Archive for June, 2018

Information Flooding

June 30, 2018

This is the fifth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Dr. Roberts writes, “information flooding is the least identifiable form of censorship of all the mechanisms described in this book. Particularly with the expansion of the Internet, the government can hide its identify and post online propaganda pretending to be unrelated to the government. Coordinate efforts to spread information online reverberate throughout social media because citizens are more likely to come across them and share them. Such coordinate efforts can distract from ongoing events that might be unfavorable to the government and can de-prioritize other news and perspectives.

We might expect that coordinated government propaganda efforts would be meant to persuade or cajole support from citizens on topics that criticize the government about. However, the evidence presented in this chapter indicates that governments would rather not use propaganda to draw attention to any information that could shed a negative light on their performance. Instead, governments use coordinated information to draw attention away from negative events toward more positive news for their own overarching narrative, or to create positive feelings about the government among citizens. This type of flooding is even more difficult to detect, and dilutes the information environment to decrease the proportion of information that reflects badly on the government.

Information flooding can be subtle. In other cases it can be quite glaring. On August 3, 2014 a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Yunnan province in China. The earthquake killed hundreds and injured thousands of people, destroying thousands of homes in the process, School buildings toppled and trapped children, reminiscent of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed 70,000 people. The government was heavily criticized for shoddy construction of government buildings. Emergency workers rushed to the scene to try to rescue survivors.

Eight hours after the earthquake struck, the Chinese official media began posting coordinated stories. These stories were not about the earthquake , but about controversial Internet personality Guo Meimei. Guo had reached Internet celebrity status three years earlier, in 2011 when she repeatedly posted posted pictures of herself dressed in expensive clothing and in front of expensive cars on Sina Weibo, attributing her lavish lifestyle to her job at the Red Cross in China. Although Guo did not work at the Red Cross, her boyfriend, Wang Jun, was on the board of the Red Cross Bo-ai Asset Management Ltd., a company that coordinated charity events for the Red Cross. The expensive items that Guo had posed with on social media in 2011 were allegedly gifts from Wang. This attracted millions of commentators on social media. This scandal highlighted issues with corruption of charities in China, and donations to the Red Cross plummeted.

By 2014, when the earthquake hit, the Guo Meimei scandal was old news, long forgotten by the fast pace of the Internet. On July 10, 2014, Chinese officials had arrested Guo on allegations of gambling on the World Cup. On midnight August 4, 2014 Xinhua out of the blue posted a long, detailed account of a confession made by Guo Memei that included admissions of gambling and engaging in prostitution. On the same day, many other major media outlets followed suit, inducing coverage by major media outlets such as CCTV, the Global Times, Caijing, Southern Weekend, Beijing Daily, and Nanjing Daily. Obviously this was not an enormous coincidence. Rather, it was well coordinated information flooding.

Coordination of information to produce such flooding is central to the information strategies of the Chinese propaganda system. The Chinese government is in the perfect position to coordinate because it has the resources and infrastructure to do so. The institution of propaganda in China is built in a way that makes coordination easy. The Propaganda Department is one of the most extensive bureaucracies within the Chinese Communist Party, infiltrating every level of government. It is managed and led directly from the top levels of the CCP.

China has a Fifty Cent Party that provides highly coordinated cheerleading. Current conceptions of online propaganda in China posit that the Fifty Cent Party is primarily tasked with countering anti-government rhetoric online. Social media users are accused of being Fifty Cent Party members when they defend government positions in heated online debates about policy or when they attack those with anti-government views. Scholars and pundits have viewed Fifty Cent Party members as attackers aimed at denouncing or undermining pro-West, anti-China opinion. For the most part, Fifty Cent Party members have been seen in the same light as traditional propaganda. They intend to persuade rather than to censor.

Instead of attacking, the largest portion of Fifty Cent Party posts in the leaked email archive were aimed at cheerleading for citizens and China—patriotism, encouragement or motivation of citizens, inspirational quotes or slogans, gratefulness, or celebrations of historical figures, China or cultural events. Most of the posts seem to be intended to make people feel good about their lives, and not to draw attention to anti-government threads on the Internet, is consistent with recent indication from Chinese propaganda officials that propagandists attempt to promote “positivity.” The Chinese Communist Party has recently focused on encouraging art, TV shows, social media posts, and music to focus on creating “positive energy” to distract from increasingly negative commercial news.

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The Powerful Influence of Information Friction

June 29, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” Dr. Roberts related that in May 2011 she had been following news about a local protest in Inner Mongolia in which an ethnic Mongol herdsmen had been killed by a Han Chinese truck driver. In the following days increasingly large numbers of local Mongols began protesting outside of government buildings, culminating in sufficiently large-scale protests that the Chinese government imposed martial law. These were the largest protests that Inner Mongolia had experienced in twenty years. A few months later Dr. Roberts arrived in Beijing for summer. During discussions with a friend she brought up the Inner Mongolia protest. Her friend could not recollect the event, saying that she had not heard of it. A few minutes later, she remembered that a friend of hers had mentioned something about it. but when she looked for information online, she could not find any, so she assumed that the protest itself could not have been that important.

This is what happened. Bloggers who posted information about the protest online had their posts quickly removed from the Internet by censors. As local media were not reporting on the event, any news of the protest was reported mainly by foreign sources, many of which had been blocked by the Great Firewall. Even for the media, information was difficult to come by, as reporting on the protests on the ground had been banned, and the local Internet had been shut off by the government.

Dr. Roberts noted that information about the protest was not impossible to find on the Internet. She had been following news from Boston and even in China. The simple use of a Virtual Private Network and some knowledge of which keywords to search for had uncovered hundreds of news stories about the protests. But her friend, a well-to-do, politically interested, tech-savvy woman, was busy and Inner Mongolia is several hundred miles away. So after a cursory search that turned up nothing, she concluded that the news was either unimportant or non-existent.

Another of her friends was very interested in politics and followed political events closely. She was involved in multiple organizations that advocated for genuine equality and was an opinionated feminist. Because of her feminist activist, Dr. Roberts asked her whether she had heard of the five female activists who had been arrested earlier that year in China, including in Beijing, for their involvement in organizing a series of events meant to combat sexual harassment. The arrests of these five women had been covered extensively in the foreign press and had drawn an international outcry. Articles about the activists had appeared in the New York Times and on the BBC. Multiple foreign governments had called for their release. But posts about their detention were highly censored and the Chinese news media were prohibited from reporting on it. Her friend, who participated in multiple feminist social media groups, and had made an effort to read Western news, still had not heard about their imprisonment.

Dr. Roberts kept encountering examples like these, where people living in China exhibited surprising ignorance about Chinese domestic events that had made headlines in the international press. They had not heard that the imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiao had won the Nobel Peace Prize. They had not heard about major labor protests that had shut down factories or bombings of local government offices. Despite the possibility of of accessing this information without newspapers, television, and social media blaring these headlines, they were much less likely to come across these stories.

Content filtering is one of the Chinese censorship methods. This involves the selective removal of social media posts in China that are written on the platforms of Chinese owned internet service providers. The government does not target criticism of government policies, but instead removes all posts related to collective action events, activists, criticism of censorship, and pornography. Censorship focuses on social media posts that are geo-located in more restive areas, like Tibet. The primary goal of government censorship seems to be to stop information flow from protest areas to other areas of China. Since large-scale protest is known to be one of the main threats to the Chinese regime, the Chinese censorship program is preventing the spread of information about protests in order to reduce their scale.

Despite extensive content filtering, if users were motivated and willing to invest time in finding information about protests, they could overcome information friction to find such information. Information is often published online before it is removed by Internet Companies. There usually is a lag of several hours to a day before content is removed from the Internet.

Even with automated and manual methods of removing content, some content is missed. And if the event is reported in the foreign press, Internet users could access information by jumping the Great Firewall using a VPN.

The structural frictions of the Great Firewall are largely effective. Only the most dedicated “jump” the Great Firewall. Those who jump the Great Firewall are younger and have more education and resources. VPN users are more knowledgeable about politics and have less trust in government. Controlling for age, having a college degree means that a user is 10 percentage points more likely to jump the Great Firewall. Having money is another factor that increases the likelihood of jumping the Great Firewall. 25% of those who jump the Great Firewall say they can understand English, as compared with only 6% of all survey respondents. 12% of those who jump work for a for a foreign-based venture compared to only 2% of all survey respondents. 48% of the jumpers have been abroad compared with 17% of all respondents.

The government has cracked down on some notable websites. Google began having conflicts with the Chinese government in 2010. Finally, in June 2014, the Chinese government blocked Google outright.

The Wikipedia was first blocked in 2004. Particular protests have long been blocked . but the entire Wikipedia website has occasionally been made unaccessible to Chinese IP addresses.

Instagram was blocked on September 29, 2014 from mainland Chinese IP addresses due to increase popularity among Hong Kong protestors.

Censorship of the Chinese Internet

June 28, 2018

This is the third post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” The arrival of the web in 1995 following the Tiananmen crackdown complicated the government’s ability to control the gatekeepers of information as channels of information transitioned from a “one to many” model, where a few media companies transferred information to many people, to a “many to many” model where everyday people could contribute to media online and easily share news and opinions with each other. If the government had been worried about complete control over the information environment, one would expect it to try to slow the expansion of the Internet within the country. Instead the government actively pursued it. The Chinese government aggressively expanded Internet access throughout the country and encouraged online enterprises as the CCP saw these as linked to economic growth and development.

As it pursued greater connectivity, the government simultaneously developed methods of online information control that allowed it to channel information online. The government issued regulations for the Internet in 1994, stipulating that the Internet could not be used to hurt the interest of the state. Immediately, the state began developing laws and technology that allowed it more control over information online, including filtering, registration of online websites, and capabilities for government surveillance.

The institutions that now implement information control in China for both news media and the Internet are aimed at targeting large-scale media platforms and important producers of information in both traditional and online media make it more difficult for the average consumer to come across information that the Chinese government finds objectionable. The CCP also maintains control over key information channels to be able to generate and spread favorable content to citizens. The CCP’s control over these information providers allows them the flexibility to make censorship restriction more difficult to penetrate during particular periods and to loosen constraints during others. This censorship system is a taxation system of information on the Internet, allowing the government to have it two ways: by making information possible to access, those who care enough (such as entrepreneurs, academics, those with international business connections) will bypass control and find the information they need. For the masses the impatience that accompanies surfing the web makes the control effective even though it is porous.

In 2013 President Xi Jinping upgraded the State Internet Information Office to create a new, separate administration for regulating Internet content and cyberspace. This office was called the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which was run by the Central Cybersecurity and Informatization Leading Small Group and personally chaired by Xi Jinping. Xi was worried that there were too many bureaucracies in control of regulating the Internet, so he formed the CAC to streamline Internet control. The CAC sought to more strictly enforce censorship online. This included shutting down websites that did not comply with censorship regulations and increasing the prevalence of the government’s perspective online by digitizing propaganda. This showed the importance the Xi administration placed on managing content on the internet.

These institutions use a variety of laws and regulations to control information in their perspective purviews. These laws tend to be relatively ambiguous giving the state maximal flexibility in their enforcement. Censorship disallows a wide range of political discourse, including anything that “harms the interests of the nation,” “spreads rumors or disturbs social order,” “insults or defames third parties,” or “jeopardizes the nation’s unity.” Due to widespread discussion of protest events and criticism of the government online, the government cannot possibly arrest all those who violate a generous interpretation of this law. These institutions keep a close watch particularly on high-profile journalists, activists, and bloggers, developing relationships with these key players to control content and arresting those they view as dangerous. These activities are facilitated by surveillance tools that require users to register for social media with their real names and require Internet providers to keep records of users’ activities. Since Xi Jinping became president in 2012, additional laws and regulations have been written to prevent “hacking and Internet-based terrorism.”

The government cannot only order traditional media to print particular articles and stories, it also retains flooding power on the Internet. The Chines government hires thousands of online commentators to write pseudonymously at its direction. This is called the Fifty Cent Party, which is an army off Internet commentators who work at the instruction of the government to influence public opinion during sensitive periods. These propagandists are largely instructed to promote positive feelings, patriotism, and a positive outlook on governance. They are unleashed during particularly sensitive periods as a form of distraction. This is in line with President Xi’s own statements that public opinion guidance should promote positive thinking and “positive energy.” They also sometime defame activists or counter government criticism.

Since the government focus control on gatekeepers of information, rather than individuals, from the perspective of an ordinary citizen in China the information control system poses few explicit constraints. For those who are aware of censorship and are motivated to circumvent it, censorship poses an inconvenience rather than a complete constraint on their freedom. While minimizing the perception of control, the government is able to wield significant influence over which information citizens will come across.

Modern History of Information Control in China

June 27, 2018

This is the second post based on Margaret E. Roberts’ “Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.”

Censorship under Mao (1949-1976)
Under Mao the Chinese government exercised authority in all areas of citizens’ lives. The Party regarded information control as a central component of political control, and Party dogma, ideology, and doctrine pervaded every part of daily routine. Propaganda teams were placed in workplaces and schools to carry out work and education in the spirit of party ideology and to implement mass mobilization campaigns. Ordinary citizens were encouraged to engage in self-criticism—publicly admitting and promising to rectify “backward” thoughts.

Under Mao the introduction of “thought work” into everyday life meant that fear played a primary role in controlling information, and each citizen was aware of political control over speech and fearful of the consequences of stepping over the line. Everyday speech could land citizens in jail or worse.

During this period China was closed off from the Western world in an information environment completely controlled by the state, had among the most “complete” control of information a country could muster, akin to today’s North Korea.

Even with ideological uniformity and totalitarian control based on repression, both the Communist Party and the Chinese people paid a high price for highly observable forms of censorship that control citizens through brainwashing and deterrence. Citizens’ and officials’ awareness of political control stifled the government’s ability to gather information on the performance of policies, contributing to severe problems of economic planning and governance. The Great Leap Forward, in which about thirty million people died of starvation in the late 1950s, has been partially attributed to local officials’ fear of reporting actual levels of grain production to the center, which led them to report inflated numbers. Even after the Great leap Forward, the inability of the Chinese bureaucracy to extract true economic reports from local officials and citizens led to greater economic instability and failed economic policies and plans.

This extensive control also imposed explicit constraints on economic growth. Large amounts of trade with other countries were not possible without loosening restriction on the exchange of information with foreigners. Innovation and entrepreneurship require risk-taking, creativity, and access to the latest technology, which are all difficult under high levels of fear that encourage risk-aversion. Millions of people were given class levels that made them second-class citizens or were imprisoned in Chinese gulags that prevented them from participating in the economy. Frequently, those who were persecuted had high levels of education and skills that the Chinese economy desperately needed. The planned economy in concert with high levels of fear stifled economic productivity and keep the vast majority of Chinese citizens in poverty.

Even in a totalitarian society with little contact with the outside world, government ideological control over the everyday lives of citizens decrease the government’s legitimacy and sowed seeds of popular discontent. Mao’s goal of ideological purity led him to encourage the Cultural Revolution, which was a decade-long period of chaos in China based on the premise of weeding out ideological incorrect portions of society. In the process this killed millions of people and completely disrupted social order. The chaos of the Cultural Revolution combined with resentment toward the extreme ideological left in the Chinese political system that had spawned it created openings for dissent. In 1974, a poster written in Guangzhou under a pseudonym called explicitly for reform. Similar protests followed. During the first Tiananmen incident in 1976, thousands of people turned out to protest the ideological left. Several years later, in the Democracy movement in 1978 and 1979, protesters explicitly called for democracy and human rights, including free speech.

Censorship Reform Before 1989
In 1978 when Deng Xiapong gained power, he initiated policies of reform and opening that were in part a reaction to the intense dissatisfaction of Chinese citizens with the Cultural Revolution and the prying hand of the government in their personal affairs. A hallmark of Deng’s transition to a market economy, which began in 1978, was the government’s retreat from the private lives of citizens and from the control of the media. Leaders within Deng’s government realized the trade-offs between individual control and entrepreneurship, creativity, and competition required by the market and decreased government emphasis on ideological correctness of typical citizens in China. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rehabilitated those who had been political victims during the Cultural Revolution. Class labels were removed and political prisoners were released, thus enabling more than twenty million additional people to participate in the economy, many of whom had high levels of education. It has been noted that the “omnipresent fear” that had been common in the Mao era lessened and personal relationships again became primarily private and economic. At first citizens began to criticize the government and express dissatisfaction privately, but later more publicly.

Not only did the government retreat from the private lives of individuals to stimulate the economy and address dissatisfaction, but also loosened its control over the media in order to reduce its own economic burden in the information industry. As other aspects of the Chinese economy privatized, the government began to commercialize the news media to respond to citizens’ demands for entertainment and economic, international, and political news. This proved to be extremely lucrative for Chinese media companies. This lessened control also allowed Chinese media to compete with the new onslaught of international information that began to pour in as international trade and interactions increased, and Chinese media companies were able to innovate to retain market share in an increasingly competitive information environment.

In the 1980s there was an increasing decentralization of the economy from the central Party planning system to the localities. As the government began to decentralize its control, it began to rely on the media to ensure that local officials were acting in the interest of the Party. Watchdog media could help keep local businesses, officials, and local courts in check. Investigative journalism serves citizens by exposing the defective aspects of its own system. Freer media in a decentralized state can serve the government’s own interest as much as it can serve the interests of citizens.

The CCP did take significant steps toward relaxing control over the flow of information in the 1980s to loosen enforcement over speech, particularly with respect to the Maoist era. By 1982, the Chinese constitution began to guarantee free speech and expression for all Chinese citizens, including freedom of the press, assembly and demonstrations. Commercialization of Chinese newspapers began in 1979 with the the first advertisement and gradually the press began making more profit from the sales of advertising and less from government subsidies. Radio and television, which had previously been controlled by the central and provincial levels of government, expanded rapidly to local levels of government and was also commercialized.

In April 1989 the death of Hu Yaobang sparked the pro-democracy protests centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. These protests spread all over China, culminating in an internal CCP crisis and a large-scale violent crackdown on protesters on June 4, 1989, that was condemned internationally.

Not surprisingly, this June 4 crisis marked a turning point in government strategy with respect to the media and the press. There was widespread consensus among the Party elites after the crackdown that the loosening of media restrictions had aggravated the student demonstrations. During the months of protests reformers within the Party had allowed and even encouraged newspapers to discuss the protests. In the immediate aftermath of the crackdown on the protesters and clearing of the square on June 4, 1989, censorship ramped up quickly. This large-scale crackdown on journalists, activists, an academics reintroduced widespread fear into the private lives of influential individuals, particularly among those who had been involved in the protest events. China was returning to the model of media serving the Party and expressing enthusiasm for government policies.

Post-Tiananmen: Control Minimizing the Perception of Control

Although the belief among government officials that free media had contributed to unrest prevented the CCP from returning to the extent of press freedom before Tiananmen Square, Deng did not return to the version of pre-reform information control that relied on fear-based control of individuals’ everyday lives and instead quickly reversed the post -Tiananmen crackdown on speech. Instead, government policy evolved toward a censorship strategy that attempted to minimize the perception of information control among ordinary citizens while still playing a central role in prioritizing information for the public. The government strengthend mechanisms of friction and flooding while for the most past staying out of the private lives of citizens. A few years after Tiananmen Square, the CCP returned to an apparent loosening of control, and commercialization of the media resumed in the mid-1990s. After Deng’s “Southern Tour” in 1992, meant to reemphasize the economy, broader discussions and criticisms of the state were again allowed, even publicly and even about democracy.

Even though the government did not return to Maoist-era censorship, the government tightened its grip on the media, officials, journalists, and technology in a way that allowed targeted control: by managing the gatekeepers of information, the government could de-prioritize information unfavorable to itself and expand its own production of information to compete with independent sources. The government strengthened institutional control over the media. The CCP created stricter licensing requirement to control the types of organizations that could report news. They also required that journalists apply for press cards, which required training in government ideology. In spite of extensive commercialization that created the perception among readers that news was driven by demand rather than supply, the government retained control over the existence, content, and personnel decisions of newspapers throughout the country allowing the government to effectively, if not always explicitly, control publishing.

The government proactively changed its propaganda and strategies after Tiananmen Square, adapting Western theories of advertising and persuasion, and linking thought work with entertainment to make it more easily understood by the public. The CCP decided to instruct newspapers to follow Xinhua’s lead on important events and international news, much as the had done with the People’s Daily doing the 1960s. In the 1990s, the party also renewed its emphasis on “patriotic education” in schools around the country, ensuring that the government’s interpretations of events were the first interpretations of politics that students learned.

Censored

June 26, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important and highly relevant book by Margaret E. Roberts. The subtitle is “Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall.” This book is of special interest to HM. A number of summers back HM was privileged to participate in a month long workshop on the effect of new technology on two countries: China and Iraq. The workshop included intelligence professionals, technology professionals, linguists, and experts on these specific topics. Why they were interested in a psychologist like HM was not clear to him, although it was a most stimulating month, and HM hopes he was able to make some contributions.

This book makes clear the sophisticated means that China uses to control information in the country. These were vaguely understood from the workshop, but Dr. Roberts brings them into clear view.

“China has four million websites, with nearly 700 million Internet users, 1.2 mobile phone users, 600 million WeChat and Weibo users, and generates 30 billion pieces of information every day. It is not possible to apply censorship to this enormous amount of data. Thus censorship is not the correct word choice. But no censorship does not mean no management.” Lu Wei was the Director, State Internet Information Office, China, in December 2015. As the former “gatekeeper of the Chinese Internet” Lu Wei stresses in his epigraph that the thirty billion pieces information generated each day by Chinese citizens quite simply cannot be censored.

So China as developed what is termed “porous” censorship. Dr. Roberts writes, “…most censorship methods implemented by the Chinese government act not as a ban but as a tax on information, forcing users to pay money or spend more time if they want to access the censored material. For example, when the government ‘kicked out’ Google from China in 2010, it did so simply by throttling the search engine so it loaded only 75% of the time.” So if you want to use Google, you just needed to be more patient. China’s most notorious censorship intervention that blocked a variety of foreign websites from Chinese users could be circumvented by downloading a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Chinese social media users circumvent keyword censoring of social media posts by substituting similar words that go undetected for the words that the government blocks. This makes content accessible as long as you spend more time searching. Newspapers are often instructed by censors to put stories on the back pages of the newspaper, where access is just a few more slips of the page away. This technique is termed “friction” for creating friction that seriously slows, but does not eliminate, access to the information. Porous censorship is neither unique to China nor the modern time period. Iran has been known simply to throttle information accessibility and make it slower during elections.

The Russian government also uses armies of online bots and commentators to flood opposition hashtags, and make it more difficult, but not impossible, for people to find information on protests or opposition leaders. This technique is termed “flooding.” Essentially users are flooded and drown in information.

Conventional wisdom is that these porous censorship strategies are futile for governments as citizens learn quickly to circumvent censorship that is not complete or enforced. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Many governments that have the capacity to enforce censorship more forcefully choose not to do so. Using censorship that taxes, rather than prohibits, information in China and in other countries around world is done as a design choice and is not an operational flaw.

The trade-offs between the benefits and costs of repression and censorship are often referred to as “the dictator’s dilemma.” One form of the dictator’s dilemma is when the government would like to enforce constraints on public speech, but repression could backfire against the government. Censorship could be seen as a signal that the authority is trying to conceal something and is not in fact acting as an agent for citizens.

Another form of the “dictator’s dilemma” is that even if the dictator would like to censor, by censoring the autocrat has more difficulty collecting precious information about the public’s view of the government. Fear of punishment scares the public into silence and this creates long-term information collection problems for governments, which have interest in identifying and solving problems of governance that could undermine their legitimacy. Greater transparency facilitates central government monitoring of local officials, ensuring that localities are carrying out central directives and not mistreating citizens. Allowing citizens to express grievances online also allows government to predict and prevent the organization of protests.

What could perhaps be considered a third “dictator’s dilemma” is that censorship can have economic consequences that are costly for authoritarian governments that retain legitimacy from economic growth. Communications technologies facilitate markets, create greater efficiencies, lead to innovation, and attract foreign direct investment. Censorship is expensive—government enforcement or oversight of the media can be a drag on firms and requires government infrastructure. Economic stagnation and crises can contribute to the instability of governments. Censorship can exacerbate crises by slowing the spread of information that protects citizens. When censorship contributes to crises and economic stagnation, it can have disastrous long-term political costs for governments.

So “porous” censorship is much more efficient than heavy handed control of virtually all information by inducing fear in users.

Putin’s Peaks

June 25, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Dmitry Kobak, Sergey Shpilkin, and Maxim S. Pshenichnikov in the June 2018 issue of “Significance.” “Significance” is a joint publication of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association. The subtitle of the article is “Russian election data revisited.”

The article states that the Kremlin wants a golden 70-70 win, meaning a win of 70% of the vote with a turnout of 70% to give it a clear mandate and provide it with a riposte to Western leaders who criticize Russia as an autocracy. What was actually achieved was a seemingly respectable 67.5%, with Putin securing 76.7% of the vote. But there have been criticisms of the election process, and doubts have been cast over the validity of the outcome. For instance, Golos, an election monitoring organization, has documented incidents of ballot stuffing at various polling stations, and multiple other violations both before and during the election (bit.ly/2HawRD3). At least since the mid-2000s Presidential and parliamentary elections in Russia have been accused of being fraudulent. From the Russian perspective, the two most important numbers that describe an election outcome are turnout percentage and leader’s result percentage. Although these percentages are not reported in the data sets from individual polling stations, they can be calculated from the information provided officially.

The authors (and others including HM) have argued that due to human attraction to round numbers, large-scale attempts to manipulate reported turnout or leader’s results would likely show up as frequent whole (integer) percentages in the election data. A previous “Significance” article gave the hypothetical example of a polling station with 1577 registered voters. Here election officials decide to forge the results and report a turnout of 85%. 85% was chosen as it is a round number which is more appealing than say 83.27%. To achieve a falsified turnout of 85%, this polling station needs to report 1755 x 0.85 = 1492 ballots cast. Other polling stations making similar attempts at fraud may also choose 85% as their target value, so that when we look at the turnout percentages for all polling stations, we see a noticeable split in the number of stations with turnout of 85%. In a previous article these integer peaks were found in elections from 2004 to 2012.

Since then two new elections were held in Russia, the 2016 parliamentary and the 2018 presidential elections. As with previous elections, sharp periodic peaks are clearly visible at integer values (91%, 92%, and 93%) and at round integer values (80%. 85%, and 90%) rather than fractional values (such as 91.3%).

The authors did Monte Carlo simulations of election results using the binomial distribution of ballots at every polling station. It strongly confirmed the hypothesis that results were being rounded to the benefit of the government. The authors note that integer peaks in the election data do not originate uniformly across all parts of Russia; they are mostly localized in the same administrative regions, providing additional evidence supporting that these are not natural phenomena Specific peaks can sometimes be traced to a particular city, or even an electoral constituency within a city, where turnout and/or leader’s results are nearly identical at a large number of polling stations. The most prominent example from the last two elections was the city of Saratov in 2016. Its plotting stations are the sole contributor to the sharp turnout peak at 64.3% and the leader’s result peak at 62.2%. These peaks are not integer and so are not counted towards the anomalies. Curiously, their product—showing the fraction of leader’s votes with respect to the total number of registered voters is a perfectly round 40%: 0.643 x 0.622 = 0.400.

One could regard these discrepancies, assuming that they do accurately reflect the underlying true vote as relatively innocuous. But the suspicion is that the results are significantly modified to get close to the Golden 70-70.

In the future it will be interesting to see if this integer bias persists in future voting summaries. It is disappointing to see this “rookie” flaw in a country noted for phony elections.

Russia’s newly developed strength is in influencing elections via technology. It has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts how Russian developed this new type of warfare. It began in homeland Russia. It was developed further in Russian speaking countries and in the Ukraine. And it has now been exported to Europe, where is it credited by some for the Brexit result, and to the United States were it is credited for Trump’s victory at least by some (Former DNI Director Clapper and HM at least).

Moreover, Russia is perfecting this new form of warfare and is promising its continuance. There is much talk of the upcoming midterm elections in the United States, yet nary a word about Russian interference. Trump is not taking any actions to safeguard these elections, which is perfectly understandable as Russian interference benefits the invertebrates supporting him. Even if the Russians are not entirely successful in benefitting Trump, just a small amount of interference could call into question the validity of the elections.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Some Hopefully Useful Information

June 24, 2018

To be able to access all the benefits of the healthymemory blog you need to enter

https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/

There are more than a thousand posts there sorted by the year and the month they were posted. If you know the title of a specific post, just enter it into the search block. If you are interested in a specific topic, enter the topic into the search block.

You will also find categories of the posts.

Overview is obvious,

Human Memory Theory and Data is the largest and has posts pertaining primarily to human memory.

Mnemonic Techniques refer specifically to memory techniques, but also include (some, but not all) posts on meditation and mindfulness.

Transactive memory refers to posts pertaining specifically to technology.

If you get emails of the posts when they are posted you receive a copy of the post and links to just the immediately preceding and immediately following posts.

And searches can lead to some posts, but do not take you to the page with the useful functions and information.

Final Reflections

June 24, 2018

Here’s how Dr. McGonigal ends her important book “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It: “A while back, one of my close friends shared with me that instead of New Year’s resolutions, her family had started to set annual stress goals. Each year, she, her husband, and their teenage son decide how they want to grow in the coming year. Then they choose a personal goal that will be both meaningful and difficult. They talk about what their stress edge will be—what they expect to be challenging, what they might feel anxious about, and the strengths that they want to develop

I fell in love with this idea and immediately began using it myself. Not just for New Year’s resolution but as an orientation to life. In fact, writing this book was one of my big stress goals for the past two years. I knew it would be hard to do justice to the breadth of scientific research, and I was most worried about my ability to honor the incredible range of what people mean when they talk about stress. The strength I needed to develop was my willingness to keep asking people to tell me the truth about their experience of stress—even when it made writing the book more complicated, or forced me to live with questions I knew I couldn’t neatly answer.

Now because this book is a mindset intervention, you’ve probably already recognized that this story is also an invitation to set your own stress goal. Any new beginning or transition is an opportunity to think about how you want to challenge yourself. Birthdays, the start of a new calendar or school year, Sunday evenings, or each morning as you think about the day ahead. Even right now, you could ask yourself, ‘How do I want to grow from stress?’ If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that any moment can become a turning point in how you experience stress, if you choose to make it one.”

This is the last healthy memory blog post on “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It” Despite the large number of posts, HM has not been able to do justice to this book. You are strongly encouraged to read the entire book on your own.

This is the fourteenth and final post on this book.

How Adversity Makes Us Stronger

June 23, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the thirteenth post on this book. People who are less satisfied with their current lives and more anxious about the future are more likely to become depressed. However, the attitudes don’t seem to be the direct result of a person’s painful experiences, but rather the result of their attitude toward them. It is important to understand that it is possible to learn to think about our struggles in a different way. Studies show that when people adopt a more accepting attitude toward their past hardships, they become happier, less depressed, and more resilient.

Choosing to see the upside of our most painful experiences is part of how we can change our relationships with stress. Accepting past adversity is part of how we find the courage to grow from present struggles. It is the attitude that allows us to embrace and transform stress. Although Dr.McGonigal has shared some of the science that supports a growth mindset toward adversity, the evidence for this point of view is already all around us. If we look, we will see the signs of it in our own lives, in the lives of those we admire, and even in the stories of strangers.

How Caring Creates Resilience

June 22, 2018

This post is based Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the twelfth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal received an email that demonstrates how powerful embracing your body’s response to stress can be. This woman was sitting on her back porch listening to Dr. McGonigal’s TED talk on embracing stress. She had just finished explaining how the stress response can provide energy and courage. She had described how a pounding heart was a sign that your body was rising to the challenge. At this moment the woman listening to her TED talk heard a dispute in the house next door. She realized that a father was physically abusing his child. This was not the first time it had happened. Every time before, she had frozen. She had been abused herself as a child, and witnessing this abuse brought her back to her response to that trauma.

In the past she had prayed for the child next door, but had felt too paralyzed to act. However, this time she took the TED talk mindset intervention to heart. She thought, “My body can give me the courage to act.” She called the police. She marshaled her own inner resources and found the strength to call on outside resources for support. The police interviewed her and intervened to protect the child. In addition to helping a vulnerable child, she experienced her own capacity to break the cycle of fear and paralysis. And she shared the story allowing her act to inspire others.

Viewing your stress response as a resource works because it helps you believe. Dr. McGonigal concludes: “Embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust: View yourself as capable and your body as a resource. You don’t have to wait until you no longer have fear, stress, or anxiety to do what matters most. Stress doesn’t have to be a sign to stop and give up on yourself. This kind of mind shift shift is a catalyst, not a cure. It doesn’t erase your suffering or make your problems disappear. But if you are willing to rethink your stress response, it may help you recognize you strength and access your courage.

A Meaningful Life is a Stressful Life

June 21, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the eleventh post on this book. She writes that everyone has a Mt Everest to climb. It could be a climb you choose, or a circumstance you find yourself in, you’re in the middle of an important journey. The climber knows the context of his stress. It has personal meaning to him. We are most liable to feel like a victim of the stress in our lives when we forget the context the stress is unfolding in. She writes “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest” is a way to remember the paradox of stress. She writes that the most meaningful challenges in our lives will come with a few cold nights.

She writes, “The biggest problem with trying to avoid stress is how it changes the way we view our lives, and ourselves. Anything in life that causes stress starts to look like a problem. If you experience stress at work, you think that there’s something wrong with your job. If you experience stress in your marriage, you think there is something wrong with your relationship. If you experience stress as a parent, you think there’s something wrong with your parenting (or your kids). If trying to make a change is stressful, you think there’s something wrong with your goal.”

She continues, “ When you think life should be less stressful, feeling stressed can also seem like a sign you are inadequate. If you were strong enough, smart enough, or good enough, you wouldn’t be stressed. Stress becomes a sign of personal failure rather than evidence that you are human. This kind of thinking explains, in part, why viewing stress as harmful increases the risk of depression. When you’re in this mindset, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.”

Continuing further, “Choosing to see the connection between stress and meaning can free you from the nagging sense that there is something wrong with your life or that you are inadequate to the challenges you face. Even if not every frustrating moment feels full of purpose, stress and meaning are inextricably connected in the larger context of your life. When you take this view, life doesn’t become less stressful, but it can become more meaningful.”

The Damage Done by Forcibly Separating Children from Parents

June 19, 2018

Please excuse this interruption in the series of the posts on “The Upside of Stress” (between the 11th and 10th Posts), but current events justify this interruption. There have been a number of healthy memory posts stressing the importance of mothers loving their children and the damage done by indifferent mothers. The notion advanced by HM is that that most of the negative incidents typically reported in the news probably are the result of children who lacked a loving mother. The forceful separation of children that is now occurring at our current borders is even worse. This current post is based primarily on an article by William Wan in the 19 June 2018 issue of the Washington Post titled “When children are forcibly separated from parents, ‘‘The effect is catastrophic.’”

Here is what happens inside children when they are forcibly separated from their parents. Their heart rate goes up. Their body releases a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones can start killing off dendrites, which are the little branches in brain cells that transmit messages. Eventually this stress can start killing off neurons and, especially in young children, wreaking dramatic and long-term damage, both psychological and to the physical structure to the brain.

A pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School said, “The effect is catastrophic, There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science they would never do this.”

This is why pediatricians, psychologists, other health experts, as well as other caring human beings, have been led to vehemently oppose the Trump administration’s new border crossing policy, which has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in recent weeks.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements representing more than 250,000 doctors in the United States against this new, intolerable policy. Nearly 7,700 mental health professionals and 142 organizations have also signed a petition urging Trump to end the policy. The petition reads, “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma,” the petition reads.

Nelson has studied the neurological damage from child-parent separation, work which he has said has reduced him to tears. In 2000 the Romanian government invited Nelson and a team of researchers into its state orphanages to advise them on a humanitarian crisis created by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s policies.

At these orphanages, Nelson said, “we saw kids rocking uncontrollably and hitting themselves, hitting their heads against walls. They had to make up a rule as researchers that they would never cry in front of children. As the children grew older Nelson and his colleagues began finding disturbing differences in their brains. Those separated from their parents at a young age had much less white matter, which is largely made up of fibers that transmit information throughout the brain, as well as much less gray matter, which contains the brain-cell bodies that process information and solve problems. The activity in the children’s brains was much lower than expected. Nelson said, “it’s as though here was a dimmer than had reduced them from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.”

The children, who had been separated from their parents in their first two years of life, scored significantly lower on IQ tests later in life. Their fight-or-flight response system appeared permanently broken. Stressful situations that would usually prompt physiological responses in other people, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, would provoke nothing in the children.

What alarmed the researchers most was the duration of the damage. Unlike other parts of the body, most cells in the brain cannot renew or repair themselves.

“The reason child-parent separation has such devastating effects is because it attacks one of the most fundamental and critical bonds in human biology.

From the time they are born, children emotionally attach to their caregiver and vice versa, said Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. Skin-to-skin contact for newborns, for example, is critical to their development, research shows. ‘Our bodies secrete hormones like oxytocin on contact that reinforces the bond, to help us attach and connect,’ Fortuna said.

A child’s sense of what safety means depends on that relationship. And, without it, the parts of the brain that deal with attachment and fear, the amygdala and hippocampus, develop differently. The reason such children often develop PTSD later in life is that these neurons start firing irregularly. ‘The part of their brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Things that are not threatening, seem threatening.’

Research on Aboriginal children in Australia who were removed from their families also showed long-lasting effects. They were nearly twice as likely to be arrested or criminally charged as adults, 60% more likely to have alcohol abuse problems and more than twice as likely to struggle with gambling.

In China, where 1 in 5 children live in villages without their parents, who migrate for work, studies have shown that those ‘left behind’ children have markedly higher rates of anxiety and depression later in life.

Other studies have shown separation leading to increased aggression, withdrawal and cognitive difficulties.

Luis H. Mayas, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas said “if you take the moral, spiritual, even political aspect out of it, from a strictly medical and scientific point of view what we as a country are doing to these children at the border is unconscionable . The harm our government is now causing will take a lifetime to undo.’”

The justification provided by several in the Trump administration was that they were enforcing the law. This is reminiscent of Nazis running the concentration camps killing jews claiming that they were only following orders.

Remember that at Charlottesville Trump was given several opportunities to denounce the nazi demonstrators. HIs lack of response was understandable when one considers that nazis are part of Trump’s base.

Realistic Views About Stress

June 19, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This the 10th post on this book. After Dr. McGonigal had publicly renounced a stress-is-harmful mindset she still caught herself complaining, “I’m so stressed!” or “This is So Stressful!.” When she confessed this to Dr. Crum, Dr. Crum responded, “Yes, I do sometimes still say, ‘I’m so stressed,’ but then I hear myself, and I take a moment to think about why I’m stressed. Then I say, “Ahhh, I’m so stressed.” When she said this three words, she sounded uplifted.

Dr. Crum went on to say that the most helpful mindset toward stress is one that is flexible, not black or white: to be able to see both sides of stress and yet also decide to focus on how the stress connects to what you care about. Her notion is that making a deliberate shift in mindset when you’re feeling stressed is even more empowering than having an automatically positive view.

Dr. McGonigal writes, “To this end, it’s important to note that in all the stress mindset interventions, including my course at Stanford, people don’t report a completely overhauled view of stress. The benefits of mindset shift appear as soon as people been to see the upside of stress. It’s not clear whether there is some kind of critical threshold or whether a bigger mindset shift always comes with bigger benefits. The most important takeaway, to me, is that seeing the good in stress doesn’t require abandoning the awareness that, in some cases, stress is harmful. The mindset shift that matters is the one that allows you to hold a more balanced view of stress—to fear it less, to trust yourself to handle it, and to use it as a resource for engaging with life.

Beyond Fight or Flight

June 18, 2018

This post comes from Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the ninth post on this book. The common but erroneous idea that the body’s response to stress is an outdated survival instinct and that you should not have a stress response to anything that isn’t a life-threatening emergency. Getting distressed here is seen as a psychological flaw, a weakness to be corrected. Dr. McGonigal writes “This stems from the mistaken belief that every stress response is a full-throttle fight or flight response. A more complete picture of the biology of stress helps us understand why we have these responses throughout the day, and why they are not signs of a flaw at all. Rushing to get your kids ready for school, dealing with a difficult coworker, thinking about criticism you received, worrying about a friend’s health—we have stress responses to all these things because we get stressed when something important to us is at stake. And most important, we have stress responses to help us do something about it.”

She continues, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes.”

And she concludes, “The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another, and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harassed, and even trusted.”

New Science of Stress Course

June 17, 2018

This course is described in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the eighth post on this book. Dr. McGonigal teaches this six week course at Stanford. The course follows the following three step process:
Learning the new point of view,
doing an exercise that encourages the adoption and application of the new mindset,
providing an opportunity to share the idea with others.

Each week she gives a lecture on the science included in her book, “The Upside of Stress,” and suggests specific strategies for cultivating a new stress mindset. The next week in the class meeting that follows, she asks students to report back on the ideas that were discussed the previous week. Were they able to use any of the strategies? Did rethinking stress help them handle a difficult situation? She also asks them to pay special attention to any opportunities to share what they are learning with others. Their last assignment is to report back on what they found most helpful and how they shared that idea or practice to someone they care about.

“Anonymous class surveys before and after the course show that, on average, student’s stress mindsets become more positive by the end of the course. In the follow-up survey, students are also less likely to agree with statements such as “My problems make it difficult for me to live a life that I value,” and “If I could magically remove all the painful experiences I’ve had in my life I would do so.” Students are feeling more confident in their ability to handle the stress in their lives and feeling less overwhelmed by the problems they face. They are all more likely to say that they are energetically pursuing the goals that are important to them. All these change occurred despite the fact that many of the students are horrified when they realize, in the first class session, that the course they signed up fr is about embracing stress not reducing it. “
Dr. McGonigal also relates specific success stories in anonymous post-course evaluations.

She writes that in her experience, when people are willing to contemplate a new way of thinking about stress, the benefits can extend to just about any scenario you can imagine. But she continues “that willingness isn’t always there. As she knows all too well, it can be incredibly difficult, and even threatening, to rethink a belief important enough to earn the status of mindset.”

How to Change Your Mindset

June 16, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the seventh post on this book. The question raised in this section is whether a mind shift will still work if you try to change your own mind about stress, or do you have to be tricked into it?

The placebo effect has been extensively covered in previous healthy memory posts. Included there was the information that placebo effects occur even when the individual knows she is either taking or being given a placebo. So it is reasonable to expect that the same will be true in mindset intervention when people have to choose a new mindset. Dr. Crum thinks that the ideal mindset intervention is less about manipulation and more about choice. Interventions now teach participants about the power of mindsets and invites them to adopt a more positive view of stress.

The first test of this “open-label” mindset interventions took place at a Fortune 500 firm. Employees were invited to participate in stress-management training. 229 mostly middle-aged employees signed up. About half were randomly assigned to a two-hour stress mindset intervention, while the others were put on a wait list.

The training began with research on both the harms and benefits of stress. They they employees learned about the power of mindset, which included the results of Dr. Crum’s previous studies.. The employees were explicitly told that the aim of the training was to help them choose a more positive stress mindset.

“To help them cultivate this new mindset, the employees were asked to reflect on their own experiences with stress, including times when stress had been helpful. They were also taught a three-step processing for practicing the new mindset whenever they felt stressed. The first step is to acknowledge stress when you experience it. Simply allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body. The second step is to welcome stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? What is at stake here, and why does it matter to you? The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do right now that reflects your goals and values? The employees were encouraged to remember this three-step process when they experienced stress and to try to practice it at least once a day.

Three weeks later, the researchers checked in with the participants. Those who had gone through the training showed a shift in stress mindset. Before the training, the employees had generally endorsed a stress-is-harmful mindset, but now they are more likely to recognize its upside. They were also better at dealing with stress. The employees reported less anxiety and depression and better physical health. At work, they felt more focused, creative and engaged. The employees whose mindset changed the most—from negative to more positive—showed the biggest improvements. At a final follow-up six weeks after the intervention, these benefits were maintained.

The First Stress Mindset Intervention

June 15, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the sixth post on her book. This intervention took place at the global financial firm UBS during the height of the 2008 economic collapse. Not surprisingly, in the financial places of work as evidenced in a study found that within ten years of entering the industry, 100% of investment bankers developed at least one condition associated with burnout, such as insomnia, alcoholism, or depression. The 2008 economic collapse amplified this pressure. There were widespread reports of increased anxiety, depression, and suicide.

UBS instituted major layoffs and cut employee compensation by 36%. In the middle of this, employees at UBS received an email from human resources inviting them to participate in a stress-management program. A total of 388, half men and half women, with an average age of 38, signed up.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group of 164 employees received online training that delivered the typical stress-management message, which reinforces the view that stress is inherently negative. A second group of 163 employees received online training designed to give them a more positive view stress, that was the mindset intervention. A smaller control group of 61 employees received no training at all.

Employees receiving online training received emails with links to three videos that were each three minutes long. Those in the first group were provided statistics like “Stress is America’s number one health issue’, and “Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death.” The videos warned that stress can lead to mood swings, emotional exhaustion, and memory loss. The videos also featured examples of leaders who failed to perform well under stress.

Employees in the mindset intervention group received three very different videos. These videos explained how stress can increase physical resilience, enhance focus, deepen relationships, and strengthen personal values. The videos shared examples of companies that thrived under difficult circumstances, as well as individuals who performed heroically in the face of great stress.

All employees completed surveys before and after the online training. The answer to the research team’s first question—Can you change a person’s mind about stress?—was yes. Employees who watched the negative videos became even more convinced that stress was harmful. However, employees in the mindset intervention group developed a more positive view of stress.

The size of the mind shift was not large. But they did endorse a view of stress that was more balanced than the one they’d had before the intervention. The change was statistically significant, but not a complete reversal. Instead of viewing stress as predominantly harmful, they now saw both the good and the bad in stress.
The second important question was whether this mindset shift was associated with any other changes. The answer was yes. Employees who received the mindset intervention were less anxious and depressed. They reported fewer health problems, like back pain and insomnia. They also reported greater focus, engagement, collaboration, and productivity at work. Note that these improvements took place in the midst of extreme stress. Employees who viewed negative videos, as well as those who received no training, showed no change in these outcomes.

Dr. Crum has gone on to conduct stress mindset interventions and workshops in a variety of settings, including health care professionals, college students, executives, and Navy SEALs. Her work shows that very brief interventions can lead to changes in how people think about and experience stress. Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of as stress-related problems and helps people thrive even under high levels of stress.

What Is Your Stress Mindset?

June 14, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the fifth post on her book. You should look at the two following mindsets below and consider which set of statements you agree with more strongly—or, at least would have agreed with before you read the immediately preceding posts:

Mindset 1: Stress is Harmful.
Experiencing stress depletes my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress debilitates my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress inhibits my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided.

Mindset 2: Stress is Enhancing.
Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.
Experiencing stress improves my health and vitality.
Experiencing stress facilitates my learning and growth.
The effects of stress are positive and should be utilized.

The first mindset is by far the most common. Dr. Crum and her colleagues have found that while most people can see some truth in both mindsets, they still view stress as more harmful than helpful. Men and women do not differ, and age does not predict mindset. A 2014 survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 85% of Americans agreed that stress has a negative effect on health, family, and work. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found that most people perceived their own stress as unhealthy. Even people who report relatively little stress believe that the ideal level of stress is below whatever they are currently experiencing. People’s perceptions of a healthy level of stress have actually gone down; when the American Psychological Association started its annual stress survey in 2007, people perceived a moderate level of stress as ideal. Now, survey participants perceived the same moderate level of stress as unhealthy.

However, Dr. McGonigal has evidence that people can see some good in stress. In 2013 she conducted a survey of CEO’s, vice presidents, and general managers who were participating in Stanford University’s Executive Leadership Development Program. 51 % said they did their best work while under stress. In the 2014 Harvard School of Public Health survey, 67% of those who reported the highest levels of stress also said they had experienced at least one benefit from their stress. However, participants in both surveys were also convinced that they should be doing more to reduce stress. This attitude is not peculiar to America. Dr. McGonigal has encountered similar views about stress in Canada, Europe, and Asia. Even when people can recognized some benefits of stress, their overall perception of it is negative.

Dr. Crum considered the possibility that a positive view of stress might be the result of an easier life. But when she looked at the data, she found only a weak link between how people thought about stress and the severity of the stress. There was also a very small correlation between the number of stressful events (such as divorce, changing jobs) that people experienced in the past year and how negative their views of stress were. So it is not the case that people with a positive attitude toward stress have a life free of suffering. Dr. Crum also found that a positive view of stress was beneficial to people whether they were currently under a little or a lot of stress, and no matter how stressful of stress-free the past year had been.

It is true that optimists live longer than pessimists. In addition to optimism, two other personality traits seem to be associated with a more positive view of stress: mindfulness, and the ability to tolerate uncertainty. But Dr. Crum’s analysis showed that none of these personality traits could account for the effects of stress mindsets on health, happiness, or work productivity. Although how a person thinks about stress might be influenced by certain personality traits or experiences, a stress mindset’s effects on health and happiness cannot be explained by either.

Dr. Crum’s research points to the likely possibility that: Stress mindsets are powerful because they affect not just how you think, but also how you act. When you view stress as harmful, it is something to be avoided. Feeling stressed becomes a signal to try to escape or reduce the stress. They are more likely to:
*Try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it.
*Focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to decrease its source.

People who believe that stress can be helpful are more likely to say the they cope with stress proactively. They are more likely to:
*Accept the fact that the stressful event has occurred and is real.
*Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of the stress.
*Seek information, help, or advice.
*Take steps to overcome, remove, or change the source of the stress.
*Try to make the best of the situation by viewing it in a more positive way or by using it as an opportunity to grow.

Beliefs that Become Mindsets

June 13, 2018

This is the fourth post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” Dr. McGonigal writes, “The beliefs that become mindsets transcend preferences, learned facts, or intellectual opinions. They are core beliefs that reflect your philosophy of life. When a mindset gets activated—by a memory, a situation you find yourself in, or a remark that someone makes—it sets off a cascade of thoughts, emotions, and goals that shape how you respond to life. This, in turn, can influence long-term outcomes, including health, happiness, and even longevity.”

For example, having a positive view of aging adds an average of almost eight years to one’s life, and it predicts other important health outcomes. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging tracked adults ages eighteen to forty-nine for thirty-eight years found that those with the most positive views of aging had an 80% lower risk of heart attack. Adults who associated growing older with positive stereotypes such as “wise” and “capable” recovered from a heart attack more quickly than those who endorsed negative stereotypes such as “useless” and “stuck in their ways.” A positive view of aging predicted faster and more complete physical recovery from a debilitating illness or accident. Both studies measure recovery in objective outcomes such as walking speed, balance, and ability to perform daily activities. All these studies controlled for important factors, such as initial health status, depression, and socioeconomic status.

It is likely that health behaviors are the underlying factor in these studies. Those with a negative view of aging are likely to view poor health as inevitable. As they feel less capable of maintaining or improving their health as they age, they invest less time and energy in their future well-being. But people with a positive attitude toward growing older engage in more health-promoting behaviors, such as exercising regularly and following their doctor’s advice. An intervention designed to increase positive views of aging also increased participants’ physical activity. When you have a positive view of growing older, you’re more apt to do things that will benefit your future self. And there are good reasons for having a positive view of aging. Although some find it difficult to believe, studies have consistently shown that people get happier as they get older.

Research at the German Centre of Gerontology in Berlin studied adults over time to examine the impact a serious illness or accident, such as a broken hip, lung disease, or cancer. Those with a positive view of aging responded to the crisis by increasing their commitment to their health. They were more proactive and dedicated to their recovery. In contrast, older adults who had a more negative view of aging were less likely to take actions to improve their health. Consequently those with more positive view of aging ended up report great life satisfaction better health and physical function after their illness or accident.

So these findings about how we think about aging affects health and recovery not through mystical positive thinking, but by influencing goals and choices. This is an ideal example of a mindset effect.

Dr. McGonigal concludes, “It turns out how you think about stress is also one of those core beliefs that can affect your health, happiness, and success. As we’ll see, our stress mindset shapes everything from the emotions we feel during a stressful situation to the way you cope with stressful events. That, in turn, can determine whether we thrive under stress or end up burned out and depressed. The good news is even if you are firmly convinced that stress is harmful, you can still cultivate a mindset that helps us thrive.”

How Our Bodies Respond to Stress

June 12, 2018

This post is based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, ““The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” This is the third post in the series on this book. Dr. McGonigal participated in the following experiment done by Dr. Crum. Participants were hooked up to a variety of devices to record physiological responses that included heart activity, blood flow, sweat, and body temperature. Saliva was also collected to measure stress hormones. Next she participated in a mock job interview that was structured to be highly stressful. Before the mock job interview, study participants were randomly assigned to view one of two videos about stress. One three minute video began by saying that most people think stress is negative, but actually research shows that stress is enhancing. The video went on to describe how stress can improve performance, enhance well-being, and help one grow. The other video, which the other half of the participants saw, starts with the ominous announcement, “Most people know that stress is negative…but research shows that stress is even more debilitating than you expect. It went on to describe how stress can harm your health, happiness, and performance at work.

Saliva was collected to measure two stress hormones: cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These two hormones are released by our adrenal glands during times of stress, but they serve different roles. Cortisol helps turn sugar and fat into energy and improves the ability of the body and brain to use that energy. Cortisol also surpresses some biological functions that are less important during stress, such as digestion, reproduction, and growth. On the other hand, DHEA is a neurosteroid, which is a hormone that helps the brain to grow. Just as testosterone helps the body grow stronger from physical exercise, DHEA helps the brain grown stronger from stressful experiences. DHEA also counters some of the effects of cortisol. For example, DHEA speeds up wound repair and enhances immune function.

We need both these hormones. Neither is a “good” or “bad” stress hormone. But the ratio of these two hormones can influence the long-term consequences of stress, especially when stress is chronic. Higher levels of cortisol can be associated with worse outcomes, such as impaired immune function and depression. In contrast, higher levels of DHEA have been linked to a reduced risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease neurodegeneration, and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.

The ratio of DHEA to cortisol is called the growth index of a stress response. A higher growth index helps people thrive under stress. It predicts academic persistence and resilience in college students, as well as higher GPAs. A higher growth index was associated with greater focus, less dissociation, and superior problem-solving skills, and fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms during and after military survival training. The growth index also predicts resilience in extreme circumstances, such as recovering from child abuse.

The key question for the experiment explained earlier in this post was whether a three-minute video about stress could alter this key ratio of stress hormones. The answer was yes. Participants who had watched the stress-is-enhancing video before the interview released more DHEA and had a higher growth index than participants who had watched the stress-is-debilitating video. Dr. Crum concludes, “Viewing stress as enhancing made it so—not in some subjective, self-reported way, but in the ratio of stress hormones produced by the participants adrenal glands. Viewing stress as helpful created a different biological reality.

Mindsets

June 11, 2018

Dr. McGonigal relates what she experienced at the Behaviorlal Research Lab at Columbia University. She was holding her right arm out at shoulder length while psychologist Alia Crum was trying to push it down. They struggled for a few seconds. Despite being quite petite, Dr. Alia Crum was quite strong (a former hockey player and an internationally ranked ironman triathlete in fact). So it was not surprising that Dr. McGonigal’s arm gave out.

Dr. Crum instructed Dr. McGonigal, “Instead of resisting me, I want you to imagine that you are reaching your arm toward someone or something you care about.” She asked her to imagine that when she pushed on her arm, she should channel her energy into what she was reaching toward. This exercise was inspired by Dr. Crum’s father, who is a sensei in aikido, a martial art based on the principle of transforming harmful energy. Dr. McGonigal visualized what Dr. Crum had instructed, and then tried again. This time Dr. McGonigal was much stronger, and Dr. Crum wasn’t able to push Dr. McGonigal’s arm down. The more she pushed, the stronger Dr. McGonigal felt.

This single idea motivates all Dr. Crum’s research: How you think about something can transform its effect on you. Crum’s work gets attention because it shows that our physical reality is more subjective than we believe. By changing how people think about an experience, they can change what’s happening in their bodies. Her findings are so surprising that they make a lot of people scratch their heads and say, “Huh? Is that even possible?”

“Mindsets are beliefs that shape our reality, including objective physical reactions, and even long-term health, happiness, and success. More important, the new field of mindset science shows that a single brief intervention, designed to change how we think about something, can improve our health, happiness, and success, even years into the future. The field is full of remarkable findings that will make us think about our own beliefs. From placebos to self-fulfilling prophecies, perception matters. After a crash course in the science of mindsets, you’ll understand why our beliefs about stress matter—and how we can start to change our own minds about stress.

Both the topics of mindsets and placebos have warranted many health memory blog posts in the past. Just enter “placebo” or “mindset” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to find relevant posts.

This blog post is the second post based on Dr. McGonigal’s book, “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

The Upside of Stress

June 10, 2018

HM is surprised that he is writing this title. As a person and as a psychologist, he has thought that stress is harmful and something to be avoided. The author of the book, “The Upside of Stress” is also a psychologist, a health psychologist at Stanford University to be specific, who also thought that stress was harmful and something that should be avoided. But we psychologists change our minds, when data indicate that we should change our minds. The data so indicated and we changed our minds. The subtitle of Dr. McGonigal’s book is “Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.”

In 1998, thirty thousand adults in the United States were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year. They were also asked, “Do you believe stress is harmful to your health. Eight years later the researchers examined the public records to find out who among the thirty thousand participants had died. High levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43%, but this increased risk applied only to people who also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who reported high levels of stress but who did not view they stress as harmful were not more likely to die. Moreover, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported experiencing very little stress.

So it doesn’t appear that stress alone is harmful. Rather, it is the combination of stress and the belief that stress is harmful. The researchers estimated that over the eight years they conducted the study, 182,000 Americans may have died prematurely because they believed that stress was harming their health. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that makes “believing stress is bad for you” the fifteenth-leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS, and homicide. The researchers had looked at a wide range of factors that might explain the finding to include gender, race, ethnicity, age, education, income, work status, marital status, smoking, physical activity, chronic health condition, and health insurance. None of these facts explained why stress beliefs interacted with stress levels to predict mortality.

It is known that beliefs and attitudes are important. One example is that people with a positive attitude about aging live longer than those who hold negative stereotypes about getting oder. A classic study by researchers at Yale University followed middle-aged adults for 20 years. Those who had a positive view of aging in midlife lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those who had a negative view. To put this finding in perspective, many factors we regard as obvious and important, such as exercising regularly, not smoking, and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, have been shown, on average, to add less than four years to one’s life span.

After learning of these findings, Dr. McGonigal had to face the fact that by teaching the dangers of stress, she was actually damaging the health of students, not helping them. Dr. McGonigal learned from these studies and from talking to scientists, who are part of a new generation of stress researchers, whose work is redefining our understanding of stress by illuminating its upside. “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps us learn and grow, and it can even inspire courage and compassion. The best way to manage stress is not to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.

The next thirteen healthy memory blog posts will be based on Dr. McGonigal’s book to help you rethink and embrace it.

Key to the development of an effective response to stress involves the concept of mindsets. The healthy memory blog has been a strong advocate of growth mindsets in which we embrace continual new learning. Learning about stress is just another topic to add to our growth mindsets.

When is the best time to take a test or think creatively?

June 9, 2018

The answers can be found in an article titled “Good Timing” by Kirsten Weir in June 2018 issue of “Monitor on Psychology.” Research is finding that one’s cognitive performance fluctuates in predictable patterns throughout the course of a day. And the performance of different tasks can differ as a function of the task and the time of day.

Madhusudan Sanaka, MD, at the Cleveland Clinic and his colleagues studied colonoscopy data from more than 3,600 people and found that physicians identified significantly more abnormalities during morning colonoscopies than during those performed in the afternoon (“The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 104, 7, 2009).

Moods also rise and fall predictably throughout the day. Ph.Ds Scott Golder and Michael Macy at Cornell University studied language from millions of public Twitter posts from around the globe. They found the average Twitter users had a happiness spike around breakfast, hit a grimy slump in late afternoon, and perked up again after dinner (“Science” 333, 6051, 2011). Macy said,“We found an incredibly robust pattern across diverse cultures all over the world.”

The time-sensitive nature of moods can have surprising ripple effects. Jing Chen, Ph.D., at the University of Buffalo School of Management, and colleagues analyzed earnings conference calls and found that financial executives and analysts were upbeat in the morning and became more negative as the day wore on. Those mood changes led the analysts to make more errors related to stock pricing in the afternoon (‘Management Science,” online first publication, 2018).

Given these results, should we schedule important tasks for the morning and give afternoons over to an extended siesta? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. People’s cognitive abilities fluctuate throughout the day in accordance with their personal circadian patterns, or chronotypes.

We tend to fall into different chronotypes, defined by the window of time we feel most alert and energetic. There are strong morning types, moderate morning types, strong evening types, moderate evening types, and those who are neutral, who peak at midday.

Dorothee Fischer, Ph.D., a research fellow at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital says “Chronotype isn’t a personality trait, but a biological characteristic.” Our sleep-wake cycles are governed by a master clock known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a cluster of neurons located within the hypothalamus. The SCN does its job with input from environmental factors, largely light exposure. But sunshine is only part of the story. Our underlying rhythms are rooted in our genes.

As we age our circadian rhythmicity shifts. On the whole, young children are more often morning types, but by their teens and early 20s a majority have shifted to favoring evenings, or being neutral, leaning toward evening. In older age, we slide back toward favoring the morning hours. Still, there’s considerable variation among individuals, and that variation translates to differences in our peak times for maximum brainpower.

Lynn Hasher, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto says, “You are way better off doing difficult mental chores at a time consistent with your chronotype. Research has shown that these synchrony effects hold for people of all ages, from adolescent to older adults. One study had adolescents who identified as morning or evening types perform a suite of executive function tasks. The participants took the tests in the morning or afternoon. Lark or owl, students tested during their peak times scored higher on working memory, decision-making and overall executive functioning that a tested at off-peak times (“Developmental Science”, 15, 3, 2102).

In another study older and younger adults were tested at their peak and non peak times. The tests evaluated implicit memory (recall of well-known information) as well as explicit memory (the conscious deliberate effort to process and retrieve information). In both groups, participants had better explicit memory during their peak times during the day. However, for implicit memory the results were flipped: Morning types had better implicit memory in the afternoon, while evening types scored higher in the morning (“Psychological Science”, 16, 2, 2005). These results make sense when you think of daily peaks in terms of distractions. Inhibition is an important part of executive function, allowing us to focus unimportant tasks by filtering out the unimportant details. During off-peak times of day, inhibition wavers and we have a harder time tuning out the irrelevant information. That’s why tasks that require focus and analytic thought are best tackled at peak times.

On the other hand, creative endeavors might best be undertaken at off-peak times. Psychologists Marieke Wieth and Rose Zacks found that people were better able to solve problems requiring a flash of insight during their off-peak times of day (“Thinking & Reasoning,” 17, 4, 2011). May says, “If you’re doing a task when you want to entertain lots of different possibilities and think creatively, then operating at your non optimal time is to your advantage.”

As for people without a strong preference for early mornings or late nights, Hasher and May gave a battery of cognitive tests to two groups of neutral-type adults, ages 17 to 21 and ages 70 to 74. The older adults performed best at midday, with notable timing effects for inhibition, executive function, long-term memory and forgetting. The younger adults showed no differences in peformance when tested in early morning, midday, or evening (“Timing & Time Perception, 5, 2, 2017).

Timing effects might become more important with age. Hasher and her colleagues compared cognitive control between morning-type elderly adults and young adults who trended toward evening type. The participants completed a series of tasks to measure attention and distraction while inside an fMRI scanner. When older adults were tested in the morning, at their peak time, they were more likely to ignore distracting information, performing more similarly to young adults tested in the afternoons. When tested at their peak time, the older participants showed activation in the same brain regions as their younger counterparts. But when tested at non optimal times, older adults were more easily distracted and recruited different neural networks to do the work (“Psychology and Aging”, 29, 3, 2014).

Unfortunately, these time of day effects can adversely affect results on important tests. Hasher and her colleagues gave intelligence tests to 11- to 14-year-olds testing both morning and evening types at optimal and non optimal times of day. IQ estimates were an average of 6 points lower when children tested at their non-peak rather than peak times (“Personality and Individual Differences,” 42, 3, 2007).

Fischer and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they matched shift workers” schedules to their chronotypes. Fischer says, “The earliest group of chronotypes didn’t work the night shift and the later group didn’t work the morning shift. By this simple tweak, we could improve sleep duration, circadian disruption and well being (“Current Biology,” 25, 7, 2015).

Most people can find small ways to tweak their daily schedules for maximum benefit. If you’re a morning person, resist the temptation to go through emails first thing in the morning and try diving into your deep work right away. May says, “You should save the mundane administrative stuff until the afternoon and spend the morning on more difficult tasks like writing manuscripts, analyzing data or planning experiments.”

If you’re meeting with a financial planner to discuss complicated investment options, schedule the appointment at a time when you’re at your cognitive peak. If you’re trying to interpret some puzzling research data, revisit it during your off-peak coffee break.

You can still shift your rhythm a little, says Fischer. Being exposed to bright lights at night can push circadian patterns later into the evening. That’s especially true of the blue light common in electronic devices. But lights are easy to adjust. Fischer says, “Reducing evening light exposure has an advancing effect on your circadian clock.” By dimming lights when it gets dark outside and using light-filtering software on their devices, evening types can shift their biology to a (slightly) earlier rhythm.

So What Can Be Done?

June 8, 2018

This is the third post based on THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meecham. So what can be done? How can we win the battle for our better angels? Jon Meecham suggests:

Enter the Arena:
Meecham writes, “The battle begins with political engagement itself. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The first duty of any American citizen, then, is that he shall work in politics; his second duty is that he shall do that work in a practical manner; and his third is that it shall be done in accord with the highest principles of honor and justice. …To believe something creates an obligation to make that belief known and to act upon it within the arena. Politicians are far more often mirrors of public sentiment than they are molders; the is the nature of things in a popular government and should be a source of hope for those who long for a change of presidents or of policy.”

Resist Tribalism:
The country works best when we resist tribal inclinations. Jane Adams wrote, “We know instinctively that if we grown contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only tremendously circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.”

Eleanor Roosevelt offered this prescription to guard against self-certitude: “It is not only important but mentally invigorating to discuss political matters with people whose opinions differ radically from our own. For the same reason, I believe it is a sound idea to attend not only the meetings of one’s own party but of the opposition. Find out what people are saying, what they are thinking, what they believe. This is an invaluable check on one’s own ideas…If we are to cope intelligently with a changing world, we must be flexible and willing to relinquish opinions that no longer have any bearing on existing conditions. Meecham adds, “If Mrs. Roosevelt were writing today, she might put it this way: Don’t let ay single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think.”

Respect Facts and Deploy Reason
This is the primary problem with Trump. He does not respect facts. He does not believe in objective reality. All his reasoning is self-serving. So the requirement is to issue reality checks. Challenge beliefs that are not supported by facts. This is an extremely difficult and challenging task. Raise the possibility of a delusional disorder. Point to the motivation for the delusions and false claims. And point to the dangers continuing to follow these false claims will lead.

Find a Critical Balance
And find that balance in a free press. Keep this injunction of Theodore Roosevelt in mind; “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” So resist any and all attacks on the Free Press. And resist any and all attacks on the judiciary.
Keep History in Mind
Remember that we are on a path of progress and improvement from our beginnings as an incipient democracy. This path is not always one of improvement. There have been regressions from which we had to recover (the Civil War being the most blatant). Keep in mind the McCarthy era and the similarity of its problems to our Trump problems. Remember this book, consider purchasing this book, and use it as a resource to win the battle for our better angels.

Trump and McCarthy

June 7, 2018

This is the second post based on “THE SOUL OF AMERICA: The Battle for Our Better Angels” by Jon Meecham. In looking for somehow who once endangered American democracy as much as Trump does today, HM found Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Before getting to McCarthy, conservative Robert Welch thought that Dwight Eisenhower was guilty of treason. Along with Eisenhower was President Truman’s secretary of defense and of state George Marshall, whom Welch said was “a conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent of the Soviet conspiracy. Eisenhower’s secretary of state was yet another “Communist agent.”

Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society. Welch thought that there was a struggle from which either communism or Christian-style civilization mush emerge with one completely triumphant and the other completely destroyed.

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy picked up on this and told the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club, “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down—they are truly down.”

“McCarthy was something new in political life at the time: a freelance performer who grasped what many ordinary Americans feared and who had direct access to the media of the day. He exploited the privileges of power and prominence without regard to its responsibilities; to him politics were not about the substantive but the sensational. The country feared Communism, and McCarthy knew it, and he fed those fears with years of headlines and hearings. A master of false charges, of conspiracy-tonged heroic, and of calculated disrespect for conventional figures (from Truman and Eisenhower, to Marshall), McCarthy could distract the public, play the press, and change the subject—all while keeping himself at center stage.”

Meecham writes that McCarthy was an opportunist, uncommitted to much beyond his own fame and influence. HIs own lawyer, Roy M. Cohn, could not discern any great ideological conviction. Cohn, who later worked for Trump said, ”Joe McCarthy bought Communism in much the same way as other people purchase a new automobile. The salesman showed him the model; he looked at it with interest, examined it more closely, kicked the tires, sat at the whereat, squiggled in the seat, asked some questions, and bought. It was must as cold as that.”

Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, “McCarthy’s methods, to me, look like HItler’s.” President Truman agreed with a correspondent who posited that “there is no difference in kind between Hitlerism and McCarthyism, both being the same form of bacteriological warfare against the minds and souls of men.” Truman said that the net effect of the McCarthyite campaign was to undermine confidence in the country in a time of cold war. He said, “To try to sabotage the foreign policy of the United Staes is just as bad in this cold war as it would be to shoot our soldiers in the back in a hot war.”
Richard H. Rovere wrote that he was the first American ever to be actively hated and feared by foreigners in large numbers.” In 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt, on a trip to Japan, found herself facing question about McCarthyism. “Will you please explain these attitudes?” A Japanese businessman asked the former First Lady, “We are unable to understand why things happen in a great democratic nation like the United States.” Meecham writes, “Part of the answer lies in the nature of democracy itself: Millions of Americans approved of McCarthy no matter what the elites might say or do.” Does this not sound reminiscent of the current suspicion of expertise and the “deep state?”

The Columbia University history professor Richard Hofstadter, wrote at the time, the “growth of mass media in communication and their use in politics have brought politics closer to the people than ever before and have made politics a form of entertainment in which the spectators feel themselves involved. Thus, it becomes more than ever before an arena into which private emotions and personal problems can be readily projected. Communications have made it possible to keep the mass man in an almost constant of political mobilization.”

McCarthy understood the media’s ways and means. He knew that every wire serviceman had to have a lead by eleven’o’clock [for the afternoon newspapers]. There just wasn’t any question about it; you had to have a lead. The senator learned to make sensational charges at just the right moment, forcing reporters to write quick stories that surged across the country by wire, reaching millions of readers before sundown.

When he read coverage he disliked, McCarthy did not keep quiet—he went on the offensive, singling out specific publications and particular journalists. Sound familiar? He said, “if you can show a newspaper as unfriendly and having a reason to be antagonistic, you can take the sting out of what it ways about you. I think I can convince a lot of people that they can’t believe what they read in that newspaper.”

The similarities to Trump should be obvious. For both individuals, objective truth and reality were irrelevant. Supporters believed their obvious lies and the emotional support these lies brought.

All this went on for a long time from around 1950 into 1954. It is difficult to believe that his lies and foolishness lasted for such a long time. But eventually, he was seriously challenged. Edward R. Murrow said, “We will not walk in fear of one another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we did dip in our history and doctrine and remember the we are not descended from fearful men.”

Eventually there were hearings into McCarthy and the U.S. Army in the Senate. Roy Cohn and McCarthy had exerted pressure on the Army to secure favors for David Schine, an intimate of Cohn’s who had been drafted. McCarthy’s ugliness and lack of fidelity to the truth became evident in these hearings.

The counsel for the Army, Joseph N. Welch, attacked McCarthy who attempted impugn the loyalty of a young lawyer on Welch’s team. When McCarthy blundered forward and took up the theme again, Welch was ready and stuck with force. “Let’s not assassinate this lad further, Senator, Welch said. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?”

If only Trump could be reprimanded like this public for his lack of decency for his fellow human beings.

McCarthy faded from public view after this, and drank himself to death.

THE SOUL OF AMERICA

June 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by Jon Meecham. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” Given the current state of our country, it is a most timely volume. Meecham writes, “To know what has come before us is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect union.”

Consider from where we started. Although the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal, women could not vote. Slavery existed and these blacks were counted as three-fifths of a human being. So the Constitution gave us a starting point from which we were to advance and develop. It is interesting that the founding fathers decided against a parliamentary system of government in which the parliament would choose the executive for the country. Instead, they decided upon a government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, that were supposed to be independent and to serve as checks and balances on each other. During Watergate this system worked well. Republicans in the legislative branch had no problem holding the Republican president’s feet to the fire for wrongdoing, so he resigned rather than face impeachment.

Unfortunately today Republicans in the legislative branch are waging war against the Judicial Branch to discredit its investigation of the president. The reason they are trying to discredit this investigation is that it appears serious crimes against the American people have been committed by the president. Were the president innocent, the obvious course would be to assist the judicial branch. What is especially discrediting to these attacks is that outstanding Republicans are leading the investigation. Yet terms such as “witch hunt” are repeatedly heard. Such terms make our country sound like some African dictatorship. If the investigation is ended by Trump, it is quite possible that Trump would declare himself, as the leaders he clearly admires, Putin and Xi, effectively did, dictator for life.

Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill speech during his Farewell Address:

“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

HM has heard Trump supporters say they are Reagan Republicans. How can this be? Trump is the antithesis of Reagan.

HM found the most inspirational part of the book to be Lyndon B. Johnson managing to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was long overdue. Parts of the United States effectively had the apartheid of South Africa. Johnson persisted in convincing enough southerners, against all their lifelong prejudices, that segregation was morally wrong, and put the United States in the same class as South Africa. It took a southerner to be able to convince other southerners of the need for this bill. And it took a super salesman who would not take “no” for an answer, and persisted until he got his way.

But there were repercussions from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time the southern states were, and had been for a long time, strongly Democratic. Typically Republicans did not even bother to run candidates in these states. So these Democrats eventually (some became Dixiecrats first) became Republicans and took their racism with them to the Republican party. This provided the seeds for Trump’s eventual success.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s True, Trump Doesn’t Lie

June 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by Dana Milbank in the 30 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The column begins with examples of lies told by Donald Trump. They will not be repeated because everyone has heard these lies many, many times. Milbank writes, “Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s behavior is worse: With each day it becomes more obvious he can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy. It’s an illness, and it’s spreading.

There is a name of the illness that Trump is experiencing and that is the delusional disorder. The test that would confirm this disorder involves hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). If documented lies were not detected, that would confirm that he has the delusion disorder. This means that Trump has lost touch with reality. And this is truly frightening with the President who is supposed to have control of the nuclear football (let’s hope that that is wrong). Milbank writes, “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.” Frankly, it does not matter whether Trump has this disease or not. Trump does not care about objective truth, and in his version of reality, what is true is whatever benefits him at the moment.

What is also of concern is what neuroscientist Tali Sharot noted that people “may sensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior.” This might account for why people who carry water for the president, many Republicans, Rudy Giulani, newscasters, and columnists continue to carry water rather than denounce the president.

It is quite apparent that Trump feels he will be found guilty on a number of counts. However, if he can discredit the Justice Department, that might not matter. Giuliani has already announced that this is the strategy. One can gauge the degree of Trump’s guilt by the number and intensity of his attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department. He might even fire Mueller. This would create a Constitutional Crisis from which the worst result would be Trump declaring himself president for life.

Although we all wish for successful negotiations with North Korea, the outcome of these negotiations are irrelevant to Trump’s guilt. Even if he should be successful and win the Nobel Prize, that should not exonerate him from whatever crimes he might have committed.

Remember that Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for negotiations he brought about with North Korea. However, it turned out that North Korea had cheated on the treaty that had been negotiated. So even given ostensibly successful negotiations, it will be some time before it can be accurately assessed whether they had been successful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HM’s Experience in Segregated Schools

June 4, 2018

HM attended segregated schools for the first ten years of his education. HM’s family came from the north and thought segregation was wrong. They told him that Southerner’s were strange and had outdated beliefs. HM attended schools in Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida. Here are some of the things he heard his teachers say.

It’s hard to believe but ignorant colored men were able to vote before decent white women.

Ni——s will not fight. They turn and run away. (HM hopes that all readers have seen the movie “Glory”).

Here’s a riddle What is a co-c—n? Answer a n-nig—-r.

Slavery was a good thing. It is in the Holy Bible. And these coloreds were taught Christianity and were promised eternal life. So what were they and still are complaining about?
The irony of this last assertion strikes HM. Apparently they were regarded as people for the purposes of heaven, but as slaves they were treated like farm animals. And some were treated worse than farm animals.

Understand, that this was not formal education and was not required teaching by the respective states. But it reflects the seething racism among even educated whites.

In 1958, some Virginia schools were ordered to integrate. Consequently, the schools were closed. HM was furious at this, and he thought the President should have sent troops to Virginia to remind Virginians who won the Civil war. HM was alone in his anger. His former friends refused to integrate. HM says former, because he now regarded this individuals with hatred and hoped they would all end up in hell. He now realizes that this was wrong. Hatred is wrong and does damage to the hater. But what started out as slavery, turned into a segregated system that held blacks down and still exploited them. Civil rights have done much to alleviate this problem, but racism remains as a cancer in the United States.

Fortunately HM’s family moved to Ohio and HM had the privilege of attending integrated schools. However, when HM saw the movie about Jessie Owens (Race), he was appalled to see the racism present at Ohio State University when Jessie Owens attended. Racism is not confined to the southern states. In the 1936 Olympics Owens won four gold medals: 100 and 200 meter dashes; 400 meter relay; and the broad jump. As astounding as that was his achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport”[4] and has never been equalled. There are plaques at the site of these feats in Ann Arbor, and HM visited them and marveled at his achievements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attended segregated schools, just as HM did. But it had a different effect on him. After Obama won the election in 2008, he swore that Obama would never be re-elected. It was clear that this was primary racial, and not political. Yet people, say that polarization is due to both parties, to show that they are broad minded. But the polarization is more pronounced on the Republican than the Democratic side.

Many Americans were proud that we had finally elected a black president. Unfortunately, there were too many others who were offended by the outcome. Racism, along with strong assistance from Russia, resulted in Trump winning the electoral college. Polls show that many white men feel that they have been victimized by blacks and civil rights. When you hear of Trump’s base, it is good to appreciate the composition of Trump’s base: nazis and white supremacists.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Conclusion

June 3, 2018

 

bell hooks: How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

This is the final post in the series of posts based on the book by Sally Kohn, “THE OPPOSITE OF HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity.

Kohn reminds us of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which he published in 1949. The dystopian novel imagines Orwell’s native Britain as the fictional Oceana, which has been taken over by a tyrannical regime that governs with emotional manipulation. Individual thinking is outlawed, and citizens are under constant surveillance, just in case. Most people go along with the regime willingly—in large part because of propaganda of misinformation, fear-mongering, and hate against a mysterious “other.”

Every day in Oceania, all citizens are required to take part in Two Minutes of Hate, when they would watch a film that demeans and demonizes Oceania’s enemies. The Two Minutes Hate shows “row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swarm up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar.” Orwell continues, “Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room…A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like flame of a blowlamp.”

Case Sunstein in 2013 described Glen Beck’s show on Fox News as comparable to Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate. In 2016, the alt-right publication “Breitbart” said that journalists and celebrities attacking Donald Trump amounted to a daily Two Minutes of Hate. And Trump’s Twitter feed has also been equated to a regular Two Minutes of Hate.

Sally Kohn writes, “The point of Two Minutes of Hate in “1984” was to distract people from the real problems that were affecting them—their own government and its oppressive actions—by directing their attention and anger elsewhere. Reflecting on the lessons of Orwell’s book, a student in Georgia told her teacher, ‘We do need a public enemy, but not like that. Crime or poverty should be more of the public enemy that the world works to fight against.’ What if our hate is not only causing violence and pain and division but getting in the way of us solving the real problems that hurt us all.”

The writer David Foster Wallace told a parable about two young fish who were swimming along when they came across an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. As he swam past, the older fish said to the younger fish, “Morning, boys. How’s the water? The two young fish kept swimming along for some time until finally one fish turns to the other fish and asks, “What the hell is water?” We are swimming in a world full of hate and biases and we become oblivious to them. And many of these reside in our nonconscious minds such that we remain oblivious of them.

Ms. Kohn writes, “What I’ve learned is that all hate is premised on a mind-set of otherizing. The sanctimonious pedestal of superiority on which we all put ourselves while we systematically dehumanize others is the essential root of hate. In big and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we constantly filter the world around us through the lens of our explicit and implicit biases. This abets rationalization and looking the other way about widespread injustices such as dismissing entire communities that don’t have access to health care, or entire nations blocked in civil war because they fall outside the sphere of moral concern.”

And she continues, “We think we’re good people, but we don’t see how the sphere of moral concern is constricted by hate, by the history and habits and culture of who matters and who doesn’t in our society, which we have all bought into, whether we mean to or not. So we shake our fists against neo-Nazis marching in the streets, but not enough of us admit that they’re reflections of the society we’ve all created, let alone acknowledge that they’re reflections of ourselves.”

Still continuing, “We have a crisis of hate in the United States and around the world, and we can’t begin to address it if we don’t first learn to see it—making the invisible visible—uncovering the inadvertent, implicit, deliberate and conscious forms of hate all around us and in ourselves. ‘Real change is systemic and self-implicating, urging us to see our role in vast complex problems,’ Anand Giridharadas said in a speech at the first Obama Foundation Summit in October 2017. Leo Tolstoy wrote, ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’ We have to do both. Before it’s too late.”

Surprisingly, Ms. Kohn is optimistic. She writes, “Yes, hate is profound—complicated and vexing as well as ugly and sad. But it is not inevitable, in any given individual or community or institution or system. Alongside the hateful history of the world are stories of transcending that hate: finding peace after genocide, granting liberty after oppression, even just inching toward equality in the wake of horrific injustice. Hate is no more hardwired into our world than it is into our brains. Change is possible.”

She writes that she knows this not only because she reads the psychology and biology and neuroscience research, but because she has met people like Arno, Bassam, Marie-Jeanne and so many others—people who plumbed the greatest depths of hatred in our world and nonetheless managed to find a way out.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Ms Kohn writes that the opposite of hate is not love. You don’t have to love people to stop hating them. You don’t even have to like them. You don’t have to concede the validity of their views. Assam was very clear that he still sees the Israelis in general as his enemies, but at the same time he no longer hates them.
Ms. Kohn concludes, “The opposite of hate also isn’t some mushy middle zone of dispassionate centrism. You can still have strongly held beliefs, beliefs that are in strong opposition to the beliefs of other people, and still treat those others with civility and respect. Ultimately, the opposite of hate is the beautiful and powerful reality of how we are all fundamentally linked and equal as human beings. The opposite of hate is connection.”

Systems of Hate: The Big Picture

June 2, 2018

Martin Luther KIng, Jr. : The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged in the dark abyss of annihilation.

This is the sixth chapter in “The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our Humanity” by Sally Kohn.

It wasn’t until 1920 that all women, including black women, could vote. Although the Fifteenth Amendment passed in 1870 granted voting rights to African American men, ingenious obstacles were developed, and continue to be developed, to discourage or prevent blacks from voting. Even when blacks managed to vote, they were likely to find their names published in the newspaper, which would alert the local KKK gangs to then show up at their homes and threaten them with violence. In 1922 members of the KKK flew over Topeka, Kansas, dropping postcards in black neighborhoods warning against voting. If black people still managed to try to vote, they often found that the KKK would make good on their threats.

In the 1980s the Republican National Committee created the Nation Ballot Security Task Force, in which off-duty police officers armed with their loaded service revolvers patrolled polling stations in black communities. In 1982 the party was sued for violating the Voting Rights Act that had been passed in 1965. But just four years later, a leaked memo from the Republican National Committee detailed how a new “ballot security” program in Louisiana would “keep the black vote down.” Of course the Republicans had a partisan motivation in suppressing Democratic vote, but they could have also tried to suppress the white Democratic vote.

In 2014 Alabama passed a strict requirement that all voters show ID, and then shut down DMV offices in 80% of the state’s blackest counties. Republicans persist in this type of effort. The objective data are that voting fraud rarely occurs, and certainly never affects the outcomes of elections. Trump turned this on its head when he claimed that his failure to win the popular vote had to be due to large scale voter fraud.

Ms. Kohn writes, “Efforts to disenfranchise black voters today are inextricably linked to the past—to slavery and the fact that for centuries black people weren’t recognized as full human beings (they were three quarters of a human being in the original US Constitution), let alone citizens with equal civil rights. And then, amidst whatever the other excuses or explanations may be, that systematic marginalization plays out in other forms, from who gets threatened with violence to whose legitimate right to vote is questioned at all.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “We see the same embedded history of hate in everything from schools to health care to criminal justice and more, and not only in terms of discriminating against black people or women. For instance, as we’ll see, systemic hate in our institutions and norms in the United States also perpetuates bias agains poor and working-class white folks in rural communities.”

Ms. Kohn continues, “ In 2015, Chris Janson—the white southern country singer who wrote the pro-Trump theme song for the 2016 Republican National Convention—penned a song called “White Trash.” One of the lines is, ‘Well if they’d had their way / They’d thrown us away.’ Which J.D. Vance recounts in his memoir, ‘Hillybilly Elegy,’ is what many rural white folks believe liberal elites think about them.”

And Ms. Kohn continues, “ But it’s not just liberals. In 2016, ‘National Review’s Kevin Williamson, writing about the opioid crisis in rural white America, said, ‘The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.’ It’s arguable that this cultural disdain contributes to the systemic opioid crisis. The United States hates poor black folks and poor white folks, although indifferent degrees and in different forms.”

Consider the systemic problem of school segregation and inequity. What was the result of the Supreme Court decision on “Brown vs. the Board of Education.” White folks segregated themselves. This happened not only in the South, but also in the North. Whites did not want to live next to black families and they didn’t want their kids in school with black kids.

The result is that today in the United States, more than one out of every ten black and Latino students attend so-called “apartheid schools,” in which whites make up less than 1% of enrollment. And apartheid schools are in disproportionately poor communities and because should funding is apportioned mostly through local property taxes, apartheid schools receive less funding than wealthy white schools.

And it’s not just income inequality that black families are forced into poor neighborhoods, but because property taxes are determined by home values, and those values have been affected by decades of redlining policies in the United States, through which banks and government colluded to relegate black families to certain neighborhoods and then devalue the property in those neighborhoods.

It is ironic and surprising that research has found that racial and ethnic diversity is great for communities. One study found that ethnic diversity in a community increases home values and lowers crime. Another study found that as US cities have become more diverse, they have become safer. In the biggest cities in the US, crime “fell as the percentage of the population that is non-white and the percentage that is gay increased.” The same has been found in suburbs. “As suburb diversified, crime rates fell,” another scholar wrote. Plus nationwide polling data show that people who live in racially inclusive communities are happier, more optimistic, and less stressed—all of which corresponds to living healthier and more productive lives. Ms. Kohn concludes, “It’s sort of like the fleeing white folks are just shooting themselves in the foot, along with their children and the rest of us. It’s by demanding integrated schools both racially and socioeconomically, that parents can help to improve the system ‘for all kids.’”

The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) became disturbed by this and redrew school districts to increase equality. It also provided the opportunity for students to choose a school in a different district. One white girl decided to attend a different school because she realized going to school with all white kids wouldn’t prepare her for life in the 21st century. The OPS high school she chose had “students from over 40 different countries. This student ended up winning a $10,000 college scholarship from Coca-Cola because of an essay she wrote “about tutoring her peers from Asia., Mexico, and Sudan.”

At this point, please excuse a digression from HM regarding home schooling. The main concern of these parents seems to be that they don’t want their children attending schools with diverse student populations, and the risk that their children will be exposed to loathsome liberal ideas. HM would argue that a highly important function of public schools is to provide an environment where students learn to interact with different children and do learn that there are a variety of viewpoints. HM feels that home-schooled children are severely handicapped and that there might be a backlash from these students when they appreciate what their parents have done to them.

By definition collective action requires a group, but one person can definitely get the ball rolling. Ms. Kohn cites the example of Nahed Artful Zehr, a Palestinian Christian who emigrated to the United States when she was six and now leads a Muslim rights organization in Nashville, Tennessee. Nahed has a Ph.D. in religious studies and her academic career included teaching Islam and the Quran at the US Naval War College. After running a four-week workshop on “understanding Islam” in her own Presbyterian congregation, she quit academia and became executive director of the Faith and Culture Center, an organization that promotes understand about Muslims and the Islamic faith.

To help more Muslims and non-Muslims share their experiences, Nahed created a series of dinner programs where people could literally break bread together and talk. Just through meeting one another and talking as human beings, people have had completely transformative experiences.

One day a group of Evangelical Christian pastors came to Nahed and asked for her help. They’d been hearing their congregants say some hateful things about Muslims, but the pastors didn’t really know enough about Islam to respond effectively, and what they knew was often rumor and not fact. Meeting and sharing meals together had outstanding results.

Ms. Kohn concludes, “Faith institutions have the capacity to either foster beliefs that fuel hate—or serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Just like businesses have an amazing capacity to foster connection—because the places we work are often more diverse than our neighborhoods and schools and congregations, and because the advertisements and products and services businesses help define so much of our culture. All institutions have the opportunity to be part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Ms. Kohn provides examples of how faith institutions serve as spaces of cultural transformation that pursue hate’s opposite. Unfortunately, there are examples of faith institutions that not only foster beliefs that fuel hate, but also are in opposition to democracy. Consider the former terrorist Bassam Aramin. He is a Palestinian fighting with Israeli’s for a space, which they regard as their country. Assam disaggregates the concept of enemy from the feeling of hate. He does not hate them. Even though he regards them as his enemy he still has compassion for them.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Included here is the right not to believe. But there are certain Christian groups who try to impose their religious beliefs on others. There is no need to do this. Their right is guaranteed. Why do they think they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on others? They complain about sharia in Islam, and fail to see that what they are doing is analogous to sharia. There are segments of the Republican party that are preoccupied with imposing their religious beliefs on others through legislation. It seems like they want to have something like the moral police they have in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they seem to neglect the love, compassion, and forgiveness that Christ taught. They counter efficient means of providing health care, favor harsh punishments, and show a pronounced lack of compassion towards their fellow man. And some of the beliefs they want to impose on others are regarded as insipid by other Christians. They seem to foster hate, rather than the love that Christ taught. They need to concentrate on reading the gospels and ignoring what is being preached from their religious leaders (See the healthy memory blog post “Beliefs vs. Deeds,” and consider joining a different church.)

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Hate Becomes Pandemic: The Genocide

June 1, 2018

Valarie Kaur: Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate.

This is the fifth chapter in The OPPOSITE of HATE: A Field Guide to Repairing our humanity by Sally Kohn. The Rwandan genocide is often described as the fastest genocide in world history—a breathtaking average of eight thousand people were murdered every day, many by their own friends and neighbors. Thousands and thousands of ordinary people participated in the genocide. At least two hundred thousand Hutus participated in the genocide. Ms. Kohn writes, “This is what happens when hate, like wildfire, is deliberately spread nationwide.”

For many years, Hutus and Tutsis lived relatively peaceably. Tutsis tended to raise cattle and Hutus tended to farm. Colonial powers changed this by making the Tutsis the dominant power. Gourrevitch writes “Hutus in Rwanda had been massacring Tutsis on and off since the waning days of Belgian colonial rule in the late fifties.” During Rwanda’s struggle for independence in the 1960s, tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed and an estimated 40% to 70 % of the remaining Tutsi population fled the country.

Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana and his wife Agathe had been plotting annihilation of the Tutsis since Habyarimana seized power in a 1973 coup. Agatha Habyarimana coordinated the group of Hutu extremists who meticulously planned the genocide, including recruiting and training the interahahmwe militias. In 1992 Hutu extremists conduct a dry run of their genocidal plans. They killed several hundred Tutsis around the country.

On August 6, 1994 President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and Habyarimana died. Attacks were planned and the genocide commenced. HM will not recount the atrocities that occurred, but they were many and brutal. And many were done by neighbors against neighbors and friends against friends. As of 2016, there were less than fifty confirmed examples of rescuers during the genocide. They constituted a tiny fraction of Rwanda’s overall population of 5.95 millions. Similarly, during the Holocaust, active resisters of Nazi atrocities against Jews are estimated to have made up just half of 1% of the entire civilian population.

The common response to these atrocities is what kind of monsters were these people? Difficult as it may be to believe, they were normal, not monsters. These Rwandans lived together and made friends with each other. It should be remembered that only a very small percentage of the Germans were punished for war crimes. The vast majority returned to normal lives. Some still have pictures of these atrocities in their photograph collections.

Here it is appropriate to review the work of Stanley Milgram, that has been previously reported in healthy memory posts. Milligram conducted an experiment in which two experimental participants apparently showed up at the same time. One of these individuals was a confederate of the experimenter. He became the apparent subject, the learner in the experiment in which the true subject was to serve as the teacher. The teacher was supposed to administer an electric shock when the faux learner made an error. The shock machine had switches marked from 15 volts (Slight Shock) to 375 volts (Severe Shock) to 450 volts (XXX). Of course, the machine was fake; It didn’t really do anything, but the “teachers” thought it was real. Understand that the teacher could have left any time they wanted, although they were given verbal prompts like “The experiment requires you to continue,” and even “You have no other choice but to continue.” But 65% continued until they administered the supposedly lethal shock of 450 volts. Every single one of the teachers went to at least 300 volts.

This important research was not allowed to continue. But in 2017, a group of researchers basically replicated Milgram’s experiment in Poland. In that experiment 90% of “teachers” were willing to apply the highest voltage shock.

Professor Zimbardo at Stanford University conducted a famous “Prison Experiment” in which participants in the study were randomly assigned as prisoners or guards. Here abuses became so severe that the experiment had to be terminated. Zimbardo had a contract to write a book about the experiment, but Zimbardo had been so disturbed about the results that he was unable to finish the book. What motivated him to finish the book, “The Lucifer Effect,” were the atrocities being committed at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It is Zimbardo’s strongly held view that this potential for abuse and torture exists within most of us. In his retirement Zimbardo has started “The Heroic Imagination Project” to foster coming to the aid of others during times of trouble. Both these experiments are reported in the healthy memory blog post,”Good Vs. Evil.”

Peer pressure experiments promoting compliance have been conducted in more benign environments. Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which a subject was brought into a room with people whom they thought were other subjects, but who were actually part of the research team. Asch showed the all three lines of clearly different lengths and then a fourth line that was obviously the same as one, and only one of the first three. Everyone was supposed to say which it matched, which was a simple task, stupidly simple. The correct answer was really obvious. But when the confederates in the room deliberately gave the wrong answer, the subjects would also answer incorrectly 32% of the time. Across twelve similar experiments, 25% of the subject never conformed, but 75% of subjects gave the wrong answer at least once.

A question here is whether the subjects were conforming to the norm, that is going along to get along, or did they honestly think they were giving the correct answer? Gregory Berns and a team at Emory University replicated Asch’s study while subjects had their brains scanned with an fMRI Machine. In this case, the were comparing what looked like Tetris pieces—drawings of two different 3-D objects. The subjects were told to mentally rotate the objects to determine if they were same or different. Again, when the correct answer was super clear. But when accomplices in the room gave the wrong answer, the subjects also answered incorrectly 41% of the time. Berns reasoned that if the subjects were lying, the part of the brain associated with conscious deception would light up. But it didn’t. Instead the parts of the brain associated with visual perception and spatial awareness lit up. So, the subjects weren’t lying. The data suggest their minds were genuinely modifying their actual perceptions to conform with the group: if the rest of the group insisted that they saw a triangle, the subjects who went along with the group literally “saw” a triangle too. Meanwhile, the subjects who went against the group showed brain activity in the right amygdala—suggesting that there’s an emotional toll, potentially even fear, associated with standing up for one’s beliefs.

When Berns and his team performed a version of this experiment in which subjects were tested against computers instead of human researchers, the amygdala didn’t light up. It was concluded that it’s not taking a stand in general but going against one’s peers that caused emotional distress. Christian Crandall and Amy Eshelman studied 105 different kinds of prejudice as they played out in different scenarios— like job discrimination of laughing at hateful jokes—finding that prejudice was highly correlated with the need for social approval from the dominant group. Apparently, this occurs subconsciously.

Aurelia Mok and Michael Morris presented Asian American subjects with pairs of 3-D objects like those in the Berns fMRI study—two shapes that were clearly exactly the same or different. As in the Berns, Asch, and Milgram studies Mok and Morris had researchers pretending to be subjects—who would then give wrong answers. Remember that in Asch’s study 75% of the subjects went along with the obviously wrong answer at least once.

But Mok and Morris got different results. They found that Asian American subjects who demonstrated “low bicultural identity integration”—meaning that they don’t see their Asian and American identities as fully compatible and integrated into one social identity—were more likely to resist peer pressure and give the correct answer, no matter what the confederates did. Ms. Kohn writes, “This makes the case that the way to stop us from discriminating against or hating various identity groups isn’t actually to pretend that those differences don’t exist. The lesson is not that we need some people who feel like outsiders or who haven’t fully integrated their sense of cultural affiliation into a seamless whole—indeed, having low bicultural identity integration is associated with greater rates of anxiety and depression. The lesson is that we need to combat negative otherizing without assimilation or conformity. We can still have groups—the problem is when they are pitted against one another as dominant versus inferior.

John, a Tutsi, fell for a Hutu lady, Marie-Jeanne, and decided to court her. Three days later he proposed (romance moves quickly in Rwanda). Marie-Jeanne’s father had led the Hutu militia that slaughtered John’s family, and John knew it Marie-Jeanne also knew the father had something to do with the murder of John’s family, but she didn’t know the details. When he came to propose, she accepted, but said she still had to talk with her family.

When she shared the idea with her family members, they could not believe their ears. Her mother and sister told her exactly what her father had done. They told her everything. She remained undeterred. Her family pleaded with her that she shouldn’t marry John, that he was only proposing to her for revenge and would mistreat her in retaliation.

She told her family that if my father wronged John’s family, she was the one to blame, She came to the conclusion that this had been her father’s business, not hers.

The American feminist Robin Morgan writes,”Hate generalizes, love specifies.” Through love, we challenge and let go of all kinds of assumptions. John and Marie-Jeanne’s marriage has flourished.