Solitary Confinement And The Naked Ape

A few weeks ago I came across this post on io9 which went into some detail about the practice of solitary confinement and claimed it is the worst kind of psychological torture. I agree with most of the things in the post; however, the details w/r/t the why I felt was lacking. Why does it affect human beings as much as it does, as compared to other forms of punishment or torture? It reminded me of a book I’d read a decade or so ago, an influential but easy to read book called The Naked Ape by Zoologist Dr. Desmond Morris. In it, he introduces several ideas and concepts, some widely accepted by the scientific community, others not so much, and yet others that have strong support and opposition. Also, in the book Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne, is introduced the concept of ‘strokes’ in transactional analysis (a theory of the psychological health of individuals and their behaviors and attitudes towards others and self). I posted the heretofore mentioned link to Facebook, with a little commentary, which–unedited: I wrote it at 0130h., so excuse any grammatical faults–commentary can be read below:

Why solitary confinement works is easy to see. If one observes primates, our closest simian ancestors like the apes, one finds them indulging often in an activity that involves ‘stroking’ the fur of the other to remove lice etc. What scientists noticed (and I’m pulling all this from memory now) is that the activity continued even when the simian’s fur was clean, and there were distinct hierarchies to who got their fur picked the most and who did the most picking. Now extrapolate the ‘stroke’ to humans. Our stroking involves speech as well as physical touch. Because we lack body hair, and because it’d be quite awkward to mount someone’s back and try to pick their hair for lice (although this is something I’ve personally observed), we have resorted to speech and elaborate forms of touch to get our dosage of strokes. Making it slightly complex, on a gaussian distribution, there are people like film stars who fall on the long tail of such a distribution, requiring hundreds of strokes a day to keep their spines healthy (literally, if you don’t get your requisite daily strokes, your spine will shrivel up – Berne), and other psychopathic individuals also part of the long tail (although some may argue that film stars and people who actively seek the limelight are themselves psychopathic) require few to no strokes a day and still survive and thrive. For most of the population who fall in the middle of the distribution, or on the bell curve, they require a minimum of strokes a day to be kept healthy. Take strokes completely away, and all sorts of negative effects begin to manifest in the individual, including a higher rate of contraction of diseases, depression, increased rate of suicide, etc.

I think interactions on social sites count towards daily strokes, and the issue of social networks making people less inclined to go out and actually meet people probably boils down to the fact that if I can get my 10 strokes a day from having 10 people like/comment on my status, my quota is done, my system feels the kick, and now I don’t need to actually see people, because that’d be like overkill.

Just my thoughts.

“Respect your elders.” Why, exactly?

This can be considered an addendum or aside or a long postscript to my last post in which I talked (OK, ranted) about getting into trouble with authority figures. Much of that authority, I have seen, comes from people ‘pulling age’ on others: “I’m older than you, and I know better and am wiser and have more experience, etc., and so therefore I can and must tell you how you should shit.” This is not a logically rigorous argument.

I interviewed the other day in what was probably the most subjective interview I’ve ever had in my life. In about fifteen minutes of vague questions to which equally vague answers were provided, because vague questions cannot demand specific answers, the interviewer had determined with near-absolute certainty and conviction that my job of three years as a strategist for a digital media organization wasn’t as much about strategy as it was about servicing, and offered to check in that department, the servicing department, if they had openings and would I be interested in that role?

No.

So no objective test or other unambiguous methodology was used in the conclusion proffered. What got my goat, and is the subject of this post, is the fact that she went on to validate or rationalize her entirely–faulty–subjective impression by referring to her many years of experience in the field and what she is looking for and how I do not fit that particular bill. The offer of an alternate position I wouldn’t take was a poorly offered palliative. Basically what I’m trying to say is, a person’s competence can not be judged subjectively, and the current process of interviewing by the so-called quote-unquote informed opinions of one person means a lot of talent gets passed on for mediocre, but possibly more personable characters, which, great first impressions and suchlike, holds sway in interviews, as has been demonstrated by psychologists often enough to now consider like epistemological fact.

The other issue is the, also, psychological cognitive biases we are entrapped by. But they seem to get worse as we grow older, than better. Age seems to give people the warrant to be firmer and ofttimes absolute about their opinions, antonymic facts be damned. Scientists tell us that we–our minds–actively look for information that support our biases and scorn that which don’t. Which means we must be extra careful of our conclusions about everything: about the political parties we support,–I prefer to hold off judgment until positive outcomes are effected (and each outcome judged on its own merit, not a blanket “support everything this party says” ideology)–the kind of people we choose to associate–or not–with, even how we make choices about our future should be subjected to careful thinking, lest we fall into the trap of reverting to our intuition or “gut” to decide on what’s right or wrong, what’s best and what’s not. Worse, still, is foisting these views on younger people sometimes incapable of deciding what’s right, who defer to the older person’s viewpoint out of ‘respect’ for their age, or are just scared to be kicked out of their home or otherwise harshly reprimanded for ‘going against.’

Respect is also a two-way street. The opinions of someone younger are as important as those of one older. A person less knowledgeable is inviting you to lessen his ignorance, giving you the enormous responsibility of giving them the right guidance. To expect respect without giving any back is a rubbish and arrogant worldview.

Older people should consider the responsibility placed upon them: of being honest to themselves, in order to be honest to younger folks who depend on their guidance; of acknowledging the limits of their minds, so that they can better instruct their wards in the right ways of critical thinking; to be certain only within epistemic bounds, and to revise opinions when better information is available; these are traits that should be striven for and consequently handed over to the young ones. That is your heritage, is what you should leave behind. The alternative is, in today’s age of near-instant information access, your ill-informed opinions will be seen for what they are, and you will lose respect in the eyes of anyone but the most ignorant.

Troubles With Authority Figures

I was having a random conversation with a friend and we spoke about general childhood stuff and having to deal with elders treating us like kids (because we were kids, but what kid wants to acknowledge that?), which ended up with me thinking back to all the authority figures in my life and realizing that, with few exceptions, I’ve been beaten by mostly everyone, for indiscipline, talking back to elders, or whatever else elders beat kids for. I listed out my parents, grandparents, uncles, teachers, principals, fathers and brothers (the blessed sort), boarding supervisors; pretty much anyone entrusted with my charge acknowledged that I was a snotty, disobedient, a too-smart-for-my-own-good brat, and therefore any degree of punishment wasn’t too much or too far. Still, I hold no grudges against them; I’d knock me about if I were charged with a snot like me.

These are the downsides of precociousness. Intellectual superiority (I used to believe that) to these people made me a) question their authority, and b) their consequent verbal and slash or physical assertion of that authority without any explanation or grounds or validity for being an authority figure vested with the sweeping, constitutionally (I think) illegal powers of child verbal/physical abuse. Like, let’s face it, I clearly know more than you, better than you, and I’m only expressing that fact. Your advanced age or your nominal figurehead status means nothing to me, except an annoyance maybe at your lack of comprehension of your own stupidity and pigheadedness for not acknowledging the power of my brain, one that’d figuratively run rings around your own before you’d even get off the ground (excuse the mixing of metaphors).

So, kids, take heart if you think you’re smarter than your elders; you most probably are. Age doesn’t bring wisdom or experience; that’s a myth propagated by elders to subjugate you, whack you with a fine-tuned bamboo. I say that because I’m now an “elder” and I and everyone I know has no idea what the hell we’re doing. Yes, we’re very much bullshitting as we go along.

A 100-word Story: Monster

Her eyes focused on her bloodied hands. She looked down with horror in her eyes at the knife on the floor beside them. She took a few hesitant steps towards her son, who stumbled away. Her mouth whispered “Son…” before being cut off abruptly by a thudding sound. Johnny looked down at the folded figure of his mother and her sightless eyes and wondered if he’d finally finished her this time. The monster would never hurt them again, he thought, as he crept into bed and went to sleep beside his sister, whose mouth was open in a soundless scream.

Butterfly

She crawled back into her cocoon,
wanting to forget her wish to be a butterfly,
to join her kind, flitting about without care, or pretense,
but the pain of escape had born heavy on her young wings,
she withered, her wings shriveled for lack of flight,
the cocoon, in which she found comfort,
became her near-deadly embrace.
Her countenance melancholy, she watched
as her brothers and sisters streaked about her,
flashes in the sunlight,
their wings burdened with the same pain,
but bringing joy to others who watched,
not fixated on their own short lives,
only focused on giving
of themselves.

 

For they had realized what their depressed sister hadn’t;
life is lived in this infinitesimal moment,
every pain and every pleasure,
met with equanimity,
knowing right now is gone,
replaced by another now,
never-ending, the process.
The universe brings them into
and takes them out of existence,
always replaced, never erased,
sometimes understanding
the law of the universe: nothing destroyed,
everything crashing into everything,
and everything only as it should be.

 

They live short lives, compared to us,
and we live short lives compared to the universe;
yet we imagine our sorrows to be greater,
imagine our long existence doomed to pain and suffering,
not realizing our existence is
as unnecessary as a candle
gazing at the sun.

Quit Already

Why does political office seem to have no retirement age? Some of those old farts shouldn’t be running anything more complicated than a walking stick. No offense to old people in politics, but Jesus, just quit when the people whose lives you’re deciding upon are like two generations removed from yours. I’d gladly pay more taxes to fund their pensions if we can get them to stop running this country.

2013 in review

Seeing as how this post  is going up in Feb 2014, it will be clear to you that 2013 was not the year I successfully overcame my procrastination habit. It was a really good year, though, overall. I set some ambitious goals for myself, which in hindsight make me seem pretty vella, since I actually found the time to do them while holding down a regular day job at an ad agency, but it’s mostly just plodding along daily, doing a little at a time until mountains are made out of molehills; and am glad I’ve achieved most of them. Some of the highlights below:

  • I finished two courses online, on Coursera, and received certificates with grades: Fantasy & Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (66.7% grade) and Introduction to philosophy (57.5% grade).
  • 154 books read, though some were short stories and comics, so it’s not that big a deal. 23,066 total pages, Goodreads informs me.
  • Wrote a 44,000-word novel, which is still in the first draft, and should’ve actually moved into draft two or three, but I’ve been too lazy and procrastinatory to do that. Soon. Also entered a 5000-word snippet of the novel to a competition hosted by DNA and Hachette. No reply from there, so I’m not hopeful.
  • Entered three short story competitions, with three different and stories. Won one, and the anthology by 21 authors including me will be published in March this year by Notion Press.
  • Quit smoking: everything. I think for good this time.
  • Began learning Spanish and Python programming. Status: incomplete.

Thank you for reading!