Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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New President for Ashland University

Ashland University has selected a new president. He is Dr. Frederick Finks and will take office on July 1, 2006. I have reason to think that he not only values Ashland, but understands, to praraphrase Churchill, that our students should come to the university less to learn a trade--although no one denies that we must learn to support ourselves--than to learn how to live well. Churchill: "The first duty of a university is to teach wisdom not a trade; character not technicalities." I congratulate him, and wish him the best.

Discussions - 33 Comments

Well, Julie et al., time to bring out those anti-psychologist arguments! It’s only a BA, but he got a small taste of the good life before going into the ministry!

No, No, Fung. Not anti psychologist, anti psychology. Love the quack, hate the quackery...

How fine our distinctions become when one of "us" is discovered among "them."

On the other hand, you are right, I can almost feel the love!

Fung, if you knew Fred Finks--a highly conservative Christian--I doubt you’d want to claim him as one of your own.

John - I expect that you are right. Still, I couldn’t resist a shot at Julie, after her considerable psychologist-bashing in an earlier post about recidivism and pedophiles. I have already alienated James Dobson, and would probably offend your new President, as well, even if it was "only" a BA from Ashland!

At this point some examples of how "psychology" has improved our lives would be in order. Objective evidence, please, and claiming the benefits of pharmaceuticals is strictly off limits.

Well, this morning, my intro students learned how to recognize the tools that people use to influence others’ behaviors, including the low-ball technique, the foot-in-the-door technique, and the door-in-the-face technique. All of these are ways to get others to behave in ways that they otherwise might not.

In addition, once we recognize those methods, we can resist them more effectively, for instance when someone wants us to join a cult, or move their furniture, or buy their car, or have sex with them.

Later, we learned how easily people can be convinced to hand over their autonomy, and to do the bidding of others, simply because those others assume, or pretend to an authority that they really don’t have.

Any other hoops you would like me to jump through?

Wanna play? Feel like defending hostile, overcompensating pundit wannabes?

Excellent, Fung. That was the touchdown AND the field goal.

Why, thank you, M.E.S.! I trained hard, ate a good breakfast, and got a good night’s sleep.

Fung:

Dain asked how psychology had improved the general aspect of life. The knowledge you cited could improve the lives of some, but I wonder whether such knowledge could not be misused by people to harm the lives of more people than it benefits.

Somebody said (maybe Churchill, maybe Arendt, who knows) that Totaliarinism became possible because of modern scientific knowledge about how people behave. Probably not a coincidence that Hitler and the Nazis came from the Austrian-Germany region. I believe that is where modern psychology got its start, right?

I think Dain’s question was silly (one does not justify knowledge on the basis of its utility, knowledge needs no justification because people will always seek it, trying to make people stop seeking knowledge is like trying to make the Earth stop rotating) but you answer was a little too flipant.

It is not silly to question the triumphalism of a science-wannabe!

All the stuff you name was taught to me by my grandfather (8th-grade graduate). I guess you are claiming that "psychology" is simply warmed-over commonsense? That’s pretty sad (and MES, how easily you are impressed...that’s sad as well).

Dain and Steve, even if you see no value in studying psychology, do you really believe that we should just ignore it? Would you really have us un-learn everything we’ve learned? Do you see no benefit in all of the studies on human behavior that have been conducted by pyschologists? And what if a person would like help with his or her depression/anxiety/OCD etc. and does NOT wish to discuss the issue with a priest?

Steve- Dain asked for nothing, though the inclusion of the word "please" might redirect a reader. He demanded, and then expected, a response.

As for knowledge being misused, what knowledge is immune from that particular problem? Knowing how to turn a screw is dangerous if used to build a bridge that provides the enemy access to the munitions factory. What kind of information cannot be used to harm someone? Dain, for instance, knows how to spell, and we have all seen how he has used that "gift!"

He is also good at paying homage to my turn of a phrase. Note his original use of the term "wannabe." Sort of proves my point, doesn’t it?

Dain is also part of the camp that has two ready responses for all psychological information: If he agrees with it, then it is just common sense. (Of course, many common-sense notions have fallen by the wayside, due to scientific research, but Dain and I have had this conversation before), If he disagrees with it, then it was researched by biased, liberal, quasi-scientists. So, according to Dain, nothing from psychology has any value because he already agreed with it, or because he didn’t. It’s quite a system.

Finally, yes. Modern Psychology claims two of its roots in the region of Germany/Austria, though the relationship you suggest is more convoluted than that. Psychoanalysis (Freudian psychology) really was not of much use to Fascists and Totalitarians. Freud himself barely escaped Europe with one daughter, and lost most of the rest of his family to concentration camps. Experimental psychology comes from Germany, and Wilhelm Wundt, who studied mostly (but not exclusively) psychophysical phenomena; also not of much obvious use to the Nazis.

Behaviorism, which is the favorite whipping-boy of humanists and conservatives alike, is very useful to anyone who wants to control behavior. But, it really got its start in the USA, with John Watson, a brilliant researcher, racist, womanizer, and eventual advertising revolutionary. He was also Marietta Hartley’s grandfather. She used to do those great Polaroid commercials with James Garner ( a meat-eater and Republican), and she also starred in a great Western with Randoph Scott, Joel McCrea and directed by Sam Peckinpah (sp). "Ride the High Country"? I think.

It must be the end of the semester.

Phil, if you are saying that psychologists are useful as "listening props" then OK, I’ll give you that. Placebo effects can be valuable at times, but I do hope that psychologists don’t take themselves more seriously than that.

Evolutionary psychology and some areas of social psychology CAN be useful because they have a coherent ontology (biological hardwire for the former, interactions between social environment and biological hardwire in the latter). Most of the rest of it is phenomenological pap.

Dain is also part of the camp that has two ready responses for all psychological information: If he agrees with it, then it is just common sense. (Of course, many common-sense notions have fallen by the wayside, due to scientific research, but Dain and I have had this conversation before), If he disagrees with it, then it was researched by biased, liberal, quasi-scientists. So, according to Dain, nothing from psychology has any value because he already agreed with it, or because he didn’t. It’s quite a system.

Absolutely dead-on, Fung.

Thanks Phil!

I know it’s off-topic, Fung, but where did you hear that James Garner is a Republican? (As for his dietary preferences I’ll take your word for it.)

John - I am honestly not certain. My first guess is that I heard it from him on a radio or tv interview. Larry King? This is just a guess, though, and now I am not certain that I am correct. I will check -- indeed I have checked a little bit, and the only thing I know is that I do NOT have him mixed up with James Garner the politician.

While James Garner has often played conservative-type roles on tv and in movies or, at least characters that appeal to conservatives, the actor himself is a big Democrat, having given lots of cash to Dem candidates over the years, including Gore, Clinton, and Kerry, as well as the better ones such as Kucinich, Wellstone (RIP), Mikulski, and even Gore Vidal. Consider him an antidote to all the John Wayne garbage.

All that rant and backslapping, and still not a single good example of useful, non-obvious psychology. And no, I am NOT guilty of dismissing some aspects of psychology while devaluing others. I said some of it was useful and I meant it. But the junk most liberal psychologists (i.e., most of them) like is the phenomenological or idealist junk that has no scientific provenance.

I think that Fung did address your question, Dain. What I would like to see from you are some examples of "useful, non-obvious" political science.

Whoever said Dain was a political scientist?

Heavy sigh- Dain and I have danced this dance before. He demands examples, knowing that he will reject them, I comply, hoping like the child of an abusive parent, that today may be different, then he rejects every piece of evidence for reasons cited above.

But, for others readers, and since I was apparently wrong about James Garner (sorry, Jim!) I will try once more.

Behavior Modification: Teaching developmentally delayed people (without punishment) how to participate in Daily Living Skills (toileting, dressing, vocational skills, effective communication and more, has all been done via Applied Behavior Analysis, with two main benefits: (1) reduced need for chemical (and physical) behavior control, and (2) greater dignity and access to social practices for DD persons.

Neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience: We have learned how and where in the brain certain chemicals have their effects. This includes teratogens (substances that will harm a developing fetus or embryo, street drugs, and legal drugs. We have also learned about the effects of certain kinds of brain damage, for instance, frontal cortex damage, (a frequent effect of wearing no seat-belt.) We know better how to do therapy with crash victims, and how to help them cope with, and accommodate for, cognitive loss.

Development: We can help aging persons to anticipate, and prevent losses in cognitive function that were previously thought to be inevitable. We know how to motivate people to exercise and eat right, and how to prevent (reduce)depression and anxiety in aging persons. We also know better how to adjust teaching in schools according to the developmental and cognitive characteristics of children. This is the sort of thing that Joe K. refers to when he explains his reasons for home schooling, and which educators still should learn from psychology.

Social psychology: We have learned what kind of contact works, and what kind does not work, to reduce prejudice and stereotyping between hostile groups. Previously, it was thought that mere contact would remove the ignorance that is behind such phenomena, but we now know that such contact must be characterized as cooperative, structured, and must included members of roughly equivalent status, with interdependent goals.

I could (and will, if anyone wants) go on, but I must go teach, now.

Those interested can access a terrific site mainained by the APA:

http://www.psychologymatters.org/

This can address Dain’s "questions" much better than I can.

Honest to God, no cherrypicking, I get on Fung’s website, click on "Lifespan Issues" and on "Marital Education," and this is what I get:

Research begun in the 1970’s by psychologists Howard Markman, PhD, John Gottman, PhD, and others found that the quality of interaction between husbands and wives was highly predictive of marital distress or divorce. The studies indicated that couples who interacted more negatively than other couples had marriages that that were in trouble or predicted future marital distress. Negative interaction is considered a dynamic behavior factor that couples can change to improve their odds of staying together. That contrasts with relatively static factors that are hard to change once married, including having divorced parents, marrying at a very young age and having a personality tendency to react strongly or defensively to problems and disappointments-all risk factors for marital distress.

Man, Fung, I gotta hand it to you...that psychology’s really deep. What’s next...that people who are chronically angry have few friends?

"What’s next...that people who are chronically angry have few friends? "

Interesting question from a person such as you. Why don’t you go find a friend and see what kind of response you get. I hope this blog will still be here when you get back. Here is another "obvious" point that I wonder if you thought about:

"That contrasts with relatively static factors that are hard to change once married, including having divorced parents, marrying at a very young age and having a personality tendency to react strongly or defensively to problems and disappointments-all risk factors for marital distress."

Why don’t you ask your wife about that one? How does she feel about being married to someone with relatively static characteristics, such as yours? Perhaps she would rather be burdened with the kind of problems (described in this passage) that can be expected to improve with attention and care. I feel bad for her. Tell her "Happy Holidays" for me.

Fung, I’d expect you to respond with ad hominem...that’s your speed. Unfortunately for you, none of that applies to me. I have ample friendship in my life and good relations all around. Some even say I’m the life of the party. But go ahead, make another snide remark...twist my words...get personal if you want to. It just makes my point for me....

Man, Fung, I gotta hand it to you...that psychology’s really deep. What’s next...that people who are chronically angry have few friends?

Dain, it’s funny that you’re acting like you’ve been the model NLT citizen, even though you posted the comment above. Now, maybe you didn’t MEAN for it to come across this way, but it sure SEEMED like you were suggesting that Fung was chronically angry and therefore had few friends. But then you get all teary when your OWN words are used against you.

I’m sorry, Dain. I thought (as Phil did) that you were in attack mode. Now, I see that I was wrong. It’s obvious, for instance, that were were not "cherry picking," and that you continued to investigate and share with the rest of us a number of more worthy entries on that site.

And I hope that someday, I, too, can be referred to as the life of the party. Looking back on the parties in my life, I always respect and admire most those who are considered "the life of the party." Really. I mean it. You are my hero.

You still haven’t reported on your wife’s answer to my question! And now I have another: Does she prefer your snarling, narcissistic belligerence, or your "life-of-the-party" episodes? Got any pictures?

That should read "that you were not cherry picking..."

I don’t answer personal questions, Jreud. The few tidbits I’ve shared have been misused, and I can only imagine what would happen if I shared more. Forget it.

To be honest, I would never accept any piece of social science as "worthy" from an abstract. I know the methodology (and how often it sucks). What I find funny is that, even with the benefit of crappy methodology and and sci-babble, the results that are eventually trumpeted are still so LAME.

From comment 23: "Heavy sigh- Dain and I have danced this dance before. He demands examples, knowing that he will reject them, I comply, hoping like the child of an abusive parent, that today may be different, then he rejects every piece of evidence for reasons cited above."

Again, my dreams have been crushed.

I understand completely about the personal info. Thus the pseudonym. For what it’s worth, "Fung" is a relic from my childhood days (there was a professional wrestler, Dr. Fung) and not a combination of Freud & Jung. They were not my kind of psychologists! For that matter, I’m also not much of a professional wrestler, either.

I stand corrected on your pseudonym. Many apologies.

And, again, I have stated that some psychology is useful if it is rooted in evolutionary biology or sensible social processes. My objections have to do with the more phenomenological approaches to the human psyche.

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