Bigotry is a feature, not a bug
Recent advances in cognitive science reveal clear evidence there is a biological basis for bigotry. For a democracy, in which everyone gets to vote, this is really a serious issue we must address. Our world is undergoing rapid changes that demand flexible strategies, not hide bound rigidity. Consequently, conservative religious bigots are a problem because they refuse to compromise and negotiate; they shrink in terror at the thought of bold new ideas. Were they open to honest and honorable free inquiry there would not be a problem and our issues would be more amenable to democratic debate and resolution. We can clearly see this is not the case. Neuroscience may be opening the door to ways of dealing with bigotry.
Recent discoveries using advanced imaging devices reveal that the brain physically rewires the actual neuronal connections that dictate our beliefs and our behavior based on our life experience and information we deliberately feed ourselves. This brain plasticity feature is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because revolutionary treatments based on the emerging science of neuroplasticity are showing success in treating OCD, phobias, and even schizophrenia (The Brain Can Change Itself by Dr Normon Doitch is a seminal opus). The treatment techniques work by essentially reconfiguring the brain’s neuronal networks. These astounding new findings pose profound questions for all of us and go to the very roots of our science, law, philosophy, and culture. In this respect the new knowledge is as “disruptive” as the theory of evolution and some writers say just as profound.
While these advances are most welcome, we must note that the science poses profound questions for our moral understanding, as it applies to law, and relationships. The age old idea of free will is about to be tested as never before. As Robert A. Burton points out in his book, On Being Certain, Believing you are Right Even When You are Not, what we experience as conscious decision making actually happens in deep layers of the brain we cannot directly control or access.
We now know that once neuronal connections become “hard wired” in the brain they are extremely impervious to things like logic or simple will power to dislodge. One theory that underlies this claim is based on the notion that humans cannot live with cognitive dissonance so we must make choices between alternatives and live with them. Once a choice is made you cannot vacillate between opposite positions, because that would put you in a state of constant uncertainty. We humans crave certainty and are vexed by anything that brings on cognitive dissonance (a point Burton makes). In other words the bias towards adopting rigid positions (whether good or bad) exists to prevent us from spinning our wheels, so to speak.
This trait may go back eons in human history, all the way to Africa. When our African ancestors went hunting in the tall bush and one of them thought they saw a lion in wait and yelled out “lion”, all the hunters would run for the nearest tree without wasting time. There may have been a lion or maybe it was just shadows. Whatever, it is better to be decisive and wrong than be indecisive and get eaten for lunch. Evolution favored our ancestors who were decisive because, think about this. We are really adept at discerning possible threats, but not so good at knowing how to deal with them all. Nature comes to the rescue. She hardwires our mindset so that running for cover is usually the best survival strategy. Otherwise, when confronted with diametrically opposed options (fight or flee) we would vacillate back and forth, essentially spinning our mental wheels attempting to resolve cognitive dissonance. Instead, the brain relies on stereotypic thinking. Once you work out a position on hitting children as a way to control them, raping your spouse as a way to control her, or voting a straight party line as a way to control the country, your mental energy gets conserved for more immediate matters like what to watch on TV or eat tonight for dinner. We roll through life virtually on autopilot and most people may not even be aware of this fact.
Accordingly, discoveries about brain neuroplasticity makes it crucial for everyone to understand that their choices must be based on evidence and facts and not dogma, propaganda, folk wisdom, tradition, intuition or the like. President George Bush was famous for saying that he went with his gut instincts. (If he used his gut to think with, did he digest food with his brain?). Gut instincts, otherwise known as intuition, can suggest promising avenues to investigate, or provide startling insights, but they complement reason and are no substitute for employing evidence and rational thinking when deciding public policy. Who can say how many brilliant intuitions arrive in the morning and after sober reflection are discarded by sundown? Rather than relying on intuition as a guide, a better plan is to adopt the stance of a critical thinker and become a skeptic. This habit of thought is the best way to guard our mind against unsound ideas. What we consistently pay attention to is likely going to wind up hardwired in our brain.
In recent years there has been a lot of attention paid to the rise of far right religious conservatives, the leading population segment composed of bigots. They now are allied with wealthy plutocrats and threaten democracies. Some cultural cognition researchers (Professor Dan Kagen at Yale leads a team) are working on methods of conversing with bigots that doesn’t send them scurrying for a tree to climb. Rather than deal with bigotry as a social problem why not go directly to the source of where people are taught rigid dogmatic habits of mind?
Institutional religion is where the habit of dogmatic, bigoted thinking gets firmly implanted during the most vulnerable years of a child’s life. Furthermore, indoctrination dulls a child’s intellectual development, inhibits their curiosity, and shackles their mind possibly for life, and that is certainly the goal. The “war on reason” is a direct outgrowth of the religious grooming by bigots who hate intellectuals and anyone that disagrees with them.
Startling new evidence is revealing the powerful neuroplasticity capability of our brains.
The old idea that the brain (thus perhaps a mind set) could not physically change in later life is wrong. Illnesses like OCD, and PTSD can now be successfully treated using computer assisted training to essentially create new neuronal links in the brain. The seminal discoveries are documented in the book “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Doctor Normon Doidge. These new findings pose profound questions for all of us and go to the very roots of our law, science, philosophy, and culture.
“Dr. Doidge takes viewers through the latest research into the specific problems exclusive to the human brain, and human condition. And prepare to be amazed: The program interviews UCLA researcher Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, whose research is giving new hope to people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. In Montreal, Dr. Doidge meets psychologist Alain Brunet, who is currently developing a neuroplasticity-based treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. And in San Francisco, the program visits with Dr. Sophia Vinogradov, who is making groundbreaking advances in dealing with schizophrenia. Like many other researchers, she’s completely rethinking the current methods of treating schizophrenic patients.With Dr. Doidge as capable tour guide, the film confirms that long-held belief that the human brain is remarkably resilient and can adapt to almost any situation.”
RELATED ITEMS (on the same web address)
- The Healing Brain ; Forget What You Have Been Told About The Brain (socyberty.com)
- Our Plastic Brain (psychologytoday.com)
- The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (nursingmedicinebooks.wordpress.com)
- The brain that changes (grows, heals and repairs) (bipolarblast.wordpress.com)
- Pat Churchland fights for supremacy of the brain (blogs.vancouversun.com)
- Wiring Sexual Tastes to Hairless Genitals…Oops! (psychologytoday.com)
- An advocate for supremacy of the brain – The Vancouver Sun (vancouversun.com)
Kidnapped for Christ trailer
Kidnapped for Christ follows the stories of several American teenagers who were sent to Escuela Caribe, an American-run Evangelical Christian reform school in The Dominican Republic.
Category:Film & Animation
* Escuela Caribe
* Troubled Teen Industry
* New Horizons Youth Ministry
Logically, morally, humanely and scientifically, the debate on spanking is dead
10 Saturday Sep 2011
IN PUBLIC FORUMS on the internet, we have lively debates over whether Hitler was a hero or whether or not the holocaust ever occurred. We could also probably find a debate over whether slavery ever existed in the United States. We might even get an argument that the Earth is flat and always has been. And, given what has also yet to become common knowledge, we can still find arguments in favor of hitting young children as a form of punishment.
For example, those who developed through their formative years having adopted as a part of their belief system that adults hit children as an acceptable practice will take on this treatment of children as a belief not dissimilar to the religious beliefs they’ve adopted during this same stage of development. And, these are beliefs that tend to become deeply ingrained.
Those who happen to overcome and evolve beyond such irrational belief systems seem to be the exception to the rule. Sadly, it would seem that few children are able to avoid early childhood brainwashing to a particular religion or orientation. Typically, our little ones will buy into what we feed them lock, stock and barrel.
Herein lies the problem of change in the face of overwhelming evidence. Let’s liken this change to telling a grown man that his name is actually Archibald instead of Joe. Lot’s of luck. It’s going to take awhile, no doubt, and repeated efforts are in order.
So, once again, let’s try driving home the facts that carry with them the hope of breaking through just a few more of those bigoted obstacles still standing in the way of social progress.
To begin with, I feel it’s most important to make it very clearly known to any and all concerned that the debate on spanking within the scientific and academic communities is dead and has been for a number of years. The most substantial indicator of this development is evidenced by the fact that virtually every professional organization in the U.S. and Canada concerned with the care and treatment of children has taken a public stance against the practice of spanking.
Based on the overwhelming accumulation of research conducted over the past 50 plus years linking spanking to a number of risk factors, the professional consensus against this practice has grown to world-wide proportions … even to the extent that Sweden, Finland, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Israel, Cyprus, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, Iceland, Romania, Greece, New Zealand, Venezuela, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Uruguay, and Ukraine have all legislated total bans on spanking … with Italy, South Africa, Scotland, Canada, and Ireland apparently in the process of following suit. It should also be noted that every industrialized country in the world has banned spanking in schools. The evidence is in, and the evidence has found against the practice of spanking in a compellingly conclusive manner.
Just as one might find supportive views toward spanking being promoted (typically) on web sites sponsored by fundamentalist Christian sects, so can one find supportive views promoting Homophobia, Racism, Misogyny, and other “hate group” propaganda. Because the actual agendas of these sites are often deceptively disguised by organizational titles such as “Family Council”, “People’s Choice”, “Rights and Freedoms”, etc., people are forced to exercise a highly judicious discernment of the information being made available on the Internet. Some web surfers have had to learn the hard way that the Internet abounds with persuasive presentations of “facts and figures” that can prove to represent nothing more than religious, political, or philosophical attempts to spread self-serving misinformation.
Having spent over 30 years examining and evaluating the research on spanking children, I am able to state with a high degree of confidence that there has never been a peer-reviewed study that has been able to establish the efficacy of spanking as a means of long-term behavior modification; as an effective teaching modality; as an effective punishment or as a means of instilling self-discipline. Nor has there been published research findings in peer-reviewed professional journals that served to refute previous research. This previous research found spanking to be associated with a risk for undesirable emotional consequences; a risk for physical injury; a risk of counter-productive behavioral outcomes; a risk for the onset of dependence on external controls and a proclivity toward authority-directed behavior. Moreover, there has never been research data finding that spanking carries no risk to the quality of the parent-child relationship (and I should add that conservative editorial reviews of previous research findings do not constitute actual research, as is sometimes claimed to be the case).
Nevertheless, there are some spankers who will find reasons to dismiss, ignore, or discount the research findings of field conducted experimental studies related to the Social Sciences. It is especially these folks that I’d like to address concerning alarming new research findings which represent the most severe consequences of physical punishment yet discovered … while doing so in the form of documented scientific proof.*
These revelations have come through studies in brain research having provided Cat Scan images showing an abnormal lack of brain development (within the portion of the brain responsible for emotional functioning) in children who had been subject to spankings as a punitive measure. For the sake of sample homogeneity, the researchers chose subjects for their study that had been categorized as “abused” children. Common sense tells us that this does not eliminate the possibility of a lesser degree of brain damage occurring to spanked children who are subjected to a lesser degree of non-injurious violence. In other words, it would be ludicrous to assume that a child must first suffer bruises, cuts, or welts (or other injuries), before brain damage can take place as a result of the physical punishments. Rather, it is much more logical to deduce that acts of physical aggression toward young children can disrupt or prevent the optimal conditions necessary to facilitate a normal process of healthy brain development.
As far as I’m concerned, this new area of research (apparently not yet freely available on the Internet) represents the most compelling, undeniable reason that has yet been discovered to persuade parents to stop (or never start) striking their children as a punitive measure. And I hope any pro-spankers reading this feel the same way. It’s difficult to imagine any parent who would be willing to treat their child in a way that might carry even a remote risk of causing a measure of brain damage to their child.
In spite of having said all of that, we should not need research to end the practice of striking children any more than we needed research to end the practice of striking wives. As a society, there was no need for research findings to convince us of the harmful effects associated with the practice of wives being physically punished.
Instead, when society reached the point of being no longer willing to grant social tolerance to the tradition of husbands physically disciplining their wives, our decision to do so was based on our having progressed socially into the higher morality of a greater humanity. Perhaps, the next step in forward progress should come by way of reaching a decision to begin recognizing children as also being deserving of those same protections against being struck.
No longer do we see any adult members of our society remaining outside the jurisdiction of the protective laws once enjoyed by only the more privileged and “deserving” (namely white males who made the laws), regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic group or sexual orientation. None of our adult citizens remain legally unprotected from being violated through harassment, threats, defamation, discrimination or being victimized by violence to any degree or form. So, given our heritage of bestowing a greater humanity upon those of a lower social status by welcoming them as our equals in the eyes of the law (in terms of violent treatment), would it be so out of character for us to also shelter the younger, weaker members of our society by allowing them to join those of us already sharing in the security and comfort of safety that is provided under the umbrella of legal protections from violence?
Bringing our little ones into the fold really doesn’t seem all that magnanimous if we keep in mind that we’ve already been willing to share the shelter of our umbrella of assault laws with even the most vicious of hardened adult criminals. After all, children are the very last segment of our shared human collective who still remain as fair game for being subjected to acts of physical aggression. We display a strange sense of priorities when we don’t allow the prison guard to break-out a paddle and start whacking away on the disobedient buttocks of a sociopathic death-row inmate who kills for the rush it gives him, yet we find helpless, defenseless young children deserving of such treatment.
We characterize corporal punishments of prison inmates as Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Guard Brutality and Aggravated Assault. And, should the physical punishments be repeated as a routine punitive measure, such treatment of prisoners would fall under the definition of torture.
Why would a murderous inmate be less subject to physical discipline than a helpless 3-year-old child?
Logically, morally, humanely and scientifically, the debate on spanking is dead … save for those who would object to further social progress.
As we evolve as a society, we have to keep in mind that historically there was a time when it was acceptable to legally own other people; a time when the mentally ill were generally considered to be possessed by evil spirits; a time when men legally shot each other in officiated duels; a time when public hangings were attended as a family outing complete with picnic basket; a time when public floggings were considered acceptable punishment; a time when it was a gentleman’s agreement that husbands should not beat their wives with a switch that was ‘bigger-round than your thumb’ (which later became known as ‘the rule of thumb’); and there was a time when there were no laws against parents severely beating their children (killing children was unacceptable, of course, but an occasional accidental maiming as a result of disciplinary measures was tolerated).
Obviously, we no longer permit these punishments. The time has come for us to further our level of social sophistication by coming to a general agreement that any degree of physical punishment used against children is as socially unacceptable and repugnant as those past violent behaviors we have chosen to put behind us.
by James C. Talbot
Author of The Road To Positive Discipline: A Parent’s Guide
2 thoughts on “The Debate on Spanking is Dead”
A powerful and compelling essay. I forwarded to all my social nets. They know by now how I feel about this issue and I have tried many times to express your ideas, but my prose comes nowhere near yours, James.
This beautiful young man was needlessly taken from us
Reposted from the website Milkboys.
Last Sunday we lost another friend. Caio Lhennysson da Silva, 18, was found dead on a farm. He was half-naked; his mouth was full of sand and his body was showing signs of strangulation. He didn’t do anything to deserve that. He wasn’t involved with any criminal activity. He was a happy, beautiful teenager. What made him different from many people is that he was openly gay and androgynous.
He was loved by many people, but died without mercy. Every year, here in Brazil, more than 250 people die on gay-hate related crimes. I must say… I am afraid. I am afraid someone I know will be the next – Caio was a good friend of a friend of mine. I am afraid next time it could be a friend of mine, my best friend, maybe the boy I like, or even me. Today I am mourning over a stranger’s death. I mourn 250 times a year. It is ironic that the word “gay” also means happy…
On the other hand, there is some happy news. Finally homosexual civil unions are recognized here in Brazil. Now we have a lot of rights that make us a bit more equal to straight couples. There is still a lot to fight to, but it was a small victory among all our problems.
All the empty lip service we hear about protecting children is for naught. Nothing protected Caio from the barbarians that killed him.
Are bigots besmirching your blog, fouling up your forum?
1. stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
2. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.
1. narrow-mindedness, bias, discrimination.
Some bigotry can be traced to ignorance, but not all bigots are ignorant. There are educated bigots to be sure. These ones are usually mired in hatred of one kind or another. Hate for a person of a different religion, ethnic background, or sexual practice. No matter the cause or target of a bigot they are exasperating beyond description. Stonewall, is a fitting description. Like talking to a stone wall. The concept of intellectual honesty eludes them and so they deliberately misconstrue opponents arguments, engage in hyperbole, non sequiturs, and bombast. Apparently, a bigot feels if they are loud enough and forceful enough, their arguments will sway opinion. Unfortunately, this belief has some credibility.
Times of crisis seem to bring out the bigots in full force, because they are basically cowards and there is nothing like a crisis to promote fear, which is their stock in trade. Radio and TV shows featuring “talk” are a favorite haunt. Unfortunately, the host of conservative talk shows are raving bigots, and here I am thinking of the likes of Fox news personalities like Hannity, Beck, Goldberg, and O’Reilly. How did we come to the point when ignorance and stubbornness became valued, indeed marketable, personal traits. Professional bigots command salaries in the millions of dollars and preside over programming that is a virtual factory for turning out more of their kind. The danger to our democracy is that these Idiot Americans vote and are easily led.
The Assault on Reason
The Assault on Reason is a 2007 book written by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. In the book, Gore argues that there is a trend in U.S. politics towards ignoring facts and analysis when making policy decisions. He heavily criticizes the George W. Bush administration for its actions in furthering the “assault on reason”, and also the Congress, Judiciary, and press for being complicit in the process. Gore also suggests the average citizen must be proactive in “restoring democracy”. He expresses hopes that the medium of the Internet will supersede television and what he argues is its inherent bias, creating a “marketplace of ideas” that has not been present since the replacement of the printed word with mass media.
The book ranked number one on the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover nonfiction during the first four weeks of its release, and was on the list top 35 for fifteen weeks. Actor Will Patton narrates the audio version. – Wikipedia entry
You can read excerpts from this book here:
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1622015-3,00.html#ixzz0YMQD8QS6
Book Excerpt in Time Magazine: The Assault on Reason
By Al Gore Wednesday, May. 16, 2007
The Last Temptation of Al Gore
Long before our nation launched the invasion of Iraq, our longest-serving Senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor and said: “This chamber is, for the most part, silent-ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate.”
Why was the Senate silent?In describing the empty chamber the way he did, Byrd invited a specific version of the same general question millions of us have been asking: “Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?” The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable.
It is too easy-and too partisan-to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America’s public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason-the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power-remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.
So the remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way-a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.
So what can we do about them if we wish to have civil productive public discourse? Lately my strategy has been to tell them I am going to ignore them. In the Amazon discussion forums, the designers of the software thoughtfully provided an “Ignore this customer” button. Once pressed, you no longer see any further posts by the bigot but you can guess from the reaction of the other participants how things are going. This strategy usually has the effect of enraging a bigot and they began calling you names, or otherwise making an ass of themselves, which when reported gets them removed from the forum (and likely any other forums so unlucky to have them). If that scenario doesn’t play out, they usually tire of talking to what is effectively a stonewall (ironic, no) and leave of their own accord. The tactic falls under the category of conversational intolerance. Think about it this way. If you are at cocktail party enjoying a conversation with a group of friends and a bigot saunters in and goes into their act, you can make a face and politely excuse yourself and leave the group. From a distance, keep your eye on what happens next. The bigot will eventually get marginalized and leave. Then you can go back and resume your fellowship with your friends, sans molestation.
In the case of a blog, most blog software makes it easy to remove an objectionable, abusive or bigoted participant. I don’t know about you, but my policy is not to issue any warning. It is like being able to build a stone wall for defense.
[Sam] Harris suggests that he advocates a benign, corrective form of intolerance, distinguishing it from historic religious persecution. He promotes a conversational intolerance, in which personal convictions are scaled against evidence, and where intellectual honesty is demanded equally in religious views and non-religious views. He also believes there is a need to counter inhibitions that prevent the open critique of religious ideas, beliefs, and practices under the auspices of “tolerance.”
Harris maintains that such conversation and investigation are essential to progress in every other field of knowledge. As one example, he suggests that few would require “respect” for radically differing views on physics or history; instead, he notes, societies expect and demand logical reasons and valid evidence for such claims, while those who fail to provide valid support are quickly marginalized on those topics. Thus, Harris suggests that the routine deference accorded to religious ideologies constitutes a double standard, which, following the events of September 11, 2001 attacks, has become too great a risk.
In the 2007 PBS interview, Harris said, “The usefulness of religion, the fact that it gives life meaning, that it makes people feel good is not an argument for the truth of any religious doctrine. It’s not an argument that it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus really was born of a virgin or that the Bible is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. You can only believe those things or you should be only be able to believe those things if you think there are good reasons to believe those things.” — Wiki Entry for Sam Harris
What are your suggestions for dealing with a bigot.