Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

A Few More Thoughts on the Trayvon Martin Case

July 16, 2013

The other night a woman told me she thought the controversy over the George Zimmerman trial was overblown. Mind you, she wasn’t defending what Zimmerman did. Rather, her argument was that with so many injustices in the world, it simply wasn’t right to devote so much attention to a single case.

This is a fair point. It seems to me, however, that this episode has struck a raw nerve with many people, not all of whom are black. Many of us have had that experience – on at least occasion – of being confronted by a hostile stranger. (The enduring popularity of the film, Deliverance, is due to the fact that it touches upon this common experience.) Many of us have had that sudden and unpleasant realization that one has angered, or perhaps simply attracted the suspicions of, someone for reasons that are not at all clear.

Such experiences are now even more disturbing because of the insane “stand your ground” laws that have been passed in many states. Thirty-one states have such laws. A stranger can shoot you for whatever reasons of his own and then tell the police that you “threatened” him. And chances are that he may get away with it. (Florida’s “stand your ground” law was a factor in Zimmerman’s acquittal.)

I love this country, but it’s increasingly becoming an uncomfortable place in which to live.

Mapping Hate

May 17, 2013


Students at Humboldt State University have put together a map of racist and homophobic tweets that were made between June 2012 and April 2013. They looked at 150,000 tweets in all. You can find the map here. The map indicates tweets that expresses prejudice against blacks, East Asians, and Latinos, as well as prejudice against gays and disabled people.

Some of the results are not surprising. Most of the hateful tweets come from rural areas, and, yeah, more of them come from the southeastern U.S. than the rest of the country. Yet there are also some things that seem odd. For example, there appears to be hotspots of homophobia in southeastern New Mexico, on the Oregon-Washington border, at the southern end of Lake Tahoe, and in a couple of places in eastern Wasington. On the other hand, there are few homophobic tweets from Mormon Utah, except for a place just outside of Salt Lake City. There are hotspots of anti-black racism just north of Sacramento, California and in Twin Falls, Idaho. And there are hotspots of anti-Chinese sentiment in central Virginia and in a couple of places in Minnesota. It’s possible that these anomalies may be due to a few people obsessively tweeting over and over again. I would like to know more about the methodology that was used in making this map.

One thing we learn is that “queer” appears to be a more popular epithet than “fag”. And “wetback” is popular in a couple of parts of Texas, but almost nowhere else. The map also gives the impression that anti-black racism is much more of a problem than anti-Latino racism.

However, the most striking thing about this map is how there are far more hate tweets from the eastern U.S. than from the western U.S. (with the exception of the anomalies I just mentioned). The rate of hate tweeting drops off sharply from central Kansas westwards. I know for a fact that there are a lot of racists and homophobes here in the West, so why this huge difference? Without knowing more about how this map was made, I can only put forward the following theory. There is a common stereotype that people from the East Coast are ruder and more verbally aggressive than people from the West Coast. I know from personal experience that there is some truth to this stereotype. (I have lived in Boston and in New York, two cities where rudeness is almost a way of life. People in L.A. can be rude sometimes, but it’s nothing at all like New York.) Could the corollary of this be that people in western states are less likely to vent their racism on Twitter than people in eastern states? I wonder.

I have some criticisms of the way this map was made. The students sought to measure prejudice against people with disabilities by counting the number of times people used the work “cripple”. This word is tactless and insensitive, but it is not hate speech. And it might have illuminating if these students had looked for derogatory words about Native Americans, Arabs, Jews, South Asians, and Muslims. As it is, this map only gives a partial portrait of the current state of racism in the U.S.

Barack Obama Wants to Compromise with You Whether You Like It or Not

October 14, 2012

Obama thinks to himself, “Why doesn’t he like me? I try so hard to be nice to him. Doesn’t he like my bipartisanship?”

Many liberals expressed disappointment – and in some cases even shock – at Obama’s weak performance in the first debate. Over at Gawker, Mobutu Sese Seko (not his real name, in case you’re wondering) has pointed out that Obama’s performance was precisely what we should have expected:

    After spending five years watching a diffident political compromiser campaign for and occupy the White House, Democrats were still shocked that Wednesday’s debate didn’t reveal Barack Obama: Political Nut-Cutter.

Liberals still haven’t realized that the secret behind Obama’s extraordinarily rapid political rise is that he is a non-threatening black man. (True, Tea Partiers find him threatening, but these same people would be terrified at the sight of Trayvon Martin coming towards them with a bag of Skittles.) Remember Jesse Jackson? He wasn’t’ really all that radical. (He liked capitalism.) Yet white Americans reacted towards him almost as if he were a Mau Mau threatening to send them to the gas chambers. For all his reasonableness and articulateness, Jackson was too much of a rough diamond for whites to feel comfortable with him. They applauded when Bill Clinton criticized Jackson for merely being on a panel with Sister Souljah (whose views weren’t any more radical than Jeremiah Wright’s.)

Obama, on the other hand, was polished to an unblemished smoothness by the time he spent at places such as Harvard Law School. He is bland, but without being boring (no easy feat, you must admit). The worst thing I can recall him saying about anyone is his “she’s likable enough” comment about Hillary Clinton. (An extremely mild comment, especially considering that he was talking about Hillary Clinton.)

A corollary of Obama’s smoothness is his eagerness to please people who will do absolutely nothing for him. When Obama was at Harvard Law School, a group of liberal and left-wing students, some of them black, expended considerable effort to get him appointed as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama then returned the favor by appointing right-wingers to the editorial board, to the bafflement and even anger of his supporters.

This is the man that liberals expect to be the scourge of the Right.

Time to Leave Eugene?

January 30, 2012

Ever since I saw A Dangerous Method, I have been interested in the interpretation of dreams. Last night I had an extremely vivid dream that has haunted me.

I am walking through downtown Eugene. (My dreams rarely ever take place in Eugene.) I suddenly see an army advancing towards me, with demonstrators retreating in front of them. The soldiers are shooting. Some of the demonstrators turn and throw rocks, but this doesn’t slow the soldiers. A bullet goes whizzing past my head. I turn and head back the way I came, but I see soldiers coming from that direction, also with demonstrators retreating in front of them. I turn towards the Willamette river, the only way I can go. I see some old friends of mine – people I knew before I moved to Eugene – crouching on a steep river bank, so I join them. We discuss what we should do. I suggest wading across the river to the other side, but they don’t seem to like that idea. Suddenly we are all on a freight train heading out of Eugene.

So, is my dream telling me I should leave Eugene? That’s what it seems to be saying to me. (Yeah, I know, Freud would have said that the train is phallic and that the river is a vagina. I am, needless to say, not a strict Freudian.)

A Dangerous Method

January 29, 2012

David Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method, is about the founders of psychoanalysis. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is asked to treat a young woman suffering from hysteria, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Under his treatment, Speilrein starts to improve. She begins studying psychoanalysis. She eventually makes sexual advances on Jung, but he rejects her, partly because he feels it would violate his professional ethics, and partly because of his devotion to his wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon). At about this same time, Jung meets the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who makes a strong impression on him. Freud persuades Jung to take as his patient, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who is also a psychoanalyst and who advocates free love. After analyzing Gross, Jung decides to accept Speilrein’s advances. However, when Freud says that he has heard rumors that Jung is having an affair with one of his patients, Jung decides to end his relationship with Speilrein. The latter takes this badly. She eventually announces that she wants to study under Freud. This alarms Jung, who is afraid that Freud will find out about his unethical behavior.

The characters all come across as deeply flawed, and the film does not take sides. Overall, however, Jung seems more sympathetic than Freud. The latter comes across as rigid, narrow-minded, and domineering. In one scene he reveals his hand by saying that he wouldn’t discuss one of his dreams with Jung because he didn’t want to compromise his “authority”. There is also a complacency about Freud’s world-view. He tells Speilrein that “the world is what it is”, and that pyschoanalysts shouldn’t try to change it. Yet one cal also see why Freud eventually became disenchanted with Jung; the latter was fascinated with irrational ideas, such as a belief in telepathy. The revelation of his affair with Spielrein becomes the last straw.

One point this film makes is how psychoanalysis was rooted in nineteenth-century romanticism. Jung and Spielrein both admire the music of Richard Wagner. Spielrein finds inspiration in the story of Siegfried, which influences her ideas about psychology. (Themes from Wagner’s music are subtly interwoven into the soundtrack.)

The acting in A Dangerous Method is very good. I especially liked Mortensen’s performance as Freud. He subtly conveys the character’s arrogance and authoritarianism, without turning him into a caricature.

At the end of this film, we are told that Spielrein, who was Jewish, was murdered by the Nazis during World War II. This is a disturbing reminder that our lives are ultimately shaped by political and economic forces that psychoanalysis can do nothing to address.