Electability

There has been, in recent elections, a new word that adds to the rhetoric of the role of the media in telling us what to think and helping to shape the outcomes of elections, whether wittingly or unwittingly. “Electability” is a subjective term, taken, I suppose, to mean that the platform and views held by the candidate have what the media deems to be a dose of reality and pragmatism. So, no dreamers, no idealists, definitely no socialists, but no fascists either (although Trump comes close to the latter).

Isn’t the concept of “electability” just another way of deciding an election before the ballots are cast? Why do discussions like this even exist, if it were not for the promotion of one candidate over another? Not sure why Biden is being picked on, I am not partial to him, myself; but I think that some things need to be left to the minds of the voters, and not tell them what to think. I shouldn’t care about “electable”; I should only care if a candidate shares my views and supports policies that affect “me”.

Electability, in the context of the 2020 American elections, begins to sound too much like being careful not to upstage Trump and for the Democrats to return to the role of Greek Chorus to Trump’s every new outrageous distraction.

So what if happiness is a mental illness?

It is rather amazing that through all I have experienced, that these truths were the deepest and most enduring. They are also the most comforting. Simply keeping a balanced life, and looking on the positive side of things. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Perhaps happiness and satisfaction with one’s life, however humble is a form of denial.

Maybe someone someday might point out that all forms of happiness are mental illnesses. After all, happiness is statistically rare, and thus it is not normal. Due to its relative rarity, it may well be characterized by an abnormal functioning of the central nervous system, requiring repeated “positive thinking”. In turn, “positive thinking” requires that we only focus on the bright side of life. Clearly, anyone who thinks positive is only looking at part of the picture, and is thus out of touch with reality. Bentall (1992) had this as an abstract for his article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (widely quoted):

“It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains–that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.”

According to Bentall, happy people are off their chumps. Lost their marbles. One clown short of a circus. I would suppose, however, that making happiness an illness will rob most shrinks of a treatment goal.

So for now, while psychiatrists are working away at their objections to happiness, and until it is proven to me that I am better off heeding these objections, I shall forever commit my life to these seemingly shallow, but more enduring truths, that focusing on the bright side of life is the better way, and it should be something that is taught to every child and adult, for their own good, and for the good of society.

The Psychology Contrarian II: The Obsession with IQ

At best, these websites present these people as numbers first, people second. To what extent does saying that Marie Curie has an IQ of 190 or so add to or take away from her discovery of radioactivity or her other contributions to Chemistry and Physics to which she literally paid for with her life, all the while fleeing the Nazis? To what extent does Shakespeare’s assigned IQ of 210 add to or take away from his being the most quoted writer in the English Language? And finally, just who is this guy “William Sidis”, and who in the h-e-double-sticks gave him an IQ of 250 to 300?

William Sidis (1898-1944), was an American who had an undergraduate degree at MIT, and then a studied for a law degree at Harvard before he reached 18. By that time he had given occasional lectures to professors. He was portrayed as Will Hunting in the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting. But Will Hunting was portrayed more as a thug first, intellectual second (it was the reverse in real life). In real life, the psychologist he was to see was his father, Boris Sidis. Now, isn’t that a tad, shall we say, unethical? Exactly what was to be the outcome here? The only way you can be clinically objective about your own son is to not have feelings for your son at all, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose of therapy in a rather deep and profound way? I guess one way to become screwed up is to have issues with your father; and one way to be really screwed up is to have that same father for your therapist. NOOOOOOOO!, I can hear him screaming. Ah, but I digress.

No one doubts that Sidis was a prodigy. But what of the number given to him: 250 – 300, which pretty much isolates him from the rest of humanity (even going back to the dawn of antiquity)  as an intellectual? Is this number even meaningful? Is it legitimate? An IQ like that would make him “smarter” than Leonardo da Vinci, or Michelangelo. Even Albert Einstein had to give the world his special and general relativity theories while chugging along with his meagre 205 IQ.  On this scale, Isaac Newton was an also-ran; and Galileo could be arrogant to the Pope, but like John The Baptist, he should not feel himself fit to tie the sandals of someone on the scale of Good Will Sidis, apparently.

Will Sidis, as far as history can tell, is just known for being smart; he didn’t contribute anything, except for this “human thermodynamics/entropy reversal” stuff, which few have heard of. His contribution doesn’t seem as all-encompassing as Einstein or Michelangelo, so having the IQ score alone is nothing to be envious about. Nearly all of those slowpokes who meandered to their historical achievements had to do so while galumphing along with the humble 190-210 IQs that God gave them, if we are to believe the posthumous IQ scores given to them.

The Psychology Contrarian I: The obsession with IQ

When there are no serious researchers that would place any relevance on IQ and what it measures (indeed, what exactly is it measuring is itself a mystery: does intelligence even have a definition, or am I missing out on something?), I wonder why there are web sites which even go so far as to go back in history, centuries before there were IQ tests or even a field of psychology as we know it, and begin to assign IQs to people like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Hypatia, Isaac Newton, and so on, as if we were handing passing out candies, albeit to dead people.

I think it IQ is the last bastion of that age where math was taken too seriously, and secret societies were formed out of assigning numbers to strange and abstruse things. The IQ, much like saying “chair = 5”, was and is the last of these to fall. The same care and attention given to assigning numbers to daffodils and planets is being given to historical figures who had never seen, heard of, or taken these tests. It forms an easy method by which we can feel we understand the world without having to go through all the bother of reading of people’s biographies or accomplishments, or knowing anything about them at all. Their entire intellectual and scholastic oeuvre can be summarized in a three-digit number, and that’s all that matters to those of us who are IQ-obsessed.

One such person who was IQ obsessed was Rick Rosner, whose first IQ test was about 150, but repeatedly took more tests such that his IQ was inflated to 170 to 190. He said in an interview that 150 was OK for being the smartest in your high school, but not OK for being the smartest person at a place like Harvard. A 150 IQ just sort of blends in.

Of course, this logic fails because it confuses IQ scores with achievement. There is more to life than smarts; of course we can all do with more of it. The main ingredient, and possibly the most important ingredient leading to achievement and success in life is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the ability to make manifest the goals you set. Self-efficacy takes focus, determination, and discipline. These are things well within the reach of any average person.

Debt freedom is a lot of work

A while ago, I posted that I finally saw, for the first time in 5 years, $0 owing on both my credit card and my line of credit. The battle is never over, however. Unless I want to completely free myself of the luxury of a credit card and line of credit, there will always be the slow creep of regular payments, and short-term borrowing ($100 here, $200 there), which in my situation are unavoidable occurrences.

So, I will always have to pay down between $200 and $300 on any given 2-week period to maintain the zero balance. This is in stark contrast to the prospect of running up all of my credit in all of my cards (credit, store cards, etc), where I know I could be easily $25000 in debt in a week, should I be silly enough to do such a thing.

But there are other issues with money. In my opinion, credit is too damn easy to get. I really shouldn’t have access to $25000, because I know that paying back would be nearly hopeless. I would have to work past my retirement to do that.

In addition, we have grown too accustomed to people pushing product in our face. I have been working for weeks trying to cancel my cell phone contract. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to shake a salesperson off my leg from Bell, trying to push cell phones on us, both on the phone and in person. I have been alive for 45 years without the need of the ball-and-chain of a cell phone, I will live another 45 damn years without it. It is cheaper to use a pay phone. Way cheaper. Even at 50 cents a call.

The pushing of product in the form of a pressure sales job is a rising trend that I find alarming. I think we are at a point where we are buying so much stuff that we can’t pay for, that I find it hard to believe that it will be easy to come out of the recession. Pressure sales, to me, applies to any attempt to sell to you anything you were not considering buying before the sales pitch.

We all like to prioritize our spending to suit our purposes. Pressure sales is a disruption to that purpose. It throws you off-focus. The only possible answer must be “no” to these people. You have to have a steely resolve that they are wasting their time and effort on you. And so what if they think you are a jerk? To them, the only people who are not jerks are people who buy their stuff, so who needs the high regard of people with such shallow values? On the other hand, if your purchasing decisions are deliberate, then you can walk into the store, and give the salesperson the easiest payday they ever had. You get exactly what you want, and the salesman still makes money.

We live in a society utterly awash in the sales pitch, so it is easy to miss the fact that you are not anything but a wise spender if you just say “no”. Make every purchase decision a planned, deliberate one. It takes a great deal of mental discipline to do this. You need to separate yourself from the competitiveness and the materialism of society to be such a person.

Positive thinking is a form of denial

I just wanted to make an observation. In the clinical sense, positive thinking is in fact a form of denial. I say “a form of”, since the difference is in who is in control. Denial is, to me the ignoring of certain aspects in your life in order to make life seem as if it is going the way you want. That is the same as positive thinking. The only real difference is — who is in control, and this is important.

I object to the whole dialectic regarding substance abuse, since it is difficult to discuss any use of illicit substances without talking about it as abuse, and about the user as an addict. I don’t use drugs or drink, yet in my lifetime I have twice been approached by people who say I am an alcoholic. These are presumably people with some authority on the matter. It seems that it is a difficult dialectic to avoid, whether you imbibe or not.

For any kind of real denial — and I do believe that such a thing exists (it’s just that it is so over-used) — the person is truly out of control. I know people who are out of control, and whom no one can control. These same people would act as if nothing is wrong, and would keep the game going causing all manner of stress and sadness for everyone around them.

But even they would readily open up and tell their story in their own voice to those who are receptive enough. Those who have not had their ears tainted or eyes blinded by the jargon and paradigms of what passes for “addiction psychology” would hear their voice in the most authentic way, uncorrupted by jargon, uncontaminated by self-help books. You find that many of them want to get some bearings; to get at the heart of their lack of self-control. But they must know their own thoughts; and hear their own voice. They can’t do it if someone is labelling, “treating”, or giving un-wanted advice. Their minds need to settle.

Addiction psychology doesn’t make life easy for the addict; it makes life easy for the psychologist. It gives them a nice battery of terminologies that simplify thought; a collection of predigested ideas and concepts that one can grab for to help ease the containment and control of the patient. Jargon has a tendency to reduce people to generalities, and only aids their dehumanization. Beyond all else, it saves the therapist all the bother of really getting to the heart of the matter, since addiction psychology already provides them with what they feel is an adequate surrogate “heart of the matter”. And that is good enough.

A person who is addicted is out of control. If they are out of control, then what they really need is more control over themselves and their impulses. The AA/Al-Anon programmes advise people to “let go” of all control. I am at a loss as to why they would think that would succeed. The failure of this programme is blamed on the subject who has “fallen off the wagon” again.

My intuition tells me that, because this goes back to the rise of industrialism and the Temperance movement, this could have been motivated by industrialists who would view the heavy drinkers as disgruntled with industrialism, and the counselling to “let go of control” was meant to temper the anger early workers felt at being displaced from their farms and earlier trades which the machines and assembly lines obsoleted. Because regaining control would work against the interest of the capitalists. Since then, that motivation is gone, but in its stead a whole industry is built around “kicking the habit”. And these interests must be respected above the needs of those who they purportedly serve. A better question is “why” do people drink? Interesting answers may be found there that would allow others to really be of help, I believe.

As for positive thinking, it involves an ability to ignore negative things, emphasize positive things, and to see the world as better than it really is. A positive thinker is dealing only with a partial reality. Thus they are happier than they really ought to be, and they work hard to maintain a mental environment where they can work toward goals that would be otherwise impossible had they been more “in touch with reality”. For its ability to result in greater achievement, a greater sense of satisfaction, a greater sense of self-control, and more rewarding relationships, it is difficult to say that positive thinking is a “bad thing”. Indeed, it is the very mentality we all need to survive and to lead rewarding lives.

Positive thinking is not the knee-jerk alteration of negativity that is characteristic of what we popularly know as “denial.” We all face personal problems of one kind or another. This can only be negative if we say to ourselves that there is no way out of these problems. Dealing with these problems result from optimism, in the sense that we would not deal with these problems if we felt that the effort was futile. Contrast this against dealing with our ongoing and challenging problems by pretending they don’t exist. The latter way of dealing with problems arises not out of positive thinking but out of a profound sense of hopelessness. It might work if the problem is not serious, or temporary. But if it lasts any length of time without being dealt with, it becomes crippling.

In those cases, the help we need to give these people should not be formulaic, like the 12-steps program; and the resolution will not be as easy as giving up a bad habit, although that is part of the goal. What causes a person to drink? Underneath that question lies the tangled emotions between family, work, and other pressures, wherein lies some kind of imbalance. Balance must be restored, and this is not an instant solution. It requires heroic self-honesty and an optimism that the problems the person faces are solveable, and that a brighter future lies waiting for those willing to put in the effort to tackle the problems one faces as they really are. I am not sure I see many other ways out.