Monday, July 29, 2013

Poverty and its Consequences (excellent link!!!)


                 Poverty and its connection to depreciating health and criminal behavior is an ongoing interest of mine. Before I stumbled across a very pertinent article today, I was already in the throes of writing this short blog post. Such thoughts have been brewing.
              It always kind of bothers me when I hear people with top-notch, executive and managerial jobs or those with successful careers complain about how much stress they have. I always wanted to say, “Try being unemployed” or “Try working laborious hours as a janitor or cashier where your brain is literally drying up and you’re barely making enough to survive and you have no chances of advancing.” Now that is a stressful life situation. 
             Having a thriving, successful career—even when the pressure is on and you have a tower of tasks to manage and delegate—is still far, far better than being part of the working poor or unemployed. At least when you are higher up on the socioeconomic ladder, you have a better, more cogent sense of being “in control” of your life situation. That is, because you have a better job, you more likely have the funds at your disposal to alter your situation than if you were poor.  Those who are farther down on the socioeconomic ladder are more likely to have feelings of helplessness. Scientific studies are demonstrating that it is exactly this feeling of helplessness that is ultimately the cause of real Stress.
              The lasting effects of poverty on health are being more thoroughly examined. It is incredible how strongly poverty is associated with a variety of human ills. The article below offers a comprehensive view of what I’m attempting to suggest here. It is definitely worth reading in its entirety.  
             Thinking about poverty and its link to a plethora of problems brought my mind to thinking about crime. For instance, last night I was driving by a gas station and saw the bright flashing lights of a police car, and beside it, 4 young, able-bodied males being handcuffed.
               It made me think about crime and criminal behavior and what combination of life events (or genes?) results in people choosing a life of crime vs. a life of well-intentioned planning, legal productive work and other socially beneficial pursuits.
              I sometimes think that life can be a very hard experience for many of our species (consider global poverty rates). This might surprise you, but many people are not seeking out the fulfillment of their every hedonistic wish, but simply, to survive.
              I think that a person’s motivation to work hard and achieve survival and success within the legal boundaries of society can be chipped away at and ultimately forsaken. If you started out poor with an unstable family environment with less access to educational and employment opportunities and you try a few times to make a  legal go at life (whether it be at a job, starting a business or learning a new skill) and you fail, the motivation to keep on going and pressing forward begins to wane.  I think that this can also lead to a feeling of helplessness and can result in a criminal life-style.
                 As mentioned in the article, the sense of helplessness (brought on by poverty) can be a very pervasive feeling that can result in much life-long distress. A life of crime and diminishing health may just be the results.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


“Both extremely high and extremely low levels of psychopathy may be maladaptive. High levels are maladaptive for the trouble into which clinical psychopaths often get themselves. Low levels of psychopathy are maladaptive—this stems from the common observation of the role of anxiety in psychopathy: psychopaths do not seem to show any anxiety. The debilitating function of high levels of anxiety hardly needs to be stressed. In a normal, non-institutionalized population, therefore, their (psychopath’s) immunity from anxiety may give psychopaths an advantage.”
Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths

       My learning binge this week involves the nature of psychopaths. While my learning attempts are typically short-lived and often superficial, this one will continue to gnaw at me as I seek to learn more.  Psychopaths have never really piqued my interest until I came across the book “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” (2012, by Kevin Dutton).
        The common public perception of psychopaths is that they are execrable prison-deserving slop, whose recidivism rate is higher than any other criminal. While this is usually true, let’s take a moment to glorify psychopaths and relish their positive strengths.  Remember, nothing in this world is entirely black and white. As thinkers in the modern world, we must seek to investigate the gray.
        Some of us tend to fall on the extreme opposite side of the psychopathic scale. We are the humans who lack psychopathic traits and have a hard time even contemplating the mind of a psychopath. We are the people who writhe with daily levels of fluctuating anxiety. We feel the guilt and shame to even the slightest of our trespasses and we often over-apologize.  We heartily empathize with others, understanding their human frailties as similar to our own and we have a difficult time maligning others for our own personal gain.   We do not readily discern the vulnerabilities of others, even when the manifestations are dangling right in front of our faces.  After reading this book, I’m starting to wonder if having a higher psychopathic score might actually prove beneficial in certain areas of a person’s life.
         Psychopaths tend to be unique in their inability to experience anxiety. This translates to a superb ability to be more present-focused and less distracted than those scoring lower on the PCL-R (Psychopathic Checklist-Revised). While many of us low on the psychopathic scale have minds stuck in the past or reeling towards the future, psychopaths have a present mindfulness that is enviable. Psychopaths have a fascinating aptitude to spot the vulnerability in others (research in this area is delineated in the book). Less self-conscious and not worried about their own performance—and usually scoring higher on the narcissistic scale—these individuals spot the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in others much faster than those scoring lower on the psychopathic scale. With this ability, psychopaths are better equipped to exploit other people, to take advantage of them and possibly murder them if the convenient time or desire arises.
         True, many psychopaths go down the path of creative killing or raping sprees that often brings them into a prison cell. Still, others pursue the much softer, less-offensive path. These individuals end up with careers like company CEO, stock trader or politician.  Notice how these careers require mental toughness, ruthlessness, fearlessness, mindfulness and action—characteristics that come naturally to psychopaths.  Psychopaths are adept at controlling their emotions when the pressure is on. Whether this is because they have this natural discipline within or because they feel emotions less intensely, is still being researched.
         This book was a mind-bending read! It will widen your perspective on psychopaths and start to make you see the broad continuum of personality (and personality disorders). Indeed, we are all a smidgen psychopathic, some of us more so than others.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Are religious (or atheist) people delusional? Musings tonight...

              The specific religious meme you believe in was passed down to you from your parents which was passed on down to them from their parents and on and on. Thus, the type of religion you have was primarily given to you by your genetic lineage (your parents). This is one important way how memes function. Memes can also operate in a more horizontal manner. They are pieces of cultural data that are transmitted from one mind to the next by way of language or behavioral imitation. There are exceptions to this rule, of course; in the case of religion, some people converted to a different religion from their parents and some religious individuals relinquished religion, entirely. (I tend to focus on trends, because trends usually offer more predictability than looking at exceptions.)
          Compared to other memes, I think a religious meme is a very strong, infectious piece of data. I say this because religion has the power to rearrange a person’s entire way of thinking and perceiving the world around them. It so strongly modifies their thinking to such a grand extent that they literally become trapped inside a delusion.
              How does one know that it is the religious individual trapped in a delusion and not the atheist? Perhaps it is really the atheist confined within the real delusion and God really does exist and accurately impinges himself upon the minds of the religious.
            Anyone can be trapped in a delusion, so how do we know who is affected by it? Is the religious mind more likely trapped in a delusion or is the atheist mind? Is this a false dichotomy? Are there more than these two possibilities—perhaps both the atheist mind and religious mind are trapped inside delusions? Or, maybe there exists a delusion continuum and one of these world-views is measurably more delusional in degree than the other.
             Again, how can we tell? To say that the religious mind is suffering from delusion is a tacit suggestion that the atheist mind is not, or, is less so. It would be difficult to propose that both an atheist mind and religious mind are equally right at the same time; these two would negate each other due to possessing claims that are in diametric opposition to each other.
           We are right back to where we must decide. Which of these—the atheist or the religious theist—is more delusional than the other? One of these has got to be more delusional because the claims that are acknowledged by one of these views are opposed to the claims acknowledged by the other view. In other words, they contradict each other. More clearly, ask yourself whether god(s) can and cannot exist at the same time.
            Whether we like to admit it or not, there are some minds following a set of ideas and beliefs that are false—ahem, delusional. Some people may not like this statement. The notion of labeling some minds more delusional than others is a very offensive declaration. How can anyone person’s line of thinking and believing be superior to anyone else’s?
            A good way to think more about this is to look at reality. Of course, this is assuming that there is an objective reality that exists outside and independent of human minds and human senses.  I happen to think there is—or else, what now?  Also, if one says that “Reality is really a subjective experience”, are they not making an absolute statement here? It ends up defeating itself.  Where can we even go from there if we don’t at least make this fundamental assumption that we can all agree on?
        There must be some kind of absolute, objective reality that exists in order for us to contrast and measure delusion against. From another angle, if reality is ultimately subjective, how can we even begin to propose that someone is suffering from delusion—maybe such delusion would be that individual’s reality? In other words, we can’t reproach anyone for being delusional if no universal reality exists.
          Next, if we agree that reality is objective, we can look for evidences of delusion. We can look at which of these views (atheism or theism) offers an overall position that is reflective of this objective reality. We can begin to sift through the purported claims of each. Are there more false claims offered by religion (e.g. Christianity) or atheism?
            Atheism would seem to be a rejection of the claim that god(s) exist(s). A religious/theistic view might say, “A non-physical, god(s) exists and that he rules the world and has an eternal plan for each human being—not for other mammals, and certainly not for icky bacteria.” Notice how this is a densely loaded, non-vague assertion.
           An atheist (non-religious) stance would say that humans and other life forms are the result of a materialistic, physical process that can be explained through DNA, evolution and rewound back through time. There are many preceding physical steps that gave rise to human beings (and other life-forms) existing. Where there are gaps in this physical history, they are not explained by something that transcends nature (as far as I know). If all the other gaps we have ever come across throughout history have been explained by a physical mechanism, why, for a new knowledge gap would we resort to a non-physical one, such as god(s).

Those are just some quick thoughts tonight...