Today, people are marching in support of science. It is Earth Day. Being a scientist herself, Dr. Bossypants hastens to make her avid and complete support of scientific inquiry crystal clear. Of course, Dr. Bossypants’s branch of science is often called behavioral science, or more broadly, social science. There are complications to deal with in even the simplest science experiments. Was the beaker clean? Is the flame the same temperature this time? Did someone bump the petri dish? But then, step out of the nice, clean, laboratory, with conditions as controlled as possible. Step into the hustle/bustle, bazillion-facetted, multidimensional, wildly spinning natural world, and things get exponentially more difficult. Then, throw in humans, likely the most complex, loving/hating, honest/duplicitous, creative/doltish species yet known on earth, and one might be quite justified in saying, “OH MY.”

Humans fool other people every day. And admit it readers, you fool yourselves every day as well. After many years of study, Dr. Bossypants knows that humans are a posturing, phony, frightened bunch of loving, generous, often-well-intended creatures. A quick Google search tells us that science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” To date, science is one of our proudest human accomplishments. It is the endeavor we undertake to STOP FOOLING OURSELVES. While we cannot guarantee absolute objectivity, we have become smart enough to admit it, and to bracket our values and beliefs in the service of discovery–discovery of replicable facts and truth.

People, listen up. This is important. Yes, scientific findings occasionally fall prey to politically-motivated interpretations. If you suspect this is the case, you must ask yourself what the motive might be for the false or skewed interpretation. Dr. Bossypants believes that the earth (and life on earth) is in terrible trouble, primarily from human failure to keep things clean and neat—human failure to pay attention to and learn from nature’s way of doing things. Why would someone be motivated to do false science, or question basic results about coal, oil, pesticides, and so on? Humans can be quite greedy and lazy. Is it more profitable to continue extractive industries? Is it easier? Profit and ease are powerful human motivators.

Are those nut-case tree-huggers, those Greenpeace radicals, those everyday environmentalist-composter-organic-buying-solar-panel extremists being made vastly richer by their actions and beliefs? Are their lives made easier? By their actions and beliefs, are they endangering your lungs? Increasing your chances of getting cancer? True, they might be messing with your pocketbook—but they are messing with their own as well. There are prices to be paid. Ultimately, we will not avoid a steep payback to earth. We can begin the payments now, and perhaps have something nice to hand down to the kids. Or we can let our children make the excruciating payments that will, by then, be so overdue it might be tragically impossible to pay, and earth herself will reluctantly have to foreclose on the human race.

Go Earth Day. Hang in there Science. Dr. Bossypants says this: Fellow humans, contain your greed and fear as best you can. Strive to be honest with yourselves and others. If you sense you are being played, as yourselves what the hidden motives might be. Have the courage to change allegiances when the facts line up. Denial feels great. It is our deadliest drug.


(Thanks to the internet for the image and the definition)

Ethical Commandments


Fans of Dr. Bossypants may remember that she blogged about ethics for a while before turning to trauma. Clever of her, because she firmly believes the infliction of trauma on others is unethical, so all her blogs are still relevant! And faithful readers also know she believes that trauma damages babies, children, and all people severely. Such damage may result in these same people then inflicting trauma on others later in life, perhaps not even realizing it as such. It is a vicious, potentially deadly cycle.

Philosopher Bernard Gert (1934-2011) created a list of ten moral commandments. Here they are:

  1. Do not kill other human beings.
  2. Do not cause unnecessary pain (this lets surgeons and dentists off the ethical hook).
  3. Do not disable another human being.
  4. Do not deprive another human being of freedom.
  5. Do not deprive another human being of pleasure.
  6. Do not deceive others.
  7. Keep your promises to others.
  8. Do not cheat.
  9. Obey the law.
  10. Do your duties—those required by social relationships, your job, your commitments, and so on.

Gert realized that there may be times when you are certain the deeply moral thing to do is to break one of the commandments. If so, he believed that you should only break it if you’d be willing to allow everyone else, in all times and in all places, to break the same commandment in the same situation.

It seems obvious that killing, hurting, disabling, or depriving people of freedom or pleasure causes some level of trauma in the hurt, disabled or deprived one. Being lied to and cheated isn’t much fun, and in some situations, can also be traumatic. And of course, at the social level, our culture would fall apart if everyone broke the law all the time, and/or failed to do their personal and civic duties. We’d have a broken culture.

But beyond this set of rather obvious conclusions, Dr. B would like readers to ponder another set of costs. We can easily see the cost of such actions on those acted against, or on society at large. But what are the costs of crossing those lines to the actor? The cost of breaking those profoundly basic moral edicts? The killer, the torturer, the liar, the cheat, the dictator–why are they willing or able to cross those lines, and what does it do to their psychological condition?

Dr. B believes in the long run, the actor is diminished in the process of acting unethically. But it is, perhaps, a habit-forming brutal cycle with enough shallow rewards to keep the unethical actor repeating the harmful actions.

Is there a way for society to help cheaters, liars, law-breakers, or brutal people to see the costs to themselves? Is there a way to peel back the “rewards” and help humans see that ill-gotten gains are ultimately malignant? Or could we at least stop tolerating or admiring such actions? Probably not, but Dr. Bossypants is going on record, with the wise Bernard Gert, as saying that killing, hurting, disabling, depriving, lying, cheating, breaking the law, and failing to do your basic duties—these are all unethical, psychological corrosive actions harming the victims, our community, and most likely harming the perpetrators as well.

Thank you for any thoughts you may wish to post. Also, someday soon, Dr. Bossypants promises to write something upbeat. And because of Number 7 above, you can bank on it.

More thoughts on trauma

045 (2)In our continued considerations of trauma and the costs of trauma to human development and functioning, Dr. Bossypants came across a horrifyingly illustrative example, recently published in the New Yorker. It has to do with childhood trauma and the extreme physical and psychological costs of such trauma. It also demonstrates the role culture plays how pain and terror are expressed.

The mind is a most amazing expression of life. Dr. Bossypants uses the term “mind” rather than “brain” because some consider the brain a seething mass of neurons, electrical impulses, neurotransmitters, and gray matter—a complex but eventually unravel-able mystery—whereas in Dr. Bossypants’s lexicon, the mind encompasses consciousness and something beyond the sum of the parts of the brain. The mind goes beyond nurture or nature, biology, rewards, or punishments. Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Dr. Bossypants might add, “In our response lies our survival.” Regardless of your own leanings, dear reader, at present what we know is that this mind/brain organ adapts, acts, and reacts. It learns and then makes changes accordingly. For the most part, it seeks to survive, but as in the article noted above, sometimes, it assess the hopelessness of a situation and begins to shut down.

The question Dr. Bossypants wants to raise is this: Why do humans hurt each other? Some argue that males hurt each other to show dominance and thus attract mating partners. Dr. Bossypants hastens to note that there is ample evidence this is not necessarily the case.

Is it fear that causes us to hurt each other? Deep down inside, are we so afraid of being hurt that we hurt others so they can’t hurt us? Or is it fear of deprivation, leading us to hurt others for the sake of accumulation, which then becomes greed?

Or expediency? The threat of pain, or pain itself, changes behavior temporarily, but it has a lot of psychological collateral damage. When big people hurt little people, or crowds of people hurt one person, we usually call that bullying. And we generally don’t approve. We’ve come to realize that such bullying causes a lot of damage to the one bullied.

Is it pleasure that causes us to hurt each other? Sadism exists; those who are sadistic enjoy causing pain. How did that twist come to be in that psyche? It doesn’t seem very adaptive, or loving, or helpful…could it have manifested due to early childhood trauma? Could it lie quietly in our cultural narrative, increasingly brought to the surface by media and war? Does it somehow come back to fear?

The sad truth is that Dr. Bossypants does not know the answer to this basic question, and believes that perhaps, no one else does either. In fact, there may be a multiplicity of answers. What is known is that inflicting pain on others, either bodily or psychologically, ultimately does not pay off very well. In the short run, bullies might get the lunch money, but in the long run, Dr. Bossypants suspects that the lunch money will not make the bully happy, and such actions cost the community and the victims a great deal more than the lunch money.

What Dr. Bossypants does know is that humans have choices. We can evolve beyond hurting each other, whether on the playground, the street corner, or the battlefield. Nonviolence takes great courage and extraordinary intelligence. It takes self-restraint and self-sacrifice. It is noble and rare. It begins at home, in the refusal to hurt each other. Potentially, it can extend to a global way of being. Yes, Dr. Bossypants may be guilty of extreme optimism, but no, she hasn’t been smoking anything. And frankly, dear readers, nonviolence will turn out to be a far better choice than the annihilation of our species.