Monthly Archives: November 2013

Control is Essential to Happiness

From a New Yorker piece on the Psychology of First Person Shooter Games

“Control, compounded by a first-person perspective, may be the key to the first-person shooter’s enduring appeal. A fundamental component of our happiness is a sense of control over our lives. It is, in fact, “a biological imperative for survival,” according to a recent review of animal, clinical, and neuroimaging evidence. The more in control we think we are, the better we feel; the more that control is taken away, the emotionally worse off we become. In extreme cases, a loss of control can lead to a condition known as learned helplessness, in which a person becomes helpless to influence his own environment. And our sense of agency, it turns out, is often related quite closely to our motor actions: Do our movements cause a desired change in the environment? If they do, we feel quite satisfied with ourselves and with our personal effectiveness. First-person shooters put our ability to control the environment, and our perception of our effectiveness, at the forefront of play.”

Or put another way: “We are genetically programmed to control value.”

All of this makes complete sense. Our ancestors that recognized value and successfully controlled it were the ones that were successful in the their environments (i.e. didn’t get killed by exposure, or hunger, or violence) and thus lived to reproduce. We are their progeny. So, when someone asks, “Why does that politician/businessman/religionist/militarist appreciate value?” The right answer is, “Because he was programmed to. Just like you. Just like me. Just like everyone.” Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised when someone takes an interest in controlling our own value.

“the psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues found that, between 1960 and 2002, Americans have increasingly turned to external explanations for the shapes of their lives. The shift is not a function of socioeconomic background; the attitude change occurred across demographics. This, in turn, suggests increased alienation and, as a result, more of a need for a means by which to reassert the control that otherwise seems to be missing from our lives.”

If, indeed, Americans do have less control today than in 1960, we shouldn’t be surprised to find an increasing divergence where people recur to virtual worlds to get the control they’re looking for and this partial abdication of real world control then leaves our real world value less protected, and we lose more of it. At some point I’m optimistic that Millennials that are used to very high levels of virtual control, will start to demand the same of the real world and reverse the trend.

The Question of Same Sex Marriage

Wrapping things in bacon means you raise them to a new level of awesomeness — an experiential plane akin to guilty pleasure. Most of the debate surrounding same sex marriage deals with the unfairness of denying homosexual couples the same privileges as heterosexual couples. What are some of those privileges?

  • Visitation rights in the hospital
  • Survivorship social security (SS) benefits
  • Right to transfer property to surviving spouse without paying inheritance tax

So let’s ask the question, is it fair for heterosexual couple to enjoy these benefits and deny them to homosexual couples? Absolutely not, and I’m frankly not familiar with anyone on the right or left who maintains that position. But let me ask a more fundamental question, “Is it fair for married couples to enjoy any benefits not enjoyed by the unmarried (coupled or not)?

  • Shouldn’t you be able to decide who can visit you in the hospital?
  • Is it fair that married couples can transfer SS benefits, but the unmarried can’t?
  • If an inheritance tax is fair, then it should apply to the married and unmarried alike, right?

The fact that homosexuals are being denied equal privileges is a specific example of a much larger problem:

In the U.S., married people represent a privileged class.

The Superset teaches us the danger of privileged classes. Granting privileges unequally gives the gov’t the right to discriminate, and when they have that right, they most always take advantage of it (as seen in the case of same sex couples).

How do we best rectify this injustice? By allowing same sex couples to join the privileged class or by abolishing the privileged class all together?

How did we get here anyway? In the past, marriage had a different meaning than it does today. In the pre-birth control years, sexual activity bore significant risks for women; the risk of being pregnant for 9 months and caring for the child once born. Different societies reacted differently to this risk. In Japan, records of abortion go back hundreds of years. Polynesian islanders resorted to infanticide to keep their populations in check. Many Christian nations adapted by encouraging women to restrict the supply of their sex (i.e. chastity).

It seemed to make sense, in light of the risks that women were assuming when they married, that they needed legal protection. This is at least partly how married people came to form a privileged class. But in the post-birth control years, marriage does not equal procreation. Many mothers are choosing children without marriage, and many married women are choosing to remain childless. This makes the status of “married people as privileged class” very difficult to justify. Also, child support laws protect women and children regardless of whether the child was conceived in a marriage.

So, how to do you do right, not only by homosexuals, but also by all of the underprivileged “unmarrieds”? By granting all of the same rights and protections to all people, irrespective of their marital status. Would that mean that a wife would have to pay an inheritance tax on property received from her husband? Yes, if that’s the standard applied to everyone else. But the good thing about equality is that it makes it much easier to see what is fair and what is unfair. If it is unfair for a lesbian to pay an inheritance tax on property she inherits from her deceased partner (married or unmarried), then the inheritance tax must be inherently unfair as well.

A Healthcare Manifesto Sponsored by Creative Maladjustment

I took the assignment to address the question: What would Lincoln or Dr. King say if they were ePatients? What kind of manifesto would they subscribe to? I was quite familiar with Lincoln and so decided to listen to Dr. King speeches for the last several weeks. It’s very difficult to concisely summarize his thinking — he was a brilliant and compassionate man. It would be correct to state that he wanted full equal rights for African Americans, but then Dr. King would surprise you by going even farther:

I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.

The most shocking thing I noticed was that probably more powerful than his eloquence was his courage in telling the truth as he saw it. Remembering that about Dr. King, if I were to formulate a manifesto it would be something like this:

1) All individuals in the American healthcare industry should have the same rights and protections as individuals in any other industry.
2) All groups in the American healthcare industry should have the same rights and protections as groups in any other industry.

The shortened version would be “equal rights for patients”. The second part of that equation is necessary also as a precaution for protecting patients. For example, if you represent a health insurance company and the government passes a law that will hurt your business, but that only applies to health insurance (not to auto, disaster, or other insurance companies) how will you respond? I would not blame you if you responded by trying to protect yourself and offset the value that you’ve lost by transferring the loss to someone else. Not surprisingly healthcare organizations are tempted to take the value they’ve lost away from those with the least ability to protect themselves — patients. This is why equal protection for organizations is extremely important as well.

These ideas would certainly involve radical changes, but I don’t think I’m radical…just maladjusted.

…there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self defeating effects of physical violence.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Junior