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    Entries in psychology (25)

    Friday
    Feb282014

    The Long View: Spymaster The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

    Another old review, written when John was reviews editor of Culture Wars magazine. John decided to part ways with Culture Wars, for reasons he explains here. A fascinating look at espionage and the Cold War, overlapping slightly with my own book review on American Spies.

    Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police
    by Leslie Colitt
    Addison-Wesley Publishing Company 1995 (November)
    304 pp. (Hardcover), $23
    ISBN: 0-201-40738-8

    Even before the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was liquidated in 1990, it seemed churlish to me to make fun of it. It was obviously such a dismal country that further comment was cruel. Not everybody thought the way I did, however. A friend of mine who visited it on a business trip about 1985 found it hard to keep a straight face. Squired around East Berlin in an official East German car by an official East German official, he and the other Americans guffawed at the dinky little Trabant cars and the appalling architecture. Building facades that were not ghastly concrete slabs were likely to have unrepaired bullet holes in them from the Russian assault in 1945. The group went to a crowded restaurant for lunch, where they were entertained by the spectacle of a drill-sergeant waitress ordering a tableful of her hangdog countrymen to go sit somewhere else so the foreigners could stay together. The highpoint of the trip was the Eastern Block cherry pie that came for desert. The visitors spent many merry minutes noisily demonstrating its amazing impenetrability to eating utensils. The crowd in the restaurant seemed to be able to follow most of this conversation. Their expressions went from morose to suicidal. Surely none of this rudeness was necessary, I told my friend when he got back. When the GDR imploded, I felt no desire to gloat.

    Well, I have changed my mind. Few countries, living or dead, have so richly deserved to be razzed as West Germany's evil twin, and many of the reasons can be found in Spymaster, a brief and straightforward account of the East German foreign espionage agency, the Hauptverwaltung fuer Aufklaerung (Central Intelligence Administration, or HVA), and how it interacted with the rest of the GDR's security apparatus....

    ...

    Thursday
    Jan312013

    The Wrong Way to Advocate for Your Cause

    Yesterday on NPR I heard a story about a panic in a Charlottesville, VA grocery store caused when a man carried his rifle into the store. I am all for gun rights, but this was just plain foolish. Scaring people doesn't win them to your cause.

    This episode is pretty interesting, and NPR did a good job covering it. You can see the urban/rural divide in play, and also the similar but distinct difference between gun folks and everyone else. To a gun lover, a man with a gun is just a man with a gun. If you are paying attention [and you should be], you will take note of the guy but not worry unless he starts acting strange. The presence of a gun is not in and of itself alarming. For the the rest of America, he is already acting strange, and even folks who aren't particularly anti-gun will likely be afraid, because those outside the gun culture can't conceive of a reason why a normal person would want to carry a gun to the grocery store. The only reason someone would have a gun is to do wrong, so the 911 calls start.

    I don't know anything about the local politics in Charlottesville, but according to the Washington Post Ablemarle County is a blue island in the middle of a lot of red, much like my own home of Flagstaff. There are a lot of places in Flagstaff I would be reluctant to carry a gun openly, for fear of causing exactly this. On the other hand, there are places in Flagstaff I have openly carried a gun, and no one said anything. Flagstaff is an interesting mix of cowboy and urban liberal.

    Ablemarle County 2012 Presidential Results

    In twenty-first century America, I wonder whether the open carry movement really has the right idea. Some of the problem is political, but I think the greater part of it is psychological. Most people don't really have it in them to shoot someone else in self-defense. Some firearms instructors make a point of telling this to their clients who have just bought their first gun after a robbery or mugging. They have a good point. Practical self-defense training for the average person focuses on situational awareness, and techniques for running away more effectively. If you aren't prepared to actually shoot someone in self-defense, and accept the personal consequences of doing that, you shouldn't carry a gun. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has written a number of books on this subject.

    Inchoately, I think many Americans realize this, and prefer to outsource their protection to the state. However, I still think there is something to the idea of the Second Amendment. It comes down to what it means to be a citizen, and the relationship between you and the state. Gun folks usually call this the difference between a citizen and a subject. A citizen who can be trusted with a deadly weapon is seen very differently from a subject who cannot be so trusted. This is precisely why gun folks get so offended about gun control, because their fellow citizens seem to be saying they cannot be trusted, in fact that they are something less than a full human being.

    Conversely, the gun folks have a less than flattering description of their fellow citizens who do not have the personality to effectively defend themselves: sheep. It goes further than this, because much like in the movie Babe, sheep can't tell the difference between a sheepdog and a wolf. However, when a wolf does show up, the first thing the sheep want is protection provided by the sheepdog. This is exactly what happened in Charlottesville, because the response of the grocery store to a man carrying a gun in the store was to hire an armed security guard.

    I'm not sure I know how to bridge this psychological and political divide. Cultures can change, so the balance between folks who prefer to outsource violence and do-it-yourselfers can change. However, I'm not sure we really want a society where everyone is mentally prepared for death. Robert Heinlein famously said that "an armed society is a polite society", but I think not everyone who quotes this appreciates what he really meant. The reason an armed society is a polite society is a casual insult can cost you your life. This is reason behind the elaborate hospitality rituals in many Middle Eastern societies. If you want to know what an armed,  polite society looks like, you should look to Afghanistan.

    What we really need is for some Americans not to fear their fellow citizens who have a different capacity for violence, but no less virtue thereby. Conversely, some Americans need to stop frightening their fellow citizens who have different natures.

    Sunday
    Dec092012

    Boys and their toys

    Christina Hoff Summers writes in the Atlantic on boys and their toys.

    The money quote:

    The problem with Egalia and gender-neutral toy catalogs is that boys and girls, on average, do not have identical interests, propensities, or needs. Twenty years ago, Hasbro, a major American toy manufacturing company, tested a playhouse it hoped to market to both boys and girls. It soon emerged that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house. The boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro manager came up with a novel explanation: "Boys and girls are different."

    Wednesday
    Dec052012

    Sexual Economics

    Not exactly what it sounds like, sexual economics is Roy Baumeister's term for looking at relations between men and women in terms of supply and demand. I've featured Baumeister's work on this blog before, but I was unaware of this aspect of Baumeister's research until recently. Baumeister published an opinion piece that struck me as surprising at first, but resonated with my own experience of being a father.

    Sexual Economics, Culture, Men, and Modern Sexual Trends

    Across the late 20th century, ideas about sex came from two main sources. One was evolutionary theory, based on the field of biology. The other was feminist and social constructionist theory, based in the field of political science. Though important insights have come from both sources, there was a growing body of evidence that did not easily fit either of those. We therefore turned to another field to develop a new theory. The field was economics, and we labeled our theory “sexual economics” (Baumeister and Vohs 2004). At first, our theory was constructed to fit what was already known, making it an exercise in hindsight. It is therefore highly revealing to see how the theory has fared in Regnerus and Uecker’s (2011) pioneering studies of the recent, ongoing shifts in sexual behavior in American society.

    ...

    The social trends suggest the continuing influence of a stable fact, namely the strong desire of young men for sexual activity. As the environment has shifted, men have simply adjusted their behavior to find the best means to achieve this same goal. Back in 1960, it was difficult to get sex without getting married or at least engaged, and so men married early. To be sure, this required more than being willing to bend the knee, declare love, and offer a ring. To qualify as marriage material, a man had to have a job or at least a strong prospect of one (such as based on an imminent college degree). The man’s overarching goal of getting sex thus motivated him to become a respectable stakeholder contributing to society. The fact that men became useful members of society as a result of their efforts to obtain sex is not trivial, and it may contain important clues as to the basic relationship between men and culture (see Baumeister 2010). Although this may be considered an unflattering characterization, and it cannot at present be considered a proven fact, we have found no evidence to contradict the basic general principle that men will do whatever is required in order to obtain sex, and perhaps not a great deal more.

    ...

    Giving young men easy access to abundant sexual satisfaction deprives society of one of its ways to motivate them to contribute valuable achievements to the culture.

    ...

    If men don’t need career success to get sex, then what if anything do they need success for? Some research indicates that career motivation really intensifies for men when they become fathers. Indeed, it has long been known that the transition to parenthood has opposite effects by gender. New mothers withdraw from their work and careers; new fathers embrace work and career with enhanced seriousness and motivation (for a review see Baumeister 1991).

    Monday
    Jan092012

    Willpower

    The Art of Manliness has an article today on how willpower is depleted, part 2 of a 3 part series. I find this post very interesting, because it discusses training your willpower to be stronger, just like you would a muscle. Given the importance of the ability to delay gratification and work hard, this is a subject I've been very interested in of late.

    Related items:

    Decision Fatigue

    Grit

    Wednesday
    Aug312011

    The Benefits of a Failure of Grit

    In my article on Grit, I described my personal failing when I discovered that I really didn't have it in me. This was pretty difficult, but in retrospect I can see I needed to take a journey down the road of ashes. What is the road of ashes? It is the intense crisis or test that burns away everything we once thought good. Robert Bly's Iron John uses the crisis of ashes as a metaphor for initiation into manhood, that which literally separates the men from the boys.

    In King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Gilette and Moore speak of the need to transcend the immature archetypes of boyhood in order to become a man. The crisis of ashes is a critical event that enables this transformation, because we need to learn to stop relying on things that are good, yet are not good enough any longer.

    The "death" of the Hero is the "death" of boyhood, of Boy psychology. And it is the birth of manhood and Man psychology. The "death" of the Hero in the life of a boy (or a man) really means that he has finally encountered his limitations. He has met the enemy, and the enemy is himself. He has met his own dark side, his very unheroic side. He has fought the dragon and been burned by it; he has fought the revolution and drunk the bitter dregs of his own inhumanity....The "death" of the Hero signals a boy's or man's encounter with true humility. It is the end of his heroic consciousness.

    As I mentioned before, I am not proud of my behavior during my crisis of ashes. Yet for all of its unpleasantness, it is perhaps one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am different now. This is one of the reasons King, Warrior, Magician, Lover resonated with me. I had fallen by happenstance into a pattern the book describes.

    There is a sense in which we have to die to ourselves in order to be men. Baptism, one of the Christian rites of initiation, is frankly described as a kind of death. This same intuition is widely shared across human cultures.  You need to learn how to rely on providence, and the usual way for this to happen is through suffering. Having suffered, I see the sufferings and failures of others in a different light. In a very real sense, I can get inside what they feel.

    I wouldn't wish my experience on anyone, yet at the same time, we all seem to need it.

    Wednesday
    Aug172011

    King, Warrior, Magician, Lover Book Review

    by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette
    $9.95; 160 pages

    Based on a recommendation from the Art of Manliness, I bought King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine from Bookmans. I couldn't find it at my local new bookstores, but you can find it online new or used. Since I bought it used, it took me forever to find the tiny "Men's issues" section. It was only one shelf in a rather large bookstore, but I finally found it tucked underneath the sexual self-help books. It was worth the effort.

    The four archetypes show their power from the first. These are not alien ideas forced onto us. Rather, they are us, in a more pure form. The archetypes help us to see what is best in ourselves, as men. The King is the source of order, he is wise and just. The Warrior has boundless energy. He is devoted to a cause greater than himself, and fiercely loyal. The Magician is powerful and crafty, and he has the ability to detach himself from events and see more clearly. The Lover seeks beauty in all its forms, and delights in it. He can break down barriers and empathize with everyone.

    This book is valuable for anyone who wants to know what it is to be a man. It is also valuable if you are interested in understanding depictions of masculinity, both positive and negative. I can easily think of people I know, or situations I have found myself in, and immediately see the application of these archetypes of masculinity.

    Moore and Gillette are definitely children of their age: the Age of Aquarius. With that in mind, I found the chapter on the Lover the most unbalanced. This is the chapter that is the least burdened with scholarship or historical accuracy. It is also the least aware of the negative side of the archetype. The chapter on the King went into great depth on the bipolar shadow Kings, the Tyrant, and the Weakling. The chapter on the Lover talked about the Addicted Lover and the Impotent Lover, but many of the examples used for the Lover per se were really just as bad as the shadow forms. Given that the Lover is the spirit of the age, it is probably hard to attain critical distance.

    I see an interesting parallel between Moore and Gilette's four archetypes and the DiSC model created by William Marston. Each one of the four archetypes has a strong relationship to one of Marston's four mental energies. The King is similar to the Steadfast/Submissive energy. This would have been hard to see, except that the woman who taught me about DiSC mentioned that many Fortune 500 companies have CEOs with S personalities. Under the DiSC system, the Dominant type seems like the natural leader. Driven to succeed, quick to think, quick to work, charismatic. Yet, the D energy can be very harsh and unyielding. This is because it is really like the Warrior.

    I think the confusion arises from the name. When we in the Anglosphere think of a King, we think especially of the English kings, men like Richard the Lionhearted or Henry VIII, who had big ideas and big appetites, bundles of energy that got whatever they wanted. However, what we are really talking about here is no mere king, but the Emperor. The Emperor is the still center, the source of order who quells rebellion by the rumor of his imperturbability. Except in the direst of emergencies, the Emperor does not take the field of battle himself.

    The Lover is like the Influencer. Always talking, focused on relationships, a great love of life, unconcerned about details.  The Magician is the Conscientious type. Hardworking, knowledgable, focused on facts and results, quiet and reserved.

    One needn't look too far to find things that don't match either. The DiSC model attributes empathy especially to the S, while KWML attributes this to the Lover. Nonetheless, the convergence is striking. I am always interested when two separate lines of thought arrive at the same result. I look forward to reading what Brett on the Art of Manliness posts about this book in the future. This is a topic worth revisiting.

    My other book reviews

    Tuesday
    Aug162011

    Nice Guys Earn Less

    So says CNN. The Magistra sent me this today. Apparently she's trying to tell me something. I'm not really surprised at the results. The article focuses on social interactions, but I think the real effect likely comes not from being a jerk per se, but the willingness and ability to take risks, to provide critical feedback, and the ability to ignore naysayers. Being a jerk is just a side effect of the personality traits that enable these other things.

    Steve Hsu had a post that touched on this. Look at Figure 7. The one we are interested in is A, agreeableness.

    Sunday
    Jul312011

    The Four Archetypes of the Masculine

    The Art of Manliness has a series starting that is inspired by the book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine

    I am looking forward to this. Of the two great forefathers of modern psychology, I find Carl Jung more interesting than Sigmund Freud, although both are well-deserving of their fame. Two of my favorite authors, Tim Powers and John Reilly, have integrated Jungian archetypes into their work. The Jungian archtypes themselves are more interesting than modern derivations like the MBTI, which I continue to find uninteresting.

    From Masculinity Movies, here is a brief introduction to the masculine archetypes:

    The King

    The King is the source of order in the kingdom. If he is a wise and just king, the kingdom prospers, people eat well and are safe from harm. In the kingdom of the wise king, laughter rings through the lands, the crops shoot up high, joyful celebrations keep the woods awake, merchants travel with overflowing carts to lively markets. The king is the harmonizing principle, the subjugator of chaos, the uniter of opposites. He is the channel through which the gods communicate, and he channels divine blessings to his people and the lands (to whom he is «wed»). He is selfless, and puts the good of his people above his own needs. When the King grows weak, darkness threatens the borders of the kingdom, the sun disappears from the sky, and the crops wither and die. When the king dies, he knows, he is merely replaced by another in a lineage of divinely blessed kings, which humbles him Remember the saying «The King is dead, long live the King.»

    This archetype may be better known as the Fisher King, forever associated with King Arthur. Last Call by Tim Powers is a powerful embodiment of the Fisher King in modern terms, and of course the masterwork is T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. Powers based his work on Eliot's, but Last Call is far more accessible.

    The Warrior

    The warrior is a powerhouse of energy, the source of which is a transpersonal commitment. He is fiercely loyal to his warrior code – which is his honor – and to the king, who mythologically represents his purpose. The warrior is not concerned about his own comfort and security in pursuit of his goal, as his training teaches him to live with death as his constant companion. The domain of the Warrior is the battlefield – be it a battlefield of war, of spirituality, or of moral ethics. The Warrior’s purpose is often to destroy, but the mature warrior destroys only that which is negative and harmful to the world. He is a master tactician, knowing at all times his limitations, and finds creative ways around them. The warrior is not a thinker, he is a doer. Thinking is his enemy, because it inhibits his ability to act swiftly and with force. He trains himself not to think, and becomes a master of his mind, attitudes, and body. The warrior is detached from life, with an almost infinite ability to withstand psychological and physical pain in pursuit of his goal. He is a little «unhuman», always chasing the shadow of the attainment of his next big purpose, always putting emphasis on his mission as opposed to his relationships.

    In American society, the warrior is actually an easy archetype to find if you know where to look. All cultures have their military heroes, but in modern America, the military is the one government entity that actually works well.

    If you need an example, think Conan the barbarian.

    The Magician

    The Magician is the wise man, the sage, the knower of secrets. He sees and navigates the inner worlds, he understands the dynamics and energy flows of the outer. He is a master of technology, engineering, mathematics, mysticism, and logic. He reads the stars, navigates the soul, and writes the laws. In the legends, he is the King’s close advisor, who stops the regent’s anger with cool rationality before he acts rashly and channels to him knowledge from hidden sources. The Magician is the thinker, and all knowledge that requires special training is his domain. The Magician has the capacity to detach from events – the chaos of the world – and draw on essential truths and resources deep within him. He thinks clearly in times of crisis, and enables us to take a broader view of things. He governs the observing ego, and is the meditator that reveals the truth of the universe, the shaman who communicates with the ancestors and stars

    This is of course Merlin.

    The Lover

    The lover is finely attuned to the realm of the senses and worships beauty. He is a musician, an artist, and a lover of all things, both inner and outer. He is passionate, and delights in touching and being touched. He wants to always stay connected, and does not recognize boundaries. He wants to experience the world as one ongoing big orgasm of hearts uniting as One. He is the mystic who feels everything as himself, and the source of all intuition. Through his feeling capacity, he is finely attuned to people’s energy, capable of reading them like an open book. His desire for love and connectedness considered, feeling into other people and discovering dark intentions is a painful experience for him. He is opposed to all structures that maintain separateness – of all law and order that keep hearts lonely and isolated. He is, in other words, opposed to all the other archetypes. The Lover is crucial in keeping the other archetypes energized, humane, and in touch with the ultimate purpose of love. The Lover keeps them from sadism.

    This is the balancing feminine element.

    Thursday
    Jun022011

    More on Anticompetitive practices

    Last month I had some thoughts about the social utility of monopolies. A friend wrote in to remind me that market dominance and anti-competitive practices are not identical, and that US law prohibits anti-competitive practices. Just so.

    I was reading some of the work of Walter Russell Mead, and I was struck by his description of the nostalgic/oppressive golden age of the 1950s.

    In the old system, both blue collar and white collar workers hold stable jobs, a professional career civil service administers a growing state, with living standards for all social classes steadily rising while the gaps between the classes remain fairly stable, and with an increasing ‘social dividend’ being paid out in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks and so on.  Graduate from high school and you were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that gave you a comfortable lower middle class lifestyle; graduate from college and you would be better paid and equally secure.

    And just what guaranteed this?

    The blue model rested on the post-Second World War industrial and economic system.  The ‘commanding heights’ of American business were controlled by a small number of monopolistic and oligopolistic firms.  AT&T, for example, was the only serious telephone company in the whole country, and both the services it offered and the prices it could charge were tightly regulated by the government.  The Big Three car-makers had a lock on the car market; in the halcyon days of the blue model there was no foreign competition.  A handful of airlines divided up the routes and the market; airlines could not compete by offering lower prices or by opening new routes without special government permission.  Banks, utilities, insurance companies, trucking companies had their rates and, essentially, their profit levels set by federal regulators.

    The stable economic structure allowed a stable division of the pie.  Workers (much more heavily unionized then than now) got steady raises and stable jobs.  The government got a stable flow of tax revenues.  Shareholders got reasonably steady dividends.

    There were a lot of problems with the old system.  For one thing, it rested in large part on systematic discrimination against women and minorities.  For another, consumers had very little leverage.  If you didn’t like the way the phone company treated you, you were perfectly free to do without phone service.  If you didn’t like badly made Detroit gas guzzlers that fell apart in a few years, you could get a horse.

    The old system slowed innovation; AT&T had no interest in making huge investments in new and untested telecommunications technologies.  Rival companies and upstart firms were kept out of the controlled markets by explicit laws and regulations intended to stabilize the position of the leading companies in the system.

    The costs and benefits of the public utlity model that allowed these firms to dominate their markets are clear, but the bit that really struck me was in the last paragraph, the claim that AT&T slowed innovation in this period. By way of example, AT&T suppressed an early answering machine invented in the 1930s because they feared a chilling effect caused a fear of recording previously unrecordable conversations, and also a loss of business. The article cites a few other technologies that were suppressed by Bell Labs, only to be invented somewhere else. Yet for all that, I think the transistor was probably a bigger deal than the answering machine, and AT&T wasn't concerned about that one. Overall, AT&T's behavior is broadly consistent with the public utility model posed by Mead and others. AT&T shared things that helped create general prosperity, and suppressed things that AT&T executives thought would threaten AT&T's market dominance. Overall, the result worked pretty well at the time. AT&T probably didn't slow innovation overall, except in certain specific technologies.