power


This was from the lecture “The Mismeasure of Man” by Ralph Horwitz at Stanford. It’s a nice way to distinguish between a few different ideas about our relationship to reality.

1) “I call them how they are.” This umpire believes that he has direct access to reality. In his mind, he just watches what happens and makes the call appropriately.

2) “I call them the way I see them.” This umpire acknowledges the limitation of his senses. He knows he may make a call that doesn’t reflect reality accurately because of his lack of direct access to reality.

3) “They ain’t nothing til I call them.” This umpire thinks he defines reality. Horwitz paints this one as the most arrogant, and he probably is. Whether or not this umpire thinks he has direct access to reality, he knows that he is the person who can say what we call a particular human/bat/ball interaction.

It shows a certain amount of self-awareness to be able to say what the third umpire said, which I admire. It is a kind of awareness that is necessary (though not nearly sufficient) for those of us with the inappropriate power to define the situations of others to give up that power. That is, no matter whether our power comes from race, gender, money, or whatever, we can’t give it up until we understand that we have it.

A note on gender in this post: Horwitz used the title of his lecture as a way to get in an apology about how much more research is done on men than women. He also used male pronouns for his umpires. Thinking that there are probably umpires of all genders, I tried to use “they” instead of “he,” “she,” or variations on “he/she.” It felt like bad writing so I went back to “he.” No offense meant, and if you want to take a crack at it, send me what you come up with.

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Many years ago, my friend Chad told me if he could make even a very modest living fighting racism, that is what he would do with his life. The idea had never occurred to me before. In that conversation we also talked about how it was really only people who were on the fence about race that were good targets for intervention; good luck changing the mind of an entrenched racist! So where do you find these on-the-fence-folks, and how do you make a living working with them? We made no more progress on the question.

Lee Mun Wah does just what we imagined. He is a “diversity and communication trainer” and the founder of Stirfry Seminars & Consulting. The population of Whites he works with are a lot more egalitarian-minded than I had imagined necessary, back in those relatively naive days–they are Whites who consider racism appalling but don’t see their own part in perpetuating it.

I watched these clips from Lee Mun Wah’s documentary of one of his groups, called The Color of Fear. It was some of the most moving footage I’ve seen this year. If you watch it, watch both clips to the end, and be prepared for some members to express anger. (Keep in mind that (according to my teachers) both David and Victor became diversity and communication trainers after this film was made.) This is incredible work. I hope I get the opportunity to lead groups like this in my career.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is revised every decade or so, and a revision is under way right now. Up until recently, there has been criticism that the proceedings were taking place in secret. This is not unusual, as I understand it, but it is significant for many people. Mental-health clinicians, for example, have to use the diagnostic categories in the DSM to label their clients, and if the categories and descriptions listed don’t coincide with their experiences or beliefs, this can be quite difficult. It is significant for mental-health clients, too, for complementary and even more personal reasons. What will happen to your diagnosis? In? Out? Changed? These decisions have a big impact on social issues, like stigma, and economic issues, like what insurance companies will pay for.

The DSM committee is proposing, for example, to subsume the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder into Autism Disorder. This seems to make a lot of sense, unless you or your child is benefiting from the existence of Asperger’s because of insurance company rules, state regulations, or other regulatory factors.

The content of the DSM is important to people for political reasons, too. For example, the third revision of the DSM eliminated homosexuality as a mental disorder. That was in 1973, for the DSM-III. (We’ve since had the DSM-III-R, DSM-IV, and DSM-IV-TR. They are currently working on the DSM-V.) It may be hard to believe that being gay was an official Mental Disorder, but it was. People were even lobotomized for it: Here, let me “help” you with that unnatural sexual attraction by forcing an icepick in over one of your eyes, through your skull, to twist it in your brain. The removal of homosexuality from the DSM was very controversial in its day, but no one credible is fighting for it to go back in.

That is to say, the DSM can reflect the changing mores of society, which in turn influences the way society sees mental health and illness. This process can effect the quality of a lot of our lives. And now the DSM committee has revealed the changes they are contemplating and is asking for feedback. This is from their website:

“Your input, whether you are a clinician, a researcher, an administrator, or a person/family member affected by a mental disorder, is important to us.  We thank you for taking part in this historic process and look forward to receiving your feedback.”

You almost certainly fall into one of those categories. Take part in this opportunity! Of course, our input being “important” to them does not mean they will pay attention to it, but it can’t hurt to try. The worst that can happen is that you will be better informed about your mental-health system. Here are the categories that they are considering changes in. Click on them to read the proposed changes. To submit feedback, you have to register with them, but it only takes a minute:

Structural, Cross-Cutting, and General Classification Issues for DSM-5
Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence
Delirium, Dementia, Amnestic, and Other Cognitive Disorders
Mental Disorders Due to a General Medical Condition Not Elsewhere Classified
Substance-Related Disorders
Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders
Mood Disorders
Anxiety Disorders
Somatoform Disorders
Factitious Disorders
Dissociative Disorders
Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders
Eating Disorders
Sleep Disorders
Impulse-Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified
Adjustment Disorders
Personality Disorders
Other Conditions that May Be the Focus of Clinical Attention

I just posted the last two papers of my undergraduate career: my honors thesis, “Differentiating the Effects of Social and Personal Power,” and my research project for Psycholinguistics, “The Relationship between Clarity of Enunciation and Idea Density.” They are under ‘writing,’ which is under ‘out’ in my sidebar.

I don’t recommend reading them unless you are a researching these topics (in which case, I do recommend reading them). If you’re not used to scholarly writing, just read the abstracts–the first paragraphs. They tell you everything you need to know. It’s kind of funny that I just worked really hard for over a year on something that almost no one will be interested in reading. It was an astounding amount of work, comparable to making a record, from songwriting and rehearsing to mastering. And a lot more work than some records. This was not a punk record.

Well, since I just said not to read it after I’ve been posting about it for months, I guess I should at least summarize it. Here we go:

Social power is power over other people. Any kind of power. There is a lot of research on what having social power does to you, and it’s mostly bad: more stereotyping, less perspective taking, seeing others as a means to your ends etc. It’s the kind of stuff that might keep powerful people in power. Reading this stuff is pretty alarming for a feminist like me. It’s way more complicated than that, of course, but you’re getting the super short version here.

Personal power is power over yourself. There hasn’t been much research on its effects, just enough to suggest that it’s what people really want when they are struggling for power over each other, the real goal is self-governance.

I tried to test whether personal power has similar or different effects on perspective taking than social power. I was not able to do that, for complicated reasons. I was, however, able to find evidence that people consider personal power a broader category than social power. That is, you can sink to greater depths and rise to higher heights of personal power than you can social power. Second, I found that without a salient reminder of personal power, people did not make a distinction between social and personal power. That’s pretty interesting, because if people are out there trying to claw their way up the hierarchy, it may just be because they haven’t made the distinction between what they probably really want–personal power–and what they are working for–social power.

That may seem intuitive and like “why would you want to spend a year finding evidence for something so obvious?” but for a scientist, coming across something that seems obvious that hasn’t been tested is a gold mine. All kinds of obvious things have turned out to not be true. That’s one cool thing about psychology–it’s a baby science, so those unlooked-at areas are all over the place. There is only one other scientist that I’m aware of that’s looking into this subject too, Marius Van Dijke, in the Netherlands. Luckily, he’s got resources and will likely have much more traction on it than I could as an undergrad with one year to work and a $100 budget.