Thursday, October 27, 2016

2016: My Political Endgame

I have been trying to coalesce my thoughts on the current election I have found it difficult to do in discussion - There is just too much emotion, FUD (an old geek term. Stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Refers especially to rhetoric or propaganda designed to instill those feeling in people in order to control their choices by keeping them off-balance, in fight-or-flight mode, unable to employ critical thinking.)

So, I am going to try here.

In 1971, Philip Zimbardo performed a human behavior experiment now famously known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. The purpose was to study the psychological effects of prison on prisoners. A group of volunteer students were separated into two groups- prisoners and guards. The experiment was terminated early, when things got out of hand.

The Dr. Zimbardo later published a book, chronicling the events, and drawing comparisons to some of the most heinous acts of human mistreatment by other humans at Darfur, Abu Ghraib,  The byline for the book is "Understanding how good people turn evil". And it shares frightening examples of American soldiers with excellent records - good, decent people - engaging in dehumanization and torture.

You see, there are some characteristics we humans have.
1) We organize and classify. We place things into buckets. Black, White, Male, Female, Old, Young, Spanish, German, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist...
2) We inherently seek our own personal self-interest. "People don't do things to others, they do thing for themselves".
3) We form groups. We associate with others, we are essential herd/pack animals (yes, even us social anxiety suffering introverts have an innate need for human connection).
4) We build filters through which we evaluate all information. Those filters are constructed from personal experience, from information provided by peers and parent figures, and from repetition (which is why advertisers pay so much to keep their brand in front of your face).

Because of these characteristics, it is incredibly hard for us to avoid classifying one or more groups as us vs. them. good vs. evil. (And yes, as a christian, I do believe in evil, and "them:.To me evil is the absence of good, just as dark is the absence of light. And them are those who chose to fight against God and became The devil and his angels, who seek to  lead humanity away from Love, peace, and joy).

But the simple reality is this world is imperfect, we are imperfect, we make mistakes we try our best. Most people are just trying to do the right thing, to the best of their knowledge - That is why we were given the planet and placed here. To learn, to experience to improve...

Okay, enough back story. To the current election:

Disclosure: I am  not a Democrat. I am Not a Republican. I am not a Libertarian. I don't like political parties. I believe they are a natural outgrowth of the aforementioned human characteristics. I believe they put us at risk of creating the precise conditions which lead to "The Lucifer Effect".

The two main parties are becoming increasingly polarized. Continuing on this path will inevitably lead to violence in the name of "the greater good". History is replete with examples of this.

Liberals - Conservatives are not evil incarnate. I know many good conservatives who are just trying to make sure our governmental system is fair for everyone, corruption is prevented.

Conservatives - Liberal are not evil incarnate. I know many good Liberals who are just trying to make sure our governmental system is fair for everyone, corruption is prevented.

Yes, there are differences of opinion, but they are not nearly so enormous as you have been lead to believe. You have been misled by FUD, by propaganda. You have been led to believe that "They" are inferior, selfish, self-serving, greedy, lazy, manipulative.... evil. "They" - mostly - aren't.

The world won't end if the other side wins. Every thing they can do can be undone.  Laws can be revoked. Supreme Court Justices can be impeached (not easy, not impossible). Any political leader can be removed from office by the united will of the people, should the united people find said leaders behavior not in accordance with the ideals for which we strive.

The real threat to America is continuing on this path of divisiveness. of allowing the relatively few, angry outliers to dictate our policy, our mores.

So, my endgame for this election - my hope is that enough people will vote for neither party. In doing so, a clear message will be sent that we the people don't approve of their behavior. That we the people will no longer continue to live the current status quo. That we the people want to come together, to understand one another, and find compromise - a choice which respects everyone, to the extent possible.

I believe most people are good. I believe most people want peace, I believe most people want their neighbor to live in peace. I believe we just need to find a way to overcome those human characteristics. I believe this is true of  Americans, Chinese, Russians, Syrians.... I believe we, the people of the world, can be better then this. I don't think it will happen until we can set aside the artificial gangs we create. I believe it can happen.

My endgame looks beyond the next year, the next 4 years, the next 30 years...

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
- John 13:34-35

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The dangerous power of PC

So a while ago - maybe two months - I was involved in a discussion around the term white privilege. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned the potential role epigenetics and genetic memory might play in some of the issues we see between races, particularly relating to violent interactions.

I was immediately told to "tread carefully".

Well, my anxiety kicked in then, as it tends to do whenever I am afraid I might have hurt someones feelings, and I started rambling and trying to be clever and witty with my response (and as usual was probably neither). Then I got labeled as ignorant and immature, which more or less confirmed my anxieties, and that is pretty much where the conversation ended.

But of course, as is always the case for me. I continued to play the event over and over in my mind, torturing myself with every word. How could I have worded it differently?

This afternoon I was going through another round of that for an hour as me and puppy went for a long walk (an aside, that was also an interesting adventure. Rogue has never been fond of cars, I thought I would try taking her in the car with the windows rolled down, to someplace new and fun - see if that wold help. For her the walk was great fun, the car, pure torture both ways)

But today I had a moment of clarity as I was torturing myself. Political Correctness has the potential to be very dangerous to intellectual progress.

A brief anecdote: A few years ago, I was at a training conference for a week. While there, a group of attendees, including myself became acquainted, and at one point several in this group started making plans to go for drinks one evening. The roughest, toughest looking of the group (Keeping in mind this was a technology training, not a biker rally) quickly declined, saying he doesn't drink.

Later I asked him if he was Mormon. He informed me he was not even particularly religious - agnostic. As a youth he had observed and learned of members of his heritage who had experienced considerable unpleasantness related to alcoholism. He concluded that there must be a genetic predisposition to  alcoholism in has ancestry, so he made the choice, as a pre-teen, to never use alcohol. "Why take the chance?" he said. He observed a potential genetic pitfall and made the choice to avoid any circumstance which might trigger alcoholism.

Now, in this previous conversation, I wasn't talking about genetics - inherited traits. I was referring to epigenetics - trait variations caused by environmental factors (one proposed theory is that violence in many inner city areas may be due to mild lead poisoning, due to old lead pipes in old plumbing), and genetic memory - a newer theory that some memories are subtly transferred genetically - think of the behaviors we call instinct as an example of this). But now I am including genetics generally in this thought.

I understand that in the past there were people who proclaimed the notion that some races were genetically inferior and others were genetically superior. I am aware of eugenics and some of the horrible atrocities which sprang from it (mentioned them in a prior post, in fact).

But, when you avoid ideas or theories, or general science, based on the fact that previous misuse might lead to uncomfortable feelings, you may very well prevent people from obtaining valuable knowledge which may improve - even save lives.

Let me throw a what-if. out. Talking of blacks and police violence as a specific example. I have read of several studies showing police of any race are more likely to use force and/or shoot a black person. I have also read an analysis concluding that Black police officers are more likely to use force. Now it is fairly obvious why someone would wish to avoid talking about this. Some would choose to imply that black people are more violent (genetically inferior/savages/...). Others would fear someone might think they are implying this.

But what if, for some genetic (less likely), epigenetic or genetic memory reason, Black Americans are genetically more aggressive? To be clear aggressiveness is NOT a negative trait. Aggressiveness is a key trait for success in any extroverted fields of endeavor. Acting, performing, sports, business, sales, politics,... Aggressiveness - reaching for the stars significantly aids in success. Yes, there can be negative consequences  depending on when, where and how aggressiveness is applied. That is true of almost every good thing.

Now, what if, knowing this is a common trait, people (especially law enforcement in this case) are trained with specific techniques allowing for the avoidance of triggers - just like my acquaintance avoiding alcohol? What if?

But, we don't know 'what if'. We are afraid of offending someone, or of giving some idiot ammunition to support his racist rhetoric. In essence we choose to remain ignorant and suffer the resulting consequences because of the stupid, or because of a fear of being labeled as not PC, or ignorant, or immature.

Our company brought in some personality expert to do a personality interaction training. Based on our answers two a battery of questions, a color wheel was filled out which to a certain degree identified our personality - how we would likely behave in certain conditions. Many people have kept their result on their desk. One of the HR guys commented to me how much he likes that. When he goes to talk to someone, he can glance at their color wheel and tailor his conversation to them. His specific example was that one pattern favors small talk, so he initiates conversations with them by asking about family, friends, etc... (that is his pattern by the way).  Another pattern hates small talk, and prefers quick concise information, so for them he get right down to business. The result for him are his interactions are almost always perceived positively.

Political Correctness - Word policing, thought policing can be very detrimental to this.Fear of words, of ideas, because they have a checkered past, or because they are vaguely related to some bad event... very.... counterproductive.

Health adventures: Just when you thought it was over...

So after years of dealing with abdominal pain, thinking it was Crohn's, dealing with side effects of Crohn's medication, and not really getting significant relief from symptoms. We finally chased my problem down to a physical manifestation of anxiety disorder. I was put on  Lexapro and voila! symptoms gone! I was feeling better, I was starting to regain physical fitness. My wife noted that I was less wound up... all was good, well minor side effects; a little more insomnia than normal for me (which was hardly a blip, since I was always pretty bad there), and an unpleasant cotton-headedness - just a kind of dull ringing sound in the background, and a sort of... fuzzy brain... Not pleasant, but livable.

Then, months later, another side-effect popped up. They call it SSRI induced apathy. I started reading up on it, after I became suspicious of a behavior change which started several months ago. First, I found myself really struggling to do... stuff. Anything really from work around the house to work at work. Even if it was something I wanted to do... I'd find myself sitting there and hour or two later, still not doing it. The real shocker, which got me to start doing research is when in the course of two months I ran up an absurd credit card debt. I mean BAD debt! Just a snap of the fingers.

I have always been very cautions about credit card debt. Since about 2000, when I recovered from the debt which resulted from illness (probably also anxiety induce, in retrospect). I have adamantly refused to carry a credit card balance. Then, as if overnight, boom!

Now, it isn't the end of thew world. It won't require bankruptcy or selling our house or children to resolve, but it will require some belt tightening.

Next week I go to talk to the Dr. about alternatives - Several professional journals recommond 3 options; 1) Lower the dose of the SSRI (already onthe lowest dose). 2) Augment with Buproprion (a little nervous about adding a drug to remedy the effects of a drug. Also the recommendation is based on anecdotal evidence rather then a full study.). 3) Switch to an SNRI (a whole new world of side effects to discover. hooray! :) ) Related to the last alternate were several anecdotals of successful treatment with a very low, regular dose of Tramadol, which is an opioid that appears to have some SNRI behavior. That is an interesting alternative to consider, lower side effect risk etc, but concerns about addiction. Not sure if it would be permitted as a treatment in the US either.

At any rate, it continues to be an adventure. But a goo lesson learned as well. Don't be too quick to judge people for the choices they make. In some cases, they may not have had full, conscious control of those choices. It also makes think a bit differently about the concept of possession in scriptural stories, and medieval history.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Let Me Tell You About a Most Amazing Woman.

Let me tell you about a most amazing woman. There is this woman I know, who decided to marry this guy, even though it meant she would have to move almost a thousand miles from her friends, her family her burgeoning career (which undoubtedly would have been wildly successful, and lucrative), to a culture very different from the one she was accustomed to.

Then mere weeks before they were to marry, she drove through the night to be with him, after he was involved in a life threatening accident. She began preparing herself to marry a potential invalid, with all the sacrifices that would entail. Fortunately he recovered, but not before the wedding, so she sacrificed much of what she had dreamed her wedding to be.

Then she sacrificed again by taking on greater home burdens as, late in life, he returned to school to finish a degree, the result of which was no change in position or compensation (she did not complain).

And now she sacrifices clothes for her, make-up for her, fun for her... to instead by food and snacks for her kids, and for all their friends. She sacrifices her time every week to participate in PTA, to go to school and help out in her children's classrooms, and sometimes in classrooms where none of her children are present, because nobody else has volunteered.

She loves the children in the neighborhood, and is a second mom to many, always ready to be a friend, adviser, and confidant.

This woman, my wife. is truly amazing. Happy Anniversary my love.