Posts tagged ‘political correctness’

Look before you leap

The desire to avoid unpleasant things is incredibly strong. Nobody likes being dirty, diseased, distressed or disappointed. We dislike these sensations so much that we’ll go to great lengths to avoid them.

While avoiding unpleasant things is adaptive in a lot of situations (that’s obviously why we evolved to seek the release of it), there are times and places where is does more harm good.

The thing is, avoidance often only offers a temporary solution. No matter how terrified you are of the dentist’s chair, you can only put sitting in one off for so long. Sooner or later (barring an early death) a problem will arise that is so painful and/or debilitating that the discomfort it causes will over-ride your fear. And instead of a simple check up and cleaning you’ll end up having your fear reinforced.

Avoidance doesn’t just feed our anxiety and drive us to procrastination, there is also a large body of data demonstrating that the things we learn through escape and avoidance are extremely resistant to extinction. Because escape and avoidance evolved to help us survive in situations like those shown in the video below, lessons acquired through these drives can be extremely difficult to unlearn.

To avoid falling into the trap of maladaptive avoidance behavior you need to realize that unless you are in a near miss situation where immediate action is required to escape disaster, you should use your higher mental processes to assess a situation before chasing after the immediate gratification offered by simple avoidance.

The trap of avoidance is easy to all into and, unfortunately, avoidance reactions can inadvertently set off complex chain reactions that lead to unexpected problems. This happens in a broad range of situations as illustrated in a couple of recent news items.

First, in Scientific American blogs, Rob Dunn writes about how our desire to avoid sickness though widespread use of antibacterial soaps, wipes and surface treatments appears to be making us sicker instead of healthier. Dunn writes:

…Allison Aiello, a professor at the University of Michigan, recently surveyed all of the experimental or quasi-experimental studies published in English between 1980 and 2006 on the effectiveness of different hand washing strategies [2]. Aiello focused on studies that compared different strategies, for example the use of normal soap versus the use of antibiotic soap, in terms of their effect on the probability of developing gastrointestinal or respiratory illness. Our intuition is that antibiotic soaps and wipes should make everyone healthier. Aiello’s results were something else entirely.

Aiello’s first result was fine enough, but it set the stage for the trouble to come. She found “the use of nonantibacterial soap with hand hygiene education interventions is efficacious for preventing both gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.” In other words, if you wash your hands with soap (and are educated about washing your hands with soap) you are less likely to get sick. Score one for intuition and grandma’s admonitions. But then things went terribly wrong.

Aiello next considered the antibiotic soaps and wipes now used, in one form or another, by 75% of American households. Odds are that you use them. Go check your labels. Sadly, Aiello and colleagues found that antibiotic soaps and wipes with triclosan were no more likely than good old-fashioned soap to prevent gastrointestinal or respiratory illness. In Aiello’s words, “There was little evidence for an additional impact of new products, such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers or antibacterial soaps compared with nonantibacterial soaps, for reducing either gastrointestinal or respiratory infectious illness symptoms.”

Dunn cites studies that indicate that chronically ill people who used antibiotic soaps actually suffered from an increased susceptibility to coughs, colds and infections when compared to those who used regular soaps. He also discusses how, triclosan, the active ingredient in most of these products, is spreading it through the environment where it appears to be creating an ugly chain of unintended consequences.

In an interesting parallel, Lori Gottlieb’s How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, published in the July/August edition of The Atlantic illustrates how our desire to help those we care about avoid unpleasant feelings can actually turn them into chronically unhappy and unfulfilled people (bold emphasis is mine).

Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA … believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.

Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.

[…]

Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, warns against what he calls our “discomfort with discomfort” in his book Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age. If kids can’t experience painful feelings, Kindlon told me when I called him not long ago, they won’t develop “psychological immunity.”

“It’s like the way our body’s immune system develops,” he explained. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle. I know parents who call up the school to complain if their kid doesn’t get to be in the school play or make the cut for the baseball team. I know of one kid who said that he didn’t like another kid in the carpool, so instead of having their child learn to tolerate the other kid, they offered to drive him to school themselves. By the time they’re teenagers, they have no experience with hardship. Civilization is about adapting to less-than-perfect situations, yet parents often have this instantaneous reaction to unpleasantness, which is ‘I can fix this.’”

The mental systems you rely on to cope with stress, like those that make up your immune system, need regular challenges to stay fit and healthy. If a child is taught that every effort he makes will be treated as a success and that child never gets any kind of negative feedback on his performance, he’ll never learn to cope with adversity or limits. (And the same applies to your dog.)

But — putting efforts into helping your child or your dog avoid discomfort in the short term is a lot easier than making and implementing a plan to teach them how to avoid and cope with it on their own in the long term.

While avoidance motivation can help us figure out that a problem needs to be solved, outside of near miss situations, avoidance-based decision making is only adaptive when we use it to choose a specific goal and a course of action to achieve it. And that’s not easy to do.

Our avoidance drives aren’t specific. When you’re in avoidance mode you’re only focused on feeling good (or at least less bad) in the moment and all other goals are pushed aside.

If you’re a gazelle living living on the African savanna, avoidance reactions keep you alive. A gazelle’s only long term goals are to survive and reproduce, and avoidance reactions suit this kind of life well. A human with a job and a mortgage lives in a far more complex world and has a very different set of goals. We need to be able to select and maintain our focus on goals that can require years or even decades of effort to achieve. And that’s hard to do, because every day avoidance sets enticing little traps to divert us.

July 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm 5 comments

Moral Hygiene

Ritual washing and purification ceremonies are a feature of many religions — but now research shows that those rites may put us in a less forgiving frame of mind.  A study published earlier this month in the journal Psychological Science  indicates that washing with soap and water can make people view questionable activities as less acceptable and reasonable than they would if they had not washed.  The study also indicated that being exposed to disgusting stimuli can make us judge situations less harshly than we ordinarily would.  This appears to indicate that people rely more on emotion and intuition than deliberate reasoning when we make decisions regarding what is right and what is wrong.

From The Economist:

Dr Schnall’s study was inspired by some previous work of her own. She had found that when feelings of disgust are instilled in them beforehand, people make decisions which are more ethical than would otherwise be expected. She speculates that the reason for this is that feeling morally unclean (ie, disgusted) leads to feelings of moral wrongness and thus triggers increased ethical behaviour by instilling a desire to right the wrong. However, as the cleanliness and purification rituals found in many religions suggest, physical cleanliness, too, is linked to moral behaviour, so she decided to investigate this as well.

[…]

The researchers report that those who were given the “clean” words or who washed themselves rated the acts they were asked to consider as ethically more acceptable than the control groups did.

I found it interesting that all the reports I read interpreted the results of this study to mean that washing our hands causes us to make less moral judgements. Hey — wait, what happened to the idea that qualities like understanding and forgiveness are moral values? Are we only moral and ethical when we judge others’ behavior harshly?  Oddly (especially in this age of political correctness), the researchers and the press both seem to be inferring this.

And maybe I’m weird, but I thought that the most interesting aspect of the study was evidence that we don’t make moral judgements in a rational way. That our sense of physical cleanliness directly affects how easily we become outraged.  Seriously – doesn’t this make some things a little clearer? 

Things like making a judgement that killing dogs solely because they resemble a certain rather broad physical type that has acquired a reputition for viciousness through human abuse and ignorance?  [Dirty, icky people own those kinds of dogs — and they do vile things with them – off with their heads!]

Things like feeling justified in demanding that all licensed dogs be spayed and neutered before sexual maturity because some irresponsible people (people who usually don’t license their dogs anyway) have unplanned litters and abandon unwanted dogs?  [Eww, dog sex.  Disgusting.  Have you seen how that dog licks himself — off with his balls!]

Things like believing it’s right to limit all households to a specific number of dogs just because some people are bothered by morons who keep loud, obnoxious, untrained beasts in unsanitary or unsafe conditions?  [Revolting, nasty yard full of dog poop and filthy dogs who bark all day.  Sleazebag owner that I wish would move away — off with his property rights!]

Maybe the people who are convinced that we need more of those kinds of laws need to wash a bit more — and judge a bit less.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Decision

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conclusion

In fact, an earlier study (published in  Science in 2006) which also studied links between morality and hygiene, found that people commonly felt an urge to wash themselves after committing, or remembering  they had committed, acts that they felt were immoral.  The “MacBeth Effect” was manifested through increased attention on hygiene-related words and ideas, an enhanced desire to have and use cleaning products, and a craving for antiseptic wipes (seriously, I could not make this stuff up).  The researchers noted that the study indicated that “physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behavior and reduces threats to one’s moral self-image.”

Interesting.  So — while on the one hand (pun intended) we are more likely to judge other’s actions less harshly after washing ourselves — we also feel an urge to cleanse ourselves after commiting or thinking of an act we think of as wrong or immoral.  Does this imply that we subconsciously feel that judging others is wrong?  And that we should engage in ritual purification before making moral judgements instead of afterward?

And maybe that people who think we need to live in a harshly judgemental, politically correct world are exposed to too many fithy and disgusting experiences in their own lives?

December 18, 2008 at 2:15 am 2 comments

So.. What IS it Worth?

In today’s Albert Lea, MN Tribune Tim Engstrom wonders:

But if you are the owner of a trained dog, don’t you sometimes feel society gives little reward to you for the time and money you invested in obedience school? Don’t you wish the graduation certificate could function as a permission slip to bring your dog in stores or at least more stores than at present? Or even into government buildings and places such as trains, bus stations and shopping malls?

Today, we as dog owners find ourselves in an untenable situation.  At the same time that the number of dogs living in our country has dramatically increased (by approximately a million animals a year since 2000 according to the Pet Food Institute) the number of places we are allowed to take them has dropped precipitously.

The current politically correct, obsessively all-inclusive environment is the root of the problem.  When we reward everyone who just shows up, we cheapen the achievements of those who did much more.  Worse yet, we also create a society where extrinsic rewards are the focus.  Unlike the fleeting rush we get from extrinsic rewards (like money and ribbons,) intrinsic rewards (like the feeling of achievement one gets when hard work is rewarded) give us a deeper, long-lasting sense of accomplishment.  And since they  are internal (self-rewarding) rather than external (must be given by others) intrinsic rewards are available at any time and in any place.

We have come to expect the extrinsic rewards of instant gratification’s drive-through speed and convenience in nearly aspect of our lives.  And in a world obsessed with instant gratification – programs that emphasize (correctly) that training your dog is a lifetime pursuit are not likely to thrive….

This politically correct, all-inclusive, one-size-fits-all view of the world is – in reality – utterly intolerant of true diversity.  It’s not politically correct to allow some people to have more rights to public access with their dogs simply because they are responsible pet owners who train, socialize and clean up after their pets.  Current ‘wisdom’ says that we simply must reduce access privileges to meet the limitations of the lowest common denominator – those who can’t be bothered.

So, bit by bit and piece by piece, the rights of responsible pet owners everywhere are stolen chipped away by entitlement-driven, feel-good pet owners who put more effort into choosing a pair of shoes than in making the decision to take an innocent life into their hands.  And for some reason – we sit back and let them do it.

Your dog, your rights.  What are they worth to you?

July 31, 2008 at 5:37 am 2 comments

Ignorance is …… Influence

If you thought that knowing more than everyone else is the key to power and influence — think again. A recent study shows that the key to influence is being able to control the flow of information.  Being able to withhold some facts deliberately and make sure others don’t become public knowledge is more important than having that information yourself.

To paraphrase George Orwell “Ignorance is Strength”

In the current issue of The RAND Journal of Economics, USC researchers Isabelle Brocas and Juan Carrillo provide a challenge to the classic economic model of information manipulation, in which knowing more than anybody else is the key to influence.

Instead, economists Isabelle Brocas and Juan D. Carrillo present a situation – commonly observed in real life – in which all parties have access to the same information, but one party still manages to control public opinion.

“Optimally, you want to provide enough information so the other party reaches a certain level of confidence, but stop once you reach that level,” Brocas explained. “Otherwise, it may be the case that more information causes the confidence level to go down.”  The study, “Influence Through Ignorance,” is the first to thoroughly examine situations in which power comes from controlling the flow of public information, as opposed to the possession of private information.

As Brocas and Carrillo explain, there are secrets – facts that are deliberately withheld – and there are facts that are not known to anybody.

“It’s not necessary to have extra information,” Brocas said. “You can induce people to do what you want just by stopping the flow of information or continuing it. That’s enough.”  Notably, the party manipulating the flow of information must deliberately choose to remain uninformed as well – which can backfire.

“Overall, the ability of to control the flow of news and remain publicly ignorant gives the leader some power, which is used to influence the actions of the follower,” the researchers wrote.

Competition, supported by media diversity and public sources of research funding, not only induces outlets to release more information but also causes the “influence through ignorance” effect to diminish – and under certain circumstances to vanish – the researchers found.

“OK, this is interesting” you say “but how does it relates to dogs?”  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Self-censoring, or “intentional ignorance” comes from the unwillingness of writers to state unpopular facts from the fear of being attacked — not by government officials or special interest groups — but by readers, colleagues, peers and the public at large.

With the increasing popularization of “purely positive” and politically correct dog training methods, not only have the strongly biased views of their proponents become the norm in media reporting, but there has also been a drive to suppress information about other ways of training.  In my last year of teaching at an AKC all-breed club a group of members proposed that we burn many of the older books and videos in our library.  Not only did these people want those materials out of our library, they wanted them destroyed so that they couldn’t ‘pollute’ the minds of anyone who might read them.

Thankfully, clearer heads prevailed that day and (as far as I know) those valuable historic materials remain in the library today.

When did it become ‘common knowledge” that ANYTHING that involves correction is inhumane?  And how can anyone believe that it is better to destroy a dog than to use any corrections whatsoever in training it?

Although I recognize that in some cases undesirable behavior will disappear when it is ignored, I also see many other cases where ingrained and/or self-rewarding behaviors persist strongly even in the face of non-reward.  When used properly and by definition, punishment is self eliminating.  Punishment is defined as anything that decreases the occurrence of an antecedent behavior. In proper, fair training as the occurrence of the behavior decreases, the use of punishment also decreases — and then ends.

In this rush to embrace the new, what happened to common sense?  Positive reinforcement is a wonderful thing.  It is the main factor used in my training programs, but ‘all positive methods’ (those that use absolutely no corrective consequences) make little sense to dogs and don’t produce dependable results.

And regardless of how one feels about issues — even wildly inflammatory issues like dog training methods — as Brocas and Carillo pointed out so well in their paper, its important not only to dig up facts, but also to dig deep, before making our minds.
———————————————-
“Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.”
                      George Orwell

May 19, 2008 at 8:20 pm 3 comments

Service Dog Insanity

From yesterday’s St. Cloud, Minnesota Times:

A St. Cloud State University student in a teacher-training program at Technical High School left the school in late April because he says he feared for the safety of his service dog.

The school district calls it a misunderstanding, and officials there say they hoped Tyler Hurd, a 23-year-old junior from Mahtomedi who aspires to teach special education, would continue his training in the district.

Hurd said a high school student threatened to kill his service dog named Emmitt. The black lab is trained to protect Hurd when he has seizures.

Hurd said he was unable to finish his 50 hours of field training at Tech. The university waived the remaining 10 hours, he said. He plans to do his student teaching outside a high school setting.

The threat came from a Somali high school student who is Muslim, according to Hurd, St. Cloud State and school district officials.

Hurd trained at Talahi Community School and Tech. He said his experience at Talahi was good. The Somali students there warmed to the dog and eventually petted him using paper to keep their hands off his fur, Hurd said.

Things didn’t go as well at Tech, Hurd said. Students there taunted his dog, and he finally felt he had to leave after he was told a student made a threat. Hurd met with Lockhart but said he did not feel comfortable continuing.

Who, wait a minute here.  Are you telling me that a high school student threatens a student teacher’s service dog — and instead of dealing with the issue internally, the school district (most likely in the interest of political correctness) opts to prematurely release the student teacher from valuable field training experience rather than risk a direct confrontation with a minority student?

In the Spring 2000 edition of the City Journal Kay Hymowitz wrote an interesting piece titled “Who Killed School Discipline?” where she says:

Though fortunately only a small percentage of schools will ever experience real violence, the public’s sense that something has gone drastically wrong with school discipline isn’t mistaken. Over the past 30 years or so, the courts and the federal government have hacked away at the power of educators to maintain a safe and civil school environment. Rigid school bureaucracies and psychobabble-spouting “experts” have twisted such authority as remains into alien—and alienating—shapes, so that kids today are more likely than ever to go to disorderly schools, whose only answers to the disorder are ham-fisted rules and therapeutic techniques designed to manipulate students’ behavior, rather than to initiate them into a genuine civil and moral order. What’s been lost is educators’ crucial role of passing on cultural values to the young and instructing them in how to behave through innumerable small daily lessons and examples. If the children become disruptive and disengaged, who can be surprised?

Who indeed.  After the death of Common Courtesy and her lovely sister, Common Sense, society is now burdened with the Frankenstein monster of Political Correctness.  Tolerance, kindness and responsibility have been replaced by The Rules; and while tolerance, kindness and responsibilty promote flexible and open systems of interaction; The Rules are utterly rigid and must be followed to the letter by all parties with absolutely no exceptions.

This is insane.

The Minnesota Muslim community (Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations) issued a press release today in support of Hurd and his dog.  According to Earthtimes:

“The moral and legal need to accommodate individuals using service dogs far outweighs the discomfort an individual Muslim might feel about coming into contact with a dog, which is one of God’s creatures,” said CAIR-MN Communications Director Valerie Shirley.

Sanity apparently prevails in the Minnesota Muslim community, why can’t it be found in the school system — where it should be respected, revered and passed on to future generations?

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
     — Friedrich Nietzsche

May 14, 2008 at 2:00 am 2 comments


Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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