Thursday, July 22, 2010

Smile, or Die

I absolutely loathe the "positive thinking" law of attraction new age movement, and the Oprah beast- for helping to brainwash millions of people into believing they live in their own solipsistic magical reality that they can control with happy thought vibrations. (How you can manipulate your mind into believing in both a Christian God and a personal universe that you control, using some vague understanding of quantum mechanics, is a mental feat beyond my imagination. In a way, I congratulate those who are able to function with that level of cognitive dissonance.)

I don't need to hear one more person tell me that the reason why my life went to hell, and the reason why I experienced abuse, is because I "was not sending out positive energy waves to the universe." And, as soon as I realize the error of my ways, and start blasting positive thought beams, my life will turn around into a fantastical orgy of good fortune. (Just shut the fuck up. That advice is completely not helpful. Please keep your imaginary mind beam leprechauns to yourself.)

If something bad happens to you, it's ALWAYS your fault. You must have been having some negative thoughts, and sending out negative magnetic vibrations so that the universe pummeled you with misfortune. I love the part in the video where the author of "The Secret" claims that the reason the '06 Tsunami happened was because the people must have done it to themselves by being too negative in their minds. I wonder if she said anything like that about 9/11? I doubt it.

Some old guy: "This Secret, gives you everything you want. Happiness, health, and wealth." 
That's right. They aren't claiming this method will slightly improve your life. They are claiming that you can literally get ANYTHING you want.
Check out the film version of this book. It's very entertaining for a laugh when you're drunk. The author claims she had a breakdown from an overachieving lifestyle, and then "discovered" The Secret- and just knew she had to share this vital information to the rest of mankind. She claims that pretty much every important person in history used The Secret, from Di Vinci to Einstein (Being intelligent and hardworking had nothing to do with it, they were just really good at magical wishes), and that bad people who like negativity "repressed" this information.

Old guy in a suit again: "Everything that is coming into your life, YOU are attracting into your life. And it's attracted to you by virtue of the images you are holding in your mind! Wise people have always known that."

Usually when people claim images in their mind influence galactic energies that bend the universe to their will they are called psychotic. But when a grandfatherly looking guy in a suit says it, it's wisdom.

It gets better.

Old guy in suit:"Why do you think that 1% of the population earns around 96% of the money being earned? Do you think that's an accident? It's no accident! It's designed that way! They understand The Secret! And YOU are being introduced to The Secret!" 

So now we can forget about world history, economics, and capitalism. The real reason why so many rich assholes are successful, is because they are wise and understand how to use their mind powers to make the universe grant their wishes. (Even if by granting those wishes, they create poverty and destruction.) The hungry people on the bottom, spend too much time moping around in their ignorance, so their wishes are never granted.

Did you get cancer?
Mugged and raped?
Your kid died in a car accident?
Oops! Should have thought more positively!

So basically their advice is to walk around in your own oblivious bliss bubble, and everything will work out just fine on its own. No need to prepare, work hard, or plan for accidents. The universe senses your powerful thought waves, and reorganizes the world to suit you. It doesn't matter if your wishes negatively impact other people- they must have deserved it, otherwise the universe wouldn't have done that to them.

Old guy:"Now if you don't understand it, it doesn't mean you should reject it! You don't understand electricity probably. First of all, we don't even understand what electricity is! And enjoy the benefits of it. Do you know how it works? I don't know how it works. But I do know this- You can cook a man's dinner with electricity. And you can also cook the man." (ummm...what? This guys thoughts sound a little creepy.)

Yes, that's it. Don't bother thinking about it. It's just too hard to understand , like that darned whimsical electricity, that we've been using for 200 years. But if all these confident successful looking people in the video says it's true, it must be! Plus they have a soundtrack with ethereal vocal music, and dramatic reenactments to prove they know how history really went down. People wouldn't go to the trouble to do historical reenactments for lies. (Or you think they are confident and successful because they managed to trick millions of people into buying their books and courses?) Just give them money, and all will be well. Don't bother thinking about world issues, poverty, crime, global warming, or your responsibility as a citizen. Those thoughts will just make you feel bad, and then you will get robbed by a Somalian gang, you will lose your job in  the recession, and your house will flood because of global warming. All you have to do to avoid those things, is to be positive! And never give money to poor people, that just encourages their lazy negative thoughts.

Black dude with braids:"Because it has been proven scientifically, that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful, than a negative thought."

"You are the Michelangelo of your own life!"

This Bullshit with a capital B, is like a zillion times worse than Scientology. It completely enhances the narcissistic fantasy that the world revolves around you, to the point where THE WORLD ACTUALLY REVOLVES AROUND YOU. And yet it has the facade of being more benign than Scientology, or other evil insane cults, because unlike Scientology texts, you can find The Secret in every bookstand in the world.

Not only does it create sadly delusional people, but it creates callous judgmental people who care nothing for others in difficult situations because they believe those people did it to themselves with their weak negative thoughts.

What about the people that enjoy things like killing children, or keeping sex slaves? If they have positive thoughts about those things, does the magic universe genie grant their wishes too? Does it only punish bad children who weren't wise enough to have constant positive thoughts?

This mental virus needs to be banned. All the books need to be collected, and thrown into the Mariana Trench, and the people who still believe in this even though they still don't have 500 Million and a pony, need a firm slap in the face. Plus a trip to the Congo, so they can kindly spread the word that the reason why everyone is poor and hungry and enslaved is because they keep having negative thoughts.

Fucking magnets, how do they work?

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Clothing for words in the phonological store

There is another physical test being developed that helps professionals detect autism, this time by studying the voice. (I wrote earlier about a testing method that detects differences in global and local processing).

I don't have that much of an issue with my voice- it's better than some other people with Asperger's Syndrome- but it's still often flat, and I find I don't have a lot of control over the prosody sometimes. I still find this very frustrating. When you are female, people expect you to have a more melodious voice.

I also have some trouble understanding other peoples voices sometimes, but I have improved. I can understand other peoples tone but have a difficult time reproducing it willfully.

Speech for me is split into two distinct processes. I'm not able to just start talking and follow my train of thought easily while controlling my voice. There is a left spot for words, and a right spot for words.

The words themselves are coming at me from the left side. They are "naked" words. If I am trying to explain something, or recall something from memory, then I am usually running down a stream of consciousness that doesn't include a lot of room to manipulate those words. That's where the long streams of ranting are. I can go on for quite a while without pausing. I know that annoys people now though, and don't do that anymore if I can help it.

I have to focus on the involvement of my right side and combine the processes to be able to "clothe" the words in prosody, pitch, and volume. But when I do that, my cognition slows down considerably.

If I am staying on the right side, then I have much more control over my words, but my vocabulary is much lower and I have a lot more difficulty forming sentences. I can manipulate my voice if I am reading something that I already know.

Sometimes it is difficult to find my "inner voice" and I will accidentally copy the rhythm of other people in the room. It seems easier for my working memory if my brain does that, rather than having to concentrate on clothing my words "from scratch", I guess. For example, once I briefly talked to a Scottish person and they asked me what part of Scotland I'm from. Although I'm part Scottish, I haven't even been to Scotland and don't know any Scottish people. At the time I didn't realize I was speaking oddly because I think I was too preoccupied with what I was trying to say. But if  you randomly ask me to speak in an accent, I'm really bad at it! Sometimes other people with AS pick up odd accents, or have a "repertoire" of different distinct voices to choose from.

Mirror neurons have also been found to have some relationship with prosody. There seems to be some mirror neurons in Broca's area. That's probably why I temporarily copy other people's voices unintentionally.

I also annoy people by being too loud sometimes. But when I am concentrating on producing language, it's difficult to monitor my volume.

This paper came out last week in PLoS.

The Integration of Prosodic Speech in High Functioning Autism: A Preliminary fMRI Study

The left SMG is viewed as the starting point of the working memory loop for phonology which then projects frontally [60]. As such, the left SMG can be considered as the phonological store area and would then be a part of the phonological loop postulated by Baddeley [61]. It can thus be suggested that autistic subjects rely more on working memory processes and processes translating from auditory to articulatory representations than controls do in the natural condition.  It can thus be hypothesized that the HFA group recruit the left SMG as a compensatory phenomenon, which is supported by the idea that prosody could be so troublesome for them that they would be more concentrated on phoneme discrimination, which is part of the literal speech decoding, either to avoid paying attention to prosodic features or to be able to understand the story. A further explanation which may be raised for accounting for this left SMG activation could stem from a right hypoactivation in the HFA group, which is in light with previous cortical evoked potential studies reporting a right hypoactivation in autism  
 Hmm. It is true for me, that when I listen to another person talk it is much easier if I focus on encoding the words. Sometimes I have to tune out the persons tone, because it is too distracting and I can't follow what they are saying while trying to understand the words simultaneously.

I would like to be able to change my voice to appear more friendly, add different emotions, flirt, etc. In my imagination I can imagine myself doing that. But then when I try, getting the words out with these two different processes is another thing. My brain freezes up and won't let me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

the things we know best

"The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best." -Paul Valery

I don't know who that guy is, but I liked this quote.

Worldwide Empathy?

This is awesome.
I just came across this neat pictorial representation of Jeremy Rifkin presenting The Empathic Civilization. Since I'm a visual thinker, I really appreciated the animations. It's the perfect intro for understanding the mirror neuron process.

As I mentioned previously, Empathy is a neurological process. It is not an abstract, or "psychological imagination" based concept. We are hardwired to be group animals that communicate emotionally. We have the capacity to intimately communicate with each other, as well as other beings. 

If you don't have access to this stream of information, social interactions can be very cognitively demanding. 

Many people are unclear as to the difference in meaning between Empathy, Sympathy, and Compassion.

I'll start with Compassion. Compassion is more of an intellectual exercise, that leads to the path of understanding another's situation by realizing the steps that led to that situation. You can technically have compassion for anyone, or anything. It takes work. That's why there aren't a lot of compassionate people these days. Nobody believes they have the time to contemplate the life history of others.

I like this explanation from a psychologist that writes about "America's continuing Empathy Deficit disorder".
Empathy vs. Sympathy
To clarify, empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy reflects understanding another person's situation - but viewed through your own lens. That is, it's based on your version of what the other person is dealing with. ("Yeah, I can sympathize with your problem with your elderly mother, because I have my own problems with mine ..."). A narcissist can be sympathetic in this way.
Such a self-centered focus is similar to what some people think love is when they're really enthralled with their own feeling of being "in love," rather than loving the reality of who their partner is, as I wrote about in a previous post.
In contrast, empathy is what you feel only when you can step outside of yourself and enter the internal world of the other person. There -- but without abandoning or losing your own perspective -- you can experience the other's emotions, conflicts, or aspirations from within the vantage point of that person's world. That's not telepathy. Research shows that it's a hard-wired capacity in all of us. And that kind of connection builds healthy, mutual relationships -- an essential part of mental health.
However, the mind cannot be of the kind that experiences empathy continuously and frequently. In order for the group to function as a whole and operate defensively, there needed to be a "shut-off" switch that turned the experience of empathy down, or removed the experience of empathy completely from consciousness. In order to kill, we needed to remove ourselves from the sensation of being killed. (Otherwise we would all be acting like Deanna Troi from Star Trek, and having dramatic freak outs.)

That "shut-off" switch, is Identification.

Human minds come pre-prepared to accept the differentiation between Self and Other. There are "cognitive containers" that grasp and hold onto what the Self is, and what is related to the self. You can find this in the self reference effect, and in many aspects of human behaviour, information related to the self is favoured in an irrational way. (For example, the digits of your SIN number can influence what you are willing to pay for things.)

Human brains are filled with information that "anchors" a sense of identity, even if we are unaware of it, because it is not something that is chosen with free will.

This is a very old system, since we have inherited the mental framework built ontop of eons of primate socialization. Chimpanzees also form strong concepts of identity. I once read that a larger group of Chimps split into two separate "tribes". After they had been separated for some time, they came into contact with each other again. Instead of greeting their old companions with friendly behaviour, they were very wary of each other. One chimpanzee however, wanted to socialize. The chimp reached out to an old friend, and touched their shoulder. The other chimp recoiled at the touched, appeared disgusted, and retreated. He then proceeded to take some leaves and vigorously scrub the area where the other chimpanzee had touched him, as if he was trying to "decontaminate" the cooties from the now estranged tribe. (But, they don't seem to be "racist" against this albino chimpanzee!)

The concept of Identity being such a strong force, seems nearly crazy, and unbelievable at first. One of the scientists who discovered mirror neurons in action even said: "It took us several years to believe what we were seeing."But with more and more research being done with mirror neurons, it seems Identity is actually a biological process, not an arbitrarily chosen personal philosophy. The mirror neurons "learn" from experience what we consider to be our Identity, and then they form a cognitive framework around that, determining when and with whom empathy can be experienced.

Mirror neurons not only influence our thoughts, they determine what thoughts we are able to have.

For example, there is a significant difference in mirror neuron activity when people view the motor actions of another race. 

This explains how Natzi's were able to have a normal and loving family life, and then go to work and sadistically murder small children. They had dehumanized Jewish people completely, to the state that they were not capable of having an emotional empathetic response during those callous and unbelievably demented acts. The "empathy switch" was working for their families, and children who they saw as German, but not for Jewish children. The murdering of children to them, would have felt as benign as dismantling a mannequin. Therefor, not many questioned these acts. They didn't "feel bad about it", so found these acts to be applicable to their moral framework. Hitler did not send out an "evil wave" and brainwash an entire country. What he did, through propaganda that influences the mind, was to systematically rewire the brains of the German people to feel nothing for Jewish people. Or, if anything, a searing hatred and disgust that justified their actions.

Genocide is the dark side of empathy. I am currently reading "The Lucifer Effect" by Philip Zimbardo, the guy who designed the Stanford Prison experiment, causing a bunch of college students to have mental breakdowns. I'll probably write more about the evil half of empathy later.

But what is the good news?

The Good news, is that Identity is very flexible, as the video explains. We can "trick" our minds into accepting the identity characteristics of citizen, family member, job position, music taste, into our Identity repertoire.

In theory then, it is possible that we can extend our concept of empathy to include the entire human race. But this must be done through culture, art, and experience. Simply saying "I am a citizen of the world, one of 6 billion other citizens of the world" does not create an identity framework for empathy. Humans are reactive, intuition and emotion based creatures. Words and facts, do not chance minds. Identity is centered in the landscape of the "right brain", a place where associations instead of logic, proliferate.

Narcissism, and being highly self absorbed, creates an Identity that is highly ego/self based. When one views the world as existing "around" and apart from the self (somewhat like how autistic people are forced to see the world), instead of having an identity that incorporates a surrounding community and network, the brain forms an Identity that is highly deficient in Empathy. Seeing as how our society is becoming ultra individualistic with the use of social networking websites, children being brought up today are being taught that they are a unique being and everything is being connected TO them, instead of WITH THEM. (The terrifying consequences of this could be an entire generation full of thoughtless narcissists.)

Personally, I was not sure if I experienced Empathy, or not. I am constantly glued into my own perspective- I can't even experience two emotions at once, let alone process the feelings of another person simultaneously. When I was about 12 and came across the concept of Empathy, I was confused, and scared because I didn't experience that. (Nobody had mentioned anything about mild autism at that point.) I was worried that other people would consider me a cold monster, even though in different ways I cared for other people and the rest of the world deeply.

Now I realize that I do in fact have Empathy, but it is locked away behind a door, and difficult to reach in the maze of my mind. I can find this in my consciousness while watching movies sometimes, but this process becomes extremely overwhelming and my own emotions "drown", because of my hyper-focused conscious experience. It's as if I start to disappear, and I am being "absorbed" by the experiences of the other person. If I am in this "room" it is not possible to speak, or interact properly with the other person, because I can not reach the place where language is. I get thrown into "The Pit"- the place where primitive emotions reside. In that place, I become disoriented and lose control of my consciousness. It doesn't matter what type of emotion it is, whether it is anxiety or sadness, or the intensity. When my consciousness is hyper-focused on The Pit, it is not a pleasant experience. So I imagine that I might have "blocked it off" behind a door, a long time ago, in order to have the ability to interact with the rest of the world properly. So for most of the time, I don't have this automatic social information that everyone takes for granted. I have to use a lot more of my cognitive energy to figure out what is going on.

For many autistic spectrum people, this is also their experience, going strongly against the ridiculous stereotype that "autistic people do not experience any emotions." The empathy is simply too overwhelming, and takes the center stage drowning out other multiple cognitive processes. So those processes are sectioned off, and blocked out. Here is an article that discusses that theory. Recent research suggests that there is a functioning mirror neuron system in Autistics, but the information is not being processed and handled by the brain properly. Other studies claim the mirror neurons are firing, but delayed, sending confusing information to the brain. One researcher describes it as: These children are really not unemotional, they do want to interact, it’s just difficult for them,” says Markram, “It’s quite sad because these are quite capable people but the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.”

Psychopaths/narcissists are the very opposite. Psychopaths can often be experts at figuring out the mental states of others, and have superior mimicking and social skills. Many are said to appear "charming". But this emotional information is not attached to their emotional experience. It is if they are watching other people behind a thick glass wall. They can understand very well the feelings of others, but they are never touched by them.

Psychopaths, science seems to be telling us, have unique brain abnormalities, and appear to be born rather than made. But most psychopaths do not become serial killers. (Many probably become lawyers, or politicians.) The psychopathic brain, PLUS childhood abuse, appears to be the recipe for serial-killing.

Narcissists however, are created. And consequently, they can in theory change and grow to experience Empathy, if they want to.

Autistic people on the other hand, are in a fog, struggling to see the people on the other side, off in the distance. Sometimes the fog breaks, and Empathy shines through. But most of the time it is obscured and distorted.

Besides the feeling of Empathy, mirror neurons have been implicated in many different cognitive processes, giving us a new picture of how the "scaffolding of the brain" is developed.

For more information on mirror neurons and Empathy, I suggest reading "Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect to Others" and "The Age of Empathy: Natures Lessons for a Kinder Society".

"Civilization, the Death of Art and Beauty"- a psychic prediction.

"But how is popularity to be acquired? Very easily indeed. Howl with the wolves. Pay homage to the favourite vices of the day, and reverence to mediocrities in public favour. Shut your eyes tight before any truth, if unpalatable to the chief leaders of the social herd, and sit with them upon the dissenting minority. Bow low before vulgarity in power; and bray loud applause to the rising donkey who kicks a dying lion, now a fallen idol. Respect public prejudice and pander to its cant and hobbies, and soon you will yourself become popular. Behold, now is your time." - Helen Blavatsky, 1889
Helen Blavatsky was a very interesting and forward thinking but also strangely delusional woman.. At the time it was kind of rare to have independent women travelling the world, and writing philosophy. She thought she had psychic powers, including the ability to levitate and construct "ectoplasm". A lot of her theories seem plain crazy, but I came across some of her misanthropic rantings and some of her predictions about globalization, unfortunately were realized.

 Truly and indeed it is high time that at last something should be done in this direction, and before the deceitful civilization of the conceited nations of but yesterday has irretrievably hypnotized the older races, and made them succumb to its upas-tree wiles and supposed superiority. Otherwise, old arts and artistic creations, everything original and unique will very soon disappear. Already national dresses and time-honoured customs, and everything beautiful, artistic, and worth preservation is fast disappearing from view. At no distant day, alas, the best relics of the past will perhaps be found only in museums in sorry, solitary, and be-ticketed samples preserved under glass!
Such is the work and the unavoidable result of our modern civilization. Skin-deep in reality in its visible effects, in the "blessings" it is alleged to have given to the world, its roots are rotten to the core. It is to its progress that selfishness and materialism, the greatest curses of the nations, are due; and the latter will most surely lead to the annihilation of art and of the appreciation of the truly harmonious and beautiful. Hitherto, materialism has only led to a universal tendency to unification on the material plane and a corresponding diversity on that of thought and spirit. It is this universal tendency, which by propelling humanity, through its ambition and selfish greed, to an incessant chase after wealth and the obtaining at any price of the supposed blessings of this life, causes it to aspire or rather gravitate to one level, the lowest of all--the plane of empty appearance. Materialism and indifference to all save the selfish realization of wealth and power, and the over-feeding of national and personal vanity, have gradually led nations and men to the almost entire oblivion of spiritual ideals, of the love of nature, to the correct appreciation of things. Like a hideous leprosy our Western civilization has eaten its way through all the quarters of the globe and hardened the human heart. "Soul-saving" is its deceitful, lying pretext; greed for additional revenue through opium, rum, and the inoculation of European vices--the real aim. 
For certainly Europe is all this. It is canting and deceitful from its diplomats down to its custodians of religion, from its political down to its social laws, selfish, greedy and brutal beyond expression in its grabbing characteristics. And yet there are those who wonder at the gradual decadence of true art, as if art could exist without imagination, fancy, and a just appreciation of the beautiful in Nature, or without poetry and high religious, hence, metaphysical aspirations! The galleries of paintings and sculpture, we hear, become every year poorer in quality, if richer in quantity. It is lamented that while there is a plethora of ordinary productions, the greatest scarcity of remarkable pictures and statuary prevails. Is this not most evidently due to the facts that (a) the artists will very soon remain with no better models than nature morte (or "still life") to inspire themselves with; and (b) that the chief concern is not the creation of artistic objects, but their speedy sale and profits? Under such conditions, the fall of true art is only a natural consequence.
Owing to the triumphant march and the invasion of civilization, Nature, as well as man and ethics, is sacrificed, and is fast becoming artificial. Climates are changing, and the face of the whole world will soon be altered. Under the murderous hand of the pioneers of civilization, the destruction of whole primeval forests is leading to the drying up of rivers, and the opening of the Canal of Suez has changed the climate of Egypt as that of Panama will divert the course of the Gulf Stream. Almost tropical countries are now becoming cold and rainy, and fertile lands threaten to be soon transformed into sandy deserts. A few years more and there will not remain within a radius of fifty miles around our large cities one single rural spot inviolate-from vulgar speculation. In scenery, the picturesque and the natural is daily replaced by the grotesque and the artificial. Scarce a landscape in England but the fair body of nature is desecrated by the advertisements of "Pears' Soap" and "Beecham's Pills." The pure air of the country is polluted with smoke, the smells of greasy railway-engines, and the sickening odours of gin, whiskey, and beer. And once that every natural spot in the surrounding scenery is gone, and the eye of the painter finds but the artificial and hideous products of modern speculation to rest upon, artistic taste will have to follow suit and disappear along with them.
"No man ever did or ever will work well, but either from actual sight or sight of faith," says Ruskin, speaking of art. Thus, the first quarter of the coming century may witness painters of landscapes, who have never seen an acre of land free from human improvement; and painters of figures whose ideas of female beauty of form will be based on the wasp-like pinched-in waists of corseted, hollow-chested and consumptive society belles.
H. P. Blavatsky, 1887

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Twilight vampires suck, and True Blood is HOT

The new season of True Blood has started. Sunday is now the most exciting day of the week for me. I'm fairly addicted to this show, and the characters. (I went so far as to actually write some fanfiction, which I thought I would never ever do. Now I have "fans" begging me to update my epic story, so I feel kind of obligated to finish it...but I just can't get into the whole fanfiction universe thing.)

But I absolutely despise, the marketing madness that is Twilight.

I was an avid fan of Vampires when I was younger, and read every Vampires book that was in the library. That probably grew out of my obsession with mythical creatures and mysteries, as well as possibly identifying with the brooding outsider persona for a period. I dressed as a Vampire for Halloween, watched Vampire films, a Vampire themed TV show, and fantasized about meeting a Vampire in disguise. (My fantasies were probably about as Lame as the plot of Twilight.) If you had told me back then, that a future was coming in which Vampires had come out of the realm of being favored fixations of goths, horror buff nerds, and masochistic sexually repressed women, and into the mainstream pop culture, I would have thought that was just unbelievably awesome.

Fuck you, Twilight. You have turned that loner 14 year old girl fantasy into a nightmare. I can understand if you like this series if you ARE 14. But considering it the best book ever? Being 40 and considering it the best book ever? Then you must have only read Twilight, the TV guide, and what somebody else left in the bathroom.

Twilight removes many of the essential elements the Vampire genre established, the main female character is empty and weak (emotionally and physically), and the writing is...just plain bad, to be so many peoples "fave novel of all time!"

It's a good thing True Blood came along to even out the imbalance. (It is based on a book series called the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Which is, not meant to be a great work of literature, its meant to be fun.) Unlike Twilight, which is basically just an extended version of a lame 15 year olds romantic fantasy, True Blood is filled with smart social commentary, great writing and characterization, and a talented cast.

Any sane person, would have to agree that True Blood wins over Twilight.

Here are some reasons:

The main female characters:
  • Twilight- Bella is described as being plain, clumsy, with pretty much no personality. Her entire life revolves around her Vampire boyfriend, and she wants to kill herself when he dumps her. She desperately wants to become a Vampire, so they can be "together forever". Other than that, she has no interest in a career, hobbies, or any other aspect of identity or life. All she wants is to stare at her boyfriends "perfect face". She is often helpless, and needs to be rescued.
  • True Blood- Sookie is sassy, independent, daring but naive, and has a strong sense of her morality. She has no desire to become a Vampire. She isn't on "helpless victim" standby, she's the one that gets out there and does the rescuing. 

The Vampires:

  • Twilight- They are immortal, dead, creatures, yes. But they have no fangs, no allergies, and only sparkle in the sunlight instead of bursting into flames. For some reason even though they are a century old they enjoy going to high school, and hanging out with mindless teenagers. They don't drink blood from people. They drink from Grizzlies, and other endangered large wildlife instead. They don't sleep, so at night Edward creeps into Bella's room to stare at her, and she doesn't find this creepy at all. They make being a Vampire seem exciting, because they get to play high speed baseball, live in a mansion, and pretty much do whatever they want. And still... these centenarians prefer to hang out in a high school. Which would make you question their mental stability. 
  • True Blood- More of the traditional Vampire archetype. They have fangs, they need to feed on human blood to survive (or synthetic blood), die during the daytime, have allergies to silver, and get smoky and crispy if sunlight touches their skin. (That's part of the point! You have to balance the "powerful" parts with weaknesses).They are "out of the coffin" and try to fit in with normal society, but their blood has become an illegal drug because it gets people high. Sometimes they are kidnapped so humans can suck their blood.

Vampire Characters:
  • Edward Cullen is a weakling that was dying of the Spanish flu. He is polite, can read minds (but apparently that makes no difference, because he never really does anything with his power), plays the piano, and doesn't really seem to have much internal motivation except for brooding and gelling his hair, and finding his soulmate, with whom they can brood and do their hair together. He is an 108 year old virgin. 
  • Eric Northman is a 1,000 year old 6'5 freakin' Viking that can FLY and speaks in a sexy Swedish voice. He owns a bar called Fangtasia, and he's also a Vampire Sheriff. He is bold, cocky, mischievous, manipulative, and kills people- but he is also tactful, intelligent, playful and with a great sense of humour. He styles his hair, but also has better things to do, making the plot much more interesting. He doesn't brood. He actually enjoys being a Vampire. He has fangs and growls. He has had so much sex that he's a complete expert- for 6 hours straight. 

Eric Northman is my imaginary stalker

Also, Twilight pretty much ripped off the books True Blood are based on- which came out 4 years before Twilight. Oh, but apparently the plot of twilight "came to her in a dream".

Buffy killing Edward

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Self Esteem

As I wrote before, our culture is obsessed with self loving. You are supposed to somehow "find yourself" and then "love yourself" even if you are a jerk, or a drug addict. While other cultures think you shouldn't be in love with yourself, if you clearly don't deserve it. You should feel shame instead.

I don't really know how self-esteemy I can really be. Because, what self am I supposed to be loving?

Self #1-The potential self- the disembodied spirit in the broken machine- The one that doesn't exist, and could never come to exist, outside of the machine. The person I wish I was when I have the use of my imagination, and the complete control of my body and mind, in my imagination.


Self#2- the actual, broken machine, that The Thing that endlessly frustrates me, that I have to fight with constantly. The one that everybody else sees, and the only one that can be said to "exist". The one that breaks down, the one with static on the radio, the one with faulty circuits, the one with sharp teeth, the one with rusty gears. The one that invites the demons in and locks the door.

I don't want to love The Thing that is self#2. And how can you really love a ghost?

My Body is a Cage- Arcade Fire

My body is a cage

That keeps me from dancing with the one I love

But my mind holds the key

My body is a cage
That keeps me from dancing with the one I love
But my mind holds the key

I'm standing on the stage
Of fear and self-doubt
It's a hollow play
But they'll clap anyway

My body is a cage
That keeps me from dancing with the one I love
But my mind holds the key

Standing next to me
My mind holds the key

I'm living in an age
That calls darkness light
Though my language is dead
Still the shapes fill my head

I'm living in an age
Whose name I don't know
Though the fear keeps me moving
Still my heart beats so slow

My body is a cage
That keeps me from dancing with the one I love
But my mind holds the key

Standing next to me
My mind holds the key

My body is a . . .

My body is a cage
We take what we're given
Just because you've forgotten, that don't mean you're forgiven

I'm living in an age
That screams my name at night
But when I get to the doorway
There's no one in sight

I'm living in an age
Realizing I'm dancing
With the one I love
But my mind holds the key

You're still next to me
My mind holds the key
Set my spirit free
Set my spirit free
Set my body free

Blinding- Florence and the Machine

Seems that I have been held, in some dreaming state

A tourist in the waking world, never quite awake
No kiss, no gentle word could wake me from this slumber
Until I realise that it was you who held me under

Felt it in my fist, in my feet, in the hollows of my eyelids
Shaking through my skull, through my spine and down through my ribs

No more dreaming of the dead as if death itself was undone
No more calling like a crow for a boy, for a body in the garden
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world

And I could hear the thunder and see the lightning crack
All around the world was waking, I never could go back
Cos all the walls of dreaming, they were torn right open
And finally it seemed that the spell was broken

And all my bones began to shake, my eyes flew open
And all my bones began to shake, my eyes flew open

No more dreaming of the dead as if death itself was undone
No more calling like a crow for a boy, for a body in the garden
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world

Snow White's stitching up the circuitboards
Synapse slipping through the hidden door
Snow White's stitching up the circuitboard

No more dreaming of the dead as if death itself was undone
No more calling like a crow for a boy, for a body in the garden
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love
No more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world

Snow White's stitching up the circuitboards
Synapse slipping through the hidden door
Snow White's stitching up the circuitboard
Synapse slipping through the hidden door 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Will the normal humans please stand up?

This is related to the previous posting about the rise of narcissism and selfishness in "Western Culture", and how for some reason, not many people notice it, or even care. (Compared to Asperger's Syndrome, which many parents seem to be absolutely terrified of.)

This is obviously problematic, because "Western Culture" is where most psychological research happens. And this research is used to measure what is considered "normal" or "healthy" psychological behaviour, as well as "universal" behaviours.

Westerners are abnormally egocentric, individualistic, isolated, and conformist, compared to other cultures presently in the world as well as in the past. And yet...

We consistently consider ourselves "normal", and immune to cultural biases in thinking and problem solving.

(Because we've somehow escaped this silly primitive culture nonsense, and now experience CIVILIZATION and RATIONAL BEHAVIOUR. Yes. That is sarcasm.)

If you don't believe me, read this review, titled "The Weirdest People in the World?" criticizing the use of western college students to create theories of "universal" human behaviour and cognition. The acronym WEIRD stands for "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic."

So yeah, what we consider normal, can also be called "weird", and as noted in the previous post, we seem to be getting "weirder" every decade.

Along with psychological views of the self and other, and the "cultural" aspects of an individuals identity- there is variations in spacial perception, social reasoning, memory, and susceptibility to optical illusions. Since I read psychology, I was aware of some of these differences, but was surprised to find that not all cultures viewed optical illusions the same way, because my cognitive psychology book told me it was one of those "universal" things.

The muller-Lyer optical illusion is the one shown here that tricks you into perceiving that these lines are different lengths, when in fact they are actually all the same length, as demonstrated below in red.
(But people on the autistic spectrum often don't perceive this. Because my consciousness is most often hyper-focused, I can go- yep same line...yep...same line. But if I look again, and focus on the whole for a little while, I can see the illusion.)

Americans, REALLY SUCK AT THIS. They get fooled easily, compared to most other cultures. Some cultures are less easily fooled, and it seems the San bushpeople of the Kalahari, like autistic spectrum folk, aren't fooled at all and can easily tell the lines are the same. (Maybe because in order to eat, and not BE EATEN, they are raised with a high attention to detail).

So does that mean the optical illusion is universal, EXCEPT for those hunter-gatherers, (who live the lifestyle of 99% of humans that have ever existed), that have the "wrong" kind of perception?

No. You can't call things Universal, and choose which cultures belong in the Universal box, and which ones belong in the Deviation box.

Some people read stuff like this and jump to the ridiculous conclusion of extreme cultural relativity: "See! There is no human nature! It's ALL culture!"- or to the other extreme end that maybe "GENES are responsible for these perceptual and cognitive differences!"- as if actually choosing teams in the epic "Nature vs. Nurture" battle.

But in my opinion, there is no battle. A battle implies that one of them could win. I think it's more like a game of "tug-of-war" that never ends. Team Culture has much more manpower, and when Team Culture tugs hard enough, it pulls Team Genes towards its side, so that Team Genes almost touches that "thin red line". But Team Culture is never strong enough to completely pull Team Genes over and win the game. Sometimes Team Culture becomes exhausted and collapses on the ground, and Team Genes takes over and slides Team Culture through the mud and back to the other side. But you can't saying something is "just genes", separate from culture. (Like some recent crap news about how some men are "born to cheat" because they have a "cheating gene".)

Team culture can be a lot of things. Humans have produced Natzi culture, Tibetan Monk culture, and more recently, Gangster culture.

But culture is not infinitely malleable. I'm guessing there will never be a culture where people produce babies only to eat them as as Jonathan Swift suggested, (sacrafice and religion is different), or one in which Amazonian women keep their multiple husbands in cages.

But one in which uneducated, unattractive, drug addicted, misogynistic, badly dressed thugs who can't even sing or play an instrument produce an award winning record that millions of people buy: possible.

We are very cultural beings, with "cultural software" in our minds.
My point is: You can't say with certainty which kind of human behaviour is "universal", and which kind is not. You can only say that we have biases, and tendencies, and make some guesses. Culture is strong enough to warp these tendencies. For example, facial expressions are "Universal", but Westerners and Asians produce and view facial expressions slightly differently.

But I do think there is definitely something called "human nature"- only it can be stretched and distorted. You can't figure out exactly what that is by studying ONE culture, and ONE time period, and ONE species, and ONE type of people.

You also can't go around the world playing behavioural economic games with different cultures and expect that to "prove" some kind of "truth" about modern society, and claim that capitalism and markets make us "kinder". The study went through the news and and spawned a lot of dumbass articles suddenly concluding "See! Look how awesome our society is! We're not selfish! Without capitalism and religion, we would be stealing and spearing each other! Actually, it's the bushpeople who are selfish jerks!"

Look at those selfish jerks.

The kindest people in the whole world, and the entire existence of humanity.

The paper is interesting, but I think that "news article" is one dumbass conclusion from that paper. Of course hunter-gatherers are not peaceful, earth loving, pure beings. (Apparently the murder rate is the same as other cultures, when you factor in the amount of people in groups). But just because they played the ultimatum game in a certain way, certainly doesn't make them "unkind" to strangers. I mean, they work together and share their meat, and actually agreed to help anthropologists with these studies. Wouldn't the unkind reaction to be to tell them to fuck off? And in their own group, they are very generous, and "kind" every day. When was the last time you popped over to your neighbours house to offer them free groceries for no reason? Of course they are going to think differently, and will consider it "strange" to give stuff to complete strangers they will never see again. That would be like an alien landing in your backyard from a spaceship, and asking for half your paycheck. You'd probably be very suspicious, offer a small amount, and probably phone a psychiatrist. You can't make sweeping generalizations like that about the personalities of other cultures, let alone cultures in the past, unless you have psychic powers and a time machine. "Tribal" groups don't exist in isolation, in some kind of representation of the thinking process of our ancestors. They don't have any reason to trust "random white people" or take their experiments seriously, either. But maybe when there were no random white people bothering them 5,000 years ago, they would have thought differently, who knows.

Humans have hardwired "stranger danger". That's one of those "pretty much" universal things, but culture determines how paranoid the group is to outsiders. They avoid dealing with strangers in the out-group, and think very differently about them. We didn't hang out with random strangers all the time in our past. The "other" is a strong repelling force. Our society, and other industrialized societies, only seem "kinder" because we live in a big, massive "US" group, called a country, and we have certain expectations in dealing with strangers, because we do it every day, and act like we belong in ONE GIANT TRIBE culture. We don't really encounter "strangers" very often. Fellow citizens are not strangers, they are fellow citizens we identify with. We are obsessed with our reputations, and don't want to look like "jerks", even if only God is watching. We are used to playing hypothetical intellectual games. Tribal people don't sit around doing that. We use the strategy that we think is "right", that gives us a feelgood emotional reaction (Not an intellectual one). That feelgood feeling doesn't happen with people very different from us that we can't possibly identify with. This has absolutely nothing to do with kindness, having a "world religion", or free markets evolving us into more co-operative people. Because that insinuates that if these aspects are taken away, people will just start to rape and pillage freely. (If that was really true, would that mean that a hypothetical society made up of socialist atheists, like on Star Trek, would all act like misanthropic criminals?) If you take a bunch of American strangers and dump them on a deserted island with "others"- people aren't so "kind" anymore. Just like tribe-people suspicious of outsiders, if you tell Americans they are playing the game with a Muslim from Afghanistan, many people won't want to be very generous, like they are when they think they are playing with Americans. It depends on the situation. In real life, people are becoming LESS kind, and LESS generous, in real life situations, and certainly LESS "FAIR". Markets and monotheistic religions create "very large tribes", not kindness and fairness.

So, people in smaller scale societies don't punish strangers, and that's considered a bad thing? But if a strange looking alien came to your door with a giant chunk of diamond and offered to give you 10% of it, would you go "Fuck you Alien! That's really unfair, so not only am I going to reject your offering, I'm going to tell your Alien boss that you're a jerk so he takes the diamond away from you, and we both get nothing!" That doesn't really prove you live in a kind society, just that you live in a society obsessed with "justice" and punishing others for perceived injustices.

That viewpoint also bugged me because, using that reasoning, you could say that people on the autistic spectrum are also "unkind" because they do not  punish people in the Ultimatum game. When I first encountered that, I was somewhat confused as to why someone would REJECT ANYTHING. I remember reading Temple Grandin picked the "rational option", and in general autistic people were more likely to do that (and psychopaths, because they are selfish jerks). Because in my mind, my thought process was narrowed down to: "Hmm...Something...or...Nothing. Of course I'll pick the something, even if it's 1%! Something is better than NOTHING". I would also have the thought when someone kept 99% -"fuck you, jerk!" but there was no emotional benefit for me to punish myself by punishing another person I will "never meet again". They were two separate thoughts. I was completely astounded that "normal" people reject free money and punish themselves, in order to punish the bad behaviour of other people they don't know and will never meet. For some reason that makes them feel better, but so does co-operating. When this game is done in an fMRI, apparently "pleasure centres" light up. So, I guess that makes me an "unkind person" because I don't enjoy punishing people.

All this research on human behaviour and culture is interesting and useful, but not when you claim confusing things like "capitalism makes us kind" in the newspaper.

The understanding of what is "normal", and what is "not normal", is important when scientist types are doing research on autistic spectrum disorders. Most often, the studies compare autistic spectrum people with WEIRD people.  But that doesn't necessarily tell you what differences there are between "normal people" and "autistic people", because autistic people are not exposed to culture in the same way. They don't "soak up" the cultural mind. Every autistic person has a slightly different mind. A difference in cognition might not be because of "Autism", but it might be because they don't exist in the same cultural universe as the rest of the population, just like someone who was raised in a crazy cult- except it is a "culture of one".

And, in studies on autistic people, deviations from the "normal population" are almost always framed negatively. For example, here is a study about the lack of a self reference effect in autism (meaning "normal people" have better memory for words and subjects relating to themselves, and special brain areas light up when exposed to information about themselves), which is called; A lack of self-consciousness in Autism. This study finds that autistic people treat all information the same, whether it is relevant to the self or not- and consider that proof of a "lack of self-consciousness." They could have also called it "Autistic people do not have a bias for information related to the self." But hey, favouring information about yourself and distorting your thought processes to notice more things about yourself, is the normal thing to do.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Autism Epidemic Vs. The Asshole Epidemic

Pretty much everybody by this point has been exposed to the media driven alarm sounding siren of the "Autism Epidemic". Every year, the statistics of autistic spectrum disorders appear to rise rapidly. It has been described that "While 30 years ago Autism used to occur in only 1 out of 10,000 children, it now afflicts 1 child in 166!" (Or in the last 2 years, 1 in 100).

Holy crap! It's the Vaccines! It's the pesticides! It's the government performing experiments in league with tyrannical aliens!

While it appears there is a bit of an unexplained increase, the majority of this so called "rise of autism" is related to the changes in developmental psychology, diagnostic testing, and social awareness. (Don't you dare leave comments about Vaccines, Jenny McCarthy fans.) In the past, people who were in fact autistic were labeled as: psychotic, emotionally disturbed, schizophrenic, mentally retarded- or, with Asperger's, more likely- just odd, awkward, weird and "boring". The causes of autism have been identified as being largely genetic, with possible influences including older parents, genetic imprinting, testosterone, and even "assortative mating".

While we can't really say for sure what the perfect recipe for autism is, we do know, that there doesn't seem to be any way to really prevent it. No matter how many parents "stick it to the man" and refuse to Vaccinate their children, there will always be autism. (Unless, there is a "cure" discovered similar to the Downs Syndrome "cure".)

But did you know, that there is another alarming epidemic on the rise, that is even more frightening and possibly more destructive than Autism- but that it is completely preventable, and with longterm treatment could be highly curable?

This tragic disease has symptoms consisting of:

-an inability to form genuine and long lasting meaningful social relationships
-the psychological distortion that the sufferer exists at the apex of their own world
-persistent delusions and paranoias about themselves and others
-an inability to empathize with others
-a repertoire of destructive habits and behaviours
-an impairment in the ability to perceive a sense of objectivity
-a prolonged fixation with external superficialities
-ritualistic empty social behaviour of no apparent purpose or meaning
-increased aggression, drug and alcohol use, and risk taking behaviours

That sounds pretty dysfunctional! Who would want their kids to have this horrible disease of the mind?

And there is ONE SIMPLE preventative measure to ensure your child does not suffer from this debilitating psychological illness, which is silently rising in numbers every year, leading to the proliferation of society's ills.

What is this simple method of prevention?! A pill? anti-oxidants?!

Nope. It's even easier than that. The magic secret is:

NOT raising your kids to be selfish, spoiled, conceited brats, so that they turn into selfish, spoiled, conceited douchebags when they grow up.This sounds a lot like common sense, but sadly this kind of sense is the sense that is no longer common.

I just finished reading the book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. It thoroughly reviews the evidence against the statement that: "Yeah, sure they seem more superficial and spoiled, and all that rap music sounds horrible, but my parents thought the same about my generation. Kids will be kids." And, "You have to love yourself. You are the most important person you will ever know. People with high self esteem are the ones that succeed in this competitive world. You can never  give your kids too much."

Most people have their "generational blinders" on, and don't see any reason to be concerned with the many recent cultural changes, since "all teenagers are self absorbed," and people also thought there was some kind of narcissism epidemic in the 70's.

Or, could it be...
That this attitude of superiority, entitlement, and superficiality, started in the 50's and became increasingly worse, with the prevalence of diagnosed narcissistic personality disorders rising as well?

They authors of this book believe so. They write: "When observing cultural change- especially changes in the negative direction one runs the risk of mistaking ones aging for a true shift in culture. Change is difficult to take when you're older, and it's easy to conclude that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. We have tried to avoid this bias by finding as much hard data and considering as many perspectives as we could. Many cultural changes were eminently quantifiable: the fivefold increase in plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures in just ten years, the growth of celebrity gossip magazines, American's spending more than they earn and racking up huge amounts of debt, the growing size of houses, the increasing popularity of giving children unique names, polling data on the importance of being rich and famous, and the growing number of people who cheat."

A recent study also reported that College students today have less empathy and sympathy than others than students a decade ago.

Narcissists are primarily concerned with being special. To be special in this world, you are expected to be beautiful (there's no longer an excuse to be ugly, when you can buy beautiful!), rich (because everybody knows that $= stuff, friends, and happiness), famous (it doesn't matter what for, just as long as there are a lot of people that talk about you and look at you), charismatic and exciting (it's okay if you lie, as long as you look cool doing it!), and successful (you have to be THE BEST at SOMETHING... even if that something is selling crack).

(Yes. Paris Hilton is wearing a shirt of herself.)

Then you are automatically an awesome person, and you deserve to think highly of yourself. Why waste your time with knowledge, meaningful relationships, self actualization, spirituality, meditation, community involvement, social justice, environmental awareness, compassion, and understanding- when you can just buy a nosejob, make money on the stock market, get 5 million views for a stunt you recorded for youtube, purchase books that teach you how to successfully lie and manipulate people, order a Russian bride, and sell crack in your spare time?

The problem with all those so called "meaningful" activities, is that they take time, and effort, and many people strive all their lives without coming close to accomplishing them. But ordering plastic surgery and wives off the internet is easy, and guaranteed.

But, as the book explains- Narcissists really aren't better than other people. They just think, and act, as if they are. Besides having a delusional and distorted view of reality, this leads to destructive relationships, impulsive habits, consumerism, debt, drinking and drug problems, aggression, lack of empathy and compassion, and inevitably- the spread of the disease to the offspring of the "perfect parent".

Then why is it that parents are not concerned with the fact that their child is turning into a narcissist, but seem to be devastated when they learn their child has Asperger's Syndrome?

Because- narcissistic people are popular, and "cool". But people with Asperger's Syndrome, no matter how much knowledge and moral integrity they may have, are (usually) not cool. (Unless they have genius mind superpowers, and then they can be cool because they are "eccentric" and misunderstood)

Most parents would dream of being able to gush: "My darling Susie is the regional winner in her gymnastics team, and she just got accepted to an exclusive opera academy!" (But they probably won't mention the fact that darling Susie spit on the losers, and that she constantly asks to have breast implants when she turns 18, and refuses to walk her dog.)

But parents do not (usually) boast about their autistic kids accomplishments, such as "My Sara has the most extensive collection of antique garlic presses in the state!" or, "My Jimmy just spend the entire weekend recreating New York city with toothpicks!"

It is more socially acceptable, and admirable, to be an asshole narcissist, than it is to be a kind socially awkward autistic person. (Not that autistic people can't be assholes. Of course they can.) Because while they may be educated, moral, and humble, and hardworking- their lack of social skills means they probably won't be a popular, over-achieving, image of a "perfect" child.

Parents also like to believe they "made" their child, so they can live through their accomplishments vicariously. But parents can't easily change or influence autistic behaviours, which I think scares the hell out of them.
Their child is a "stranger" in the family, in their own world. They feel a loss of control over their ability to shape their child's personality and future.Some parents are relieved, and even welcome a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, but it seems that many more are shocked, disappointed, and heartbroken, and are keen to begin therapy immediately to "fix" their defective child, so that they can be more "normal".

A good parent is suppose to tell the child that he/she is special and different, can achieve anything, and provide the child with lots of presents, dance lessons, soccer lessons, and designer clothes, so that the child fully understands how special and loved they are, so their self esteem remains high leading to high achievement in their careers, and very proud parents.
Unless of course your child actually is "special" and "different", in which case they constantly remind the child that they are normal.

Many people also consider the behaviour associated with Asperger's Syndrome to resemble the arrogance that comes with being a Narcissist, and may confuse the two. Autistic people may appear rude, disrespectful, and self absorbed. But usually this is due to communication problems, mind blindness, and an inability to understand social gestures.

The BIG difference between Autistic asshole behaviour, and Narcissistic asshole behaviour, is that-

Autistic people often can't help it, probably don't mean to be an asshole, and may even regret their behaviour. This is because they have a neurological difference in brain wiring. Narcissists know exactly what they are doing, are socially manipulative, but just don't give a shit about the people they hurt, or the consequences of their behaviour. This is because their parents told them they were special, and they could have whatever they want, even if it means screwing over other people. But it's not called being a "jerk"- it's called being "competitive" in a dog eat dog world.

Another main feature of Narcissism is being self absorbed to the point of believing "it's my way, or the highway." Or, "You are either with us, or against us!"

So pretty much "Western Culture" itself can be described as being a giant obese arrogant asshole. Our culture is so much of an asshole, that we pretty much believe that WE AREN'T EVEN A CULTURE. Just like a narcissist believes he is special, and better than other people, without actually having objective proof.

As if our habits, social structures, economy, and art, is the default template for the whole of humanity, and the most desired version of humanity. This, is REALITY over here. Anything not like us, is a deviation from the norm. This is just the way things are. And obviously, since we're so great, it's the best way of doing things, so there's no reason to even contemplate alternatives.

(I also recently read this interesting review of using western college students to construct "universal human behaviour" studies, at the neuroanthropology blog. They write: "I’m not sure I’m persuaded by it, but maybe slavish obedience to peer pressure, high levels of inebriation and pizza consumption, cluttered living spaces, transitory sexual relationships, intermittent high-stress all-nighters punctuating months-long periods of sloth-like inactivity except for feeding, drinking and playing video games – maybe this is in fact what humans choose to do when divested of all responsibility for themselves with virtually no immediate pressures except for self-created social ones. Or maybe I’m just describing my own time in college.")

But "OVER THERE", in that hot place where people listen to bizarre music, where people wear funny sheets around their head, and actually live with their parents without being ashamed- Those people, belong to a strange "culture". And one day, when they've had some sense knocked into them, and they too are developed and free, they'll come to understand REALITY as well, and give up their silly cultural identities, and realize that music should be 3 minutes long and have a predictable rhythm of chorus and verse, T-shirts and jeans are the most comfortable and stylish modes of dressing, and when parents get old and useless they are sent off to a home, and you are only obligated to visit them on holidays.

And since we profound knowers of Reality are so intelligent and capable, our society will progressively get "better"- with better technology, better healthcare, better art, and better people. Because we're special! And you might as well look good doing it, right?

So of course, parents want asshole children, because they want them to be successful in an asshole culture. They may realize their children are becoming shallow, empty, and cruel to others, however if it "get's them places", then whats wrong with that? Except- there is something wrong with that. These behaviours have a demonstrable impact on the world. Some people may find narcissists amusing- but not when they steal $20 from your wallet, or sabotage your job interview. Narcissistic behaviour leads to a lot more problems, vs. the benefits of being full of yourself. For example when Narcissists don't get their way, they tend to enjoy hurting other people as punishment.

People with Asperger's syndrome however, mostly keep to themselves, don't participate much in social competitions, and are usually fine with the way they are, even if it means they are unpopular and have socially inappropriate hobbies. And many have a highly developed sense of morality and do not take pleasure in harming or teasing other people. But Asperger's is a scary diagnosis.

Instead of being obsessed about perfecting a "perfect child", and trying to fix their children on the autistic spectrum, parents should be more concerned about the creeping epidemic of Narcissistic personalities, and the consequences of their behaviour on others. After all- You CAN'T prevent autism. But you CAN teach your child to be kind, down to earth, curious, humble, and co-operative, and not to be an asshole to other people. Then they will learn to respect and work with others, while having high self esteem at the same time. In the end, they will be more successful, than the children who are told they are "special" and "are destined for greatness" without explaining what the qualities of what a great person should be, and how to work towards that goal.

BUT- it's hard for the parents to admit that they fucked up. It's easy to say, "my child is weird because of genetics (or vaccines)! I put him in the best programs, and he's made progress, but, you know...he's still weird. It's not my fault!" It's not as easy to say, "My child is a a superficial misogynist asshole. I guess I shouldn't have given him that $5,000 dinosaur slide, his own credit card, and designer clothing. Maybe I should have thrown in more moral lessons. Maybe I should have disciplined him when he beat up other kids. Maybe I shouldn't have told him he was special every day, and that he could one day be the president, even if I caught him cheating on his homework, and throwing rocks at squirrels." Because Narcissists, also don't like to admit to failure.

Autism apparently now affects around 1 in 100 children. But adults with characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder now number 1 in 10, and growing. Why aren't more people at least a little bit worried about that? In an asshole culture, it's getting hard to define what a narcissist even is anymore, when most people are overly concerned with social status and white teeth these days. We're almost out of superficial things to obsess over. Whats next? In the future am I going to be expected to feel ashamed of myself because I have moles?

Yes, our culture is an asshole.
But at least asshole-ness is not permanent.
Let's hope we find a "cure" before it's too late and we turn the whole world into a big pile of crap.