Bullshitting for positivity

Once upon a time, when I was looking for “A poet’s advice to students” by E. E. Cummings, I came across a censored and bright-sided version here: http://www.thepositivemind.com/

In the DiMele Center for “Getting Control of your Life”, professionals took control of something a famous poet has written,[1] rewrote it to suit their ideological and commercial purposes and deleted the bits that they did not like.

The words in caps have been deleted, the words in yellow have been inserted, and I care deeply about the way the DeMiele Center amputated the beautifully harsh and uncompromising words of Cummings to create a smarmy marketing text … whilst still using his name:


A POET real human is somebody who feels and who expresses his or her feelings THROUGH WORDS. This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know what they feel—but that’s thinking or believing or knowing: not feeling. And POETRY being real is feeling—not just knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but NOT A SINGLE HUMAN BEING CAN BE TAUGHT it’s very difficult to learn to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody – but – yourself.

To be nobody – but -yourself– in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else–means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for EXPRESSING communicating nobody-but-yourself IN WORDS to others, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t A POET real can possibly imagine. Why?
Because nothing is quite as easy as USING WORDS just being just like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time–and whenever we do it, we are NO POETS not real.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve WRITTEN ONE LINE OF ONE POEM loved just once with a nobody-but-yourself heart, you”ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become POETS real is: do something easy, like LEARNING HOW TO BLOW UP THE WORLD dreaming of freedom–unless you’re NOT ONLY WILLING, BUT GLAD,  ready to commit yourself to feel and work and fight till you die.


On the bright side, these adjustments are a wonderful illustration of both smarm and bullshit, concepts that Tom Scocca describes like this:  

What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.

Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can’t everyone just be nicer?

Bullshit, Frankfurt wrote, was defined by the bullshitter’s indifference to truth:

“The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides…is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it.”

“The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.”

Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then—it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection. Its genuine purposes lie beneath the greased-over surface. 

Here is the original text:  e e cummings


Yelled mother with infallible logic.
“Only unhappy children are nail-biters!”
So I stopped biting my nails.

I didn’t stop being unhappy.
I just got better at hiding it.

Mother was also good at hiding it.
That she was unhappy.
Even from herself, she hid it.
She hid it with control.
Over herself.
Over others.

Others? Others were us.
The rest of the family.
Sister, father and me.

Disagreement was a war mother needed to win.
It was always a question of who was right
and who was wrong,
and she was always right.

Viewpoints did not exist in her universe.
Right was right and wrong was wrong
and only she knew what was what.

In my universe I was a foundling.
Had no place in the world.
Daydreamed about living in an orphanage.
With rules that could be followed.

In father’s universe, peace was the only goal.
“Don’t upset her, she is so ill.”
“It’s been like this for 30 years,” he said.
“It’s been like this all my life,” I said.

In sister’s universe, a soldier guarded her mother
who was a captive, imprisoned in a tall tower.

And in mother’s universe?
There she was also a captive.
Of control and right and psychosis and medication.
And control and right and psychosis and medication.
The wheel turned.
Again and again.
Again and again and again, the wheel turned. 

Control and right and psychosis and medication.

Rarely, very rarely, like glimpses of sky
in a rip in black storm clouds
the control slipped a little and I saw
a spark, a joy,
a glimpse of life.

Mother …
I never got to ask you …
When did you learn to hide that you were unhappy?
Why did you have to?
Who made you hide?

1 Boring Old Man: On antidepressants and clinical judgement

“a restrictive interpretation…”

1 Boring Old Man (retired psychiatrist Mickey Nardo) wrote: 

Those who support the Black Box Warning rely on individual instances – their own experience as patients and clinicians or the case reports of others. People who oppose the Warning point to studies in populations that show no effect either way on suicide, but confirm that the prescription rate of SSRIs either fell or stopped rising in response to the Warning.

And then he linked to this article:

by Fava GA, Guidi J, Rafanelli C, and Sonino N
Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2015 84:1-3.

It’s a short two paged article best read as a narrative rather than viewed in a couple of sound bytes, so I’ll skip any attempt at summary. It’s an article that talks about clinical judgement taking precedence over the tenets of evidence-based medicine. It’s a hard argument to make as it can be instantly met with “How do you know that?” or “But that’s just what you think.” And I’ve actually never heard any two people have this argument with even slightly changed minds as a result.

My own opinions are embedded in my narrative.

I don’t know if it is possible to change anyone’s mind in an argument, but I do know that the opinions embedded in dr Nardo’s narrative makes good reading for a psychiatric survivor like me. He ends with a quote from the article:

The conceptual model that has generated EBM and guidelines clashes with clinical reality and fosters a dichotomy between medical science and clinical judgment. EBM has certainly made an important contribution to questioning unsubstantiated therapeutic claims. The time has come, however, to become more aware of its considerable limitations, including overall reductionism, disregard of patient-physician relationships and patient preferences, and insufficient consideration of problems related to financial conflicts of interest. As an increasing body of literature indicates, EBM offers only a restrictive interpretation of the scientific approach to clinical practice.

And I will end with a paper on evidence-based medicine: 


Maybe I am Charlie Hebdo after all?

Retitled from “I am not Charlie Hebdo”. Views change as new information comes in.

Charlie Hebdo co-founder says murdered editor ‘dragged’ staff to death with provocative cartoons

On Charlie Hebdo: A letter to my British friends

Oliver Tonneau writes:  

As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my left-wing French position is on these matters.


Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the bombing was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).  Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza. Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies.


Noam Chomsky on “Living memory” : “which carefully assigns assaults on journalism and acts of terror to their proper categories: Theirs, which are horrendous; and Ours, which are virtuous and easily dismissed from living memory.”


In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism 

by Jacob Canfield 

When faced with a terrorist attack against a satirical newspaper, the appropriate response seems obvious. Don’t let the victims be silenced. Spread their work as far as it can possibly go. Laugh in the face of those savage murderers who don’t understand satire.

In this case, it is the wrong response.

Here’s what’s difficult to parse in the face of tragedy: yes, Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical newspaper. Its staff is white. Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.

Freedom of speech cannot be killed

“This will be framed by many as the latest salvo in an ongoing war between the West and Islam, when what this really amounts to is the slaughter of innocent people. These murderers don’t represent anyone but themselves, their own twisted view of reality. They don’t stand for an entire religion anymore than the Westboro Baptist Church stands for an entire religion or the Ku Klux Klan stands for an entire race.



The closing date for responses is now 12 January 2015 to allow for the holiday break.” 

I’ll be keeping this up after the closing date, as the draft framework is lovely to read. Here are two screenshots:



‘A machine for jumping to conclusions’

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s new book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” examines how our ability to think quickly and intuitively can sometimes lead us astray—in predictable ways.

In this article Lea Winerman interviews Daniel Kahneman:

But, System 1 can sometimes lead us astray when it’s unchecked by System 2. For example, you write about a concept called “WYSIATI”—What You See Is All There Is. What does that mean, and how does it relate to System 1 and System 2?

Kahneman: System 1 is a storyteller. It tells the best stories that it can from the information available, even when the information is sparse or unreliable. And that makes stories that are based on very different qualities of evidence equally compelling. Our measure of how “good” a story is—how confident we are in its accuracy—is not an evaluation of the reliability of the evidence and its quality, it’s a measure of the coherence of the story.

People are designed to tell the best story possible. So WYSIATI means that we use the information we have as if it is the only information. We don’t spend much time saying, “Well, there is much we don’t know.” We make do with what we do know. And that concept is very central to the functioning of our mind.

There is a very nice example of this, and it’s actually the thing that impressed Malcolm Gladwell when he wrote the book “Blink.” We form an impression of people within less than a second of meeting them, in some cases. We decide whether they’re friendly, hostile or dominant, and whether we’re going to like them. And clearly, we form that impression with inadequate information, just based on their facial features or movements. This is WYSIATI—we don’t wait for more information, we form impressions on the basis of what is available to us.

Gladwell emphasized that there was some accuracy to those, but they are very far from perfectly accurate. They’re better than nothing … but what is striking is that you form them immediately in the absence of adequate information.

Can a person train him or herself to say, “Wait, what other information is out there that I’m missing?”

Kahneman: Well, the main point that I make is that confidence is a feeling, it is not a judgment. And that feeling comes automatically; it itself is a product of System 1. My own intuition and my System 1 have really not been educated to be very different. Education influences System 2, and enables System 2 to pick up cues that “this is a situation where I’m likely to make those mistakes.” So on rare occasions, I catch myself in the act of making a mistake, but normally I just go on and make it.

When the stakes are very high, I might stop myself. For example, when someone asks me for an opinion and I’m in a professional role, and I know that they are going to act on my opinion or take it very seriously, then I slow down. 


Posting here to make it easy to link to these terms when I need to: 

Filters Against Folly: How to Survive despite Economists, Ecologists and the Merely Eloquent by Garrett Hardin.  In his review of this book, Carl Bajama writes: 

We need lay defenses to protect ourselves against the assumptions (conscious and unconscious), the biases, the prejudices and ignorance of experts so that we can evaluate the claims of experts as we citizens try to identify the most appropriate course of action. Hardin contends that the greatest folly citizens can commit when confronted with expert testimony is to accept expert statements uncritically. The statement that “The authority of a scholar is measured by how long he/she can delay progress in his/her field” applies equally to experts in engineering and government as well as in science and theology.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational by George Dvorsky.

Here’s a list: 

Confirmation BiasIngroup BiasGambler’s FallacyPost-Purchase RationalizationNeglecting ProbabilityObservational Selection BiasStatus-Quo BiasNegativity BiasBandwagon EffectProjection BiasThe Current Moment BiasAnchoring Effect

As a supplement to Dvorsky’s negativity bias, I add  Happiness is a glass half emptyOliver Burkman’s article on positivity bias

The homunculi in our heads

Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”at least the information about System 1 and System 2, should be required reading for everyone who works in medicine and the mental help sector. We would all benefit from a reminder, once in a while, of what Stephen Jay Gould calls “a little homunculus in my head” that jumps to conclusions. 

From Two Brains Running By JIM HOLT:

System 2, in Kahneman’s scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase “bread and. . . . ” It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person’s System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.) 

 More generally, System 1 uses association and metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality, which System 2 draws on to arrive at explicit beliefs and reasoned choices. System 1 proposes, System 2 disposes. So System 2 would seem to be the boss, right? In principle, yes. But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily. (The vogue term for this is “ego depletion.”) Too often, instead of slowing things down and analyzing them, System 2 is content to accept the easy but unreliable story about the world that System 1 feeds to it. “Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is,” Kahneman writes, “the automatic System 1 is the hero of this book.” System 2 is especially quiescent, it seems, when your mood is a happy one. 

 At this point, the skeptical reader might wonder how seriously to take all this talk of System 1 and System 2. Are they actually a pair of little agents in our head, each with its distinctive personality? Not really, says Kahneman. Rather, they are “useful fictions” — useful because they help explain the quirks of the human mind.