On Civil Discussions of Race

by Bruce

Venturing into any discussion of race, whether or not races are real or a myth, genetic or “made up”, useful or harmful, racist or benign, is to venture into  a mind field where clear thought and scholarship get clouded in a noise of political accusations. I have just been through it on a leftist site and I am quickly making an exit, except for venues where discussions of race are collegial and respectual to the other side, even in the face of deep disagreement. No more will I be disussion race on left wing venues or with left wing ideologues who shout, “race is a lie!”, “race is a myth!” and “there are no races, only racists!” These lefties aren’t interested in debate, they are only interesting in vilifying their opponents and labelling them as “race realists” or supporters of “race science.” More on this in subsequent posts.

Rather, I might have a discussion with medical geneticists, who use race concepts in their everyday work. Some researchers are against this, saying that race is a bad proxy for genomic analysis, others like Esteban Burchard, state that race has a valulable use in medicine, mainly because it actually works to improve diagnosis and treatment. And yet, there are always humanites scholars (and it always seem to be humanities scholars like anthropologists, social scientists, political scientists, sociologists, and the like) who try to convince their readers that “race-based medicine is bad medicine” and should be banished forever. In their eyes, race is an out-dated, useless, dangerous, racist category that needs to be banished forever. There are some medical researchers who feel the same, but they are balanced off by other researchers who happily go about their business, producing good results that improve medical treatment for minorities. The aim in medicine is always to try to improve diagosis and treatment, and often that requires the use of race categories. 

The most interesting venue for this discussion is in the philosophy of race, where practically all of the scholars  arguing and debating are remarkably civil with each other. They may be 180 degrees opposed on their positions, but they have the admirable ability to stand up on the podium, argue their case, and then go off to dinner with each other.  One of the reasons is that most of them are people-of-colour!

Quayshawn Spencer is an African-American philosopher who is a strong proponent for race realism, i.e. race has biological underpinnings and can be considered biologically real. This viewpoint is considered an anathema among most modern biologists, geneticists, and humanities scholars.  And yet, there is is, in his papers, his talks, and in a recent book he is contributing to. I would advise you to read his papers before making a decision.

I would be nice if we could lose the emotional load around the race discussion but I doubt that will be the case in this era of political correctness. Instead of light, we get heat and darkness and confusion, liberally sprinkled with acrimony and disdain, especially when the far right gets involved. (Note that I am a leftie and quite despise the far right).

So I will leave you will some links to Spencer’s material. Let me know what you think.

Here’s his Google page with description of who he is and access to several of his papers.

https://sites.google.com/site/qnjspencer/home

Here’s a YouTube video where he discusses his philosophy of race:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stxgj6skVrU&frags=pl%2Cwn

Here he is interviewed on how philosopers of race flourish with controversy:

http://dailynous.com/2019/06/12/flourishing-controversy-philosophy-race/

And here is the book: What Is Race?: Four Philosophical Views, featuring Joshua Glasgow, Sally Haslanger, Chike Jeffers, and Quayshawn Spencer.

I’ve ordered a copy of the book so stay tuned for my review!

https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780190610173.001.0001/oso-9780190610173

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Change of Scene!

I decided to update our look to the Twenty-Seventeen theme because our old Journalist theme was getting pretty boring. I love the colourful header with the plants. How do you like it?

Bruce

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And now for something completely different – On Bullshit

by Bruce

While wandering through Chapters bookstore in Toronto, I came across a little book by Harry G. Frankfurt, an emeritis professor of philosophy at Stanford University. It’s simply called “On Bullshit,”  Here is a video interview with professor Frankfurt posted on the Princeton University Press website:

Apparently, Professor Frankfurt’s book has become somewhat of a cult classic; reviews praising the book are scattered throughout the web. In my mind, the praise is well deserved – how often do you see someone in academia, which is immersed in bullshit, standing up to expose it? Although he drags on in parts and does a bit too much hairsplitting as to just what constitutes bullshit (or humbug) he makes the point that our society is swimming in bullshit.

In this era of rampant political lying, Frankfurt makes the distinction between lying and bullshit:

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

According to this definition, I would claim that most politicians bullshit artists than outright liars. But in the end, the result is the same. You’ve been deceived! Time to grow a good pair of bullshit antennae.

Frankfurst’s great little book can be found here.

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The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 3

by Peter Prontzos

Einstein was right (again!) when he wrote:

“…the personality…is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up…The individual…depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought.”

Indeed, the power of one’s culture is so profound – and subtle – that it can even reorganize the neural pathways in our brain. As Montreal neuroscientist Michael Meaney explains: “…the development of an individual is an active process of adaptation that occurs within a social and economic context,” e.g. poverty increases maternal distress and poor parenting, which then may lead to lower “cognitive outcomes” for children. And other studies have shown that “lower general intelligence in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology [emphasis added].

Wilhelm Reich, in The Mass Psychology of Fascism, was among the first to point out that repressed, unfulfilled, and angry people are more disposed to violence and authoritarianism. Eric Fromm, who, like Reich, escaped from Nazi Germany, viewed authoritarian childhoods as likely to create adults who see obedience as the best way to win the approval of father figures in power, who, “…offered the atomized individual a new refuge and security. These systems are the culmination of alienation.”

One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to agree that, overall, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Marx is not saying that ideas do not matter, only that the primary determinants of our worldviews are the concrete conditions of our existence. Our views are different than those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors because the world we live in is so dissimilar. So even though we are the most social and empathic animals, those central emotions are weakened because, neoiberal ideology promotes, free market capitalism is one of the most powerful of empathy-reducing belief systems, especially as manifested in cultures like the United States.

Social psychologists like Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo  of the Stanford Prison Experiment pioneered our understanding of just how powerful our social situations can be – even stronger than one’s individual disposition. The corporate media are a major factor in the construction of both the social unconscious and political ideologies. One reason for their influence, as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman notes, is that “people tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.”

Powerful and wealthy elites tend to control what is taught in schools and, more than ever, in the mass media. The corporate media give us a very biased view of reality. As Einstein noted:

“…private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions…”

A dramatic example was provided after the attacks on September 11, when the major U.S. media blindly went along with the obvious lies of the Bush regime as it carried out a vast propaganda campaign to get public support for two illegal wars. A current example of media manipulation is the lie that Iran has not lived up to its treaty obligations regarding nuclear weapons. A related problem is the fact that the corporate media almost never mention the one country in the Middle East that does have nuclear bombs – Israel.

These examples are only a few of the many ways in which our society and culture can determine our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

In my next post, I’ll provide a conclusion to this essay.

 

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The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 2

by Peter Prontzos

Parenting

We are the most social of all animals, and our individual consciousness is primarily shaped by our society in general, and by our culture and family in particular. Children need to be seen to feel safe and to be soothed when they are distressed so that healthy attachment can develop. Children with unhealthy attachments are vulnerable to a wide assortment of dysfunctions. “The most important aspect of early attachment relationships”, psychologist Louis Cozolino notes, “is the establishment of a sense of safety.”

Healthy relationships create secure attachments between infants and caregivers, which also helps children to learn emotional self-regulation, reducing the tendency to overreact to negative situations.

Daniel Goleman describes the neuroplasticity of our brains in his book, Social Intelligence, as: “…repeated experiences sculpt the shape, size, and number of our neurons and their synaptic connections…. Our key relationships can gradually mold certain neural circuitry. This openness to our social environment means that the kind of person that we eventually become is, to a very significant extent, the result of the quality of our relationships in the early years.”

Social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing healthy brain and emotional development in children, according to Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development. She explains:“Studies show that responding to a baby’s needs (not letting a baby “cry it out”) has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression; and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond the mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy.  The United States has been on a downward trajectory on all of these care characteristics….”  A nourishing environment, Narvaez adds, leads to “communal imagination,” which includes love, “sympathetic action”, and “egalitarian respect” for others.

Continue reading “The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 2”

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The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 1

by Peter Prontzos

The rise of authoritarian movements and leaders around the world, from the Philippines to India to the United States, is one of the most dangerous developments in modern times. Not only are they anti-democratic and often xenophobic, but they are one more significant obstacle to dealing with such other dangers as the climate crisis and war.

This danger is not trivial: a 2018 report by the democracy watchdog group Freedom House suggests that…”democracy is facing its ‘most serious crises in decades.’ Seventy-one countries experienced net declines in the guarantee of political and civil rights.” And this is not just an aberration. “For the 12th consecutive year, global freedom declined. Since 2006, 113 countries have reduced their commitments to individual and collective freedom.”

“France, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States have experienced the rise of extremist groups and rising intolerance toward ethnic minorities and immigrants. Germany and Italy have seen a resurgence of neo-fascism. Systematic measures to weaken the rule of law, attempts to eradicate judicial independence, curtail civil liberties, restrict voting rights and intimidate journalists have occurred in Poland, Hungary, Turkey and the United States.”

“The Great Recession of 2008 was the social and economic context for the emergence of contemporary autocracy in Europe and the United States. The reaction to the recession…reflects what Harvard economist Dani Rodrik calls the, “political trilemma of the global economy”: the incompatibility between democracy, national [self-]determination and economic globalization. Right-wing extremists were able to effectively link job loss, “uncontrolled” immigration and loss of national identity with globalization.

Continue reading “The Roots of Authoritarianism in the 21st Century – Part 1”

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When Therapy Becomes a Defence

By Bruce Wilson

So you’ve started into primal therapy. Great. You are diligent with your feelings, you go to group every week and you have frequent individual sessions. When something triggers you, you are first to book a session with a therapist and “go for it” – feel the feelings, get the connections and insights. And week after week, month after month, year after year, you keep it up. Therapy, therapy and more therapy. And yet somehow the old issues don’t seem to resolve.

We are told that some feelings that take a very long time to complete, especially first-line feelings, but if you find yourself getting into the same old jams again and again, if you keep struggling with the boyfriend who erupts in anger and gives you no love, if you keep failing to do what you really want to do, or to get the job that want to get, or find a loving relationship instead of one with endless struggle, and then go back for endless therapy, you might be using the therapy as a defence.

I’ve seen this phenomenon and Arthur Janov wrote about it a long time ago. Primal therapy is about changing your life; it’s not about endless sessions after sessions for years or even decades. But many people can retreat into the “comfort” of primaling instead of changing their life because the latter is harder to do. These people can become “primal junkies,” addicted to therapy as sure as one can get addicted to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or sex. Things just don’t feel right without your weekly session, your weekly fix. You get antsy; you “need to feel” just like clockwork.

And of course, if that is happening then you are probably not primaling but abreacting. In my abreaction article, I mentioned that one of the signs of abreaction is a life without changes:

If there is a sine qua non of abreaction, it is in the lack of life changes made by the person abreacting. Abreaction keeps you “stuck” –  no ventures are made, no risks are taken, no changes in jobs or career, no “going for it” in a real, healthy, meaningful way. Instead, one remains a prisoner of their pain, always reacting to circumstances, always triggered, always needing to “go down” to feel every few days, and always acting out.

This is not a fault of the therapy; it’s a fault in the way the patient is doing the therapy and a good therapist will catch this and address it, usually by telling you to do what you don’t want to do or what you are reluctant or scared to do. They will tell you to change your behavior and go for life in the way you want. If you want to play a musical instrument, play it. You want to write? Write! Don’t just think about it, and don’t try to be Shakespeare or Dickens on your first try. You will never be ready “someday when I’ve felt enough feelings.” Someday is TODAY. If the therapy is working then you’ll be thrown into a pot of feelings that you’ve been avoiding; the very feelings that have prevented you from doing what you want to do. It’s the primal dialectic. As Janov observed so many years ago, it’s far easier to “feel” another feeling rather than the feeling that is really there. That’s abreaction and it’s very sneaky.

So a little bit of behavioral therapy can help primal therapy go a long way, not by using head trips or conditioning, but by facing up to what you need and want to do and DO IT. A therapist I respect very much once said he would get his male patients who (for example) were scared to call a girl out for a date to do it right then and right there because it would immediately put them into the feelings they needed to feel. I’ve been there, not with arranging a date, but with needing to express to someone that I loved them. Pick up the telephone, get the voice message, and then WHAM! Up come the feelings. “I love you” becomes “I need you.”

So don’t be a primal junkie. Not only does it not work, but it costs a hell of a lot of money on useless therapy.

 

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Our selves are created by our social experiences

By Peter Prontzos

Your “self” is composed of three fundamental elements: your brain, your body, and your relations with other people. This insight was one of the central themes in the keynote talk given by Dr. Daniel Siegel at the conclusion of University of British Columbia’s fourth Brain Development and Learning conference.
Siegel was not being poetic or metaphorical. As he explained, your mind (“your consciousness, which includes your ‘heart’)…is shaped by both the connections we have with others and by the connections we have within the synaptic structures of our embodied nervous system.”

As he put it: “The mind is within you and between you.”

Not surprisingly, the most important influences are those experiences that we have in our earliest years – including in the womb.

His talk, entitled, “Interpersonal Neurobiology of the Developing Mind”, explored how a “healthy” mind functions and can be nurtured.

The definition of a healthy mind is one in which “energy and information flow” freely in its three aspects: in your brain, through your body, and also between people.

When childhood or other trauma interferes with this flow, “chaos and/or rigidity result”, both of which “are reflections of impaired relational or neural integration.”

Throughout his talk, Siegel, who teaches at UCLA, emphasized how our increasing understanding of interpersonal neurobiology can greatly improve our treatment of children – in the home, in school, and in society in general.

Children need to be seen, to feel safe, and to be soothed when they are distressed, in order for healthy attachment to develop.

Siegel also stressed the monumental importance of how experience can affect the functioning of our genes, turning them on and off. Moreover, these “epigenetic” changes can be passed on to our children and grandchildren – and perhaps even further.

One question that came up in several of the talks this weekend was: can therapeutic intervention heal the epigenetic damage caused by trauma? Like some other presenters, Siegel believes that this approach is very promising.

Siegel explained the concepts of “implicit” (unconscious) and “explicit” (conscious) memory, and how our ideas and feelings can be shaped by past memories of which we are not only unaware, but which nevertheless feel like they are in the present.

The second part of Siegel’s talk focused how complex systems, like the mind, are both embodied and relational. It can self-organize and self-regulate. He defined a healthy mind as one in which “optimal self-organization depends on the linkage of differentiated parts to create integration and harmony.” (Siegel even got the some of the audience singing on-stage as an example of these principles!)

The take-away point was that, both within the individual and in groups: “Integration creates kindness and compassion.”

Siegel went on to explain that we need “to apply science to make the world a better place.” For instance, we know that when people feel threatened, they readily divide others into “in-group and out-group”. This is a natural legacy of our evolutionary history. Siegel stressed how “we have to rise above the tendencies of the human mind” that are dangerous and which have led to so much unnecessary suffering.

Echoing the insight of Socrates, that, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, Siegel said that becoming more mindfully aware is necessary for both mental and social health.

Finally, we need to go beyond the excessive individualism of our culture to emphasize our shared lives.

The cultivation of our natural empathy is another critical step toward a more humane world.
Siegel’s two hour talk – without notes or powerpoint – was relaxed, humorous, and extremely informative.

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The Worst Comparitive Psychotherapy Study Ever Published

by Bruce Wilson

While reading through several newspaper obituaries on Arthur Janov, one name kept coming up over and over: John C. Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. According to Norcross, primal therapy is little more than a trendy psychotherapy that arose in the fevered sixties, and Janov was “a classic instance of being the right charismatic therapist at the right time.” And to further demonstrate his ignorance, Dr. Norcross says in the New York Times, “There is no evidence that screaming and catharsis bring long-term emotional relief.”

This comment is repeated again and again in obit after obit, merely parroting the NYT review. But the review also states:

Much of the psychotherapeutic establishment now regards the therapy as marginal. A 2006 article by Dr. Norcross and colleagues in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice reported that their survey of more than 100 “leading mental health professionals” had found primal therapy to be “certainly discredited” — together with treatments including angel therapy, crystal healing, past-lives therapy, future-lives therapy and post-alien-abduction therapy.

“It’s both a discredited theory and treatment in mental health,” Dr. Norcross said. “Today, I look back at it as an unfortunate but understandable product of its time: believing that pure emotional release would prove therapeutic.”

Those are pretty strong words. After all, if you deem something to be “discredited” you should have extensive evidence to back it up, right?

Wrong.

This survey enrolled 101 so-called mental health experts to assess 59 treatments by questionnaire. “Experts” were decided by criteria such as doctorate-level education, fellows of the American Psychological Association (APA) or American Psychological Society (APS), current and former editors of scholarly journals in mental health, members of the APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice, and chairs or editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In other words, no one who had ever practiced primal therapy was included. Overall, 66% of respondents were supporters of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or “eclectic/integrative” therapy. In other words, these “experts” represented the dominant wing of the psychological establishment, which has always been critical of primal therapy and the notion of repressed memory.

The term “discredited” was based on the following criteria:

We operationally define discredited as those unable to consistently generate treatment outcomes (treatments)…beyond that obtained by the passage of time alone, expectancy, base rates, or credible placebo. Discredited subsumes ineffective and detrimental interventions but forms a broader and more inclusive characterization. We are interested in identifying disproven practices.

The criteria for making the discredited ratings were left to the respondents on the basis of “several types of evidence: peer-reviewed controlled research, clinical practice, and/or professional consensus.”

On a scale where 1 =not at all discredited, 2=unlikely discredited, 3=possibly discredited, 4=probably discredited, and 5=certainly discredited, “primal scream therapy” was rated as 4.51, i.e. “probably discredited” and halfway to “certainly discredited.” Primal was regarded as less credible than “standard prefrontal lobotomy for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders (4.44),” “Erhard Seminar Training for treatment of mental/behavioral disorders (4.29),” and “Psychotherapy for the treatment of penis envy (3.60).”

Therapies deemed as “unlikely discredited” included “eye movement and desensization processing (EMDR) (2.88)”, “laughter or humor therapy for treatment of depression (2.83)” (I kid you not!), “psychosocial (nonbehavioral) therapies for ADHD (2.85),” and thought-stopping procedures for ruminations/intrusive worry (2.25).” The only therapy regarded as not at all discredited, by a narrow margin, was “behavior therapy for sex offenders (1.97).”

Echoing the NYT obit, the authors concluded, “experts considered as certainly discredited 14 psychological treatments: angel therapy, use of pyramid structures, orgone therapy, crystal healing, past lives therapy, future lives therapy, treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by alien abduction, rebirthing therapies, color therapy, primal scream, chiropractic manipulation, thought field therapy, standard prefrontal lobotomy, and aroma therapy.”

Stunning ignorance, I know. But take a deep breath.

In all the therapies listed, except the cognitively based therapies, cognitive behavioral therapists were more likely to rate them as discredited. Not only that, but most of these “experts” were not even familiar with many of the treatments. And yet they felt competent to judge them. With regard to “primal scream therapy,” 6% were not familiar with the therapy. Actually, I would say zero percent were familiar with the therapy because it is not called primal scream therapy!

Nowhere is the “evidence” mentioned that substantiates these “expert’” decisions. I assume they just cherry picked whatever papers fit their therapeutic orientation, or perhaps they just gathered around their virtual water cooler and made up that “professional consensus.” As for “primal scream therapy” they had obviously done no research to find out that primal therapy has nothing to do with screaming.

So this is the sort of misinformation about primal therapy that is circulating around the psychological community and the mainstream press. Decades ago, Art Janov decided to distance himself from the mental health establishment for this very reason. Despite his many efforts to convince his colleagues that his therapy worked, he was met with ridicule and outright defamation. Since then, primal therapy has existed on its own, quietly advancing as the decades have passed, and some respected psychologists, physicians, and neuroscientists have come to appreciate its effectiveness: Louis Cozolino, Justin Feinstein, Jaak Panksepp, Paul Thompson, and Gabor Maté, to name a few. And although the therapy still needs to be researched, it will be done without the participation of these “expert” clowns.

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