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The trouble with judging historical figures by today’s moral standards
Monuments are under attack in America. How far should we go in re-examining our history?
- Historical American monuments and sculptures are under attack by activists.
- The monuments are accused of celebrating racist history.
- Toppling monuments is a process that often happens in countries but there's a danger of bias.
History is not only the stuffing of Wikipedia articles but a live process involving you right now. As is evidenced bluntly by 2020, history is an undeniable force, here to change our societies and force us to re-examine everything we think and know before you can say "news cycle." So far we've had one of the worst pandemics of the modern era, with thousands dead and economic livelihoods uprooted around the world. We've had the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, spurred on by the murders of African-Americans by the police, unleashing pent-up frustrations at systemic injustice. We also find ourselves in an amazingly divisive election year, probably one of the worst periods of rancor in the life of the country. American "heroes" are getting re-examined left and right and statues are getting torn down.
All the upheaval places focus on the role of history in our society. How much of it do we want to own up to? How much are current American citizens responsible for the sins of their ancestors? Which men (and yes, mostly these are men) are allowed to stay up as bronze reminders of some heroic past, and which ones need to finally go to the far reaches of our collective unconscious? Do Confederate monuments and statues deserve to stay as part of the legacy of the South, or does it make any sense that a period of history that lasted about 5 years and produced attitudes that were actually defeated in a bloody Civil War is allowed to percolate in the minds of the population? It is as if a tacit agreement was kept up all these years where the victors allowed some such traditions to remain in order to foster a spirit of reconciliation.
Mob pulling down the statue of George III at Bowling Green, New York City, 9 July 1776.
Painting by William Walcutt. 1854.
There is a big danger, on the other hand, that as the conversation turns to exorcising ghosts of currently unpopular attitudes, we are doing it through the lens of presentism. It's a bias of judging the behavior of historical people through the standards of today. Oxford helpfully defines it as "uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts." We tend to view our present time as the best, most advanced socially and intellectually. And as such judge all others as inferior. While that may be true (certainly debatable), it's unfair to view how people reacted to situations around them within the constraints and prejudices of the society of their day. It's probably how people of a couple of hundred years from now will judge us, who still eat meat, as some kind of utter barbarians, a lesser humans.
Our present knowledge comes at the heels of wisdom gathered by generations before us. It is accumulated over time and by that standard should be richer, informed by greater experience and examination. Yet, is it fair to say that a person living 150 years ago should not have had the attitude shared by most people of his or her time, who only knew what they could know by that point in history? The intelligence of societies grows not only intellectually, reshaping their governments, but emotionally. It has taken the world a while to grow in that regard, to become mature in empathy and it's obviously nowhere near where it should be in such evolution.
As it is biased to judge a person from a different era for not having the moral foresight to stand up to his or her peers and end the tyranny of injustice, that is also no excuse to celebrate attitudes and statements that go squarely against what we believe in now. A bad idea is like a virus. It can take hold and come back quickly, infecting millions. We have all seen that happen too often recently. If you think it's no big deal to have statues of abolitionists and slave owners around, imagine if you were a Jewish person and had to pass by a statue of Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi architect of the Holocaust, every day on the way to work. It would just casually be there, kept up by people who believed that despite the times he subjected people to inhuman treatment and death, Himmler did a lot of other "good things" and represented the heritage of the people of the town. As that scenario would be unacceptable, so are a lot of statues kept up around the United States as vestiges of a past we do not need to remember with veneration. And for those who are wondering – no, Germany does not have any Nazi statues or memorials around.
People in Rome tear down the statues of Mussolini. July 25, 1943.
Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images.
If you think this debate concerns only Southern "heroes," it took until this year to start taking down statues of Juan de Oñate, the Spanish conquistador who rampaged through what is now New Mexico in the late 1500s. In 1599, he ordered a massacre at the Acoma Pueblo, killing about 500 of its men and 300 women and children. Many were thrown off a tall mesa to their deaths while survivors had their legs cut off. And yet, you could find statues of this man all over New Mexico. Only this year, they started to come down.
Ultimately, there's a big lesson here for statue-makers and those prone to worshipping idols. Even the Bible spoke about this. Respecting and learning from historical figures is extremely useful and necessary, but putting anyone up on a pedestal is generally a losing proposition. Eastern Europe saw a whole century of statues being torn down every few years in the 1900s – from monarchic rulers to Communist heroes who would fall in and out of favor, then a whole period of pulling down Lenin and Stalin figures in the 90's. Western Europe had its own idol carousel. Many other countries across the world, who've had tumultuous histories and had to undergo historical reckonings did the same. It's a process that happens in societies that experience change.
Of course, the big question is – how far should this go? How far back do we have to extent the soul-searching to expunge all the wrongs in our country's past? Do the iconic Presidents get a pass? Are they coming for Mount Rushmore, put up on Native land without permission, and the Washington Monument? Besides being one of the country's main Founding Fathers, Washington was a lifelong slave-owner who changed his mind about the practice and freed all his slaves by the end of his life – the only Founding Fathers with slaves to do so.
Statue of Lenin in Berlin, Germany On November 13, 1991.
Photo by Patrick PIEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Removing or altering some of the country's main symbols is probably a nonstarter at this point. But there can be correct acknowledgements and payments made, according to our current laws. It's legitimate to have concerns about dangerous ideas from the past but there have to be boundaries and the right pace. When you you start retooling your whole foundational mythology quickly, you get violence and revolutions. People are not going to give up on what they have been taught for generations easily and what is part of their culture. Still, this doesn't make such conversations not worth having, since what constitutes tribute to Southern heritage and values to some is a continual slap in the face to others, celebrating people who enslaved them and brutalized them for centuries. Status quo is not acceptable in such an equation.
But what about the once-taboo topic of asking national forgiveness with money – paying reparations to people brought to the country as slaves and to Native Americans who were largely exterminated and whose land was taken? In his seminal essay "The Case for Reparations" for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the early American economy was built on slave labor and the wealth that was accumulated on the backs of the enslaved created a tremendous wealth gap that persists today in dramatic fashion, in a ratio of 20 to 1 (of white to black wealth).
"Perhaps no statistic better illustrates the enduring legacy of our country's shameful history of treating black people as sub-citizens, sub-Americans, and sub-humans than the wealth gap," he writes. "Reparations would seek to close this chasm. But as surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same."
Could we achieve such cooperation now? At the moment, only about 20 percent of the American population would support paying reparations to descendants of slaves.
Statue of Lenin taken down in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. October 2012.
Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
As Ta-Nehisi Coates calls it, the notion of reparations is "frightening" to many because it might incur major economic costs and maybe most importantly, it "threatens something much deeper—America's heritage, history, and standing in the world."
While the issue of paying for past sins might further drive a wedge into an already-divided society, Coates believes putting a number on the historical events that led to American prosperity being "ill-gotten and selective in its distribution."
He further proposes that paying reparations would be more than just a payoff but would lead to "a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt," adding "What I'm talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal."
The cultural reexamination unleashed by the recent protests linked to widespread police brutality taps into the undercurrents of the American psyche. What's surprising is that so many Confederate statues can still be found around the U.S. – approximately 1,800 such monuments to be exact. Think about that – almost 2,000 signals of past attitudes that were defeated in a war and have been legislated against since. And yet, there they are, like guardians of not-so-secret inclinations America is unwilling to let go.
As many rightfully fear, however, efforts to tear things down based on the emotion of the moment can lead to mob rule and often less-than-nuanced opinions on history. A country deserves its past and whitewashing it doesn't change the facts. But all people living in the country today, which is much more diverse and getting more and more so, according to clear census data, have a right to be part of a society that values their sensibilities and respects them equally. Hanging onto to imperfect idols is understandable on the part of a population that is becoming less and less able to wield its will over minorities but ultimately futile, as the statues will come down as they always tend to do. The question is – will they come down as part of an elevated national consciousness or amidst violence? As coronavirus continues to expand its grip on the country, a more measured approach would serve us well.
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.
Are Axions Dark Matter?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5e35ce24a5b17102bfce5ae6aecc7c14"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/e7yXqF32Yvw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.
What is deep acting?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NDk2OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTY5MzA0Nn0._s7aP25Es1CInq51pbzGrUj3GtOIRWBHZxCBFnbyXY8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=333%2C-1%2C333%2C-1&height=700" id="ddf09" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9dc42c4d6a8e372ad7b72907b46ecd3f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Arlie Russell Hochschild (pictured) laid out the concept of emotional labor in her 1983 book, "The Managed Heart."
Credit: Wikimedia Commons<p>Deep and surface acting are the principal components of emotional labor, a buzz phrase you have likely seen flitting about the Twittersphere. Today, "<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/5ea9f140-f722-4214-bb57-8b84f9418a7e" target="_blank">emotional labor</a>" has been adopted by groups as diverse as family counselors, academic feminists, and corporate CEOs, and each has redefined it with a patented spin. But while the phrase has splintered into a smorgasbord of pop-psychological arguments, its initial usage was more specific.</p><p>First coined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1983 book, "<a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520272941/the-managed-heart" target="_blank">The Managed Heart</a>," emotional labor describes the work we do to regulate our emotions on the job. Hochschild's go-to example is the flight attendant, who is tasked with being "nicer than natural" to enhance the customer experience. While at work, flight attendants are expected to smile and be exceedingly helpful even if they are wrestling with personal issues, the passengers are rude, and that one kid just upchucked down the center aisle. Hochschild's counterpart to the flight attendant is the bill collector, who must instead be "nastier than natural."</p><p>Such personas may serve an organization's mission or commercial interests, but if they cause emotional dissonance, they can potentially lead to high emotional costs for the employee—bringing us back to deep and surface acting.</p><p>Deep acting is the process by which people modify their emotions to match their expected role. Deep actors still encounter the negative emotions, but they devise ways to <a href="http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf" target="_blank">regulate those emotions</a> and return to the desired state. Flight attendants may modify their internal state by talking through harsh emotions (say, with a coworker), focusing on life's benefits (next stop Paris!), physically expressing their desired emotion (smiling and deep breaths), or recontextualizing an inauspicious situation (not the kid's fault he got sick).</p><p>Conversely, surface acting occurs when employees display ersatz emotions to match those expected by their role. These actors are the waiters who smile despite being crushed by the stress of a dinner rush. They are the CEOs who wear a confident swagger despite feelings of inauthenticity. And they are the bouncers who must maintain a steely edge despite humming show tunes in their heart of hearts.</p><p>As we'll see in the research, surface acting can degrade our mental well-being. This deterioration can be especially true of people who must contend with negative emotions or situations inside while displaying an elated mood outside. Hochschild argues such emotional labor can lead to exhaustion and self-estrangement—that is, surface actors erect a bulwark against anger, fear, and stress, but that disconnect estranges them from the emotions that allow them to connect with others and live fulfilling lives.</p>
Don't fake it till you make it<p>Most studies on emotional labor have focused on customer service for the obvious reason that such jobs prescribe emotional states—service with a smile or, if you're in the bouncing business, a scowl. But <a href="https://eller.arizona.edu/people/allison-s-gabriel" target="_blank">Allison Gabriel</a>, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, wanted to explore how employees used emotional labor strategies in their intra-office interactions and which strategies proved most beneficial.</p><p>"What we wanted to know is whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers, why they choose to regulate their emotions if there is no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits, if any, they get out of this effort," Gabriel said in <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200117162703.htm" target="_blank">a press release</a>.</p><p>Across three studies, she and her colleagues surveyed more than 2,500 full-time employees on their emotional regulation with coworkers. The survey asked participants to agree or disagree with statements such as "I try to experience the emotions that I show to my coworkers" or "I fake a good mood when interacting with my coworkers." Other statements gauged the outcomes of such strategies—for example, "I feel emotionally drained at work." Participants were drawn from industries as varied as education, engineering, and financial services.</p><p>The results, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fapl0000473" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">published in the Journal of Applied Psychology</a>, revealed four different emotional strategies. "Deep actors" engaged in high levels of deep acting; "low actors" leaned more heavily on surface acting. Meanwhile, "non-actors" engaged in negligible amounts of emotional labor, while "regulators" switched between both. The survey also revealed two drivers for such strategies: prosocial and impression management motives. The former aimed to cultivate positive relationships, the latter to present a positive front.</p><p>The researchers found deep actors were driven by prosocial motives and enjoyed advantages from their strategy of choice. These actors reported lower levels of fatigue, fewer feelings of inauthenticity, improved coworker trust, and advanced progress toward career goals. </p><p>As Gabriel told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2021/01/new-psychology-research-suggests-deep-acting-can-reduce-fatigue-and-improve-your-work-life-59081" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PsyPost in an interview</a>: "So, it's a win-win-win in terms of feeling good, performing well, and having positive coworker interactions."</p><p>Non-actors did not report the emotional exhaustion of their low-actor peers, but they also didn't enjoy the social gains of the deep actors. Finally, the regulators showed that the flip-flopping between surface and deep acting drained emotional reserves and strained office relationships.</p><p>"I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work," Gabriel noted. "Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work. </p><p>"It all boils down to, 'Let's be nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve."</p>
You'll be glad ya' decided to smile<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="88a0a6a8d1c1abfcf7b1aca8e71247c6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QOSgpq9EGSw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>But as with any research that relies on self-reported data, there are confounders here to untangle. Even during anonymous studies, participants may select socially acceptable answers over honest ones. They may further interpret their goal progress and coworker interactions more favorably than is accurate. And certain work conditions may not produce the same effects, such as toxic work environments or those that require employees to project negative emotions.</p><p>There also remains the question of the causal mechanism. If surface acting—or switching between surface and deep acting—is more mentally taxing than genuinely feeling an emotion, then what physiological process causes this fatigue? <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00151/full" target="_blank">One study published in the <em>Frontiers in Human Neuroscience</em></a><em> </em>measured hemoglobin density in participants' brains using an fNIRS while they expressed emotions facially. The researchers found no significant difference in energy consumed in the prefrontal cortex by those asked to deep act or surface act (though, this study too is limited by a lack of real-life task).<br></p><p>With that said, Gabriel's studies reinforce much of the current research on emotional labor. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2041386611417746" target="_blank">A 2011 meta-analysis</a> found that "discordant emotional labor states" (read: surface acting) were associated with harmful effects on well-being and performance. The analysis found no such consequences for deep acting. <a href="https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0022876" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another meta-analysis</a> found an association between surface acting and impaired well-being, job attitudes, and performance outcomes. Conversely, deep acting was associated with improved emotional performance.</p><p>So, although there's still much to learn on the emotional labor front, it seems Van Dyke's advice to a Leigh was half correct. We should put on a happy face, but it will <a href="https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/everything-you-should-know-about-happiness-in-one-infographic" target="_self">only help if we can feel it</a>.</p>
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.