National Learned Helplessness

So, I'm reading an article about a current phenomenon in the psychology world, called "positive psychology" (about which more later, perhaps) and the author mentioned that one of the inspirations for this (sort of) new paradigm was discovery of what came to be called "learned helplessness". Briefly, LH is a condition in which we come to believe that we have no power to affect our condition. In the original experiment, dogs were given painful shocks which they could not avoid. In time they became apathetic and stopped trying to do anything about what was happening to them. The kicker came when the researchers removed the barriers, allowing the dogs to avoid the shocks: They didn't. They just laid there and allowed themselves to be hurt, as if they were still bound in place. They had learned that nothing they could do would change their situation, and the belief had gone so deep that they were unable to see a change. They continued to be trapped by their own minds, by their beliefs.
This interests me because, like so many people, I've been asking "where's the rage?" as I read, daily, new and more angering outrages committed by our federal government. Last weekend millions of people marched in the streets, opposing restrictive immigration laws. Many people asked, "Where are the millions of American marchers demanding their country back? Where are the mobs storming the White House, carrying pitchforks and torches, determined to bring an end to the obscenity that our government has become, ready to die, if need be, to drive out this monstrous regime?"
Ya gotta wonder.
I think what we're looking at is a case of national learned helplessness. When I was a kid, I was taught, in Civics class, about how our government worked. Certainly, there was a lot that we weren't taught; the old saying about sausages and laws applied even then, but mostly that was how things worked. There were bad apples, to be sure, but you get the sense that they were the exception, rather than the rule. Al Capp and Walt Kelly skewered them and things, in retrospect, seemed to run pretty well. Even Joe McCarthy was brought down by a few brave men (and his own hubris), seemingly demonstrating that the system worked, eventually. (I know: things worked pretty well if you were a white male. I concede, but work with me, here, will you?)
It seems to me that things changed with Kennedy's assassination. There had been events before to shake our faith: the U2 disclosure, and the debacle that was our invasion of Cuba, but the shooting of our president, followed quickly by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, profoundly shook our national soul. What all these killings had in common was that they were never satisfactorily explained. There was always the lone, mad gunman, of shadowy origins, and questionable motives, who was presented as the killer. Why did he do it? Because he was mad, that's why. What else do you need to know? That's better. Move along......
I suggest that that's when we began to learn that there was nothing that we could do. There were investigations, and reports that failed to answer our suspicions. People who continued to ask questions were labeled kooks, and life went on. Vietnam further eroded our belief in the rightness of things. We knew we were being lied to (although we didn't know how much), but the war went on until it simply couldn't, anymore, and we lost. Another shock. Many of us congratulated ourselves for "stopping the war", and we did play a part, but the government learned, and that was the last time we- the collective "we"- were going to be allowed to affect government policy.
The thirty years since then can be seen as three decades during which self government has died- at least on the federal level. Corporations have become the only constituency that counts, it seems, and our govenment no longer bothers to cover their lies- they simply spin and deny until we lose interest and give up. We have learned that nothing we do will change anything. The government is not listening (Bush refers to us as "background noise"), and there is too much money to be made to let anything get in the way. True, there are still brave people who march and chain themselves to things and stand up and speak truth to power, but they are dealt with and laughed at or ignored and forgotten in a few days.
We watch this and we learn: nothing we do can change it. We haven't enough money to be heard. Power is in the hands of people who do not have our interests at heart. They will do what they do, for reasons known only to themselves, and if we bother to ask they will lie to us until we stop asking.
Is this a true picture? Probably, like all generalizations, it is untrue, but I suggest that, as a nation, we have come to believe that it is true, and so, like the suffering dogs, we have stopped seeing the solutions. We have stopped feeling the anger. We play video games in which we are dynamic, strong and effective and we watch television, where we learn that our system does work because it is staffed with compassionate, caring people who will take care of us. That's good enough.
We don't march, in our millions, because we don't believe that it will make any difference. Most of us don't vote because we've stopped believing that our vote will change anything. We have immense power, as we've always had, but we may as well have none, because we've learned that we are helpless. Apathetic, we absorb our daily diet of shocks, and scarcely notice it anymore.
Classic learned helplessness.

Better than solitaire?

-So, I just "validated my email address", so that, theoretically, I can post to other's journals. I think that I also figured out how to link to my "friends'" most recent entries. We'll see.
I know that I can have a problem with using my computer in a self abusive way. I've had to trash the games that became a problem, because I can find myself playing solitaire, for example, for an hour, totally unconscious, didn't mean to, but- poof!- three goes an hour of my life. I'm worried that this may turn into the same thing. It's even more seductive, because, hey, it's educational and it's community, right? What could be bad?
As with any other potentially addictive activity, it's about staying conscious and making choices. If I choose to spend a half hour to check in, and do that, that's ok, but if I sit down, because I don't want to do something else, and eat up an hour, that's not ok.
I'm nervous about it. We'll see.
That's enough for now.

Endless Folly

I feel a rant coming on this morning, having read, in the Chronicle's business section, that Ford motor company continues to lose money, hand over fist (an interesting turn of phrase, btw; I wonder where it came from).
Last week I read a similar story about General Motors, in which a spokesperson, asked about GM's continued dedication to sports utility vehicles, replied that GM believes the demand for SUV's to be strong, and will continue to place their faith, and their financial future in what they like to call "full sized vehicles".
The same business page that carried the article about Ford, offered the hardly necessary news that gas prices had reached record levels, and that we shouldn't expect them to drop anytime soon- if ever.
So, let me see if I've got this straight: Gm and Ford are spending what appear to be hundreds of millions of dollars to create and broadcast television commercials, showing "full sized vehicles" tearing up hillsides. Closeups of rocks and vegetation being crushed and shattered, banks of streams collapsing, as the powerful dreadnaught overcomes all resistance, in order to deliver the (usually male's) family to some bucolic spot from which they can commune with nature unspoiled- as long as they don't look back at the path of destruction left by their SUV. Did I mention the boat they hauled up to the pristine lake? Observe the beautiful wife- remarkable body for having borne the two or three perfect children- gazing with adoration at her wise, providing husband. You just know what's going to happen in that tent, as soon as they can get the kids off in the woods, somewhere.
These commercials run endlessly. Watch commercial (or even non commercial) television for three hours- I dare you- and you will see two dozen of them, sometimes back to back. SUV's and pickup trucks. Manly men. Adoring women and children. Sometimes adoring, and remarkably unaffected, wildlife. Spurned hillsides that should have known better than to get in the way of Man, the Conqueror.
Could it be, do you think, that these stupefyingly expensive commercials might have something to do with, maybe, creating what demand still exists for these monstrous creations? Do you think, perhaps, that if the auto makers had heeded the signs ten years ago and begun to build small, efficient vehicles, they might not be in the hole today? Let's just really go out on a limb, here, since I'm talking to myself, and say that spending millions of dollars to flog a dead and stinking horse might not be only stupid, but actually (dare I say it in this post modern era?) immoral.
It's not just the environment that suffers, as a result of these arrogant men's decisions, although that would be bad enough. There are also thousands of families that have lost their livelihood, their breadwinners laid off indefinitely, adding to the general malaise in America.
But the Men at the top continue to use their resources to create demand for vehicles that no one with the IQ of a doorstop would buy. Why? I suspect because they haven't the capacity to admit that they are, and have been, wrong. Like the men who control our government, they have the intelligence to destroy, but not the wisdom to create and build. As they fall, like the dinosaurs they are, they drag us down with them.
Sic semper humanis.

Well, maybe.....

Getting a lot of encouragement from, mostly, real, flesh and blood friends to stick with this, suggesting that the rewards can be worth it. Could be, but I've got to learn to use the damned thing, first. Just tried to respond to a nice, encouraging note from someone who's name, I think, is Mary, but the system says I can't post to other's sites, and I don't know why. Yes, Rowan, I found the spellcheck, but I can't figure out how to use it, other than to note the highlited misspellings and go down to the box and make changes. I have a feeling there's some better way to do it, but haven't been able to find it, yet.
I am getting a little intrigued. I'm not a stupid man, and I can learn to use this thing, as I've learned so many other things. The ongoing question is, is it worth it? This, of course, brings up the value of online relationships in general. Communicating through this medium seems to partially satisfy our need to connect with other people, but it's such a limited form of communication, and couldn't the time be spent in a better way? Without trying too hard, I can think of a half dozen ways in which I could be forming new, face to face relationships, right now- but here I am, tappity, tappity. Is this a valuable tool or a seductive invitation to a bunch of pseudo-relationships? Or, just a waste of time?
We'll see.

Initial musings upon setting forth.....

So. The blinking cursor . Oh, my god, there's no spellcheck on this thing. I'm going to have to go back to writing with a dictionary beside me, like I did when I was an undergraduate. Or, I can just spell things the way I think they're spelled, and not worry about it. Naw. Not possible. Just one of those things I haven't had to worry about since my first Mac, almost twenty years ago. Thanks, Robin. I mean, for the Mac, not for making me forget how to spell.
Not at all sure why I'm doing this. At nearly 70, I'm absurdly busy, with a life full of interesting stuff. I'm sure not looking for some way to fill my spare time...... I guess there are some things I want to find out more about, and for me it's more interesting to do that by talking to people than by looking the information up somewhere. I guess "talking" is the word.
Of course, this raises the question: how do I find people to talk with? I mean, right now I'm just talking to myself (cue the echo affect). Not an unusual occurence, to be sure, but I can do that without using a machine with a brain the size of a planet. Do I just sort of hang out here and wait for people to drop by? Go out looking for people? How do you do that? Seems like a trip to FAQ might be in order.
So, I want to talk with people, and I guess I have some things I want to say. How strange. Once we would have sat around a fire, our faces in flickering shadows, and talked as we poked at the fire with a stick. Maybe we would have shared food, or passed a gourd around. We would have talked about the things that were important to us, things that we're trying to understand, things that might make our lives easier or longer. We might have told jokes or sung songs. Maybe, sometimes, one of us would have stood up and danced a pantomime to tell a story or express a feeling.
This is immeasurably different from that fire circle, but our motivations are the same: to connect; to not feel alone; to express ourselves and be heard; maybe to be understood.
I don't know how often I'll be writing here, or what this site will come to mean to me. That remains to be seen. This is a start. Is there anybody out there?
Oh, my god, I just found spell check!
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