Category Archives: Social Psychology

HATING HATERS

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If you HATE a HATER, then you’re a Hater too, right?

But WAIT- Didn’t Jesus throw the “money changers” out of the temple in an act of righteous indignation?  Did he HATE them? Certainly, he loathed, detested and despised what they were doing.

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Maybe some type of HATRED is justified. Like, say, if you hated CRUELTY or IDIOCY or Three-eyed ABOMINATIONS or BANKERS.

Let’s face it: HATE is an ugly word. You can be convicted of Hate Crimes. Most people, don’t want to think they are a hater. So lets make it more acceptable. Maybe a kinder phrase…

For the really annoying people and situations in life, like traffic lights,  Rudi Giuliani and cold coffee, consider me a PASSIONATE DISLIKER.

 

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the RELATIVITY OF TRUTH, part 2

continued from the RELATIVITY OF TRUTH

                                                                 THE MISINTERPRETATION OF TEXTS.

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Language by it’s very nature is ambiguous, whether spoken or written.  So its hard to get at the real truth of what the speaker or the author intended.   For example, there are many interpretations of Bible verses and these multiple meanings are the key factor in creating denominational schisms throughout the history of Christianity.

CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS

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American Baptist Association /  American Baptist Churches / Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America / Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists / Baptist Bible Fellowship International  /  Baptist General Conference / Baptist Missionary Association of America /Central Baptist Association  /  Christian Unity Baptist Association / Conservative Baptist Association of America / Continental Baptist Churches  / Cooperative Baptist Fellowship / Enterprise Association of Regular Baptists /Free Will Baptist /   Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship,  etc.

How does this happen when everyone in these divisions is a Christian?  The Bible is purported to be the final truth that should unite all Christians, but each of these denominations claims that their version of the truth is The Truth.  The process is simple: the  interpretation is reported as a self-evident fact ( not unlike many newscasts).  And if you see things differently, then go and start your own church.

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The Seventh Day Adventists, for example, have interpreted Revelation 13:15–18, which designates the number 666 as the  Mark of the Beast, as a reference to the Pope. Uriah Smith was the first to propose the interpretation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  In The United States in the Light of Prophecy, he wrote:

The pope wears upon his pontifical crown in jeweled letters, this title: "Vicarius Filii Dei," "Viceregent of the Son of God;" [sic] the numerical value of which title is just six hundred and sixty-six. The most plausible supposition we have ever seen on this point is that here we find the number in question. It is the number of the beast, the papacy; it is the number of his name, for he adopts it as his distinctive title; it is the number of a man, for he who bears it is the "man of sin."

Is this true? Millions of Adventists used to believe so, “for the Bible tells me so.”  I get the feeling they don’t like the Catholics very much, especially the leadership.   Scholars have raised the following issues with this claim:          (1) This phrase is not on the pope’s crown. No photos or evidence of it can be found.  (2)  the numerical value of vicarius filli die was calculated as 666 by adding up the Roman Numerals in the title and conveniently equating U with V  (3)  the King James Bible  is considered by many to be  the standard reference, the True Bible, but it is a translation of a translation of a translation –  The original Hebrew into Greek into the numerous English and International versions.  And some scholars, referring to the original Hebraic have suggested that  the number 666 is incorrect.

TEXT MESSAGE CONFUSION –  WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY TO ME?

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In today’s secular world, the text that matters the most is the text message. Somehow the latest status report from a friend about what they are eating for lunch  becomes a matter of utmost urgency that demands an immediate response. But things can go drastically wrong in trying to interpret some text messages especially since the tone, stress and nuances of spoken language are not available. Consider the video below, which illustrates this point quite well.

WARNING: UNCENSORED! 

IN SUMMARY –   Of course there is some truth out there and it is necessary to trust and believe some things.  Personal experience is probably the closest we come to an absolute truth for each of us.  It is TRUE that you had that subjective experience. This can’t really be denied or argued.  It may also be true that your experience is a universal experience shared by all humans, like love or grief.

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But in a world of conflicting claims of truth, how do you choose?  What makes the Free Will Baptists right and the Full Gospel Baptists wrong?  What makes FOX NEWS right and the NBC NEWS wrong?  What makes your interpretation of an ambiguous text right and my interpretation wrong?   Everyone is free to believe whatever Truth they want to, my objection is the exportation of these truths and their enthronement into the realm of unquestioning Fact.   At least Science, which does make some claims of nearly universal truth, invites and welcomes all valid criticism.

 

The Relativity of Truth

 

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I never lied to you. I’ve always told you some version of the truth.”                              

 This is the desperate line of Jack Nicholson’s character in Something’s Gotta Give.  Not surprisingly,  this awkward explanation of his relationship deceptions gets little sympathy from his distraught girlfriend.

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No one wants to hear some version of the truth. We want to hear the hand-on-the-Bible Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the so-help-me-God, may-the-Devil-snatch-me-to-hell, on-my-mother’s-grave, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die TRUTH. Unfortunately, this kind of ultimate truth is very difficult to find. Many people CLAIM to have found the real, complete truth and they may sincerely believe it and proclaim it. But sincerity is not a guarantee of validity and believing someone just based on their sincerity can be a recipe for disaster.  I want to examine several examples of how relative truth is promoted as absolute truth and the possible consequences.

                                                     TRUTH & the MEDIA

                             CBS EVENING NEWS with WALTER CRONKITE

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite reports that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Walter Cronkite  ended every newscast with his famous sign-off line: “And that’s the way it is…” .  At the time it sounded innocent enough, but now this statement seems presumptuous and preposterous. Only an omnipotent being could truly know and be justified in saying – ” that’s the way it is.”        A more accurate sign off for Cronkite would have been: ” that’s the way some things kinda are according to CBS NEWS.”  Admittedly, this lacks a lot of the bravado of his original line.

BRIAN WILLIAMS – ENTERTAINER & LIAR: WHAT’S MY OTHER NAME?( (click on Brian Williams name above to learn his other name)

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News Services, reporters, journalists, online newspapers,  news bloggers would all like to believe that they are providing facts that you need to know, like dutiful short-term historians.   But while each story or article may be more or less accurate within it’s limited confines, only certain stories can be  selected even in today’s 24/7 news cycle and the selection process is biased in many ways.   One example of this is cultural bias.

CULTURAL BIAS IN THE MEDIA

Sociological Images visually affirms the prevalence of this bias by comparison of international and American same-week editions of Time Magazine.   The story on Pakistan is not deemed politically appropriate or is considered to be less interesting than What Makes a School Great.  Once again, we are given some version of the Truth. 

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ANXIETY

 

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ANXIETY is the background worriment that gnaws away at your soul day after day.  Anxiety is like sirens in the Big City of your Mind that never go away: sometimes they are close, sometimes they are in the distance, on the threshold of hearing. But the sirens are always there with the same message: DANGER !

LIGHTS, WAILING & FEAR

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Think of anxiety as the awkward robot in Lost in Space that always warned the young, naive Will Robinson of an unforeseen and uncertain threat:

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!”

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Like the robot, you might not know what the danger is, or when it will strike but there is a vague and continuing sense of impending doom.  The wolves are at the door: the IRS, the FBI, the CIA, the NSASWAT, the CDC are surrounding your compound, securing the perimeter, preparing the battering ram that will shatter your front door….  

HAPPY HOUR

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Is it possible to escape anxiety? God knows we try, in any way possible.  For many, the first line of defense is the latest generation of anxiety drugs: Xanax, Ativan, Effexor, Klonopin.  If you are in a mandated outpatient substance abuse program these benzodiazepines will probably be frowned upon as addictive.  Problem is that milder substitutes may not be as “effective” – so how do you chemically curb the anxiety which fuels addictions without introducing new addictions? If the treatment amounts to trading one addiction for another,  it can be like putting out fire with gasoline: the good news: your craving for alcohol has diminished; the bad news: you now eat Xanax and Klonopin like they’re M&Ms.

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OLD SCHOOL

Then there is the Old School anxiety remedy of demon alcohol:  rum, scotch, vodka on the rocks, port, pernod or tequilla. Whiskey and beer, have no fear… Alcohol can be temporarily effective at diminishing anxiety but if you wake up in Cleveland and don’t know how you got there, it might be good to consider other approaches.  Also, the hangovers, guilt, bad judgments, destroyed relationships, prison time for your third DUI and all those parties where you can’t remember when you’ve had a better time might be clues that this is not the way to escape the wolves at the door. 

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ALTERNATIVE ESCAPES FROM ANXIETY

Any effective distraction can provide a short escape, take your pick: dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight, snowboarding, chocolate ice cream binging, reality TV “watchathons”, sexuality, virtual reality, violence, philosophical digressions, rock and roll, video games, caffeine, nicotine, benzedrine anything to distract the mind away from those haunting sirens, that annoying robot, the disturbing pea of anxiety under the mattress that won’t let you sleep.

THE EVOLUTION OF ANXIETY

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The ancient ancestors of modern day homo sapiens are now referred to as hominina ( formerly known as homo).  The hominina were the start of the human line after the split from the chimpanzees. The early human forefathers did not feel anxiety. The hominina mind was still basically an animal mind like the rest of the great apes and animals do not feel anxiety, they experience fear. Animalistic fear is specific, immediate, clear and functional. It has survival value. Anxiety is vague, general, unclear and has no survival value. Fear increases lifespans. Anxiety decreases lifespans.

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What happened? How did anxiety enter into the human story? Based on the fossil record, around 200,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans emerged. Recent evidence suggests that by 70,000 years ago, humans were behaviorally modern, displaying complex language, abstract thinking and anticipatory planning.  In other words, the human brain, especially the pre-frontal lobe, developed rapidly and we started to really think and with this emergence of the full-fledged human mind came tool development, exploration, adaption to hostile environments and eventually nuclear bombs, computers and smart phones. So a former caveman crawled out of apehood to become the thriving, inventive creatures we are today, in all our glorious billions around the globe. But we didn’t learn how to turn the mind off. And we don’t really know how to control or modify our thoughts. So another part of the human legacy is anxiety.

CIVILIZATION and ITS DISCONTENTS

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Freud said that neurosis is the price of civilization. To put the same idea more simply, anxiety is the price of thinking. ( or more precisely, anxiety is the price of over-thinking).  So, inversely, if you want to eradicate neurosis, stop civilization – go back to the jungle.  If you want to eradicate anxiety,  stop thinking.  As John Lennon advised in the Beatle’s psychedelic anthem Tomorrow Never Knows: “Turn off you mind, relax and float downstream, it is not dying; Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, it is knowing…”

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MIND CONTROL

Mind Control usually  conjures up images of someone else trying to control our minds through brainwashing.   It is a coercive, outside influence.  But self-initiated  mind control, learning to control your own mind, is the most fundamental and effective therapy for ANXIETY.   Any sustained practice that increases present awareness and mindfulness  is a type of positive, self-initiated mind  control.  Meditation and Metacognition are primary examples of this.

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Meditation strives to focus on a single focal point, like breathing.  The focal point itself is not really important, it just needs to be compelling enough to temporarily hold our attention. The focal point is  a tool to remove you for a few all-important minutes from the incessant mind monkey, the restless , uncertain thought pattern of modern humans that is churning out anxiety.   By standing outside of the stream of consciousness , you can sometimes see it for the first time.  It’s like someone waking up from a daydream and suddenly realizing – wow, I’ve spent the last two hours obsessing  and worrying and I haven’t done anything on my list for day.

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Metacognition is a fancy psychology term that simply means thinking about thinking.  The idea is to avoid automatic and uncontrolled thinking and systematically review and assess your thought process.  Metacognition has been applied to study habits.  There are many students who study hard and wonder why they don’t pass the exam.  Then there are students who think about how they study, and make changes if needed so that they study more effectively.

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The idea of both Meditation and Metacognition is to WATCH the basics and BE AWARE of what you’re thinking.  No, it will not stop anxiety because no one can ( or should) completely stop thinking, but we can actually control the source of anxiety and therefore greatly diminish it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUZZ BOMB BRANDING

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V1-Flying-Bomb-TitleSTEREOTYPES are negative caricatures of a group that create and sustain the belief that all members are the same. One of the most insidious manifestations of stereotyping involves the use of emotionally tagged labels which I call “buzz bomb branding.” Historically, buzz bombs were the nick name for the the ominously buzzing German V-1 rockets whose primitive guidance system enabled them to hit somewhere in or around London during WW2. This type of broad, indiscreet targeting and the resultant fear and dread is exactly what occurs with buzz bomb branding. The negative characteristics of these labels are so culturally ingrained, so universally accepted as unconditional evil, so media-repeated and pulpit-pronounced that no one even thinks to question the monolithic and final judgments they dispense. Buzz bomb labels use moral outrage to create the false belief that all members of these notoriously evil groups must be equally depraved. In essence, the word itself has acquired so much negative momentum that the subtleties and subcategories are ignored and everyone given the label is effectively and often unfairly branded. 

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Why does this happen? It happens because we like to simplify things and this leads to over-generalization. When you have to make painstaking distinctions and articulate complex shades of gray and clarify ambiguity, it’s much more difficult and troublesome than living in the assurance of a black and white world, where America and freedom and apple pie are good and everything else is evil.

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IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

With stereotype labels, the activating word is like a button that is pushed and it brings up an image or a single concept of the worse case scenario. The problem is that there are usually a wide spectrum of people or concepts that have been put in the category that are unfairly judged by this image.

LET’S EXAMINE A PARTICULAR EXAMPLE of this emotional stereotyping: CHILD PORNOGRAPHERS

Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). The legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity.  A picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is “sufficiently sexually suggestive.”

So child pornography RANGES from videos of very young prepubescent children who are forced or coerced  to engage in sexual activity, which is absolutely horrible  TO – at the other end of the spectrum – photos of sexually mature 17 year-olds who may willingly pose in sexually suggestive ways while intentionally lying about their age.  Not that there is anything good about this “older end” of the spectrum:  It is wrong, misguided, it is bad judgment and may be openly abusive BUT sexually suggestive photos of 17 year-olds ARE NOT THE MORAL EQUIVALENT of videos of prepubescent children having sex with adults.  Why do we lump them all together with no distinctions?

CONSEQUENCES OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

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 CHILD PORNOGRAPHY  SENTENCING

There is now a mandatory five year sentence for “possession with intent to distribute or sell child pornography” OR “production of child pornography”. Without any more details, the legal language is quite sufficient to push the outrage button and many would (understandably) say: Great, this sentence is not long enough! But like a lot of laws, especially drug laws, the language is vague and the real world application can only be seen in a case by case basis. Consider this case:

A 20 year-old man makes a home video of consensual sex with his 17 year-old girlfriend and downloads it to his computer, with his girlfriend’s knowledge and with no intent to share the video with others. CHARGE: child pornography production. SENTENCE: five years. Does this man deserve five years in prison? Why does he face this type of sentence? Because he is on the fringe of the hysteria and he has been caught up in the group and branded.

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 In addition to the legal consequences, there are the so-called “collateral consequences.”  For anyone accused of possessing child pornography, for anyone whose house was searched because of suspicions of child pornography, society’s verdict has already been reached: your career is destroyed and your reputation damaged beyond repair – regardless of eventually exoneration or the exact nature of the crimes.  Undoubtedly, many or the worst offenders deserve this, but not all, especially before any legal resolution.

I chose child pornography for this article as an extreme example of how buzz bomb branding works. The point is: there are distinctions to be made even here. It is always important to avoid emotional knee jerk reactions and look at details and understand how  over-generalization happens.  Let’s consider the cultural context that shapes child pornography.

SAUDI ARABIA DOES NOT HAVE A MINIMUM AGE FOR MARRIAGE

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One of the key problems for this “buzz bomb branding”of child pornographers is that our society can’t clearly define “childhood.”   When do you stop being a child?  Child marriages were common throughout history and even today 146 countries permit girls younger than 18 to marry with the consent of parents or other authorities; in 52 countries, girls under age 15 can marry with parental consent.  Of course, this is not the same as child pornography –  these child marriages are not, one would hope, being videotaped or photographed. But for a minor to have legally sanctioned sex is not unprecedented. Of course, the younger the girls, the more it becomes an unthinkable abomination to Western sensibilities

CREEPILY SEXUALIZED BEAUTY PAGEANT CONTESTANT

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Another problem with child pornography is double standards.  Our society acts with instant outrage at the mention of child pornography and at the same time openly engages in the sexualization of minors, in beauty pageants and in marketing teen divas like Britney Spears. In her autobiographical hit “Piece of Me,” Britney declares; ” I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17″ and the media still wants to “put pictures of my derriere in the magazine.”

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Yet another problem with child pornography is our society’s understanding of “pornography” in general.  Pornography, like fornication, is not a descriptive word –  it is a judgmental word.  Upper class people enjoy ‘EROTICA” and express their sexuality by MAKING LOVE.  Lower class people look at pornography and fornicate!!  What’s the difference? Why is “shit” a dirty word and “defecate” an acceptable word?  Most German/Anglo-Saxon curse words are considered obscene while the Latin equivalent is considered much more polite.  So the push-button outrage, the buzz bomb branding, comes from centuries of hate and resentment against the German / Anglo Saxon influence  on the (supposedly) previously clean language and culture. We have a deeply embedded linguistic program that initiates an immediate negative reaction to these words and then commands us to not think any further about nuances and distinctions. Of course, obsession and addiction to anything whether it is drugs, pornography or violence is very wrong, clinically problematic and self-destructive.  My point it that it is not “adult” pornography or drugs or guns per se that are the problem – it is their abuse. 

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CHILD PORNOGRAPHY is a very emotional topic, so let me be crystal clear on my position.   It is probably the deepest human instinct to protect our young from dangers and nothing is more horrifying than a child predator. I am ADVOCATING a more precise definition of child pornography that has a more narrow focus.  This is not to let anyone off the hook, but to deal appropriately with specific behaviors. In other words, a specific punishment should fit the specific crime. In the case of Child Pornography, I don’t think this will happen unless we rethink our understanding of childhood and pornography.


 

I want to examine one more simpler example of buzz bomb branding to illustrate the similarity of patterns across categories ( and to end this article on a less contentious note).This category is HORSE THIEF

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In the Old West a horse was often necessary for survival. If you stole a man’s horse, you were possibly condemning him to die. Just like child pornography today, it was simply not tolerated. And just like child pornography, distinctions were not made and all horse thieves were treated alike – they were hung. What distinctions could be made in the notorious category of such worthless varmints as horse thieves? I ask the reader to consider Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove to illustrate the answer.

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McMurtry distinguishes three types of horse thieves:

1. International Horse Thieves.

More precisely, stealing horses from Mexico. It’s okay for the Texas rangers to cross the border and steal Mexican horses because the Mexicans probably stole them from the US in the first place so they are just “retrieving them.” Consequence: No punishment. ( except the Mexicans might re-steal the stolen horses)

2. Outlaw Horse Thieves.

When the former Texas Ranger Jake Spoon teams up with despicable outlaws, he is hung for being a horse thief.

3. Starving Indian Horse Thieves.

When Captain McCall tracks down some more horse thieves later in the book, he discovers a small band of starving Native Americans who have already killed and cooked some of the horses. Consequence: no punishment.

So apparently there are different levels within this nefarious category. In conclusion – always question emotional responses and simplistic categorizations and watch out for the buzz bombs!