like robot and a series of very dog-like, four-legged robots, if I remember correctly. This machine is roughly humanoid. Very roughly. It has four limbs, roughly corresponding to arms and legs. Except the legs end in wheels and the arms in rubber grips, or end effectors. Instead of a head, it has a square box and the limbs look like they’ve been put on backwards. It’s shown picking up a crate in a say which reminds me of a human doing it backward, bending over to pick it up behind him. But if his legs were also put on back to front. It’s also shown spinning around, leaping into the area and scooting across the test area with one wheel on the ground and another going up a ramp.

Actually, what the Fyodor robot brings to my mind isn’t so much Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, but Hammerstein and his military robots from 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ strip. The operation of the machine by a human wearing a special suite also reminds me of a story in the ‘Hulk’ comic strip waaaay back in the 1970s. In this story, the Hulk’s alter ego, Banner, found himself inside a secret military base in which robots very similar to Fyodor were being developed. They were also controlled by human operators. Masquerading as the base’s psychiatrist, Banner meets one squaddie, who comes in for a session. The man is a robot operator, and tells Banner how he feels dehumanized through operating the robot. Banner’s appalled and decides to sabotage the robots to prevent further psychological damage. He’s discovered, of course, threatened or attacked, made angry, and the Hulk and mayhem inevitably follow.

That story is very definitely a product of the ’70s and the period of liberal self-doubt and criticism following the Vietnam War, Nixon and possibly the CIA’s murky actions around the world, like the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The Hulk always was something of a countercultural hero. He was born when Banner, a nuclear scientist, got caught with the full force of the gamma radiation coming off a nuclear test saving Rick, a teenager, who had strayed into the test zone. Rick was an alienated, nihilistic youth, who seems to have been modelled on James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Banner pulls him out of his car, and throws him into the safety trench, but gets caught by the explosion before he himself could get in. Banner himself was very much a square. He was one of the scientists running the nuclear tests, and his girlfriend was the daughter of the army commander in charge of them. But the Hulk was very firmly in the sights of the commander, and the strip was based around Banner trying to run away from him while finding a cure for his new condition. Thus the Hulk would find himself fighting a series of running battles against the army, complete with tanks. The Ang Lee film of the Hulk that came out in the 1990s was a flop, and it did take liberties with the Hulk’s origin, as big screen adaptations often do with their source material. But it did get right the antagonism between the great green one and the army. The battles between the two reminded me very much of their depictions in the strip. The battle between the Hulk and his father, who now had the power to take on the properties of whatever he was in contact with was also staged and shot very much like similar fights also appeared in the comic, so that watching the film I felt once again a bit like I had when I was a boy reading it.

As for the CART and related robots, they remind me of the tracked robot the army sends in to defuse bombs. And research on autonomous killing vehicles like them were begun a very long time ago. The Germans in the Second World War developed small robots, remotely operated which also moved on caterpillar tracks. These carried bombs, and the operators were supposed to send them against Allied troops, who would then be killed when they exploded. Also, according to the robotics scientist Kevin Warwick of Reading University, the Americans developed an automatic killer robot consisting of a jeep with a machine gun in the 1950s. See his book, March of the Machines.

Despite the Russians’ assurances that they aren’t building the Terminator, Warwick is genuinely afraid that the robots will eventually take over and subjugate humanity. And he’s not alone. When one company a few years ago somewhere said that they were considering making war robots, there was an outcry from scientists around the world very much concerned about the immense dangers of such machines.

Hammerstein and his metallic mates in ‘ABC Warriors’ have personalities and a conscience, with the exception of two: Blackblood and Mekquake. These robots have none of the intelligence and humanity of their fictional counterparts. And without them, the fears of the opponents of such machines are entirely justified. Critics have made the point that humans are needed on the battle to make ethical decisions that robots can’t or find difficult. Like not killing civilians, although you wouldn’t guess that from the horrific atrocities committed by real, biological flesh and blood troopers.

The robots shown here are very impressive technologically, but I’d rather have their fictional counterparts created by Mills and O’Neill. They were fighting machines, but they had a higher purpose behind their violence and havoc:

Increase the peace!

Lessons on Disagreement from a Psychologist of Human Error

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/09/2018 - 11:58pm in

Lee Ross (Stanford), an influential social psychologist, reflects on his career of studying error and disagreement in a new essay at Perspectives on Psychological Science.

It’s an informative essay that should be of interest to anyone concerned with how to think about the causes and possible resolutions of disagreement and conflict.

Ross discusses his work on the “fundamental attribution error”—our tendency to explain human behavior largely in terms of people’s dispositions or personality, failing to take into account the causal role of the circumstances in which the behavior takes place. He also talks about the actor-observer difference in susceptibility to this error, whereby actors “attend to the specific features of the stimuli or situations to which they are responding and/or have responded in the past” and “observers, by contrast… overlook or… underestimate the relevance of those features, and instead focus their attention on the actor [and the actor’s] underlying traits, abilities, or other dispositions.” (Here’s a brief description of this bias.)

Though he coined the term “fundamental attribution error,” he does think there’s an error in reasoning that’s more accurately deemed “fundamental”: the illusion of personal objectivity.

Under the illusion of personal objectivity, Ross says, one tends to believe:

  1. My own perceptions are realistic and “objective”—and therefore (reasonable) others will (and should) share them. This illusion of objectivity applies not only to my perceptions of objects and events, but also to beliefs, preferences, priorities, and feelings prompted by those perceptions.
  2. I will be able to persuade those who disagree with me, if they are reasonable and open-minded, once I explain what the real facts are and what they really mean.
  3. Those who disagree with me, and especially those who challenge the most important beliefs of my group, are unreasonable and/or irrational. They have succumbed to particular sources of bias and error in reasoning.

Much of the article concerns experiments about, and the implications of, the “objectivity illusion,” with examples ranging from small-scale disputes modeled in lab experiments to attempts to promote dialogue between opposing parties in large-scale geopolitical conflicts.

Applications of lessons learned from the research surveyed to disputes among philosophers, be they over philosophical questions or professional matters, are, alas, left as an exercise for the interested philosopher.

The whole essay is worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a cliché that when confronting disagreement, one should try on the other side’s lenses or walk in their shoes. Unhelpful eyewear and footwear metaphors aside, the advice to consider the perspective of those with an opposite point of view has obvious merit. In principle, it is difficult to disagree with such a prescription, although in practice the exercise too often becomes an exploration of the sources of the erroneous views of the other…

A personal example: I sympathize with athletes who kneel during the National Anthem. Moreover, I accept their right to define the meaning of that gesture not as an insult to our country or to the veterans who have fought under its colors but as a protest against racial injustice and unfair police practices. However, when it comes to gestures and protests by those whose politics I decry, on issues ranging from access to late-term abortion to the renaming of buildings and removal of monuments that honor Confederate generals, I do not similarly grant the protesters the right to define the meaning of their actions and to stipulate the motivations behind those actions. Can I really defend the notion that the meaning of all political issues and actions should be defined by the groups with whom I personally identify, regardless of whether those individuals are the ones protesting existing policies, those defending the status quo, or those calling for further changes?

The objectivity illusion poses a unique dilemma. One cannot escape the conviction that one’s views capture reality better than some other set of views. Indeed, any departure from that conviction would be tantamount to the adoption of the conviction that one’s new views capture reality. Consider the perceptual illusion whereby a straight stick in water seems bent (because of refraction of light). Regardless of one’s efforts, one cannot see the stick as straight as long as it remains submerged. Only removing the stick from water allows one to fully recognize the illusion and use the stick accordingly. Unfortunately, when it comes to the distortions in perception that fuel most conflicts, we have not yet discovered a strategy akin to removing the stick from water.

Nothing can prevent adversaries from seeing their conflict and the possible agreements to end it through the lenses of their own narratives and motivations. However, there are some strategies one can use to counteract the most negative consequences of the objectivity illusion. In working with dialogue participants on opposite sides of the conflict between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, my colleagues and I have employed a particular exercise as a prelude to any exchange of proposals for future agreement. This exercise obliges those on the two sides to try to present the other side’s position—and to keep trying until those on the other side agree that they are getting it right. This procedure initially proves difficult for all concerned and inevitably produces false starts. Yet when the two sides finally are satisfied with the efforts of their counterpart, they feel greater empathy for each other, avoid the caricaturing of each other’s views, and are on the road to a more thoughtful and less defensive exploration of future possibilities.

It is rare to see a public figure avoid both the fundamental attribution error and the illusion that his or her own perspective is the most reasonable one. I will close this personal saga not with the results of an experiment or strategic recommendation, but with a truly remarkable passage in a truly remarkable speech. Tom Gilovich and I quoted this passage in The Wisest One in the Room, where we offered a more extensive discussion both of naive realism and, later, of barriers to conflict resolution. Frederick Douglass delivered the speech 10 years after the end of the Civil War, at the dedication of the Freedom Memorial Monument honoring Abraham Lincoln. Douglass offered the following assessment of the martyred president: “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent”. This assessment was understandable in light of Douglass’s long-standing impatience with the pace of the president’s steps toward the abolition of slavery.

However, he went on to add a further, less idiosyncratic assessment: “Measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. . . . Taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”

What Douglass did that spring day is something worth contemplating and emulating. He recognized the constraints governing Lincoln’s actions. More remarkably, he acknowledged that his own views and those of his fellow abolitionists reflected a particular vantage point, history, and set of experiences; he also acknowledged that a future, more objective perspective would render a more objective and more charitable assessment. Less famous, and perhaps more provocative, is the answer Douglass gave to fellow abolitionist in defending his willingness to meet with slaveholders, “I would unite with anybody to do right; and with nobody to do wrong”.

(via @DegenRolf)

The post Lessons on Disagreement from a Psychologist of Human Error appeared first on Daily Nous.

Inequality breeds stress and anxiety. No wonder so many Britons are suffering | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/06/2018 - 12:56am in

In equal societies, citizens trust each other and contribute to their community. This goes into reverse in countries like ours

The gap between image and reality yawns ever wider. Our rich society is full of people presenting happy smiling faces both in person and online, but when the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a large survey last year, it found that 74% of adults were so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Almost a third had had suicidal thoughts and 16% had self-harmed at some time in their lives. The figures were higher for women than men, and substantially higher for young adults than for older age groups. And rather than getting better, the long-term trends in anxiety and mental illness are upwards.

For a society that believes happiness is a product of high incomes and consumption, these figures are baffling. However, studies of people who are most into our consumerist culture have found that they are the least happy, the most insecure and often suffer poor mental health.

Related: The psychological effects of inequality – Science Weekly podcast

Related: Rising inequality linked to drop in union membership

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