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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Raw Deal

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“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate...Part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
- Elizabeth Warren

Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
- Like 18:25

The Extraction of America
How to talk to greedy bastards

By Kevin McLeod
United Republic
March 23, 2012

Lets get one thing out of the way now - I’m not writing to preach to the converted. Those of you who have read Dylan Ratigan’s GREEDY BASTARDS, who understand the VICI principles, who recognize we are being extracted and how its happening - I’m not writing for you.

My aim is to give you talking points to share with people who do not understand what weve learned. I will be writing about issues relating to VICI, to EXTRACTION, to the shambles our health care system has become, to the exploitation of students through private, government-backed student loans. What I’d like to ask you, dear reader, to do is pay it forward by sharing this, and other articles you find here with others fostering discussion, exposing people to facts they were unaware of, delivering the perspective we share.

This perspective is what motivates us to be active, to work for change, to confront obvious wrongs and realign our institutions so they serve all, not just the 1 percent who have worked out how to manipulate others to their benefit. For democracy to work, the electorate needs to be informed. That’s what were doing - informing, educating, changing mindsand hearts. Let’s get on with it.

The public understanding of the term extraction is linked to the extraction of natural resources. Greedy bastards understand the term the same way, with an important difference; they see ordinary Americans as a natural resource to be extracted. Its been happening, it’s happening now, and it will bleed the country dry if it continues.

Have you seen the meme that revises the U.S. governments budget numbers by lopping off eight zeros to bring the figures down to household budget size? It makes it much easier to appreciate the scale of the problem.  Here it is:

U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
Federal budget: $3,820,000,000,000
New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
Recent [APRIL] budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000

Let’s remove 8 zeros and pretend its a household budget:

Annual family income: $21,700
Money the family spent: $38,200
New debt on the credit card: $16,500
Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
Budget cuts: $385

Similarly, we need to scale down the size of the extraction problem to the point that anyone can relate to it.

Take the extraction of jobs. Just as you might shop at Walmart to save money, business looks for ways to hold down costs. Their largest expense is usually labor. (That cost has been shrinking over the past year).

Whenever the opportunity arises to reduce labor costs, corporations regard it as their duty to shareholders to take advantage. If work can be done cheaper elsewhere at equivalent quality, it will be done elsewhere.

Ok, we know that. Here’s where it hurts. The cumulative impact of offshoring has helped drive unemployment rates for adults between 18-24 to 46 percent.

Forty. Six. Percent. The general unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 25 percent. It is any wonder young people took to the streets during the Occupy protests?

Domestically, corporations also lobby for legislation that helps reduce their labor costs. This is what drives laws to suppress union activity and opens up jobs to H1-B visas. Consequences? Greater leverage at home to hold down wages, fewer jobs to go around, and delayed retirement.

The interests of multinational corporations and working people in America are not aligned. Working people want good-paying jobs with benefits, opportunities to move up, health care that works. Large corporations save money by moving jobs elsewhere while ENJOYING THE BENEFITS OF ALL THE INFRASTRUCTURE - roads, education, transportation, defense - that American workers paid for and built.

Thats called a raw deal.

Imagine chipping in with friends for a large order of pizza - which they then take elsewhere, leaving you hungry. With friends like that, who needs enemies? As more jobs, plants and investment move overseas, loyalties will follow. When the corporate center of gravity shifts to China, Americans are left hungry for jobs, adequate health care, and a hard-earned retirement.

Not only do corporations take the jobs and run, they continue to receive subsidies in America. When working Americans receive government benefits, they’re attacked as moochers. When Corporate America does it… well, see for yourself even Walmart does it. Why are the subsidies granted? Because companies can use the threat of moving jobs to other cities or even other countries to lower their costs even further. In 2003 Missouri gave Ford a generous package to keep open a plant in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, only to see the company shut it down three years later. That story has happened before, and will happen again. It’s another form of extraction.

Subsidies to oil companies amount to roughly four billion dollars annually. Ethanol subsidies are even worse six billion a year, baby. You know it֒s bad when a conservative news source and Al Gore agree its a subsidy that needs to die.

How about allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare? The Bipartisan Policy

Center’s report, Restoring Americas Future, finds this one simple change can save $100 billion between 2012 and 2018. Drug companies are extracting that much in just four years without breaking a sweat.

And we haven’t even looked at military spending yet.

Extraction is not an abstract concept. Its very real, it affects everyone in America personally - at the gas pump, at the pharmacy, at your job. And its really hammering the upcoming generation’s future. This cannot continue.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/28/12 •
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Why Your Education Costs More Than Health Care

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Who’s To Blame For Ballooning Education Costs?

By Kevin McLeod
United Republic
April 25, 2012

In many areas of our lives, prices are inflated far beyond the values they would ordinarily command in a truly free market. There are various causes; SPECULATION, ARTIFICIAL SCARCITY, MONOLOLY PRICING, MANDATED PRODUCTION, and the RIPPLE EFFECTS OF HIGHER ENERGY PRICES.

In my LAST COLUMN, I said the effects of extraction are hammering the upcoming generations future. Nowhere has the effect of rising costs exploded the way it has in higher education. The numbers, from tuition rates to student loan figures, are staggering.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently issued a new study that reports:

The price of going to PUBLIC COLLEGES has jacked up 559 percent since 1985.

The latest report on student loan debt says totals have soared beyond $1 trillion.

Average student loan debt runs about $25,000.

Twenty-seven percent of borrowers are at least 30 days behind on payments.

How did this happen? Most of the increase comes from three sources: state funding cuts, “tuition discounting,” and the expense of paying teachers and administrators. At for-profit colleges, which we’ll look at later, there is also executive compensation.

75 percent of college students attend public universities, and state support for public higher education has been on a roller-coaster, with an overall downhill trend.

The National Science Foundation looked at state funding per student for public research universities and found a 20 percent drop between 2002 and 2010. The San Jose Mercury News reports that California public universities have been hit so hard by state funding cuts, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are now a better deal for middle-class students.

Steadily increasing tuition costs are driving heavier borrowing. This is why total student loans outstanding are now greater than credit card debt. Keep in mind these numbers are only for tuition they do not take into account the additional - and increasing costs of housing, food, and transportation.

By far, most student loans are government-issued. Is the Direct Loan program making a profit? Perhaps surprisingly, no. Why? The feds can borrow at low rates and lend at higher rates, but default rates among borrowers are high. Not a big surprise in an economy just getting off the floor after being hit hard.

An entire generation - people under 40 - of present and former college students - are carrying a twenty-five grand ball and chain everywhere they go. People 40 and below hold more than $580 billion of the total student loan debt.

Even seniors are finding their retirement options cramped or eliminated due to long-standing student loans.

It’s not as if borrowers have much option a college degree has become the new high school diploma. If you aspire to the ranks of management, you’d better have a degree. Otherwise, get ready to don a uniform and become another worker bee. Students are caught between a rock and a hard place the need for a degree and the increasing expense of obtaining one. As a purely economic question, is the value of a degree is worth the skyrocketing cost? Is it a good return on investment? Here’s a comparison using data available through the College Board and the U.S. Census from 3 years ago:

And this only looks at private colleges. The big increases are happening at public universities.

So where is all this money going?

Much of it is going to make up for the reductions in state support. But a huge chunk is going towards “tuition discounting” and administrative costs. Mark Kantrowitz, founder of the college finance website FinAid.org, reported in 2002:

“The practice of tuition discounting, in which a college awards financial aid from its own funds, is responsible for 27% to 32% of the increase in college tuition. On an absolute scale, tuition discounting accounts for 2 to 3 percentage points of the college tuition inflation rate. Tuition charges would be 22% to 25% lower without tuition discounting, but lower income families would be unable to afford to pay for a college education.”

And

“The most significant contributor to tuition increases at public and private colleges is the cost of instruction. It accounts for a quarter of the tuition increase at public colleges and a third of the increase at private colleges.”

Ten years on, that observation holds true - administrative costs are a major driver of increasing tuition. If youd like to see for yourself, check out the Chronicle of Higher Education’s survey of average faculty salaries for 2011-12.

The numbers are even more startling at for-profit schools. Executive compensation at the top 15 publicly-traded education firms amount to two billion dollars. Worse, students attending these schools are defaulting at three times the rate of private non-profit schools. The four-year degree graduation rate is 22 percent. That translates into a lot of dropouts burdened with student loan debt and no degree.

The Economist reports that in 2009, the average yearly tuition at for-profit colleges was about $14,000, compared with $2,500 at a community college. Not coincidentally, these schools are the source of the greatest growth in student borrowing, accounting for nearly 25 percent of federal loans and Pell grants.

So put it together - executive compensation at for-profit colleges are more than 26 times that of the highest-paid president of a traditional university. These salaries are funded mainly by public education subsidized loans, all repaid by students - get em while they’re young!  who are locked into loans that may or may not yield work earning enough to pay it off.

In the for-profit education sector, it’s clear where the money is going - from public coffers to private interests, with the students left holding the bag.

What does it say to our youth that the rate of extraction in education exceeds even that of health care in America?

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Posted by Elvis on 04/28/12 •
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Catholic Women Haters

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The Vatican’s Latest Target in the War on Women: Nuns

By Norman Birnbaum
The Nation
April 26, 2012

No organization survives for two millennia by marching, upright, in a straight line. The history of the Roman Catholic Church is one of a constant struggle to adapt to changes that threatened its authority. In the modern age, it has had to deal with Protestantism and the Enlightenment. It has had to deal politically with democracy and fascism, imperialism and nationalism. Industrial capitalism made its vision of solidarity obsolete. Indifference, secularism and cultural pluralism deprived it of the unquestioning obedience of Catholics themselves.

In this twisted and often tormented tale, two things have been remarkably constant. One is Romes claim to ultimate decision in matters spiritual and worldly. The other has been unyielding insistence on the rule of men - in church and by implication in society. Many American Catholics have learned to live in spiritual chiaroscuro by discreetly ignoring church doctrine, as with the practice of contraception. Rick Santorums Disney World image of the City of God did not enthuse them. Now the Vatican’s theological bureaucrats, many of whom have never ventured beyond its walls, have confronted American Catholics with a crisis which will render many exceedingly uncomfortable, and drive others to one or another form of defiance.

More than 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the United States are represented by an active and outspoken group called the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The nuns are not only teachers in the lower grades of Catholic schools, or locked away in perpetual prayer. They are administrators and leaders in social activism, staff Catholic hospitals, teach in colleges and theological schools. Without their presence, much of Catholic institutional life in the United States would be emptied of energy and, pardon the expression, manpower. Factually, they exercise a great deal of women’s power. Legally, however, they are second-class citizens or (poorly) paid servants of the church, obliged to accept the commands of bishops and priests. Extending our non-discrimination laws to the church would revolutionize it - which is why, as in the healthcare debate, the church is at great pains to demand “religious freedom” for itself. The Leadership Conference has been trying, step by step, to loosen the male grip on power in the church. That has brought it into conflict with a significant number of bishops.

Given considerable sympathy amongst the Catholic laity for the nuns, the bishops sought backing in Rome. Since 2008 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (known in simpler and perhaps more honest days as the Inquisition) has been investigating the conference. Now, without notice to the nuns, it has been placed in receivership. The archbishop of Seattle, seconded by two other bishops, has been given a mandate to reorganize it. The nuns have been charged with sympathy for radical feminism and with taking positions on matters like healthcare legislation different from those of the bishops. One of the organizations specifically cited by the Vatican is Network, which is in the vanguard of Catholic activism for equality and justice. Canon lawyers consulted by the Catholic press have said that there is no appeal provided for in the laws of the church.

The leaders of the conference have imposed silence on themselves until they meet to consider their next steps. The Vaticanגs decision was communicated to them by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops while they, the nuns, were in Rome consulting with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican’s lack of straightforwardness is striking. Perhaps a couple of the inquisitors have doubts, and so resorted to administrative brutality to still their own inner dissent.

Some Catholic women have not felt the need to be silent. The Washington Post quotes the Fordham University theologian Jeannine Fletcher on a paradox. “Women can’t be bishops, so there’s a very strange question of whether we can ever voice a response that challenges,” Fletcher says. “If women religious can’t, no women can.” The Post also cites Sister Julie Vieira of the Michigan-based order Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who said that “our vow of obedience applies to God. it doesn’t reside in a bishop, a body of bishops or even the pope. For us, that sense of obedience has to do with listening deeply to the call of the spirit.” Is this 2012 or 1517?

Meanwhile, to make the situation more complex, the US Catholic Bishops Conference has disconcerted two prominent Catholics, Representatives John Boehner and Paul Ryan. The conference has strenuously criticized the Ryan budget as deeply unfair to the poor. That is a reversion, welcomed by many Catholics, to the church’s emphasizing issues of social justice and solidarity - and not just obsessing about abortion, contraception, homosexuality. We can remind ourselves that the church is heir to a deep and pervasive tradition of social teaching that was a major element in the New Deal, the American trade union movement, and much that we are proud of in our recent national history.

One of the unintended consequences of the Vatican’s heavy-handedness could be to reinforce the tendency, already quite strong, of American Catholics to think for themselves. Many are indeed deeply distressed that their church should be associated predominantly with catriarchal repressiveness. At the beginning of this week, I attended a symposium at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University on religion in the presidential election. Woodstock is a distinguished institution and its events are attended by Catholic men and women deeply embedded in our national political life. It was my impression that many were in favor of returning their church to the concerns voiced in the criticism of the Ryan budget. They are likely to be repelled by the treatment of their nuns. In no case are they going to accept uncritically their bishops’ interpretation of their civic duty.

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Catholic bishops threaten to sue for their right to hate lady parts

By Kaili Joy Gray
Daily Kos
May 16, 2012

The Catholic Church’s U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay.

“[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators.

Talk about sore losers. The bishops had their chance to weigh in on the Obama administration’s new policy to require health insurers to cover birth control without co-pays. The Obama administration generously carved out a boatload of exemptions for them to address their “concerns.” The bishops even got their puppets in Congress to introduce bills on their behalfwhich the American people overwhelmingly opposed. They even got themselves invited to the boys-only congressional hearing on birth controlחbecause who understands birth control better than a bunch of supposedly celibate men?

At the end of the day, though, they lost. They made their case that basic health care for women violates their “religious liberty” and makes Jesus sadand they lost. They launched a charm offensive to “set the record straight,” arguing that the Catholic Church totally loves women’s health care and has been “the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around,” and people better stop saying mean stuff about them or they won’t be able “to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.” And no one bought it.

You’d think, after such a resounding “fuck off” from the American public, the bishops might leave women’s health care alone and go back to focusing on those important things they claim to care about. But when the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and the president of the bishops’ conference, met to decide whether to accept defeat or keep whining, they of course decided to keep whining, even as they concluded:

Prayer is the ultimate source of our strengthחfor without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.

Well, apparently their prayers didn’t work, so they’ve decided to scrap the God plan in favor of litigation:

“We believe that this mandate is unjust and unlawful it is bad health policy, and because it entails an element of government coercion against conscience, it creates a religious freedom problem,” wrote Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary and general counsel, and Michael Moses, associate general counsel. “These moral and legal problems are compounded by an extremely narrow exemption that intrusively and unlawfully carves up the religious community into those that are deemed ‘religious enough’ for an exemption, and those that are not.”

That would be the same Anthony Picarello who introduced the world to the laughable Taco Bell theory֗that the boatload of exemptions to this mandate do not cover someone who opens a Taco Bell and thinks his employees should not be allowed to use birth control because of Jesus ‘n stuff. Yeah, he’s a real legal eagle, that one.

Given that one federal court has already ruled against the bishops’ absurd argument that their definition of religious liberty trumps all else, any future lawsuits are most likely destined for the same fate. But since stopping women from having access to affordable health care has now become the Most Importantest Issue Evah!, little thingslike being completely wrongחprobably won’t stop the bishops from continuing to stamp their feet like petulant two-year-olds who don’t want to take a nap.

Because that is totally what Jesus would do.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/26/12 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Society Coming Apart

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Narrowing the New Class Divide

By Charles Murray
New York Times
March 7, 2012

There’s been a lot of commentary from all sides about my recently published book, “Coming Apart,” which deals with the divergence between the professional and working classes in white America over the last half century.

Some of the critiques are fair, some are frivolous. But theres one - He doesn’t offer any solutions! - that I cant refute. The reason is simple: Solutions that are remotely practicable right now would not do much good.

The solution I hear proposed most often, a national service program that would bring young people of all classes together, is a case in point. The precedent, I am told, is the military draft, which ended in the early 1970s. But the draft was able to shape unwilling draftees into competent soldiers because Army officers had the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make their orders stick.

Administrators of a compulsory civilian national service program would likewise face young people who mostly didn’t want to be there, without being able to enforce military-style discipline. Such a program would replicate the unintended effect of jobs programs for disadvantaged youth in the 1970s: training young people how to go through the motions and beat the system. National service would probably create more resentment than camaraderie.

That said, I can see four steps that might weaken the isolation of at least the children of the new upper class.

For one thing, we should get rid of unpaid internships. The children of the new upper class hardly ever get real jobs during summer vacation. Instead, they get internships at places like the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute (where I work) or a senators office.

It amounts to career assistance for rich, smart children. Those from the middle and working class, struggling to pay for college, can’t afford to work for free. Internships pave the way for children to move seamlessly from their privileged upbringings to privileged careers without ever holding a job that is boring or physically demanding.

So let the labor unions win this one: If you are not a religious organization and have more than 10 employees, the minimum wage law should apply to anyone who shows up for work every day.

We can also drop the SAT in college admissions decisions. The test has become a symbol of new-upper-class privilege, as people assume (albeit wrongly) that high scores are purchased through the resources of private schools and expensive test preparation programs.

Instead, elite colleges should require achievement tests in specific subjects for which students can prepare the old-fashioned way, by hitting the books.

Another step would replace ethnic affirmative action with socioeconomic affirmative action. This is a no-brainer. It is absurd, in 2012, to give the son of a black lawyer an advantage in college admissions but not do the same for the son of a white plumber.

Finally, we should prick the B.A. bubble. The bachelors degree has become a driver of class divisions at the same moment in history when it has become educationally meaningless. We don’t need legislation to fix this problem, just an energetic public interest law firm that challenges the constitutionality of the degree as a job requirement.

After all, the Supreme Court long ago ruled that employers could not use scores on standardized tests to choose among job applicants without demonstrating a tight link between the test and actual job requirements. It can be no more constitutional for an employer to require a piece of paper called a bachelors degree, which doesn’t even guarantee that its possessor can writea coherent paragraph.

If Im advocating these ideas now, why didnҒt I propose them in Coming ApartӔ? Because, sadly, they wont really make a lot of substantive, immediate difference. Internships that pay the minimum wage are still much more feasible for affluent students than for students paying their own way through college. The same students who score high on the SAT score high on achievement tests, and for the same reason (they’re smart and well prepared).

Even without socioeconomic affirmative action, a high proportion of academically gifted children from the working class already get scholarships to good schools. And even if job interviews are opened up to people without a bachelors degree, those with the best real credentials will still get the job, and they will be drawn overwhelmingly from the same people who get the jobs now.

There may, however, be a symbolic value in these reforms. The changes that matter have to happen in the hearts of Americans. The haves in our society are increasingly cocooned in a system that makes it easy for their children to continue to be haves. Recognizing that, and acting to diminish the artificial advantages of the new upper class - especially if that class takes the lead in advocating these reforms could be an important affirmation of American ideals.

Charles Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, most recently, of “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.”

SOURCE

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Is Society Coming Apart? Part I
Comments on a book by Charles Murray.

By Earl Hunt
Psychology Today
April 19,2012

Is our society coming apart, and what should Psychology do about it?

A recently published book about American society, Coming Apart, by Charles Murray (2012), has drawn comments from such distinguished figures as David Brooks (NY Times, Jan. 30, 2012) and Arthur Samuelson (Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2012). Murray himself wrote an OP-ED in the NY Times (March 7, 2012) and was interviewed on the PBS Newshour (March 20, 2012). His thesis is that class divisions amongst White Americans have increased sharply over the past fifty years, and that this poses a major problem for American society.

Murray’s argument also poses a number of questions for those who are interested in individual differences in cognitive skill, i.e. intelligence. To explain why I shall try to summarize a bit of history, then present Murrays findings, and finally discuss the questions they raise for psychology.

The fact that there are social classes in the United States is hardly news. A classic study in sociology (Lynd & Lynd, 1929. described class distinctions before the Great Depression. It has also been argued that class distinctions are a NECESSARY part of the historical evolution of society from tribalism into nation-states (Fukuyama, 2011). The issue is not about the existence of classes, it is how these classes fit together to form a society. This is what concerns Murray. He claims that the growth of class differences greatly accelerated from 1960 to 2010, and that the differentiation goes well beyond economic disparity. Why might this have happened? Here is my own analysis, which is slightly different from Murray’s.

During the second part of the 20th century two technological developments had profound “unintended side effects” on American society. The first, beginning in the 150s, was a spectacular change in transportation. The expansion of the highway/road system and improvements in vehicle quality made the move to the suburbs feasible. Paradoxically, the move to the suburbs was accompanied by a decrease in public transportation systems. (The opposite was true in Europe.) At the same time, income inequality increased. Those who were wealthy enough to take advantage of these trends were able to create neighborhoods where people could live with other people like them.Ӕ

The second technological revolution was the much talked about revolution in information technology; computers, electronic media, and telecommunication. Transmission and processing of vast amounts of information became feasible.

These developments influenced both the economics and social aspects of life. First lets consider the economics.

The modern economy consists of a large number of interacting modules. To take a homily example, the day I wrote this paragraph I was in Michigan, had Mexican-grown strawberries for breakfast, and very well may have Chilean wine for dinner. Oh, yes. I drive a German-designed car that was built in Canada. At a grander scale, Boeing aircraft are assembled in the United States, but the components are built all over the world. This sort of economy only works if (a) material things can be shipped back and forth easily and at relatively low cost҅the transportation revolution again, and (b) a high degree of centralized control can be exerted, to make sure that all the pieces are going to fit together. The computer/telecommunications revolution is what makes (b) possible. The two revolutions greatly enhanced what the military would call command and control capability,Ӕ industries and governmentsҒ ability to plan and monitor activity throughout the world. In addition, the activities being planned and monitored have themselves been automated, in large part because of the development of robotic machinery.

These trends have been documented in several prescient books. For those who want to trace the history, I particularly recommend Shoshana Zuboffs (1988) Age of the Smart Machine, Robert Reich’s (1991) The Work of Nations, somewhat immodestly my own Will we be Smart Enough (Hunt, 1995), and Thomas Friedmans influential The World is Flat series (Friedman, 2005, 2006, 2007). These authors stressed three things; the increasing globalization of economic and social exchanges, the shift away from “hands on manufacturing” by skilled labor to manufacturing by smart machines, in co-ordination with rudimentary and not necessarily very skilled human attendants, and, in Reich’s apt term, the rise of the “symbol analyst” whose expertise is in the management of abstract reports, models of various aspects of society, and financial transactions. The authors, and many other social commentators, emphasized the need to ensure that the American workforce had the appropriate skills for the new society. As the term “symbol analyst” suggests, these skills were largely cognitive rather than manual. Friedman and Reich, in particular, seem to have regarded the obtaining of the necessary skills as very largely a matter of institutional arrangements, ranging from expanding community college programs to reducing the cost of college and university tuition. (The opposite has happened. In the twenty years from 1986-87 to 2006-2007 the tuition and fees for full time attendance at four year universities approximately doubled (College Board, 2006, Figure 3). All the authors focused on how the potential workforce could be prepared to meet the demands of the workplace. What we did not consider is how changes in the relative marketability of cognitive and manual skills would influence the social conditions of the workforce, and by extension, the entire population.

One person did consider these implications; Richard Herrnstein (1930-1994), a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. In a way, Herrnstein was an unlikely social commentator. His academic specialty was not human cognition, industrial organization or social psychology. He studied basic learning phenomenon in rats and pigeons, and was active in the development of mathematical models in psychology. Nevertheless, he maintained a keen interest in intelligence, although (insofar as I know) he did no research in the field. His book IQ in the Meritocracy (Herrnstein, 1973) presented a minor stir because he took the position that intelligence, as measured by conventional tests, was a trait that people had to have in order to be successful in a society where social rank is largely determined by merit,ђ i.e. by what one does rather than who one is. Herrnstein also took a fairly strong position on two other points; that intelligence is very largely determined by genetics and that it is a relatively stable trait of the individual. Both these positions were counter to the predominant 1970s beliefs that inequalities in social position arose from social advantage or disadvantage, and that such inequalities could be erased by social programs, especially educational ones. Herrnsteins writing enjoyed a brief period of damnation by social scientists, and then was largely forgotten.

Twenty years later, just before his death, Herrnstein joined forces with Murray (a political scientist) to writethe The Bell Curve (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). This book generated great deal of controversy. The Bell Curve is (in)famous for the wrong reasons.

I wager that if you asked the typical social scientist or social commentator who had been active in the 1990s what The Bell Curve was about their reply would include the terms “discredited” and “racist.” However if you restricted your sample to people who had actually read the book (it is a formidable 912 pages long), and especially to those who had themselves done research on intelligence, you might get a more nuanced picture.

The Bell Curve reported an analysis of the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY79) survey. This survey was noteworthy because it contained scores on the Armed Services Qualification Test (AFQT) for a representative sample of American teen-agers, together with data on their life status as young adults, some fifteen years later. Herrnstein and Murray showed that the AFQT scores were predictors of socioeconomic status more than ten years after the test had been taken. From this, they concluded that modern society is organized so that people with high levels of cognitive skills generally do well, and that those we do not have those skills do not do well. Herrnstein and MurrayԒs conclusion can be summarized in Gottfredsons (1997) observation that ғlife is an intelligence test.

This thesis, and the analyses supporting it, were largely lost sight of because of a single chapter, prophetically, chapter 13. There Herrnstein and Murray reported that African Americans tended to have lower AFQT scores than Whites, and also tended to have lower scores on the socioeconomic indicators. Taken together with the other data reported in The Bell Curve most readers (including myself) concluded that the authors believed that one of the reasons for the lower socioeconomic status of African-Americans, compared to White Americans, was a lack of the cognitive skills required for the modern world, i.e. a lack of intelligence, in the African-American population. Herrnstein and Murray also included a carefully worded statement saying that the differences could be either due to environmental or genetic differences, or both, and that the evidence available in 1994 did not provide any way of comparing the relative size of genetic and environmental contributions. That is still true today (Hunt (2011,2012).

The cautions were not enough. Academics and social commentators excoriated Herrnstein and Murray for suggesting that the African-American socioeconomic statistics were due to anything other than the effects of past or present prejudice in the majority (White) population. This sort of reaction on the part of academia was not new. Twenty-five years earlier Arthur Jensen had made a similar suggestion, along with a much stronger statement about probable genetic causes (Jensen, 1969). As a result, “Jensenism” had become a code word for racial prejudice. The only reason that “Herrnsteinism” and “Murrayism” did not replace “Jensenism” as the favorite swear word of the politically correct was that it was too hard to say.

And the major thesis of both The Bell Curve and IQ in the Meritocracy, that the world was being strongly tilted in favor of those with the needed cognitive skills, was lost in the confusion.

In the intervening years since The Bell Curve Murray, who is a member of the scientific staff at the American Enterprise Institute, an avowedly conservative think-tank, has become a respected and I believe influential commentator on political and social issues. He is not a political guru, who relies solely on his own opinions and personal observations. Murray analyzes data bases, tests models, and then reports his conclusions. For instance, his Human Accomplishment (Murray, 2003) analyzed the role of inventions and new ways of thinking in the historical development of modern society. The analysis was based on a statistical analysis of references to ideas and inventions. This is not to say that Murray is without opinions; he has strong ones. In the traditions of the social sciences he tries to substantiate them with data.

In, Coming Apart, Murray applies his statistical approach to return to the thesis that intelligence is really important in modern society. However he goes beyond The Bell Curve to investigate some of the dark sides of this fact.

Murray bases his argument on analyses of publicly available data bases. These include reports from the US Census Office, the General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago, the National Longitudinal Studies of the Department of Labor, and (for some of his data on the ԓNew Upper Class) alumni records of selected ԓelite schools, largely in the Northeast. Coming Apart does not report any analyses of ethnic differences. Virtually all of the empirical studies in the book deal with 30-49 year old Whites, an age that Murray chose because he felt that it represents the prime working years, after most people have established a stable occupation and life style, but before they begin to aim for retirement.

The first part of Coming Apart deals with the Upper Class, which Murray defines in terms of education, influence and occupational status. Wealth usually follows, but not always. Murray points out that some people hold upper class status because they follow prestigious but not terribly highly paid occupations. Judges, high level government officials, and university faculty, (providing that they are faculty at elite, preferably Ivy League and similar Northeastern universities) can be non-wealthy Upper Classers. MurrayԒs New Upper Class contains within itself an even smaller group of the true elite.Ӕ These are the people who make major corporate and government decisions, and who have the ear of the national media.

In economic terms the New Upper Class is amazingly productive. Symbol analysis generally pays well both in money and prestige. At this point conservatives will simply nod, saying that that is how it should be, for these are the leaders and innovators who drive society. Murray notes a more ominous trend. He concludes that over the past fifty years there has been a marked increase in social differentiation between those with wealth and influence and the average Joe and Jane, including those who are onlyђ middle class. This trend has been well documented for economics. Many writers have commented on the fact that both earnings and wealth are more unequally distributed in the United States than in other post-industrial nations, and that the present inequalities are much greater than past inequalities. What Murray does is go beyond economics to look at social isolation.

Murrays analysis of the distribution of wealth and education across zip codes (for European readers, postal districts) shows that New Upper Class increasingly lives apart from the less fortunate. Murray questions some fairly well established beliefs; especially the belief that wealthier, better educated people are markedly more politically and socially liberal than those of lower socioeconomic status. In general, he finds that the social and political attitudes of the super elite class mirror those of the ґnormal elite the comfortable 10%, as indicated by population surveys. However there is an important exception. The upper class members who live in zip codes near Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The Super-Elites in these districts are much more liberally oriented than New Upper Class as a whole. This is important because many of the controlling offices in political, financial, and media circles are located in or near these cities.

As an interjection, I will cite a pair of statistics of my own, rather than Murray’s. Think of this next paragraph as a focus group assembled to illustrate Murrays point.

At the present time (Spring, 2012) there are just under 200 American Bar Association accredited law schools in the United States. All nine of the members of the US Supreme Court hold degrees from either Yale or Harvard. From 1960 to 2010 the United States had ten presidents. Six of them had either graduate or undergraduate degrees from Yale or Harvard. Of the other four, Nixon held a law degree from Duke, which Murray would probably consider an elite private university if it was north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

If the decision makers are living apart from, and have different social values than, those whom the decisions affect, can we expect good decision making? Murray is a bit skeptical. The term “Overeducated intellectual snobs” occurs on page 84. Those in elite universities and intellectually oriented think tanks will know who he means.

I think the bite of Murray’s remark was meant for those upper class social leaders who restrict local problem solving by developing central government programs and regulations to match. The bite could equally well be directed at business and industrial leaders whose decisions make sense, from a strictly economic viewpoint, without considering, sometimes without realizing and sometimes without caring about, the disruptive effects their decisions may have upon people who aren’t like them.

Murray’s final concern about the New Upper Class is its ability to perpetuate itself. Although there have been a few exceptions, entry into the world of the symbol analyst, and certainly participation in a profession, requires at least a college degree. Cognitive tests are used as screening devices, and the fact is that scores on these tests are correlated with socioeconomic status. This is not a criticism of the tests. They do what they were intended to do, imperfectly, but significantly, measure the extent to which an examinee possesses some of the cognitive skills required in our society. And for our purposes here, we need not enter into a debate over whether or not this is because of a biological or social advantage. The point is just that the use of cognitive screening does act to the advantage of the children of the New Upper Class and Upper Middle Class.

Such screening is reinforced by money, and the New Upper Class is certainly willing to spend its money to give its children a leg up. Here is an example Murray would have loved to have, but the report surfaced too late for the book. According to the New York Times (April 14, 2012) a small New York City industry has developed in preparing preschoolers to take tests for entry into the better kindergartens. (One test preparation kit costs $300). According to one of the parents These are the kinds of choices that make a difference in young kids’ lives.

The same thing happens at the other end of the educational system. In 2010 the median household income in the United States was $50,000. That year the estimated cost of an undergraduate year at Harvard was $52,000. To be sure, there are a number of student loan programs, at Harvard and elsewhere, but these are loans, not gifts. The combination of cognitive screening and financial screening clearly act to favor the perpetuation of class differences over generations.

No wonder Murray regards the educational system as a cognitive sorting machine, highly biased toward the perpetuation of the New Upper Class on into the next generation.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss the second half of Coming Apart and continue my analysis.

SOURCE

---

Is Society Coming Apart? Part II
If there are “two Americas,” then where do we go from here?

By Earl Hunt
Psychology Today
April 14,2012

The second half of Coming Apart deals with the new Lower Class, which Murray defines as people in the lower 30% of an index of cognition that reflects a person’s education and the cognitive demands of a persons occupation. As a literary device, Murray contrasts ғBelmont, an upper middle class district containing people in the top 20% of MurrayԒs index, and Fishtown,Ӕ where the people are in the lower 30% of the index. Belmont and Fishtown are modeled on actual districts in Philadelphia. Murray homogenizes them by classifiying households as residents of Belmont if at least one member of the household has a college degree and if the head of the household is employed in a professional or management position, and as a member of Fishtown if the highest level of education in the household is high school graduate or below, and if the head of the household is in a blue collar, lower white collar (e.g. receptionist), or service occupation (e.g. hair stylist). He then looks at how each group fared from 1960 to 2010, using as criteria various aspects of social capital, such as the fraction of two parent families, health indices, indices of social networking (e.g. churches, service clubs), and criminal records.

Murray found surprisingly little social change in Belmont over 50 years. There was been some decline in marriage (it is not clear whether he regards civil union declarations as marriage), some increase in single parent families, and, in spite of what I think many academics might expect, a startling array of social networks, including various civic organizations.

Fishtown is far different. Here Murray finds sharp declines in two parent, stable families, a deterioration of social networks, and (most ominous in his analyses) an increase in the number of men 30-49 years old who are neither employed nor looking for work. In British terms, many of these people would be on the dole and resigned to it. Murray points out that at least until recently American society expected adult males to either have a job or be actively seeking one.

Why has Fishtown deteriorated? Two causes have been suggested. The first is psychological. Suppose Goddfredson (1997) was right, life is an intelligence test. It may be that the early 21st century version of the test is just a bit too hard for people in the lower 30% of the distribution. While Murray does not use these terms, the explanation seems consistent with most of his thinking. However there is also a sociological explanation.

The residents of Murrays statistical Fishtown were defined by a combination of educational attainment and occupation. Over the past 50 years there has been an increase in the frequency of college graduates and an increase in the percentage of people in the workforce who hold mid-level managerial and skilled technician jobs. There has been a decrease in the frequency of blue collar work, especially in manufacturing. Murray points out that in the 1960s a larger percentage of the population would have been categorized as ғFishtown than is the case today. One could argue that in the 1960s ԓFishtown and similar communities were held together by the leadership of the most capable people amongst the blue-collar industrial and skilled service population groups. As the economy changed the more capable members of the Fishtown community upgraded their skills and migrated away from Fishtown, not to Belmont, but to the middle-class communities in between. This left the Fishtown society without its leaders, and the deterioration that Murray documents followed.

There is an interesting parallel between MurrayԒs sociological explanation, which is based exclusively on data for White Americans, and explanations that have been offered for the persistent prevalence of social problems in poor African-American communities. W.J. Wilson (1997), in particular, has been an articulate proponent of the view that the end of segregation and legal discrimination in the 1950s primarily benefitted the better educated, more cognitively skilled African-American upper classes, who then moved from the inner-city areas.

The psychological and sociological explanations are not mutually exclusive. The cognitive skills required by the modern workplace have changed, and there has been a selective outward movement from the city to the suburbs. Both explanations emphasize the importance of having a good score on the intelligent test of life.

I will now shift from describing Murrays work to critiquing it.

Has Murray presented a fair picture of the data?. His data sources, census data and widely respected survey reports, are certainly correct. As was the case in The Bell Curve, Murray presents his analyses by using simple graphics that deal with only two or three variables at once. Statisticians who criticized The Bell Curve offered more comprehensive multivariate models that made a case for minor qualifications to the story presented by the simple graphs. See, for instance, the papers in the Devlin et al. (1997). A similar multivariate approach would probably provide minor qualifications of the analyses presented in Coming Apart. However Coming Apart is not addressed to the members of the American Statistical Association, it is addressed to those Overeducated Intellectual Snobs who Murray believes influence decision making. The models used to question The Bell Curve were presented in multi-page tables. I suspect that the analyses needed to qualify Coming Apart would require similar reporting. The tables might be closer to THE WHOLE TRUTH, but the graphs communicate ideas better.

I believe Murray is right about the isolation of the New Upper Class. The gated community was virtually unknown fifty years ago. (I remember my surprise when I encountered one in 1967. I promptly bluffed my way past the watchman.) Although Murray touches on this only tangentially, the proliferation of specialized cable-television channels allows a segregation of sources of information that may be even more isolating than the physical isolation afforded by the suburbs.

The discussion of Belmont and Fishtown present a contrast between the life styles of people in the top 20% or bottom 30% of MurrayҒs index of cognitive skills. What about the middle 50% of the population? By focusing on extreme groups Murray gives the impression of a social, economic, and possibly cognitive chasm between different segments of American society. Does the (unstudied) middle class provide a smooth path between Fishtown and Belmont, or are there washed out bridges and potholes along the way? And if so, where are they? The answer to this question is important for understanding inter-generation mobility across social classes. Moves from Fishtown to Belmont, or the other way, may be rare. How rare is the two generation move, from Fishtown to Midville to Belmont (or the other way).

The talking heads on Sunday morning TV could profitably discuss for weeks the meaning of Murrays results for society at large. I will take a narrower view. What are the research questions that Murray raises for psychologists, and particularly for psychologists interested in intelligence?

There is a methodological issue. In the United States relatively few surveys include explicit cognitive test scores. They often contain information that is known to be statistically related to intelligence test scores. Therefore it is possible to construct inferred cognitive scores. In MurrayҒs case an estimate of intelligence was constructed by combining the known positive relation between educational status and cognitive score with an index of the cognitive complexity of a persons occupation developed by Tara Madhyastha and myself (Hunt & Madhyastha, 2012).

I think that this approach is increasingly likely to be useful. It is particularly likely to be used by industrial researchers who have access to the very large commercial databases that are now being compiled. For example, a researcher who had access to a credit card companyҒs records would not find an intelligence test score there, but, given an adequate program of research, could make a pretty good estimate of a persons intelligence. According to GoogleҒs privacy statement (as of April, 2012) the company records every search that a user makes. There is a lot of information about intelligence there! What is needed is both the development and widespread dissemination of knowledge about how to use such indirect indicators. The social sciences may have to revisit the curriculum on multivariate analysis yet again.

Murrays results show that we should amplify on the idea that life is an intelligence test. To what extent can the success of Belmont and the failures of Fishtown be traced to inabilities to manipulate certain key aspects of life, such as financial management? How does individual intelligence relate to understanding of information in the media, including consideration of likely biases in the source of the information? Where do people at different socioeconomic levels, and with different levels of intelligence, get their information about health care? Here I am not calling for a series of studies the will produce yet more correlations between test scores and this or that aspect of daily life. We need studies of the process by which information is acquired and used, as influenced by both intelligence and socioeconomic status.

Conservatives and Libertarians may see the isolation of the New Upper Class as a reason to call for decentralizing of decision making. However I do not think that this is going to happen. We live in a highly interconnected society. Politics in the Mid-East can drive the price of fuel up or down, which in turn has implications for transport costs, thus influencing the price of Costa Rican bananas in Michigan in January. Central control is always the most efficient way of controlling a system of interconnected, providing that there is no cost for computation at the center and no loss of information transmission between the central decision maker and the peripheral actors. These conditions are never satisfied. However the development of ever more sophisticated computing and communication technology does increase the efficiency of centralized decision making. I believe that trend will continue, so it would be a good idea to investigate ways of mitigating the isolation of the decision makers. Here are a few of the issues.

1) What are the relative roles of personal intelligence and social context upon decision making? Imagine that we gave a non-verbal, knowledge reduced intelligence test, such as a progressive matrix test, to every resident of Belmont and Fishtown. We then study their information gathering and decision making processes in everyday life. What would be the best predictor of behavior; community identity or personal intelligence? In such an experiment it would be important to go beyond trends and averages, to investigate variability. The behavior of the high scorers in Fishtown and the low scorers in Belmont would be of particular interest.

2) With a few exceptions, decision makers do not start their careers in important positions, they work their way into them. How should early careers be planned so that decision makers will retain some feeling for people outside their own social/professional circle? To illustrate, the worldwide coffee shop chain, Starbucks, has many of their professional level employees begin their careers by training as coffee servers (ғbaristas). Does first-hand experience at the ground level improve later executive performance? At higher levels, to what extent is it feasible to have CEOs move from one industry to another? The United States seems to be something of an extreme in the extent to which appointees outside of the government are brought in to fill executive positions in government departments (e.g. Undersecretaries, ambassadors) that, in European countries, would be filled by members of the professional civil service. A case can be made for ԓinjecting new blood so that government functionaries are not isolated from the rest of society. A case can also be made for experience at a low level as a perquisite for holding high level government positions. How should these demands be balanced?

3) Murray and Wilson, for the African-American community, argue that one of the reasons for the deteriorating position of low SES communities is that as the post-industrial economy opened up new opportunities and closed others people whose cognitive and social backgrounds had prepared them to take advantage of the changes simply did so. They moved out of Fishtown, depriving it of its natural community leaders. This explanation raises a host of questions about the role of leaders in social networks, and the traits those leaders require. Barack Obama was once involved in establishing community networks in Chicago. So was Al Capone, though not at the same time nor for the same type of network. The differences between these leaders are pretty clear. What are the commonalities?

There are two very different ways of looking at the issues raised in Coming Apart. From the perspective of social sciences, Murray has given them a host of questions. They will not be answered by research in any one discipline. Can we assemble the necessary interdisciplinary teams?

But from the perspective of a decision maker the issue is more immediate. Are these differences problems to be ameliorated? And if so, how? In Coming Apart Murray is silent on corrections, though he does discuss some in his March 7 New York Times piece. I will leave their discussion for another time.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 04/25/12 •
Section Revelations
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Self Punishment

No Pain, No Gain: Why We Punish Ourselves
The (short-term) psychological benefits of self-punishment.

By Juliana Breines
Psychology Today
April 23, 2012

One of my favorite professors once told the following story: She was in the check-out line at the grocery store, and two young children, a boy and a girl, were seated in the cart behind her. When she unloaded some containers of yogurt onto the belt, the girl gazed at them longingly. Slowly, she began to reach her little arm towards the yogurts. Before she could reach them, her father slapped her arm away and said sternly, “No!” The girl cowered back in shame. A moment later she reached out again, and this time her brother slapped her arm, mimicing his father’s admonishment. The girl again pulled back. Being a young child (and really wanting those yogurts), it wasn’t long before she made one final attempt. But before anyone could stop her, she slapped her own hand away, shouting “No!” at herself. My professor was struckand saddenedחby this series of events. You could argue that the little girl had learned not to take other people’s things and regulate her behavior, which is a good thing. But she had also learned to punish herself. 

The self-punishment we learn as children may continue into adulthood, when we become, in effect, parents to ourselves. Although some adults are more prone to self-flagellation than others, this tendency appears to be common even among psychologically healthy individuals. Research conducted in the field of social psychology suggests at least three major reasons why people might, at times, choose to punish themselves.

1. “I deserve to suffer.” A basic assumption in psychology is that people are motivated to maintain good feelings and reduce bad feelings, but sometimes people do things to maintain or even increase bad feelings, like listening to a depressing song over and over again. Research conducted by Joanne Wood and colleagues suggests that individuals who are low in self-esteem are less motivated to repair bad moods. Why would this be? In line with the predictions of self-verification theory, which posits that people generally feel more comfortable with treatment that is familiar and consistent with their self-views, the researchers found that participants with low self-esteem were less motivated to feel good because feeling good was inconsistent with their negative self-views, and because they didn’t feel they deserved to feel good.

2. “Suffering will make me a better person.” Pain is more than just an unpleasant physical sensation that signals injury or illness. It holds deep significance in many cultural and religious traditions as a means of cleansing or purifying undesirable aspects of the self. In research conducted by Brock Bastian and colleagues, participants who were randomly assigned to an experimental condition where they were instructed to recall a moral transgression, compared to those who recalled a neutral event, subsequently held their hands in ice water for a longer period of time. Importantly, among the group of participants who recalled wrongdoing, those who were randomly assigned to complete the painful ice water task, compared to a no-pain control group, subsequently reported a decrease in feelings of guilt. The researchers concluded that physical pain may restore feelings of moral righteousness following wrongdoing. It may also, they suggested, communicate feelings of remorse to others and reduce the threat of external punishment. Although reducing guilt in this way may provide relief, self-punishment is not the only way to right a wrong. Prosocial behaviors such as apology and making amends may be healthier and more constructive alternatives.

3. “I’m supposed to suffer.” Interestingly, people also sometimes choose to suffer when they expect to suffer, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. In a classic study conducted by Ronald Comer and James Laird, a majority of participants who expected to have to eat a worm as part of the experiment subsequently chose to eat the worm when they were later told that they could actually choose a neutral task instead. This was especially true for participants who came to terms with the perceived inevitability of their worm-eating fate by altering their self-views, deciding either that they deserved the punishment of eating a worm or that they were brave and could handle it. These results shed light on the question of why people sometimes tolerate bad treatment. Many people believe that the world is a just and fair place, so if they suffer, they assume that they must deserve it, or at least that they must endure it. Believing that things happen for a reason can be comforting, but at times this belief may impede efforts to reduce controllable forms of suffering, as was the case in this experiment.

Aside from submerging one’s hands in ice water and eating worms, self-punishment can take many forms, ranging from negative self-talk to overt self-injury. Seemingly positive behaviors such as exercise and healthy eating can also be used as self-punishment when taken to an extreme, and some believe that even accidents may at times represent manifestations of unconscious guilt. Although self-punishment may provide short-term relief, restoring a sense of righteousness, familiarity, and justice, it can take a serious toll on mental health. Chronic self-punishment is characteristic of a number of mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder, depression, and eating disorders. So the next time you feel the urge to suffer for your sins, consider other ways of coping that can give you the same benefits without causing further pain. Some ideas: practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, try to repair damaged relationships, and learn from your mistakes.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/24/12 •
Section Spiritual Diversions • Section Personal
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