Friday, July 30, 2010

Resist Religio-Fascism

It is morbidly ironic that the very thing Christians fear, a world-dominating movement that forces them to hide in caves awaiting the return of Christ, is the very thing they are promoting, only with the reverse effect that everyone of dissimilar opinion are increasingly having to watch what they say for fear of being persecuted. It is not socialism, whatever Tim LaHaye may rant, that is capable of undermining individuality and the power of the citizen, but fascism, the power of the corporate/government that would make us all workers without a voice. And fascism only works with a personally disempowering religious ideology to promote it and give it the perception of moral fortitude. Enter the wellness/wealth equals god's blessing ideology of the Christian corporate empire.

Faced with a continuing corporation-led election cycle, where Conservatives and Liberals only disagree on which companies to give money to, what is left to us? What resistance are we capable of pursuing? After the second election of George Bush, I attended a local democratic group in which the theme was essentially taking back the social institutions, a point the democrats have been harping on for years now, indicating a party so devoid of new ideas that they steal from their opponents. The problem with this is that these institutions; education, the courts, the FDA, etc. exist only because society at large feels incapable of anything but acceding to their will. Rational debate has succumbed to emotionalistic posturing, where town-hall meetings are not calm or even visceral expositions of well-thought positions, but bullet-point thinking, a group of cliff-note toting simpletons rather than radical philosophers. When force and power are looked upon as the means to gain access to the minds of society, the seeds of destruction are sowed and watered.

The growing influence of corporations and the religio-conservative mentality (hello Tea Party), the power of the individual is inexorably being belittled. Recently, after the Supreme Court declared corporations, created entities whose sole existence is because of legal paperwork, were somehow the equal of private citizens in the role of democratic participation, Democrats and even some conservatives rushed to decry the decision. However, none pointed out the issue that unfettered capitalism was to blame, that a goal of corporations, tied up in the very definition, is to create a homogenized society, where individuality is removed for the purpose of stamping specific "buy this" memes. Frankly, with the amount of money being spent on politicians, this realization has long since become impossible.

How is resistance possible? Only with the daily, continual exposition of our empathy to the pain of each individual, expressing with obstinate rational passion that in every sloppy picture created by a child taped to a fridge there is more beauty than any theological tome and in the smallest act of kindness there exists the notion that we are all brothers and sisters in humanity. We can give the world a view without hate, without demagoguery, without self-mortification, but only by resisting the influences that would make us forget ourselves.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Psychopathy as Discernible Mental Paradigm


 

First, let me clarify that I don't believe mental illness to be a disease in the same sense that chicken pox, the flu or rabies. It is not something that is "caught" by coming into contact with bodily fluids or swapping needles. As such, any discussion of the mental illness must keep in mind that we are not talking about viral organisms that possess their own genetic code discernible via microscope and broken down to it's protein code-able parts. What is possible is classifying behavioral clusters that are etiologically similar. This is the primary purpose of the DSM-IV TR, a classification book using a multi-axial system to codify human behavior. The question is then whether psychopathy is etiologically similar enough to come up with a stable and testable set of behaviors.


 

The easiest way of discerning whether psychopathy is codable is by comparing it with the closest diagnosable label in the DSM-IV TR, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). That disorder is characterized by "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years" indicated by at least three criteria, for example "failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors," "impulsivity or failure to plan ahead," and "consistent irresponsibility" (APA, 2000, p. 291). The important part here to look at is that the disorder is about certain behavioral tendencies, it does not go into specific examples and, most tellingly, does not note emotional components (a seriously problematic lack in the DSM-IV TR as a whole).


 

Psychopathy, as defined by Hare, includes many of the characteristics of ASPD, but adds in "lack of empathy, guilt or remorse" (Hare, 1996). This lack of empathy, most likely classified as affective empathy rather than cognitive empathy (Bartol & Bartol, 2010), can serve as a benefit for the acquisition of resources. As David Livingstone Smith notes, "To flourish, living things must be able to make good use of the resources around them, and these resources include other organisms. If a creature cannot get what it wants from others by exercising force, it must do so by using guile" (Smith, 2004, p. 30). Whatever may be said about the ethics of the psychopath and there is plenty, the fact remains that the emotional abilities that most of the population take for granted are lacking in the psychopath and that makes them quite capable of performing actions the majority of people would find reprehensible, but these actions serve the purpose of acquiring perceived desires.


 

Blair et al. indicate a classification of aggression, using research done by Berkowitz, into categories of reactive and instrumental. Reactive aggression, aggressive acts are triggered by frustrating or threatening events and frequently involve anger whereas instrumental aggression is purposeful and goal-directed (Blair et al., 2005). Citing other research Blair et al. note that studies show higher levels of instrumental aggression are associated with later delinquency and recidivism, but the relationship is negative in relation with reactive aggression. Not only is psychopathy associated with greater recidivism (Hare, 1996), but also stimulus seeking (Bartol & Bartol, 2010). The excessiveness and type of goal-directed behavior indicates a deficit in emotional learning that can be discernibly tested via the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) created by Hare.


 

Thus, while psychopathy may not fit currently within the DSM-IV TR, the PCL-R demonstrates the ability to both identify specific isolated characteristics and predict future recidivism associated with the testable hypothesis of psychopathy. This ability to discern etiologically significant behavioral/emotional patterns makes psychopathy codable and therefore capable of labeling.


 

Resources:


 

Bartol, Curt R. & Bartol, Anne M. (2010). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


 

Blair, James; Mitchell, Derek; Blair, Karina. (2005). The psychopath: Emotion and the brain. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.


 

Smith, David Livingstone. (2004). Why we lie: The evolutionary roots of deception and the unconscious mind. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Burqa: Shield to Progress, Barrier to Equality

Recently the French lower parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a bill outlawing burqa-style head coverings. For those unaware of what they are, it is a piece of fabric intended to cover both head and face, draping past the shoulders so as to leave only the eyes and them barely, uncovered. It's a practice not done by the majority of Muslim women, even in countries other than France. The purpose of the veil under Islamic law is to facilitate the continued purity of the woman by covering to the point of shapelessness the parts most associated with male lust (to no surprise of any male, this amounts to everything).

Tacitly assumed in the Koran's moral exactitude, is both the notion that men, principally Muslim men (infidels are beasts so it goes without saying that they're easily incited to the sin of lust), are so incapable of ethical control that the mere glimpsing of a woman's figure will inevitably result in sin. Second, that the female body is a principal contributer, by virtue of it's very nature, to deplorable acts.

The first assumption is so ridiculously backwards, it immediately brings to mind the historical creation of tablecloths to cover the "legs" in order to avoid lustful thinking. While this indicates stupidity to be universal, it also points out that bad ideas have a safe haven in the annals of religious dogma. I am not so absurdly progressive to say that men are fully capable of thought-control, evolution and cognitive science, let alone personal experience, destroy that fantasy. However, if a society is to grow in any way towards a future of behavior benefiting all, assuming the inevitable rape and pillaging by the male gender will only result in a continued perception that evil is ubiquitous rather than created. But then again, this is Islam we're talking about.

The second assumption is the principle reason why France, following Belgium, should inspire the rest of the world to create similar bans. From the persecution of "witches" by the Catholic church in the Middle Ages, to the social more that a woman's place is in the home, the feminine has been purged, beaten and vilified down through history. That there are some women who "chose" to wear the veil (a statement that only shows the absurdity of the term "choice") only indicates the ability of the oppressed to take on the beliefs of the oppressors in some closet intellectual hope that this will be a form of freedom. The result, however, indicates the farcical nature of liberal cultural relativism. Ideas are not commodities with clear-cut barriers, but tempests that can destroy as they usurp the mental landscape from such notions as personal integrity and innate worth.

Supporting the ban does not necessarily mean supporting equal rights, but it certainly means standing against an ideological facet dedicated to those rights's continued absence.