Author Archives | Dustin Celestino

Possession by Indoctrination

On July 20, 2014, five students were possessed by evil spirits because they took selfies near a duhat tree. Allegedly, several men were attempting to hold down a kid and they seemed very, very strong. To appease the spirits who possessed the kids, all cellphones that were used to take the selfies were buried underground.

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How did this nonsense make the headlines? It sounds like the premise of a low-budget horror movie. The incident in La Union and how it was described by the people who were involved does not prove that possession is real. The only thing it proves is that the Philippines and its many regions suffer from a harmful culture-bound syndrome.

In his paper, “Possession, Exorcism and Psychotherapy,” Timothy C. Thomason mentions various examples of shared delusions:

“The DSM-IV TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) describes several disorders involving spirits and possession in the appendix on culture-bound syndromes. For example, the phenomenon of Zar possession is common in many North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Susto or “soul loss” is an illness that is said to result from the soul leaving the body, and affects Latinos in the U. S. and people in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The DSM-IV TR notes that similar beliefs are found in many parts of the world. Many Native American tribes believe in spirit possession, and healers often suck illness-causing spirit objects out of patients; the Tlingit have a verbal exorcism ritual (Hultkrantz, 1992). The phenomenon of Windigo psychosis (possession by a cannibalistic demon) is well established among the Northern Algonquin Indians. The Ainu community in Japan believes in demonic possession and exorcism; in Nicaragua and Honduras there is a possession state called Grisi Siknis; and trance possession is found in Voodoo as practiced in Haiti (Prins, 1990).”

Demon possession is also a culture-bound syndrome. What this means is that demon possession happens only to people who believe in demon possession. The symptoms that “possessed” individuals exhibit are based on the mythos they subscribe to. A person suffering from Windigo Psychosis, for example, cannibalizes people, mostly because he believes that this is how a “demon” would function “if” he was possessed. People who become possessed subscribe to the fantastic narrative they were fed.

However, in the case of the “selfie” kids, it’s not just them who are affected by this delusion. The delusion is shared by those who make claims of supernatural strength, and those who attempt to cast out demons. In other words, these individuals are subconsciously playing a game that allows them to flesh-out their religious fantasies.

As Thomason writes:

“Although exorcists claim that people who are possessed demonstrate superhuman strength and perform supernatural acts such as levitation, a literature review shows that no evidence for this exists other than the anecdotal statements of believers. Given plausible psychological explanations for possession behavior (such as self-deception and communal reinforcement), and the lack of evidence for the existence of demons, there appears to be no good reason to believe in the reality of demonic possession.”

Now, if demonic possession was a harmless culture-bound syndrome, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that this belief causes kids to act out in strange ways, demon possession and attempts at exorcism could be fatal as well.

According to the article, “Exorcism: Facts and Fiction About Demonic Possession,” a number of people have died because dumb people have attempted to exorcise them.

Benjamin Radford writes:

“While most people enjoy a scary movie, belief in the literal reality of demons and of the efficacy of exorcism can have deadly consequences. In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old boy in Milwaukee,Wis., was killed during an exorcism by church members who blamed an invading demon for his disability; in 2005 a young nun in Romania died at the hands of a priest during an exorcism after being bound to a cross, gagged, and left for days without food or water in an effort to expel demons. And on Christmas Day2010 in London, England, a 14-year-old boy named Kristy Bamu was beaten and drowned to death by relatives trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the boy.”

There are many reasons as to why a person would exhibit symptoms of demon possession, and none of these reasons involve a real demon or a real devil. Despite the fact that demon possession is not real, news of it should still be a major cause for concern.

We should be concerned about “news” of demon possession because it is evidence that many people in the Philippines can’t tell fact from fiction, and this is primarily because a lot of people in the Philippines grew up with religion.

Here’s a fact: The real cause of the selfie kids being possessed are not demons – it’s religion.

An article from Politix reveals a study published in Cognitive Science whose findings suggest that one’s exposure to religious ideas has a profound effect on a child’s ability to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. Those who believed in fantastic religious situations are more likely to believe in other supernatural stories. In other words, if a child was raised Catholic, he’s also more likely to believe in white ladies, kapres, tikbalangs, manananggals, and spirits who possess children for taking selfies.

On July 20, 2014, five students were NOT possessed by evil spirits, or by elementals who lived in a duhat tree, or by a “Shake, Rattle, n’ Roll” inspired cellphone. What the news should have said is: “Five students were possessed by the cultural delusion that they have been indoctrinated in.”

 

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Why Most People Suck at Love

*Reflections on Yann Dall’Aglio’s TED TALK presentation, “Love — you’re doing it wrong.”

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I’ve always been interested in the idea of attraction. I have, in fact, for a number of years studied theories on attraction, desire and seduction. I also experimented with those theories A lot of people think that my decision to study what women found attractive, in an attempt to be attractive, creepy. “It’s like browsing for video game cheat codes that one can use to manipulate women into bed,” one friend commented (not true, by the way). Some think it’s unethical, even, to use certain speech or behavioral patterns to elicit positive emotions in other people, that may cause them to see one as a favorable mate.

Everyone does it though. At some point, most people who have been infatuated with another wanted to be seen as desirable by the the person they’re attracted to. MOst people have, to some degree, altered his or her behavior because of a desire to be “liked.” Some people wore makeup, other people learned pickup lines. Some people feigned disinterest, other people gave gifts. Some people projected a successful image, other people talked about art.

According to Yann Dall’Aglio, all these compulsions to behave a particular way, to project a desirable persona, in order to “earn” another person’s interest comes from a faulty, preconceived notion – the idea that one can “earn” desirability.

As a teen, I subscribed to the same notion. I thought that “attraction” was something that you did, or something that you accomplished, to earn another person’s adoration. Courtship made sense, at least on a theoretical level. If desirability was something one can earn, one only has to keep working to make someone fall in love. If the other person hasn’t fallen in love yet, it means that you have to invest further. It sounds like a gross oversimplification, however this notion has a long history.

In the past, what made a person worthy of love was his or her ability to fulfill a role. As Dall’Aglio says, “You had a specific part to play according to your sex, your age, your social status, and you only had to play your part to be valued and loved by the whole community.” However, developments in science, politics and economics have unshackled individuals from having to play specific roles. Unfortunately, these developments also ensured that the rules would change. These changes have created what Dall’Aglio calls a “free market of individual desires.”

In this market, “performing a role” is no longer enough to be desired. Thus, the modern individual’s obsession with desirability. Dall’Aglio says, “We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental, than a teenager buying brand new jeans and tearing them at the knees, because he wants to please Jennifer.”

In other words, we buy nice things so other people will like us. Dall’Aglio predicts that the future of our romantic interactions will proceed in one of two ways. One, the commodified consumption of the modern individual, the personal obsession with one’s own desirability, will result in the further depersonalization of intimacy.

Dall’Aglio says that a symptom of the former trend is the advent of the “Pick-up Artist,” specifically a concept introduced in pick-up culture called, “oneitis.” Many members of the pick-up community see an individual’s exclusive desire for one person, romantic love, as a disease that is meant to be cured. One can collect “seduction capital” by causing people to fall in love, while not being in love.

The narcissim of the seducer comes from the distorted belief that one can become worthy of desire. Because of an individual’s desire to be deemed worthy, he collects seduction capital that he can display as if to declare, “I am entitled to your love because I’m a desirable person.”

The second prediction made by Dall’Aglio is a little more optimistic. He beleves that the faulty premises that we delude ourselves with and suffer through may collapse and lead to the renunciation of the need to be valued. Once these delusions are eradicated, we can begin to understand that regardless of what we accomplish, we are not entitled to love – not worthy of it, even.

As Dall’Aglio says, “We are all useless. This uselessness is easily demonstrated, because in order to be valued I need another to desire me, which shows that I do not have any value of my own. I don’t have any inherent value. We all pretend to have an idol; we all pretend to be an idol for someone else, but actually we are all impostors, a bit like a man on the street who appears totally cool and indifferent, while he has actually anticipated and calculated so that all eyes are on him.”

The romantic anxieties we suffer are generated by our desire to be perfect, and our desire to find someone perfect to validate our own perfection. This unreasonable demand on both ourselves and others is what distorts our capacity for love and makes our intimate bonds more fragile. The moment we sense weakness or imperfection in the other, we immediately declare, “I deserve better than this.”

Dall’Aglio mentions how tenderness and not perfection should be the measure of love. “To be tender is to accept the loved one’s weaknesses,” he says. Dall’Aglio suggests that we should see love not as something we can earn through our achievements, positive behaviors, or superior genetics, but as a boon we have been granted, despite our shortcomings.

Instead of demanding perfect treatment from perfect partners because of how perfect we perceive ourselves to be, we should recognize our own faults, indulge in self-mockery, and learn to see another’s decision to love us as a gift rather than an achievement.

Personally, I agree with Dall’Aglio. I think we’ll all have better relationships once we learn to get over ourselves.

 

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The Pope is Sorry About Priests Who Fuck Children

In a private mass last week, July 7th, Pope Francis apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse. That’s cute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change anything. But let’s not forget the facts.

The Catholic Church is still an organization with members that have raped so many children that it has its own child-rape wikipedia page: Catholic Sex Abuse Cases. That page is linked to 277 other online sources, many of which refer to priests having sex with children.

Priests have inserted their penises into the underdeveloped anus or vagina of children as young as 3 years old, and the Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to these incidents for so long that even the United Nations human rights panel has accused their leadership, the Vatican, of systematically protecting its reputation instead of looking out for the safety of children. According to the United Nation committee, “the Holy See maintained a ‘code of silence’ that enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity.”

In other words, the Vatican allowed pedophiles to rape and molest children.

The Catholic Church is still an organization that continues to pay billions and billions because many of their members can’t keep themselves from raping children. It’s a multi-billion dollar organization that has dioceses going bankrupt because many members have a very expensive sexual preference: children.

In Holland, there’s a set cost offered for different types of clergy abuse. It looks a lot like a restaurant menu:

5,000 € – Sexual gestures against physical or mental integrity.
7,500 € – For touching one’s genitals.25,000 € – In case of rape.
100,000 € – For atrocious,continuous and prolonged abuse resulting in permanent trauma.

As we can observe, the problem of pedophilia in the Catholic Church is so insidious that they had to come up with an abuse scale as a guide for how much they’d have to spend for each form of abuse. According to an article in the Economist, “The molestation and rape of children by priests in America has resulted in more than $3.3 billion of settlements over the past 15 years.” And that’s just in the United States.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of how much this organization has been spending in an attempt to keep rapists out of jail. Here’s a third of the first page. The document, by the way, is 5 pages long:

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Here’s a quick look at some crimes that priests have committed from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP):

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According to the pope himself approximately 2% of clergymen are pedophiles. In other words, around 8,000 of the 400,000+ active members of the clergy are pedophiles.

Unfortunately, according to statistics, “pedophiles have a strong, almost irresistible, desire to have sex with children. The average pedophile molests 260 victims during their lifetime. Over 90% of convicted pedophiles are arrested again for the same offense after their release from prison.”

The only way to stop a pedophile from having sex with children is to keep him in prison. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has ways to make sure that pedophiles stay free. In the report, “Fighting for the Future: Adult Survivors Work to Protect Children & End the Culture of Clergy Sexual Abuse” by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), it was mentioned that there were five ways the church resisted accountability and taking responsibility:

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The section on victim blaming reminds me of that ridiculous notion implied by a priest that, “child sex abusers are often seduced by teenage boys.”

As happy as I am for Pope Francis’ apology, I still don’t think he should be revered for admitting the crimes committed by the Vatican. That’s what he’s supposed to do to begin with. I just find it a little ironic how it’s a big deal when a pope does something an average ethical human being would have done – apologize for being the head of an organization that committed many crimes.

I’m happy that Pope Francis finally admitted that some clergymen have been responsible for sex crimes. I’m happy that he admitted that some of his colleagues systematically hid records of the abuse, hid the abuser, and silenced the victims.

But I’m not happy that the Catholic Church is still an institution that protects child molesters. I’m not happy that the Catholic Church still follows “hush-hush” regulations that perpetuate child molesting. I’m not happy that the Catholic Church is still a financial behemoth that spends billions upon billions to make sure rape victims keep quiet, and child molesters are not punished.

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On the Hazing Article: A General Response to Comments

A few days ago, I wrote, “A Letter to CSB on the Recent Hazing Incident.”

One reader immediately demanded that I retract everything I said, take down my article, and apologize. I’m very accommodating and I would lose nothing over an apology, so here goes: “I’m sorry that basic, observable facts offend your fragile sensibilities.”

Unfortunately, your offended sensibilities do not change anything:

1. CSB still does not have the structure to completely eradicate fraternity violence.

2. The advice CSB admin provided, “Choose God, not Gangs,” is still not very useful.

The second statement is an opinion (and you are free to disagree with me), but the first statement is a fact. Your school does not have the infrastructure to completely prevent fraternities. DLSU doesn’t have it either. UP doesn’t have it either. Neither does Ateneo.

Why is that a big issue? I never said that CSB was the exclusive source of all fraternity violence. I never said fraternities were exclusively CSB’s problem. I never said that DLSU, UP or Ateneo were superior schools with zero fraternity problems. My point was that CSB was not addressing the problem properly, by implying that students become victims of fraternity violence because they failed to “choose God.”

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Comments poured in regarding the fact that no school has the infrastructure to eradicate fraternity violence. Not even my school, DLSU. I agree. That’s why I wrote an article to remind our schools that this has been a problem for years and the way we have been addressing the issue is not sufficient to prevent it. You can’t simply “pray the violence away.”

In the comments section, some people have pointed out that DLSU and CSB worship the same God. Okay. You may have misinterpreted the phrase “your God” as me implying that DLSU had a different, better God. That’s not what I meant. What I meant was, I did not have one.

Some people have commented that all I did was complain or express my thoughts about the issue. In other words, all I did was point out problems. So what? Even if that was all I did, I would still have done nothing wrong. But I did appreciate how one comment challenged me to recommend concrete suggestions that I think would help solve the problem.

I have a number of suggestions:

A lot of initiates participate in the rites not knowing what to expect. There is a vow of silence made by members of fraternities and sororities. Any member or initiate is supposed to keep his mouth shut when talking to people outside the organization. For the most part, initiates do not know how difficult the rites would be and how hard it would be to quit.

Although not all fraternities practice the same brutal rites, these “rites” are kept secret. It’s all shrouded in mystery, hidden behind a “vow of silence,” that it’s quite easy to hide the violence that happens within.

As it was mentioned in the article “The Psychology of Hazing,” “The secrecy surrounding hazing and the variability in the extent to which groups practice hazing make it difficult for people to swear off joining any group that might take part in hazing.”

As for God? I would bet that praying is exactly what these initiates are doing while they suffered from the physical, psychological, and emotional torment of the whole hazing ordeal. I bet that the lesbian sorority initiate who was coerced to sleep with a ‘brother’ was praying while it happened. I bet the initiate who couldn’t feel his legs after they were paddled to purple was praying for his own safety. I bet the ‘sister’ who watched her fellow initiate get sexually harassed by a ‘brother’ was praying too; praying that she wasn’t the next one to go.

I admit that NOT ALL fraternities dehumanize, exploit, or rape their initiates. Most fraternity members would argue that their own organization works together, as a united community, to improve both the life of its members and their environment.

NOT ALL fraternities are bad. NOT ALL fraternities implement brutal hazing activities. Unfortunately, we can’t tell the difference between those who do and those who don’t, because these organizations do not disclose how their initiation rites proceed. It’s one of the factors that contribute to the violence. It’s so easy to hide abuse when everything happens behind a veil of secrecy.

Suggestion 1: If you want to help future initiates understand the dangers of hazing, why don’t you tell future initiates what you have been through, in your own initiation, so they know which organizations to avoid.

Like I mentioned in the past, extreme hazing practices do not happen overnight. An initiate is primed for the “main event” over a period of weeks. An initiate’s boundaries are shifted slowly through a series of menial tasks with escalating difficulty.

A relevant anecdote I recall is the “Boiling a Frog” story:

“The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.”

Because of the incremental investments made during this period of incremental abuse, by the time initiates realize that they want out, it’s already too late. The initial emotional, physical and psychological investment losses incurred by initiates compel them to continue with the ordeal rather than face the fact that everything that they’ve invested so far was for nothing. This is the psychology of sunk cost.

Members of fraternities who have gone through brutal initiation rites justify the effort and convince themselves that the ordeal was worth it. In fact, after suffering from abuse from a group, some members tend to value the group higher because they worked so hard to join.

Finally, those who have gone through brutal hazing feel the need to make future initiates to go through the same rites. Even though none of them, zero, liked the hazing process, they rationalize the process as being “important.” They function with the belief that, “I had to do it, so you should too.”

Suggestion 2: As part of Freshman orientation, I would suggest that schools educate students on the psychology behind hazing rituals: incremental abuse, progressive tolerance, sunk cost, justification of effort, and the need to perpetrate abuse that one had to endure.

My goal in writing the letter was to suggest that CSB, like most schools, need to do more in educating students about how insidious the recruitment and initiation process is.

It’s a natural response on your part (if you study or work at CSB) to be defensive when criticisms are directed at your school. I understand your anger. But your anger doesn’t make my statements wrong, neither does calling me stupid.

I don’t know how much has changed from ten years ago, but my orientation seminar as a Freshman in DLSU provided some information on fraternities that went somewhere along the lines of, “Don’t join frats. And if you find yourself involved with or threatened by a fraternity, you can always snitch on them via your guidance counselors.”

Then, I was made to sign a waiver promising that I would never join one.

In my opinion that’s similar to telling a child, “Be a good boy” and asking him to sign a waiver that said, “I promise to be a good boy.”

Here’s a dilemma though. When a student finds himself in the middle of an initiation, what does he do? He’s in the middle of these initiations because he already made a decision, or was pressured into one, to join a fraternity, and he’s thinking, “Shit. I already signed a waiver. If I tell school authorities, they might expel me for joining in the first place. If the ‘brothers’ find out I snitched, I’m dead.”

My intention in the article was not to imply that some fraternities who cause violence, or individuals who make a decision to undergo initiation, should be free of any form of responsibility. What I’m telling CSB is that saying how these people could have simply “chosen God” belittles the personal struggles of those who already suffered in the hands of their abusers. It’s like saying, “You got what you deserved because you didn’t ‘choose God’.”

I know that some readers sincerely believe that previous statement, “that bad things happen to those who don’t choose God.” However, I’m also free to tell those who care to listen that, “No, it’s not as simple as choosing God over gangs.”

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A Letter to CSB on the Recent Hazing Incident

Dear College of Saint Benilde,

In the University Mall, next to my alma mater, DLSU, I once saw a 6-foot fratboy punch a much smaller guy in the face. Immediately after, he ran to his “brothers” excited to show them his hand, red and bleeding from a small wound, because the tooth of the guy he punched grazed his knuckles. He rushed to his brethren and said, “May sinapak ako! May sinapak ako!” Then, everyone got excited and they grouped up, around 8 of them, and they surrounded 3 guys to tell them, “Ano, babalik pa kayo? Babalik pa kayo?”

A fratboy once saw me laugh with his “brother’s” ex-girlfriend as I was walking next to her, a classmate of mine, from the smoking area to our class. Later, six people surrounded me around L. Guinto street, and I was randomly accused of “talking shit” about her ex. Whenever I denied it, one of them would slap me across the face and call me a liar, until I said, “Yeah. I was talking shit,” at which point I was sucker punched by the ex. Then, they left.

Here’s what I want you to know, people join fraternities for two main reasons: they want to satisfy their need to belong, or they don’t want to be bullied. Between those reasons, the latter is a more deciding factor.

In my high school, around 3-5 students in each section was a member of the same fraternity. Either you were one of them, or you weren’t. My classmates who were bullied by fratboys ended up joining the fraternities that bullied them. Almost overnight, the bullied is suddenly the one doing bullying. To be honest, the only thing that stopped me from joining a fraternity in high school is the fact that I was a member of the Taekwondo varsity team and the soccer club. It would have been impossible for me to train with injured legs. Otherwise, I might have joined.

I have been invited to join fraternities althroughout my academic life – from elementary to college. I’ve had friends who were fratboys, and friends who have been assaulted, bullied, extorted, sexually assaulted, and intimidated by fratboys.

At the end of the day, regardless of what bullshit excuses fraternities make for why one should join their “brotherhood,” fraternities are about violence. The currency of fraternities is violence: violence you are willing to commit (for a brother, a turf, a reputation), violence you are willing to endure (hazing, sexual coercion, institutionalized rape), and violence that you want to avoid (bullying, etc.).

The initiation rites of these organizations is not the only problem with fraternities. Hazing is just a natural element of a culture that functions through violence.

The site insidehazing.com explains that hazing is a rite executed to determine who’s “fit” enough to join the group. Furthermore, the site explains that the purpose of joining such a group “is for protection from outsiders; and by joining, one is assuming that the members of the same group will be protective towards one another.”

There are many studies that attempt to explain the nature of and logic behind hazing:

It creates cohesiveness within a group – you’re definitely going to bond with someone you spent an evening paralyzed from the waist down with. You’ve gone through the same trauma. You and a “brother” both know what it took for the other to survive the ordeal, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s designed as a slippery slope. An initiate’s willingness to consent to torture does not happen overnight. It happens over a period of weeks. An initiate’s tolerance for abuse gradually increases, in small increments, as he or she is assigned mundane tasks (cleaning, homework) at the beginning, but later escalates to more extreme forms of dehumanization. As mentioned in an article called, “The Psychology of Hazing,” “Even when we realize that we may find ourselves in the midst of hazing rituals, we may not step away because giving up at this point may feel like a sunk cost. We’ve already put in effort that we cannot get back, so isn’t it better to keep going than to feel like it was all for nothing?”

Another purpose of hazing is to destroy a person’s sense of self-worth through systematic abuse. After suffering through the humiliations you are forced to endure, you start to feel that the only people who can understand you are those who went through the same suffering – those who were spat on, beat, paddled, and sexually assaulted.

Sexual violence is one of the hallmarks of fraternity culture. Stacey Copper and Elizabeth Grauerholz conducted a study called, “Sexual Victimization Among Sorority Women: Exploring the Link Between Sexual Violence and Institutional Practices.” In that study they learned that, “24% experienced attempted rape, and 17% were victims of completed rape. Almost half of the rapes occured in a fraternity house, and over half occured either during a fraternity function or was perpetrated by a fraternity member.” Even in the Philippines, it’s not unusual for sorority members and initiates to be “gifted” to members of a brother fraternity.

When I was in high school, I was warned by a friend, a “brother,” not to court a girl, because many “brothers” already had their way with her as part of her initiation. They called it “hirap o sarap,” an institutionalized form of sexual abuse where an initiate is given the option to suffer physical injuries or provide sexual favors.

In many cases, these arrangements, these assaults happen in the presence of “sisters” and “brothers.” I don’t have intimate knowledge about fraternity logic, but I do know that most people consider it wrong to sexually assault your “sister,” or to watch your “sister,” get sexually assaulted by your “brother.”

Arguing for or against violent hazing rituals is pointless. It’s a moot point. Even the most naive freshmen know that there’s something wrong with being tortured for hours, or being coerced to fuck, and no one thinks that these are pleasant experiences. The question we should be asking is, “Why would anyone willingly endure hours of pain?”

The answer is simple: They are willing to endure a few hours of pain, in the hope that they could avoid years of pain.

Fraternities, despite all the negative consequences they cause young people, provide members with the illusion of safety. They are “supposedly” there to provide a young individual with everything his family, his community, and his school has failed to provide: security and a sense of belonging. The truth is, being accepted by, and being a member of, a group that has a reputation for violence immediately exempts one from being bullied.

Although fraternities have varied mission/vision statements, no one really cares what those are. A young person joins a fraternity because he doesn’t want to be beat up by a fraternity, without being able to retaliate. Violence is an issue schools have failed to address for decades.

The institutions that are supposed to protect the student can’t do its job properly, so young people are forced to look for alternatives. I mean, what statement did you, the prestigious College of Saint Benilde, release after another death due to hazing?

Well, you offered some very cheesy and useless advice:

“Brotherly Care not Brutal Hazings

and Real Friendships not Ruthless Frats.

Therefore, choose God not Gangs.”

Really? That’s your solution? Choosing God? When a kid gets his ass kicked over some dumb shit that probably involves women, money, or territory, it’s not God who helps him out; it’s his gang.

As much as you would like to pretend that your God, being the ultimate bully, will protect your students or retaliate on their behalf, He won’t be around when your students are mocked and humiliated by their peers. God won’t be around when your students are extorted and intimidated. Where I came from, gangs and fraternities provided confused, suffering, depressed, frustrated, young people the illusion of sanctuary from violence, something that this your invisible God couldn’t provide.

God wasn’t around when Guillo Servando was killed. No one was around; not his gang, not his school, not CSB’s God.

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No one warned Guillo Servando about how fraternities used systematic violence to reduce his sense of self-worth and increase his dependence on the organization. No one told Guillo Servando what he could do if he made the mistake of joining a fraternity and wanted to withdraw from his initiation. No one told Guillo Servando that they could help him or protect him from those who threatened him when he wanted to quit. That’s your God’s job, right? Well, He’s not doing it, and neither are you.

There are all of these articles saying the same shit they’ve been saying for decades: “Hazing is dangerous.”

DUH.

Everyone knows that, and you’re missing the point. The point is that some kids think that joining a fraternity, with all its brutal initiation rites, is safer than going to school without one. That’s what you have to fix. CSB, in all honesty, “your house” does not have the structure to eradicate the institutionalized abuse happening in your own backyard. And the half-assed approach of encouraging students to “choose God” is not going to improve your odds.

*Addendum (July 10, 2014):

My response to some of the comments are found here — “On the Hazing Article: A General Response to Comments

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The Unicorn Dilemma: How Purity Myths Harm Women

In the research writing classes I teach in Asia Pacific College, I usually allow students to select whatever topic they are interested in. It’s quite amusing to find out what kids today are interested in. But the most rewarding moment for me is when a student experiences an epiphany, a realization or an understanding a student arrives at on his own.

I had a student who wanted to write about unicorns. She wanted to write about unicorns because she had a unicorn lampshade, a unicorn blanket, and unicorn stuffed toys. There was something about unicorns that truly fascinated her. By the end of the term, after 2 months of research, she no longer liked the unicorn as much.

The unicorn is one of the most beloved mythological creatures. As it’s often portrayed in the cartoon “My Little Pony,” if there was a hierarchy of beloved horse-like creatures, the unicorn would be at the top. However, the unicorn myth, my student learns the hard way, is a myth that reinforces the notion that virgins are better than non-virgins. It’s also one of the myths that reinforce the double-standard between male and female promiscuity.

The unicorn is a creature is linked to ideas of purity & innocence. According to one legend, only a female virgin with a pure heart can ever see a unicorn. Another version of the legend, says that only a female virgin can “tame” a unicorn, and if a non-virgin attempts to tame one, the unicorn will disembowel her with his mythical horn.

Immediately, both versions of the legend sets a faulty premise:

The unicorn myth implies that virgins are entitled to something non-virgins are not; that virgins are better than non-virgins. But there is a double-standard: If you are a man, your virginity is irrelevant, because a man, virgin or non-virgin, would neither see a unicorn nor tame one.

Women are punished for sexuality, men are not. Attitudes such as those portrayed in old myths tend to demonize female sexuality as something “impure” or something worthy of death-by-horn. These attitudes persist even today.

While some would argue that a lot has changed regarding our perception of purity, most feminist would disagree. The fact is that a lot of men have a biased preference for a female virgin, a lot of people still hold the idea that the value of a female somehow correlates with her sexual purity, and a lot of boys and girls are indoctrinated into this belief.

Jezebel’s Lindy West discusses this matter in her article, “Female Purity is Bullshit.” West refers to a speech by kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart, where Smart explains why she didn’t run from those who have taken her or even screamed for help, even when she was taken in public.

Smart explains that she had a religious upbringing where sex was compared to chewing gum. She says, “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value.”

Lindy West adds that, “The myth of female purity—the idea that ‘good girls have become as extinct as unicorns’—could very easily have contributed to years more sexual slavery for Elizabeth Smart. Or her death.”

In her book, “The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women,” Jessica Valenti confronts the either/or, virgin/slut, purity binary society places upon women. She argues that society has a habit of equating sexual purity with morality.

She says that this emphasis on the hymen has dangerous implications, “For women especially, virginity has become the easy answer- the morality quick fix. You can be vapid, stupid, and unethical, but so long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a “good” (i.e. “moral) girl and therefore worthy of praise.”

Furthermore, she argues that this dichotomy that women are presented with is a false dilemma: either you are a slut or a non-slut. This exclusively female dilemma creates an imbalance though; it places male sexuality as permissible and blameless regardless of how it’s expressed.

She says, “When women’s sexuality is imagined to be passive or ‘dirty,’ it also means that men’s sexuality is automatically positioned as aggressive and right-no matter what form it takes.”

In other words, it implies that a woman should take a passive role in the sexual encounter, and if she doesn’t, she’s a slut. However, a man is allowed to take both the passive and active roles without being penalized. If a man wants a “virgin” he has to take the active role, because a “virgin” would never initiate the sexual pursuit. But if a man wants to be passive, it’s also okay because it’s the active “slut’s” fault that the sexual encounter was consummated.

unicorn

The myth of the unicorn exhibits female sexuality as a flaw – something that would rob a maiden of the privilege of seeing a unicorn, or in worse cases, something that is punishable by death. The narratives we encounter in myths have an effect on how we see the world. That is why I think it is important to actively dispel these myths.

In other words, what I’m really trying to say is, “The unicorn is not special, neither is a woman’s virginity. Get over it.”

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From Social Rejection to Social Acceptance: The Adventures of My Little Brony

I don’t travel much, but I still consider myself a recreational tourist. I have the belief that the only thing you need to do to see new places is to look at old places with defamiliarized eyes. Borrowing a world-view, or attempting to understand a perspective, allows me to enjoy a variety of experiences from the comfort and safety of my own couch. One of the most interesting perspectives I have done a lot of reading on is the world of the Brony.

A brony, to simplify, is a dedicated fan of the show, “My Little Pony,” a show that was designed for young girls. A huge legion of male young adults have created an entire subculture around this show. I tried watching the show a few times. It didn’t appear to me as anything I would consider special. However, I do understand how it’s different from other shows – It’s so fucking friendly.

The brony culture emerged from 4chan. At first, the intent was to make fun of the show. But as the 4chan-ers watched episode after episode, they developed a liking for the show and started making memes about them to annoy members of the site who hated the show. Instead of being confrontational or defensive about their preference for the show, bronies often defaulted to responses like these:

1

The attitude assumed by many brony’s reflect the spirit of the show.

In his article, “Geek Love: On the Matter of Bronies,” Jacob Clifton attempts to explain the brony’s surprising tolerance for girly things. Clifton says that feminism paved the way for a generation of boys to be raised unconscious of the walls between what is traditionally accepted as male and what is traditionally accepted as female. This development allowed these men to see beyond the pink ponies and rainbows and appreciate the show for what it is, minus the “it’s kind-­of gay” gut reaction of an earlier generation.

“The protagonist is introduced to a cast of characters drawn from the most terrifying archetypes of our young lives,” says Clifton. And yet, the main task of the protagonist is, “to understand and accept others as being different from Self and acceptable anyway,” before she takes on her pre­ordained leadership role.

It’s a show about tolerance. It portrays a world where friendship is valued as something mystical and worth pursuing. It’s not a surprise then that it appeals to a lot of men who have grown tired of being rejected for not having traditional masculine attributes, for not liking popular things, or for not being cool enough.

Here’s a show, and an entire subculture that can collectively say, “You like Michael Learns to Rock? It’s okay, bro. We love and tolerate you anyway.” I mean, I liked Michael Learns to Rock when I was in high school (when Nirvana was “the thing to like”) and it would have been really awesome if someone said that to me.

The point is, “Friendship is magic.”

In his article, Clifton mentions a guy who said that, “he’d learned more about emotional and social life from one season of the show than from thirty years of living.”

Brony culture is reassuring. It’s okay to like things other people don’t think are cool. It’s okay to be honest about how we feel. It’s okay to express our appreciation for our friends. Suddenly, it’s okay to be yourself.

In other words, brony culture promotes values praised by what is known in not­hipster circles as neo-sincerity, which we will talk about in my next article, “Irony, Neo­-Sincerity, and Masculinity: My Little Brony Revisited.”

And, in the spirit of neo-­sincerity, I would just like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for you, dear reader. It’s really cool that you’re taking the time to read my articles. Thank you for tolerating the shit out of my sometimes difficult to tolerate ideas. Have a nice day. Let’s keep our friendships magical.

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Atomic Bombs, Cryogenics & Jorge Luis Borges: The Aesthetic Appeal of Science

I’ve been reading a lot of comic books recently. I’ve always been a fan of comic books, but there are a number of titles I’ve encountered recently that made me fall in love with the medium all over again. Vertigo’s “Transmetropolitan,” Image Comics’ “The Manhattan Projects” and “Nowhere Men.”

Science in Contemporary Comics

Nowhere Men” wonders what would have happened if there were scientists in the past that were as popular as The Beatles. They created a universe where scientific innovation is as culturally revered as popular music.

The Manhattan Projects” premise is based on a single question, “What if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb in 1945, actually went a lot further than that?” In this comic you’ll see Richard Feynman make weapons with Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, while contemplating the consequences of the weapons they’re creating.

Transmetropolitan” is about Spider Jerusalem (a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson), a gonzo journalist exploring the cultural paradigm of his milleau. He exists in a city where people from an earlier time (our time) is scheduled to wake from cryo-preservation, where citizens have the option to live in cultural reservations (brutal ancient civilizations) that are isolated from contemporary society, and where commercials can be uploaded into a person’s dreams (Inception style). He blogs and he wears a device similar to Google Glass. However, this comic book was written in the 90s, which means it sort-of predicted Google glass and online blogging.

Every issue of the series tackles a different social concern, but does not provide conclusive answers. What it does is it invites the reader to think, to speculate, about the different social, ethical, spiritual, political, and economic implications of each scientific innovation introduced in each issue.

These works appeal to me precisely because they invite speculation. The point is not the story, but its premise – “What if?” – a style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths.”

Labyrinths

It’s hard to summarize what exactly it is about because, mostly, it’s not about anything specific. The protagonist, the hero, of Borges’ collection is information – ordinary, mundane facts.

This collection of works by Borges rarely even have a plot. One could, in fact, describe them as pseudo-essays. Often, the protagonist of the story encounters a document or a study that provides an alternative interpretation of reality. In Borges, ordinary scientific and historical facts exists as a possibilities that could be interpreted in many ways.

TIME

In the story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Borges provides the reader three alternative interpretations on time and the nature of its passing:

1. “One of the schools of Tlon goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory (Borges, 34).”

2. “Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrevocable process (Borges 34-35).”

3. “The history of the universe [events in time] – and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives – is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon (Borges, 35).”

The point of the narrative is not necessarily what happens to the protagonist, but the reader’s recognition of these interpretations. These stories are about ideas; ordinary facts people overlook on a daily basis are placed under a microscope and investigated, speculated upon, until the reader himself asks, “Is the time in this story the same time I exist in?”

The appeal of his work is that the possibilities that exist in the fictional world of Borges can exist in our own world. The language itself is a formal attempt (an attempt in form) to create an almost academic (ordinary) atmosphere. Borges mixes quotes and ideas of people from “real life” (Shopenhauer, Bertrand Russel, Friedrich Nietzsche) with the fictional ideas of his fictional characters. Information, itself, generates the experience of the reader. The knowledge is not used to describe the protagonist’s experience. It is used to create “an experience” in the reader.

In Borges, common language itself can be viewed from multiple perspectives:

1. “For example, there is no word [in the southern hemisphere of Tlon] corresponding to the word ‘moon’, but there is a verb which in English would be ‘to moon’ or ‘to moonate’. ‘The moon rose above the river’ is hlor fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: ‘upward behind onstreaming it mooned’ (Borges, 33).”

2. “[In the northern hemisphere] The prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say ‘moon’ but rather ‘round airy-light on dark’ or pale-orange-of-the-sky’ or any other such combination.”

The fictional themes in Borges are broad. There are meditations on ordinary language and interpretations of time, but there are also perspectives on, and interpretations of, religious and historical concepts.

In the story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” a publicly loved president is revealed to be a traitor. Once caught, he negotiates with his captors regarding the manner of his execution. To retain peace in the country, among the people who admire him, he takes part in the preparation of his own heroic assassination.

In “Three Versions of Judas” the reader is provided three different interpretations on what may have motivated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. One version hypothesizes that Judas was God’s instrument of revelation. The betrayal was a way to reveal the divinity of Jesus. Another versions suggests that Judas’ betrayal was an act of love; that he was an ascetic to the highest degree, one that believed that no one, not even him, is worthy of God’s grace that he committed acts that would guarantee his damnation in hell. And there’s another version that suggests how God was actually revealed through Judas and not Jesus. God, in the form of Judas, sacrificed the innocent Jesus to teach the world compassion.

Science as Art

Borges’ “Labyrinths” show how fiction is not any more “magical” than real life. In fact, most of “the magic” (the philosophical perspectives, possibilities and ideas) in Borges’ fiction is found and is based on real life. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a person from real life having the same epiphanies and speculations Borges’ fictional characters have experienced. In fact, Borges himself admits that these stories are “autobiographical” and are, to an extent, non-fictional in nature.

In Borges reality, facts and ideas are aesthetic objects. Fiction exists only as a tool to highlight facts that generate wonder.

In his paper, “Games with Infinity. The Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges,” Martin Johnson suggests that Borges attitude towards the creation of fiction is best reflected in his description of the metaphysicians of Tlon from his story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – “The metaphysicians of Tlon are not looking for truth, nor even for an approximation of it; they are after a kind of amazement.” Facts and ideas, for Borges, function in the same manner. It is something that one should be amazed by.

I think such an attitude towards science should be encouraged, and the trends these comics have chosen to set (the exploration of scientific ideas and the ascension of the scientist/philosopher as a comic book superhero) reveals a promising cultural shift – mainstream interest in scientific and philosophical speculation. Science is not just a cold, precise tool human beings can use to measure universal forces, it is also a playground – a venue for mental play – as well as a source of constant awe.

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I Say “No” to Fat Acceptance

What’s so Wrong with Fat Shaming? 

“For some reason we generally as a society think it permissible for fat people to be the target of jokes, judgement, and health interventions. It is not OK,” says Jenna Brady.

 

There’s something wrong with shaming, in general. I’m going to make the assumption that everyone is in agreement that intentionally embarrassing another person because of certain characteristics, may it be because of their weight, illness, lack of intelligence, timidity, virginity or poverty, is unethical. There are genetic predispositions that determine what weight we’ll end up with. However, not all people who are fat have “no choice” in the matter. For example, me.

I’m fat. According to my BMI, I’m Obese Class I. I’m fat because I eat too much, I drink a lot of beer and I don’t exercise. My favorite food is Crispy Pata. I eat lamb steak at least once a week and whenever I rice-all-I-can at Mang Inasal or Chick-Boy, I devour no less than 4 cups of chicken-oil-drenched rice.

Maybe I’m fat because I’m genetically predisposed to be chubby. But I also eat too much. And If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I know that I should improve my eating habits and include more physical activities as part of my lifestyle. I know that there are things I can do and steps I can take to reduce my fatness. I just don’t want to do them. Mostly because I’m lazy. Sometimes, my friends would be working out in our living room and I’ll be sitting on the couch, watching them, while eating vanilla pudding.

However, even though I’m doing nothing to improve my weight, it is not right to shame me for being fat.

What is “Fat Acceptance”? 

Fat Acceptance

“The fat acceptance movement champions a new kind of beauty that is not defined by the size of your waist. Supporters of the fat acceptance movement work to fight size discrimination,” says Frances White.

 

Fat Acceptance introduces the idea that being heavy does not necessarily mean that one is unhealthy. The stigma and bias against fat people are propagated by shaming culture. Fat Acceptance is a movement that seeks to dissociate being fat from the usual misconceptions: unhealthy, lazy, eats too much. It’s also a “body positivity” movement that encourages people to feel good about their bodies, whatever their bodies look like. It wants society to have a more positive attitude towards high-calorie diets and consider it a defensible lifestyle. It also wants to expand the popular aesthetic to include fat as beautiful.

According to the Fat Acceptance movement, I have a right to be fat. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. Just because I’m slightly overweight, doesn’t mean that I’m unhealthy. Also, some people who have“skinny-genes” eat more than I do, but never gain weight. That’s the case for a lot of fat people; their weight is a direct result of their genetics.

However, I’m about to make a personal statement that does not reflect the views and opinions of this organization: I don’t agree with Fat Acceptance. Just because I shouldn’t be fat-shamed, doesn’t mean that there is nothing wrong with me being fat.

I understand that I’m using a very subjective term here: “fat.” The scientific term for people who are technically, scientifically, medically overweight is “obese.” But when people use the term “fat” they could be referring to someone “chubby” or someone “morbidly obese.”

Fat Acceptance is a dangerous umbrella term that could delude unhealthy, obese people that they’re fine. That’s my first problem with Fat Acceptance. It never differentiated between “healthy fat” and “life-threatening fat.” I can’t support a movement that does not discriminate between a person who is “genetically predisposed to chubbiness” and a person who is “eating himself to death.”

But My Fat is in the Genes!

Is your fat caused by your genes? Not entirely. Weight is not entirely genetic. Although there are genetic factors that influence weight, genetics does not determine everything. In fact, if you are a fat person like me, you can check this chart made at Harvard Health Publications to examine how much of your weight depends on your genes.

According to the chart:

How much of your weight depends on your genes
 

By the way, intelligence is also a consequence of genetics. But if my intelligence genes were inferior, I think I should be encouraged to study harder, not fed excuses why it’s okay for me to be stupid. Dumb-shaming is also wrong, but if there was a Dumb Acceptance movement, I probably would not support it either.

If my body looks fat, because of my neglect, because I chose not to eat properly and not to exercise, I should not feel positive about it. However, the Fat Acceptance movement promotes an idea that one can be “healthy at any size.” That’s simply not true. You can’t be healthy at any size.

Fat Acceptance Distributes False Information

The main source for the notion that one can be healthy at any size is a study done by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) epidemiologist Katharine Flegal. It is one of the most quoted studies by Fat Acceptance advocates. It claims that, “slightly overweight people have lower all-cause mortality than normal weight and underweight people.” However, it’s found to be erroneous.

There are serious methodological flaws in the research she conducted. The errors of Flegal’s methodology were pointed out in the article, “Weight and Mortality” by Jake Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health. Jake Miller writes, “The panelists evaluated Flegal’s findings and pointed out a number of methodological errors in the study that they said resulted in the artificial appearance of a protective benefit in being overweight or mildly obese.”

In other words, the result of the research is the product of a mistake. It turns out the methodology of the prior study included skinny people who were already dying of cancer, AIDS, and old age in the calculations.

Miller writes, “These people weren’t dying because they were slim; they were slim because they were dying.”

Now, even if the correction above wasn’t made, saying that “one could be healthy at any size,” would still be irresponsible. Here is what the actual graph of Flegal’s study would look like: 

The image shows that people with a BMI of 18 are outlived by “slightly overweight” people with a BMI of around 24. However, past a BMI of 30, the risk of death increases drastically.

 

There are exemptions that should be mentioned with regard to BMI-based data. There are always exemptions. Athletes and body builders often fall into the category of overweight because of their muscle mass. But these cases are not part of the overwhelming majority.

On average, it is still clear that the more obese a person becomes, the higher his risk of death is.

Fat Acceptance Advocates Extending the Definition of Fat-Shamers to Doctors Who Encourage them to Lose Weight

If a doctor tells an obese person to diet, exercise and lose weight because they “are” obese, it is not fat-shaming. He’s doing his job. He’s not making a judgment based on your looks. He’s making an honest evaluation of your health status. Some Fat Acceptance advocates push the notion of fat-shaming too far.

In the article, “Your Doctor is Probably Not Fat-Shaming You,” Hamilton Nolan writes about a blogger who threatened to replace her doctor for encouraging her to lose weight. 

Although people are free to be “offended” by whatever they want, but it’s not your doctor’s job to “not offend you.” It’s your doctor’s job to tell you the bad news. It’s his job to tell you that you have an erectile dysfunction, that you are dying, or that you are fat.

Nolan writes, “If you meet someone at a party, it is not appropriate to remark upon their weight. If you meet someone at the gym, it is not appropriate to remark upon their weight. As a matter of fact, the inside of a doctor’s office is one of the only places in the entire world where it is appropriate to remark upon someone’s weight. We go to our doctors for the hard medical truth.”

People Become Fat Because of Food

the calorie equation
 

Okay. I’m fat because I overeat. Some people who are fat don’t overeat. But some people who are fat, are fat because they overeat, and it’s hard for them to stop, because food is addicting. Cocaine, one article suggests, is actually less addicting than fatty food. But I don’t need a scientist to explain to me why I’m fat.

I’m fat because the Shakey’s delivery service is my second mosy dialed number on the landline, second only to the laundry service. People become fat because of food.

However,“eating less” is not as simple as it sounds, especially for fat people. Food addiction is a legitimate medical disorder. I don’t consider myself a food addict, but when I’m at a Japanese buffet, I keep eating until I hate myself. If I’m offered leftover Shakey’s pizza when I get home from that buffet dinner, I will eat that too.

An article called, “Is Obesity an Addiction?” was written in Scientific American. In this article, it was discussed how overeating can short-circuit the brain. Paul Kenny writes, “An inability to suppress a behavior, despite the negative consequences, is common in addiction. Scientists are finding similar compulsiveness in certain people. Almost all obese individuals say they want to consume less, yet they continue to overeat even though they know that doing so can have shockingly negative health or social consequences.”

Overeating overstimulates our brain’s reward system and it impedes a person’s ability to stop eating. Similar to alcoholics and drug addicts, the more food an over-eater eats to feel sated, the more food he or she will require to get the same “high.” As another article from the same site suggests, “Overeating May Alter the Brain as Much as Hard Drugs.”

This is another reason why I’m not a fan of Fat Acceptance. It overlooks the fact that some people are fat because they have an addiction that is very hard to recover from. Instead of pointing out the fact that fat people may be addicted to food, they are given permission, by being told that a high-fat, high-calorie diet that is ruining your body in many ways is “a defensible lifestyle” and that society is wrong for thinking that there is something wrong with it.

Do Not Shame Fat People

Now, if there’s one person who should be fat shamed, it’s me. I eat too much, drink too much, and don’t exercise at all. However, fat shaming serves absolutely no purpose. For some, the intention behind shaming is to encourage reform. But the only thing shaming will accomplish is make me feel ugly and make me hate myself. In fact, just thinking about it makes me want to eat a Happy Meal out of spite.

I’m fat and it’s my fault, and I should do something about it. Most fat people who can do something about their weight already know that, and shaming them isn’t really going to help them. In the same way that calling someone stupid won’t motivate a person to learn, calling someone fat won’t magically motivate a person to lose weight. As much as I don’t want fat people to be shamed, I don’t think the Fat Acceptance Movement helps anyone.

It’s Easier to Rationalize Obesity than to Prevent It

The Fat Acceptance movement is wrong because it encourages people to keep their unhealthy lifestyles. The Fat Acceptance movement does not distinguish between people like me, people who can do something about their weight, and those who are completely helpless about their situation.

I think fat shaming is wrong, I think fat discrimination is wrong, I think people who are fat should not be made to feel any worse than they already do, but I also think that people should not be encouraged to be fat, especially if there is something these people can do to achieve a healthier weight.

Obesity is a real problem.

According to this article, “Obesity Now Outweighs Hunger Worldwide.” In other words, the entire world is fat. Telling people that it’s okay to be fat is not a rational response to a fat world.

I would like to end this article with one of my favorite music videos by Fat Boy Slim: “Right Here, Right Now.” It’s awesome, it’s relevant to the topic and it has evolution. If you’ve never seen it, go watch it!

 

Sources:

Gayle, D. (2013, March). “Thank your parents if you’re smart: Up to 40% of a child’s intelligence is inherited, researchers claim.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2293861/Thank-parents-youre-smart-Up-40-childs-intelligence-inherited-researchers-claim.html

Harmon, K. (2010, March). “Addicted to Fat: Overeating May Alter the Brain as Much as Hard Drugs.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/addicted-to-fat-eating/

Harvard Health Publications. “Why People Become Overweight.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Why-people-become-overweight.htm

Kenny, P. (2013, August). “Is Obesity an Addiction?” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-obesity-an-addiction/

Miller, J. (2013, February). “Weight and mortality.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/02/weight-and-mortality/

Mirsky, S. (2007, August). “The World Is Fat: Obesity Now Outweighs Hunger WorldWide.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/8dff8662-e7f2-99df-38e67664abff1d05/

Nolan, H. (2013, March). “Your Doctor Is Probably Not Fat-Shaming You.” .” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://gawker.com/your-doctor-is-probably-not-fat-shaming-you-1535358667″

Shriver, L. (2009, December). “Lionel Shriver: My brother is eating himself to death.” Retrieved on: June 5, 2014. From: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/dec/01/lionel-shriver-my-obese-brother

 

Image Sources:

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Posted in Advocacy, Personal, Politics, Pop Culture, Science, Secularism, Uncategorized2 Comments

A Rational Approach to Jealousy

I’m going to start out with some bad news. Dear reader, you’re not as rational as you think (that, or I’m projecting a personal issue). In fact, we, as moderately intelligent people who consider ourselves rational, have a tendency to overestimate our own ability to be rational (or maybe that’s just me). My opinion comes from a very simple observation. Just because you know what the rational decision is, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to make it.

One could go on and on about how vulnerable the human brain is to addiction (depending on how healthy a person’s dopamine receptors are), or how short-term benefits cause people to overlook long-term consequences, or how our childhood experiences often influence our adult choices (regardless of how much knowledge we acquire), and even how our dominant hand can have a heavy influence on what we perceive to be good and bad.

But today I’m in the mood to talk about one particular primal impulse that has the potential to distort the decision-making of even the most rational people: jealousy.

 

I. Why Do People Become Jealous?

 

Before we answer this question, I have to point out the fact that there are differences to how men and women become jealous and, according to scientists, what human beings are jealous about may be due to evolutionary pressures.

Daniel and Jason Freeman posted the article, “Jealousy: It’s in Your Genes” in The Guardian. According to them, the most common anxieties that develop into jealousy are emotional and sexual betrayal. Research suggests that men are more bothered by sexual infidelity as opposed to emotional infidelity. Women, however, respond to both scenarios with equal levels of jealousy.

The theory believed by most scientists is that this difference is cause by a simple observable fact: Women are always certain that they are the biological parent of their child, men are not.

Freeman writes, “For both men and women, reproduction is key. But men, unlike women, cannot be certain that they are the biological parent of their child, and so they are naturally more perturbed at the thought of sexual infidelity than they are about emotional infidelity – because it jeopardises the successful transmission of their genes.”

However, it must be added that genes alone do not determine a person’s propensity for jealousy. The Swedish results of the experiment conducted prove that there are many factors involved that play a bigger role in jealousy including one’s own personal experiences & environment.

II. Why is Jealousy Dangerous?

jealousy
 

Jealousy has a tendency to distort our perspectives. It affects our ability to be rational, because reason is a response to perception. If we perceive a situation to be dangerous, the rational response is to either protect oneself or to avoid the situation altogether. I do not think a jealous person is not being completely irrational in his or her behavior. It’s not entirely a problem of reason, but also of perception. The distorted perception of a jealous person could further escalate into a vicious cycle. Jealous behavior (accusations, suspicion, etc.) fuels jealous thoughts, and jealous thoughts fuel jealous behavior.

Furthermore, there is often an element of the jealousy equation that is rarely pointed out: the response of the accused. Within the relationship, its not just the jealous person’s ability for rationality that is compromised. The accused is also vulnerable to irrational behavior.

An accusation represents an ego-threat and when a person’s ego is threatened, there is a possibility of self-regulation failure, especially when the accused has high self-esteem.

A person with high self-esteem who believes himself to be loyal, loving and faithful is vulnerable to irrational behavior when his self-concept is threatened by accusations of infidelity. The stronger a person’s belief is, in having these values, the more aggressive his response would be when these values are threatened, because there is an overwhelming dissonance between how he expects to be treated due to his behavior (rewarded with trust) and how he is being treated by his partner (looked upon with suspicion). Some of the most destructive self-regulation failures the accused party may resort to is counter-productive persistence, self-sabotage, and even aggression.

However, these defensive behaviors from the accused are sometimes perceived by the jealous party as “proof of guilt,” continuing the destructive cycle of jealousy, defensiveness, hostility and aggression. It is, in fact, less destructive to accuse a person who is actually unfaithful.

Needless to say, jealousy is dangerous because it destroys relationships. As the article mentions, “Much of the time, though, jealousy is pointlessly corrosive, making both partners miserable for no good reason.”

III. Retroactive and Retrospective Jealousy

 

Another complication with jealousy is that it doesn’t just come in the standard form. Aaron Ben-Zeev wrote the article, “Can Jealousy Be Retroactive?” In this article, he explains the differences among three types of jealousy.

1. In standard jealousy you are afraid that you will lose your partner  to someone else. It is an imaginary threat, but you feel that the threat is real. However, the fear is directed at the future, an unseen future event.

2. In retrospective jealousy, your awareness of your partner’s past behavior causes you to dislike your partner in the present. For example, you leave your wife of 50 years after learning that she had a one-night stand with a stranger in the first year of your relationship. She may no longer be the same person who commited the act, but your knowledge of what she did 49 years ago creates a disproportionate, pathological response (leaving her). Retrospective jealousy does not introduce present elements (who she is “now”) into the equation. It is devoid of context. This pathological response comes with the rationalization, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” But again, it’s either a fear directed at the future (“She cheated once, in the future she will cheat again”) or a feeling of sadness that the person you are with is not as “pure” as you thought she was.

3. In retroactive jealousy, your awareness of your partner’s past, causes you to question present elements in your relationship. You pathologically use your partner’s past relatioships as a benchmark of how much he values his relationship with you. If he made a mistake in the past for the sake of a lover, you would expect him to make the same mistake with you (or a bigger one, perhaps), otherwise you would assume that he doesn’t love you as much. The theoretical example in the article is about Jim and Carol. Carol confesses that she had a spontaneous affair with Joey; someone she met in the past, before she met Jim. She was intimate with this person the same night they met. However, Jim recalls that he and Carol were not intimate until they were together for 5 months. Because of this, Jim assumes that Carol was more attracted to Joey or loved Joey more, because Carol slept with Joey sooner than she slept with Jim. The difference between retroactive and retrospective jealousy is that retroactive jealousy introduces present elements into the equation.

Jealousy, in al its forms, is destructive. As Ben-Zeev writes, “Retrospective jealousy is destructive as constant rumination about the past is harmful and may block the possibility of the current relationship flourishing. Retroactive jealousy is even more destructive. In a sense it assumes eternal ownership over the mate, even before the agent and the mate knew each other.”

IV. Are jealous people at fault for the breakdown of a relationship?

 

I’m not a qualified couples therapist. But in my opinion, the problem of jealousy in a relationship should be a shared responsibility. Jealousy comes in many forms, and not all of them can be blamed on a jealous person’s “irrationality” or “distorted perception.” In some forms of jealousy, the jealous person knows that he or she is being irrational, that his or her perspective is distorted, but can’t do anything about it.

There are psychologists who consider compulsive jealousy in a relationship as a legitimate disorder.

Michelle Castillo of CBS News wrote an article called, “Overly jealous or insecure about your relationship? You may have ROCD.”

According to the article, a relationship-specific form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) exists. It’s called relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD). This disorder manifests through pathological jealousy and self-doubt.

ROCD symptoms include stalking the partner, checking their online history, and wanting to know who they’re with. They may constantly need reassurance that their partner is attracted to them. Another form of ROCD manifests itself in relationship insecurities. In this variation, patients constantly test their partner for compatibility. They are often tempted to end the relationship when it doesn’t live up to their ideal, but hesitate to do so.

Castillo writes, “In both of these forms of ROCD, patients may often compare themselves to their partner’s exes and play ‘mental gymnastics’ over what love really means, Brodsky emphasized. In both forms, the patients are extremely anxious when they think about breaking up.”

Dr. Stephen Brodsky, a psychologist who specializes in OCD treatment, observes how he often sees couples where one person has ROCD breaking up and getting back together multiple times a week.

All forms of jealousy, whether standard, retroactive, or retrospective, are destructive to the relationship. However, in my opinion, the burden of jealousy should not fall solely on the shoulders of those who are jealous. A common assumption made by partners of jealous people is, “It’s your fault you’re feeling that way, because you are being irrational.” This argument is also irrational.

Brodsky mentions that, “The hallmark of OCD is that they (patients) know this is irrational or has no basis, but they can’t stop themselves.” In other words, this particular type of jealousy is not due to “irrationality” or a failure of “reason.”

The responsibility for dealing with jealousy in a relationship should be shared by the people involved. In many cases, jealous people know that they shouldn’t be jealous and that they shouldn’t make unfounded accusations. These people know that they are being irrational, they just can’t help it.

The accused must also do his part in reducing the destructive potential of jealousy. In his article “Retroactive Jealousy: Learn the Causes, Find a Cure, and Save Your Relationship,” C. Paris adivises, “Try to lift them up, rather than tear them down for their feelings, no matter how unfounded, confusing, or frustrating they might be.”

When it comes to complex human relationships, there are elements more important than knowledge and reason – empathy.

 

Sources:

Baumeister, R. (1993). “When Ego Threats Lead to Self-Regulation Failure.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~thlab/pubs/93_Baumeister_etal_JPSP_64.pdf

Ben-Zeev, Aaron. (2013, December). “Can Jealousy Be Retroactive.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201312/can-jealousy-be-retroactive

Castillo, MIchelle. (2013, February). “Overly jealous or insecure about your relationship? You may have ROCD.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/overly-jealous-or-insecure-about-your-relationship-you-may-have-rocd/

Freeman, D. Freeman, J. (2013, November). “Jealousy: It’s in Your Genes.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From: http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/nov/01/jealousy-genes

Paris, C. (2014, March). “Retroactive Jealousy: Learn the Causes, Find a Cure, and Save Your Relationship.” Retrieved on May 27, 2014. From:https://www.udemy.com/blog/retroactive-jealousy/

 

Images:

Image 1, http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRqQmMGpN7f4NDuFh8QG0ujUVLA7QAAahsEMQUXr6T4qWY-z8ZY

Image 2, http://deeptruths.com/daily-bread/images/jealousy.jpg

Image 3, https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQTLaKMyqJAsBmZDSm1EFAQZIo9XWWIMjW-d6HoSVeqT_zNd9v6

Image 4, http://s1.hubimg.com/u/8232028_f520.jpg

Posted in Personal, Science, Society0 Comments

The Irrationality of “Utang na Loob”

I. Invisible Debt

There is a uniquely Filipino concept that is often brought up when a person’s relationship with his or her parents is strained: “Utang na Loob.” It is the idea that a child “owes” his or her parents for providing him an education, clothing, shelter, comfort and love. Initially, I thought that this particular notion is unique to the Filipino experience. However, I’ve learned that there is a concept in the West that is quite similar. It’s called, “Invisible Debt.”

Huffington Post’s Ashley Ryan wrote the article “Free Yourself From Emotional Debt: Move Beyond Pain From the Past” in an attempt to differentiate invisible debt from regular debt. She writes, “We all know what debt is. Some of us, most of us, still have a few we’re paying off. Student loans, car payments, mortgages. But what about the unseen debts, debts that are invisible to the naked eye but instead live within our hearts?”

What she’s talking about here is the debt a person incurs from negative experiences. The father who walks out on his family, whose approval the child is still seeking; and the mother who was over-critical, so the child overworks to prove that he is worthy of her love are both examples of this sort of debt.

The Filipino version, however, is more insidious, especially when it involves an abusive parent. In many cases, not only does a child have to endure the fleeting whims of his or her parents (who may have had the best intentions, but don’t really know what the fuck they’re doing), the child is expected to be “grateful” as well for being provided basic needs.

The issue with “invisible debt” or “utang na loob,” as it has been discussed in many blogs, is that it has an unlimited cost. Unlike a common loan, one is never certain how much more has to be paid, or when the loan will expire. The question I am asking is, “Is it rational/ethical for a parent to bring up utang na loob?”

Before I continue, I would first like to mention that I don’t have terrible parents. In fact, I am very lucky to have been raised by well-meaning, understanding, mostly rational, human beings with only average imperfections. I’ve had conflicts with my parents, more or less, as much as the average human being has. I am grateful for everything that I have been provided. I just had to mention that, because in many instances throughout this article, I’m going to sound like an ingrate, especially as soon as I mention my position:

I am grateful that I have been provided an education, clothing, shelter, comfort and love. However, I do not owe my parents because they provided me these things. It’s a parent’s job to provide these things. People who can’t provide for these needs should not have children to begin with. These are basic children’s rights.

I believe that “utang na loob” has no place in the parent-child relationship. I think it’s inappropriate for parents to demand a return of investment. Parents should not ask payment for “products and services” they were supposed to provide their children for free.

Now, I know I sound like an asshole. Let me clarify. I intend to take care of my parents when they are old, but not because I owe them “utang na loob,” but because I love them. The problem comes when parents expect their children to love them eternally, by default, simply because they did what they were supposed to do as parents – raise their children.

According to the blog, The Invisible Scar, “A good parent offers unconditional love and support; an emotionally abusive parent demands unconditional love and support from his/her child.”

When parents decide to have children, they also decide that they will give a child, who can’t fend for himself, access to basic needs. Asking for a guaranteed return on the provision of these needs is like asking someone to sign a contract before he could read. The basis for accountability should always be choice. However, in the case of children and parents, only one party was involved in the decision making: parents chose to have children, but children didn’t choose to have parents. Why then should children be held accountable, why should they be held in debt, for choices that their parents made?

For those who don’t get it yet, let me point out the obvious: The “utang na loob” parents often bring up to emotionally blackmail their children is not only irrational & unreasonable, it’s also unethical.

Utang na Loob
 

II. Why is it unethical?

The notion of the “invisible debt” or “utang na loob” is a form of abuse. Not all forms of parental abuse are physical. There are things that a parent can do to cause severe psychological damage on the child. The blog, “Invisible Scar” defines psychological abuse as, “a pattern of intentional verbal or behavioral actions or lack of actions that convey to a child the message that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value to meet someone else’s needs.”

“Utang na Loob” implies that a child was provided basic needs, not because he or she is loved, but because there is an expected return. “You owe us, therefore, you should pay us back.” This particular demand is irrational and cruel. It also turns love and affection into an economic resource. A child-parent bond is commodified by putting an invisible “price tag” on the relationship.

It’s very Catholic, in a sense, because it’s reminiscent of “Original Sin.” It’s a debt you didn’t earn, but it’s one you have to “try,” for your entire lifetime, to pay for anyway. Otherwise, you are a bad person. And like “Original Sin,” it will impose standards of moral perfection that you can never live up to. Whatever you do, you will always be a sinner until God decides that you are not.

Similarly, you will always have “utang na loob,” until your parents decide that you don’t. If you disobey an irrational demand, “Wala kang utang na loob.” If you select a partner your parents do not favor, “Wala kang utang na loob.” If you decide to move out sooner than your parents want you to, “Wala kang utang na loob.” If you disobey any of their wishes (whether or not these wishes are reasonable), “Wala kang utang na loob.”

But what is this “utang na loob” parents speak of? What are the parameters of this debt and how is this debt paid? The truth is it doesn’t exist. You do not owe your parents “utang na loob” for raising you. That’s a parent’s job. Some parents do the job well, and some parents don’t. Parents who do the job well deserve your gratitude and praise, but they are not entitled to your unconditional obedience. They can’t be allowed to make decisions for you as an adult, according to their desires, just because they did their job when you were a child. Your duty, if there be any, should be towards your own children if someday you decide to have kids of your own.

My parents deserve my gratitude and praise for being the best parents I could ask for. But, as an adult, I deserve to live my life according to my will, not theirs. “Utang na loob” is not a commodity a parent could trade to acquire a child’s unconditional obedience.

If there is anything that should demand obedience, it is not debt. It is reason.

 

Sources:

Ryan, A. (2013, March). “Free Yourself From Emotional Debt: Move Beyond Pain From the Past.” Retrieved on May 26, 2014. From: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ashley-ryan/emotional-wellness_b_2939928.html

The Invisible Scar (2014, February). “The Silent Treatment [Types of Emotional Child Abuse Series, Part 1].” Retrieved on May 26, 2014. From: http://theinvisiblescar.wordpress.com/tag/withholding-2/

 

Images Borrowed From:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-09PIUpTGChU/UyG9NKnyAsI/AAAAAAAAA30/zTraVxX4oQw/s1600/1240202_545802765475613_835693128_n.jpg

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Society2 Comments

Your Memory is Fake

“Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind” is my favorite movie. I think it’s perfect. I’ve seen it almost a dozen times. What kept me watching was the premise of being able to erase selected parts of your own memory to get rid of traumatic events and people one would prefer to forget. I was also fascinated by the tragicomic notion of people, again, falling in love with the same people they paid the memory service to delete.

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind
 

However, the premise of the movie relies on the notion that our memories of events are fixed. The movie portrayed memory as visual episodes that deconstruct as the process of memory deletion proceeds; meaning, there was something (a unit of memory, perhaps) to delete to begin with.

Recent experiments done prove otherwise. You don’t have to delete your memories, because they are not real to begin with.

Let’s have a quick thought experiment:

1) Try to recall a moment in your life when you were at the beach with friends.

2) Try to imagine being at the beach with friends.

Images that you imagine and images that you remember look and feel exactly the same. That’s because they are. Memory is malleable.

Trust Your Memory?

Jaque Wilson, from CNN, wrote the article, “Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn’t.” This article was about experiments done by Elizabeth Loftus in her attempt to demonstrate how “fictional” our memory is.

The first experiment had to do with car crashes. She showed videos of different car accidents and asked people about what they remembered about them. She noticed how their recollection of the incident was influenced by what questions she asked.

When she asked “How fast were the cars moving when they smashed into each other?” instead of “How fast were the cars moving when they hit each other?,” people believed the cars to be moving at a much faster speed. When she asked “Did you see the broken headlight?” instead of “Did you see a broken headlight?” people were more likely to remember a broken headlight, even if there wasn’t one to begin with.

Needless to say, the information people gather after an event, greatly influences how they remember the event. When we try to remember an incident, we are not merely trying to “recollect or recapture old information,” we are, in fact, “fabricating or creating memories based on new information.”

In her Ted Talk (It’s a mind-fuck. Go watch it!), “The Fiction of Memory,” Elizabeth Loftus says, “Many people believe that memory works like a recording device; you just record the information, then you call it up and play it back when you want to answer questions or identify images, but decades of work in psychology has shown that this just isn’t true. Our memories are constructive, they’re reconstructive. Memory works more like a Wikipedia page. You can change it, but so can other people.”

To further prove how memories are fabricated, she wrote a research report on another experiment entitled, “The Formation of False Memories.” In this experiment, close family members of 24 students were asked to give them 3 real childhood memories of the student and 1 false one. The students were told that all 4 childhood memories were real. Some of them were even asked to provide details about the fake memories. 29% of the participants were able to recall, with detail, events that did not happen.

memory1
 

Two Kinds of Memory

So, how does this happen? You might be thinking, “Dustin, are you telling us that if someone told you that your name was Brad Pitt, and not Dustin, you would believe him?” No, I would not, but I would be very flattered. Also, that’s not how memory works, especially as it relates to what we know about ourselves and who we think we are.

There are two kinds of memory:

1) Semantic Memory – a record of facts, meanings, concepts and knowledge.

2) Episodic Memory – memory of experiences and specific events in time in a serial form.

Our idea of who we are, our identity, is based on both types of memory. However, since memory is malleable, so is our identity. Initially, it was believed that our semantic notions or knowledge of the self (“I am an asshole”) is based on episodic memories (images we can reconstruct that show us being “assholes”; e.g. bullying service personnel).

However, the experiments of Loftus reveal that it could also work the other way around. When we encounter new information (someone calls us an “asshole”), our brain cherry picks or constructs images that verify the information.

In other words, other people can change what you remember, and who you think you are. As Loftus says, “Memory works like a Wikipage.” And just like a Wikipage, it can be changed or updated today or tomorrow, and by anyone.

I’m usually skeptical about self-help products or advice. However, in my opinion, this information does imply that “optimism” and being around “optimistic people” will make you a happier person simply by compelling you to remember your life as mostly a positive experience.

Present stimuli influence memories of the past. How you remember things, people, places and events, is a reflection of your current attitude towards them.

I think Marcel Proust, in his literary masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time,” demonstrated the inherent complications of attempts at recollection. Remembering, in this work, is portrayed as elusive, artificial, and creative. There is a lot of emotion involved as well. One can never recall with complete objectivity, especially incidents that are emotionally charged. The very act of recollection is a creative endeavor.

We re-create our own memories very similarly to how a director would interpret a scene from a script. However, we don’t really stick to one interpretation. We constantly change the script and the style of interpreting depending on a variety of factors which include: our mood, new information about the incident, other people’s opinions, etc.

I would like to end this article with a YouTube video called “1 Scene, 9 Directors.” It’s a humorous take on how one simple scene could be imagined in very different ways. I think how our memory works isn’t too far off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNywbNljhoM

 

Sources:

Garcia, B. (2012, February). “1 Scene, 9 Directors.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNywbNljhoM

Loftus, E. (2013, September). “The Fiction of Memory.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PB2OegI6wvI

Loftus, E. (1995, December). “The Formation of False Memories.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: https://webfiles.uci.edu/eloftus/Loftus_Pickrell_PA_95.pdf

The Human Memory (2010). “Episodic & Semantic Memory.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: http://www.human-memory.net/types_episodic.html

Wilson, J. (2013, May). “Trust Your Memory? Maybe You Shouldn’t.” Retrieved on May 15, 2014. From: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/18/health/lifeswork-loftus-memory-malleability/

 

Images Borrowed From:

http://krissacurran.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind.jpg

http://stringcan.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/memory1.jpg

Posted in Philosophy, Science, Society0 Comments

The ADD Apocalypse is Among Us!

The first issue concerning the supposed Attention Deficit Disorder epidemic is the skepticism surrounding it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children diagnosed with the disorder has skyrocketed from 5% to 15%. In raw numbers, 3.5 million children are taking medication for the disorder; a massive increase from the 600,000 that took medication for it in 1990.

In an article written by the editorial board of The New York Times entitled, “An Epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder,” pointed out how so many medical professionals benefit from the overprescribing ADD/ADHD medication, so much so, that it is becoming progressively difficult to find objective information regarding the nature of the disorder.

Mentioned in the article, “Prominent doctors get paid by drug companies to deliver upbeat messages to their colleagues at forums where they typically exaggerate the effectiveness of the drugs and downplay their side effects. Organizations that advocate on behalf of patients often do so with money supplied by drug companies, including the makers of A.D.H.D. stimulants. Medical researchers paid by drug companies have published studies on the benefits of the drugs, and medical journals in a position to question their findings profit greatly from advertising of A.D.H.D. drugs.”

Also from the The New York Times, Alan Schwartz wrote an article that makes a similar observation called, “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” The article talked about Keith Conners, a doctor who’s been fighting to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for more than 50 years, and his current attitude about the rise in ADD/ADHD diagnoses.

In the article, Dr. Conners was quoted to have said, “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

To make matters worse, ADD/ADHD medication is marketed as harmless, comparing its side-effects to that of aspirin. But there are potential dangers that are overlooked. In “An Epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder,” it was mentioned that, “in rare cases, psychosis, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations, as well as anxiety, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite.”

The Food and Drug Administration also warned that ADHD medications may, in rare cases, cause priapism – a prolonged and painful erection – in in males of all ages.

Add 3
 

A. Dopamine and Attention Span

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and neurotransmitters are chemical substances in the brain that are utilized to stimulate our behavioral and emotional functions. ADD/ADHD is a neurological dysfunction. It is associated with the brain’s chemical system rather than the social and emotional influences around us.

Research suggests that the impulse and behavior problems in ADD/ADHD could be caused by low levels of Dopamine in the brain.

In the article, “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)” by Dr. Joseph M. Carver, it was mentioned that, “The impulse and behavior problems found in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) appear related to low levels of Dopamine in the brain. When dopamine levels are normal, we can repress the urge to do or say something in public, grab something interesting on a desk, blurt out our opinion, or touch/poke someone who has just walked within our physical range. Low levels of dopamine in the brain make control of impulsive behavior almost impossible in the ADHD Child/Adult.”

Needless to say, if a person with ADHD is sitting in a classroom with a teacher holding a lecture and there is a fly on the wall, the fly on the wall is as equally important to him as the lecture. The impulse to notice it, or to touch it, or to playfully wonder if the fly understands the lecture, will be quite difficult for him to ignore because of low dopamine levels in his brain.

Naturally, the usual medication prescribed for people with ADHD are medicines that will boost Dopamine levels in the brain (e.g. Ritalin), to increase attention and to decrease impulsivity.

 

B. Other Causes of Dopamine Disorders

But to what cause can we attribute the sudden rise in ADD cases? In our introduction, it was suggested that medical professionals are eager to prescribe ADD medication. However, it can’t be the sole factor responsible for increased diagnoses. For one, people who were diagnosed probably went to get treatment, or had their children treated, for attention deficit. The fact is that more and more people are finding it difficult to focus. However, lack of focus and dopamine disorders are not exclusive symptoms of ADD and ADHD. There are several reasons why such disorders may occur in both adults and children.

For one, dopamine disorders are not limited to the brain’s inability to produce it. It can also be caused by damage to the D2 receptor due to sustained exposure to high levels of dopamine. When D2 receptors malfunction, a person’s reward system malfunctions as well.

To a person with less sensitive D2 receptors, the fly on the wall is as equally important as the lecture, because neither experience provides a rewarding feeling. As a result, this person actively seeks out other, more novel, experiences to achieve a feeling of reward.

To simplify, anything that can produce sustained high levels of dopamine can damage the D2 receptor. The problem is that anything from sleep deprivation, to junk food consumption, drug use, pornography (debatable), Facebook, and Internet use can cause D2 receptor sensitivity to fluctuate. Needless to say, extended exposure to these stimuli may create symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD.

Just to clarify, there is no evidence that lack of sleep, junk food, porn or Facebook will give a person ADD or ADHD. However, there is evidence that these stimuli can cause a decline in D2 receptors and produce ADD-like symptoms such as restlessness and an inability to focus.

This particular hypothesis has been orbiting the issue of ADD/ADHD for a long time. In fact, there are doctors who doubt the very existence of ADD/ADHD as an actual disorder, claiming that ADD/ADHD should be considered symptoms of a disorder rather than being considered disorders themselves. An article was published in time.com entitled, “Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist.” The writer of the article was Dr. Richard Saul, writer of the book, “ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Saul writes, “In my view, there are two types of people who are diagnosed with ADHD: those who exhibit a normal level of distraction and impulsiveness, and those who have another condition or disorder that requires individual treatment.”

Add 2
 

C. Conclusions

If you find it difficult to focus, it’s probably not because you have ADD or ADHD. There’s a 95% chance that you’re just not sleeping well, or you’re eating too much fat, or you’re watching too much porn, or you’re spending too much time on Facebook.

Prolonged attention deficit, lack of motivation, and inability to focus can be the results of a vicious dopamine fluctuation cycle. People stay up late because of several online distractions. They’re sleep deprived and to keep them awake, the body compensates by dumping dopamine into their system. The dopamine dump damages the receptors and the person’s reward system, causing him to prioritize immediate rewards (such as Facebook “likes”) over long-term rewards.

The person wants immediate rewards because he’s not getting feelings of fulfillment and reward because his dopamine receptors are desensitized. So, he stays up late for online validation. Because he’s sleep deprived, his body craves for fat and he goes on binges. Fat damages receptors too. So, his receptors are further damaged.

There are theories that suggest that pornography has a similar effect on a person’s dopamine receptors. Exposure to intense stimuli spikes dopamine production in the brain. The receptors protect themselves by being less sensitive. So, the next time a person seeks a similar high, he’s going to require a higher dosage. Damaged receptors require higher forms of stimuli to produce feelings of pleasure, reward and fulfillment.

It sounds science-y, but it’s rather simple. If someone has a habit of screaming in your ear, you will develop a tendency to cover your ears whenever that person is around, in order to protect yourself. The next time that person wants to have the same effect on you, he has to scream louder.

So, sleep well and don’t damage those receptors!

 

Sources:

Callaghan, T. (2010, March). “Understanding junk food “addiction” in lab rats.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://healthland.time.com/2010/03/29/understanding-junk-food-addiction-in-lab-rats/

Carver, J. “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.drjoecarver.com/clients/49355/File/Attention-Deficit%20Hyperactivity%20Disorder%20%28ADHD%29.html

“Desensitization: A Numbed Pleasure Response.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/book/export/html/702

Macrae, F. (2010, September). “Facebook and internet ‘can re-wire your brain and shorten attention span’” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1312119/Facebook-internet-wire-brain-shorten-attention-span.html

Schwartz, A. (2013, December). “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/health/the-selling-of-attention-deficit-disorder.html?_r=0

Saul, R. (2014, March). “Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist.” Retrieved on: April 25, 2014. From: http://time.com/25370/doctor-adhd-does-not-exist/

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People with High Self-Esteem are More Likely to be Assholes

There is a general opinion that people with high self-esteem live happier lives and are
less susceptible to depression should they face obstacles, or even encounter failure. The
wellness industry is filled with advice on how to acquire and improve self-esteem.
Furthermore, the general advice is, more often than not, different variations on how to
learn to increase one’s self-esteem.

Although there are loose correlations between happiness or success and self-esteem, there
is no proof of causality. With regard to happiness and success (factors often attributed to
self-esteem), even scientists are not sure whether self-esteem is the cause or the
consequence. In fact, it was even suggested that both self-esteem and happiness could be
the product of a genetic predisposition, in the same way that depression is.

One of the most overlooked issues with regard to this subject is the fact that there are
two kinds of self-esteem:

1. Explicit Self-Esteem

2. Implicit Self-Esteem

In a research report entitled, “Unconscious Unease and Self-Handicapping: Behavioral
Consequences of Individual Differences in Implicit and Explicit Self-Esteem” written by
Leah R. Spalding and Curtis D. Hardin, the researchers explained the distinction between
explicit and implicit self-esteem.

The explicit version is primarily a collection of positive opinions we consciously
recognize in ourselves. Implicit self-esteem is the automatic positive responses we have
when we encounter symbols and stimuli that we associate with ourselves.

The bigger distinction is probably in the formation of both forms of self-esteem. Explicit
self-esteem is the product of rational and conscious processing. When good looking guys
like us look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “Damn, I’m sexy,” we’re exhibiting a form of
explicit self-esteem. In other words, it’s our perception of our own actual self.

Implicit self-esteem is more intuitive. It comes from our earliest unconscious processing
of experiences that affect us. It’s similar to the Oedipus Complex. How our primary
caregiver has treated us in our youth can affect us deeply until we are old. Researchers
say that this type of self-esteem reflects our intuition about how we should be treated, or
is a reflection of the ideal self.

self-esteem 1
 

A. High Implicit Self-esteem

The first point I found really interesting was the devastating emotional damage
discrepancies between a person’s explicit and implicit self-esteem can bring.

A study was done by Daan H. M. Creemers and company called, “Damaged self-esteem is
associated with internalizing problems.” In this study it was revealed that the discrepancy
between a person’s implicit and explicit self-esteem is associated with depressive
symptoms, suicidal thoughts, and general loneliness.

Initially, the assumption I made was that these negative emotional symptoms came from
having high explicit self-esteem (bragging) and having low implicit self-esteem (being
insecure). I’ve always thought that bragging about something untrue or demonstrating a
value that isn’t there (e.g. fake confidence) can be bad for a person’s psyche.

However, research suggests otherwise. It’s actually worse to have a high implicit
(subconscious) self-esteem and a low explicit (conscious) self-esteem.

Researchers write, “Damaged self-esteem (high implicit self-esteem and low explicit self-
esteem) was related to increased levels of depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and
loneliness, while defensive or fragile self-esteem (low implicit self-esteem and high
explicit self-esteem) was not.”

As it was explained in the article, this has to do with how each variant of self-esteem is
developed. Here are two simple scenarios that would further clarify the situation:

Scenario 1 – a person with low implicit self-esteem and a high explicit self-esteem:

A girl with a predisposition towards chubbiness is bullied throughout her formative years.
She’s called “fatty” from preschool to college. After college, she loses her baby fat. One
day, she looks at the mirror and realizes, “Whoa! I’m hot now” (high explicit self-esteem).
She may appreciate her looks, the actual self she has now. She may receive compliments here
and there. However, her years of being chubby (low implicit self-esteem) will not make her
feel entitled to such compliments, and if ever she doesn’t receive one, she’s not going to
feel bad.

Scenario 2 – a person with high implicit self-esteem and a low explicit self-esteem:

An attractive quarterback is worshipped throughout his formative years. After college, he
gains weight and loses his popularity, but he still feels entitled to female worship (high
implicit self-esteem). However, when he tries to approach women, he consciously recognizes
the he gets rejected 9 times out of 10 (low explicit self-esteem). His actual self, and his
reality, does not live up to the ideal self that is ingrained in his subconscious.

People with high implicit self-esteem have an ingrained sense of entitlement. When reality
does not represent their expectations of what they deserve, the problems become
internalized in the form of depressive symptoms.

Given the negative consequences of high implicit self-esteem, one might think that it’s
safer to focus on a high explicit self-esteem instead. However, doing so has its own set of
problems.

 

B. High Explicit Self-Esteem

There’s an article from The Atlas Society called, “Is High Self-Esteem Bad for You?” by
Robert Campbell. In that article, Campbell discussed the research of Jennifer Crocker, a
professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. According to her study, self-esteem
has a tendency to fluctuate. And these fluctuations maybe unhealthy, especially when a
person derives his self-esteem from external factors such as good looks, academic
performance, income, etc.

Campbell writes, “Deriving one’s self-esteem from certain “external” contingencies, such as
appearance, is associated with potentially destructive behavior, including alcohol and drug
use, and eating disorders.”

The research suggests that when good looking guys like us look in the mirror and tell
ourselves, “Damn, I’m sexy,” we’re deriving esteem from an external contingent (our good
looks), which could lead to potentially destructive behavior, especially, if the contingent
is threatened.

This idea is further emphasized in a report written by Roy F. Baumeister called, “When Ego
Threats lead to Self-Regulation Failure.”

 

C. Self-regulation Failure

There are three hypotheses that are crucial in Baumeister’s research:

1. High self-esteem causes people to overestimate what they can accomplish and therefore
select goals that may be too difficult for them.

2. The hypothesized advantage of people with high self-esteem depends on superior and
extensive self-knowledge.

3. Their hypothesized disadvantage depends on the intrusion of egotism into the decision
process as to inflate their predictions and distort their judgment.

To simplify, people with high self-esteem often overestimate their abilities. If they have
extensive self-knowledge, if they know their limitations, they will have many advantages.
However, people with high self-esteem sometimes have an inflated ego, and the presence of
this ego causes these people to make irrational decisions.

Three basic observations were made by the researchers to exhibit different types of self-
regulation failure after an ego threat:

1. When people with high self-esteem fail, they respond by being more persistent, even when
it’s counter-productive.

2. When people with high self-esteem are criticized, they try to “repair” their public
image by insisting on rating themselves even more favorably than they did before.

3. When their high opinion of themselves is challenged, they have a tendency for self-
sabotage. Sometimes they handicap themselves or under-prepare so they can take more credit
if they succeed.

When the high self-esteem person’s view of himself is threatened by another person or
circumstance, an ego threat, they behave irrationally.

Upon further investigation on the type of irrational behavior high self-esteem people get
involved with, it was discovered that there are direct correlations between high self-
esteem and violence, especially when an ego threat is present.

Erica Goode, in her article, “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills” discusses how
self-esteem’s role has been inflated and how low self-esteem has been demonized by society.

In this article, Erica Goode talked about a study done by Dr. Nicholas Emler. The study
mentioned how “no link was found between low self-esteem and delinquency, violence against
others, teenage smoking, drug use or racism.” High self-esteem, however, “was positively
correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors.”

This tendency towards violence is something Baumeister has previously implied in the study,
Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-
esteem.”

According to that study, low self-esteem does not cause aggression, crime, or violence.
Instead, violence and aggression are often a result of threatened egotism. A person who has
an inflated, unstable, or tentative belief in his own superiority may be most prone to
causing violence. People like these have a tendency to express hostility when they are
confronted with an inferior version of their self-concept.

 

D. Conclusions

There are many problems on the issue of high self-esteem. Another problem with regard to
high self-esteem is the general assumption that it’s a good indicator of ability. However,
as Dr. Baumeister says, “You can think well of yourself because you accurately appreciate
what you’re good at. You can also think well of yourself just ’cause you’re a conceited
snob. And the self-esteem is the same in either case.”

Dr. Baumeister seems to be the main antagonist of self-esteem promotion. He challenges the
idea that high self-esteem is worth developing. For years, he’s been trying to point out
that the self-help industry, with its blind promotion of self-confidence, is moving in the
wrong direction.

I would have to agree with Dr. Baumeister here. I think high self-esteem is overrated. For
one, it’s not an indicator of a person’s ability. Any asshole can have high self-esteem. In
fact, most assholes do. People who have high self-esteem are prone to arrogance, they take
pointless risks, and they have a tendency to resort to violence when their self-concept,
however distorted, is threatened by another person or a difficult situation.

I think it’s time people take a closer look on the actual science behind the common
misconception that improving a person’s self-esteem is a reliable umbrella solution to
solving personal issues.

 

Sources:

Baumeister, R. Boden, J. Smart, L. (1996). “Relation of threatened egotism to violence and
aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem” Retrieved on April 23, 2014. From: http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/papers/baumeistersmartboden1996%5B1%5D.pdf

Baumeister, R. (1993). “When Ego Threats lead to Self-Regulation Failure” Retrieved on
April 23, 2014. From: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~thlab/pubs/93_Baumeister_etal_JPSP_64.pdf

Campbell, R. (2003, July). “Is High Self-Esteem Bad for You?” Retrieved on April 23, 2014.
From: www.atlassociety.org/high-self-esteem-bad-you

Creemers, H. M. Daan. (2013, April). “Damaged self-esteem is associated with internalizing
problems.” Retrieved on April 15, 2014. From: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00152/full

Goode, E. (2002, October). “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills.” Retrieved on
April 23, 2014. From: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/01/health/deflating-self-esteem-s-
role-in-society-s-ills.html

Hardin, C. & Spalding, L. Psychological Science (1999). “Unconscious Unease and Self-
Handicapping: Behavioral Consequences of Individual Differences in Implicit and Explicit
Self-Esteem” Retrieved on April 23, 2014. From: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/userhome/psych/chardin/Spalding_Hardin_1999.pdf

Harvard Health Publications. (2007, June) “Importance of high self-esteem: Implicit vs.
explicit self-esteem.” Retrieved on April 23, 2014. From: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance-of-self-esteem

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Science, Society, Uncategorized0 Comments

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