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By Brian T. Lynch, MSW
How should sensible people respond to divisive attacks on the poor and vulnerable? Should we begin making similar distinctions between the worthy and unworthy rich? Should we affirm those who earned their great wealth and provide social benefit but rescind all advantages given to those who use their inherited wealth to squeeze the people and their government for still more?
It should be obvious that social polarity is not between Democrat and Republican, or between liberal and conservative, but rather where it has always derived, between rich and poor.
GOP Senate Candidate: Republicans Must Turn Poor against Each Other (Video)
Watch N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis explain: .“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,”
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
A new study released by the O.K. Institute of Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, confirms that the rate of injury or death by swords continues to be exceeding rare in the 21st century. Once the leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults, both the incidents of sword play injury and sword related homicides remain at an all time low as a percentage of the population. In many US cities, even those with extraordinarily high homicide rates, the rate of sword related homicide was nearly zero between 2001 and 2012.
Researchers speculate that the low sword homicide rate may be the result of the present low rate of sword ownership in the United States. Less than one in one-hundred households currently own a sword and fewer than 1 person in 100,000 openly carry a sword. This is in stark contrast to the 18th Century when it is estimated that 1 out of every 20 men owned swords. Sword ownership rates may have been considerably higher in some urban areas where swords were openly carried in the streets for protection.
In their remarkable analysis, the researchers believe they have found a direct correlation between the decline of sword ownership and the decline in sword related deaths. This correlation remained robust even when compensating for variables such as sword safety training, blade size and such demographic differences as age, race, religion and economic status of the sword owners.
A spokesman at the O.K. Institute, speaking on behalf of the researchers, speculates that the results of this study could have practical implications for understanding the current high rate of gun violence in the United States. Further studies will be needed to confirme these results and to explore whether these findings can be generalized to the prevalence of violence by other types of lethal weapons.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
“divergent selection pressures on males and females are expected to produce consistent – and often substantial – psychological differences between the sexes. By the logic of sexual selection theory and parental investment theory, large sex differences are most likely to be found in traits and behaviors that ultimately relate to mating and parenting. More generally, sex differences are expected in those domains in which males and females have consistently faced different adaptive problems.”
Beauty is average. This is truly a paradigm shifting truth. It is confirmed by both digital photography studies and new understandings of how our brains process information. It turns out Plato had it right when he said there was a place where ideal objects existed, he just didn’t know he was describing a function of our cerebral cortex. The ideal table, for instance, is a mental construct or image in our brain that allows us to recognize infinite variations in size, shape, purpose, color, aspect, texture, design, etc. as an object that is still a table. This is a remarkable fact in itself. But then comes the discovery that the most beautiful human faces ends up being the average face. This is mind blown.
|Individual Faces||Composite Face|
The idea that beauty is average comes from the digital age where photographs can be rendered in pixel formats. The size of the pixels determines the resolution of the photographs. High resolution photographs have many more pixels. Some researchers got the bright idea of taking a lot of high resolution digital portraits of men and woman and then averaging the value of all the pixels that comprised the human male and female face to create a composite image. The images they created of the pixel averaged faces for men and woman turned out to be strikingly beautiful.
Next the researchers took the composite images along with the digital photos of the faces that made up the composite face, and showed these to lots of people. They asked the subjects to rate or rank the beauty of the faces. The researchers found that the average pixel face was most often rated the most beautiful. And so we discovered that beauty is literally the average.
The researchers suggested that as a species the ability to identify beauty, or the average face, may have served a natural selection purpose. They speculated that people with an exactly average appearance are more likely to be healthy, normal and able to have children. Maybe so. Who knows.
What the study also proved, but what the researchers didn’t highlight, is the amazing ability of the brain to identify the exact average of so many faces it encounters. If you think of a bell curve from statistics, the exact average is a relatively small or thin line within the normal range while the normal range of human faces is huge. Just look around and you will see tremendous variations of human faces and body types. But the exact average, or median, of all faces or body types occurs in very few individuals within the population. This fact preserves the truth that beauty is actually very rare.
If it seems like an impossible task for the brain to identify the approximate average human face, then recent understandings of the hierarchical nature of how our cortex processes data suggest how this is done. It turns out that our cerebral cortex creates idealized images of every object we see in our world. This allows us to rapidly and correctly identify object no matter what portion of them we see or individual attributes they may have, such as color, size, texture, composition, design, etc. This attribute also allows us to create idealized images of a human face.
So beauty is average and our brains have a nearly universal sense of beauty. We share this sense because we all have a similar pool of faces from which to identify the average face.
This has profound implications for the arts, but even more profound social implications. It explains how in my desire to be different as a young man I found myself conforming to my peers. When I was young and wanted to distinguish myself from my parents generation. One way I did this was by crudely cutting off the legs off my jeans to create cut-off. It turns out everyone else in my generation was wearing them. I was one of the crowd. In trying to be different from my parents I conformed to others who, like me, also wanted to be different. I identified with an image of who I wanted to be that happened to be the idealized, or exact average, of every other young person wishing to make the same statement.
As it turns out, this self-identified peer conformity is a ubiquitous feature of our human nature. It is possible because of our ability to sort out and idealize groups of objects or people. If I asked you to imagine yourself as a Harley motorcycle biker, you would conger up an idealized version of a biker that approximately represents the average Harley biker. If you acted on this image you might buy and personalize a leather jacket, and do the same for other garments and accessories, until you were satisfied that you fit in with the self-identified peer group of Harley bikers.
We almost effortlessly do this sorting and self-identifying all the time. It explains how we are both so diverse and yet so conforming. We are always moving toward some idealized average image of the groups or things with which we identify even as those idealized averages are shifting over time. But when it comes to thinking about beauty, there is something reassuring about the fact that what makes beautiful people so special is the fact that they are so average. It somehow makes me more content being more or less “normal”.
The YouTube video below is an awsome tour of the international space station. This isn’t my usual post, I know, but it was so interesting I wanted to share it with you.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., and one of the richest men on the planet, recently claimed that free markets are morally superior to more social based ideas of morality and fairness. “We’ve won the efficiency argument,” he claimed. Now he hopes to persuade us that free markets are morally superior and that socialism fails because of its “denial of fundamental freedoms.” In Murdoch’s world the idea that market success is based on greed is a false characterization that creates confusion. He believe that markets succeeds where governments fail, not because of greed, but because people are given “… incentives to put their own wants and needs aside to address the wants and needs of others.”
It sounds great! But before you buy into this idea you should know he goes on to say, “To succeed, you have to produce something that other people are willing to pay for.”
Therein lies the rub. To succeed you must “produce.” For Murdoch, distributive justice is the natural outcome of these purely commercial transactions. He quotes Arthur Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute who defines fairness as, “… the universal opportunity to enjoy earned success”. The key words here being “earned success.” Accordingly, producers are entitled to all they earn because if their product wasn’t successful, consumers are free to not buy their product. This is a cruel argument to make in the face of an elderly person having to choose between buying food or medicine, of course. Nevertheless, in this view every sale in a free market system automatically results in a fair distribution of wealth. No other social factors should apply. In fact, to take from producers what they’ve earned to support the lives of less successful or non-producing human beings is immoral, in Murdoch’s view.
“What’s fair about taking money from people who’ve earned it and giving it to people who didn’t,” Murdoch asks.
But Murdoch’s whole notion, which closely mirrors that of Ayn Rand, ignores the whole complex social economy in which commerce and every other human activity actually takes place. It rejects the wisdom that markets only exist to serve societies needs. Markets are manmade entities and not a natural phenomenon, but Murdoch’s narrow view treats markets as natural entities that are morally superior to society. It limits the meaning of production to that which has a monetary exchange value. It assigns social value to the creators of products according to their market success, measured in material gain. It does not account for the material contributions of the public domain in making commerce and stable markets possible. Even though the monetary value of a product is co-dependent on a consumers’ willingness to pay, it does not assign any social value to the consumer. Only the source of a buyers money gives them any social status.
This leaves open the question of how, or even whether, to assign social value to those not immediately involved in commercial production. These folks include children, the disabled, the elderly, the unemployed, those who care for children, woman on maternity leave, all government employees, military personal, clergy, law enforcement, etc. Murdoch’s view begs the question; What is a person worth when their value to society cannot be directly measured by their market place success?
Murdoch’s views are shared by many of today’s corporate elite. It is the makers vs. takers mentality. It is a view that can only be described as anti-social at best, sociopathic at its extreme. It opposes all government interventions in the market place and opposes most government regulations. It is a philosophy designed to restricts the ability of ordinary citizens (i.e. government) to assure that our markets and commerce works for the good of society and not just for the benefit of the economically powerful. It implicitly confers ownership and control of the markets to the most powerful market makers while failing to acknowledge the corrupting effects of power on financially successful human beings. By denying the humanity of markets it denies the vulnerability of markets to human weaknesses. This puts society at risk and cripples humanity from solving some of the really big challenges we face as a species. How we chose to define distributive justice is arguably the most important economic question of our time. How we ultimately marshal our economic resources to solve our really big problems depends on how we ultimately organize our economy.
[Ruppert Murdoch’s views as expressed can be found at the following URL: http://nation.foxnews.com/rupert-murdoch/2013/04/22/rupert-murdoch-op-ed-case-market-s-morality?utm_source=feedly&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FoxNation+(Fox+Nation)]
The slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has fundamentally altered the public debate on gun regulations. This change is long overdue. Ultra-lethal guns are the instruments that make these acts so deadly. Assault weapons and extra-lethal types of ammunition have no place in our communities. We must have meaningful gun regulations.
We can’t stop there. The existence of assault weapons alone don’t explain these violent rages. We concurrently need to strengthen our system of identifying and treating people with mental illness and anti-social conditions. And we need to do this without letting it distract us from pursuing better gun regulations. Effective mental health treatment is incredibly labor intensive. Building helping relationships with other human beings takes time and commitment. It is therefore also expensive. Decades of budget contraction for mental health services has created a history of having to do more with less which has lead to service gaps and poor outcomes.
But we can’t stop there either. Significant weaknesses in our mental health systems don’t explain societies growing fascination with guns and violence or our loss of empathy towards “others”. While we press for better gun regulations and improved mental health systems, we need to examine the social factors that are shifting our American cultural in a dangerous direction.
Identifying connections between shifting cultural attitudes and extremely rare events is difficult. Scientific methods are not suited to the study of rare events, yet connections between cultural shifts and extremely rare behaviors are no less real.
This last point is very important. It is easy for those who oppose change to challenge the influence social factors might have on culture or to manipulate these factors for self-gain. Whether we are speaking about violent content in video games or the proliferation of guns in American homes, the influence of each on culture is subtle and hard to measure. We can easily see how being raised in a home where religious values are prominent effects development, but we don’t often consider how social development is influence in homes where deadly weapons are prominent features. Additionally, it is always difficult to perceive cultural changes as they occur. To help explain why this is so a little though experiment might be helpful.
Start by picturing a normal “bell curve” depicting the aggressive tendencies of every person in the country. The vast percentage of us would always fall within the normal rage. The very middle of the bell curve is the median, or average value. So in this case the middle represents people who have an average level of aggression. But there are always a few extraordinarily passive or aggressive individuals at the far ends of the bell curve. Statistically, these are called outliers, but if we are plotting aggression, the furthest outliers on the aggressive end might represent those who commit mass murders.
Now, imagine that social conditions shift the national average in a more aggressive direction. The whole bell curve would move slightly in that direction. Most people within the normal range wouldn’t notice the change. Their own aggressive tendencies and those of everyone around them would be changing in unison. It’s difficult to perceive change when there is no fixed reference point. What everyone might start to notice, however, is what happens at the statistical extremes. As average levels of aggression increases in society, the frequency of rare acts of violence also increases.
To illustrate this last point, consider an analogy to climate change. Suppose there was no scientific or public awareness of climate change or its impact on weather prior to Hurricane Katrina or super storm Sandy. After these events the public might reasonably demand to know why such bad storms are becoming more frequent. Answering that question by simply studying each storms would not be very fruitful. It could improve our knowledge of the particular weather patterns that produced each storms, but it wouldn’t answer the question of why these preconditions were happening so often.
Fortunately, scientists have been studying climate change for decades, so we know why super storms are becoming more frequent. We also know how we can respond to this threat even though convincing those with conflicting interests is another matter. It sometimes takes a super storm to form a consensus for action.
The same logic holds true for trying to understand what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. Studying what made Adam Lanza snap might be helpful from a mental health perspective, but it won’t explain the preconditions in his life. The killing efficiency of his weapons helps explains why the shooting was so deadly, but it won’t explain why his mother and others are so drawn to deadly weapons. It is our changing attitudes towards guns and violence that we must understand. The study of cultural change is far less advanced than the study of climate change, so we are ill prepared for the challenge. This needs to change. In fact, it is clear that we all need to change if we ever hope to end the rash of senseless violence in America.
The following was just published in October. Given the events of yesterday it is worth going back to read this again. Clearly we need to reconsider some sensible changes to our gun laws to keep them out of the hands of people who are emotionally unstable, domestic abusers and criminals. We should also have a national law against gun trafficking (crazy that we don’t).
From: John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
October 25, 2012
Restricting High-Risk Individuals from Owning Guns Saves Lives
On July 20, a gunman in Aurora, Colorado, used an assault rifle to murder 12 people and wound 58 others. Although this was one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, all mass shootings account for a small percentage of gun violence that occurs in the U.S. every day. In the past 100 days since the Aurora shooting, an estimated 3,035 Americans have died as a result of gun violence.
A new report by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examines policies and initiatives for reducing gun violence in the U.S. by reforming current gun policies. The report, a synthesis of prior research and analysis conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, includes the following key findings:
- Easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.
- “Right-to-carry” gun laws do not reduce violent crime.
- Prohibiting high-risk groups from having guns–criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youths under age 21, substance abusers, and those with severe mental illnesses–and closing loopholes that enable them to have guns are integral and politically feasible steps to reduce gun violence.
Please go to the new report (above) or the full News Release.
Thanks to the great reporting of Katherine Eban at Fortune magazine we now know that the “Fast and Furious” scandal was largely manufactured for political gain. The “Fast and Furious” operation by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF) in Arizona was never designed to include the tactic of “gun walking”. Gun walking is the practice of intentionally not ceasing illegally purchased firearms in order to follow the subsequent chain of possession back to higher level criminals. It seems a few rogue ATF agents did engaged in an incident of this type on their own initiative, which does make it the AFT’s problem, but the specific guns the ATF is accused of allowing to walk across the border, one of which was used to kill a border guard named Brian Terry, could not be ceased by the ATF because the Arizona federal Prosecutors decided these weapons were legally purchased. Federal prosecutors in Arizona were broadly interpreting Arizona’s gun laws which are among the weakest gun laws in the nation.
The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal
June 27, 2012: 5:00 AM ET
The article begins:
FORTUNE — In the annals of impossible assignments, Dave Voth’s ranked high. In 2009 the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives promoted Voth to lead Phoenix Group VII, one of seven new ATF groups along the Southwest border tasked with stopping guns from being trafficked into Mexico’s vicious drug war.