from the world's big
Is Individual Liberty Over-Rated?
One of the biggest misconceptions about post-rational behavioral research is that its effects on society are small. From the news you get the impression "behavioral economics" is all about changing the 401(k) plan from opt-in to opt-out, or informing people, via their bills, how their electricity use compares to the neighbors'. All of which is well and good (opt-out yields a much higher participation rate in the plans and the comparative-use trick gets power-hogs to dial back). This is contrary to the old "Rational Economic Man" model, but what's the big whoop about some policy nips and tucks? To see just how myopic that view is, look no further than Cass Sunstein's latest article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. What prompts the 401(k) revise and other mild-mannered "choice architecture" policies, he notes, is good evidence that people are not always the best judges of their own interests. And if you concede that point, then you have to concede that one of the foundations modern democracy—the notion that each of us is entitled to make her own choices and her own mistakes—appears to rest on … nothing.
Uh-oh. The presumption that you know how to look after yourself, that reason 21st birthdays are so special, is one of the most cherished privileges in modern society. After all, most societies restrict what children can do (and buy) because they lack the ability to make good judgements about what is in their interest. Adulthood is supposedly the period in which that handicap is gone. What's the most common way for Americans to express outrage at violations of our precious adult autonomy? By complaining that we're not children. That's why "paternalism" has a bad name and supposedly no citizen wants to live in a "nanny state." But if adults aren't that much better than kids at certain kinds of assessment, it's reasonable to start talking about paternalism without outrage—even "coercive paternalism," in which the state makes damn sure you can't make your own mistakes. This kind of tough-love nanny state is a perfectly logical consequence of modern behavioral research, argues the philosopher Sarah Conly, whose book Sunstein is reviewing in his essay. Her mild-mannered title: Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.
I haven't read the book yet, but Sunstein's respectful review merits attention on its own, for two reasons. First, it's a succinct account of how the end of "Rational Economic Man" assumptions necessarily opens the way to a profound re-think about how people live their lives, and think of their rights and obligations. Second, Sunstein's interest in the topic is far from theoretical. He spent President Obama's first term as head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews and modifies all proposed federal regulations before they go into effect. When he declares that behavioral research "is having a significant influence on public officials throughout the world," he is not a writer hyping his point. He's a practitioner, embodying it.
It's hard to understate the challenge that post-rational research poses for our current social contract. The notion that we are rational about ourselves—that whenever we wish we consciously reason our way to our choices—is, after all, the basis of modern civil rights. To be enlightened, Immanuel Kant explained, one must "use one's understanding without guidance,'' and this is impossible without freedom of speech and of thought. (Hence, Kant ridiculed people who lazily used the judgment of others as a guide.) "Error of opinion may be tolerated," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "where reason is left to combat it." Then, too, if we can be rational about ourselves at will, then it follows that each of us is both the best judge and the best guardian of his/her own well-being. After all, we have the most knowledge of the subject and the most motivation to reach the right answer. And the reason we apply to that information is just as good as anyone else's.
This argument, so central to our modern notions of autonomy and equality, was brilliantly made in the middle of the 19th century by John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty. Given that I am the best judge of my own interests, Mill argued, there can be no legitimate reason to compel me to do something "for my own good." Of course, Mill wrote, "this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties," not children or "barbarians" who can't make good judgments: "Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury."
To Mill, all this was self-evident. Today, researchers in psychology and behavioral economics (and, I'd add, some other disciplines too), treat the claim as an empirical question. And, Sunstein writes, their evidence shows that Mill was simply wrong. People certainly can make good judgements about their own interests some of the time, but it appears likely that no one does this reliably all the time. In deciding how to conduct themselves in their own lives, Sunstein writes, "people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging."
So that category of "those who must be protected against their own actions" includes pretty much everyone at some time or other. As many have said to children over the ages, too bad if you don't like the nanny. You need one.
Before he became a shaper of government rules and regulations, Sunstein was best known as the creator, with Richard Thaler, of the principle of "libertarian paternalism": The theory that authorities should, as the pair have written, "attempt to steer people’s choices in welfare-promoting directions without eliminating freedom of choice." Yet, he acknowledges, the questions raised are open. His is not the only possible response to post-rational research.
As the philosopher Thomas Nagel has put it, the evidence shows that there is an unacknowledged influence on our behavior—an influence that rationalist models of the mind fail to describe. We've only started to address what that means for our ideas about self and society. At the least, we need to make sure that the future management of that unacknowledged influence is done transparently and democratically.
Or we could just drift along, imaging that behavioral research will inform only little tweaks the workings of markets, courts, workplaces, schools and other important places. In which case the transition to a post-rationalist era could end badly. It could, for example, end in a world where big corporations pay lip service to "freedom of choice" even as they spend billions on tools to wield unacknowledged influence (which can't be regulated because the official ideology of rational choice doesn't register it). Or it could end in a heavy-handed nanny state in which "choice architecture" isn't democratically debated but rather imposed by elite high-achievers.
Sunstein, though he admires Conly's "careful, provocative and novel" argument, clearly does not want to go there. Despite predictable attacks on this article from the usual suspects, he is not easily turned into an anti-freedom cartoon. In fact, he identifies the problems with excessive paternalism clearly: First, the problem of being certain that "for your own good" is correct (as we have seen since 2008, someone may be quite right to want to avoid investing in a 401(k) plan that "experts" consider wise). Second, the problem of reflecting the genuine diversity of the human race, in which some may genuinely be better off enjoying their meals than they would have been living until 98.
Conly's is, of course, a philosophy book, designed to clarify thinking, not a political manifesto. So, yes, her argument is not a realistic political threat to Big Tobacco. But philosophers who change public discourse are the harbingers of new ideas among law professors and judges and think tanks, and those eventually lead to policy change. (You could ask John Stuart Mill, if he were alive and felt like answering you of his own free will, about the eventual impact of theory on politics and society.) In 2013, "coercive authoritarianism" may be politically unrealistic. But the news here is that in 2013, after 150 years or so of rarely-questioned respect for the principle of individual autonomy among non-religious political thinkers, the terms of the debate are moving.
Illustration: Influenced by the Pied Piper, the children of Hamelin freely choose an action that is not in their best long-term interests. Via Wikimedia.
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Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.