Category Archives: Psychology

Of labels and classifications

“A young black man walks into a store…”

Why does he have to be black, or white or Asian or Hispanic or…? Why can’t he just be a young man who walks into a store? Why do we have to label people?

Why does he have to be young? How about “A man walks into a store…”

Even that sentence has classified our protagonist. Why does it have to be a man?

“A human walks into a store…” What? Now we’re prejudice against animals?

“A sentient being walks into a store…” Whoops, we’ve got still one more bias to eliminate — walking.

“A sentient being enters a store…” There. Now we’ve eliminated our biases. Well, most of them… Sentience? Is that a bias? Are we favoring beings that can think? Or move?

My point here is that biases, prejudices, labels and classifications are required — at some level. But where do we draw the line? At what point do our bias-agnostic intentions become absurd? Surely there are divisions that make sense. But what are they?

So far in this simple exercise we’ve reduced our biases to the absurd. But what if we expand them further? “A shirtless, mentally handicapped young black man with one arm, who hasn’t eaten for days, stumbles into a store…” As a story teller, perhaps this description fits our needs.

But as a reporter — explaining a robbery — perhaps such a sentence crosses into bigotry. Should a reporter call out the race, age, gender or disability of the accused? Under what context does information descend into prejudice? Should we try and refrain from attaching labels to people when we describe events and situations?

I personally would like to, and in fact, try to avoid race, religion or culture anytime I describe someone. To me a person is just a person. It’s hard mind you. And I slip, often. But to me it’s a worthy effort to change the way I label or classify people.


Wealthy dream of wealth?

When I dream I dream poor, struggling and oppressed. I’m floundering in some quagmire or combating assailants who are set to deride and abuse me. Not always mind you, but mostly.

I never dream I’m powerful. Or privileged. Or special in anyway.

Do the wealthy dream they are wealthy? Haughty and elite? Do they strut around in their dreams giving orders expecting them to be obeyed? “Remove that filthy animal from my sight — at ONCE!” “I would never be seen wearing THOSE shoes…” “Is it possible for me to get ONE GOD DAMNED SLICE OF CAVIAR TOAST WITHOUT SOMEONE SPITTING ON IT?!”

People’s life stations must surely influence their dreams. Their environment providing the context of who they see themselves as when they dream.

Or does media, their reading, their daytime dreams and hopes influence them more? “I vow to be the best TSA Agent in the airport today!” And then dream of foiling a bombing attempt…

I never seem to dream of success. There’s always contention with my efforts in my dreams. You? Do you dream of a life of luxury and ease? Or what?


Wag the Dog

The election of The Drumpf may prove to be an excellent lesson for everyone in the manipulation of attention and persuasion of an audience.

There’s no doubt that that The Drumpf personifies the intentional overt molding of the media. He knows how to play the media against itself. He knows how to divert focus from sensitive areas that might expose his nefarious activities to sensationalized, fabricated scandals that tear at our sense of decorum and virtue, that incite our moral outrage.

We would do well to analyze and master this man’s capabilities.

Wag the Dog is a 1997 film which illustrates how misdirection of the media can sway and cajole the populace into ignoring true scandal within an administration and instead adopt a false but compelling alter-narrative.

The Drumpf is master at this. It is odd however, that he — the dog — would be wagging himself. That is, the phrase “wag the dog” implies that it is the tail of the dog that is in control, and not the dog itself. On second thought, The Drumpf may indeed NOT be in control but is being directed by his minions. Rasputin whispering in the Tsar’s ear.

The lesson here is to both learn the craft of intentional misdirection, AND, to learn when to recognize it and to stay the course of investigation of the dog itself.


Complexic

We live in a world of opposites, black and white, up and down, in and out, over and under, but with an infinite array of variations between. Grey, the blending of black and white on a continuum of scale, is the perfect example. Things are rarely black or white, but grey.

What about simple vs complex? Is everything a mixture of the two? Something is rarely only simple just as it might be singularly complex. Or more accurately, something simple to you might be complex to me.

There’s a word we hear often which many people use incorrectly: simplistic. Often when people call something or some process ‘simplistic’ what they are generally applying is that they thing the subject is simple — to them. Simplistic is much more insidious. Its origins are strange, having to do with plants, but today, simplistic generally means that you’ve assigned a theory or answer that OVER simplifies the solution; so much so that that your solution is now wrong, or at least incorrect on certain levels.

I think of simplistic as ‘simplifying to the point of error.”

Today, as I thought on this for no other reason than my mind does such things at times, I thought that everyone’s interpretation of the world — everything in the world — contained a degree of simplistic reasoning. To make our way in the world we must assume much. It’s just the way it is. We assume carrots are good to eat and most people’s assumptions about that would be simplistic. When we think we know something we undoubtedly only know some of it, rarely if ever *all* of it.  At some point our understanding of a thing will drift into the simplistic realm.

As I contemplated this I imagined the opposite of this. If a thing had so much white in it and so much black then it was grey. If we think of white as simplistic treatment, what would be the black side? I went searching. Nothing came up. So I dreamed up a new word: Complexic.

If simplistic meant simplified to the point of error then complexic might mean complex to the point of perfect understanding.

If the world if full of opposites, simple to complex, and our understandings of the world fall on a continuation between those two, at some point our knowledge or beliefs shift from simplistic to simple to complex to complexic. That is:

  • Our understanding is primitive to the point of being wrong.
  • Our understanding is simple but not wrongly so.
  • Our understanding is thorough, absorbing the complexity of a subject to where we generally understand it quite fully.
  • Our understanding is so complete that, for this topic, we’ve reached what we might call a topical nirvana, masters of the subject.

Do you have a complexic understanding of something or some process in the world?


Self-organizing cabinet

How do you build a cabinet when you have no idea how to build a cabinet?

  1. Select the 10 most intelligent people you know.
  2. Have each of those 10 select 10 additional people.
  3. You now have between 50 and 110 people (hopefully many will be duplicates).
  4. Each person will be ranked by a composite factor of experience and education.
  5. Take the top N x 2 people (if you need 20 cabinet members, 20 x 2 = 40).
  6. Keep the remainder as alternates.
  7. Put all the selectees into a room and ask them to interview each other.
  8. Have each selectee rank everyone, but themselves, according to the N jobs that are to be filled.
  9. Compile this list into a single ranked sequence, per job.
  10. Take the top person ranked per job. Jobs will have to be ranked themselves (secretary of state is more important than liaison to the UN, etc.) so that if you have the same person picked for multiple jobs they can be assigned to the most important job.

Done

Pretty much the group picked and organized the group. This nearly guarantees an accord among them, with the ability to get work done rather than mire in contention over every little thing.

 

 


Your brain on narrative

Our emotive selves both drive and are driven by hormones. Feeling stress? Cortisol leaks into your system. On a roller-coaster? Adrenaline injections. Laughing at a joke or feeling comfy at home, here’s a little serotonin. Holding your child, or staring into the eyes of your lover, bloop, here’s a drop of oxytocin. Just completed a puzzle or a project — how about some dopamine. Eat some hot chili peppers? Zip, have some endorphins.

There are lots of ways our bodies react hormonally to our actions, our interpretations of the world, and the influences of those around us. But how about when we read?

If you’re reading a scary novel, are you nervous? Adrenaline activated? Cortisol coursing? What if you’re reading a love scene and you’re turned on? Serotonin sips and some oxytocin offerings? If you read about a major success by a character, they just completed a race or won an election or found their father after a long search — dopamine drip?

My point is, wouldn’t it be natural for us to involve our body’s chemical responses to our reactions and attachments in narrative reading? Whether fiction or non-fiction, if we get attached to characters, if we invest ourselves in their plights, their glories, their failures, won’t we also get the added bonus of hormone release when important events occur within the story?

And just as obvious — if you are NOT getting these jolts of emotion driven by your brain and body’s reaction to what you’re reading — is this a sign that the story lacks in some way?

Is this what we as readers are looking for when we crack open a new book? Can we get that tiny teasing hit of drugs when we read the first five pages or so? Should we expect such a reaction? And what happens halfway through the book when the story ceases to enliven our emotive selves? Do we quit reading?

With this in mind, I suppose, as authors, we should be intentionally striving to write scenes which evoke reaction. Disgust, dejection, elation, adoration, bereavement, triumph — all of these and hundreds more — can keep readers reading. Keep readers addicted to the drugs their bodies are producing when they read our stories.


Social messages = cocaine

“Ding!”

“Deedle, deedle, deedle”

“Beedleleep!”

Oh goody! I just got a text, sms, email, voicemail, facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, flashvote… ANNDDDDD I got a tiny shot of endorphin too! Or maybe a itty bitty boost of dopamine, or serotonin. Yummy! Do it again! Do it again!

Hmmmmfff.

Won’t SOMEBODY pay attention to me?

“Ding!”

Oh, yeay!

Is social messaging delivering our chemical highs these days? Instead of smoking crack, snorting coke, poppin’ pills, going for a long run, or diving into some great sex, are we all addicted to the tiny boosts of pleasure hormones we get when we see or hear our phones signal “hey, somebody reached out and touched you,”metaphorically speaking?

I posit that that is indeed the case. I bet we get a little boost of happy brain juice every time we see the numbers on our retweets or facebook notifications climb ever upward. They might be nothing but bots or trolls, but just to see those little red flags, dink, dink, dink up the number scale is enough to lift us out of our funk and twist the drip knob on our digital morphine IV ever the more open.

Turn that thing off and put that phone in a drawer!

What? Are you crazy? I’ll go into a detox fit!

No you won’t. Just try it. Just put it away for a weekend. I assure you, when you turn it back on Monday morning, you will have found you didn’t miss all those deedle dees at all.