Archive for ‘Boundaries’

September 30, 2014

Since 1970 We’ve Wiped Out Half the Population of Animal Species :(

JungleAnimalsBorder_pe

This is so very sad.  A report by the World Wildlife Fund notes that we’ve lost 52% of the population from all species since 1970.  I feel like my children and their children will not know the kind of diversity of species that I had the privilege of encountering in nature as a child.  And the shows which brought us the wonderful expanse of nature, will have so much less to document and record.  It seems to me, as nature goes, so do we humans.  And right now that direction is not looking good.  Let’s change it.

From the report:

The conservation group’s Living Planet Report, published every two years, said humankind’s demands were now 50 percent more than nature can bear, with trees being felled, groundwater pumped and carbon dioxide emitted faster than Earth can recover.

“This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live,” Ken Norris, Director of Science at the Zoological Society of London, said in a statement.

For more about the report, go to this link:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/29/environment-wildlife-idUSL6N0RU48D20140929

September 24, 2014

Why We Still Have Bullying in America :(

September 19, 2014

Occupy activists abolish $3.85m in Corinthian Colleges students’ loan debt [theguardian.com]

by  / theguardian.com

Rolling Jubilee activist group buys student debt at knockdown price to inspire Americans to ‘exert collective power’

Over the last few days, over 2,700 Everest College students woke up to find that someone had paid off their private student debt.

This was no act of goodwill by the government, which is currently suing Everest parent Corinthian Colleges for its predatory lending practices. Nor is it a gift from Everest itself, which is expected to shutter its doors and possibly leave 72,000 students out of their time and tuition.

Instead, the disappearing student loan debt is the second major piece of financial activism by a group of Occupy Wall street activists.

To inspire Americans with student debt to unionize, the Rolling Jubilee Fund, a project of Strike Debt, has purchased and abolished a portfolio of private student loans issued to Everest students.

Strike Debt is also launching a new initiative – The Debt Collective, which will “create a platform for organization, advocacy and resistance by debtors”.

“Solutions are not going to happen if we just wait for Congress to do it,” says Thomas Gokey, one of the organizers. “We need a social movement. We need debtors to unite to exert collective power.”

The portfolio was valued at – to be exact – $3,856,866.11 in student debt.

In the vast scheme of things, $3.8m is barely a drop in the bucket as the student debt owed by Americans has now surpassed $1tn.

The gesture, however, is meant to be symbolic as it proves that debt can be conquered – and at a discount. Rolling Jubilee bought the $3.8m worth of student loans for a total of $106,709.48 in cash. That’s about 3¢ for $1 of student debt.

“The Rolling Jubilee doesn’t actually solve the problem. The Rolling Jubilee is a tactic and a valuable one because it exposes how debt operates,” says Gokey.

“It punches a hole through the morality of debt, through this idea that you owe X amount of dollars that the 1% says you owe. In reality, that debt is worth significantly less. The 1% is selling it to each other at bargain-based prices. You don’t actually owe that.”

The 1% in this scenario are the companies issuing private student loans and the debt buyers, who often purchase student loan portfolios like the one purchased by the Rolling Jubilee.

This is not the first time that the group has shown that consumer debt can be purchased for cents on the dollar.

Last year, the group managed to buy $13.5m of medical debt owed by 2,693 people as well as $1.2m of other personal debt for a total of $400,000.

The funds that are making these purchases possible came directly from the US public. For little over a year, from November 2012 to end of December 2013, Rolling Jubilee was accepting donations from its supporters. The campaign was able to raise about $700,000.

“It’s really a crowdsourced project,” says Laura Hanna, one of the members, noting that majority of contributions were quite small.

Click on the link below to continue reading the article:

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/sep/17/occupy-activists-student-debt-corinthian-colleges

 

September 19, 2014

The Strange Case of An 18th-Century Sex Change Surgery [newrepublic.com]

by Alice Robb / newrepublic.com

One day in 1779, a London couple, seeking treatment for their seven-year-old daughter, showed up at the Soho Square Dispensary for the Relief of the Infant Poor. The first doctor thought she might have a hernia. The second had a different idea.

“I shall not trouble the reader with the surprise into which the parents were thrown when I first told them their child was not a girl, as they had supposed, but a boy,” wrote the second doctor. The case was recently discovered in the archives of the University of Kansas and written up in the latest issue of the journal Sexualities.

mistakenIn the early 2000s, Carol Warrenthen a professor of sociology at the University of Kansaswas researching the history of electricity in the college’s rare books library when she noticed an old pamphlet with an eye-catching title: “The case of a boy who had been mistaken for a girl; with three anatomical views of the parts, before and after the operation and cure,” by a surgeon called Thomas Brand. “I was looking through a bunch of materials that had been shoved together, and this one appeared,” recalls Warren.

According to Brand’s report, published in 1787, he noticed an “irregularity” in the patient’s “external parts.” After further examination, he concluded that the child’s “part, which had the appearance of the labia pudenda, was in fact the scrotum,” and suggested an “operation to free the penis from its confinement.” He went ahead and made some alterations, enabling the childwhose name is unknown“to urinate standing up, wear trousers, and enjoy the privileges of being a male.” Brand, who practiced at the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, was “not a quack,” according to Mary Fissell, a professor of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins who I spoke to on the phone.

Eight pages long, with three illustrations of the child’s anatomy, the pamphlet may describe one of the earliest instances of sex-change surgery. “The first case that I found (in America) was in the 1840s, and it was received quite critically by fellow physicians,” writes Elizabeth Reis, author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex and professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon, in an email.

Brand saw the operation not as sex change, but as a means of returning the child to his “proper” gender; Brand seemed to believe that only two distinct sexes were possible. He denied the existence of hermaphrodites, although he was familiar with the concept: “The term ‘hermaphrodite’ is properly understood as an animal that has both the male and female organs equally and perfectly formed,” he wrote. “But,” he goes on, “There is no reason to believe that such a case ever had existence in the human subject.”

Brand’s attitude toward sex and gender was consistent with the predominant view of his time; according to eighteenth-century norms, sex was a medical fact that had nothing to do with choice or personal expression. In fact, neither the patient nor his parents seem to have even been consulted. “Gender wasn’t conceived of as a form of identity,” says Warren. “It was conceived of as a form of body.” The idea of a person being “transgender,” of course, is not something that would enter common conception until about two centuries later.

Click on the link continue reading the article…

September 12, 2014

The Only Thing Unusual About Ray And Janay Rice Is That Anyone Noticed [deadspin.com]

BTS-Buttonby Diana Moskovitz / deadspin.com

One of my first homicide stories as a young crime reporter was about a woman killed by her boyfriend. One of my last stories as a crime reporter was about a woman killed by her husband. In between, there were too many dead women to count. A few stand out in memory, the ones whose deaths were especially grisly or tragic. But without fail, women slain by the men they loved kept coming across my desk.

It’s amazing how routine abuse can become. That’s why, whenever a woman turned up dead in South Florida, I knew exactly what to do.

First, find the old restraining order she’d let expire. Second, pull the file from the courthouse. Finally, find the letter inside in which she’d told the court her boyfriend or husband promised he would never hit her again. Because he’s a changed man. Because this was a one-time incident. Because I’m at fault, too. Because this is not a reflection of our relationship. He’ll never hit me again, the dead women had pleaded—just like Janay Rice did, on national television.

But this story isn’t about that press conference anymore. It’s about the video that shows Ray Rice with Janay—then his fiancée, now his wife—in an Atlantic City casino elevator. She rushes up to him, and he throws one swift punch. Her body goes horizontal, head slamming into a handrail before she crumples, powerless, to the floor. It happens in seconds, and then come the gut-wrenching moments when Ray Rice stands there, just stands there, over her unconscious body.

Get angry at what Ray Rice did and get angry at what Roger Goodell didn’t do, but please don’t be surprised by any of it. Not by the hit, not by the blatant attempts to make it look like it was the woman’s fault, not by Rice saying he would never do it again, not even by his wife taking him back. From the beginning, the Ray Rice saga has recapitulated everything awful about how domestic violence plays out in America. It has followed the script perfectly.

Click on this link to continue reading the rest of the article:

http://deadspin.com/the-only-thing-unusual-about-ray-and-janay-rice-is-that-1633583402/+laceydonohue

September 5, 2014

Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All [motherjones.com]

Are science and religion doomed to eternal “warfare,” or can they just get along? Philosophers, theologians, scientists, and atheists debate this subject endlessly (and often, angrily). We hear a lot less from economists on the matter, however. But in arecent paper, Princeton economist Roland Bénabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the “conflict” camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

“Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

That’s the most salient finding from the paper by Bénabou and his colleagues, which uses an economic model to explore how scientific innovation, religiosity, and the power of the state interact to form different “regimes.” The three kinds of regimes that they identify: a secular, European-style regime in which religion has very little policy influence and science garners great support; a repressive, theocratic regime in which the state and religion merge to suppress science; and a more intermediate, American-style regime in which religion and science both thrive, with the state supporting science and religions (mostly) trying to accommodate themselves to its findings.

It is in the process of this inquiry on the relationship between science, religion, and the state that the researchers dive into an analysis of patents, both in the United States and across the globe. And the results are pretty striking.

Click on this link to read the rest of the article:
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/09/religion-quashes-innovation-patents

 

August 17, 2014

The Sad and Mysterious Life of Edward/Ellen De Lacy Evans [slv.vic.gov.au/]

deLaceyPerhaps the most interesting and mysterious of these women was Ellen Tremayne, or Tremaye, who as Edward De Lacy Evans gained notoriety in Victoria in 1879. The Evans case attracted many lurid reports in colonial and international newspapers and sensationalist pamphlets with headlines such as ‘Extraordinary Personation Case’ or ‘The Impersonation Case’. People who claimed to have known her in Ireland or on the immigrant ship, the Ocean Monarch, came forward with hearsay and gossip trying to unravel the ‘mystery’ of this woman’s life.

Like ‘Jack’ Jorgensen, De Lacy Evans lived a large part of her life as a labourer. When her gender was discovered by the authorities she was persuaded to exhibit herself as an oddity at sideshows.

She may have been a transsexual, or gender dysphoric, that is, a person who felt herself to be male, despite being anatomically female. Today she might have had surgery and hormone treatment to arrive at gender comfort. On the other hand she might have been lesbian, preferring sex with women and using male garb as a way of surviving in an ostensibly ‘moral’ and heterosexual society. The newspapers treated such women mercilessly. The various accounts of her life show that Evans was unable to cope psychologically with circumstances both before her ‘masquerade’ and after her discovery.

Evans, or Ellen Tremayne, as she was known on the ship, arrived in Australia as an assisted immigrant in June 1856. According to the Shipping Lists she was from Kilkenny, 26 years old, was Roman Catholic, could read and write and was described as a housemaid. If we can believe the confused and often contradictory reports that appeared in 1879, when the ‘scandal’ broke, she had borne an illegitimate child in Ireland and fled to America. She is supposed to have returned to Ireland but was again forced by social disapproval of her ‘immoral’ life to sail to Australia by the Ocean Monarch.

During the voyage she caused much speculation on varying counts. She wore a man’s shirt and trousers under her dress and seemed to have formed sexual attachments to some of her female cabin mates, in particular, Mary Delahunty, a 34-year-old governess who came from the same part of Ireland, the Harristown-Waterford region. Some of her fellow passengers thought Evans was a man masquerading as a woman!

Soon after arrival Evans, or Tremayne, as she was then known, was employed as a maidservant at a Melton public house. After some time she left this position, donned men’s clothes, found Mary Delahunty and, calling herself Edmund De Lacy, ‘married’ Delahunty at St Francis’ Roman Catholic church in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. There is evidence, however, that they ‘did not live comfortably together’. Delahunty opened a school in Blackwood and around 1862 left to marry Lyman Oatman Hart, an American mining surveyor in Daylesford.

What of the name De Lacy Evans? During the 1850s it was a famous one. General Sir George De Lacy Evans was a prominent military man at the Crimean War and part of the Irish establishment. Evans’s ‘third wife’, Julia Marquand, stated that Evans had told her that the general was his uncle. Further, it was reported that Ellen Tremayne had a cabin trunk marked with the words ‘Edward De Lacy Evans’. A woman who claimed to have been a Kilkenny neighbour told the newspapers that Evans was really Ellen Lacy, daughter of a well-to-do farmer of Harristown, Kilkenny, who had borne an illegitimate child and fled to North America. She returned as Mrs De Lacy Evans and was last remembered in the early 1850s as causing a furore when she rode her horse among the villagers at a gathering held by the Earl of Bessborough. The locals drove her out of town as an immoral woman. There is speculation in the Man-Woman pamphlet that her husband or paramour was named Edward De Lacy Evans, that he somehow tricked her by placing his trunk on the Ocean Monarch but had deserted her. A man of that name is supposed to have arrived in Melbourne in June 1858 on theMatoaka, ‘a rather handsome young fellow, well developed and with fine-flowing whiskers’ who worked as labourer around Ballarat and Bendigo.

During the next 20 years Evans ‘married’ two other women: Sarah Moore, who died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1867, and Julia Marquand of Bendigo. Evans worked as a carter, miner, blacksmith and ploughman in the Blackwood, Bendigo and Stawell districts. During this time it seems that Evans was charged at the police court and jailed for seven days for being found in a servant’s bedroom at the hotel where she and her ‘wife’ Sarah worked, but got away with swindling a fellow miner out of £175.  Nevertheless, the public record shows her as owning shares in various goldmines and paying rates for properties in Eaglehawk and Sandhurst.

When her third ‘wife’, Julia Marquand, gave birth to a child in March 1878 Evans registered herself as the father. Perhaps in a certain sense, we can see Evans as the embodiment of feminist Julia Kristeva’s theories of the ‘abject mother’ and the ‘imaginary father’. In the early 1850s Evans, as Ellen Tremaye, had borne a child and become outcast from her own region; now in 1878, by registering the child as her own in her masculine persona, she becomes a ‘father’.

Evans and Julia Marquand seem to have lived together only intermittently, Evans working in Stawell or Ballarat and Marquand working as a dressmaker near the City Family Hotelowned by Marquand’s brother-in-law Jean Baptiste Loridan. There must, however, have been deep resentments following on the discovery of her ‘wife’s’ pregnancy. In July 1879, she became violent to Julia and the 15-month-old daughter, fell into deep depression and was admitted to the Lunacy Ward of the Bendigo Hospital suffering from ‘amentia’. For the next six weeks she refused to bathe, and it was not until she was removed to the Kew Asylum and forcibly stripped, that her gender was discovered. She was promptly handed over to female nurses and dressed in ‘frocks and petticoats’. Bendigo newspapers reported the story with much prurient and salacious detail. Soon, the colonial and international press ran the stories.

When the De Lacy Evans ‘scandal’ broke, Aaron Flegeltaub, a Stawell photographer, exploited the situation bringing to light ‘excellent likenesses’ of Evans and Julia Marquand taken about 1870. He possibly made a tidy sum selling them ascartes-de-visite. Bendigo photographer Nicholas White somehow obtained access to Evans just after she had been readmitted to the Bendigo Lunacy ward, and took a trick photograph of her dressed in both male and female clothing. He also took a series of head and shoulders portraits of Evans wearing what seems to be a white hospital nightshirt (or straight-jacket). White’s action seems a clear case of exploitation. In the photographs Evans stares out at us, wild eyed and probably affronted by the intrusion. The Australian Medical Journal of 15 April 1880 gave a detailed description of another intrusion: a gynaecological examination that caused her to cry and scream while Dr Penfold used his speculum. This report, however, verifies that Evans was physiologically female and that she had carried and borne a child.

Not surprisingly the existence of a child and the ‘wife’s’ insistence that she did not know that Evans was a woman caused most public conjecture. Speaking to reporters, Julia Marquand ingenuously accounted for the child by saying that she believed that ‘some strange man entered the house one night about the time her husband should have returned home’. There was evidence that the second wife, Sarah Moore, after about a year of marriage, was aware of the masquerade and not happy with the situation. A witness reported Moore punching Evans on the breast, her ‘weak place’. While Marquand might not have been aware of Evans’s gender, it is likely that she nevertheless had sought sexual gratification with her brother-in-law.

deLacy2After her release from Kew Asylum, Evans, dressed as a woman and still mentally distressed, was a witness at Julia Marquand’s paternity suit against her brother-in-law Jean Baptiste Loridan, a prosperous Bendigo businessman, married to Marquand’s sister, and father of four children. Evans gave the only corroborative evidence in the case stating that she’ had seen them in bed together. But her evidence, given in an incoherent manner, was not accepted and the case was dismissed. The scandal and business problems led to the ruin of Loridan’s career in Bendigo and he left for Queensland where he was involved in the start of the sugarcane industry.

The furore of the De Lacy Evans case caused entertainment entrepreneurs to apply to the Bendigo Hospital for permission for her to be ‘publicly exhibited’. Samuel Lazar of Sydney offered £3 and £5 per week for a tour. To their credit, the Asylum authorities refused the offers. Nevertheless, after her release from the hospital in December 1879 Evans was being exhibited by panorama showmen at Geelong and Stawell.

Click here to continue reading at the link:

http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-69/t1-g-t9.html

 

 

July 2, 2014

Why Solitary Confinement Is The Worst Kind Of Psychological Torture [io9.com]

by George Dvorsky / io9.com

There may be as many as 80,000 American prisoners currently locked-up in a SHU, or segregated housing unit. Solitary confinement in a SHU can cause irreversible psychological effects in as little as 15 days. Here’s what social isolation does to your brain, and why it should be considered torture.

There’s no universal definition for solitary confinement, but the United Nations describes it as any regime where an inmate is held in isolation from others, except guards, for at least 22 hours a day. Some jurisdictions allow prisoners out of their cells for one hour of solitary exercise each day. But meaningful contact with others is typically reduced to a bare minimum. Prisoners are also intentionally deprived of stimulus; available stimuli and the fleetingly rare social contacts are rarely chosen by the prisoners, and are are typically monotonous and inconsiderate of their needs.

As for the jail cell itself, it typically measures 6′ x 10′. Nearly all scenarios for human contact, such as a guard, or medical and family visits, are done through a metal mesh, behind glass partitions, or in hand- and leg-cuffs.

Writing in Wired, Brandon Keim describes the conditions in the cells:

What’s emerged from the reports and testimonies reads like a mix of medieval cruelty and sci-fi dystopia. For 23 hours or more per day, in what’s euphemistically called “administrative segregation” or “special housing,” prisoners are kept in bathroom-sized cells, under fluorescent lights that never shut off. Video surveillance is constant. Social contact is restricted to rare glimpses of other prisoners, encounters with guards, and brief video conferences with friends or family.

For stimulation, prisoners might have a few books; often they don’t have television, or even a radio. In 2011, another hunger strike among California’s prisoners secured such amenities as wool hats in cold weather and wall calendars. The enforced solitude can last for years, even decades.

These horrors are best understood by listening to people who’ve endured them. As one Florida teenager described in a report on solitary confinement in juvenile prisoners, “The only thing left to do is go crazy.”

Prisoners in low and medium security jails are often thrown in the SHU for “just” a few days. But in maximum security prisons, individuals in solitary are held on average for five years, and there are thousands of cases of prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement for decades. Some countries, including the United States, employ the use of Super Maximum Security Prisons, or “Supermax Prisons,” in which solitary confinement is framed as a normal, rather than exceptional, practice for inmates.

Exact statistics are not known, but a 2011 study suggested that 20,000 to 25,000 prisoners in the United States are held in this way. Keim claims that that California holds some 4,500 inmates in solitary confinement, and that there are as many as 80,000 prisoners held in solitary across the United States — more than any other democratic nation.

Lasting Effects

Human beings are social creatures. Without the benefit of another person to “bounce off of,” the mind decays; without anything to do, the brain atrophies; and without the ability to see off in the distance, vision fades. Isolation and loss of control breeds anger, anxiety, and hopelessness.

Indeed, psychologist Terry Kupers says that solitary confinement “destroys people as human beings.” A quick glance at literature review studies done by Sharon Shalev (2008) and Peter Scharff Smith (2006) affirms this assertion; here are some typical symptoms:

  • Anxiety: Persistent low level of stress, irritability or anxiousness, fear of impending death, panic attacks
  • Depression: Emotional flatness/blunting and the loss of ability to have any “feelings”, mood swings, hopelessness, social withdrawal, loss of initiation of activity or ideas, apathy, lethargy, major depression
  • Anger: Irritability and hostility, poor impulse control, outbursts of physical and verbal violence against others, self, and objects, unprovoked angers, sometimes manifested as rage
  • Cognitive disturbances: Short attention span, poor concentration and memory, confused thought processes, disorientation
  • Perceptual distortions: Hypersensitivity to noises and smells, distortions of sensation (e.g. walls closing in), disorientation in time and space, depersonalization/derealization, hallucinations affecting all five senses (e.g. hallucinations of objects or people appearing in the cell, or hearing voices when no one is speaking
  • Paranoia and psychosis: Recurrent and persistent thoughts, often of a violent and vengeful character (e.g. directed against prison staff), paranoid ideas (often persecutory), psychotic episodes or states, psychotic depression, schizophrenia
  • Self-harm: self-mutilation and cutting, suicide attempts

In California, it has been shown that inmates are 33 times more likely to commit suicide than other prisoners incarcerated elsewhere in the state. Disturbingly, solitary confinement beyond 15 days leads directly to severe and irreversible psychological harm. But for some, it can manifest in even less time. What’s more, a significant number of individuals will experience serious health problems regardless of specific conditions of time, place, and pre-existing personal factors.

In terms of prevalence, somewhere between 8% and 19% of American prisoners will experience significant psychiatric or functional disabilities, while another 15% to 20% will require some form of psychiatric intervention during their incarceration. Figures in Europe are comparable. The American Psychiatric Association says that up to 20% of all prisoners are “seriously mentally ill” whereas up to 5% are “actively psychotic at any given moment.” About 4% of inmates have schizophrenia or some other psychotic disorder, nearly 19% suffer from depression, and around 4% have bipolar disorder (Abramsky and Fellner 2003).

Click this link to continue reading the article on io9′s website:

http://io9.com/why-solitary-confinement-is-the-worst-kind-of-psycholog-1598543595

June 30, 2014

Facebook’s Unethical Experiment [slate.com]

It intentionally manipulated users’ emotions without their knowledge.

By 

facebookdownFacebook has been experimenting on us. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that Facebook intentionally manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 users in order to study “emotional contagion through social networks.”

The researchers, who are affiliated with Facebook, Cornell, and the University of California–San Francisco, tested whether reducing the number of positive messages people saw made those people less likely to post positive content themselves. The same went for negative messages: Would scrubbing posts with sad or angry words from someone’s Facebook feed make that person write fewer gloomy updates?

They tweaked the algorithm by which Facebook sweeps posts into members’ news feeds, using a program to analyze whether any given textual snippet contained positive or negative words. Some people were fed primarily neutral to happy information from their friends; others, primarily neutral to sad. Then everyone’s subsequent posts were evaluated for affective meanings.

The upshot? Yes, verily, social networks can propagate positive and negative feelings!

The other upshot: Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad.

Facebook’s methodology raises serious ethical questions. The team may have bent research standards too far, possibly overstepping criteria enshrined in federal lawand human rights declarations. “If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation,” says James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland. “This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent.”

Click here to continue reading the article at Slate:
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/06/facebook_unethical_experiment_it_made_news_feeds_happier_or_sadder_to_manipulate.html

June 26, 2014

Field Guide to the Conspiracy Theorist: Dark Minds [psychologytoday.com]

By John Gartner, Ph.D., published on September 01, 2009 – last reviewed on January 13, 2012 / psychologytoday.com

Alex Jones is trying to warn us about an evil syndicate of bankers who control most of the world’s governments and stand poised to unite the planet under their totalitarian reign, a “New World Order.” While we might be tempted to dismiss Jones as a nut, the “king of conspiracy” is a popular radio show host. The part-time filmmaker’s latest movie, The Obama Deception, in which he argues that Obama is a puppet of the criminal bankers, has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

When we spoke, Jones ranted for two hours about FEMA concentration camps, Halliburton child kidnappers, government eugenics programs—and more. When I stopped him to ask for evidence the government is practicing eugenics, he pointed to a national security memorandum. But I found the document to be a bland policy report.

Jones “cherry picks not just facts but phrases, which, once interpreted his way, become facts in his mind,” says Louis Black, editor of the Austin Chronicle, who knows Jones, a fellow Austin resident. When I confronted Jones with my reading of the report, he became pugnacious, launching into a diatribe against psychologists as agents of social control.

Conspiracy thinking is embraced by a surprisingly large proportion of the population. Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe President John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, and 42 percent believe the government is covering up evidence of flying saucers, finds Ted Goertzel, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University at Camden. Thirty-six percent of respondents to a 2006 Scripps News/Ohio University poll at least suspected that the U.S. government played a role in 9/11.

We’re all conspiracy theorists to some degree. We’re all hardwired to find patterns in our environment, particularly those that might represent a threat to us. And when things go wrong, we find ourselves searching for what, or who, is behind it.

In his 1954 classic, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, historian Richard Hofstadter hypothesized that conspiracy thinking is fueled by underlying feelings of alienation and helplessness. Research supports his theory. New Mexico State University psychologist Marina Abalakina-Paap has found that people who endorse conspiracy theories are especially likely to feel angry, mistrustful, alienated from society, and helpless over larger forces controlling their lives.

Jones insists he had a “Leave It to Beaver childhood.” I couldn’t confirm such an idyllic past. When I asked if I could interview his family or childhood friends, he insisted his family was very “private” and he had not kept in touch with a single friend. When I asked if I might look them up, he became irritated. He doubted he could “still spell their names,” and besides, I’d already taken up enough of his time. “I turned down 50 or 60 requests for interviews this week,” he wanted me to know.

The number sounded wildly inflated. Conspiracy theorists have a grandiose view of themselves as heroes “manning the barricades of civilization” at an urgent “turning point” in history, Hofstadter held. Jones has a “messiah complex,” Black contends. Grandiosity is often a defense against underlying feelings of powerlessness.

Even well-grounded skeptics are prone to connect disparate dots when they feel disempowered. In a series of studies, Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern demonstrated that people primed to feel out of control are particularly likely to see patterns in random stimuli.

Might people be especially responsive to Jones’ message in today’s America, marked by economic uncertainty and concerns about terrorism and government scandals? “There is a war on for your mind,” Jones insists on his Web site, infowars.com. He calls his listeners “infowarriors.”

Information is the conspiracy theorists’ weapon of choice because if there’s one thing they all agree on, it’s that all the rest of us have been brainwashed. The “facts” will plainly reveal the existence of the conspiracy, they believe. And while all of us tend to bend information to fit our pre-existing cognitive schema, conspiracy theorists are more extreme. They are “immune to evidence,” discounting contradictory information or seeing it as “proof of how clever the enemy is at covering things up,” Goertzel says.

Conspiracy theories exist on a spectrum from mild suspicion to full-onparanoia, and brain chemistry may play a role. Dopamine rewards us for noting patterns and finding meaning in sometimes-insignificant events. It’s long been known that schizophrenics overproduce dopamine. “The earliest stages of delusion are characterized by an overabundance of meaningful coincidences,” explain Paul D. Morrison and R.M. Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London. “Jumping to conclusions” is a common reasoning style among the paranoid, find Daniel Freeman and his colleagues, also at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Indeed, there are no coincidences in Jones’ world. In a scene from The Obama Deception, Jones dives “into the belly of the beast,” the hotel where purported conspirators will be meeting. As he begins a telephone interview, the fire alarm goes off. “The bastards have set us up,” he says.

Jones says that he has been visited by the FBI and the Secret Service but can’t discuss the interviews. It may be that federal agents, in fact, wanted to evaluate whether he is a threat to the president. There’s no reason to believe he is—but the same can’t be said of his listeners. In 2002, Richard McCaslin, carrying an arsenal of weapons, entered the Bohemian Grove, a campground in California that annually hosts a meeting of the political and business elite. He told authorities he had been planning his commando raid for a year, after (he says) hearing Jones claim that ritual infant sacrifice was taking place there.

The “war”continues. In a video promoting The Obama Deception, Jones urges, “We know who they are. We know what they are. We know what has to be done.”

John Gartner is an author and PT blogger. Read his blog now: The Roving Psychologist.

Connect the Dots

How susceptible are you to conspiracy beliefs? Rate your agreement with the statements below, from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.

  1. For the most part, government serves the interests of a few organized groups, such as business, and isn’t very concerned about the needs of people like myself.
  2. I have trouble doing what I want to do in the world today.
  3. It is difficult for people like myself to have much influence in public affairs.
  4. We seem to live in a pretty irrational and disordered world.
  5. I don’t trust that my closest friends would not lie to me.

Answer key: 5-11: weakly, 12-18: moderately, 19-25: strongly (Adapted from a scale developed by Patrick Leman)

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200909/field-guide-the-conspiracy-theorist-dark-minds

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