Friday, August 18, 2017

On the Absurdist Victory: All is Well

A while back I wrote about a video comparing Stoicism and Existentialism. The video also touched on different psychology principles developed from each philosophy. Stoicism is easily seen in CBT and REBT, which start with the premise that when we're upset it's because of our perception of things, not the things in themselves, and we often have an irrational view. Through reality testing and viewing the situation in a detached way we can be less emotionally affected by anxiety around events. It's been very effective in reducing anxiety levels in patients.

Existential psychoanalysis took a different path:
"The basic thrust of existential psychoanalysis, if it aspires to be at all existential, must in turn be rooted in the sensibilities of existential philosophy. That sensibility may be characterized by two principal themes: a) all human knowledge is rooted in personal experience; b) the weight of experience is so exasperating that we seek to escape it through self-deception....Every one of us employs deceptions for the same reason. Whenever we're thwarted in our endeavors we feel disappointment and frustration. We may fear that we won't get our way by being honest and resort to guile and manipulation - the principal source of neurotic guilt....On a deeper level it entails the patient's willingness to plumb the depths of experience while accepting responsibility for whatever comes to light, for better or worse."
Instead of our view of externals provoking upset, it's in the struggle for people to accept the truth about themselves and recognize their various attempts to escape it. Instead of looking at individual daily triggers, they look at that big one: We search for meaning and purpose in life, but the reality has to be faced - that there simply isn't any. We've been thrown here randomly, and it's up to each of us to make the best of things. The "curative power lay in the patient's capacity for honesty." Upsetting experiences are useful for taking us outside ourselves and possibly provoking a transformation of consciousness that leads to maturation. No pain, no gain. Suppression of experiences is the problem. We need to give voice to them, no matter how ugly. From an early age, we devise pleasant fantasies to override potential traumas as slight as disappointment, and then we become anxious that there's something deep within that we don't really want to know. Self-deception and deception by others, both forms are part of every issue. We're all inherently devious and deceive one another as a matter of course. The solution is acknowledging our radical freedom, digging past the deceptions to find our authentic selves, and recognizing the absurdity of it all.

On Fascist Movements and Free Speech

Some people are upset because Ryerson cancelled a panel discussion featuring Faith Goldy, of Rebel Media, who openly expresses the belief that Muslims are a problem in our country. A Ryerson spokesperson said,
"After a thorough security review, the University has concluded that Ryerson is not equipped to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward. In light of recent events, Ryerson University is prioritizing campus safety."
I don't blame them. I wouldn't give her the platform to speak in the first place. I think free speech is important, but it's particularly important because we need the right to criticize people in positions of power and to question legislation. It's not important that everyone can say everything they think to as many people as possible. Her right to free speech isn't eroded since she's still free to talk on the internet and in her own media venues. [ETA - Even Rebel Media doesn't want her anymore.] She just wasn't given the right to speak at that one location.

I'm a fan of our anti-hate speech here in Canada. I don't believe in free speech at any cost when we see how many people can be influenced by a charismatic speaker with a warped agenda. Intelligent debate is the ideal, of course, but the reality is that some of these speakers can make the worst atrocities sound necessary. Get enough people worried about the economy, and it's too easy to pick a group of people to blame and then run them out of town - or worse. (I say way more about free speech here.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inconceivable! His Dinner with Chomsky

Wallace Shawn sat down for a chat with Noam Chomsky (video link here), and here's what they talked about - slightly abridged and loosely quoted (for clarification purposes) with links. It's a great recharge for activists!

Shawn - Many people are shocked to see the president is now a cruel, brutal, greedy type of a man, and this is now the face of America, but I'm not shocked because this has been the face of the United States for decades. What do you think is not new, and what do you think actually IS new?  [For more on this, check out Cenk Uygur's interview with John Cusack. It's pre-election, and the president he's criticizing at the beginning is Obama.]

Chomsky - My wife is from Brazil, and she predicted the Trump win before the primaries. From the outside, there's much that is not new. Recently the U.S. demanded that Cambodia pay back a debt incurred when the U.S. was destroying their country. There was secret bombing. It seems probably hundreds of thousands were killed. The Khmer Rouge was a small group, but ended up become a mass army of peasants starving and driven off the land by American bombing. The U.S. offered aid to get them to purchase American agricultural produce, and now they want payback. The American ambassador to Cambodia couldn't understand why Cambodians often make anti-American comments, but that's the America plenty of people see all over the world.

What is new, and dramatically new, is the U.S. withdrawal from the rest of the world on the issue of greatest significance for the prospect of human survival: climate change. The Washington Post had images of receding glaciers that will raise sea levels by many feet and pretty much drive tens of millions off land. A good part of organized life in coastal cities will be devastated. Every country in the world with the exception of the United States is committed to at least some actions on this issue. The US alone is not only refusing to participate, but is actually moving in a dedicated fashion in the opposite direction: trying to maximize the damage.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Slippery Arguments and Equity at Google

You can read most of the infamous Google memo here, and for the record, I don't think opening up this discussion should be a fireable offence, but I'm just concerned with this one piece of the puzzle right now:
"the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership."
David Brooks calls this "championing scientific research."

But consider this analogy. Walk into an art gallery full of art by Picasso, Monet, Dali, Van Gogh...  It is the case that men and women have some inherent differences on average; that claim has some validity. There are certainly more differences among the groups that between them, but there's still a difference however slight. BUT it doesn't follow that that's why we don't see equal representation in an art gallery. It's clearly not the case that women inherently, evolutionarily, don't prefer the arts and don't have any artistic talent. We can see that so clearly and easily because we are well aware that over the past centuries few women were allowed near a book much less a paintbrush.

We're far enough away from that museum scenario to really shake our head at the blatant injustices that produced such disparate results. However, as a society, we're apparently not quite able to step back and recognize the profound level of inequity that has created current gender distribution in the world of high tech.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

On Community, Again

I just read local author Paul Born’s Deepening Community. In places, it’s very close to what I’ve written about in terms of ensuring that we’re kind to one another at the very end. He doesn’t skirt around the issue that we’re in dire straights and that we can choose how to behave when push comes to shove. (But I think he should have called the book, The Born Community.)

I've written about community before, and I'm going to say much of the same thing here but in many, many more words!  There are pictures and video clips to break it up. (I included headings for clarity and page numbers throughout - where I remembered.)   I aim to critique Born's book while trying to get to the bottom of what can be done to foster a cohesive sense of belonging and caring spanning the globe.  I'm using Born's book as as starting point, but I don't have all the solutions.  I'm ever in the process of seeking.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Prevention as an Ounce of Cure

Here's an update on what I've learned about lymphedema after an ALND. It's way less scary now that I know how to manage it, but it's still a drag. It takes about an hour away from me every day. I'm just in the earliest stages, and it possible to stay here forever, but not without a bit of effort - something breast cancer surgeons should make sure patients understand. It's all about retraining the lymph flow to take a different path through the body. The body's divided into 'watersheds' which all move to the closest lymph nodes, but, with some missing, some areas have to be redirected. Here's what's working for me right now, and what I wished I had known straight out of the hospital - just ten things!:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Having the Lowest Graduation Rates

This recent article in my local paper tells us that our region is lowest in the province for graduation rates.


They worry that "Students who did graduate also took longer to do so than almost anywhere else." The graphic shows 68% finish after 4 years, and 81% after a fifth year (so, 13% stay for a victory lap). I share their concern that almost 20% aren't graduating, but not their concern about taking a fifth year. I commented there that I don't support that particular focus:
"I encouraged all my kids to do a fifth year of school - it's the last chance for a free education, and it gives them more time to take electives. I've always seen the drive to have kids finish in four years as just a cost-savings method at the expense of a well-rounded education. What's the educational benefit of pushing kids to finish faster?"
They claim,
"The board is reluctant to more strongly dissuade Grade 9 students from choosing academic studies over applied studies, even as students who start high school with unrealistic expectations fail to keep up and must later switch streams." 
They say that like it's a bad thing. Sure, it can be a challenge to work with students on material far outside their capabilities, but a public education is there for everyone to find, not just their talents, but also their limitations. Every student should have a right to try to stretch themselves to do work that's difficult because some actually make it after a few attempts at the higher levels. Nothing should dissuade them from trying all their options at this point in life.

The Plight of the Millennials

Further explanation here. 
First, a bit about statistical norms and the normal distribution. In social sciences, for something to be considered a statistically significant characteristic of a group, it just needs to be present in about 68% of the population, or one standard deviation from the norm. There's tons of variation in the other 32%, so all the generalizations below might not apply to the people in your life. But, according to researchers, they apply to most people in each group, so we can still look at trends. I remember studies in my day showing a clear correlation between violent movie viewing and violent teens, yet I loved slasher flicks and still lean towards more gruesome films despite the stats. And, more to the point, nobody stopped making those movies. This recent article is unlikely to change a thing, but we're still wise to consider it.

The article in question is The Atlantic article, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" which adds to a running list of problems with kids today caused by technology. It hits home from some of the trends I've noticed anecdotally in my classroom over the past 26 years: that phones are distracting, lead to unrealistic idealization and familial alienation, and affect sleep habits. But the writer misses any discussion that phones also drive constant change, consumerism, and cognizance of tragedies, and the significance of other factors affecting trends in this demographic. Here's a chart I sometimes use in class for an overview of demographics by year of birth. We've moved way beyond the boom, bust, and echo labels.

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Comparing Existentialism and Stoicism

This summer, I went on one camping trip with a book on Stoicism, then another camping trip with a book on Existentialism, and I was intrigued by the many similarities. Then I came across this video that has some overlap with what I had noticed. As they say in the video, Massimo Pigliucci (MP) on Stoicism and Skye Cleary (SC) on Existentialism, both are philosophies that offer a way to live instead of just a way to think about the world. I'm putting it all together here with quotes (names linked to sources) to sort it out for myself. I'm just thinking out loud here. This is too long for any normal person to want to read.

These are both philosophies that allow surveyors to pick and choose from variations on a theme as neither has one authoritative dude overriding all others, and, it would appear, few of the big guns cared to adopt either label anyway. For the Stoics, defining yourself as one is avoided because it's pretentious. In The Role Ethics of Epictetus, it's clarified that we are simultaneously different things, and how we play each role is more important than what our roles are. The roles are often not our choice, but how we do them are, i.e. whether or not we're a virtuous son, mother, teacher, or waiter (MP). For Existentialists, we can't be defined by the roles we take on because we're more than the mere facts about ourselves (SC), so labels become meaningless.