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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Turn Off the Gaslight: Manipulation through mindgames

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Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in California and professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg and author of numerous books, writes in Aeon:

‘He didn’t mean anything by it, stop making such a big deal out of it.’

‘Here, let me take care of it, you don’t know what you are doing.’

‘You’re too sensitive.’

‘Stop overreacting.’

‘You keep imagining things.’

‘That’s not how it happened.’

‘Your memory seems to be slipping.’

Such comments undermine our trust in ourselves and our belief in what we know. More than that, they trespass on our sense of identity. The more we hear such phrases, the more we stop trusting ourselves. When another person becomes a gatekeeper to our reality, then we’re in a precarious spot – vulnerable to further manipulation and control. This reality-doubting is called ‘gaslighting’.

As a psychologist in practice, I often see my role as the person who turns off the gaslights. I work with survivors of relationships with high-conflict, antagonistic, rigid, entitled, dysregulated people. These might be their partners, parents, adult children, siblings or colleagues. Once we remove the gaslight, and the house lights come on, my clients recognise that this one difficult person in their lives was the tip of a dysfunctional iceberg.

The term gaslighting derives from theatre and film. Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light (1938) was adapted as the British film Gaslight in 1940 and the American classic of the same name in 1944. To this day, Gaslight, a reference to the flickering gaslights featured in the drama, remains a masterclass on how one predatory partner captivates and then slowly undermines the other.

The play and films introduced the term ‘gaslighting’ into our vernacular to refer to a specific type of manipulation – one in which a person’s reality itself is hijacked by another. This can also be manifested by minimisation, deflection, denial and coercive control. The term is now ubiquitous, and we apply it not just to close relationships but also to any reality-bending that is generated by institutions, media and leaders. The genius of the films was to remind us that gaslighting is actually a grooming process, not just a singular event. It’s a process of establishing and then exploiting trust and authority to achieve an endgame of control and dominance.

The backstory (spoiler alert) is the murder of a famed London opera singer. The murderer fails to leave with the jewels he’s come for because he’s interrupted by the victim’s niece, Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman). Years pass, and Paula meets Gregory (Charles Boyer), who unbeknown to her is the murderer. They marry after a quick courtship, and he insists on moving back to the house where the murder occurred, slowly manipulating her reality, including the flickering lights, all with the intent of retrieving the jewels, at last.

In Gaslight, we witness the architecture of abusive relationships. These are relationships that proceed too quickly, too intensely – ‘she was swept off her feet’. Paula was primed to miss the red flags because she’d endured the traumatic loss of her beloved aunt and, upon returning to London, was living in a space associated with grief. Gaslight also shows us the danger of romanticising behaviours such as showing up out of nowhere and surprising a new partner, of insisting on spending time with her alone and creating their own little world together, which can be harbingers of more insidious abusive relationship dynamics such as stalking and isolation. The relationship creates a dynamic in which it is simpler and safer for Paula to doubt herself than to question him.

Atherapist bears witness and validates the pain of her clients, hoping to engender insight, change, and the ability to steer one’s own life. I have spent decades turning off the gaslights that flicker and glow in my client’s lives. They experienced the denial of childhood trauma by parents and family, or the invalidation of controlling spouses who acted as judge and jury on their emotional states. My clients have been told by another person or persons how they feel for so long that they no longer feel able to identify their own emotions. To work with clients being gaslighted means dismantling childhood and religious teachings, societal frameworks and cultural codes of conduct. Year after year, I listen to stories of ‘wonderful’ childhoods that devolve into a Eugene O’Neill play under the harsh glare of sunlight and therapeutic interpretation.

Where this struck me most was in working with clients who have endured gaslighted marriages for 20 years or longer. (My specific focus is in an area called narcissistic abuse, a phenomenon whereby people become riddled with self-doubt, anxiety and confusion after being in a relationship with an unempathic, entitled, arrogant, egocentric, manipulative partner, family member or other individual.) These were marriages littered with a range of patterns including control, infidelity, a malignant neglect, deceit, an adult life spent having their realities and voices erased.

There was the moment in therapy, when the word ‘abuse’ would come out of my mouth, and the reactions were almost universal:

‘Abuse, no, that’s not me, it was just difficult, in fact, I think maybe my expectations were too high.’

‘He only pushed me once, we were both really mad.’

Over the years of their marriages, the self-gaslighting started to become reflexive. My clients fell into the propaganda that they termed marriage, and a chorus of enablers allowed them to maintain the delusion and the illusion. Once the word ‘abuse’ entered the conversation, a transformation occurred, a new narrative entered the room.

Some would terminate therapy. They would say: ‘Thank you for returning my reality to me, but I won’t leave the relationship, and now I understand I was fighting the wrong battles.’ Others used the therapeutic validation as a call to arms, once the gaslight was turned off, once they no longer fell into the narcissist’s reality, the mortar went out of the bricks of the relationship and, the next time the partner threatened divorce, they smiled and said ‘Sounds good.’

To watch a client come out of gaslighting is to witness someone come back into their own (or come into it for the first time). But I also witnessed clients become isolated. Nobody around them wanted to hear about it, and they would often face gaslighting outside of their marriage. ‘Are you sure it happened that way?’ or ‘That’s just your version of the events.’ They were rarely told that their reality was valid. Many of them were looking for a simple benediction that would strengthen their resolve. However, I wasn’t just seeing this in marriages. My clients who experienced abuse in childhood were still hearing family members tell them in adulthood: ‘Just let it go, he’s dead, and far worse abuse has happened to other people.’ The gaslighting of childhood was sustained in adulthood and made the trauma far more difficult to release. These lights can flicker for a lifetime.

Deconstruction of gaslighting as a concept is something that philosophers have done better than psychologists. Recent papers by

Andrew Spear (2019) and Kate Abramson (2014) addressed this phenomenon through a dispassionate lens, and proposed that gaslighting is a multistep process of indoctrination. It is comprised of initially drawing in a target; establishing trust and authority (or capitalising on existing trust – for example, a family member or a spouse); slowly dismantling that person’s sense of trust in herself through doubt and questioning or by manipulating elements of the physical environment (eg, moving or hiding objects – and then denying it); eroding a sense of self-trust and self-knowledge in the victim so the victim is less likely to doubt the gaslighter’s word; and finally winning over the victim’s agreement with the gaslighter’s reality. Ultimately, this robs the victim of his or her autonomy and cements the victim’s ongoing consent.

Traditional conceptualisations of gaslighting focus on the emotional abuse inherent in doubting a person’s reality with a goal of destabilising the victim. This isn’t just about the gaslighter’s need for control and capitulation, but their need for consent. The ultimate ‘agreement’ of their victim renders a picture of the relationship to the world that looks consensual and cooperative. The impact of gaslighting is most acutely observed in cult members or others who seem brainwashed – they espouse agreement with the tenets of the cult leader, and over time it appears as though the views of the cult are their own. Once that kind of agreement and acceptance are issued, it is far more difficult for the victim to exit from the situation or relationship.

There is a menacing simplicity to the gaslighter’s motivations – by and large, they appear to be motivated by power and control, which is likely a compensatory offset of their own sense of insecurity. Gaslighters project their own insecurity onto their victims and magnify any insecurity that their victims already have. To achieve this, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And gaslighting is much more common than many (including current victims) realize.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2021 at 4:16 pm

Rep. Watson Coleman: “I’m 75. I had cancer. I got covid-19 because my GOP colleagues dismiss facts.”

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Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, writes in the Washington Post:

Over the past day, a lot of people have asked me how I feel. They are usually referring to my covid-19 diagnosis and my symptoms. I feel like I have a mild cold. But even more than that, I am angry.

I am angry that after I spent months carefully isolating myself, a single chaotic day likely got me sick. I am angry that several of our nation’s leaders were unwilling to deal with the small annoyance of a mask for a few hours. I am angry that the attack on the Capitol and my subsequent illness have the same cause: my Republican colleagues’ inability to accept facts.

When I left for Washington last week, it was my first trip there in several months. I had a list of things to accomplish, including getting my picture taken for the card I use when voting on the House floor. For the past two years, I appeared on that card completely bald as a result of the chemotherapy I underwent to eliminate the cancer in my right lung. It was because of that preexisting condition that I relied so heavily on the proxy voting the House agreed to last year, when we first began to understand the danger of covid-19.

I was nervous about spending a week among so many people who regularly flout social distancing and mask guidelines, but I could not have imagined the horror of what happened on Jan. 6.

To isolate as much as possible, I planned to spend much of my day in my apartment, shuttling to the House floor to vote. But the building shares an alley with the Republican National Committee, where, we’d later learn, law enforcement found a pipe bomb. I was evacuated from that location early in the afternoon.

The next best option would have been my office in the Cannon House Office Building, where just three of my staffers worked at their desks to ensure safe distancing. Before I arrived, security evacuated that building as well, forcing us to linger in the hallways and cafeteria spaces of the House complex. As I’m sure you can imagine, pushing the occupants of an entire building into a few public spaces doesn’t make for great social distancing. Twice, I admonished groups of congressional staff to put on their masks. Some of these staffers gave me looks of derision, but slowly complied.

My staff and I then decided that the Capitol building would likely be the safest place to go, since it would be the most secure and least likely to be crowded. I’ve spent a lot of time since in utter disbelief at how wrong those assumptions turned out to be.

Everyone knows what happened next: A mob broke through windows and doors and beat a U.S. Capitol Police officer, then went on a rampage. Members and staff took cover wherever we could, ducking into offices throughout the building, then were told to move to a safer holding location.

I use “safer” because, while we might have been protected from the insurrectionists, we were not safe from the callousness of members of Congress who, having encouraged the sentiments that inspired the riot, now ignored requests to wear masks.

I’ve been asked if I will share the names of those members. You’ve probably seen video of some of them laughing at my colleague and friend Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) as she tries to distribute masks. But it’s not their names that matter.

What matters are facts, both about the covid-19 pandemic and the conduct of the 2020 election:

You can, in fact, breathe through a mask. Doctors have been doing it for decades. It is occasionally annoying — my glasses tend to fog, and when I wear makeup and a mask, I end up with smudged lipstick. That is a small price to pay for the safety of those around me.

You can, in fact, count on a mask to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Studies of how many droplets escape into the air and the rates of infection following the implementation of mask mandates both prove effectiveness.

Refusing to wear a mask is not, in fact, an act of self-expression. It’s an act of public endangerment. The chaos you create  . ..

Continue reading.

Alex London (@ca_london) noted on Twitter:

Members of Congress who feel they have to carry a gun to protect their colleagues but won’t wear a mask to protect their colleagues, don’t want to protect their colleagues. They’re just hoping they get to kill someone.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 10:16 am

The Georgia Phone Call: Better Than A Psychiatric Examination

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Madeline Taylor and Bandy X. Lee write in DCReport.org:

Donald Trump’s behavior is imminently dangerous to the health and safety of all Americans and to democracy.  Despite losing the 2020 election, he has been fighting relentlessly to stay in power.

He has called for a protest in DC on Wednesday (Jan. 6), promising it will be “wild”, to which the misogynist and violent “Proud Boys” responded.  His conspiracy-mongering has enlisted 140 Republican representatives to plot to overturn the election by getting Congress to contest the validity of votes that are unfavorable to him, while Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has recruited at least 11 other senators to delay election ratification by 10 days, opening room for further disruption and upheaval.

Meanwhile, there have been warnings that Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act at any sign of discord in the streets, or begin a war with Iran to interrupt the inauguration.

On Sunday, the Washington Post released a recording of Trump’s hour-long call to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state overseeing elections, first to berate, bully, and beg him into changing the vote totals, and then to threaten him when he refused.  The full recording reveals the president to be highly irrational and unstable, confirming better than any interview our previous assessment of lack of capacity for rational decision-making, but above all showing the president to be highly symptomatic and dangerous.  Here are some of our alarming findings.

A person who cannot tolerate certain realities may use various conscious and unconscious methods of minimizing those disturbing feelings by trying to change reality in their minds.  At the extreme end of this continuum, emotionally fragile persons can rely on delusions, or false beliefs that are rigidly fixed in order to support a vitally-needed belief, such as in their superior value.  Not only are these beliefs unamenable to facts and evidence, but they may bring a need to control what other people believe and say in order to ensure that the unbearable reality does not upset them. Here are some examples:

  • “I think it’s pretty clear that we won.  We won very substantially in Georgia.”
  • “We have many, many times the number of votes necessary to win the state.  And we won the state, and we won it very substantially and easily.”
  • “They say it’s not possible to have lost Georgia.  It’s just not possible to have lost Georgia, It’s not possible.  When I heard it was close, I said there’s no way.”
  • “We won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes.  There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way.  We won by hundreds of thousands of votes….  I won the state by hundreds of thousands of votes.”
  • “Your numbers aren’t right.  They’re really wrong, and they’re really wrong, Brad….  Look, ultimately, I win, okay?  Because you guys are so wrong.”

The presence of delusions does not negate criminal intent.  Donald Trump appears rather to rely on and maintain them interpersonally, by using denial, dismissal, contempt, ridicule, domination, invalidation, belittling, ignoring, and psychological annihilation to advance his agendas and to control others.  His inability to hear anything that threatens his ability to feel good about himself pressures others to comply, and his actual conviction makes his false beliefs more persuasive.  Psychic annihilation of others implies that others believe what he believes, and may: tell others what they know or do not know; or entirely discredit and bulldoze over the perceptions of other people as if to implant his reality inside their minds.

  • “They dropped a lot of votes in there late at night.  You know that, Brad.”
  • “But in Fulton, where they dumped ballots, you will find that you have many that aren’t even signed, and you have many that are forgeries.  Okay, you know that.  You know that.  You have no doubt about that.”

Donald Trump’s emotional vulnerability relentlessly drives him to force external reality to conform to his internal reality—in this case, that he won the state of Georgia and also the election.  The need to assert this belief is evident in the phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in several ways: Donald Trump dominates the hour-long conversation, repeatedly asserting on Raffensperger his fixed false belief that he won the election.  He tries to annihilate the other person’s independent perceptions by assuming a kind of ownership over them.  He projects his feelings onto him and fails to differentiate between himself and “the state.”  Failure of differentiation manifests in ascribing to others one’s own thoughts, feelings, or motives, failing to recognize the difference between what he feels and what others feel, conflating his feelings and the needs of “the state,” or “the people.”  This facilitates narcissistic entitlement, which Donald Trump also displays, assuming that he should be able to get whatever he wants if he simply lets it be known and applies the right kind of pressure.

  • “So there were many infractions, and the bottom line is, many, many times the 11,779 margin that they said we lost by—we had vast, I mean the state is in turmoil over this.”
  • “We have won this election in Georgia based on all of this.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, Brad.  You know, I mean, having the correct—the people of Georgia are angry.”
  • “And I hate to imagine what’s going to happen on Monday or Tuesday, but it’s very scary to people.  You know, when the ballots flow in and out of nowhere. It’s very scary to people.”
  • “I think we should come to a resolution of this before the election.  Otherwise, you’re going to have people just not voting.  They don’t want to vote.  They hate the state, they hate the governor, and they hate the secretary of state.”

Donald Trump also refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of any statement of fact that threatens his false beliefs.  On the one hand, he must dominate in order not to have to hear information that in any way disconfirms the reality he needs to believe.  On the other hand, any spreading of hearsay, childlike conclusions, fantasies, cajoling, or attempts to humiliate, intimidate, and threaten are acceptable.

Trump: … why did they . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s damning.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2021 at 8:08 pm

Good insight: The far right embraces violence because it has no real political program

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Suzanne Schneider, a historian at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and author of the forthcoming book “The Apocalypse and the End of History,” writes in the Washington Post:

More than a week has passed since a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol, but we are still struggling to come to terms with the day’s events. Much of the difficulty stems from the fact that the Trump mob was both menacing and ridiculous, dangerous and utterly delusional. On one hand, there was an absurdist quality to many participants: conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, militia members, fans of animal pelts. Yet our cosplaying revolutionaries were not playing at all, leaving five dead and dozens wounded. Some said they were intent on genuine violence: “We will storm the government buildings, kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents, and demand a recount,” a user reportedly wrote on 8kun the day before the assault.

We cannot make sense of the Capitol attack simply by trying to assess whether its perpetrators were really out for blood or just acting out a game of make-believe for the benefit of the cameras. The Trump insurrectionists exposed that a politics of spectacle, built upon delusion, is no less dangerous than “the real thing.” Precisely because they lack an affirmative political vision, far-right movements fetishize violence as the premier form of civic participation. It is what is offered to the masses in lieu of actual power. The result is violence that becomes almost casual, shorn of any political rationale and reflecting a reality in which human beings are just as disposable as their video game counterparts.

Events from recent years make it clear that the binary between fantasy and danger is a false one. Consider, for instance, the mass shooters who live-stream their rampages on Facebook or gaming platforms such as Twitch, a growing trend from Florida to New Zealand to Germany. Performative violence of this sort is no less real for being optimized for our new media ecosystem. If anything, performative violence gains its horrific quality because it treats human beings as means to an end — props that frame the protagonists’ moment of glory. The attack on the Capitol exists on a spectrum with these acts of violence, offering yet another instance of live action role play directed against real human bodies. The truly frightening thing about cosplaying in this regard is that it is part of a politics of delusion that is acted out in the real world. That many who participated in the attack are having trouble grasping the legal consequences that came along with their live-streamed insurrection testifies to this sense of confusion between material life and the revolutionaries they played on TV.

What does the growing prevalence of this mode of violence as spectacle — and the groups that embrace it — mean? In 1936, the German-Jewish critic Walter Benjamin observed that “fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.” That is to say, fascists used art in the service of politics to deflect people from pursuing the redistributive demands that historically came alongside mass political movements. Today, too, such performances furnish excitement and purpose for participants while leaving alone the underlying power structures that oppress them. Benjamin noted the rise of fascist aesthetics in contemporary film, visual arts, and ceremonies and other civic rituals; today, we encounter a much-reduced range of aesthetic expression. To the extent that the far right makes art, composes music or writes literature, it is so poor in quality that it can be read only as kitsch. What is left, and what is truly glorified within the emerging far-right imagination, is violence. Ours might be a hollowed-out fascism, a reality TV version of the 20th century’s premier political horror, but that does not make it any less dangerous. Kitsch can also kill.

For far-right leaders today, inciting violence against the nation’s “enemies” offers the fan base a pathway to political participation that preserves the anti-democratic character of the movement, as if to say: We do not need you to govern, only to harm. It is no wonder, then, that intimations of violence have become a common mode of personal expression among adherents of current far-right movements: Cue a thousand photos of extremists decked out in tactical gear, toting their professional-grade death tools and looking eager to reenact some bit of revolutionary drama. The insurrectionist wearing the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt seemed ready to take up his guard duties against political prisoners but not to stop the certification of Biden’s victory. Violence has become the central act through which the far right understands political agency, which is why fantasies about harming the nation’s “enemies” — journalistsactivistsopposition politicians — abound within the right-wing imaginary.

Violence is not, in this sense, ancillary to far-right politics but central to preserving the vast inequalities that even its “moderate” supporters wish to maintain. Beyond the tax cuts and deregulation so favored by his plutocratic backers, President Trump’s signature accomplishments were notable for their gratuitous cruelty: the ban on travel from Muslim nations, family separation at the southern border, home invasions and deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that served no material interest beyond offering his fan base reasons to cheer. These are not disjointed parts of the right-wing agenda, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have recently argued, but rather co-dependent, which is one reason the growth of white nationalism has mirrored the uptick in economic inequality. Acts of violence, particularly against people of color, are the spoonful of sugar that helps the GOP’s economic platform — notoriously unpopular among its base — go down. Violence does the deflective work Benjamin identified with fascist aesthetics.

The events this month also underscored that “freedom” — that most signature of conservative values — has been refashioned to contain violence at its core: freedom to carry a weapon and use it at will, to infect others around you during a pandemic, to die of preventable disease rather than submit to a national health-care system. Moreover, the primacy of violence within the right’s political vision also helps explain why our authorized death dispensers — police officers and military personnel — have become demigods in certain circles. (That’s why it was so shocking to see the Trump mob engage Capitol Police officers in battle, violating the unmatched sanctity of blue lives.) The right fringe also likes to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2021 at 7:09 pm

The ‘Shared Psychosis’ of Donald Trump and His Loyalists

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Tanya Lewis writes in Scientific American:

The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building last week, incited by President Donald Trump, serves as the grimmest moment in one of the darkest chapters in the nation’s history. Yet the rioters’ actions—and Trump’s own role in, and response to, them—come as little surprise to many, particularly those who have been studying the president’s mental fitness and the psychology of his most ardent followers since he took office.

One such person is Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist and president of the World Mental Health Coalition.* Lee led a group of psychiatrists, psychologists and other specialists who questioned Trump’s mental fitness for office in a book that she edited called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. In doing so, Lee and her colleagues strongly rejected the American Psychiatric Association’s modification of a 1970s-era guideline, known as the Goldwater rule, that discouraged psychiatrists from giving a professional opinion about public figures who they have not examined in person. “Whenever the Goldwater rule is mentioned, we should refer back to the Declaration of Geneva, which mandates that physicians speak up against destructive governments,” Lee says. “This declaration was created in response to the experience of Nazism.”

Lee recently wrote Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Mind, America’s Soul, a psychological assessment of the president against the backdrop of his supporters and the country as a whole. These insights are now taking on renewed importance as a growing number of current and former leaders call for Trump to be impeached. On January 9 Lee and her colleagues at the World Mental Health Coalition put out a statement calling for Trump’s immediate removal from office.

Scientific American asked Lee to comment on the psychology behind Trump’s destructive behavior, what drives some of his followers—and how to free people from his grip when this damaging presidency ends.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What attracts people to Trump? What is their animus or driving force?

The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.

“Shared psychosis”—which is also called “folie à millions” [“madness for millions”] when occurring at the national level or “induced delusions”—refers to the infectiousness of severe symptoms that goes beyond ordinary group psychology. When a highly symptomatic individual is placed in an influential position, the person’s symptoms can spread through the population through emotional bonds, heightening existing pathologies and inducing delusions, paranoia and propensity for violence—even in previously healthy individuals. The treatment is removal of exposure.

Why does Trump himself seem to gravitate toward violence and destruction?

Destructiveness is a core characteristic of mental pathology, whether directed toward the self or others. First, I wish to clarify that those with mental illness are, as a group, no more dangerous than those without mental illness. When mental pathology is accompanied by criminal-mindedness, however, the combination can make individuals far more dangerous than either alone.

In my textbook on violence, I emphasize the symbolic nature of violence and how it is a life impulse gone awry. Briefly, if one cannot have love, one resorts to respect. And when respect is unavailable, one resorts to fear. Trump is now living through an intolerable loss of respect: rejection by a nation in his election defeat. Violence helps compensate for feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy and lack of real productivity.

Do you think Trump is truly exhibiting delusional or psychotic behavior? Or is he simply behaving like an autocrat making a bald-faced attempt to hold onto his power?

I believe it . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2021 at 5:10 pm

How to Talk with a Conspiracy Theorist (and Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories in the First Place) and What Experts Recommend

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Josh Jones writes in Open Culture:

Why do people pledge allegiance to views that seem fundamentally hostile to reality? Maybe believers in shadowy, evil forces and secret cabals fall prey to motivated reasoning. Truth for them is what they need to believe in order to get what they want. Their certainty in the justness of a cause can feel as comforting as a warm blanket on a winter’s night. But conspiracy theories go farther than private delusions of grandeur. They have spilled into the streets, into the halls of the U.S. Capitol building and various statehouses. Conspiracy theories about a “stolen” 2020 election are out for blood.

As distressing as such recent public spectacles seem at present, they hardly come near the harm accomplished by propaganda like Plandemic—a short film that claims the COVID-19 crisis is a sinister plot—part of a wave of disinformation that has sent infection and death rates soaring into the hundreds of thousands.

We may never know the numbers of people who have infected others by refusing to take precautions for themselves, but we do know that the number of people in the U.S. who believe conspiracy theories is alarmingly high.

A Pew Research survey of adults in the U.S. “found that 36% thought that these conspiracy theories” about the election and the pandemic “were probably or definitely true,” Tanya Basu writes at the MIT Technology Review. “Perhaps some of these people are your family, your friends, your neighbors.” Maybe you are conspiracy theorist yourself. After all, “it’s very human and normal to believe in conspiracy theories…. No one is above [them]—not even you.” We all resist facts, as Cass Sunstein (author of Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas) says in the Vox video above, that contradict cherished beliefs and the communities of people who hold them.

So how do we distinguish between reality-based views and conspiracy theories if we’re all so prone to the latter? Standards of logical reasoning and evidence still help separate truth from falsehood in laboratories. When it comes to the human mind, emotions are just as important as data. “Conspiracy theories make people feel as though they have some sort of control over the world,” says Daniel Romer, a psychologist and research director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. They’re airtight, as Wired shows below, and it can be useless to argue. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including more brief videos worth viewing.

Later in the article:

[A]n abridged version of MIT Technology Review’s ten tips for reasoning with a conspiracy theorist, and read Basu’s full article here.

  1. Always, always speak respectfully: “Without respect, compassion, and empathy, no one will open their mind or heart to you. No one will listen.”
  2. Go private: Using direct messages when online “prevents discussion from getting embarrassing for the poster, and it implies a genuine compassion and interest in conversation rather than a desire for public shaming.”
  3. Test the waters first: “You can ask what it would take to change their mind, and if they say they will never change their mind, then you should take them at their word and not bother engaging.”
  4. Agree: “Conspiracy theories often feature elements that everyone can agree on.”
  5. Try the “truth sandwich”: “Use the fact-fallacy-fact approach, a method first proposed by linguist George Lakoff.”
  6. Or use the Socratic method: This “challenges people to come up with sources and defend their position themselves.”
  7. Be very careful with loved ones: “Biting your tongue and picking your battles can help your mental health.”
  8. Realize that some people don’t want to change, no matter the facts.
  9. If it gets bad, stop: “One r/ChangeMyView moderator suggested ‘IRL calming down’: shutting off your phone or computer and going for a walk.”
  10. Every little bit helps. “One conversation will probably not change a person’s mind, and that’s okay.”

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2021 at 10:55 am

A thought about the Schwarzenegger video

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After sleeping on it, I had a few thoughts on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s video that I blogged yesterday. Let me quote some of what he said:

 I was born in 1947, two years after the Second World War. Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men drinking away their guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history.

My father would come home drunk once or twice a week, and he would scream, and hit us, and scare my mother. I didn’t hold him totally responsible because our neighbor was doing the same thing to his family, and so was the next neighbor over.

I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes. They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies and in emotional pain for what they saw or did. It all started with lies, and lies, and lies, and intolerance.

It struck me that those insights into the reasons for his father’s behavior are not the insights of Arnold had when he was a child, being abused (physically, emotionally, and psychologically). Children have little experience or knowledge, so they tend to accept that what happens to them is just the way things are — especially if the same thing is happening in the houses of neighbors.

I think Schwarzenegger’s description of the causes of his father’s behavior reflects an understanding that came much later. I strongly suspect Schwarzeneger came to see that explanation through some extended psychotherapy and counseling, probably undertaken to examine and understand his own behavior and feelings. Psychotherapy generally includes a look back at one’s childhood family environment since that influences and shapes one’s worldview and behavior strategies. A better, deeper understanding of what was really going on in the family at the time — what was causing the behavior one saw — can help a lot in untying any psychic knots causing current problems for the adult that child became.

The statements I quote above strike me as realizations that were facilitated by a good therapist — for example, the realization that his father was not “evil,” but was acting as he did because he did know how else to deal with what had happened to him and what he had done.

Obviously, I have no direct knowledge, but I’ve done some therapy myself, and that reading certainly is consistent with my experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 9:40 am

Why poor people find Trump attractive

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This is a Twitter thread that seems to have been deleted. It is by @jpbrammer and was posted 18 Nov 2016. I have typed it out from screengrabs of the tweets.

So I’m a Mexican-American from a poor rural (mostly white) town in Oklahoma. Missing from this debate? How poor whites seem themselves.

If you’re wondering how poor exploited white people could vote for a dude with a golden elevator who will fuck them over, here’s how.

They don’t see themselves as poor. They don’t base their identity on it. They see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

The stigma against poverty is incredibly strong. It is shameful to be poor, to not have the comforts of the middle class. So they pretend —

that they aren’t poor. They are willing to lie to make it seem that they aren’t poor. They purchase things to make it seem like they’re not.

In my town, wealth waan’t associated with greed, but with hard work and inherent goodness. You are blessed if you have material wealth.

When they see Trump they don’t see an extortionist who is rich because of the very conditions that keep their own communities in poverty.

They see someone who worked hard and was justly rewarded with wealth. Most men, especially, think they too could be Trump were it not for

the unfair obstacles put in their way. White men who don’t consider themselves successful enough have so many excuses for their “failures.”

The idea that immigrants are the reason they are poor and not wealthy like Trump is so appealing. It takes all the shame and blame away.

And here we have a man who, they think, “tells it like it is’ and is willing to name the things stealing prosperity out of their hands.

If these people saw themselves as an exploited class of people, if American culture didn’t stigmatize poverty so much, it might be different.

But American has so entangled wealth with goodness and poverty with moral deficiency that they can’t build that identity. They won’t.

Trump is rich, and so according to American criteria, he is also:
1. Wise
2. Fair
3. Moral
4. Deserving
5. Strong
6. Clever
He *has* to be.

Capitalism and the American Dream teach that poverty is a temporary state that can be transcend with hard work and cleverness.

To fail to transcend poverty, and to admit that you are poor, is to admit that you are neither hardworking nor clever. It’s cultural brainwashing.

So if an exploited class of people don’t want to admit they’re exploited and they blame themselves for their oppression, what manifests?

Xenophobia. Hatred of anyone who is “different,” queer people, people of color. These people are eroding the “goodness” of America.

And if they would just stop ruining America, then the perfect design of America could work again and deliver prosperity.

I’m telling you, as someone who has spent almost his entire life in this environment, that if you think cities are a “bubble…” Good God.

How you balance those realities, and what conclusions you reach to improve the lives of both, well, I’m not smart enough to have the answer.

Still, we need to understand the identity working class white people have built for themselves, on diametrically opposed to, well, reality.

Because Trump won’t make them rich. Even if he deports all the brown people, it won’t bring them what they’re hoping for.

It strikes me that once a person’s falls into accepting an illusion as true, they become vulnerable to more deceptions because they’ve lost touch with the testing ground of reality — false hopes, false dreams, false statements have more power on those who already live in self-deception or who already believe a false vision.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 3:01 pm

Report from a toxic work culture: “How I Managed My Mental Illness as a Career Military Officer”

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Stephen Chamberlin writes in Medium:

Zero Defect? Really? Really.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2021 at 2:51 pm

The doctor whom Carl Sagan warned us about

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Jonathan Jarry writes in The Conversation:

Predictions made by psychics and astrologers tend to quickly fade from memory because of how wrong they often turn out to be, but one prediction made by Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist and famous science communicator, is so unfortunately on the money that it continues to outlive him. He spelled it out in the second chapter of his last book, The Demon-Haunted World: “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”

Superstitions did not disappear in the modern age, but with the COVID-19 pandemic driving people to spend more and more time online, anxiously searching for and simultaneously being bombarded by anything that looks like information, this prophesied crystal-clutching and horoscope-consulting is all the more evident. And there are misenlightened gurus who epitomize Sagan’s dire warning, chief among them Dr. Christiane Northrup.

An obstetrician-gynecologist by training, Northrup rose to fame as a New York Times bestselling author of books like Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause. She was platformed by Oprah Winfrey on many occasions and was named by Reader’s Digest in 2013 as one of the 100 most trusted people in America. Her online fanbase is considerable: 149,000 followers on Instagram and over half a million fans on her Facebook page. For a medical doctor’s star to shine so brightly during a pandemic should be a boon, but Dr. Northrup is no ordinary doctor. Every night, she addresses tens of thousands of followers in ten-minute videos that deny the reality of the pandemic, promote every magical belief under the sun, and weave a grand Dungeons-and-Dragons-style narrative about the Age of Aquarius and Northrup’s Warriors of the Radical Light.

As Carl Sagan wrote in The Demon-Haunted World, “sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

“Hello, warriors”

I watched a month’s worth of her solo videos to better understand the world in which she lives. In this parallel universe, there are Indigo childrentime travellers from the future, and geomancers performing acupuncture on Mother Earth by moving rocks around. She constantly tells her viewers, whom she calls “sleeping lions” and “warriors,” that they need to take action. That is when the supernatural forces of Providence will magically come in and take care of the rest, like the reinforcements who show up at the end of an action film just in the nick of time.

Her views on the COVID-19 pandemic, shaped by her mantra that “it doesn’t make sense,” are unscientific, reckless and asinine. Rarely have I witnessed such a smorgasbord of gobbledygook from someone who once had an active medical license. She does not believe . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2021 at 1:46 pm

Politically, the US seems to have an autoimmune disease. Example: Wisconsin health-care worker intentionally spoiled more than 500 coronavirus vaccine doses

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An autoimmune disease results when the body’s immune systems attack the body instead of protecting it. From what I see, the US seems to be suffering from a kind of autoimmune disease.  A health-care worker destroys protective vaccines — and more generally, many people attack the measures epidemiologists and public heath authorities put in place to protect them. Police regularly (and with impunity) brutalize and even kill citizens they have sworn to protect. “Conservative” (but actually radical) politicians attack and attempt to destroy election results when they don’t like what voters chose. One party (the GOP) makes it an explicit goal to prevent the other party (Democrats) from accomplishing anything, and in fact simply refuses to do its actual duty (the Merrick Garland nomination, the presidential transition process). The US seems intent on destroying itself.

Andrea Salcedo and Isaac Stanley-Becker report in the Washington Post:

An employee at a hospital outside Milwaukee deliberately spoiled more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing 57 vials from a pharmacy refrigerator, hospital officials announced Wednesday, as local police said they were investigating the incident with the help of federal authorities.

Initiating an internal review on Monday, hospital officials said they were initially “led to believe” the incident was caused by “inadvertent human error.” The vials were removed Friday and most were discarded Saturday, with only a few still safe to administer at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wis., according to an earlier statement from the health system. Each vial has enough for 10 vaccinations but can sit at room temperature for only 12 hours.

Two days later, the employee acknowledged having “intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration,” the system, Aurora Health Care, said in a statement late Wednesday.

The employee, who has not been identified, was fired, Aurora Health said. Its statement did not address the worker’s motive but said “appropriate authorities” were promptly notified.

Wednesday night, police in Grafton, a village of about 12,000 that lies 20 miles north of Milwaukee, said they were investigating along with the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration. In a statement, the local police department said it had learned of the incident from security services at Aurora Health Care’s corporate office in Milwaukee. The system serves eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, and includes 15 hospitals and more than 150 clinics, according to its website.

Leonard Peace, an FBI spokesman in Milwaukee, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the report:

The tampering will delay inoculation for hundreds of people, Aurora Health officials said, in a state where 3,170 new cases were reported and 40 people died Wednesday of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker.

“We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving the vaccine,” the health system said in a statement.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2020 at 12:31 pm

Why You Should Talk to Yourself in the Third Person

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Shayla Love writes in Vice:

According to the Bible, King Solomon, the Israelite king, was an incredibly wise man. People traveled far and wide just to ask for his advice, including two women who claimed to be the mother of the same baby. Solomon devised a clever way to solve the dispute.

Solomon’s wisdom, though, only applied to matters external to himself. His own life “was a shambles of bad decisions and uncontrolled passions,” wrote Wray Herbert in The Association for Psychological Science. “He kept hundreds of pagan wives and concubines, and also loved money and boasted of his riches. He neglected to instruct his only son, who grew up to be an incompetent tyrant. All these sins and misjudgments contributed to the eventual demise of the kingdom.”

This is referred to as Solomon’s Paradox. Whether the tales of Solomon are rooted in historical fact or not, they describe how we are often more wise when it comes to helping others than we are with ourselves. There’s something about the distance between yourself and another that provides the space to assess a situation more objectively, and control your emotions, rather than letting them cloud your thinking.

But there might be a remarkably simple way to access this kind of distance, and approach your own emotions, stress, and problems with a Solomon-esque distance: Talk to yourself in the third person.

Now, this suggestion might garner a certain gut reaction: that talking to yourself in the third person is strange at best, and annoying, narcissistic, or idiotic at worst. “Just think of Elmo in the children’s TV show Sesame Street, or the intensely irritating Jimmy in the sitcom Seinfeld—hardly models of sophisticated thinking,” wrote science journalist David Robson in The British Psychological Society Research Digest.

Yet decades of research now show that talking to yourself this way inside of your head—also called “distanced self-talk” can help foster psychological distance, a phenomenon that leads to better emotional regulation, self control, and even wisdom.

recent study in Clinical Psychological Science is the latest in a robust body of work from University of Michigan professor of psychology Ethan Kross, Bryn Mawr College assistant professor of psychology Ariana Orvell, and others. It cemented the findings that when people use words for themselves that they usually reserve for others—their name, and third- and second-person pronouns—they are better able to deal with negative emotions, even in emotionally intense situations, and even if they have a history of having a hard time managing their emotions.

Distanced self-talk also raises interesting questions about the ways that language influences our emotions, and highlights the importance of psychological distance overall—if you’re feeling overwhelmed, see if getting a little distance from yourself helps.

Humans have the ability for introspection, which helps us solve problems or plan for the future. But when bad things happen or intense negative emotions arise, this introspection can transform into its darker cousin: rumination. That’s when we end up incessantly turning over thoughts or are plunged into negative emotions, worrying ourselves in circles.

“Why does that happen?” Kross said. “And are there ways of making introspection work for us better?”

When we’re struggling with this kind of distress, we tend to zoom in, “almost to the exclusion of everything else. We lose the ability to take the big picture into account,” Kross said. Then, we might have a hard time coping with strong emotions, or finding ways to emotionally regulate. Emotional regulation, simply described, is the broad set of strategies that people use to change or modify what they’re feeling.

In those situations, being able to think about your experience from a more distanced perspective can be helpful. Psychological distance is a construct that’s been around for a long time, said Kevin Ochsner, Professor and Chair at the Department of Psychology at Columbia University.

There are many different strategies studied that create distance: You can picture a person or scene moving away from you, into the distance, like the opening lines in Star Wars. Even the act of physically leaning back has been shown to help more easily perform a difficult task.

“All those things will decrease the emotional punch,” Ochsner said.

Kross stumbled across talking to yourself in the third person about 10 years ago while exploring other distancing methods. By talking to yourself in the third person, or even second person (the pronoun “you”) he found that people bypassed a lot of the effort that’s usually put into trying to change your perspective to a more distanced one.

“The idea was—which continues to be fascinating to me—that we all have these tools that are baked into the structure of language that can serve this perspective shifting distancing function,” Kross said.

The official term for talking in the third person about yourself is illeism. Many people have an internal monologue that crops up, when we’re figuring out what to do, reflecting on the past, or guiding ourselves through day-to-day situations, but we frequently use the pronouns I, me, mine, and my.

In Kross and his colleagues’ work, they set out to see what would happen if they told people to modify that. In one study, they found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2020 at 8:31 pm

How to tell whether you’re a jerk

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Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, Eric Schwitzgebel has a useful article in Nautilus. (Jerkitude might be related to the Dunning-Kruger effect in that (in my experience) people who are jerks are confident that they are not, and those who wonder whether they are jerks are not.)

Here’s something you probably didn’t do this morning: Look in the mirror and ask, am I a jerk?

It seems like a reasonable question. There are, presumably, genuine jerks in the world. And many of those jerks, presumably, have a pretty high moral opinion of themselves, or at least a moderate opinion of themselves. They don’t think of themselves as jerks, because jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by.

Psychologist Simine Vazire at the University of California, Davis argues that we tend to have good self-knowledge of our own traits when those traits are both evaluatively neutral (in the sense that it’s not especially good or bad to have those traits), and straightforwardly observable.

For example, people tend to know whether they are talkative. It’s more or less okay to be talkative and more or less okay to be quiet, and in any case your degree of talkativeness is pretty much out there for everyone to see. Self-ratings of talkativeness tend to correlate fairly well with peer ratings and objective measures. Creativity, on the other hand, is a much more evaluatively loaded trait—who doesn’t want to think of themselves as creative?—and much less straightforward to assess. In keeping with Vazire’s model, we find poor correlations among self-ratings, peer ratings, and psychologists’ attempts at objective measures of creativity.

The question “am I really, truly a self-important jerk?” is highly evaluatively loaded, so you will be highly motivated to reach a favored answer: “No, of course not!” Being a jerk is also not straightforwardly observable, so you will have plenty of room to reinterpret evidence to suit: “Sure, maybe I was a little grumpy with that cashier, but she deserved it for forgetting to put my double shot in a tall cup.”

Academically intelligent people, by the way, aren’t immune to motivated reasoning. On the contrary, recent research by Dan M. Kahan of Yale University suggests that reflective and educated people might be especially skilled at rationalizing their preexisting beliefs—for example, interpreting complicated evidence about gun control in a manner that fits their political preferences.

I suspect there is a zero correlation between people’s self-opinion about their degree of jerkitude and their true overall degree of jerkitude. Some recalcitrant jerks might recognize that they are so, but others might think themselves quite dandy. Some genuine sweethearts might fully recognize how sweet they are, while others might have far too low an opinion of their own moral character.

There’s another obstacle to jerk self-knowledge, too: We don’t yet have a good understanding of the essence of jerkitude—not yet, at least. There is no official scientific designation that matches the full range of ordinary application of the term “jerk” to the guy who rudely cuts you off in line, the teacher who casually humiliates the students, and the co-worker who turns every staff meeting into a battle.

The scientifically recognized personality categories closest to “jerk” are the “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic personality. Narcissists regard themselves as more important than the people around them, which jerks also implicitly or explicitly do. And yet narcissism is not quite jerkitude, since it also involves a desire to be the center of attention, a desire that jerks don’t always have. Machiavellian personalities tend to treat people as tools they can exploit for their own ends, which jerks also do. And yet this too is not quite jerkitude, since Machivellianism involves self-conscious cynicism, while jerks can often be ignorant of their self-serving tendencies. People with psychopathic personalities are selfish and callous, as is the jerk, but they also incline toward impulsive risk-taking, while jerks can be calculating and risk-averse.

Another related concept is the concept of the asshole, as explored recently by the philosopher Aaron James of the University of California, Irvine. On James’s theory, assholes are people who allow themselves to enjoy special advantages over others out of an entrenched sense of entitlement. Although this is closely related to jerkitude, again it’s not quite the same thing. One can be a jerk through arrogant and insulting behavior even if one helps oneself to no special advantages.

Given the many roadblocks standing in the way, what is a potential jerk interested in self-evaluation to do?

The first step to the solution is to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2020 at 10:54 am

COVID-19 virus enters the brain, research strongly suggests

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University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine reports in Science News Daily:

More and more evidence is coming out that people with COVID-19 are suffering from cognitive effects, such as brain fog and fatigue.

And researchers are discovering why. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, like many viruses before it, is bad news for the brain. In a study published Dec.16 in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that the spike protein, often depicted as the red arms of the virus, can cross the blood-brain barrier in mice.

This strongly suggests that SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, can enter the brain.

The spike protein, often called the S1 protein, dictates which cells the virus can enter. Usually, the virus does the same thing as its binding protein, said corresponding author William A. Banks, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a Puget Sound Veterans Affairs Healthcare System physician and researcher. Banks said binding proteins like S1 usually by themselves cause damage as they detach from the virus and cause inflammation.

“The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products,” he said.

In science circles, the intense inflammation caused by the COVID-19 infection is called a cytokine storm. The immune system, upon seeing the virus and its proteins, overreacts in its attempt to kill the invading virus. The infected person is left with brain fog, fatigue and other cognitive issues.

Banks and his team saw this reaction with the HIV virus and wanted to see if the same was happening with SARS CoV-2.

Banks said the S1 protein in SARS-CoV2 and the gp 120 protein in HIV-1 function similarly. They are glycoproteins — proteins that have a lot of sugars on them, hallmarks of proteins that bind to other receptors. Both these proteins function as the arms and hand for their viruses by grabbing onto other receptors. Both cross the blood-brain barrier and S1, like gp120, is likely toxic to brain tissues.

“It was like déjà vu,” said Banks, who has done extensive work on HIV-1, gp120, and the blood-brain barrier.

The Banks’ lab studies the blood-brain barrier in Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and HIV. But they put their work on hold and all 15 people in the lab started their experiments on the S1 protein in April. They enlisted long-time collaborator Jacob Raber, a professor in the departments of Behavioral Neuroscience, Neurology, and Radiation Medicine, and his teams at Oregon Health & Science University.

The study could explain many of the complications from COVID-19.

“We know that when you have the COVID infection you have trouble breathing and that’s because there’s infection in your lung, but an additional explanation is that the virus enters the respiratory centers of the brain and causes problems there as well,” said Banks.

Raber said in their experiments transport of S1 was faster in the olfactory bulb and kidney of males than females. This observation might relate to the increased susceptibility of men to more severe COVID-19 outcomes.

As for people taking the virus lightly, Banks has a message:

“You do not want to . . .

Continue reading.

Speaking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, notice how many of those who confidently assert that COVID-19 is no big deal seem to lack any training at all in infectious diseases or epidemiology.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 11:17 am

Cellphones cripple social skills

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Ron Srigley writes in MIT Technology Review:

A few years ago, I performed an experiment in a philosophy class I was teaching. My students had failed a midterm test rather badly. I had a hunch that their pervasive use of cell phones and laptops in class was partly responsible. So I asked them what they thought had gone wrong. After a few moments of silence, a young woman put up her hand and said: “We don’t understand what the books say, sir. We don’t understand the words.” I looked around the class and saw guileless heads pensively nodding in agreement.

I extemporized a solution: I offered them extra credit if they would give me their phones for nine days and write about living without them. Twelve students—about a third of the class—took me up on the offer. What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent. These university students, given the chance to say what they felt, didn’t gracefully submit to the tech industry and its devices.

The usual industry and education narrative about cell phones, social media, and digital technology generally is that they build community, foster communication, and increase efficiency, thus improving our lives. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent reformulation of Facebook’s mission statement is typical: the company aims to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Without their phones, most of my students initially felt lost, disoriented, frustrated, and even frightened. That seemed to support the industry narrative: look how disconnected and lonely you’ll be without our technology. But after just two weeks, the majority began to think that their cell phones were in fact limiting their relationships with other people, compromising their own lives, and somehow cutting them off from the “real” world. Here is some of what they said.

“You must be weird or something”

“Believe it or not, I had to walk up to a stranger and ask what time it was. It honestly took me a lot of guts and confidence to ask someone,” Janet wrote. (Her name, like the others here, is a pseudonym.) She describes the attitude she was up against: “Why do you need to ask me the time? Everyone has a cell phone. You must be weird or something.” Emily went even further. Simply walking by strangers “in the hallway or when I passed them on the street” caused almost all of them to take out a phone “right before I could gain eye contact with them.”

To these young people, direct, unmediated human contact was experienced as ill-mannered at best and strange at worst. James: “One of the worst and most common things people do nowadays is pull out their cell phone and use it while in a face-to-face conversation. This action is very rude and unacceptable, but yet again, I find myself guilty of this sometimes because it is the norm.” Emily noticed that “a lot of people used their cell phones when they felt they were in an awkward situation, for an example [sic] being at a party while no one was speaking to them.”

The price of this protection from awkward moments is the loss of human relationships, a consequence that almost all the students identified and lamented. Without his phone, James said, he found himself forced to look others in the eye and engage in conversation. Stewart put a moral spin on it. “Being forced to have [real relations with people] obviously made me a better person because each time it happened I learned how to deal with the situation better, other than sticking my face in a phone.” Ten of the 12 students said their phones were compromising their ability to have such relationships.

Virtually all the students admitted that ease of communication was one of the genuine benefits of their phones. However, eight out of 12 said they were genuinely relieved not to have to answer the usual flood of texts and social-media posts. Peter: “I have to admit, it was pretty nice without the phone all week. Didn’t have to hear the fucking thing ring or vibrate once, and didn’t feel bad not answering phone calls because there were none to ignore.”

Indeed, the language they used indicated that they experienced this activity almost as a type of harassment. “It felt so free without one and it was nice knowing no one could bother me when I didn’t want to be bothered,” wrote William. Emily said that she found herself “sleeping more peacefully after the first two nights of attempting to sleep right away when the lights got shut off.” Several students went further and claimed that communication with others was in fact easier and more efficient without their phones. Stewart: “Actually I got things done much quicker without the cell because instead of waiting for a response from someone (that you don’t even know if they read your message or not) you just called them [from a land line], either got an answer or didn’t, and moved on to the next thing.”

Technologists assert that their instruments make us more productive. But for the students, phones had the opposite effect. “Writing a paper and not having a phone boosted productivity at least twice as much,” Elliott claimed. “You are concentrated on one task and not worrying about anything else. Studying for a test was much easier as well because I was not distracted by the phone at all.” Stewart found he could “sit down and actually focus on writing a paper.” He added, “Because I was able to give it 100% of my attention, not only was the final product better than it would have been, I was also able to complete it much quicker.” Even Janet, who missed her phone more than most, admitted, “One positive thing that came out of not having a cell phone was that I found myself more productive and I was more apt to pay attention in class.”

Some students felt not only distracted by their phones, but morally compromised. Kate: “Having a cell phone has actually affected my personal code of morals and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … I am disappointed in myself now that I see how much I have come to depend on technology … I start to wonder if it has affected who I am as a person, and then I remember that it already has.” And James, though he says we must continue to develop our technology, said that “what many people forget is that it is vital for us not to lose our fundamental values along the way.”

Other students were worried that their cell-phone addiction was depriving them of a relationship to the world. Listen to James: “It is almost like . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 7:59 am

Donald Trump’s desperate fight for psychic survival

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David Pell wrote las month:

How, after four years of this, can many Americans keep finding themselves shocked by Donald Trump’s behavior. As my psychoanalyist friend Dr. Michael Levin explains: “This disconnect exists because we’re living in a world that is grounded and checked by reason. His is grounded only in his emotional needs and fantasies. I think this is a useful framework to understand why we all have repeatedly been shocked by his behavior for years. It’s just a bridge too far for most of our psychological imaginations … Most of the commentary I’m seeing in the press about his narcissism seems not to get that, deep down, it’s not about feeling good. It’s about psychic survival. I think this is the case with most of his base too. It’s not the garden variety narcissism of someone like Elon Musk or Bill Clinton. It’s much more desperate and psychotic.” Indeed, we keep applying strategic goals to what is a narcissistic sociopath’s emotionally disturbed reaction to a fear of shame and humiliation. Trump truly believes he’s being cheated because the alternative is too brutal and painful to accept; even if democracy has to be destroyed so his fantasy, and thus his psychic existence, can survive. When we see mental illness play out in public or celebrity spheres, we often view it as a sideshow. When we encounter it in real life, we know it’s the whole show. Those politicians who cynically use Trump as a battering ram for their own ends will be able to let go of him when his usefulness declines. For his true believers, the relationship is less transactional and operates more like a religion. And that’s a lot to ask someone to give up because of the small reality of a few million votes. Will the unnerving and democracy-smashing coup-like attempt continue? How far will the GOP enablers take this? I don’t know. But I do know that the psychic frenzy it’s stirred up among millions of Americans cannot be turned off with a switch. An addiction to falsehoods is not easy to relinquish. And no one wants to go cold turkey for Thanksgiving.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 December 2020 at 9:20 pm

America, We Have a Problem

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Thomas B. Edsall writes in the NY Times:

The turbulence that followed the Nov. 3 election has roiled American politics, demonstrating an ominous vulnerability in our political system.

Donald Trump used the 41-day window between the presidential election and the Dec. 14 meeting of the Electoral College to hold the country in thrall based on his refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory and his own defeat.

Most troubling to those who opposed Trump, and even to some who backed him, was the capitulation by Republicans in the House and Senate. It took six weeks from Election Day for Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to acknowledge on Tuesday that “the Electoral College has spoken. Today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Trump’s refusal to abide by election law was widely viewed as conveying an implicit threat of force. Equally alarming, Trump, with no justification, focused his claims of voter fraud on cities with large African-American populations in big urban counties, including Detroit in Wayne County, Milwaukee in Milwaukee County, Philadelphia in Philadelphia County and Atlanta in Fulton County.

Bob Bauer, a senior legal adviser to the Biden campaign, told reporters that the Trump campaign’s “targeting of the African-American community is not subtle. It is extraordinary,” before adding, “It’s quite remarkable how brazen it is.”

Viewing recent events through a Trump prism may be too restrictive to capture the economic, social and cultural turmoil that has grown more corrosive in recent years.

On Oct. 30, a group of 15 eminent scholars (several of whom I also got a chance to talk to) published an essay — “Political Sectarianism in America” — arguing that the antagonism between left and right has become so intense that words and phrases like “affective polarization” and “tribalism” were no longer sufficient to capture the level of partisan hostility.

“The severity of political conflict has grown increasingly divorced from the magnitude of policy disagreement,” the authors write, requiring the development of “a superordinate construct, political sectarianism — the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another.”

Political sectarianism, they argue,

consists of three core ingredients: othering — the tendency to view opposing partisans as essentially different or alien to oneself; aversion — the tendency to dislike and distrust opposing partisans; and moralization — the tendency to view opposing partisans as iniquitous. It is the confluence of these ingredients that makes sectarianism so corrosive in the political sphere.

There are multiple adverse outcomes that result from political sectarianism, according to the authors. It “incentivizes politicians to adopt antidemocratic tactics when pursuing electoral or political victories” since their supporters will justify such norm violation because “the consequences of having the vile opposition win the election are catastrophic.”

Political sectarianism also legitimates

a willingness to inflict collateral damage in pursuit of political goals and to view copartisans who compromise as apostates. As political sectarianism has surged in recent years, so too has support for violent tactics.

In a parallel line of analysis, Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, and Peter Turchin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, contend that a combination of economic and demographic trends point to growing political upheaval. Events of the last six weeks have lent credibility to their research: On Sept. 10, they published an essay, “Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties,’” making the case that the United States is “heading toward the highest level of vulnerability to political crisis seen in this country in over a hundred years.” There is, they wrote, “plenty of dangerous tinder piled up, and any spark could generate an inferno.”

Goldstone and Turchin do not believe that doomsday is inevitable. They cite previous examples of countries reversing downward trends, including the United States during the Great Depression:

To be sure, the path back to a strong, united and inclusive America will not be easy or short. But a clear pathway does exist, involving a shift of leadership, a focus on compromise and responding to the world as it is, rather than trying desperately to hang on to or restore a bygone era.

The Goldstone-Turchin argument is based on a measure called a “political stress indicator,” developed by Goldstone in his 1991 book, “Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World.” According to Goldstone, the measure “predicted the 1640s Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789, and the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848.”

Goldstone wrote that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2020 at 6:17 pm

Life begins at 40: the demographic and cultural roots of the midlife crisis

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Dante seems to be thinking a bout a man’s mid-life crises in the opening lines of The Divine Comedy, wherein he describes a man in midlife who has lost his way:

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.

Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest, dense and difficult,
which even in recall renews my fear:

so bitter—death is hardly more severe!
But to retell the good discovered there,
I’ll also tell the other things I saw.

I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path.

But when I’d reached the bottom of a hill—
it rose along the boundary of the valley
that had harassed my heart with so much fear—

I looked on high and saw its shoulders clothed
already by the rays of that same planet
which serves to lead men straight along all roads.

At this my fear was somewhat quieted;
for through the night of sorrow I had spent,
the lake within my heart felt terror present.

And just as he who, with exhausted breath,
having escaped from sea to shore, turns back
to watch the dangerous waters he has quit,

so did my spirit, still a fugitive,
turn back to look intently at the pass
that never has let any man survive.

I let my tired body rest awhile.
Moving again, I tried the lonely slope—
my firm foot always was the one below.

And almost where the hillside starts to rise—
look there!—a leopard, very quick and lithe,
a leopard covered with a spotted hide.

He did not disappear from sight, but stayed;
indeed, he so impeded my ascent
that I had often to turn back again.

The time was . . .

Years ago I read Daniel J. Levinson’s The Seasons of a Man’s Life, a report on a 10-year psychological study he had done to discover the character of the stages of a man’s life. He specifically studied the lives of men and not women because (a) he was a man and he was interested to learn more about what he had experienced and what he could expect, and (b) he strongly suspected that the stages of a woman’s life would be different, with the impacts of post-puberty fertility (which brings the possibility and often the actuality of childbirth and the changes that entails) and menopause (which ends fertility and brings further change).

As I recall, from having read the book decades ago, he discovered that men must deal with ten-year milestones, points in a man’s life when certain key tasks must have been fulfilled or now be abandoned. This time is when he sets his priorities for the next part of his life. They go like this:

Around 10 years of age, childhood ends and in the next decade the youth must explore possibilities to learn more about the adult world.

Around age 20 the exploration ends because it’s time to make choices and build the framework and direction for one’s life as an independent adult. This is a big transition, and it brings a fair amount of stress.

Around age 30, there’s another transition, but at this point a man is usually established in his adult life, so this one is more a matter of course corrections and adjustments to priorities.

Around age 40 is another big transition, as stressful as at age 20 and perhaps even more so: at age 20 one more or less expects the stress of making big choices, but at age 40 most would expect their lives to be set. However, at this time mortality becomes clearer, and most want to figure out what their true life accomplishment will be.

Around age 50 is like around age 30: course corrections, but not the big stress.

And around age 60 is another stressful transition — it’s passing-the-torch time, and looking forward to what you will be doing as the younger generation supplants you.

Basically, he found that the 20 year transitions — 20, 40, 60, and (presumably) 80 are the stressful ones, with 10, 30, 50, and (presumably) 70 not being so traumatic and upsetting.

It’s an interesting book and worth reading. Gail Sheehy interviewed him at length and basically took what she wanted of his study’s findings to write her book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, which I also read. I prefer Levinson’s book. It might be interesting to read it again.

With that as preamble, take a look at the 2019 Wilkins–Bernal–Medawar lecture given by Mark Jackson at The Royal Society:

Abstract

In 1965, the psychoanalyst and social scientist Elliott Jaques introduced a term, the ‘midlife crisis’, that continues to structure Western understandings and experiences of middle age. Following Jaques’s work, the midlife crisis became a popular means of describing how—and why—men and women around the age of 40 became disillusioned with work, disenchanted with relationships and detached from family responsibilities. Post-war sociological and psychological studies of middle age regarded the midlife crisis as a manifestation of either biological or psychological change, as a moment in the life course when—perhaps for the first time—people felt themselves to be declining towards death. Although the midlife crisis has often been dismissed as a myth or satirized in novels and films, the concept has persisted not only in stereotypical depictions of rebellion and infidelity at midlife, but also in research that has sought to explain the particular social, physical and emotional challenges of middle age. In the spirit of the pioneering research of John Wilkins, John Bernal and Peter Medawar, each of whom in different ways emphasized the complex interrelations between science and society, I want to argue that the emergence of the midlife crisis—as concept and experience—during the middle decades of the twentieth century was not coincidental. Rather it was the product of historically specific demographic changes and political aspirations—at least in the Western world—to keep alive the American dream of economic progress and material prosperity.


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Introduction

In 1965, the Canadian-born psychoanalyst and social scientist Elliott Jaques introduced a term, the ‘midlife crisis’, that continues to shape Western accounts of ageing, love and loss. Working at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, Jaques was well known for his studies of organizational structures, introducing terms such as ‘corporate culture’ into contemporary discussions of occupational hierarchies and working practices.1 His research was based on empirical studies of institutions such as factories, churches and hospitals. But it was also shaped by his practice as a psychoanalyst and by the theories of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. Psychoanalytical influences are particularly evident in his formulation of the midlife crisis. Jaques had begun to think about the concept in 1952—at the age of 35—when a period of personal reflection was prompted by the conclusion of his own analytical sessions with Klein and by reading Dante’s Inferno—a poetic account of a midlife journey into, and eventually through, darkness and depression. The ‘beautiful lines’ at the start of the Inferno, Jaques wrote many years later, ‘melded with my own inner experiences of the midlife struggle with its vivid sense of the meaning of personal death’.2

When Jaques first presented his paper on ‘death and the midlife crisis’ to the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1957, it generated only a muted response and was not accepted by the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis until eight years later.3 In the published version, which was based on a study of 300 creative artists as well as case histories from his clinical practice, Jaques argued that during the middle years of life, when the ‘first phase of adult life has been lived’, adjustment to a new set of circumstances was necessary: work and family had been established; parents had grown old; and children were ‘at the threshold of adulthood’. The challenge of coping with these pressures, when combined with personal experiences of ageing, triggered awareness of the reality of death: ‘The paradox is that of entering the prime of life, the stage of fulfilment, but at the same time the prime and fulfilment are dated. Death lies beyond.’4

According to Jaques, those who reached midlife without having successfully established themselves in terms of marriage and occupation were ‘badly prepared for meeting the demands of middle age’. As a result, they were likely to display what became the clichéd features of a midlife crisis: disillusionment with life; dissatisfaction with work; a desperation to postpone mental and physical decline; detachment from family responsibilities; and infidelity with a younger, more athletic accomplice. It was psychological immaturity, Jaques argued, that generated a depressive crisis around the age of 35 that was energetically masked by a manic determination to thwart advancing years:

The compulsive attempts, in many men and women reaching middle age, to remain young, the hypochondriacal concern over health and appearance, the emergence of sexual promiscuity in order to prove youth and potency, the hollowness and lack of genuine enjoyment of life, and the frequency of religious concern, are familiar patterns. They are attempts at a race against time.5

Jacqus warned that, for those who did not work carefully through the psychological anguish of midlife, impulsive strategies intended to protect against the tragedy of death were unlikely to be successful: ‘These defensive fantasies’, he insisted, ‘are just as persecuting, however, as the chaotic and hopeless internal situation they are meant to mitigate.’6

As Jaques’s turn of phrase became more popular on both sides of the Atlantic, he was regularly cited as the originator of the term.7 His concept of the midlife crisis shaped research into the life course and informed self-help and therapeutic approaches to the individual and relational challenges of middle age. Already by the late 1960s, Jaques’s work was framing attempts to understand and resolve the ‘search for meaning’ that was thought to typify the midlife identity crisis.8 In Britain, the impact of the midlife crisis on marriage inspired efforts to address the personal, familial and social determinants—and consequences—of rising levels of divorce. It also influenced the psychoanalytical approaches to resolving marital tensions adopted by Henry V. Dicks and his colleagues at the Tavistock Clinic.9 Elsewhere, the midlife crisis became a notable motif in the work of researchers investigating the impact of life transitions on marriage trajectories, personal identity, and health in men and women—most notably in studies by American authors such as Roger Gould, Gail Sheehy, George Vaillant and Daniel Levinson.10 The fantasies of middle-aged men hoping to retain their youthful vigour also figured in literary and cinematic treatments of marriage, love and loss during the middle years—most famously in novels by Sloan Wilson, David Ely, John Updike and David Nobbs.11

In the post-war decades, the midlife crisis was understood in two principal ways. On the one hand, problems of midlife were read in terms of  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2020 at 3:38 pm

Different types of self-care for different aspects of your life

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2020 at 4:18 am

Philosophical counseling

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Well, I never, as people once said. Reasonio offers an unusual service:

As an APPA-certified philosophical counselor, I engage in 1-on-1 coaching and philosophical counseling work with clients.  My clients come from a variety of life situations and professions, but what they have in common is a desire to work through issues that are holding them back or presenting problems in their lives, relationships, or careers.

My work involves collaborating with clients to identify, understand, and address central problems and issues.  We also employ resources, insights, and models derived from philosophical sources.

My past and current clients include corporate executives, startup-CEOs, medical professionals, psychotherapists, consultants, retail employees, government workers, retirees, students, as well as many others.

The scope of my practice includes matters such as moral dilemmas, interpersonal relationships, existential crises and concerns, discordant or underdeveloped belief systems, emotional issues, work-life balance, career decisions and coaching, transition between life-stages, and realization of human potential. I also assist clients with engaging in self-reflection, productive decision-making, and realizing their own capacities for incorporating Philosophy to improve their lives, relationships, and careers.

The majority of my sessions are conducted virtually via Skype, but I also meet clients locally for face-to-face sessions in my local area.

My standard rate for a 50-minute session is US$120.00, but I offer a sliding scale fee for lower-income clients.  I work with a limited number of clients eligable for those rates in any given time period.

I also suggest perusing my Scope of Practice,which discusses the discipline and practice of philosophical counseling.  It also highlights areas of my particular expertise and concentration.

If you are interested in considering a course of Philosophical Counseling with me, I’m happy to work with you.  Email me at greg@reasonio.com, for more information or to schedule an initial session

What Is Philosophical Counseling?

As far back as the great philosophical schools in antiquity, philosophers have been been enrolled in practical roles as counselors and advisers, assisting people in making difficult decisions, improving their lives and relationships, and developing greater self-understanding.  Throughout history, practitioners have used philosophy in very practical ways, generating models for fulfilling and thoughtful ways of living.  During the last several centuries, however, philosophy became more and more restricted to an academic, largely theoretical discipline removed from the issues of everyday life.  In recent decades, many of its great practitioners deliberately steered philosophy solidly back to its practical roots and concerns.

This resulted in the emergence of philosophical counseling as a recognized discipline, community, and set of practices.  Philosophical counseling bears similarities to, but is distinct from other types of counseling, such as psychiatric,  psychological, or religious counseling.  Psychiatric and psychological counseling focus largely upon diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, while philosophical counseling works from a non-medical and non-clinical perspectives.  (It is worth noting that historically, great theorists and practitioners in psychiatry and psychology often had training in, and drew upon resources from philosophy).  Philosophical counseling also differs from religious counseling in drawing primarily upon philosophical resources and involving no religious or theological commitments.

Philosophical counseling is also similar to – and in some cases can overlap with – disciplines such as life coaching and professional coaching.  It differs, however, in the types of training and credentialing required for philosophical counseling, and in the more rigorous reliance upon philosophical models, resources, and perspectives in its practice.  An explicit philosophical framework situates the type of work carried out in coaching within broader horizons in philosophical counseling.

My Credentials, Practice, and Approaches.

My certification in philosophical counseling is granted by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, and I have successfully assisted a number of clients over the years.  After earning a Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 2002, I have designed and taught philosophy courses, with particularly strong focus on Ethics, Critical Thinking, Practical Rationality, Philosophy of Emotion, and the History of Philosophy for over a decade and a half.

Positions I have held in recent years have involved me in . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2020 at 8:23 pm

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