behavior modification and ethics, black and white rainy day, the two faces of gossip

This research – Scientists Block Pathological Aggression in Mice –  brings up an interesting ethical dilemma. If we are able to do something. Something that has an obvious upside for society, should we. Human beings have been known to fly into pathological rage – sudden violence, explosive outbursts and hostile overreactions to stress. It is not clinically speaking, according to my reading, a psychiatric disorder. Pretty much everyone has a moment, sooner or later when they lose it. The brain receptor these scientists shut down in mice also exists in human beings. There are people for who these fits of rage are not a once every few years event. Violent rage is a regular feature of their personality. Once the behavior results in a crime against someone then society has a stake in outcomes for that person. It cost about $20k per year to house a prisoner. Should these people be given some medication that permanently changes their behavior or forced on a regular drug regimen. Or how about the guy next door who has never assaulted anyone, but whose wife and kids live in constant fear of his angry mood swings. Maybe the occasional joint would do the trick. Most people report feeling more relaxed when they smoke pot. Some research is underway to explore different drugs based on the cannabinoids (THC and CBD) found in marijuana. Researchers in the U.K. are looking to breed marijuana to make medicines for metabolic disorders, epilepsy, and other diseases. One other ailment they’re looking at is to use THC in treating psychosis. If you’re diagnosed with psychosis and committed, you don’t have a lot of say over your course of treatment. So a drug that treats low levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO A) – the pathway that was blocked in the mice, could be used. Judges have made the condition of some sentences to include regularly taking mood  altering medications. If the angry neighbor finally gets violent with someone in the family, jail time would be called for, but it would be cheaper for society if the sentence was a little shorter and release was on the condition of taking a drug that would prevent violent behavior. In the film and play Suddenly Last Summer, a young woman whose wealthy aunt considers mentally unstable is sentenced to an asylum – all very southern Gothic ( Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff starred in the film version)  – where she is to be forced to have a lobotomy. A procedure that is more about her aunts’ desire for revenge than actual mental illness. Behavior modifying drugs sound much more humane by comparison.

black and white – at the cafe

MSU study – Carrots, not sticks, motivate workers. If you enjoy reading the occasional article over the years about people and what motivates them, this is one of those issue that goes back and forth. In this study the researchers found that rewards – promised rewards for meeting certain performance thresholds – was more effective than the threat of punishment. I tend to like this study because it is the way I would like the world to work. Though real world experience tells me that carrots work most of the time. Some people are just punishment oriented. It can be strange because if you’re a supervisor who prefers to be a carrot person these people are fu*king with your personality and your noble goals – which can in turn piss you off. You end up having these ‘stick’ talks with them, trying to convince someone who they need to do what? – act more in their rational self interests – so they will have a job to pay rent. If can be a learning moment – as this is situation is approaching the emotional neighborhood of being a parent. So with this experience in mind, do you still want to have children.

Some researchers who head some real world experience, Studies Find That Gossip Isn’t Just Loose Talk

But not all gossip is bad, and, in fact, gossip can be useful in maintaining social norms and keeping people in line.

Maybe it sounds as if I’m just trying to rationalize the desire to sometimes spread a few juicy bits of information, but recent research looks at the good side of gossip.

First, the definition of gossip is fairly neutral. As Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford who has written widely about gossip, notes, the word gossip originally just meant chatting with one’s “godsibs,” or the peer equivalent of godparents — in other words, people you were particularly close to.

In more modern terms, Timothy Hallett, associate professor in the Indiana University sociology department, defined it as “the unsanctioned evaluative talk about people who aren’t present.”

[  ]…“If you tell people that this person is a selfish jerk, people learn to avoid the exploitive jerk,” said Matthew Feinberg, a postdoctoral student at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

Professor Willer said: “We sometimes need to trade information with third parties about people who aren’t around in order to learn from other people’s experiences.”

As a way of maintaining a level of social norms that allow people to function in a warehouse or office without being harassed or bullied, gossip can be useful. Though there is another side. Like if a few people in an office decide they do not like someone – call them a jerk, a smart-ass or a sexual harasser and they are not. I’ve seen cliques of people gang up on someone they don’t like, someone who makes them feel “uncomfortable” ( a common code word) and suddenly an employee who is a pretty good person is being fired because they violated rule 46 sub-paragraph 2B of the employee conduct code. Gossip and the gossipers become the modern equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials. You must be guilty because six people said so rationale. As though a few people have never ganged up on someone.

black and white rainy day

Sartre, Camus and a woman called Wanda

In the middle of the Second World War, Sartre and Camus had their own private little war going. But Sartre’s relationship with Wanda went right back to before the war, pre-Camus. For years, Sartre had been obsessing over Wanda’s older sister, Olga Kosakiewicz, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s students. De Beauvoir seduced Olga to start with, then tried to pass her on to Sartre. But Olga wasn’t really up for it. De Beauvoir was a lot better looking than Sartre, and taller, too. So began Sartre’s fixation on the first of the half-Russian Kosakiewicz sisters. Olga got into his plays; she got into his novels. But one thing he could never quite pull off was getting her into his bed. She resisted without ever entirely pushing him away. She was Sartre’s unattainable object of desire, the “transcendental signifier”, as their friend Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalyst, would have said. I think Sartre managed to interpret all his sexual frustration as good for his existential soul.

None of which stopped him from changing course when her younger sister, Wanda, arrived in Paris in 1937 and seducing her instead.

[   ]…This was Sartre at his least philosophical. He never really forgave Camus. Their final, very public divorce in the Fifties was politics, philosophy and personality all rolled into one. But at the end of 1944, Sartre wrote to the Beaver: “What did Wanda think she was doing, running after Camus? What did she want from him? Wasn’t I so much better? And so kind to her. She should watch out.” Sartre was trying to be ironic but he was, in fact, totally serious. He gladly took Wanda back again (amid countless other affairs). But perhaps Camus had their close encounter in mind when he wrote: “It is necessary to fall in love – the better to provide an alibi for all the despair we are going to feel anyway.” ( excerpts from The Boxer and the Goalkeeper by Andy Martin, published by Simon & Schuster)

As one might expect from two of the most prominent philosophers of existentialism, there was  a lot of angst, dread and rationalizing. That is the thing about lust and obsession, all the insightful intellectual thoughts become just so much baggage in the pursuit of desire. Though it still all reads much better and sounds more civilized than what you see on the average day-time talk show, with the audience bringing the punctuating  boos and cheers.

Melody Gardot – Your Heart is as Black as Night

Billie Holiday – I’m A Fool To Want You