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Archive for August 12th, 2017

Good explanation: The Charlottesville protests are white fragility in action

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Vox sort of specializes in explanations, and this one by German Lopez sheds light on the causes of what we’re seeing in Charlottesville.

A lot of white men are marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, chanting slogans like “white lives matter” and “you will not replace us.” The rally suggests that white men are the real victims of the American political climate, due to plans to tear down Confederate monuments — symbols of white supremacy and racism — in the Southern city.

The reality, of course, is white men have dominated America throughout its history. White Americans beat their black and Latino counterparts in terms of wealthincome, and educational attainment. All US presidents but one have been white men, and the current Congress — supposedly the most diverse in history — remains dominated by white and male legislators.

So what’s going on here?

One concept to explain this is “white fragility.” Robin DiAngelo, who studies race at Westfield State University, described this phenomenon in a groundbreaking 2011 paper:

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.

DiAngelo’s paper explained that white Americans have a range of “triggers” that can make them defensive about race, from suggestions that a person’s viewpoint is racialized to the rise of people of color into prominent leadership positions. All the triggers she listed were present in the past year — through the presidency of Barack Obama, President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric, and Black Lives Matter protests against the dominance of white privilege.

Consider how often throughout the 2016 election people would respond to even the slightest suggestion of racism, whether in media or everyday life, with immediate vitriol, disdain, or dismissal. This, DiAngelo argued, is a defense mechanism to confronting questions about privilege. And it makes it difficult to have a reasonable conversation about race, effectively perpetuating a status quo favorable to white Americans by averting discussions about how to change the existing circumstances.

DiAngelo offered a telling example, from an anti-racism training session she facilitated:

One of the white participants left the session and went back to her desk, upset at receiving (what appeared to the training team as) sensitive and diplomatic feedback on how some of her statements had impacted several people of color in the room. At break, several other white participants approached us (the trainers) and reported that they had talked to the woman at her desk, and she was very upset that her statements had been challenged. They wanted to alert us to the fact that she literally “might be having a heart-attack.” Upon questioning from us, they clarified that they meant this literally. These co-workers were sincere in their fear that the young woman might actually physically die as a result of the feedback. Of course, when news of the woman’s potentially fatal condition reached the rest of the participant group, all attention was immediately focused back onto her and away from the impact she had had on the people of color.

This illustrates just how defensive people can get in the face of accusations of racism:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2017 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

Can marijuana rescue coal country?

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The issue is health, not jobs. Marijuana, essentially harmless, can substitute for opioids, highly addictive and frequently deadly.

Mark Lynn Ferguson reports in the Washington Post:

Johnsie Gooslin spent Jan. 16, 2015, tending his babies — that’s what he called his marijuana plants. More than 70 of them were growing in a hydroponic system of his own design. Sometimes, he’d stay in his barn for 16 hours straight, perfecting his technique.

That night, he left around 8 o’clock to head home. The moon was waning, down to a sliver, which left the sky as dark as the ridges that lined it. As he pulled away, the lights from his late-model Kia swept across his childhood hollow and his parents’ trailer, which stood just up the road from the barn. He turned onto West Virginia Route 65. Crossing Mingo County, he passed the Delbarton Mine, where he had worked on and off for 14 years before his back gave out. Though Johnsie was built like a linebacker, falling once from a coal truck and twice from end loaders had taken a toll. At 36, his disks were a mess, and sciatica sometimes shot pain to his knees.

Still, he managed to lift the buckets that held his plants; friends sometimes helped. In another part of the barn, they had set up a man cave with a big-screen TV and girlie posters. When they weren’t transplanting and trimming, they played video games and discussed their passion for cultivating pot. None of them had studied marijuana like Johnsie, but they all loved growing, seeing it not just as a hobby or a way to make a buck but as an act of compassion.

“Mostly the people that bought were older men and women, Vietnam veterans and people that’s been hurt,” Johnsie told me. “I mean, to hear them say, ‘You know, ever since I started smoking your pot, I ain’t touched a pain pill … ” He trailed off, shaking his head, but it was clear what he meant. In a state with one of the nation’s highest rates of overdose deaths, most of them opioid-related, it felt good to give people an alternative, one that even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said this year has never caused an overdose fatality.

Minutes after leaving the barn, Johnsie parked in the light of his own trailer, a newly remodeled 14-by-60 that he shared with his wife, Faye, and 14-year-old daughter Bethany. His phone rang. It was a neighbor from Rutherford Branch Road, where the barn stood. Cops were there, asking about him.

Inside, Johnsie dialed his mother. Two officers, she told him, were standing in her living room. She handed the phone to one of them. Though he didn’t have a search warrant for the barn, the officer said he could get one, according to Johnsie. “But,” he said, “I think it would be better if you come and talk to me first.” (This account is based largely on Johnsie’s recollection. Neither arresting officer was permitted to be interviewed for this story, but it is consistent with a description of Johnsie’s case in the 2015 West Virginia State Police Annual Report.)

Johnsie hung up. He’d placed cameras around his building and vented it out the back, but people were packed tight into that narrow hollow. It was only a matter of time before someone figured out what was inside. Turning to his wife, he said, “Look, I’m going up there, and I’m going to jail.”

With Skoal tobacco, his one chemical vice, pressed tightly against his cheek, Johnsie drove back to Rutherford Branch Road, where officers met him outside. “It’s like this. I got your dad. I got a lot of pot on him,” Senior Trooper D.L. Contos told him. This was no surprise. Sam Gooslin had smoked pot for decades, and half of Johnsie’s pot went to him. His dad relied on it to ease pain from lung cancer, a new ailment layered atop others — diabetes, a stroke, four heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“He’s a Vietnam veteran,” Johnsie recalls Contos saying. “I respect that. I don’t want to see a veteran go to jail. If you make me go get a search warrant, I’m taking you to jail, and I’m gonna get your dad on felony conspiracy charges because he’s taking the blame on what’s going on up there.”

Johnsie had only one option. He crossed the road and unlocked the barn, opening a series of doors to release a flood of light. The officers paused. One said he had busted hundreds of marijuana operations and had never seen anything like this. For the next two hours, Johnsie walked the officers through his process. He explained the role of the lights and hydroponics; why he placed three plants in a bucket, not one; how he used gibberellic acid to push the plants at just the right time. At the end, he recalls Contos telling him they had to seize his plants, but, referring to Johnsie’s equipment and supplies, he said, “I’m not going to take it away. One day, this might be legal.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2017 at 3:18 pm

Therapeutic psychedelics

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Timothy Leary experimented with using LSD with prisoners (one-on-one) in an effort to reduce recidivism by allowing for a shaking up and reshaping of the personality. As I recall, he had some success.

That was brought to mind by two interesting articles this morning on psychedelics:

Model hallucinations: Psychedelics have a remarkable capacity to violate our ideas about ourselves. Is that why they make people better?” by Phillip Gerens, a professor of philosophy at the University of Adelaide in Australia and an associate of the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences in Geneva, Switzerland.

The foundation of Western philosophy is probably rooted in psychedelics” by Olivia Goldhill.

The first of the two articles begins:

Psychedelic drugs are making a psychiatric comeback. After a lull of half a century, researchers are once again investigating the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’) and LSD. It turns out that the hippies were on to something. There’s mounting evidence that psychedelic experiences can be genuinely transformative, especially for people suffering from intractable anxiety, depression and addiction. ‘It is simply unprecedented in psychiatry that a single dose of a medicine produces these kinds of dramatic and enduring results,’ Stephen Ross, the clinical director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction, told Scientific American in 2016.

Just what do these drugs do? Psychedelics reliably induce an altered state of consciousness known as ‘ego dissolution’. The term was invented, well before the tools of contemporary neuroscience became available, to describe sensations of self-transcendence: a feeling in which the mind is put in touch more directly and intensely with the world, producing a profound sense of connection and boundlessness.

How does all this help those with long-term psychiatric disorders? The truth is that no one quite knows how psychedelic therapy works. Some point to a lack of knowledge about the brain, but this is a half-truth. We actually know quite a lot about the neurochemistry of psychedelics. These drugs bind to a specific type of serotonin receptor in the brain (the 5-HT2A receptor), which precipitates a complex cascade of electrochemical signalling. What we don’t really understand, though, is the more complex relationship between the brain, the self and its world. Where does the subjective experience of being a person come from, and how is it related to the brute matter that we’re made of?

It’s here that we encounter a last frontier, metaphysically and medically. Some think the self is a real entity or phenomenon, implemented in neural processes, whose nature is gradually being revealed to us. Others say that cognitive science confirms the arguments of philosophers East and West that the self does not exist. The good news is that the mysteries of psychedelic therapy might be a hidden opportunity to finally start unravelling the controversy.

he nature of the self has been disputed for as long as people have reflected on their existence. Recent neuroscientific theories of selfhood are recognisably descended from venerable philosophical positions. For example, René Descartes argued that the self was an immaterial soul whose vicissitudes we encounter as thoughts and sensations. He thought the existence of this enduring self was the only certainty delivered by our (otherwise untrustworthy) experience.

Few neuroscientists still believe in an immaterial soul. Yet many follow Descartes in claiming that conscious experience involves awareness of a ‘thinking thing’: the self. There is an emerging consensus that such self-awareness is actually a form of bodily awareness, produced (at least in part) by interoception, our ability to monitor and detect autonomic and visceral processes. For example, the feeling of an elevated heart rate can provide information to the embodied organism that it is in a dangerous or difficult situation.

David Hume disagreed with Descartes. When he attended closely to his own subjectivity, he claimed to find not a self, but a mere stream of experiences. We incorrectly infer the existence of an underlying entity from this flow of experiential moments, Hume said. The modern version of this view is that we have perceptual, cognitive, sensory and, yes, bodily experiences – but that is all. There’s an almost irresistible temptation to attribute all this to an underlying self. But this substantialist interpretation is a Cartesian mistake, according to Hume.

Certain modern philosophers, such as Thomas Metzinger, have endorsed versions of this ‘no-self’ view. They point to connections with non-Western traditions, such as the concept of anatta or no-self in Theravada Buddhism. Narrative theorists of the self adopt a similar interpretation. They argue that the mistake is to think that because we use ‘I’ to tell a story about experience, there must be a real ‘I’, distinct from and underlying the narrative we use to interpret and communicate the stream of experience.

Today there are neuroBuddhists, neuroCartesians and neuroHumeans all over the world, filling PowerPoint screens with images of fMRI scans supposedly congenial to their theory. Abnormal cognitive conditions, pathological or otherwise, serve as a crucial source of evidence in these debates, because they offer the chance to look at the self when it is not working ‘properly’. Data floods in but consensus remains elusive. However, the emerging neuroscience of psychedelics may help resolve this impasse. For the first time ever, scientists are in a position to watch the sense of self disintegrate and reintegrate – reliably, repeatedly and safely, in the neuroimaging scanner.

Before we can properly explain the implications of this research, we need to bring in two important ideas from cognitive neuroscience. The first is the notion of cognitive binding. This refers to the integration of representational parts into representational wholes by the brain. If you’re standing in the middle of the road with a bus coming towards you, the colour, shape and position of the bus are all being registered in different areas of your visual cortex. For your sake, your brain needs to ‘bind’ the right parts into the right wholes – and not, say, to combine the shape and location of the bus with the speed of the cyclist on the pavement. Fortunately, most of the time our brains manage to get it right (although experimental studies and pathologies show that they can get it wrong). But the question of how they do this – the so-called ‘binding problem’ – remains unresolved.

A possible solution comes from the predictive processing theory of cognition, the second set of principles we need to introduce. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2017 at 9:55 am

Finishing a week of comfortable, close shaves with Eufros and the RazoRock Old Type

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The Mühle brush shown has a large knot, and I didn’t load it quite long enough, but still I managed a comfortable shave. Jabonman’s Eufros is a good soap, and the rose fragrance of this one is quite nice.

RazoRock’s Old Type is a fine razor, though I don’t think it currently has the handle shown, which was on the first models. Like the other razors of the week, this one is very comfortable and very efficient and also modestly priced: $15.

Three passes, smooth result with no problems, and then a splash of D.R. Harris Pink After Shave: a great way to start the weekend.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2017 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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