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Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is Professor Emerita of Psychology, San Jose State University

Watch out for Dr.Kaschak as she’s violated the first rule of Trans Club – You don’t talk about Trans Club…

 

“The diagnostic of “gender dysphoria” actually came into existence as “gender identity disorder” and replaced the pathologizing of homosexuality (eliminated in 1973) in the DSM, the psychiatric bible. These diagnoses are adopted by popular vote of the American Psychiatric Association members, democratic rather than scientific. They have the strongest investment in construing psychology in terms of health and pathology. The association members had been convinced by lobbying groups and research, to vote to “normalize” homosexuality. In doing so, they wanted to leave a diagnostic possibility for those who remained conflicted about their sexual orientation. Diagnosis permits treatment via the official approval of the insurance companies, who today control the professions to a frightening extent. Thus was born “gender identity,” seemingly a harmless and even generous compromise.

Proponents of the transgender movement actually hijacked this diagnosis, along with the 50 years of feminist theory, practice and discoveries about the social construction and contextual nature of gender and spun them into a human rights movement, but not one for women. In fact, this movement actually infringes on many of the hard-won rights of women, including not only the right to assemble as a sex-based group but the right to call ourselves women, mothers and daughters. It even attempts to destroy the very concept of sex by conflating sex and gender, but make no mistake, lifetimes of research support unequivocally the difference between sex and gender. They may influence each other, but they are not the same thing. And sex can not be changed. It is a biological reality.

Perhaps the cruelest cut of all is to use our own half-century of feminist research and writing against us. These ideas are not an extension, but a perversion of feminist thought. The most radical goal of gender research, which has been only partially successful, has been to eliminate gendered categories and strictures rather than to multiply them. Feminists tend for obvious reasons to be social constructionists. But physical constructionists never. Feminists tend to respect and live in accord and peace, not try to dominate Mother Nature, not to outdo her or destroy her. We come in peace.

Here are some more important questions. If psychologists and psychiatrists are going to pathologize and diagnose, a questionable practice at best, then shouldn’t they diagnose carefully, as lives depend upon it? Are they then considering and eliminating such diagnoses as narcissism or sociopathic disorders, sexual fetishes, dissociative disorders or even delusional disorders? Is transitioning more like self-cutting or eating disorders than like homosexuality? Increasingly many patients are self-diagnosing, a practice not offered by the professions to any other group.”

An important tonic to anti material discourse.  Plus, a cute cat in the video.

 

“If your feelings are not based in fact, then they are not valid.”

 

First 6 minutes are great.  Kinda rambles in the middle though.

 

  An interesting article over at JSTOR by Manisha Claire  It reminds me that that the reality we live today were conscious choices that were made by people in the past.  Part of the American zeitgeist is a strong emphasis on personal responsibility and ‘rugged individualism’.  These qualities did not mysteriously poof out of the ether, they were constructed and promoted for a reason.  It is interesting see how the the historical seeds planted in society have come to fruition.

” instead of addressing housing inequality or the shortage of affordable units, political leaders were presenting home ownership as an attainable choice for all Americans, implying that an inability to live the BHA way was a matter of personal, rather than institutional, failing.”

 

 

“The ideology behind BHA ultimately privileged a white, middle-class version of home ownership. In 1922, The Delineator began to devote multiple pages to BHA and its mission, including suggestions for home furnishing and contributions from the organizers. In the October 1922 issue, Herbert Hoover wrote an article called “The Home as an Investment,” declaring that urban overcrowding and poverty “means a large increase in rents, a throw-back in human efficiency, and that unrest which inevitably results from inhibition of the primal instinct in us all for home ownership.”

In Agricultural History, Hutchison writes:

The homes put forth by the national leaders varied somewhat in design but included new household technology that stressed convenience and room layouts that emphasized both family interaction and privacy… In front of the ideal house lay a green, well-tended yard, while behind it might be a small garden. In short, the prescription endorsed by the Better Homes leaders at the national level was that of a suburban dwelling replete with new technological amenities and private space.

Meloney ran “The Ideal Small House,” a column by the architect Donn Barber, which stressed modernity, thrift, and American design for the entire home. There was also a “Rooms for Boys and Girls” column by Mrs. Charles Brady Sanders, dictating “dainty, bright and frivolous” furnishings for girls’ rooms. In boys’ rooms, “masculinity must be foremost.” These columns reinforced the ideals of BHA and made it clear that, despite any structural or financial barriers, readers could and should pursue them.

However, while this ideal was encouraged in literature disseminated to Americans across class and race lines, the realities of achieving this goal were not addressed. Segregationist housing policies, discrimination by banks, and poverty among racialized Americans prevented many people from buying and maintaining homes the BHA way. But BHA rhetoric made it clear that, instead of addressing housing inequality or the shortage of affordable units, political leaders were presenting home ownership as an attainable choice for all Americans, implying that an inability to live the BHA way was a matter of personal, rather than institutional, failing.”

 

via Flickr

“On display at the national exhibition in D.C., the National Better Home included modern amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity, reflecting an attempt to encourage homeowners to purchase new appliances and embrace scientific thinking at home. Hutchison writes that the living spaces in the house were designed to “evoke sentimental images of family unity” while “the kitchen conveyed efficiency and cleanliness.” That approach to home design was emulated in cities and towns around the country, as local communities vied for the title of Best American Home. These exhibitions were written up in newspapers across the country, and the movement’s leaders emphasized thrift and sensibility over “commercialism.”

For Black and immigrant homeowners (or would-be homeowners), BHA offered a kind of aspirational modeling that decried their current living conditions, but offered no substantial way out of their circumstances.”

I do love readinng Aeon Magazine. This essay by Bence Nanay questions how much control we have over our desires in society.  It is a fascinating question as I think the commonly held belief we all have is that we, as individuals, are ever-present and mostly unchanging over time as we interact with society.  It isn’t really the case as we are far from the immutable social islands that we think we are and more like a slowly flowing stream that is in a gradual state of constant change.

Unfortunately advertisers have latched onto this very human tendency and try to exploit our quasi-fluid state of desiring things by shaping advertising messages to foment desires with us, to get us to buy their particular product.  Quite insidious, really.  But then again, most of capitalism is.

 

“But what would be the screening mechanism for direct desire infection? Beliefs form a coherent network, but desires don’t. We can, and very often do, have conflicting desires. Just because a desire I acquired by means of desire infection contradicts some other desire of mine, I will not normally reject it. Contradictions between beliefs are easier to spot than contradictions between desires.

Cigarette or beverage commercials are very efficient ways of infecting you with desires. They are not trying to communicate a message. If they did, they would probably choose a more efficient message than Real men smoke a certain brand of cigarette. Such commercials are trying to trigger desires in you, bypassing your screening mechanism, which is probably against smoking and consuming sugary beverages. And they do so very efficiently: even though you think that a certain brand of sugary beverage is very unhealthy and bad for you, if the commercial is well-done, it will nonetheless trigger a desire in you.

Is there no screening mechanism against direct desire infection then? Here is one option: we want lots of things, but we want to only want very few things. Wanting to want something is what makes it stand out from the crowd. So this second-order desire (of not just wanting but wanting to want) could be thought of as the screening mechanism for direct desire infection. We screen out desires we do not want to have. And there are desires we do want to have – these are the ones that pass the screening and get to be endorsed.

This would give us a nice parallel with the screening mechanism for beliefs based on testimony. The problem is that it is unlikely to work. Second-order desires are also desires. So given that we can acquire first-order desires by direct desire infection, there is no obvious reason why second-order desires could not be acquired by direct desire infection. But then what would protect us from the infection of our second-order desires? Maybe third-order desires? If we need second-order desires to decide which of our first-order desires are infected, we would then also need third-order desires to decide which of our second-order desires are infected. And so on. As a screening mechanism against infected desires, this won’t work.

The contrast I made between the screening mechanism of beliefs and that of desires is not supposed to be absolute. Our screening of false beliefs often fails. And, as some techniques in psychiatry show, some ‘unwanted’ desires often do get screened out, for example, by making the conflict between them blatantly obvious. But while there is a default mechanism for the screening of beliefs, there is no comparable default screening mechanism for desires. And this has serious potential implications for how we think of the self.

Our desires change. The question is, what changes them? We acquire many of our desires by means of desire infection, and there is no real screening of these desires. But this means that many of our desires are, in some sense, inherited from the people around us.

A radical consequence of this argument concerns the way we should think about the self in light of these considerations. A widespread way of thinking about the self, going at least as far back as the 18th century and David Hume, is that it consists of the set of all our desires (besides some other mental states). But if this is so, then who we are (or the self) is a result, to a large extent, of random desire infection.

We know that we systematically ignore the possibility that our future self could be different from our present self. This is called the ‘end of history illusion’: we have a tendency to consider our self a finished product, but it is blatantly not. And this ‘end of history illusion’ makes it even more likely that we will try to give post-hoc rationalisations for any desires we might acquire by means of direct desire infection.

So the self changes. The question is, how much of this change is under our control? Some of it is: we have pretty good control over what new beliefs we acquire. And we might even have control over really wild, crazy desires. But we have no full control. Direct desire infection can have a real effect on who we are and whom we become – it is a phenomenon we should take very seriously.

Popular conception of Mind is still burdened, to a certain extent, with the cloak of Cartesian Dualism.  The notion that our brains are primarily computational/abstraction machines being transported around in a useful bags of flesh is strong heuristic model that, while providing clarity in many areas, often obfuscates our relationship with the environment, and how the environment shapes us.  Sally Davies writes eloquently about our conception of mind and how feminists can break the limitations that the current model imposes on society.

“While philosophers are inordinately fond of comparing humans to entities that are different to ‘us’ – zombies, bats, AIs, octopuses, aliens – they’ve been rather slower to show an interest in the complex lives of certain creatures who already live alongside ‘us’ day to day, who can walk and talk and describe their subjectivity, but who until recently have been shut out of the category of full and proper personhood. Feminist theory, concerned with the operation of patriarchy and the liberation of women, is a powerful tool for revealing the pernicious effects of setting women to the side – including how such exclusion might permit unexamined assumptions and questionable theories to persist.

In her classic text The Second Sex (1949), the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir performed just such a move against the bedrock of Enlightenment philosophy, the knowing human subject. ‘Man is not a natural species: he is a historical idea,’ she said, paraphrasing her fellow philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The very idea of the Human is not some universal given, de Beauvoir claimed, but a byproduct of how societies have systematically degraded women:

The devaluation of woman represents a necessary stage in the history of humanity; for she derived her prestige not from her positive value but from man’s weakness; she incarnated disturbing natural mysteries: man escapes her grasp when he frees himself from nature.Woman, in other words, is humanity’s foil. She is the ‘Other’, bearing the brand of the not-quite-Human, which lets man point at her and whisper: We know what we are, because, thank god, we are not that.

Thus when de Beauvoir makes the oft-quoted point that ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, woman’, she is not just saying that women’s minds and selves are socially constructed. More trenchantly, she is arguing that women become women precisely so that men can become Human. While the Human has access to Cartesian qualities of reason, truth and clarity, the Other is linked to irrationality, emotion and vagueness; where the Human has civilisation and culture, the Other is aligned with nature and matter; and where the Human has a honed and powerful mind, the Other is at the mercy of the body. De Beauvoir writes:

Man vainly forgets that his anatomy also includes hormones and testicles. He grasps his body as a direct and normal link with the world that he believes he apprehends in all objectivity, whereas he considers the woman’s body an obstacle, a prison, burdened by everything that particularises it.The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum extends a version of de Beauvoir’s analysis in her bookPolitical Emotions (2013). Drawing on child and developmental psychology, Nussbaum says that the human condition is framed by an awareness of vulnerability on the one hand, and the desire to change and control our reality on the other. This inescapable bind creates a universal impulse towards narcissism and disgust, she says. We feel disgust at our own mortal and fleshly nature, and at any reminders of our finitude and fragility as creatures. So we subordinate others in order to project onto them all the qualities that we wish to deny in ourselves – that they are base, animal, Other – while we imagine ourselves as transcending to the realm of the mighty, truly Human.”

This is classic analysis of De Beauvoir and a great summary of how women are viewed in society. A different model of Mind, known as embodied cognition, suggests a different framework to view our interactions and behaviour in society.

“Computational thinking remains dominant within cognitive science and philosophy of mind. But new frontiers are opening up that view the body as something more than just a brain-carrying robot. In doing so, they have created the potential for alliances with feminist thinkers influenced by the likes of Fausto-Sterling. Within a broad church that can be called – not uncontentiously – embodied cognition, a growing number of psychologists, scientists and theorists are approaching mental life as something that is not just contingent on, but constituted by, the state of our bodies. In the place of a Cartesian computer, the mind becomes more like a clay pot thrown on a wheel, to use the philosopher Michael Kirchhoff’s metaphor. The wet clay spins on a rotating disk, shaping and reshaping itself under the potter’s hands, arms and muscles, which in turn respond to how the material is moving. The mind is moulded by forces operating both within it and upon it, but also linked up to the world and the body as a single, dynamic yet mostly stable system.

It takes only a small leap to see the political potential of embodied cognition for feminists seeking a path out of the quagmire of sex and gender – or indeed any other critical social theorists keen to overthrow falsely naturalised and unjust hierarchies. Embodied cognition allows us to recognise the agency of biology without ceding the significance of power or politics. In her essay ‘Throwing Like a Girl’ (1980), the American philosopher Iris Marion Young cites empirical research suggesting that women playing sport are more likely than men to perceive a ball to be coming at them, aggressively, rather than towards them; they also tend not to trust their bodies, and to experience their limbs as awkward encumbrances rather than tools to help them realise their aims. Drawing on the work of de Beauvoir, Young suggests that female bodily experience is often rooted ‘in the fact that feminine existence experiences the body as a mere thing – a fragile thing, which must be picked up and coaxed into movement, a thing that exists as looked at and acted upon.’ But Young denies that this state of affairs is in any way natural, or that it flows from something intrinsic to female biology; instead, she says, such feelings are byproducts of how women learn to live in their bodies. One therefore doesn’t need some essential definition of ‘female’ to accept that embodiment matters, and to see how it shapes and can be shaped by culture.”

Fascinating.  The pivot away from the computational model allows a more textured analysis of how deeply rooted patriarchal norms in society are.  More hopefully we can see that the roots of female oppression are not a clear cut case of strictly biological factors, but rather of social construction, and social constructs are not immutable products of nature and thus, can be changed.

These just excepts from a very meaty and interesting essay, I recommend going to Aeon Magazine and reading the whole article as it well worth your time.

 

Claiming to be having an OCD moment seems quite common, but what is OCD and how has evolution selected for this particular trait? Ms.Svoboda answers the question and provides a great deal of background information on OCD defining it through her own struggles with the psychological feature.

“In people with OCD, this threat-detection system turns hyperactive, generating what the psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has called ‘a persistent error-detection signal’. OCD, in other words, is like a tripped car alarm that won’t stop screeching even when you try to disarm it.

While no one likes the sound of a screeching car alarm, most of us are willing to install one if we’re afraid of getting robbed. Obsession could have arisen for a similar reason, evolutionarily speaking. ‘A driving anxious tension is the emotional core of obsessive character,’ writes the psychologist Steven Hertler at the College of New Rochelle in New York, and this tension, he explains, goads us to take the actions that are necessary to ensure survival. People who obsessed about potential threats – intruders, snakes, tigers – might not have been much fun to be around, but their Cassandra tendencies protected their friends and families, and improved the prospects of their offspring. ‘OCD,’ writes the German psychiatrist Martin Brüne, ‘can be understood as an extreme on a continuum of evolved harm-avoidance strategies.’”

Seems to be a fairly reasonable assumption: being hyper aware does have certain survival benefits.

“The survival advantages of a sensitive threat-detection system can explain why millions of us have ended up with threat detectors that are just a little over-tuned. While about one in 40 people have clinical OCD, about one in 10 experience obsessions and compulsions not quite severe enough to interfere with daily life.

While most of us have a hard-wired tendency to obsess, and some more than others, our current cultural milieu has encouraged and amplified that tendency. Our collective paean to the virtues of obsession has its roots in the Protestant work ethic, the concept of industriousness as a calling on the level of the sacred. ‘Such an attitude,’ wrote the German sociologist Max Weber in 1905, ‘is by no means a product of nature. It … can only be the product of a long and arduous process of education.’

Today, that process of education – the systematic way in which we reward and reinforce obsession – begins as early as primary school, when kids barely out of diapers can be rejected for not being academically ready. It persists throughout the school years, as teenagers compulsively assemble letter-perfect transcripts to capture the interest of brand-name colleges. And it continues well into adulthood as we cast our résumés onto the waters, scrambling for that indefinable something that will set us apart from the rest. In a system that prizes what Weber calls ‘economic survival of the fittest’, plum placements are scarce, differences between candidates are minute, and the economic implications of missing out are profound. No wonder our already-sensitive threat detectors are cranked up to orange alert.”

I’ve felt it.  I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt the pressure in our academic days to make the grade, a good impression, a daring splash in our chosen field.  Like many sociological features, there is an interplay between society and the individual.  We certainly are not hardwired to be OCD, but many aspects of our environment feed the expression of the traits we associate with OCD.  Does our society create people with OCD, or is that our society has been created by people with OCD and thus encode those features into the normative structure of our society?  I would postulate that it probably both, as that is how many social-dynamic features of society work.

Ms. Svoboda ends with a rather Aristotelian solution to the challenges she faces.  Finding a place of moderation and mindfulness, for her, is the solution that is currently working.  The dance between the positive and negative consequences of OCD is difficult, and like many psychological features not particularly clear cut or easy to accomplish.

“Is it because I’m an obsessive that I did well at school, that I applied to writing internships relentlessly until I got one, that I’m willing to pitch editors over and over until a story idea lands? Well, yes – and my obsessive ancestors probably reaped the same kinds of rewards, as do many of my contemporaries with and without OCD. But I’m also determined not to succumb to the paradox at the heart of OCD: that taking self-protection too far means engineering my own destruction. To put it another way, I still hold on to the red thread, but I no longer allow it to yank me around. Awareness has been a mitigating factor: I realise, more than I did before, the extent to which my obsessive tendency echoes our culture’s blaring, interminable one. That allows me to consider how, and whether, I want to go along with its dictates.

Would I cut the red thread completely if I could? I’m not sure, but it’s a moot point: I can’t. So I have to trust that it will continue to guide me through the labyrinth.”

 

The hardest ideology to examine critically is your own.  Meritocracy is a social norm in Canada and the United States, woven through the fabrics of our societies.  It is a belief that supports much of the status quo and reinforces some of the harmful myths that cause suffering in society.  Is it all bad?  Of course not, but it can lead one down a path of making moral assessments of other people’s worth based on the material or social goods that they have ‘won’ in society.  It can be easy to overlook the role luck plays in achieving and getting ahead within our social systems.

Clifton Mark, writing for Aeon Magazine writes about the place meritocratic ideology occupies in our society.  This is the juicy part, but I’d encourage you to go read the entire article.

 

“Perhaps more disturbing, simply holding meritocracy as a value seems to promote discriminatory behaviour. The management scholar Emilio Castilla at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the sociologist Stephen Benard at Indiana University studied attempts to implement meritocratic practices, such as performance-based compensation in private companies. They found that, in companies that explicitly held meritocracy as a core value, managers assigned greater rewards to male employees over female employees with identical performance evaluations. This preference disappeared where meritocracy was not explicitly adopted as a value.

This is surprising because impartiality is the core of meritocracy’s moral appeal. The ‘even playing field’ is intended to avoid unfair inequalities based on gender, race and the like. Yet Castilla and Benard found that, ironically, attempts to implement meritocracy leads to just the kinds of inequalities that it aims to eliminate. They suggest that this ‘paradox of meritocracy’ occurs because explicitly adopting meritocracy as a value convinces subjects of their own moral bona fides. Satisfied that they are just, they become less inclined to examine their own behaviour for signs of prejudice.

Meritocracy is a false and not very salutary belief. As with any ideology, part of its draw is that it justifies the status quo, explaining why people belong where they happen to be in the social order. It is a well-established psychological principle that people prefer to believe that the world is just.

However, in addition to legitimation, meritocracy also offers flattery. Where success is determined by merit, each win can be viewed as a reflection of one’s own virtue and worth. Meritocracy is the most self-congratulatory of distribution principles. Its ideological alchemy transmutes property into praise, material inequality into personal superiority. It licenses the rich and powerful to view themselves as productive geniuses. While this effect is most spectacular among the elite, nearly any accomplishment can be viewed through meritocratic eyes. Graduating from high school, artistic success or simply having money can all be seen as evidence of talent and effort. By the same token, worldly failures becomes signs of personal defects, providing a reason why those at the bottom of the social hierarchy deserve to remain there.”

It is fascinating how quickly we convert material success into also meaning good moral standing.  There is no reason for the linkage as we all are aware of people who disregard social norms and leave a trail of destruction in their quest for personal glory and achievement.

 

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