Societies worldwide are suffering epidemics of mental illness because “human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart,” writes George Monbiot at The Guardian.
“Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.” The consequence? “[P]lagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness.”
Kim Stark has made a career of talking to strangers. She made it her task to try to understand why she does that, in this TED talk. She has decided that it is better to use one’s perceptions than to use categories, such as the category of “stranger.” Using this category means that we are not treating others as fully human. There are other benefits. Some studies show that people are more comfortable opening up to strangers than to people they believe they know. We expect that people we know understand us–we expect them to read our minds. Not so with strangers, with whom we start from scratch. Sometimes they do understand us better. Maybe we need strangers, but how should we interact with them, how do we balance both civility and privacy, which are the guiding rules in the U.S. In other countries there are other rules. In Denmark, many folks are extremely adverse to talking to strangers.
Stark offers and exercise that involves smiling, and then “triangulation,” commenting on a third person or a thing. Or engage in “noticing,” such as complimenting the other person on something (and you can most easily talk to a stranger’s dog or baby). Or engage in “disclosure,” sharing a personal experience, and this tends to cause the “stranger” to reciprocate.
Stark’s main message is that we need to stop being so wary of strangers and to make a place for them in our lives.
At The Atlantic, James Hamblin follows up with his own explorations on talking to strangers.
I found this discussion of race issues by Glenn C. Loury and Sam Harris to be a lively, challenging and candid discussion.
Consider, for example, this excerpt on “structural racism”:
This is one of the reasons why I think the term “structural racism” is so compelling to many people. But I, a social scientist, find the evocation of that kind of one-size-fits-all narrative—structural racism—inadequate to getting an account of what’s actually going on.
It’s not as if there’s a bunch of white people meeting somewhere deciding to make the laws in order to repress blacks. And it’s not as if the outcomes that people are concerned about—in the example at hand, disparities in the incidence of incarceration—are independent of the free choices and decisions that are being made by people, in this case black people, who might end up finding themselves in prison. They made a decision to participate in criminal activities that were clearly known to be illicit and perhaps carried the consequences that they are now suffering, didn’t they?
Sometimes the decisions they make have enormous negative consequences for other black people. Do we want to inquire about what’s going on in the homes and communities and backgrounds from which people are coming who are the subjects of this racial inequality? Or are we to assume that any such deficits or disadvantages that are causally associated with their involvement in lawbreaking, and that are related to their own community organization, structures of family, attentiveness of parenting, and so forth, are nevertheless themselves the consequence of white racism? Black people wouldn’t be acting that way if it weren’t for white racism. If there were greater opportunity, if the schools were better funded, if it hadn’t been for slavery, the black family wouldn’t have… So forth, and so on.
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Clinton Supporters Hoist the Impossible-to-Prove-Standard of Quid Pro Quo Corruption in Defending Despots’ Contributions to the Clinton Foundation’s
At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald lays out some of the most important principles for which the Clinton charitable foundation ostensibly stands (e.g., women’s rights, LGBT rights and economic oppression). He then makes an overwhelming case that the Clinton principles are anathema to the despotic dictatorships “donating” to the Clinton Foundation. Therefore, it follows (unless one believes that electing Hilary Clinton is so important that clear evidence that she is corrupt is irrelevant) that despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia are donating to the Clinton Foundation for reasons other than furthering the stated goals of the Foundation.
So why are the despots shoveling tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation? Clinton apologists try to redirect the discussion at this point, arguing that the Clinton Foundation has done some excellent charitable work. Glenn Greenwald responds:
That the Clinton Foundation has done some good work is beyond dispute. But that fact has exactly nothing to do with the profound ethical problems and corruption threats raised by the way its funds have been raised. Hillary Clinton was America’s chief diplomat, and tyrannical regimes such as the Saudis and Qataris jointly donated tens of millions of dollars to an organization run by her family and operated in its name, one whose works has been a prominent feature of her public persona. That extremely valuable opportunity to curry favor with the Clintons, and to secure access to them, continues as she runs for president.
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ALAIN de BOTTON: We marry the wrong person because we fail to focus on excellence in resolving conflict
Alain de Botton has written an extremely insightful article at the NYT on why we marry the wrong person.
What do we traditionally look for: During a perfectly romantic date, we propose marriage as an attempt to bottle up romance forever. Or we act Machiavellian, seeking to find someone for strategic advantages. There’s nothing bad about any of this, but it leaves out a critically important area of concern.
Alain de Botton urges that we not overlook that we are all dysfunctional, and that dysfunction often is left unexplored until after the vows are uttered.
We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?” Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.
For instance, we tend to seek those things that traditionally make us happy, but many of those things are things from our dysfunctional childhoods:
What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.
Yes, this will no doubt offend. The carnage on the street has got to stop.
The happily ever after trope goes something like this: Love, marriage, children, happiness. However, that is not what the statistics show. “Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting.” The source of this sad passage is “Decades of Studies Show What Happens to Marriages After Having Kids,” in Fortune Magazine. The statistics show that having children drives a married couple apart more than it brings them more closely together:
The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.
Worse still, this decrease in marital satisfaction likely leads to a change in general happiness, because the biggest predictor of overall life satisfaction is one’s satisfaction with their spouse.
I completely agree with Bill Nye on the issue of “race.” We should all reject the concept of “race.” It is wholly and completely unscientific. We are all of the same species: We are all human beings. Yes, we humans come with different skin colors and we have various features that differ based on our ancestry, but we are all human. In rejecting the concept of “race,” I would urge that we maintain and vigorously enforce laws that protect people from other people who foolishly continue to believe in “race” and act on that foolish belief. If we keep clinging to unscientific unsupported notions of “race,” though, we will FOREVER be divided for an idiotic reason, regardless of how well-intentioned our belief in “race.” Unfortunately, the belief in “race” has long been widespread; and it has long been institutionalized and repeatedly used as a tool for oppression, power and financial gain. Rooting it out of every little corner of the planet will be an immense task requiring that people listen closely to those who do careful science on this issue, and then do their utmost to recognize that every person is of the same species.
Nye does not reject that there are such things as social tribes but warns that they can be destructive: “There have always been tribes . . .but what we have to appreciate now is that we live in a global community. Tribal loyalties are fun when it comes to the Superbowl but they are not relevant when it comes to our future. We are all in this together.”
We can fully recognize the need to protect people from racism and racialism while rejecting the concept of race. In my view, we should all be fighting a two front war. Deny the existence of race while at the same time protecting people from the ravages of racism. To anticipate objections to this post, yes, race is social construct that is as real as any social construct. But it is inevitably and ultimately a destructive social construct. It’s time to dismantle it while carefully protecting people from bigots.
We can fully recognize the need to protect people from racism and racialism while rejecting the concept of race. In my view, we should all be fighting a two front war. Deny the existence of race while at the same time protecting people from the ravages of racism. I thought I made this clear. Yes, race is social construct that is as real as any social construct. It is an ultimately destructive social construct. Time to dismantle it while protecting people from bigots.
I’m too impatient to wait for those who embrace “race” to wear each other out with insults, wounds and killings. I’m certainly not willing to wait for an interplanetary diaspora. I want the stupidity (and consequent mistreatment of innocent human beings) to stop NOW. There is no need to wait any longer. We can get entirely rid of the notion of race while yet embracing friendships, communities, extended families and extended ancestry, as well as 80,000 types of diversity rooted in real life things. And let’s keep in mind that ALL of us have ancestry that undeniably extends to the same place: Africa. We are all ultimately African. Starting now, let’s seek diversity only in meaningful things, such as the content of our character.
It will take many people immense effort to break out of the racialist matrix. One of my early steps out was reading about Star-Bellied Sneetches, a book demonstrating that even young children understand the problem. The concept of race is poisonous–used for mischief wherever it is used What I propose is that we embrace people while rejecting race.
this topic really frustrates me because we are all victims of this “race” scam yet we all continue to cling to this empty dangerous concept that you can use a smattering of physical characteristics to judge an entire person. And why is it that a President who has a “white” mother and a “black” father end up being called “black” or “African American”? Are we that low on brain wattage that we oversimplify like this? Why do so many of us cling to race? Ask cui bono, to whom does it benefit? It benefits many in many ways. For some it provides evidence-free victimhood. For others, an instant community. For others, evidence free scapegoats. And for most of us, “race” is a concept born out of laziness – we don’t want to do the hard work of really getting to know each other
Path dependence plays into this issue big time. If people had been getting along, oblivious to skin color or other trivial physical characteristics we associate with “race,” and if someone came along and suggested, “Hey, let’s start generalizing about what kind of person we are dealing with on the basis of ‘race,” a totally unscientific and incoherent concept that I have invented based on trivial physical characteristics of humans. As people with geographically correlated trivial characteristics intermarry over time, it will become more and more absurd to determine who is of what race. I propose in fact, that a President who has a “white” mother and a “black” father will be deemed “black,” and this will invite people to treat him/her with unwarranted presumptions as to what kind of person he/she is.” If someone had made that proposal in this hypothetical scenario, it would (or at least, in an intelligent world) SHOULD be immediately rejected as absurd, divisive and dangerous.
My conclusion: the only reason we continue to divide people by “race” is because ignorant people from long ago started doing so, and they did it for horrible reasons related to power-mongering and economic advantage.