Category Archives: Psychology

The School of Misdirection

* Masquerade *

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller

“Misinformation works.”
– Rand Paul

Before I became a computer programmer I was a student at a tech school. It was a fast-paced track that promised to teach employable programming skills in under a year.

On the first day the students in my class were also promised that many of us would drop out. That is what had always happened on this tough track.

But it didn’t happen to us.

The stereotype of introverted computer geeks hadn’t taken hold in the culture yet. Sociability was fairly high in the class and many of us hung out together, had lunch together, or had drinks together after class. We studied together. This group was very open, no one was excluded.

Along with a few others I was getting straight A’s and would help anyone who asked, answer anyone’s questions, keep trying to explain for as long as needed. We learned very quickly that doing this helped us to learn the material better. Things become clearer when you think them through and make them simpler.

Helping other students definitely helped me to improve.

And talking about the material made everything more interesting and studying was actually fun.

At graduation time they told us that we were the biggest class to make it through the course and we had the highest class GPA. We had a record number of students finish with an A average and few or no dropouts.

My class had gelled around a sense of mutual support.

Recently I’ve been told that some educational tracks are cut-throat. The students compete with each other for grades and ranking and the tactics can be vicious. A few weeks ago a United States Senator advised medical students to sabotage each other with bad information. Apparently within some fields of study knowledge is a zero-sum game and the incentives reward hoarding it for oneself and trying to prevent others from accessing it.

A few years after graduation I was looking for a better job. One of the students from my programming class spotted my resume on her boss’s desk. She told him that she remembered me from that class and that I’d helped her with the coursework.

I got the job.

In my career since then I’ve always tried to share whatever knowledge I have and tried to help and answer questions and offer ideas. In my spare time I became involved with a local technical group dedicated to spreading know-how and networking, and I served on the board of directors. Sharing has always enriched my life and I love it when I can make something clear enough that I can actually see the light in another person’s face as connections are clicking together.

Occasionally I’ve also encountered people who hoard knowledge or even are outright saboteurs, intentionally giving bad information in an attempt to cause the other person to fail.

I’ve found that people remember the ones who helped them and learn to distrust saboteurs.

As the use of social media rises, employers are catching on to the value of teamwork and sharing. Knowledge hoarders will find that they must learn to share or they won’t fit in.

And saboteurs? Saboteurs will find that misinformation will follow them.

Image:
Masquerade * by pareeerica, on Flickr

Connecting Across Spaces

Construction

We spin out our webs, weaving a structure for others to cross between or after us, if they happen to chance upon them.

There must be tracks to span the spaces between worlds, between my world and yours and anyone else’s. How else can we reach?

When structures fail us, that’s when we fall. That’s when the homeless find themselves huddled on an uncaring street. That’s when the suicide grasps at the blade as if flailing for a line, because solid structure can’t be found; if it exists it’s unseen, unfelt, tragically unknown. The strand that was followed ends here, the trail fades out, drops off.

The tracks our lives leave are what matters. Our lives are short but the tracks we leave behind may support scores after us.

Without them our lives are written on the wind.

Image source :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/34439637@N08/3199422889/” title=”Construction by ook.com.sa, on Flickr”

The Myth Fights Back

20130714-120651.jpg

Zimmerman stalked Martin in silence, a menacing, alarming presence with ill will. He does not seem to have given any thought to how he appeared. It may even be likely that he intended to appear threatening, as posturing men with defensive mindsets often do.

He was a man in possession of a flashlight that didn’t work, a metaphor for the self-illuminating insights that he never had.

All of his preparations were aimed at having the edge in a fight. He worked his body regularly for this purpose with MMA training three times a week. He didn’t just work out to be fit, he worked to beat an opponent in a fist fight.

He legally carried a handgun loaded with hollow point bullets. Warning shots, incapacitating shots were not part of his vocabulary, not an option in his arsenal.

Zimmerman was a man fighting for his life before he ever drove down that street or left his car that night.

All of his preparations were for this moment. He showed no concern for avoiding or preventing a fight.

Across the country, many white people have been cheated or lied to or harmed in some way by another person but never by a young black man. And yet those same white people are still afraid of young black men, more than of any other group.

When Mel Gibson barked out his famous curse, “I hope you get raped by a pack of n*ggers!” – he was expressing his own worst fears, not an actual realistic threat. His target of intimidation was in more danger of being raped by Mel Gibson. There was no feral pack of other-race men imminently circling, about to attack her. It was a myth in his over-wrought mind.

Before the Civil War, southern gentlemen couldn’t stop talking about how scary the black men were. Controlling these mental threats required maximum posturing, intimidation, and force. No public punishment was ever too severe. Those white men lived in fear that someday their advantage might be reversed. Just as Zimmerman, armed and dangerous, was living in fear.

Being pursued, Trayvon Martin knew that George Zimmerman was up to no good and that he himself had done nothing wrong. If Martin had run away Zimmerman would have held him in contempt as another “asshole” who got away. Zimmerman didn’t want him to get away.

In the grip of the myth Zimmerman knew that the young man he pursued was up to no good and had surely done something wrong. He chased him because to his mind Martin was running away, and getting away.

Myths are part of the culture of a country. In the south, fear of the overwhelming number of slaves hardened into a myth that rationalized southern fear and violence.

In such a fear myth, increasing numbers of the feared only inflate the myth. Even positive encounters with black people seem to reinforce the myth, exceptions that may well be considered proof of the rule.

Out in the national conversation held on Twitter, fear of the myth has been palpable this week. Even such a highly visible demonstration of the injustice of the myth as Trayvon Martin’s death still reinforces the fear of the myth.

How do we integrate a myth with reality when the myth is impervious and resistant to reality?

The myth fights back.

Image source :

Conformity Kills

dominos

Conformity Kills People

Bullies enforce it, suicides are driven by shame from it, hate crimes are committed for it, riots break out over it, war crimes are fueled by it.

Conformity Kills Ideas

No one ever achieved a break-through innovation by conforming or by letting a conformist kill it.

Conformity Kills Organizations

Companies cling to obsolete processes and products, keep trying to do the same things only more. Boards don’t recognize the need to change, executives fall into groupthink and make terrible decisions because no one steps out of line to point out flaws that should be obvious.

Conformity is dangerous when conditions change dramatically.

Conformity doubles down on losses again and again.

Conformity can be as comforting and as dangerous as falling asleep in the snow.

Image: dominos by greg westfall., on Flickr

Do employers hire for Narcissism?

Ruth St. Denis in The Peacock.

Narcissists can be very successful. Often tireless self promoters that excel at getting important people to notice and like them, they make friends everywhere and may effortlessly climb the hierarchal structure in any given organization. Their workplaces value them right up to the moment that their inflated ego and sense of entitlement brings them to commit an unforgivable act, like raping a hotel maid or toppling a company with an over large misplaced bet. Narcissists don’t concern themselves with ethics.

In a study of Facebook profiles by a researcher at Western Illinois University, a correlation was found between a narcissism measure called “grandiose exhibitionism” (GE) and Facebook self-promotional behaviors such as frequent changes of profile pictures and a high number of friends.

Researchers at Northern Illinois University found that Human Resource types could judge the hiring desirability of a candidate by looking at their Facebook profile. Among the features found attractive were frequent photo postings and a high number of friends.

Of course there’s more to narcissism than just self-promotional behaviors but the intersection of these two studies support the dangers of assessing character traits based on a superficially winning personality. Or as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Sources:
Facebook’s Dark Side Topic of Study by WIU Communication Professor – University Relations – Western Illinois University

Social Networking Websites, Personality Ratings, and the Organizational Context: More Than Meets the Eye? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1 Feb 2012

Image: “Ruth St. Denis in The Peacock.” by New York Public Library, on Flickr

12 Ways To Tell If Your College Is An Indoctrination Mill.

Cult directions

Did Your College Indoctrinate You? Share Your Stories!

On Thursday, Rick Santorum warned us that colleges and universities are “indoctrination mills” that turn the faithful into the faithless. He cited a thought reformation rate of 62 percent.

With a rate this high, we must all know at least one person who lost their faith in college! The indoctrination techniques that are being used in this broad-based conspiracy must be serious psychological tactics, the kind of tactics used by cults.

Therefore, I’m looking for anecdotes of college/university indoctrination or attempts at indoctrination. As a helpful guide, I went to HowStuffWorks.com for some insight on what the cults do. If colleges and universities are using these same techniques, I think this could be a good place to find clues that may indicate that you or someone you know were indoctrinated while in college. I’ve adapted the following list from the HowStuffWorks.com article, staying as close to the article’s descriptions as I could.

12 WAYS THAT YOUR COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY MAY HAVE INDOCTRINATED YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW

1. If you (or someone you know) were tricked into going to college and committing to a lifestyle that you didn’t understand, were misled about the true expectations of the college, and had your consciousness altered by the college through meditation, chanting, or drug use, you may have been indoctrinated.

2. If the college cut you off from the outside world or did not allow you to have unsupervised contact with the outside world, kept you from talking to other new recruits, and told you that outsiders are dangerous and wrong, you may have been indoctrinated.

3. If the college demanded absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission and systematically destroyed your sense of self, you may have been indoctrinated.

4. If the college controlled every minute of your waking time, allowing you no free time to think or analyze, you may have been indoctrinated.

5. If the college told you what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep and did not allow you to make any decisions, you may have been indoctrinated.

6. If the college devalued and criticized your special talents; if it punished doubts, assertiveness, or remaining ties to the outside world through criticism, guilt, and alienation; if it made you feel evil for asking questions; you may have been indoctrinated.

7. If the college kept you hungry, sleepy, off-balance and confused, you may have been indoctrinated.

8. If the college pressured you to publicly confess sins and then viciously ridiculed you for being evil but accepted you back when you acknowledged devotion to the college as the only path to salvation, you may have been indoctrinated.

9. If you feel like your only family is the college and you have nowhere else to go, you may have been indoctrinated.

10. If you can only access necessities through the college and you are denied food, water, social interaction, a toilet*, and protection from the outside world if you misbehave, you may have been indoctrinated.

11. If you believe you will face eternal damnation if you leave the college, you may have been indoctrinated.

12. If you thought you could leave the college but you never did because college is the only place that feels safe and leaving just feels wrong and you are still experiencing these indoctrinating tactics because indoctrination never ends but you’ve accepted this as normal – it’s too late, you’ve been indoctrinated.

I hope this list is helpful. Personally I have not experienced any of these things but perhaps I somehow escaped it!

If you have an indoctrination story, please share. If we are to save ourselves, our children and our country from indoctrination, we will need to have some idea of what the experience might be like.

*HowStuffWorks.com didn’t mention a toilet. I added that part because any college that would deny necessities like food and water would surely also deny a toilet. I think.

Image: Cult directions by kevin dooley, on Flickr

It’s All Part of a Pattern

Cassiopeia A: Cassiopeia A in Many Colors

Humans are pattern detection machines.

We’ve evolved everything we needed to detect the patterns that mattered to our survival and reproduction. Our brains assemble the patterns to create our reality.

Then our minds match the patterns up to meaningful heuristics that are already stored in the brain. Patterns are nothing without meaning so we search for meaning.

If we’ve already learned a meaning for a pattern, great! We match the pattern to the meaning.

If we haven’t learned a meaning, we search. Or, dangerously, we misapply a different meaning.

It is meaning that is the most important. Wisdom is born from the accumulation of correct meanings.

Image from Flickr Commons: Cassiopeia A: Cassiopeia A in Many Colors by Smithsonian Institution