Duped

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Dr. Bossypants has an important fact to share with you. Life is complicated. Being human, and sometimes intellectually or physically lazy, people don’t especially like the work involved in deep thinking or right action. So we latch onto what appear to be simple answers and solutions, and we hang on for dear life. This is not wise. It sets us up to be fooled into making terrible, destructive choices.

For instance, those who vote solely on “moral” grounds, driven by the idea that one “evil” should be addressed by law, are so impassioned that they willingly vote against their own, and society’s, interests in most other domains. They vote for greedy, dishonest people, and they know they are doing this. They justify it because they have a single motive. Let’s take abortion as an example. Let’s say that above all else, they believe we have to make abortion illegal. So they vote as if this will happen.

But guess what? It won’t work. These greedy dishonest politicians aren’t stupid. They know who butters their toast. They KNOW how to trigger “moral” outrage. They know which issues to use to get voted in. Are they going to sew up the abortion issue and make all abortions illegal? Nope. They’ll fiddle with it, gaining some kind of weak restrictions, but they will not really push it. And, of course, they’ll blame the opposition. Why? Because they get a boatload of naïve voters to keep holding their noses and voting for them. If this cause, or similar single-issue causes, disappear, these voters might stop to think about…hmmm…the widowed, homeless, or needy? The disenfranchised? The horrifically lopsided gap between the rich and the poor? Unfair, unjust labor practices? Some very wealthy politician’s pride in not paying any taxes for the common good, while taking huge profits from shady businesses? Embarrassing racist comments? Attacking the free press, the foundation of our democracy? Public lands disappearing into private ownership? Failure to raise taxes so we can pay, together, for the health of our society? Insulting international behaviors? Science-denial?

It makes the brain ache, doesn’t it? Democracy is not a single-issue proposition. If morally-inclined people vote, one would assume they would vote for the broad common good, not their own selfish interests. And what keeps them from doing so?

One could choose among the seven deadly sins, as defined by ancient Christian thinkers: These are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth (as in the laziness Dr. Bossypants is decrying today), Wrath, Envy, and Pride!! Well, well. that’s quite a list. Worth another post or two sometime soon. And lest we seem to favor Christian thinkers, here’s another list of behaviors Mahatma Gandhi believed to be morally and spiritually deadly to human society.

  • Wealth without Work
  • Pleasure without Conscience
  • Science without Humanity
  • Knowledge without Character
  • Politics without Principle
  • Commerce without Morality
  • Religion without Sacrifice

Such challenging ideas. Such long lists. And the sad thing is that Dr. Bossypants can’t simplify it very much for you. It just isn’t simple. But perhaps this will help: Forcing someone to stay pregnant who does not want to be is not compassionate. If you could ask a developing clump of cells if it wanted to raid the resources of an unwilling body, and then be born unwanted, it would likely say “No thanks.” It is a very bad single issue. Or here’s another: keeping taxes low is not generous. It is selfish. Refusing to pay your share for the benefits of being a safe, clean, caring, educated, factually-informed society is not moral. Taxes are not a necessary evil. They are a necessary good.

The truth is complicated, often difficult to discern and accept, and sometimes demands a challenging response, but ultimately, as a species, we are built to seek the truth. That’s just the way it is.

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The Psychology of Perpetual Youth

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One of the many troubling things about human consciousness is, well, consciousness. We have instincts, but like frosting on a cake, we overlay them with self-awareness that transcends time and space. Consciousness includes the ability to abstract and create. We are a story-telling species, easily frightened by imagined threats, tempted by imagined riches, angered by imagined insults, and thrilled by imagined victories. Witness: the gaming industry.

There are so many directions Dr. Bossypants could go with the astute observations in the previous paragraph, but for today, we’re going to focus on one pernicious outcome of consciousness—our abhorrence of aging and fear of death. The instinct to avoid death appears to be built into all living things (for some good reasons), but humans have taken this avoidance and run with it, far beyond those good reasons.

The longing to be young, healthy, happy, sexy, and rich has propelled medical science forward—we have organ transplants, face lifts, butt tucks, artificial limbs, chemo, pills to drive away sadness, pills to calm us down, rev us up, lower our blood pressure, and cause erections. No doubt we will continue to chip away at reducing or eliminating the effects of injury, disease, disability, and aging. By and large, this is quite laudable. But oh my, there are serious downsides to all this wonderment.

And one of these downsides is denial. Because we are wired to fear and avoid death, we’ve become worshipers of youth and deniers of mortality. We don’t like old people, even if the old people are us. We thus fail to age gracefully, fail to recognize or elevate the positive aspects of aging, and fail to prepare for our demise. We claim to be shocked at the passing of the years, even though we’re a species of historians. Aging and death catch us by surprise, and many of us complain vociferously, as if we are the first to face such indignation.

Dr. Bossypants is quite concerned about the costs of this denial, and the resulting inability to deal with death knowingly and humanely. She is concerned that as we first-worlders age, we tend to bitch and moan, wasting the precious time we have left in a narcissistic dither about how this or that shouldn’t happen to us. Thus, she has written a novel (cleverly entitled Boomers) which she envisions serving as an aid to those who might venture into these topics. Because she had good editors, it isn’t as preachy as she wanted it to be, but it still makes a few discussion-worthy points. And it would be a comfort to Dr. Bossypants if a few people bought this book and thought about the issues she raises. To that end, here’s the link to that evil empire, Amazon, wherein efforts such as these find a home.

 

 

 

The Human Condition

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The human condition defies simple analysis. The arc of our storyline includes both acceptance and defiance. We are consistently contradictory. Storefront “absolutes” fade in the sunshine of experience. Sure-things aren’t. The givens of life slip away as science, rationality, or whim take them apart. Sometimes, they reappear, refined. Sometimes they end up shelved in the great museum of human fallibility. Sometimes, we bury them in shame.

We continue to wrestle with powerful, apparently-biological urges to accumulate and reproduce. Thankfully, within our species, there are many examples of humans doing otherwise. Thus, we know that among our many capacities, we have the capacity to deny biological urges. We can say enough and mean it. We can get by with less than enough when motivated to do so. We do not always reproduce, and those who do often choose to limit the numbers of new beings they create.

But we also know that many humans dedicate their lives to unfettered reproduction and accumulation—whether that be money, homes, widgets, power, underwear, offspring, achievements, titles, friends, or enemies. It can be great fun. Some humans love to push the limits. Other humans love to watch—getting vicarious thrills from the courage, clucking their tongues at the foolishness. Some accumulations and extreme efforts appear to be harmless, but excess should always be examined and balanced. It is the rare accumulator who doesn’t need constraint. It is the rare achiever who doesn’t need the equilibrium provided by humility.

So, yes, we are complex beings, imbued with choice. Our destiny as a species appears to be dependent on the choices we make. Short-sighted greed, cruelty, and destructive accumulation are well within the repertoire of human choice. Denial has become a refined art form. Cruelty and falsehood are endorsed or tolerated in the service of far-fetched conspiracy theories, sometimes cloaked in a fetid version of a contorted God.

Suffering is suffering. Hunger is hunger. Death is death. And the earth, our home, is finite. If we had the will, we could alleviate hunger and reduce suffering. We could choose to live with more compassion, wisdom, and self-sacrifice. It is possible to set in motion systems that will heal and perhaps stabilize our little planet. But no matter what, we will die. No amount of accumulation will change that. No amount of denial.

Therefore, Dr. Bossypants offers this simple suggestion: How about we accept our mortality and plan for our deaths instead of run from them? And since we have a choice, how about we live lives filled with joy and meaning, generosity and connection? Just a suggestion. Up to you.

 

Common Sense

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Common Sense: A Shapely Poem by Bossypants

This little planet is all we have. We should take care of it.

Every day, you have a chance to choose gratitude and kindness.

Violence is a byproduct of anger, laziness, and lack of imagination.

This one little life is all you’ve got, buddy. You are mortal. You will die.

We need to pay taxes and give generously. There’s no need to be greedy pigs.

We are here, individually, for a very short time. There’s not much point in hoarding.

Everyone needs food, shelter, companionship, meaningful work, and time for recreation.

We should not allow people to get rich by destroying the planet or making others sick.

We should not worship rich people. In fact, we should not worship people at all.

We do not need the rich to get richer. It does not make them better people.

We should not shame poor people. In fact, shame is quite destructive.

We should curb our appetite for energy, and support renewables.

We should eat fewer bananas if we live in cold climates.

It is okay to be confused. It is not okay to be cruel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ego and other possibilities

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The term “ego” is an ancient one, with Latin roots. It simply means “I” or “Self.” Its first known use in English was in the late 1700s. Psychologists love to argue about whether there actually is an “I” in the sense of predictable personality traits, or whether at any given time, our behaviors and moods are the result of ingesting food, drugs, and alcohol, exercise, responding to the expectations of others, the amount of sunlight in a given day, how much love we’ve soaked in, the amount of sleep we’ve managed to get, and maybe the cosmic forces at work on us.

Of course, a related meaning of ego has to do with our personal valuation of this “I” that may or may not define us. Sometimes, we are more certain of ourselves, our internal integrity, our worth, and our motivations than other times. And of course, for reasons still being debated, some of us vastly, vastly, vastly over-estimate our worth to the world and believe we are entitled to unlimited resources and praise. Why are some people far too humble and others sickeningly prideful?

Though Dr. Bossypants is not Buddhist, she believes Buddhists possess significant wisdom. As she understands it, the Buddhists believe that this “ego” or sense of separate individuality gets in our way of recognizing how artificial the boundaries between apparent “individuals” are. If we had less attachment to ego, we could more clearly see the unity, the connection, the oneness of all the pieces and parts of ourselves and our fellow beings, our earth, our galaxy, and even the time-space continuum.

It is indeed jarring to consider ourselves as one with all living beings, because this would include our current leadership, those aspiring to leadership, our alcoholic uncle, and even terrorists who blow themselves and others to smithereens. Most of us consider it creepy or stupid to seek even a tiny corner of common ground with these fellow human beings who act so abhorrently.

At this juncture, Dr. Bossypants must confess she is about to make claims that can’t be fully substantiated. But as far as it can be studied, it does not appear that the infliction of pain, hatred, deprivation, or even death is effective in changing human behavior for the better. Oh yes, we can change human behavior with such actions, but the change is, at best, temporary compliance, with enhanced motivation for later revenge.

It requires intelligence, tenacity, self-control, creativity, and great strength of character to find common ground with people we refer to as evil. These same attributes, plus wisely-used resources, are necessary to contain, reroute, and/or defeat the spread of destructive behavior. Research suggests that violence begets violence. Dr. Bossypants readily admits that this totally sucks because revenge feels good whereas the application of containment and compassion are tedious, slow, and even dangerous (in the short run).

But the real, long-term dangers are far worse: Ever-deadlier weapons, shriveled empathy, us/them dehumanizing rationalizations, bigger prisons, less education, hungry, abused, or unwanted children, and the increasingly shrill declarations of US FIRST. It just doesn’t work that way, dear readers. The ways we treat each other—including every single “other”—are the building blocks of the future. Just as violence will engender more violence, ultimately, kindness will bring forth more kindness. Humans appear to be uniquely able to make corrective choices. Dr. Bossypants is rooting for us all. With courage, we can choose some better paths.

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. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/the-trauma-of-facing-deportation. 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.

Trauma–Not good.

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Another fascinating mini-series by Dr. Bossypants is about to begin. Que: Dancing in the streets.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll examine an important and ubiquitous part of being human—stress and trauma. Dr. Bossypants believes that we are in a most precarious position in human history. Sure, we’ve always had wars, violence, sexual abuse, psychopaths, and natural disasters to deal with. Some of our fellow humans have these things for breakfast every day. This does not mean we should normalize suffering, nor any of these precipitators of suffering. In fact, it is time we get serious about eliminating sources of suffering and trauma.

True, we’ve always had war, and killing. But we haven’t always had nuclear weapons, nor have we had the glorious but potentially deadly Internet, nor the other technologies and forms of travel now readily available. Methinks we had better grow up fast here people. Fast indeed. The devastating degradation or complete annihilation of the planet and humans dwelling upon it is in play.

So we begin by examining responses to trauma:

Psychologists have a checkered history when it comes to assessing and addressing the effects of stress and trauma on human functioning. Dr. Bossypants has had significant professional exposure to these issues and, to no one’s surprise, strong beliefs as well.

Defining trauma is difficult and fraught with political and financial motivations that, when examined, are sickening. We, people and governments alike, want to pretend that trauma doesn’t exist, or that inflicting it has no cost.

The word itself comes from a Greek word that means “wound.” To be human is to wound and be wounded. But to be human is to also have choices, and assess consequences. We want what we want, and, tragically, we don’t want to be told that what we want might hurt others, or even cause long-term devastation.

For instance, though some of us may be loathe to bring him up, we must note that Sigmund Freud initially recognized and wrote about the tremendous wounds inflicted on women who were sexually abused. The (white, male, privileged) scorn heaped upon him for these astute observations precipitated a breakdown of sorts, and a recanting of his findings. For this, and many other wrong-headed actions and notions, Dr. Bossypants is not a big fan of Freud.

We will discuss the ubiquitous occurrences of sexual assault in later posts. We only note it here to say that humans are quite resistant to admitting the costs of trauma. Dr. Bossypants hopes to hammer this home in upcoming blogs. But for now, let’s move to the cheery subject of war and related forms of domination.

War is a common preoccupation of those who’ve ascended to power in human communities. It has, until recently, required boots on the ground. Boots with real human feet in them, and real deadly weapons strapped across their real, human hearts. The act of killing a fellow human being, or having a fellow human being try to kill you is traumatic. Period. It is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy to be traumatized by killing. In fact, if killing another human being is not traumatic for the one who kills, then something is wrong. We do not want to pathologize tender, caring, emotionally-mature human beings. Those who kill without pain and remorse are the aberrations of our species, and they need help and/or containment.

Dr. Bossypants isn’t being clear, here’s a summary. For the psychologically healthy soldier, war (of all sorts) is traumatic. This does not mean that that all soldiers will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, but many will. Rightly so. It is a terrible thing to kill other human beings and not feel a thing, even though we have many movies and television shows that would have us believe otherwise. For the general health and evolutionary development of our species, war is to be avoided. We need to go upstream.

In the USA, we are wildly privileged, wealthy, well-fed, lovely people. We need to win hearts and minds by being wise, generous, involved, honest, and fair. We need to embrace liberty and compassion for all, knowing we will get hatred in return for some time to come—there are many, many toxins that stay in the psyche for generations after war, violence, starvation, rape, theft, and brutality have been visited upon a community. But here’s the truth: Violence begets violence. Harsh judgment begets harsh judgment. Selfishness and greed beget selfishness and greed. We will harvest (or be harvested) by what we sow. Without significant healing and maturity, this is a psychological truth.

Therefore, we have to get smarter, kinder, and more generous. This is difficult, because we, too, have been traumatized. We are frightened and have become selfish—even greedy. But this is what Dr. Bossypants believes: We can acknowledge our pain, our own failings, and our woundedness. We can find the moral fiber to choose something besides endless repetitions of human mistakes. We need to open our borders intelligently, feed hungry people creatively, honor other people’s needs and beliefs, and do our best to contain the violence that is simmering near the boiling point on this beautiful planet. Otherwise, I think it will not be long before the planet will be rid of us, and get to heal itself without the pesky human beings now dwelling here.