What makes someone an "expert?"
Is it someone who can talking about a certain subject for a matter of minutes barely answering the question?
Or do you have to be a familiar face with a pretty voice?
- Overbuyers are people who love to buy — they stockpile things as a result. These are individuals who are prone to run out of space in trying to store their stuff and they may even lose track of what — and how much of what — they have.
- One way overbuyers can limit their waste, both money and space wise, is by storing items at the store, and then buy them when they really need them.
- Underbuyers tend to go to extraordinary lengths to not buy things. They save money and do fewer errands, however, they often make do with shabby personal items. They may also, when they finally decide to go out to buy a product, go without entirely because the item may no longer be available.
- Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
- Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
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"Trust your instincts!" "Go with your gut!" These popular nuggets of advice appeal to something deep in our nature—a distaste for unresolved complexity. We want solutions, and we want them fast. The trouble is, our brains are notoriously bad at making quick decisions.
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In the summer of 2014, two videos were released that shocked the world. They showed the beheadings, by ISIS, of two American journalists – first, James Foley and then Steven Sotloff. Though the videos were widely discussed on TV, print and online news, most outlets did not show the full footage. However, it was not difficult to find links to the videos online.
At the time, Sarah Redmond at the University of California, Irvine and her colleagues were already a year into a longitudinal study to assess psychological responses to the Boston Marathon Bombing, which happened in April 2013. They realised that they could use the same nationally representative sample of US adults to investigate what kind of person chooses to watch an ISIS beheading – and why. Their findings now appear in a paper published in American Psychologist.
By late spring 2013, the researchers had recruited 4,675 adults online, and assessed their mental health, TV-watching habits, demographics, political affiliation and religion. Six months later, the participants also reported on their fear of future terrorism and also on their lifetime exposure to violence. Then, between April and June 2015 – roughly eight months after the two ISIS beheading videos were released – 3,294 of the participants reported anonymously whether they had watched one of the videos either in its entirety, partly, or not at all.
About 20 per cent reported watching part of one of the videos, and another 5 per cent said they'd watched at least one to the end. People in these groups were more likely to be male, Christian and unemployed, to watch more TV than average, and to have a higher lifetime experience of violence.
Nearly 3000 of the participants also agreed to write about their motivations for watching, stopping watching, or avoiding the videos altogether.
Many who fully or partially watched the videos said that they wanted to gain information and verify that the videos existed, or wanted to satisfy their curiosity about what was in them. People who stopped watching part way through or who avoided the videos reported that they did so mostly for emotional reasons – (it was "too sad", for example) – or because they didn't want to feel that they were supporting ISIS by watching the footage.
A year after the participants gave these responses, they completed more online surveys, and the researchers found that those who'd watched at least part of a video had higher levels of distress and a greater fear of future negative events compared with those that hadn't watched one. These relationships held after controlling for prior distress, lifetime exposure to violence and prior fear of negative events.
The longitudinal nature of the study – with important psychological data gathered well before the videos were released, as well as afterwards – gives the researchers' confidence in their conclusion: that "watching graphic coverage may exacerbate preexisting fears and increase psychological symptomatology, demonstrating the negative psychological impact of viewing graphic media produced by terrorists." As Redmond and her colleagues further note, the findings also imply that "watching such coverage may assist terrorists in achieving their goal of instilling fear."
Previous research into why people watch gruesome or scary videos has focused on fictional material. To the researchers' knowledge, this is the first study to explore not only what percentage of people in the general population choose to watch videos of graphic real-life violence, but also why – and what the psychological effects might be.
The work raises some important questions, not least: how should news programmes handle coverage of such horrific events? Running the beheading footage in full on a mainstream news channel would have been unthinkable. But was the storm of coverage alluding to the content really necessary? It may have prompted many people – especially those with pre-existing fears – to want to see the full footage for themselves, potentially worsening their anxiety, which, the researchers suggest, may have had the ironic effect of making them more likely to seek out other, similar kinds of distressing footage in future. Understanding how to prevent such a "spiral of fear" will be an important topic for further research in the area.
Those who speak out against bad treatment are often dismissed as 'playing the victim', accused of dwelling on imagined slights or indulging in an exaggerated sense of grievance. In the face of ridicule or, worse, the threat of violence, it would be easier to keep quiet. And yet, victims of injustice often do speak up: far from any desire for glory, they are often morally motivated, and act from a sense of duty.
Someone who is subjected to demeaning treatment might owe it to herself to protest and to undermine the apparatus of assumptions, stereotypes and norms that enable this treatment. But, importantly, she might also owe it to others who are vulnerable to similar treatment – fellow victims – to resist the injustices they face collectively and repeatedly. This is especially the case for what the US political theorist Iris Marion Young in 2003 called structural injustices, which are perpetuated through seemingly benign institutions, everyday practices, background assumptions and expected behaviours. Even where there is no explicit discriminatory policy, in fact when such discrimination is publicly, repeatedly and earnestly disavowed, oppression on the basis of, for example, class, race and sex prevails.
Such structural injustice is manifested in a number of ways, from lower life expectancies and the prevalence of sexual and intimate partner violence, to the perception of diminished competence in the workplace and casual condescension in conversation. Structural injustice is typically characterised by ambiguity. It is often unclear whether a particular interaction is, in fact, a manifestation of structural injustice. It is also unclear how to delineate between perpetrators, bystanders and victims, given that so many of the mechanisms of structural injustice are unconscious, driven by social norms as much as by individuals, such that victims can be complicit in their own oppression, and that victims of one form of injustice can be perpetrators of another. And finally, it is unclear what a remedy would consist of.
The insidiousness of structural injustice rests on this ambiguity. Often, there is no intentional wrongdoing as such; perpetrators are unaware of their wrongdoing, and might genuinely disavow the values and norms implicit in their conduct. To bystanders, nothing noteworthy has taken place. The insult is unseen and unheard – except perhaps by those on the receiving end. In such cases, victims are epistemically privileged: they are aware that some set of seemingly benign norms or behaviour are in fact wrongs, they are aware that these norms might be harmful, and they notice when this harm is being done. In effect, they might be the only bystanders aware of the wrongdoing and therefore in a position to seek a remedy; in such cases, they will have a prima facie duty to do so. Unlike self-regarding duties, this duty is owed primarily to the class of victims, actual and prospective, who face wrongful treatment. For well-meaning but fallible individuals aiming to do right, victims potentially play a crucial role in helping them realise that aim; for fellow victims, they are collaborators in curing unjust practices and institutions.
This duty arises even in seemingly trivial cases, such as 'manterrupting' or 'mansplaining'. It's tempting to dismiss these examples as elite preoccupations, a misguided focus on microaggressions that distracts from talking about real and deep injustices with readily identifiable victims. It's a mistake, though, to see these as minor, or to see them in isolation. At heart, these conversational habits reflect a widespread failure to attend adequately to some voices, and to recognise that they speak with competence and authority; and moreover, an inability or unwillingness to recognise that failure as such. These habits have a long history, and their consequences are also far-reaching. In the course of a lifetime, the cumulative effects of minor slights can be significant – a thousand cuts can diminish self-respect and worse. And these habits can infect a range of institutions and practices, impeding victims at work, deterring them from participating in political life, and failing to protect them from violence at home.
'Playing the victim' in such cases is potentially valuable, to victims and nonvictims alike. Victims' perspectives can help correct the blindspots that we all have, irrespective of our good intentions. Recognising that victims are epistemically privileged does not call for complete deference, but it does call for a measure of epistemic humility on the part of others: an appreciation that their intentions do not exhaust the meaning and consequences of their words, that their perception does not capture everything in their field of vision, that even the 'woke' are fallible. We all are. Perhaps more importantly, victims' perspectives help other victims. It can help them make sense of their own experience, giving a name – like 'mansplaining' – to formerly inchoate impressions or misgivings. It can foster solidarity by lessening the costs for everyone in speaking up. And it urges victims to consider whether and how their responses to some insult will target the broader set of practices and institutions that enable those insults – responses that might, in some cases, not call for speaking up but speaking to one another.
In this respect, victims stand in a particular relationship to victims and nonvictims, and one in which they are moral agents and authorities. Playing the victim, then, need not be passive at all. Victims of injustice lead resistance efforts today as they have in the past, challenging overtly oppressive institutions and laws, as well as seemingly benign norms and everyday practices. Moreover, victims have a duty to do so – at least in some circumstances. This might be counterintuitive, but victims are moral agents rather than moral patients, and acquire duties in virtue of their victimhood, no matter how unwanted or unchosen that status is. 'Playing the victim' is a politically vital and morally serious role, and recognising it as such might help to counter the excesses of shame and suspicion it can inspire.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
- Michael Harrington was a public intellectual who strove to help the poor and inspired a generation of socialists.
- He was the first chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America, and nearly ran for president in 1980.
- While he is far from the only influential thinker on the American left, his ideas have had an outsized influence over the last sixty years.
The United States is seeing a renewed interest in left-wing ideas. Chicago might have five socialists on its city council by April, a democratic socialist is considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, and many Americans like the idea of "socialism" more than the concept of capitalism.
A great deal of the credit for this has to go to Bernie Sanders, who campaigned as a democratic socialist, despite not really being one, in the 2016 Democratic primaries. Some of the credit should also go to the members of the Democratic Socialists of America, who have been very successful over the last two years not only in growing their organization but as activists working to make socialist ideas mainstream.
What exactly they say socialism is has a lot to do with the thought of their founding chairman, a public intellectual named Michael Harrington.
Michael Harrington was an American intellectual known for the book The Other America, which is often credited with inspiring the War on Poverty. A leading socialist, he was involved with several left-wing organizations. He was so well known as a public intellectual that he considered running for president in 1980. His ideas continue to influence the Democratic Socialists of America, who cite him on their history page.
What does he say socialism is?
He talks about what socialism actually is in his book Socialism Past and Future, which he finished writing shortly before his death. After a few chapters of introduction to basic theory and history, he attempts to answer the question directly by looking to what he calls "socialization":
"Socialization means the democratization of decision making in the everyday economy, of micro as well as macro choices. It looks primarily but not exclusively to the decentralized, face to face participation of the direct producers and their communities in determining the matters that shape their social lives. It is not a formula or a specific legal mode of ownership, but a principle of empowering people at the base, which can animate a whole range of measures, some of which we do not even yet imagine."
In this case, socialization means democratizing workplaces and economic decisions. This can take many forms, such as giving workers a say on corporate boards as they have in Germany, having enterprises organized as worker-owned cooperatives such as Mondragon, or forcing companies to issue shares of stock to the workers as was proposed in Sweden. At the civic level it can also include participatory budgeting.
His dedication to socialization means that he was able to critique government programs that he found otherwise agreeable. In one case, he praised the work of the government owned Tennessee Valley Authority but pointed out how the people who worked for it or lived in areas it operated in had little more influence over its operations than they would have if it were privately owned.
This doesn't mean he was utterly opposed to public enterprises or nationalizations, since he understood that in the modern world some things would be hard to manage for the public benefit otherwise, but rather that nationalization also needed socialization to fully realize the goals of the socialist movement.
What did he have to say about the USSR?
As a socialist in the 20th century, he had an opinion on the USSR and often had to compare his vision of utopia with the Soviet model.
Harrington believed that Karl Marx was a democrat in the sense that his political ideology supports democracy. However, he did blame Marx for excessive vagueness and making it too easy to justify dictatorships with his theory. This, he argues, allowed Lenin and Stalin to claim they were following Marx to the letter as they sent vast numbers of working people to Gulags.
He also argued that the Russians, realizing that they could hardly implement socialism in a semi-feudalistic society, hoped to use state control of the economy to modernize rapidly. Using "socialism" to do this was never planned for in Marxist theory and had more in common with the Prussian route to modernization than anything else.
In the Russian model, the state controlled the economy with little or no input from the workers. The state was, in turn, controlled by the communist party with little or no input from the majority of the population who were non-members. He argued that these points made the Russian model "Authoritarian Collectivism" rather than "socialism."
He then argues that this analysis can be applied to any non-industrialized, impoverished, unstable country that adopts "socialism" as an ideology and then uses it to try and modernize rapidly. He gives the examples of Russia, China, and Cuba as case studies in what not to do when making a successful democratic socialist society. The utter lack of democracy either in the workplace or in the political system being two fundamental problems.
This guy died in 1989, what do his ideas have to do with our problems today?
Harrington's ideas on what could happen to capitalism in the early 21st century were frighteningly accurate. In his final book, he considers the problem of automation leaving vast armies of the unemployed in the midst of greater economic output than ever seen before. He discusses how this automated unemployment might affect consumer demand and how that would alter the entire economy.
He also considers ecological problems that were only just coming onto the radar in the late eighties that we are now grappling with. At several points, he discusses the Greenhouse effect and posits that capitalism will be unable to fix the problem. Instead, he argues that there must be an international movement dedicated to fixing the issue at the expense of the countries that put most of the pollutants into the air.
His solution to both of these issues is — you guessed it — socialism. In the first case, to assure that in a world where fewer workers are actually needed to produce the goods and services we need can share in what will be the incredible productivity gains automation promises to bring us all. In the second, to help keep us from destroying the planet we live on in the name of a quick buck.
As America continues to consider democratic socialism as a cure for its social ills, the insights of Professor Harrington will be of great use. His ideas continue to influence some of the most prominent voices on the left today and his work continues to inspire those who want to make the world a little more just.