night night the dreamer
making cooing noises
as though doves
inhabit her throat
dreams dreams all night
she sees black wings
wrapping her body
in a feathery embrace
In that speech, Cosby was reborn as a black activist -- espousing a conservative return to blackj identity and black roots, self-reliance, and a rejection of any concern about integration. His message has simply been that black people need to take pride in being black and become self-reliant as individuals and self-contained a culture.
The speech is often referred to as the "Pound Cake" speech because of these lines, referencing a particular dessert, pound cake, apparently for comedic effect, while contrasting brave political activists who risked incarceration during the 1950s-1960s civil rights movement with common criminals:
“ But these people, the ones up here in the balcony fought so hard. Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! And then we all run out and are outraged, 'The cops shouldn’t have shot him.' What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? (laughter and clapping). I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else (laughter) And I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said, 'if you get caught with it you’re going to embarrass your mother.' Not 'you’re going to get your butt kicked.' No. 'You’re going to embarrass your family.' ”
Praise for community involvement
In the same speech he had praise for the efforts of the Black Muslims in dealing with crime in the cities:
- "When you want to clear your neighborhood out, first thing you do is go get the Black Muslims, bean pies and all. And your neighborhood is then clear."
After that statement, he pointed out the police's inability to resolve the crime problem:
- "The police can’t do it."
He then had critical remarks for Black Christians' seeming inability to create positive social change for the urban population he was referring to, saying, "I’m telling you Christians, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you hit the streets? Why can’t you clean it out yourselves?"
He later said:
- "Those people are not Africans, they don’t know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail."
From Birmingham to Cleveland and Baltimore, at churches and colleges, Cosby has been telling thousands of black Americans that racism in America is omnipresent but that it can’t be an excuse to stop striving. As Cosby sees it, the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities. Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past. Driving Cosby’s tough talk about values and responsibility is a vision starkly different from Martin Luther King’s gauzy, all-inclusive dream: it’s an America of competing powers, and a black America that is no longer content to be the weakest of the lot.And some more, with a good history of what Cosby is fighting for:
It’s heady stuff, especially coming from the man white America remembers as a sitcom star and affable pitchman for E. F. Hutton, Kodak, and Jell-O Pudding Pops. And Cosby’s race-based crusade is particularly jarring now. Across the country, as black politics has become more professionalized, the rhetoric of race is giving way to the rhetoric of standards and results. Newark’s young Ivy League–educated mayor, Cory Booker, ran for office promising competence and crime reduction, as did Washington’s mayor, Adrian Fenty. Indeed, we are now enjoying a moment of national self-congratulation over racial progress, with a black man running for president as the very realization of King’s dream. Barack Obama defied efforts by the Clinton campaign to pigeonhole him as a “black” candidate, casting himself instead as the symbol of a society that has moved beyond lazy categories of race.
Black America does not entirely share the euphoria, though. The civil-rights generation is exiting the American stage—not in a haze of nostalgia but in a cloud of gloom, troubled by the persistence of racism, the apparent weaknesses of the generation following in its wake, and the seeming indifference of much of the country to black America’s fate. In that climate, Cosby’s gospel of discipline, moral reform, and self-reliance offers a way out—a promise that one need not cure America of its original sin in order to succeed. Racism may not be extinguished, but it can be beaten.
Cosby’s rhetoric played well in black barbershops, churches, and backyard barbecues, where a unique brand of conservatism still runs strong. Outsiders may have heard haranguing in Cosby’s language and tone. But much of black America heard instead the possibility of changing their communities without having to wait on the consciences and attention spans of policy makers who might not have their interests at heart. Shortly after Cosby took his Pound Cake message on the road, I wrote an article denouncing him as an elitist. When my father, a former Black Panther, read it, he upbraided me for attacking what he saw as a message of black empowerment. Cosby’s argument has resonated with the black mainstream for just that reason.I'm going to side with the conservative viewpoint here and agree with Cosby about "the great fall." In my view, the well-meaning liberals of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s completely undermined the black community by removing many of the social structure that defined their identity and made them too dependent on a still racially divisive white culture.From Atlantic Unbound:The split between Cosby and critics such as Dyson mirrors not only America’s broader conservative/liberal split but black America’s own historic intellectual divide. Cosby’s most obvious antecedent is Booker T. Washington. At the turn of the 20th century, Washington married a defense of the white South with a call for black self-reliance and became the most prominent black leader of his day. He argued that southern whites should be given time to adjust to emancipation; in the meantime, blacks should advance themselves not by voting and running for office but by working, and ultimately owning, the land.
"The Awakening of the Negro"
"Friction between the races will pass away in proportion as the black man, by reason of his skill, intelligence, and character, can produce something that the white man wants or respects in the commercial world." By Booker T. WashingtonW. E. B. Du Bois, the integrationist model for the Dysons of our day, saw Washington as an apologist for white racism and thought that his willingness to sacrifice the black vote was heretical. History ultimately rendered half of Washington’s argument moot. His famous Atlanta Compromise—in which he endorsed segregation as a temporary means of making peace with southerners—was answered by lynchings, land theft, and general racial terrorism. But Washington’s appeal to black self-sufficiency endured.From Atlantic Unbound:"Strivings of the Negro People"
"The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world... This is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, and to husband and use his best powers." By W.E.B. Du Bois
After Washington’s death, in 1915, the black conservative tradition he had fathered found a permanent and natural home in the emerging ideology of Black Nationalism. Marcus Garvey, its patron saint, turned the Atlanta Compromise on its head, implicitly endorsing segregation not as an olive branch to whites but as a statement of black supremacy. Black Nationalists scorned the Du Boisian integrationists as stooges or traitors, content to beg for help from people who hated them.
Garvey argued that blacks had rendered themselves unworthy of the white man’s respect. “The greatest stumbling block in the way of progress in the race has invariably come from within the race itself,” wrote Garvey. “The monkey wrench of destruction as thrown into the cog of Negro Progress, is not thrown so much by the outsider as by the very fellow who is in our fold, and who should be the first to grease the wheel of progress rather than seeking to impede.” Decades later, Malcolm X echoed that sentiment, faulting blacks for failing to take charge of their destinies. “The white man is too intelligent to let someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community,” Malcolm said. “But you will let anybody come in and take control of the economy of your community, control the housing, control the education, control the jobs, control the businesses, under the pretext that you want to integrate. No, you’re out of your mind.”
Black conservatives like Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, have at times allied themselves with black liberals. But in general, they have upheld a core of beliefs laid out by Garvey almost a century ago: a skepticism of (white) government as a mediating force in the “Negro problem,” a strong belief in the singular will of black people, and a fixation on a supposedly glorious black past.
Those beliefs also animate Come On People, the manifesto that Cosby and Poussaint published last fall. Although it does not totally dismiss government programs, the book mostly advocates solutions from within as a cure for black America’s dismal vital statistics. “Once we find our bearings,” they write, “we can move forward, as we have always done, on the path from victims to victors.” Come On People is heavy on black pride (“no group of people has had the impact on the culture of the whole world that African Americans have had, and much of that impact has been for the good”), and heavier on the idea of the Great Fall—the theory, in this case, that post–Jim Crow blacks have lost touch with the cultural traditions that enabled them to persevere through centuries of oppression.
“For all the woes of segregation, there were some good things to come out of it,” Cosby and Poussaint write. “One was that it forced us to take care of ourselves. When restaurants, laundries, hotels, theaters, groceries, and clothing stores were segregated, black people opened and ran their own. Black life insurance companies and banks thrived, as well as black funeral homes … Such successes provided jobs and strength to black economic well-being. They also gave black people that gratifying sense of an interdependent community.” Although the authors take pains to put some distance between themselves and the Nation of Islam, they approvingly quote one of its ministers who spoke at a call-out in Compton, California: “I went to Koreatown today and I met with the Korean merchants,” the minister told the crowd. “I love them. You know why? They got a place called what? Koreatown. When I left them, I went to Chinatown. They got a place called what? Chinatown. Where is your town?”
The notion of the Great Fall, and the attendant theory that segregation gave rise to some “good things,” are the stock-in-trade of what Christopher Alan Bracey, a law professor at Washington University, calls (in his book, Saviors or Sellouts) the “organic” black conservative tradition: conservatives who favor hard work and moral reform over protests and government intervention, but whose black-nationalist leanings make them anathema to the Heritage Foundation and Rush Limbaugh. When political strategists argue that the Republican Party is missing a huge chance to court the black community, they are thinking of this mostly male bloc—the old guy in the barbershop, the grizzled Pop Warner coach, the retired Vietnam vet, the drunk uncle at the family reunion. He votes Democratic, not out of any love for abortion rights or progressive taxation, but because he feels—in fact, he knows—that the modern-day GOP draws on the support of people who hate him. This is the audience that flocks to Cosby: culturally conservative black Americans who are convinced that integration, and to some extent the entire liberal dream, robbed them of their natural defenses.
Blacks are 13 percent of the population, yet black men account for 49 percent of America’s murder victims and 41 percent of the prison population. The teen birth rate for blacks is 63 per 1,000, more than double the rate for whites. In 2005, black families had the lowest median income of any ethnic group measured by the Census, making only 61 percent of the median income of white families.
Most troubling is a recent study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which concluded that the rate at which blacks born into the middle class in the 1960s backslid into poverty or near-poverty (45 percent) was three times that of whites—suggesting that the advances of even some of the most successful cohorts of black America remain tenuous at best. Another Pew survey, released last November, found that blacks were “less upbeat about the state of black progress now than at any time since 1983.”
The rise of the organic black conservative tradition is also a response to America’s retreat from its second attempt at Reconstruction. Blacks have watched as the courts have weakened affirmative action, arguably the country’s greatest symbol of state-sponsored inclusion. They’ve seen a fraudulent war on drugs that, judging by the casualties, looks like a war on black people. They’ve seen themselves bandied about as playthings in the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan (with his 1980 invocation of states’ rights” in Mississippi), George Bush (Willie Horton), Bill Clinton (Sister Souljah), and George W. Bush (McCain’s fabled black love-child). They’ve seen the utter failures of school busing and housing desegregation, as well as the horrors of Katrina. The result is a broad distrust of government as the primary tool for black progress.
In May 2004, just one day before Cosby’s Pound Cake speech, TheNew York Times visited Louisville, Kentucky, once ground zero in the fight to integrate schools. But TheTimes found that sides had switched, and that black parents were more interested in educational progress than in racial parity. “Integration? What was it good for?” one parent asked. “They were just setting up our babies to fail.”
The article mentioned the "fraudulent war on drugs that, judging by the casualties, looks like a war on black people," and the facts bear that out. This is from the Drug Policy Alliance Network:
Despite the fact that drug use is more or less consistent across racial lines, many punitive drug laws are based on beliefs that certain communities of color commonly abuse certain substances. Due to the racial injustices caused by the drug war, supporting drug policy reform can help end racial inequality. Drug Policy Alliance is drawing attention to these disproportionate impacts of the drug war and working to end the war on people of color.
Although African Americans comprise only 12.2 percent of the population and 13 percent of drug users, they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 percent of those convicted of drug offenses causing critics to call the war on drugs the "New Jim Crow." The higher arrest rates for African Americans and Latinos do not reflect a higher abuse rate in these communities but rather a law enforcement emphasis on inner city areas where drug use and sales are more likely to take place in open-air drug markets where treatment resources are scarce.
Once arrested, people of color are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than whites. The best-known example of the inequality in sentencing is the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. Crack and powder cocaine have the same active ingredient, but crack is marketed in less expensive quantities and in lower income communities of color. A five gram sale of crack cocaine receives a five-year federal mandatory minimum sentence, while an offender must sell 500 grams of powder cocaine to get the same sentence. In 1986, before the enactment of federal mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine offenses, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 11 percent higher than for whites. Four years later, the average federal drug sentence for African Americans was 49 percent higher.
There's more disturbing information at the site.
Interestingly, Cosby seems not too pleased with Obama's candicacy, or at least with white America's embrace of it:
But if we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.
You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled - doubled - since we were children. We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.
(Curiously, Cosby is noncommittal verging on prickly when it comes to Obama. When Larry King asked him whether he supported Obama, he bristled: “Do you ask white people this question? … I want to know why this fellow especially is brought up in such a special way. How many Americans in the media really take him seriously, or do they look at him like some prize brown baby?” The exchange ended with Cosby professing admiration for Dennis Kucinich. Months later, he rebuffed my requests for his views on Obama’s candidacy.)The author of the article has his own take on Cosby:
Black conservatives have been dipping into this well of lost black honor since the turn of the 20th century. On the one hand, vintage black nationalists have harked back to a golden age of black Africa, where mighty empires sprawled and everyone was a king. Meanwhile, populist black conservatives like Cosby point to pre-1968 black America as an era when blacks were united in the struggle: men were men, and a girl who got pregnant without getting married would find herself bundled off to Grandpa’s farm.And this:
What both visions share is a sense that black culture in its present form is bastardized and pathological. What they also share is a foundation in myth. Black people are not the descendants of kings. We are—and I say this with big pride—the progeny of slaves. If there’s any majesty in our struggle, it lies not in fairy tales but in those humble origins and the great distance we’ve traveled since. Ditto for the dreams of a separate but noble past. Cosby’s, and much of black America’s, conservative analysis flattens history and smooths over the wrinkles that have characterized black America since its inception.
Much pop psychology has been devoted to Cosby’s transformation into such a high-octane, high-profile activist. His nemesis Dyson says that Cosby, in his later years, is following in the dishonorable tradition of upper-class African Americans who denounce their less fortunate brethren. Others have suggested more-sinister motivations—that Cosby is covering for his own alleged transgressions. (In 2006, Cosby settled a civil lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed that he had sexually assaulted her; other women have come forward with similar allegations that have not gone to court.) But the depth of his commitment would seem to belie such suspicions, and in any case, they do not seem to have affected his hold on his audience: in the November Pew survey, 85 percent of all African American respondents considered him a “good influence” on the black community, above Obama (76 percent) and second only to Oprah Winfrey (87 percent).
Part of what drives Cosby’s activism, and reinforces his message, is the rage that lives in all African Americans, a collective feeling of disgrace that borders on self-hatred. As the comedian Chris Rock put it in one of his infamous routines, “Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people … It’s like a civil war going on with black people, and it’s two sides—there’s black people and there’s niggas, and niggas have got to go … Boy, I wish they’d let me join the Ku Klux Klan. Shit, I’d do a drive-by from here to Brooklyn.” (Rock stopped performing the routine when he noticed that his white fans were laughing a little too hard.) Liberalism, with its pat logic and focus on structural inequities, offers no balm for this sort of raw pain. Like the people he preaches to, Cosby has grown tired of hanging his head.
I think Cosby's message is true in some respects, not so much in others, but then I am a middle class white guy, so my view doesn't carry much weight with anyone, including me.
In reference to her philosophy, Objectivism, she said: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."Not a bad place to begin building cultural boundaries. Rand rejected religion, however, which in the black community religion has always been crucial, playing a central role in many black communities in the early part of the century. The authoritarian, moral, and communal elements of Christianity are vitally important in containing that egocentric element mentioned above.
The Dalai Lama's Buddhist Foes
By DAVID VAN BIEMA
It was not an object lesson in Buddhist dispassion. On Thursday afternoon, following a teaching by the Dalai Lama at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, a group of 500 or more audience members screamed at and spat at a mixed group of about 100 people, both Tibetan and Western, who had been protesting the teaching. There were no arrests, but the police felt it prudent to move in fast and herded the smaller group into buses for their own protection. The pro-Dalai Lama crowd had also flung money at their foes, an insult indicating that they had been bought (presumably by the high lama's enemies in Beijing). Said one of the anti-Dalai Lama protesters, Kelsan Norden, who is British, has a Tibetan name and is the spokeswoman for the Western Shugden Society, "If this is what the Dalai Lama's people do to us in America, can you imagine what they would have done somewhere else?" The combination of adrenaline, relief and the prospect of coverage left her sounding almost elated.
What had prompted the unnerving Buddhist-on-Buddhist confrontation was an intra- Tibetan problem that seems poised to go international. The protesters, devotees of a fierce "protector deity" called Dorje Shugden, claim that the spiritual leader of Tibet has curtailed their civil rights as part of a religious vendetta. For now, the allegations of the Shugdenpas (as they are known) are hard to prove or disprove. But even a brief investigation provides a vivid look into what experts call "the shadow side" of Tibetan Buddhism, contrasting the tolerance and rationalism that the Dalai Lama represents globally and the theological hardball over mystical principles that he seems to play on his home turf.
Dorje Shugden is one one of hundreds of "protector deities" that distinguish Tibetan Buddhism from more purely philosophical varieties. Historically, the god is associated with the maintaining, sometimes violently, the purity of Dalai Lama's own lineage of teachers and gurus, called the Gelugpa. Indeed the high Lama himself prayed to Shugden for years; but the sect's purist and exclusionary emphases contradicted his own outreach to other Tibetan lineages, and in 1996 he began demanding that monastic abbots renounce the deity.
Those who did not suffered consequences, although how dire is yet unclear. Shugdenpas have long claimed to have been shunned and harassed. A 1998 Amnesty International report indicated that the complaints were exaggerated. The sect suffered a public relations setback in 1997, when Indian police named two of its practitioners as suspects in the ritual slaughter of one of the Dalai Lama's close associates, seeming to confirm (although the suspects have never been tracked down or tried) the worst suspicions of critics.
Yet Shugden practitioners deny that they are fundamentalist, purist or violent, and have renewed their complaints in light of an intensifying crackdown by the Dalai Lama. He — or people acting in his perceived interests — has expanded the loyalty demand from abbots to monks and even laypeople as far afield as France. In a nod to the Tibetan Government in Exile's self-definition as a democracy, each monastery has been taking a referendum on Shugden. When the "anti" faction inevitably wins, the monks pledge to renounce Shugden and deny spiritual or material aid to those who hold out. In transcripts that Shugdenpas allege record the Dalai Lama's comments, he sounds atypically authoritarian. "Shugden devotees are growing in your monastery," he is quoted as snapping at one abbot "If you are this inept, you had better resign."
What pushes the current allegations into a potential human rights matter is the contention that those who won't take the oaths are denied monastery I.D. cards that the Tibetan Government in Exile allegedly requires to process visa requests through to the Indian government. (Most of the Tibetan diaspora lives in India.) "Families are being torn apart," reads Shugden literature.
Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama's American representative, denied the allegations. "I have heard about the [I.D.s]," he said. "But as far as official policy goes, there's no discrimination." Regarding the oath to give no assistance, he said "I am sure that no Tibetan government administration office has asked anyone to sign this document." However, he notes, "It is within the rights of individual organizations to have conditions that they stipulate for members."
The problem is that in Tibet most people shun whom they think the Dalai Lama wants them to shun. The protesters display photos of signs they say have gone up recently in Tibet urging shopkeepers not to do business with tainted monks. They could be written by anybody, but most people assume they know the ultimate author of the signs.
Experts seem to think that there is something to the Shugden allegations. "There is considerable anecdotal evidence to support what they say," Stephen Batchelor, co-founder of the Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Enquiry, wrote in an email to TIME, although, he adds, "I have yet to see any hard evidence." Robert Barnett of Columbia University, adds "I bet it is a lot easier to get a visa if you have an exile official at your side."
Norden, the Shugden spokesperson, observes correctly that even if the Dalai Lama is not behind the current Shugden woes, "if he wanted it to stop, all he'd have to do would be to snap his fingers." Yet no-one expects that. Most scholars e-mailed for this story were hesitant to line up behind the Shugdenpas; partly because of insufficient data; partly, perhaps, because of a feeling that this was a Tibetan issue ("these are monk wars," said one); partly because many are themselves deeply invested in the Dalai Lama; and partly because of the whiff of fundamentalism and recklessness that clings to the sect. Shugden "is about vengeance," says Columbia's Barnett. "I think that any talk of [its devotion to] compassion is misleading." Barnett believes that the movement's true goals must be "brought out into the open" — especially to innocent Westerners — before "the real social concerns that must exist" in Tibet can be addressed.
"People see hope in the Dalai Lama," says Shelley Turner, another protester spokesperson, with some empathy. "Seeing these protests against him must make them feel hopeless." She means, when they finally hear the harsh truth about him. Others surely believe the truth is on his side.
The social psychology revolution is reaching its tipping pointHmmm . . . so you think we've got that figured out do ya? I wouldn't be so sure. Oh, but he's looking at books -- on evolutionary psychology and behavioral economics.
Go and look in your bookshop: new thinking is seeping into politics
By Daniel Finkelstein
It took a long time. Longer than it should have. But in the end, the penny dropped.
Back in the 1980s, Tony Blair, a junior Shadow minister, was sitting quietly with his constituency agent, John Burton, when he suddenly exclaimed: “You know, John, I understand it all. Finally, I've got it.” When Burton asked him what he was talking about, Blair triumphantly replied: “Microeconomics!”
Twenty years later the remark seems charmingly naive. Could a Labour spokesman with an economic portfolio really have been so pleased to understand the basic ideas of supply and demand, pricing and competition? But at the time it was a considerable intellectual achievement for a politician of the Left, and it was to prove an important political moment too.
I wonder whether in a couple of decades' time, our own fumbling first acquaintance with new thinking will appear similarly amusing. For an intellectual revolution is under way that will change the way we think about public policy just as the free market economists did in the 1980s. I wonder whether one day soon a future party leader will turn round to his agent and say: “Finally, I've got it! Human behaviour.”
Read the whole article.
Those who doubt that there is something going on in the world of ideas should get themselves a publisher's catalogue. One month there is a book called Nudge, the next a book called Sway. A volume called Predictably Irrational follows another called Irrationality. Since the success of Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, books on tipping points have reached a tipping point.
Behind this publishing explosion, with its PR hoopla, is real and solid intellectual progress. It comes from two streams of thought, developing alongside each other. The first is the idea of evolutionary psychology.
The breakthrough came with E.O. Wilson's controversial work Sociobiology, first published in 1975. Since then a number of academics, including familiar names such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, have illuminated aspects of human behaviour by explaining how they arise from our Darwinian struggle. For example, we reciprocate favours because we are the genetic descendants of those who survived to breed because they reciprocated favours.
Why was this work controversial? Because it argued that behaviour is partly inherited, offending against those who believe that we are born completely free of such influence. As Pinker explains in his unmissable book The Blank Slate, the critics have really lost the battle, even if they haven't given up.
The second stream of thought is behavioural economics. For twenty years now, some economists have been looking at the psychology of economic decision-making. Instead of seeing humans as rational calculating machines, behavioural economists have been conducting experiments to assess how real choices are made. On paper, two alternatives may look economically identical. But the way that they are framed and the context will, in the real world, determine the choice. Human beings are, for instance, highly loss-averse. They will take risks to avoid a loss, while behaving conservatively when a possible gain is in the offing.
This work has revolutionised economic thinking and helped to win Daniel Kahneman the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. This was the prize that Milton Friedman won in 1976, just before monetarism swept all before it.
All this does not overturn classical economics. It enriches our understanding of it. It suggests that there is such a thing as society and you can't understand the impact of policy on individuals unless you realise that. We are not just individuals. We abide by social norms, reciprocate favours, stick by our commitments, are desperate to remain consistent and are tribal.
The Misshapen Mind
Two new books argue that the human brain's haphazard evolution has left us at the prey of irrational behaviors and self-defeating instincts.
Sasha Abramsky | July 18, 2008 |
The human mind, we like to think, is an embodiment of perfection. For those with a religious inclination, our ability to think through issues logically, to construct narratives about our surroundings, and to recall events that happened decades earlier is proof positive of a divine hand at work. For the nonreligious, the mind is a secular miracle, an indication that, left to its own devices, evolution produces something akin to a Panglossian vision of the best outcomes in the best of all possible worlds.
Two new books beg to differ. The first, New York University psychologist Gary Marcus' Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind (Houghton Mifflin, April 2008) sets out to show the many ways in which the human mind is an evolutionary hodge-podge, a series of good-enough solutions to the problem of understanding and responding to our environment. The second is The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't -- and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger (Dutton, June 2008), by the Canadian journalist Daniel Gardner.
I recommend you read them as a package. While both deal with complex psychological theories -- how memories can be triggered and manipulated and how our understanding of events is influenced by what other people think, by our existing preconceptions, and even by seemingly random factors such as the mentioning of a particular number before we're asked to provide the answer to a question -- Marcus clearly understands the psychological theories better. As a trained scientist, he's also somewhat more fluent in his explanations of why our brains are so easily influenced by irrational considerations.
A kluge, Marcus tells us, is an improvised engineering response to a problem. It is the product of a tinkerer playing around with odds and ends and creating a functional machine. That, he writes, is what the brain and its package of emotional, intellectual, and logical tools is. It is a series of good but imperfect methods for processing and acting on information, developed over hundreds of millions of years.
Evolution, in other words, produces things that work. That, Marcus argues, is the case with the brain, with how we store memories and how we respond to information. Were our memory systems better designed, they'd store and retrieve memories in the same way computers do. Instead, we rely on context to access snapshots from the past. Moving beyond memory, the logical aspect of higher thought is simply the icing on the cake, Marcus explains -- something that has evolved in an evolutionary microsecond and set up residence in the brain's frontal lobes. The older parts of the brain, call them our reptilian legacy, had much longer to mature. As a result, in many situations, especially when quick responses are demanded, they simply overwhelm our rational side, stampeding us into actions that don't really stand up to serious analysis.
Thus, we see an act of violence in the media (whether it be a single person being kidnapped and murdered, as with the 1993 celebrated Polly Klaas case in California, or mass slaughter, as with September 11), and we respond with a potpourri of inchoate fear, panic, and rage. We feel that the certainties governing our lives have been shattered. Rarely do we successfully step back and analyze the likelihood or unlikelihood of such an event impacting us.
For both Marcus and Gardner, the result is the emergence of an increasingly irrational political system, a sort of Truman Show in which reality is continually altered by an omnipresent media superstructure.
Read the whole entertaining review.
Interesting questions that neither candidate will ever go anywhere near.
In response to a statement by one of his top campaign advisers, John McCain was recently asked, “Is it fair that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control?”
As this video shows, he said, with a nervous laugh, “I certainly do not want to discuss that issue.”
It’s an answer begging for a punch line:
* He’s too old to need birth control, and too hard to need Viagra.
* His campaign pays for the Viagra.
* Politics gets him hard, and no one on the left OR right will sleep with him anyway.
But since we’re on the subject, Senator, here are some other questions about fairness and sex we’d like your opinion on:
* Is it fair that teens can be jailed for having consensual sex with other teens?
* Is it fair that teens having legal sex with each other can be jailed for taking and sending photos of themselves doing it?
* Is it fair that some people become licensed by the state to be pharmacists, and then insist they don’t have to do their job if they hear voices telling them they shouldn’t? (that’s called “religious freedom” or “morality” if you agree, “discrimination” or “disqualified to do your job” if you’re a consumer trying to get your medicine)
* Is it fair that hundreds of hospitals licensed by their states refuse to offer certain legal medical services—based on “moral grounds”? (what if those “moral grounds” precluded giving blacks blood transfusions from white blood?)
Here’s a challenge to all presidential candidates: Commit to every American’s right to effective contraception. Unless, of course, you can name a private event that shapes a person’s life more than becoming a parent. Of course you can’t.
Bloggingheads.tv have filmed another illuminating psychology-related discussion (see player below), this time featuring moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt and libertarian political analyst Will Wilkinson.This passage essentially presents a stage model of morality, which is cool. Read the rest of this recap, or just watch the video below.
Haidt believes that our moral response to a situation is akin to an aesthetic reaction - it happens in the blink of an eye, and it's only after the gut reaction that we attempt to rationalise our feelings.
Underlying our moral responses are five foundations, which are calibrated at different levels depending on our cultural background. The first two, Harm/Care and and Fairness/Reciprocity, are universal, tend to correlate with each other, and are especially valued by liberals. The remaining three also tend to correlate with each other, but are less universal, tending to be valued more by conservative types. These are Ingroup loyalty, Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity.
He has this as the title section of the code: "If you think this is too hard on literary criticism, read the Wikipedia article on deconstruction."
First, Keith Barry shows us how our brains can fool our bodies -- in a trick that works via podcast too. Then he involves the audience in some jaw-dropping (and even a bit dangerous) feats of brain magic.
Keith Barry is a daring illusionist, whose astonishing stunts will make you question whether you can believe your eyes. No mere magician, Barry's repertoire ranges from outrageous stunts -- driving a car at full speed blindfolded -- to powerful attempts at mind control, including hypnosis and mindreading. The Irish magician's relaxed style and comedic delivery have made him an audience favorite worldwide, both in live shows and on his European television series, Close Encounters with Keith Barry, which aired in 28 countries. He's also had specials on MTV and CBS, and has tried his hand at acting as a murder suspect on CSI: Miami."Mr. Barry is not content merely to perform sleights of hand; he wants his audiences to know how deeply he embraces risk, how very life-affirming careering toward the canyon of eternity can be." ~New York Times
At this point the article explains the testing procedures used in the study, which are quite interesting, but likely only to geeks like me. Essentially they explain the use of the Implicit Associations Test (IAT for short), which tests responses to various statements in terms of response time.
Do narcissists really hate themselves deep down inside?
You probably have a pretty good idea of what a narcissist is. They're arrogant, self-absorbed, and generally speaking they're not too pleasant to be around--at least not for long periods of time. If you're like most people, you probably also assume one additional thing. You probably think that narcissists dislike themselves deep down inside. In other words, narcissism is really just a mask that covers up deeply hidden insecurities and self-loathing.
If you think that this is true, then you're in good company. This has long been a standard conceptualization of narcissism within the psychological literature. A recent study by Keith Campbell, Jennifer Bosson, Thomas Goheen, Chad Lakey, and Michael Kernis (let's just call them Campbell et al. to keep things simple), however, challenges this assumption.
So the IAT essentially measures how quickly you categorize good words with "like me" and bad words with "not like me." People who categorize themselves with good words very quickly are said to have high implicit self-esteem. People who take longer or who actually categorize themselves with bad words are said to have low implicit self-esteem.OK, so that's the test they use, but the new research suggests there are some flaws in the test that have been overlooked. The flaws, it seems, are likely to create "false positives" for low self-esteem.
OK, back to narcissism. Prior research has shown that narcissists report very high explicit self-esteem (what they tell you about themselves), but lower implicit self-esteem (how they perform on the IAT). This research is consistent with long-standing beliefs about narcissism (e.g., psychoanalytic theories of narcissism) and seems to support the idea that narcissists don't really like themselves that much deep down inside.
Here's where a detailed analysis of psychological methods pays off. Campbell et al. noticed that a lot of the words used in the IATs of past studies were pretty communal sounding. Communal words are those that imply a connection between people. For example, the word "smile" might be considered communal because smiling facilitates social bonding. One thing that we know about narcissists is that they are not communally oriented. They're all about themselves. Indeed, past research shows that narcissists don't think very positively of themselves in terms of their relationships with others (i.e., communally). Therefore, if your IAT words are communal, then it should not be surprising that narcissists fail to quickly categorize the positive words as being "like me" and the negative words as being "not like me." In other words, communal IATs may be biased toward producing evidence of low implicit self-esteem in narcissists.
What Campbell et al. did next was create an IAT that used less communal words. For example, their IAT contained the positive word "energetic," which does not imply any sort of connection between people (i.e., the word "energetic" implies something about the individual, rather than relationships with others). What they found was that, sure enough, narcissists reported high implicit self-esteem using this less communal IAT. Again, this contradicts prior research showing just the opposite.
So what does this tell us about narcissism? First, we should take a step back and think about the methods that psychologists use to conduct their studies. Psychologists must frequently deal with the unseen and the unknown. While this makes psychology particularly interesting in our opinion, it can also make psychological research a little messy. Can we really be certain that Campbell et al.'s or anyone else's IATs really measure implicit self-esteem? Of course not. Nevertheless, Campbell et al.'s findings suggest that we should be skeptical of the notion that narcissism is always connected to inner doubt and self-hatred.
Without question, there are narcissists out there who really do hate themselves. We've all met people like this. People who say outlandishly positive things about themselves (e.g., "I'm smarter than Einstein") when it's obvious that they're covering up for a perceived deficiency (e.g., they dropped out of high school). But frankly, people can also be arrogant and conceited without any sort of deep-seated anguish. This isn't particularly pleasant to think about. Most of us-psychological researchers included-like to think that we live in a just world where bad things happen to bad people. In a just word, mean and nasty narcissists would experience inner turmoil and suffering. Unfortunately, we live in nothing close to a just world. And we suspect that many if not most people who say that they're awesome really think that they're awesome, even deep down inside.
(This post was coauthored by Ilan Shrira.)
Campbell, W. K., Bosson, J. K., Goheen, T. W., Lakey, C. E., & Kernis, M. H. (2007). Do narcissists dislike themselves 'deep down inside?'. Psychological Science, 18, 227-229.
Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, J. L. K. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1464-1480.
Be a 21st Century Buddhist, Dalai Lama Tells FollowersIt's good to see the Dalai Lama dispelling some of the mythic/magical elements of Buddhism. I'm sure that those who hold those beliefs won't give them up, but if they focus more on mind training, there's a better chance of their evolving.
[Friday, July 18, 2008 09:40]
New York, July 17, 2008 – The Dalai Lama said that it is important to preserve one’s own traditions and culture but it is wrong to close door to the outside world. He said that one should strive to become a 21st century Buddhist with both traditional values and modern education.
The Dalai Lama acknowledges greetings and respects before teaching Four Noble Truths. Photo:Kalsang Rinchen
The 73 year old Tibetan leader was giving a teaching today on the Lord Buddha's Four Noble Truths at the sold-out Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The Dalai Lama told a crowd of about 6000 people that there is no escape from physical depreciation of one’s body but there are ways to train one’s mind in order to attain enlightenment. The Dalai Lama said that merely inviting a religious preacher and getting blessings will not help but the transformation of one’s mind will.
The Dalai Lama appreciated the ‘genuine interest’ in Buddhist tradition shown by the people of Himalayan region. The Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader lauded the people of Himalayan region for their unwavering faith in Buddha Dharma and Buddhist tradition.
The Himalayan Buddhist Community of New York comprises of organizations of people from Chum, Dolpo, Gyalsumdo, Manang, Nupri, Mustang, Sherpa, Tamang, Thakali, Walung and Yolmo. All these peoples live in Nepal today, and have close religious and cultural ties with the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama called Nepalese people and Tibetans ‘twin bother and sister’.
Addicted to Grief?OK, let's just for a moment assume to unthinkable -- that this not some symptom of faulty brain wiring, but rather is a learned behavior. People can and do learn to enjoy their role as the victim of loss.
When time doesn't heal, the brain's reward system may be playing a role
By Nicole Branan
Editor's Note: This story will be published in the October/November issue of Scientific American Mind.
Losing a loved one is always painful, but for most people time eventually heals the wounds. For about 10 to 20 percent of the bereaved, however, accepting and getting over a loss remains extremely difficult, even years later. Now researchers have come a step closer to elucidating the neurobiological underpinnings of this condition called complicated grief (CG). A new functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, published online in May in the journal NeuroImage, shows that in CG patients reminders of the deceased activate a brain area associated with reward processing, pleasure and addiction.
A team led by Mary-Frances O’Connor of the University of California, Los Angeles, studied 23 women—11 of whom suffered from CG—who had lost a mother or sister to breast cancer in the past five years. While in the scanner, the women saw pictures and words that reminded them of their loved one. Brain networks associated with social pain became activated in all women, but in the CG patients reminders of the deceased also excited the nucleus accumbens, a forebrain area most commonly associated with reward.
O’Connor believes this continued neural reward activity probably interferes with adaptation to the new situation. “When we see a loved one or reminders of a loved one, we are cued to enjoy that experience,” she says. “But when a loved one dies, our brains have to adapt to the idea that these cues no longer predict this rewarding experience.” Scientists do not yet know why some people adapt better than others do.
O’Connor hopes the findings will lead to new treatment strategies that will “help the brains and minds of CG patients understand that the person is gone.”
My opinion is that I think empathy triggers our "behavior mirrors". That is if you get empathy from others you start to act the victim role and you start to feel worse because you want to reflect this idea that person has of you as being a HUGE victim. So with every person that feels sorry for you, your victim role is strengthened and with it you throw away any responsibility for your own emotions and behavior. Everything you try to achieve in this victim "mode" is doomed to failure because you have to proof for yourself constantly that you are so much a victim that everything fails and then you have one more thing to feel sorry for yourself about and that strengthens even more the victim inside you.Empathy is not "feeling sorry for" someone, so that part is just plain wrong. When we adopt the victim mentality, what we have done is develop a "part" that takes on the role as a way to sheild us from our pain, rather than actually feel that pain. The other element tha the author is describing is what happens when we exercise idiot compassion, which Pema Chodron defined as follows:
It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it's whats called enabling. It's the general tendency to give people what they want because you can't bear to see them suffering. Basically, you're not giving them what they need. You're trying to get away from your feeling of I can't bear to see them suffering. In other words, you're doing it for yourself. You're not really doing it for them.So allow me to unpack all of this.
Excerpts from Steven Wright's "One Soldier", a short film he directed in 1999. A former American Civil War soldier whose job was to play music for a general, Wright reflects on war, life, death, and the absurdity of it all. WARNING - contains spoilers.
In Hindu mythology, the Great Himalayan Range is the abode of the gods. Nestled in the lap of these mountains, and surrounded by a ring of snow-capped peaks, lies the Kathmandu Valley. Historically, the kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley comprised the political, religious, and cultural entity now known as Nepal. Located between India and the region of Tibet, the valley acts as a crossroads of trans-Himalayan trade, the shared sacred site of various Himalayan religions, and one of the epicenters for much of Himalayan art. This unique position has fostered a tremendous amount of cultural, social, and religious exchange in Nepal, thus establishing a living creative tradition that is one of the single most important influences in Himalayan art history. From the Land of the Gods: Art of the Kathmandu Valley exhibits the finest examples of Nepalese art from the Rubin Museum of Art’s permanent collection, highlighting the variety of forms and subjects, techniques and media that emerged from the valley's creative matrix.
The exhibition also touches on the main religious traditions of the Kathmandu Valley, Hinduism (Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shakta) and Buddhism, which have been integral in the artistic and culturally rich environment. Spanning more than a thousand years, the artistic legacy of the Kathmandu Valley is celebrated in the objects and ideas presented here.
During the Malla period, which spanned more than five hundred years (1200-1769), trade, agriculture, religion, and culture flourished in the Kathmandu Valley, fostering tremendous growth in the production of sacred art. The Malla rulers were enthusiastic patrons of both Hinduism and Buddhism, contributing to the construction of public buildings, palaces, shrines, temples, and objects of worship. The Newar people—the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley—came to dominate most forms of artistry during this time both within the valley and throughout the greater Himalayas. Newar artists were masters at portraying the spiritual world in their metal casting, woodcarving, clay and stone sculpting, and painting. Highly sought after, they traveled extensively throughout Asia, creating religious art for their neighbors. As a result, the Newar style, characterized by sensuous, youthful bodies, sharp facial features, and elegant ornaments and jewelry, became one of the most influential in Himalayan art.
Inscriptions and Dating
Throughout the artistic history of Nepal, but more frequently in the later period, Nepalese patrons occasionally documented the specific circumstances involved in the creation of sacred religious art. These inscriptions, which included the date of the image’s creation, were usually placed on the front of paintings along with scenes depicting the donors; or around the base of sculptures. Prior to the 16th century, dated works are rarer than in succeeding centuries. Examples of these early dated works are crucial to art historians, as they provide benchmarks for stylistic analysis and comparative dating. Many of the works in this exhibition are inscribed and dated, providing art historians with names, places, dates, and benchmarks for style.
Here are a few images from the Buddhist collection:
Jonah Lehrer visits Google's Cambridge, MA office to discuss his book Proust Was a Neuroscientist. This event took place on June 11, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series.