Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category
Stop that meme! Seriously. This quirk costs us all. And it can easily be interrupted because performance appraisals can be vetted and people retrained—“yes, this was the old way we did things here, but now we do things this way.” It will catch on because it can be monitored and reinforced. But that cultural shift is within the boundaries of the organization—it doesn’t transfer readily to other organizations. It’s not contagious, it seems.
Interesting article. And the Old South’s cultural weaknesses, from colonial times to the present day, includes inflated notions of “honor” (honor, in that cultural view, being perfectly compatible with owning slaves: the rise of the double standards of the Southern outlook). This folly has long been noted: Mark Twain clearly identified Southern culture and its weaknesses and put the blame on the novels of Sir Walter Scott for creating a kind of romantic fantasy, one that the Old South attempted to emulate. (See below fro quotation from Life on the Mississippi.)
From the article at the link above:
In Albion’s Seed, historian David Hackett Fischer argues that honor culture arose among the herding societies that populated the border region between England and Scotland. The region’s frequent wars led to political instability and the lack of a strong criminal justice system, and the result was strong norms in favor of private vengeance and self-protection. Furthermore, as Nisbett and Cohen emphasize in their work, poor farming conditions led these regions to be dominated by herders, and the mobile nature of a herder’s property—a flock rather than a field—often required more forceful protection and a reputation for retaliation. Ultimately, colonists from these “borderlands” settled in what would become the Southern states, and they brought their cultural norms with them. [The article includes other theories about the origins of the cultural value of "honor." - LG]
It occurs to me that the Old South has (duh) two distinct cultures regarding honor, because quite obviously the honor culture of the Southern whites was not an option for their slaves: a slave quick to take offense at any perceived slight or insult would not last long, I imagine. So two distinct cultures (at least) emerge: that of the slaves and that of the slave-owners.
When I was a very young boy my grandmother read and told me lots of Uncle Remus stories, and I suddenly realized that these stories are all about avoiding direct conflict, which Brer Rabbit (or a slave) would be sure to lose. Instead, Brer Rabbit, clever and alert, outwits Brer Bear (brute power and a slow intellect, possibly how plantation owners were viewed by their slaves) and Brer Fox (smarter and more dangerous, but also to be outwitted rather than outfought). And it should be noted that on one occasion Brer Rabbit did indeed show the kind of sensitivity to slights that is an earmark of honor culture, he got into serious trouble. That’s the story of the Tar Baby, which refused to respond to Brer Rabbit’s friendly greetings and so at first enraged and then trapped him. Having fallen in the clutches of his enemies by showing aspects of honor culture, Brer Rabbit is able to escape only by falling back on his wits, using practical psychology: “Brer Fox, do anything with me you like, but please don’t fling me into that briar patch. Please don’t do that.” etc.
Stories like this define and teach the cultural values of the storytellers. Such stories are children’s stories, because cultural values must be taught to children at an early age. (And I just realized that “Brer” is not pronounced to rhyme with “there,” as I’ve always read it, but is pronounced “BRUH-er,” eliding the “th” in “Brother.” That’s why it’s sometimes spelled with an apostrophe to mark the elision: “Br’er.”)
AND, it just occurs to me, Uncle Remus is a former slave telling these stories to a young white boy, son of the plantation owner, thus teaching the boy values subversive of the honor culture. A battle of memes, for sure. And the battle goes both directions: certainly there are black populations that now have embraced the honor culture. UPDATE: I just found this interesting post on this view of Uncle Remus, which notes:
Uncle Remus, a former slave, tells stories involving Brer Rabbit and the other critters to a little white boy after the Civil War. The Brer Rabbit stories are, for the most part, versions of African-American folk tales that Harris collected. Harris created the characters Uncle Remus and the little boy to serve as a narrative frame.
Also still UPDATE: I just discovered that Amazon has several Uncle Remus collections by Joel Chandler Harris free for the Kindle.
But I imagine there are libraries full of volumes about black culture and how it developed. So I’m very late to this party. But it’s clear that the culture Fischer describes is a white culture. (And, BTW, I cannot recommend highly enough his book Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. Anyone who reads history should read that.)
Update: Of course, the very best study of honor culture is Don Quixote. Don Quixote himself personifies the devotion to honor, the sensitivity to slights, the readiness to fight physically to defend abstract notions, that bedevil honor culture.
I have seen quite a bit of harsh condemnation of Robin Williams for committing suicide. I don’t understand how those condemning him can be so full-throated in calling him a “coward,” “selfish,” and so on, but I would guess that they are projecting onto him things they hate and/or fear in themselves—that is, the condemnation is much more about those expressing it than about Robin Williams (whom, oddly, none of those making the judgments seem to be in fact closely acquainted with—indeed, many have never even met the man).
I thought this brief article by Lenny Bernstein, Lena H. Sun and Sandhya Somashekhar in the Washington Post offers a good look at how suicide happens—and also documents the increasing number of suicides in the US. The graphs in the article are sobering.
Ripples in the psychological/social continuum. Physicality and memes interacting once more: physical changes but also cultural changes (i.e., meme changes, including one’s self, composed of memes).
Shepard Smith of Fox News, in reporting the suicide of Robin Williams:
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.
Shepard Smith, like virtually everyone on Fox News, has no idea on earth what he is talking about. The notion that only cowards suffer from overwhelming depression is just plain stupid.
A more informed report from Dean Burnett in The Guardian includes this passage (emphasis added):
Depression, the clinical condition, could really use a different name. At present, the word “depressed” can be applied to both people who are a bit miserable and those with a genuine debilitating mood disorder. Ergo, it seems people are often very quick to dismiss depression as a minor, trivial concern. After all, everyone gets depressed now and again, don’t they? Don’t know why these people are complaining so much.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; dismissing the concerns of a genuine depression sufferer on the grounds that you’ve been miserable and got over it is like dismissing the issues faced by someone who’s had to have their arm amputated because you once had a paper cut and it didn’t bother you. Depression is a genuine debilitating condition, and being in “a bit of a funk” isn’t. The fact that mental illness doesn’t receive the same sympathy/acknowledgement as physical illness is often referenced, and it’s a valid point. If you haven’t had it, you don’t have the right to dismiss those who have/do. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative, but there are decades’ worth of evidence saying you’re wrong.
Depression doesn’t discriminate
How, many seem to wonder, could someone with so much going for them, possibly feel depressed to the point of suicide? With all the money/fame/family/success they have, to be depressed makes no sense?
Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of logic to this. But, and this is important, depression (like all mental illnesses) typically doesn’t take personal factors into account. Mental illness can affect anyone. We’ve all heard of the“madness” of King George III; if mental illness won’t spare someone who, at the time, was one of the most powerful well-bred humans alive, why would it spare someone just because they have a film career?
Granted, those with worse lives are probably going to be exposed to the greater number of risk factors for depression, but that doesn’t mean those with reduced likelihood of exposure to hardships or tragic events are immune. Smoking may be a major cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers can end up with it. And a person’s lifestyle doesn’t automatically reduce their suffering. Depression doesn’t work like that. And even if it did, where’s the cut-off point? Who would we consider “too successful” to be ill?
Kevin Drum has a good post, with a graph of the data, on the influence of childhood lead exposure on subsequent teen-age pregnancies. From the post:
Jessica Wolpaw Reyes has a new paper out that investigates the link between childhood lead exposure and violent crime. Unsurprisingly, since her previous research has shown a strong link, she finds a strong link again. But she also finds something else: a strong link between lead and teen pregnancy.
This is not a brand new finding. Rick Nevin’s very first paper about lead and crimewas actually about both crime and teen pregnancy, and he found strong correlations for both at the national level. Reyes, however, goes a step further. It turns out that different states adopted unleaded gasoline at different rates, which allows Reyes to conduct a natural experiment. If lead exposure really does cause higher rates of teen pregnancy, then you’d expect states with the lowest levels of leaded gasoline to also have the lowest levels of teen pregnancy 15 years later. And guess what? They do. The chart on the right shows the correlation between gasoline lead exposure and later rates of teen pregnancy, and it’s very strong. Stronger even than the correlation with violent crime.
None of this should come as a surprise. The neurological basis for the lead-crime theory suggests that childhood lead exposure affects parts of the brain that have to do with judgment, impulse control, and executive functions. This means that lead exposure is likely to be associated not just with violent crime, but with juvenile misbehavior, drug use, teen pregnancy, and other risky behaviors. And that turns out to be the case. Reyes finds correlations with behavioral problems starting at a young age; teen pregnancy; and violent crime rates among older children.
. . .We were poisoning our children with a well-known neurotoxin, and this toxin lowered their IQs, made them into fidgety kids, wrecked their educations, and then turned them into juvenile delinquents, teen mothers, and violent criminals. When we got rid of the toxin, all of these problems magically started to decline.
Read the whole thing and contemplate the graph.