It finally happened. The wonderful Dr. Seuss books have been cited for racism. One of his cartoons showed a Chinaman eating rice with chopsticks. As a Jew, I would not be offended by a cartoon of a Jew eating matzoh. This is what we do. It is an accurate stereotype. Though not all Jews eat matzoh nor do all Chinese use chopsticks, many or most do. Microaggression is when another assumes something about someone else (e.g., he likes matzoh or uses chopsticks) that the other does not agree with (e.g., I don’t like matzoh). Maybe people should not be “cancelled” due to having committed microaggressions. The ‘micro’ is the issue. Give the guy a break.
The other day I wrote a blog about old sci-fi movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. Since then I have been blasted with ads for videos, toys, recordings, etc. related to the movie. Certainly, marketers are watching me and everyone else. It causes us to think about things longer than we wished to. Others with their own motives want us to keep thinking of a past thing so that they can predict and control our buying habits in the immediate future. I wonder how this affects the creativity of the society. It reminds me of the fact that machines beat humans every time now at chess. The competition is between the programmers of the game software. So, can you make your own decisions or are they being gamed by professionals who rarely lose? The only way to know is to cut off from internet influence. (You may need to drink more than usual).
My sister just went to get hearing aids. She could get two of the best ones that the technician said, “filter out noise better”. The next level of quality was “it works okay”. She could have good enough ($1400), or First Class ($2100) hearing with two new hearing aids.
The inclusion of services that make something first rather than second or third class allows the higher class person to feel good about him or herself. They are ‘above the fray’. Life can be a quality experience if one can pay. At least I can strive to get into first class. Get education, a better job, and so on. If there is some class mobility things are sort of okay. Without it, however, frustrations with class limitations grow. We will see what happens over the next years perhaps in America and the rest of the world.
In the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, remade 2008), visiting spaceman Klaatu and Gort, his robot, had made the earth stand still by turning off all electricity for 30 minutes, to warn mankind that if it did not submit to atomic disarmament, Gort would destroy the earth. But Klaatu thought it best to give earth some time before he destroyed it.
After Klaatu had been shot and injured he had his girlfriend, Patricia Neal, say to Gort “Klaatu Barada Nicktu”. Presumably this was an instruction to the robot to come and help Klaatu. In any case, Gort did not destroy the earth. He and Klaatu would give its inhabitants some time to get things together after having stopped everything for a few minutes. Is this where we are with Covid, global warming, polarized politics, and extreme lunatics like QAnon? Everything had seemed to stop when the capital was breached on Jan 6. It had all been so eerie quiet with covid lock downs. But now the Trump lunatic fringe had played their last card (for a while at least). Energy use including electricity declined. Hey! The Earth Stood, more or less, Still.
Trumpf built his entire administration upon demanding unctuous loyalty from his allies and now finds himself wounded by what he sees as their shabby betrayal of him. He is entirely without integrity, using one standard for assessing the self and another for judging others depending on egoistic motives. This sort of switch can occur more or less consciously. When mental habits are very strong little conscious effort is needed to have them be executed. Hence, they playout more or less automatically.
Should the duplicity become apparent to the self one can use rationalization to feel better (i.e. cognitive dissonance reduction operations). These include: Coming to believe more strongly than ever that one’s positions are right, and denigrating the others as themselves being without integrity. When the treasonous person really starts to lose it they can have psychotic delusions of grandeur that go beyond the distortions of dissonance reduction. Psychosis is the Big Leagues of psychological defense. (By the way when Trump was thought to say ‘Bigly’ he was saying ‘Big League’ in New Yawkese. Few if any seem to have noted this).
In any case, leaders set examples of ‘how to think’ for followers. Currently a bit less than half your neighbors think like Trumpf. The horror of this is illustrated by seeing the ten commandments through the eyes of Trump-like thinking:
The Ten Commandments as seen by a Trump personality
- I am the Lord your God (“I am a stable genius.” )
- You shall have no other gods before me (“I will be very angry at Mike Pence if he doesn’t listen to me.”)
- You shall not take my name in vain (Say whatever comes to mind. Be wild and impulsive.)
- Observe the Sabbath (“Kosher, Shmosher. Let’s play golf!”)
- Honor your father and mother (If they have given you millions of dollars.)
- You shall not kill (Have your followers do it for you.)
- You shall not steal (Stealing assures always winning)
- You shall not commit adultery (Why not?)
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (“To hell with fake news. They always lie about me. It’s a witch hunt”.)
- You shall not be envious of what your neighbor has (“Envy and greed are good…the Dow has hit records during my reign!!”)
The January 6th invasion of the congress is being described in grave tones as: ‘The most dastardly day in US history’;’ Our country’s worst hour’; ‘The greatest threat to democracy’, and so on. The deaths and the scenes of yahoos defiling the nation’s sacred space were nauseating. But at some level it was just another day in Reality TV America.
January 6th wasn’t the French, Russian, nor American Revolution. In those real government overthrow attempts, the actors actually had some values they were interested in risking their lives for. Did Trumpf put his life at risk? No he didn’t. He ‘fought’ like a TV wrestler fights. Trumpf wasn’t even there in the front lines with his admirers but back in the White House watching things on TV. The Congress Riot Actors wore wild costumes like the TV wrestlers do. The whole thing was another meaningless act in the last 40 years of The American Howdy Doody Show . It will likely inspire hope that things will change. But will they?
Ventriloquist’s dummies’ appear to have meaningful conversations if the audience imagines the dummy is real. Anyone who has taken Trumpf seriously, who thinks him real, is the dummy. Do you take him seriously? Seriously? Yes? YOUR’E FIRED!!! I think a Trumpf mob member’s greatest wish is to not be fired. To not lose their seat in The Ivanka Peanut Gallery (recently remodeled for 7 Billion Fake Trumpf Peanut Dollars ). They would be so alone then. So sad. Not merely not great again but having never been great even once.
The only beliefs or values at issue in the Trumpf Show have to do with stage craft. The art of making others ‘suspend disbelief’ and getting good ratings. Trumpf’s stage craft is limited to getting unsophisticated fans of TV wrestling and 80% of the people living in Red States to believe patently false absurdities. It has been TV wrestling and The Three Stooges since day one with Trumpf. Reverse Birther Theory even proves that Trumpf is the formerly unknown Fifth Stooge—Donald Fine Trumpf.
Self Help books
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was published in 1936. It is still one of the better-selling books in the world. Carnegie was somewhat sophisticated about human psychology. He had read the work of Sigmund Freud, who died in 1939. Freud’s ideas about how the mind operates consciously and unconsciously are called psychoanalysis or depth psychology.
I read Carnegie’s book long ago, but I am pretty sure it suggests that influence over others can be promoted by using their names a lot, being friendly, and dressing nicely. Wearing a hat may have also been suggested. These recommendations were not psychoanalytic depth psychology. But they were plausible enough and people bought the book.
Since How to Win Friends, thousands or millions of books have been written that help readers become more popular, happy, rich, thin, spiritual, and so on. These are called self-help books. Self Help books are ‘how to’ books or instruction manuals. They promise to increase readers’ success in achieving social goals like popularity and wealth. This is somewhat different than manuals that help you fix a car, for example. In self-help instruction manuals, you are the car.
This book may be of some practical help to readers. It is based very loosely on a formal neuroscience theory (Bernstein 2011, 2014, 2015). The theory, experiences I’ve had doing biology and psychology, plus some limited knowledge of Yiddish have contributed to what I say here.
The book describes four states of mind that we all experience. When a state of mind becomes very habitual or chronic, it defines who you are. It is your personality. I call these mind states or personalities: shmo, schmuck, schadenfreudist, and sophisticate.
A personality is made up of all of one’s strong habits of thinking and acting. We have thousands or tens of thousands of habits that are in mutually controlling relationships. If some of your habits persist long after childhood, such as being afraid of strangers, you probably have what is called a personality disorder.
In any case, our personal mental habits influence the nature of the decisions we make. The primary function of the mind, which sits in the brain, is to make decisions. Most generally we can only make three kinds of decisions in response to objects in the world and in our minds: avoid, approach, or freeze.
You can move your legs and approach another person on the street. Or, you can run the other way when you see them. And freezing or ‘playing dead’, has some advantages. Physical approach involves moving your muscles. Mental approach involves moving your mind’s eye to attend to or avoid specific contents of mind (e.g. thoughts, feelings, intentions). Moving the mind’s eye is neurologically very much like moving the muscles that control the eyeballs next to you nose.
Decisions controlling your organs are made mostly automatically, unconsciously in the brainstem. The neocortex, which sits on the top of brain, is where conscious awareness works to form intentions and control overt behavior and private thoughts.
Unlike other organs that have very few conscious inputs, the lungs are controlled 50% by nerves emanating from the neocortex. Breath control is so important in yoga inasmuch as the lungs represent equally unconsous and conscious processes—the borderline between psyche and soma.
Deciding explicitly or unconsciously to avoid thinking about an upcoming colonoscopy is somewhat like avoiding looking at parts of the body associated with the feared procedure. That is, the derriere. Conflicting thought and conflicting real things can cause confusion and nervousness. Being nervous can degrade a person’s ability to think and make good decisions.
I am assuming here that a person in a mental state of sophistication can make better decisions than others. If sophisticates make better decisions than do shmos, schmucks, and schadenfreudists, they should be more successful at work and love than others. This book offers some suggestions about to become more sophisticated. These might lead somehow to you becoming more successful in life. Or not.
When one has lost a cherished relationship they tend to seek a new one. But the new must have elements of the old. All Intimate relations involve satisfaction of needs for the warmth and comfort experienced in childhood. That is, satisfaction of basic, old needs are are a key aspect of all close relations. While the person who can satisfy those needs may be a new person, they still have to met the old, unchanging needs. All of our intimate relations serve the same function regardless of who the other person is.
A barrier to forming new bonds after old ones are severed is feeling of regret and perhaps guilt about the ending of the old connection. This means we may find it hard to be open to a new relationship. So, our basic unchanging needs will go unsatisfied for a long time. Depression, loneliness and despair will occur. How can one overcome this? Somehow we have to honor our needs. Realise that they are universal requirements for life. Denial of our needs is a denial of life. Knowing this can put one in touch with life outside the 3-D. One needs to connect to the ‘spiritual’ side of things. This is a basic need too.
I wrote a book called ‘Sophistication’. It actually was the runner up in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Co-Op competition. It was imagined to be a ‘self-help’ book. It is perhaps of some help to people wanting to make good, sophisticated decisions in life. But the book is not a typical self-help book. It makes some fun of such books. For instance these books almost always have some list of rules you need to follow in order to achieve success, popularity, spirituality, and so on. I satirize this kind of thing in ‘Sophistication’. It is so facile. In any case, the book that won the self-help category was called “49 Rules for Overcoming Heroin Addiction”. Somehow the judges were unable to get the joke. The winner did exactly what I was lampooning in my book. In contrast I have a list of 6 clever rules to achieve sophistication:
- Never believe that anything is caused by merely one thing.
- Never say thank you after someone thanks you.
- Never try to be normal,
- Never try to be abnormal.
- Don’t do what doesn’t work.
- Do what you want to do.
Now, this list might give you a sense of what the book ‘Sophistication’ is like. When I tried to enter another book contest I was told my book fit into no known category of books and, hence, I was excluded from the contest. When I said, “Isn’t a unique, one of kind book a great thing?. I was told it would not be fair to the other contestants. This the world we live in now.
Buy the book. You’ll love it
I wrote two days ago about two different ways people use to comfort themselves. One is getting comfort from themselves or other people. The other is asking god for help. The latter method involves appealing not to a human being but to a giant force that is thought to have created the entire world and should thereby be able to solve any problem. When a problem seems too great to overcome by oneself or other mortals, people often turn to the universe or god to help us. Awful problems for which we seem to need divine intervention include losing a spouse, losing children, terminal disease, and so on. These things no person can undo.
Besides god proper, there are other systems of belief that people seek out when help seems unavailable in the 3-D world. These include astrology, tarot cards, fortune tellers, and other so called ‘mystical’ or ‘occult’ methods. These sorts of comfort systems involve an appeal to the mysterious forces of the universe, as do appeals to god. Belief in the occultism is often called ‘spiritual’. Many people today say, “I am spiritual, not religious”. So there is an assumption that belief in god, which is central to all religions, is not the same as belief in, for example, astrology. But both sorts of things involve some belief in the power of invisible forces.
Tarot card readings can no doubt help one feel better when there are no obvious solutions to their problems. Most of the tarot and astrology experts on the internet make predictions and give advice that are comforting. Of course, this increases business. No one wants to hear from a psychic or anyone else that the future looks gloomy. Practitioners of spiritual practices explain this bias by imaging that ,in the end, spirits will make everything okay. This assumption is not too different from that made by religions. But religious faith usually includes the idea that if one’s behavior has been sinful, it may take some special effort to get god to help you out. You might go to hell perhaps. In some contrast, spiritualism has less rules. Everything will be okay eventually, regardless of how much of a miscreant one has been.
Some say, “Everything happens for a reason” Now that doesn’t seem especially profound. Of course everything happens for a reason if you believe in causality. What happens today is caused by something that happened previously. But religious and spiritual traditions suspend the usual rules of causality prefered by science. Scientists would think that if a giant rock rolls over you, it is likely you’ll never get up again. But religious or occultist might imagine that the rock fell on you due to your ‘karma’ or ‘god’s will’. These things plays out in the long run. Bad and good karma , and good and sinful behavior will influence what happens in the long run.But as the economist John Maynard Keynes said, “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.” And that kind of sums this all up. Death seems inevitable unless one imagines that one’s soul never dies. This is, more or less, what both religionist and spiritualists think. Isn’t it?