Wednesday Round Up #113

This week I do a mini feature in the top of the list on behavioral health, then give some other favs, before giving a quite nice collection of video game links – and believe me, it’s about more than just video games. Then it’s anthropology and the mind. Enjoy!

Top of the List – Behavioral Health

All right, let me start off by saying that behavioral health matters. It really matters. Recent research is showing that “bad habits” add up to have a big impact. And the latest research doesn’t even include things like injury & violence, which are the greatest mortality threat for healthy teenagers and young adults, or depression, which has a large impact on behavioral health as well. Onto the links.

Harvard Press Release, Four Preventable Risk Factors Reduce Life Expectancy in U.S. and Lead to Health Disparities
Smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity currently reduce life expectancy in the U.S. by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women.

For similar research, the Associated Press gets in on the fun with Bad Habits Can Age You by 12 Years, Study Suggests. Those habits are smoking, drinking too much, inactivity, and poor diet.

Over at Brain Blogger, Jennifer Gibson reports on Health Behaviors More Important than Socioeconomic Status, where longitudinal research shows that it’s actually health behaviors that have a greater impact on morbidity and mortality that overall socioeconomic status.

Other Top Pieces

Katie Moisse, Good Teachers Really Do Make a Difference
Science shows that teachers play a leading role in helping kids’ reading skills soar.

Ian Sample, Chimps’ Emotional Response to Death Caught on Film
Chimpanzees grieve too. Features a powerful video.

Tara Parker-Pope, Little-Known Disorder Can Take a Toll on Learning
Auditory processing disorder, and how hearing affects so many things related to learning

Charlie Rose, Charlie Rose Brain Series
The PBS series on the study of the human brain is now online, with great videos freely available. Top scientists and researchers are interviewed.

Vaughan Bell, Cultures of Foreplay
Cultural variation in common or acceptable sexual practices and it touches on how foreplay differs between societies.

Video Games

Associated Press, Justices Take Case on Video Game Law
Supreme Court will consider the issue of violence in video games and the scope of free speech when considering a California law that aimed to limit the sale of violent video games to minors. The video game site Kotaku also covers this in US Supreme Court to Review Game Ratings Law, where lots of readers weigh in with their opinions. And over at NPR’s The Diane Rehm show there was an excellent program today on Violent Video Games.

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Globalisation: the products but not the ethics

  

One of the ‘Quotes of the day’ in Time Magazine on the 21st of April 2010 was:

“They have made the mistake of letting the Marlboro Man into the country. “

A photo is featured alongside the quote. In the photo, there is a billboard advertising L.A. Lights cigarettes and an upcoming Kelly Clarkson concert in Indonesia. The Tapei Times writes: “Just a few kilometers after passing a towering Marlboro Man ad, a second billboard off the highway promotes cigarettes with a new American face: Kelly Clarkson.” Radiosophie report: “The marketing ploy comes two years after Alicia Keys objected to a similar tobacco-fuelled sponsorship deal in Indonesia.” The Los Angeles Times and Jakarta Globe also covered the story.

Since the scandal, Kelly Clarkson has allegedly cancelled her tour and her Tobacco-company sponsorship, but the same cannot be said for the Tobacco-company sponsored tours of Incubus (Jakarta, 5 March 2008), James Blunt (Jakarta21 May 2008), or Jamiroquai (Bogor, 8 April, 2009). Tickets to these concerts cost little more than Four US dollars ($US4), so it is clear that without huge sponsorship deals from Tobacco companies, the big artists simply would not perform in Indonesia. It makes me wonder, how many other Pop artists escape the Paparazzi radar and perform with Tobacco-company sponsorship in Indonesia?

For me, these billboards exemplify what globalisation brings and what it doesn’t bring to the developing world. It brings the products but not the ethics. 

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Stealing Pears: We All Want To, But Why?

By JP Sullivan & Joe Ahmad

First, refresh your knowledge of Saint Augustine’s Confessions with this helpful rap video:

In the second book of Confessions, St. Augustine relates to us how he and his friends stole pears from a neighbor’s grove. What bothered Augustine was not the act of stealing, but the pleasure he derived from the act. In fact he and his companions had no practical use for the pears, for they were not hungry, and they threw most of them away. Frustrated, he writes,

But it was not the pears that my unhappy soul desired. I had plenty of my own, better than those, and I picked them so that I might steal. For no sooner had I picked them than I threw them away, and tasted nothing in them but my own sin, which I relished and enjoyed. (II.6)

For the rest of the second book, Augustine wrestles with the question of why he and his companions felt pleasure in stealing the pears. He makes two conjectures. The first is that he felt pride from the thrill of breaking the rules. He writes,

Since I had no real power to break [God’s] law, was it that I enjoyed at least the pretence of doing so, like a prisoner who creates for himself the illusion of liberty by doing something wrong, when he has no fear of punishment, under a feeble hallucination of power? (II.6)

By attempting to break God’s law, or more generally, the natural law, Augustine remarks that he was trying to imitate God, by showing that he was God’s equal and free from the jurisdiction of his law.

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Be Afraid, America. Be Very Afraid: The Effect of Negative Media

By Mallory Meter and Jacob Minnaugh

“The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be president would be ‘What the hell do you mean we’re out of missiles?” -Glenn Beck

Comforting? We think not. Luckily, Glenn Beck is not the president of the United States. Still, millions of people every night flip on their T.V. to watch Beck dish out the day’s events. And you can imagine that if his dream presidency would be filled with explosions and bombs, his newscast is too.

But if you can’t tune into Glenn Beck’s riveting hour of negative news, not to worry. CNN, MSNBC, ABC and pretty much every other outlet will have similar newscasters and similar news. All of these news outlets have one thing in common: negativity.

Whether it’s about the various diseases children can contract at preschool, the possibility of a nuclear missile attack, or how poorly our nation’s leaders are doing their jobs, the news never fails to make the situation as dismal as possible. Every day, millions of people tune in to the media outlet of their choice and get pummeled with these stories.

This is where the real problem comes in: this negativity is affecting us. The way we see ourselves, others, and the world are a result of what we take in everyday. It follows that if we are taking in an overwhelming amount of negativity, that negativity will come to be our output as well.

This post explores how negativity in the media permeates the way we think. We will address how human culture lends itself towards a negative bias as well as how our place in this world affects what we do with the negativity. Finally, we will show how the media does, in fact, result in negative ideals and actions that are so much a part of our culture today.

Media as a Mirror

The negativity in the news penetrates the way we think and act without us being fully aware. Nightly news tells us how dangerous it is to fly in planes nowadays, and we rethink our travel plans. Girls see negative body images splashed across the magazines they read, and they starve themselves until they match those images. The news is a mirror in which millions look every night and what they end up seeing in the reflection is a life in imminent danger.

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Wednesday Round Up #112

This week it goes top, sports, mind, war, anthropology, and health.

Top of the List

Ed Yong, Williams Syndrome Children Show No Racial Stereotypes or Social Fear
People with Williams Syndrome are incredibly social and lack racial bias. The loss of about 26 genes make this possible.

Todd Meyers, Special Issue of Ethos on Autism
The latest Ethos is a special issue on “Rethinking Autism, Rethinking Anthropology”, guest edited by Nancy Bagatell and Olga Solomon, and includes articles by scholars like Elinor Ochs and Sharon Kaufman.

John Horgan, Can Brain Scans Help Us Understand Homer?
A critical reaction over at Scientific American to the recent New York Times piece that approvingly examined how some literary scholars are turning to neuroscience and evolutionary psychology for insight.

NPR, Nobel Winner Rethinks Business from Ground Up
Social business! Muhammad Yunus’ ideas about lending to the poor have changed lives in his native Bangladesh and beyond.

Sports

Jonah Lehrer, Don’t Choke
The superstar effect – choking and performance anxiety – is discussed. Can anything be done to prevent choking?

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Augustine’s Original Sin

By Mason Weber & Luke McNiff

St. Augustine’s Confessions is considered to this day to be one of the most important and influential works of Christian, and specifically Catholic, writing. Augustine’s work is an autobiography on the surface but, upon deeper reflection, can be seen as both an indictment of mankind’s sinful ways and a calling to come to Christ for all of Christendom, and humanity for that matter. He grants further insight into the concepts of original sin, mankind’s motives for sinning and how man can go about escaping and rectifying a repetitive whirlwind of sin and self-destruction.

As members of Professor Daniel Lende’s Anthropology of Compulsion, a freshman seminar at the University of Notre Dame, our task was to read Augustine’s work and make a presentation to the class about some of the most important themes of St. Augustine’s Confessions. In this post, we will delve into the themes of original sin, motives for sin, and escaping the pattern of sin from the standpoint of our class’s opinions expressed during our discussion and come to a consensus interpretation of this work.

Original Sin

At the outset of the book Augustine describes his now famous life of sin in which he wallowed during his youth. He fancies himself no different than any other person in that he has a natural aptitude for sin and crime. He says “we are carried away by custom to our own undoing and it is hard to struggle against the stream.” (Augustine 36)

This description of original sin as a roaring stream is strikingly appropriate, as advocates of original sin paint it as an inescapable force that holds back the human race as a whole. For example, Alan Jacobs’ Original Sin: A Cultural History provides the following description: “peccatum originalis [original sin], the belief that we arrive in this world predisposed to wrongdoing — that this world is a vale of tears because we made it that and, somehow, couldn’t have made it anything else.”

Most readers (and the vast majority of our classmates) would take offense with this pessimistic notion of human nature. Upon viewing the clip below, depicting a minister who berates his constituents for their own disposition towards sin, the class was certainly taken aback.

Some may take the idea of original sin as an accusation directed towards humanity as a whole. Discussion was met with quite a bit of flustered and frustrated students’ explanations of, “I’m not evil. How can original sin be serious?”

Yet upon further reflection, our classmates were able to recognize their own faults and come to the understanding that Augustine and certainly Jacobs are not portraying humans as hedonistic demons roaming the earth in search of sex and thievery, but rather as people who must fight temptation toward sin. If we as humans are naturally inclined to sin, we must do what is unnatural in being a pious and socially acceptable individual.

Augustine’s Motives for Sinning

In Augustine’s Confessions he offers a few different potential motives for why people sin. At least one of these motives can be applied to any given sin and each pose interesting questions. In brief, his three motives presented are peer pressure, sinning for the purpose of gain, and sinning for the sake of sinning. The first of these motives is the temptation of peer pressure of which he writes:

“It was not the takings that attracted me but the raid itself, and yet to do it by myself would have been no fun and I should not have done it. This was friendship of a most unfriendly sort, bewitching my mind in an inexplicable way. For the sake of a laugh, a little sport, I was glad to do harm and anxious to damage another; and that without the thought of profit for myself or retaliation for injuries received! And all because we are ashamed to hold back when others say ‘Come on! Let’s do it!’” (2.9).

In this passage, Augustine tells the reader that the reason he stole the pears was because his friends’ excitement was overwhelming him and so he gave in. He even points out that he was not influenced by selfish intentions or any other reason but for the fun of doing it with his friends. This act is innocent enough but it still reflects a serious motive for sinning and Augustine includes this passage so we can thoroughly discuss the temptation of peer pressure. During our class discussion, we related this motive to a riot killing thousands of people to mere high school peer pressure.

Augustine’s second reason is sinning for the sake of sinning. In other words, one might sin just for the feeling of breaking the rules or for the experience. Augustine writes, “Perhaps we ate some of them, but our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden” (2.9) Here, he claims that his true motives were to sin for the sake of it. Augustine also points out that they may have eaten some of the pears that they stole but this was not the pleasure they were after when committing the act.

Finally, Augustine’s last reason for sinning:

“And in the games I played with them I often in order to come off the better, simply because a vain desire to win had got the better of me. And yet there was nothing I could less easily endure, nothing that made me quarrel more bitterly, than to find others cheated them. All the same, if they found me out more and blamed me for it, I would lose my temper rather than give in” (1.19).

In this, Augustine tells that he cheated in a small game in order to win, in order to better himself. This seems to be the most common motive for sinning and during a discussion in class, the majority of people tended to agree with this motive over the others. Once again, his sin is displayed in a minor context but still portrays the underlying reasoning in his actions.

The class was inclined to think most sins consisted of a combination of two of the three or even all three at once. The example of the Nazi culture came up throughout our discussions of sin and is a great instance in which all three motives can be seen. The Nazis obviously gave into peer pressure and were caught up in the culture of the Hitler, which represents the first motive listed. The class also pointed out that many of the Nazis and Hitler were just sinning because they were purely evil and wanted to break the rules and kill people for the sake of it. Lastly, the Nazis would often steal from their victims and would kill people simply in order to move up in the rankings of the Nazi army. And the paragon of this last motive was Hitler as he was power hungry and wanted to rule the world, which obviously fits under this rule. As the discussion grew, Augustine’s words of wisdom seemed to resurface over and over again in many of the modern examples that were brought to light.

When asked, “Why do people sin?” the class responded with almost identical reasons as presented in Confessions. Even after discussion, these ideas of original sin and motivations for sinning followed us and we began to realize how the words of Augustine and Jacobs described the modern world and rang true all around us.

How Should Humanity Respond to Original Sin?

So now that we’ve come to an agreement that original sin is a plausible description for human nature, an obvious question to follow is: how do we escape it?

Luckily for some, Augustine and the church have a ready-made answer: God. As Augustine reflects on his youth, he was in search of this answer as well, asking “will this torrent never dry up? How much longer will it sweep the sons of Adam down to that vast and terrible sea which cannot easily be passed?” (Augustine 36)

Later in his journey towards piety, however, he seems to have, through scripture, come to the conclusion that only through seeking higher truth in God can humanity overcome the rushing river of original sin. Augustine’s idea was met with some resistance by our class.

The class discussion on this idea was perhaps reflective of how the youth of the world are becoming more and more secular in thought, as everyone was in agreement that recognizing the Christian God and Jesus cannot be the only way to escape a life of sin. An example brought up time and again was of a man who has lived his life in isolation, say in the middle of a desert, and has never had the opportunity to learn about God and the Christian traditions of sin and morality. Is this man evil and damned to eternal suffering? He most certainly is not. The class was able to recognize that there is a difference between being a “good” person and being a “religious” person, and that the former is much more important than the latter.

Wednesday Round Up #111

This week it’s a bit of war in between the top and anthropology & mind.

Top of the List

David Schneider, Your Internet Brain’s on Coleridge
“The questions that neurobiologists and cognitive psychologists are contending with today, Coleridge was wrestling with in the early 19th century via minute observations of his own mind in the process of thinking and perceiving. The similarities are sometimes startling.”

Paul Ehrlich, On Closing the Culture Gap
Human activity is destructive at a massive scale – climate change, nuclear conflict, biodiversity loss. We need to combine the humanities and the sciences to better understand and address our own actions. For more, see Seed’s Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Ed Yong, Dangerous DNA: The Truth About the ‘Warrior Gene’
The story of one gene epitomizes popular misconceptions about how our DNA shapes us. But it can also teach some crucial lessons, says Ed Yong.

Ryan Anderson, Model Behavior
Looking at experimental economics and ethnography, and considering the limitations of both

Dirk Hanson, Impulsivity and Addiction
The dangers of a hypersensitive dopamine structure.

Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky , Digital Power and Its Discontents
A debate with Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky on the subjects of dictators, democracy, Twitter revolutionaries, and the role of the Internet and social software in political lives of people living under authoritarian regimes.

War

John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart, Hardly Existential: Thinking Rationally About Terrorism
Many people hold that terrorism poses an existential threat to the United States. Yet actual statistics suggests that it presents an acceptable risk — one so low that spending to further decrease its likelihood or consequences is scarcely validated.

Benedict Carey, Psychologists Explain Iraq Airstrike Video
Many veterans have made the point that fighters cannot do their jobs without generating psychological distance from the enemy. It’s almost like they’re playing a video game. They have to do this so that the people don’t seem real.

Anthropology

Nadia Sussman, Bodies Altered in Pursuit of Beauty
“The worldwide pursuit of body improvement has become like a new religion,” Zed Nelson, a photographer, says. Pictures included.

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