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Monday, February 8, 2016

The Reminiscence Bump: Your Identity -- How It Forms

If you ask someone over the age of thirty to tell you their life story, they’ll over-emphasize some portions and under-emphasize others. Most likely they’ll recall incidents in their late teens and early twenties much more vividly than other periods of their lives. What happens in our thirties stays in our thirties. What happens in our formative years stays with us forever.”

--Dan McAdams, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University

Did you ever wonder why forming your own personal identity was vital to your existence? In other words, why “who you are” is so important? And, perhaps just as meaningfully introspective, have you ever considered exactly when you largely became “who you are”?

Ego Identity Relates to Unity and Purpose

Developmental psychologists such as the noted Erik Erikson (1902-1994), who, by the way, coined the phrase identity crisis, say in late adolescence and young adulthood (the fifth of eight stages in the developmental scheme) you first “seek to integrate your disparate (different) roles, talents, proclivities, and social involvements into a patterned configuration of thought and activity that provides life with some semblance of psychosocial unity and purpose.”

(E.H. Erikson. Childhood and society. 1963.)

Erikson maintained that people in their late adolescence and young adulthood develop an ego identity as they first confront the problem of identity versus role confusion. He concluded at this time in the human life course you “first explore ideological and occupational options available in society and experiment with a wide range of social roles, with the aim of eventually consolidating their beliefs and values into a personal ideology and making provisional commitments to life plans and projects that promise to situate them meaningfully into new societal niches.”


The Important “Bump”

Dr. Dan McAdams calls the tendency to remember more events from your teens and twenties the “reminiscence bump.” And, following Erikson's findings, McAdams believes this period looms so large because it’s when you are most preoccupied with forming an identity.

McAdams acknowledges that “developmental precursors to life story making can be traced all the way back to the 1-year-old's emergent understanding of intentionality, the development of the agential 'I' and the objective 'me' in the 2nd year of life, the mat-uration of a theory of mind in Years 3 and 4, and the early conversations that children enjoy with their parents, siblings, and friends as they co-construct the remembered past.” And, he says “life story making continues well beyond the early adult years, as midlife and older men and women continue to refashion themselves and renarrate their lives in the wake of predictable and unpredictable life changes.”

(Dan P. McAdams. “The Psychology of Life Stories.” Review of General Psychology. Volume 5. 2001.)

Yet …

The intriguing reminiscence bump is an important reminder that many understandings in your life were formed in some very important, early years. Activities and events that occur in late adolescence and early adulthood leave an indelible mark on your memories. Some might remember first becoming nerds, or athletes, or scholars … or even criminals in these years.

Still, how can your “self” be a single entity and yet have different, even contradictory parts. William James, American philosopher and psychologist (1842-1910) called this the “one-in-many-selves paradox” and likened the self to a stream.

It seems many psychologists believe you generally emerge form adolescence with one more-or-less integrated identity. You want that identity to be coherent. Still, there are multiple types of coherent, including biographical coherence, causal coherence, thematic coherence, and temporal coherence.

James' had a conception of "self as knower and self as known."

He writes that you simply cannot be all possible selves in all possible ways because the actions that arise from differing selves differ and are basically incompatible (hence the conflict of the different Me's).

Consequently, he urges that "the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list [of selves that he wishes to be] carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation." So is there, indeed, a self inside each of us that is truest and strongest and deepest? I'll leave the answer to that question up to you and moralists who study such matters.

(William James on the Self. Division of Educational Studies. Emory University)

McAdams thinks that the reminiscence bump is universal. An important question then becomes “Does the fact that you remember your formative years better than other years affect your behavior in later life?” In a life where you are the “self as knower and the self as known,” it does seem a coherent identity forms your beliefs, your biases, and your ego.

Consider the events from your early life that are easy to recall. If you, like me, vividly remember so many events from adolescence and early adulthood, McAdams contends that the availability bias suggests that you “will overestimate the probability that similar events will happen in the future. You can recall them easily. Therefore, you assume they’re highly probable to recur.”

In other words, you may stay consistent with understandings developed during your
reminiscence bump. What kind of decisions did you make that early in life? I can hear many of you sighing and letting out a big “uh-oh.”

We know neuroscientists have discovered that the frontal cortex of the brain, the section responsible for critical thinking and responsible decision making does not develop fully until as late as the mid-20s. While this part of the brain is still under construction in your early years, you tend to engage in many risky, even stupid behaviors. Yep.

And, following this reasoning, here is where McAdams will scare the hell out of you. He says…

What do we disproportionately remember about our lives? The risky and thoughtless behaviors of our formative years. If the availability bias is correct, we will overestimate the probability that these same behaviors will occur again, perhaps in our children. Could this be the root cause of the helicopter parenting that we seem so worried about today? It’s a complicated question but it’s certainly worth a good research project.”

(Dan McAdams. “Reminiscence Bumps and Helicopter Parents.” October 01, 2015.)

I yam what I yam.”

--Popeye, 1933

So, let me consider this for you (and me, of course). If you truly acknowledge you are formed in a large part by the reminiscence bump, and if you recognize that your ego identity was formed predominately in your teens and twenties when your critical thinking skills were incomplete and when you were taking significant risks, you may need to adopt an open mind, be open to change, and dedicate yourself to lifelong learning and to all the understandings you can obtain through increased study and research.

Let me be blunt: It is dangerous to stagnate in a “bump” that may continue to negatively affect you and your loved ones, those who are influenced by your beliefs and actions. We must acknowledge that no one is perfect, yet we also must understand that everyone must accept needed change. If you do “helicopter,” perhaps you should do so by advancing life theory more than by demanding results with rigid compliance.

I love to reminisce, and I admit that I often long for past times when I was younger, physically stronger, and more carefree. Still, I recognize that the “truest me” has changed significantly since those times because I am still learning, dealing with my shortcomings, and trying hard to be a better work – a work still in progress. Oh, you can bet I still have my biases, it's just that now I see how a life lived without giving concessions and without having regrets is foolish.

Those who assert “nothing can make me change” are probably right. By now, you consider spending even ten minutes reading this blog entry as wasted time and counterproductive to your life. To you I say, “Hang on and enjoy your 'bumpy' ride as the planet continues to go through its obligatory changes.” Meanwhile, I'll be reconsidering my youthful memories and, undoubtedly, readjusting more than a few of my old understandings. No one said this was going to be easy.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Addiction: A Closer Look at the Environment of Abuse

Black tar heroin from coastal Mexico clawed its way into the lives of more Ohioans in 2013, contributing to 983 overdose deaths, a 41 percent jump over the previous year, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

The spike in heroin overdoses was the most glaring statistic in a report showing yet another record year for drug-related deaths in Ohio: 2,110 people died in 2013 — the most recent year for which figures are available — compared to 1,914 in 2012, which also was a record.”

(Alan Johnson and Catherine Candisky. “Heroin feeds record number of Ohio drug deaths.” The Columbus Dispatch. May 01, 2015.)

These figures are shocking. Six people a day in Ohio lose their lives to the drug epidemic. Why are unbelievable numbers of people becoming addicted to opioid substances? Is it nature or nurture? Understanding addiction requires thorough investigation, and, after reviewing the research, many questions still remain – important questions that beg to be answered.

We should understand that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) maintains that no single factor can predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. Yet, NIDA estimates that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.

The risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of factors that include individual biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.

The effects of genetics and environment on addiction can often be hard to separate, and many statistics cited in the media fail to take this into account. People read simplified explanations for causes of addiction and readily accept them for conclusive reports.

For example, scientists know that children of alcoholic parents are likely to inherit many of the genes that would make them predisposed to alcoholism.
But, add to this risk that these children are also more likely to grow up in an environment that is conducive to alcohol addiction – i.e. they have parents (role models) who drink, and they have alcohol available in their homes. These children may also spend time with friends who like to drink and find drinking socially acceptable, or they may drink in response to stressful factors in their environment such as problems at school.

Studies of identical twins are important tools to understanding the role of the environment in addiction. Some neuroscientists estimate that the risk of addiction for the general population is about half genetic and half environmental.

It is important to understand that while people cannot control their genetic makeup, they can control some of the factors in their environment. There are also parts of their environment they can regulate.
Neuroscientists believe some environmental factors have an extremely significant impact. For example, their research supports that the earlier someone starts using alcohol and/or drugs, the more likely he is to become addicted: research has calculated that 50% of kids who are regular drinkers by age 14 will become alcoholics.

(NIDA Chief Studies the Brain of Addicts; AP/ December 26, 2007.)
In contrast, it was found that those who refrain from using drugs before age 21 have a low likelihood of addiction later in life. Accordingly, an environment where alcohol and/or drugs are readily available to kids at a young age increases the risk substantially
(Adoption Model Used to Understand The Impact of Genetics and Environment On Drug Abuse Risk. March 7, 2012.)
Parents help create the environment of children at risk. An important environmental factor is the amount and quality of emotional and social support a child receives. Teens who reported having an adult they trusted and could talk to, for example, have a lower risk of addiction than those who don’t.

One study actually involved teens who all had a particular genetic risk factor for addiction but different levels of parental support. Those who lacked involved and supportive parents had three times higher rates of drug use than those with high levels of parental support. “In families that were characterized by strong relationships between children and their parents, the effect of the genetic risk was essentially zero,” said Steven Beach, one of the researchers.

(Emily Bazalon. “A Question of Resilience.” New York Times Magazine. April 30, 2006.)

(“Genetic Risk for Substance Abuse Can Be Neutralized By Good Parenting.” February 12, 2009.)

The influence of environment on addiction is not limited to children. The environment also affects adults who become addicted. It has been established that people who are genetically predisposed to give in to peer pressure are more likely to become addicted if they also encounter an environment where their peers press them to take substances. People who are genetically predisposed to addiction are at a very high risk in such an environment where peer pressure is great.
Here is no secret: By avoiding addictive substances and situations in which they are available, people can reduce the risk that they will become addicted. Even if someone has a genetic predisposition to become addicted to heroin, they will not become addicted if they never try it. This may sound inane, yet prevention is the key to ending the opioid epidemic. Large-scale prevention is presently a vision with work in progress. It has yet to be realized.
Yet, what about exposure itself? A number of studies have shown that when animals are raised in an “enriched environment” prior to drug exposure, their vulnerability to addiction was reduced. In such conditions, the enriched environment can be seen as preventive.
According to one of the studies by Marcello Solinas and Mohamed Jaber, carried out by a group of researchers at the Institut de physiologie et biologie cellulaire in Poitiers, a positive and stimulating environment helps defeating cocaine addiction.
The researchers showed that exposing mice to an "enriched environment" during cocaine withdrawal removes abnormal behavior related to addiction. An enriched environment, for mice, is defined as an environment which stimulates their curiosity, providing social and physical activity as well as exploration.

(Marcello Solinas et al., “Reversal of cocaine addiction by environmental enrichment.” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2008.)

My Belief

How can we best help those seemingly trapped in an environment conducive to addiction? And, God knows here Appalachia we live in such a place. I believe it requires significant “brain work,” for every individual – actively gaining an education that not only stresses the danger of risks but also instills a new philosophy that some pain and discomfort are essential human conditions necessary to survival and existence.

Our present Prescription Nation is taught to avoid discomfort at all costs and to suppress it when we suffer it by using body-altering and mind-altering chemicals. In other words, at the first notion of pain – physiological or psychological – we know we must seek pills or other substances to quell the hurt.

In addition, we have allowed ourselves to become conditioned to using substances to enhance good times – to make us happy, to free our inhibitions, to increase our sexual performance, to heighten our lows, to peak our every reality to new and greater heights. What is good party without a “buzz” or a night out without chemical enhancement?

Yet, in my opinion, all chemical dependency has its price. Masking reality, drugs offer only temporary relief or enjoyment. If we could keep the influence of drugs under control, most of us would have no problem with substances. But, you and I know that is not the case. We must simply look at the facts: for example, 23 percent of those using heroin become addicted.

I think until we make an uber-change in our lifestyle and seek natural, non-chemical means to combating manageable pain and discomfort, we will see addiction climb. Even when we do use substances that have the potential for harm, we often ignore the maxim “Everything in moderation.” And, we must realize that merely experimenting with some drugs like heroin is ingesting poison, no matter the setting or the situation.

What about the environment itself? Dr. Kelly Lundberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Consultant with the Utah Addiction Center at the University of Utah, says, “A person may have many environments, or domains, of influence such as the community, family, school, and friends. Their risk of addiction can develop in any of these domains.”

Here are Lundberg's suggestions about addictive environments:
  1. The single biggest contributing factor to drug abuse risk is having friends who engage in the problem behavior. If an individual's friends have favorable attitudes towards drug use, this can also increase risk.
  2. An individual's connection with the community in which they live plays a big part in their likelihood of abusing drugs. Statistics show that if a person's community has favorable attitudes toward drug use, firearms and crime, their risk is increased.
  3. Family conflict and home management problems are contributing factors in drug abuse risk. Also, if parents have favorable attitudes towards drug use or use drugs themselves, often their children will be more likely to abuse drugs.
  4. A student's performance, participation, and commitment to school can be a major risk factor in addiction.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Opiates in Rat Park and Appalachia: Sorting Out B.F. Skinner

Skinner Box

Suppose you and I are laboratory rats in captivity. And, then imagine we are housed in one of these two environments:
  1. in isolation inside a tiny, undecorated Skinner box -- an operant conditioning chamber developed by famous psychologist and behaviorist B.F. Skinner, or
  2. with lots of other rats of both sexes (and babies, of course) in “Rat Park” -- a big plywood box (200 times the floor area of the Skinner box) filled with platforms for climbing, tin cans for hiding in, wood chips for strewing around, balls to play with, and running wheels for exercise.

Rat Park

If given the choice of living conditions, it would be a no-brainer. Of course, we would all choose Rat Park for a variety of reasons. Nothing extraordinary about this, huh? Even as a rodent, we would appreciate all the amenities and the unlimited social contact.

But, hold onto that thought while I switch gears.

Now, suppose we (as rats, remember) can add to our lives some feel-good drugs.

Rat Park was actually a study into drug addiction conducted in the late 1970s (and published in 1981) by Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

Rats in the experiment were held in both environments, where they could drink a fluid from one of two drop dispensers -- one dispenser contained a morphine solution and the other plain tap water.

The resuts were as follows:

The Skinner caged rats (Groups CC and PC) took to the morphine instantly, even with relatively little sweetener, with the caged males drinking 19 times more morphine than the Rat Park males in one of the experimental conditions. The rats in Rat Park resisted the morphine water. They would try it occasionally — with the females trying it more often than the males — but they showed a statistically significant preference for the plain water.”

(Bruce K. Alexander, R.B. Coambs, and P.F. Hadaway. "The effect
of housing and gender on morphine self-administration in rats."
Psychopharmacology, Vol 58. 1978.)

(Bruce K. Alexander. “The Myth of Drug-Induced Addiction.” Paper to the Canadian Senate. January 2001.)

Alexander writes ...

The most interesting group was Group CP, the rats who were brought up in cages but moved to Rat Park before the experiment began. These animals rejected the morphine solution when it was stronger, but as it became sweeter and more dilute, they began to drink almost as much as the rats that had lived in cages throughout the experiment. They wanted the sweet water, he concluded, so long as it did not disrupt their normal social behavior.”

And, according to Alexander, even more significant ...

When he added a drug called Naloxone, which negates the effects of opioids, to the morphine-laced water, the Rat Park rats began to drink it. Also...

In another experiment, he forced rats in ordinary lab cages to consume the morphine-laced solution for 57 days without other liquid available to drink. When they moved into Rat Park, they were allowed to choose between the morphine solution and plain water. They drank the plain water. He writes that they did show some signs of dependence. There were "some minor withdrawal signs, twitching, what have you, but there were none of the mythic seizures and sweats you so often hear about ..."

(Lauren Slater. Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments
of the Twentieth Century. 2004.)

The Hypothesis

Alexander's hypothesis was that drugs do not cause addiction, and that the apparent addiction to opiate drugs commonly observed in laboratory rats exposed to them is attributable to their living conditions, and not to any addictive property of the drug itself.

Alexander believed his experiments showed that animal self-administration studies provided no empirical support for the theory of drug-induced addiction. Furthermore, normal people, (like lab rats), can ignore heroin (or other opiates) ... even when it is plentiful in their environment, and they can use these drugs with little likelihood of addiction ... Rats from Rat Park seem to be no less discriminating."

These beliefs fly in the face of earlier experimental psychologists (1960s) who

in the 1960s had concluded that illegal drugs are irresistibly addicting and fearsome within themselves.

How about that hypothesis? Like humans, laboratory rats are highly social, sexual, and industrious creatures. Is it solitary confinement, or a monotonous and depressing environment that puts both rodents and people in jeopardy of taking, dangerous, mind-numbing drugs? Or maybe, it is both?

It seems isolation could surely cause this behavior, but also putting humans or animals in a “Skinner box environment” where almost no effort is required and there is nothing else to do would seem to contribute to taking these substances. Granted, humans are much, much more intelligent and complex than rats; however, you and I understand that humans with idle hands often seek devilish diversions.

Appalachia, Opiates, and Rat Park

We in Appalachia live in a region that has been described as backwards, helpless, and hopeless. Since at least the 1960s, Appalachia has had a higher poverty rate and a higher percentage of working poor than the rest of the nation. The overwhelming economic crisis has worsened joblessness; collapsed home values; forced the closures of public schools, clinics, and charity organizations; and further depressed communities.

To make matters worse, the elite class has instilled strong systems of inequality into Appalachian politics and the local economies. An appropriate description of present-day Appalachia is a region of “chronic poverty,” where long-term neglect and lack of investment -- a lack of investment in people as well as communities – has had a crippling, long-lasting effect on the citizenry.

Cynthia M. Duncan, author of Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America, describes children in chronic poverty:

Even if a young person is watching a lot of TV, they're not necessarily imagining their future as being a doctor or a lawyer if they're coming from a really poor neighborhood. They're imagining themselves being like their aunt, the person next door, or maybe a teacher they admire. They structure their behavior to conform to "what people like us do.'”

(“Why Poverty Persists In Appalachia: An Interview with Cynthia M. Duncan.” Frontline. January 09, 2006.)

In addition to social problems, stereotypes about Appalachians still abound. Over-generalizations include images of Appalachianites as impulsive, personalistic, and individualistic “hillbillies.”

Many scholars speculate that these stereotypes have been created by powerful economic and political forces to justify exploitation of Appalachian peoples. For example, the same forces that put up barriers to prevent the development of civic culture promulgate the image of Appalachian peoples as politically apathetic, without a social consciousness, and deserving of their disenfranchised state.

(Dwight Billings. “Culture and Poverty in Appalachia: a Theoretical Discussion and Empirical Analysis.” Social Forces.1974.)

In spite of the region’s desperate need for aid, weariness of being represented as “helpless, dumb and poor” often creates an attitude of hostility among Appalachianites.

(Steve Mellon. “Carefully Choosing the Images of Poverty. Nieman Reports. 2001.)

An Analysis of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disparities & Access to Treatment Services in the Appalachian Region (August 2008) by the National Opinion Research Center found a higher prevalence of mental health disorders in the Appalachian region as compared to the rest of the nation, with proportionately more Appalachian adults reporting serious psychological distress and major depressive disorder. The findings show ...

Notably, mental health diagnoses for serious psychological distress and major depressive disorder are proportionately higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the nation, independent from substance abuse. That is, Appalachian disparities in mental health status do not appear to arise as a result of higher levels of co-occurrence with substance abuse. Community hospital discharge data, national household survey data, and treatment episode data all indicate this regional mental health disparity, independent of substance abuse. This disparity is particularly acute in more economically distressed areas of Appalachia.”

I ask you, “Does this imply that living in Appalachia, itself, greatly contributes to mental health problems, and that very existence is a major reason inhabitants, like lab rats denied a stimulating environment, seek opiates in their sad states of isolation and boredom?” After all, many would blame opiate addiction for the widespread poor mental health here. Maybe the reverse is closer to the truth – a depressed land breeds mental problems that subsequently leads people to seek a chemical means of escape.

Bruce Alexander cites history to draw a parallel …

At first, the English settlers explained the universal alcoholism of the natives with the story of genetic vulnerability. They said 'Indians just can’t handle liquor' and tried to solve the problem with strict alcohol prohibition. That didn’t work and most people don’t believe the genetic vulnerability story anymore.

So why did universal addiction strike the colonized natives of Western Canada and the world as well? Certain parallels between the problems of colonized human beings and the rats in Rat Park appear to provide an explanation. In both cases there is little drug consumption in the natural environment and a lot when the people or animals are placed in an environment that produces social and cultural isolation. In the case of rats, social and cultural isolation is produced by confining the rats in individual cages.

In the case of native people, the social and cultural isolation is produced by destroying the foundations of their cultural life: taking away almost all of their traditional land, breaking up families, preventing children from learning their own language, prohibiting their most basic religious ceremonies (potlatches and spirit dancing in Western Canada), discrediting traditional medical practices, and so forth. Under such conditions, both rats and people consume too much of whatever drug that is made easily accessible to them. Morphine for the rats, alcohol for the people.

In both cases, the colonizers or the experimenters who provide the drug explain the drug consumption in the isolated environment by saying that the drug is irresistible to the people or the rats. But in both cases, the drug only becomes irresistible when the opportunity for normal social existence is destroyed.”

(Bruce K. Alexander. “Addiction from Rat Park.” 2010.)

Living In a Cage

To me, Alexander's study has huge implications for root reasons that lead rural Appalachians to take opiates and eventually become dependent and addicted to these substances. His findings are not consistent with all clinical research about the causes of addiction, but they offer some very clear evidence that helps explain high rates of substance consumption in Appalachia.

Like rats in Skinner boxes, many residents of Appalachia feel socially and culturally deprived in the 21st century. While trying to cope with modern life, most exist with serious threats of continual depression and inescapable poverty. Thanks to criminals who prey upon those who live with such misery and deprivation, opiates are readily available to anyone wishing to find instantaneous, temporary mental relief in drugs. This substitute for living a “fuller life” is nothing but life-threatening drops willingly derived from dealers and other substance dispensers. Thus, addicted people become human laboratory rats without the benefit of a pleasant park.

Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review refers to Appalachia as “the Big White Ghetto” and writes ...

Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.”

(Kevin D. Williamson. “In Appalachia the Country Is Beautiful and the Society Is Broken.” National Review. January 09, 2014.)

Maybe we residents should just move away from this area – give up on our established roots and find a better environment elsewhere. Or, maybe we should stay, educate ourselves with every available resource, find mountains of financial assistance, and start building a new, fantastic rat park. In fact, we need to construct thousands of them in order to stimulate our own industry and fix all of our problems of chronic poverty, and in the process, we will also end widespread opiate addiction in Appalachia.

"My take is that it seems like the last bastion of America that’s sort of generalized, lumped together, and made fun of. It’s a relatively common thought that people from Appalachia are underprivileged, poorly educated, and backwoods. That probably says just as much about my bias toward outsiders as their perceived bias about Appalachia. I also know what I see and what mass media feeds our culture, and that is this pervasive view of the celebratory hillbilly. If that’s the filter that’s put on Appalachia by mass media, then shame on us if we lay down and take what mass media is feeding us.”

--Roger May

(Becky Harlan. “A Fresh Look at Appalachia—50 Years After the War on Poverty.” National Geographic. February 06, 2015.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Posting Sexy Facebook Photos: Objectifying as Flesh or Revealing as Beauty?

If you engage in social media, you likely have seen photos of young women in sexy or revealing poses. To these females, it must be very flattering to receive all the attention afforded by these pictures, yet a concern about posting such sexy images is that the selfies simply contribute to "a benevolent form of sexism." What do sexy online photos reveal about their subjects?

A team of social psychologists headed by University of Mary Washington’s Mariam Liss (2011) wanted to find out whether women feel more empowered or more oppressed by their identification with a sexualized image. Liss reports the following:

"The problem is two-fold. On the one hand, if a woman fits the narrow definition of how a sexualized woman looks in terms of attractiveness and body shape, then she should be happier if this is a valued set of attributes. However, in reality, few women actually do look like Victoria’s Secrets models (if even their non photoshopped bodies even do). They may also put themselves at risk for a precipitous drop in self-esteem should the attention they crave and enjoy goes away."

Liss's research found ...

"Women who scored high on enjoyment of sexualization were more likely to agree with sexist views of women.  They endorsed more statements reflecting overt or hostile sexism (such as “There are many jobs in which men should be given preference over women in being hired or promoted”). In addition, they also were more likely to agree with statements reflecting benevolent sexism, which also takes a stereotyped view of women, but in a way that seems positive ('women should be cherished and protected by men'). 

"The women who reported that they enjoyed the positive attention of men for their appearance were also more likely to view their own bodies as 'objects,' to base their self-esteem on how they look, to engage in self-sexualizing behaviors (such as pole dancing), and to worry about their appearance during the day and feel ashamed about themselves when their appearance didn’t measure up to some standard view of female beauty. These are hardly a set of positive attributes."

(Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. "Do Sexy Women Really Feel Good About Themselves?" Psychology Today. October 16, 2012.)

Further research by Elizabeth Daniels published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that girls and young women who post sexy or revealing photos on social media sites such as Facebook are viewed by their female peers as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks.

(Elizabeth A. Daniels, Eileen L. Zurbriggen. "The Price of Sexy: Viewers’ Perceptions
of a Sexualized Versus Nonsexualized Facebook Profile Photograph."
Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 2014.)

Daniels says there is so much pressure on teen girls and young women to portray themselves as sexy, but sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive.
She explains ...

"Girls and young women are in a “no-win” situation when it comes to their Facebook photos. Those who post sexy photos may risk negative reactions from their peers, but those who post more wholesome photos may lose out on social rewards, including attention from boys and men."

Daniels’ advice for girls and young women is to select social media photos that showcase their identity rather than her appearance, such as one from a trip or one that highlights participation in a sport or hobby.

“Don’t focus so heavily on appearance,” Daniels says. “Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world.”

My Take

There is nothing wrong with sharing an appropriate photo that displays physical beauty. However, the temptation for young women to "go overboard" with posting revealing photos that emphasize raw sexiness or party-animal behaviors may cause unforeseen problems. Those who choose to portray images of their overt sexiness should consider potential concerns in future relationships, career opportunities, and even in their own appropriate self-image.

The psychological term objectification refers to the tendency to treat an individual not as a person with emotions and thoughts, but as a physical being or "object” to provide pleasure to others. An objectified image often portrays a semi-clothed woman's body intended to emphasize her sexuality.

Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne says a byproduct of women’s objectification can occur when certain women become reluctant to look too competent -- potentially threatening the men in their lives -- and so dress in ways that they think men will find sexy. Whitbourne explains ...

"When self-esteem becomes largely dependent on how sexy one looks—and not how intelligent, kind, friendly, or inwardly attractive one is—other problems result, especially in their interactions with the men in their lives, who themselves may have become conditioned to objectify women. Men might treat them with less respect, showing outright or subtle forms of sexism that can range from patronizing mannerisms to verbal or even physical attacks."

(Susan Whitbourne. "Your Body on Display: Social Media and Your Self-Image."
Psychology Today. December 03, 2013.)

Thus, it is recognized that sexy and reckless narcissistic display can objectify females and, over time, actually make them less attractive to the men they hope to attract and to please.

A photo is a powerful symbol of an individual's self-image. How about men who love to post plenty of their own skin? When I see social media pictures of men who consistently show off their physique, I can't help but wonder about their intentions beyond self-gratification. Naturally, maintaining a good self-image is very important, and a fit body helps confirm that positive self-image, but I think constantly promoting a sexy physique in image after image overemphasizes the brute at the expense of building humanity. Isn't the honest male dedicated to “dis-objectifying” himself as simply a sexy body?

Men and women engage in posting sexy photos on Facebook. Yet, Michael A. Stefanone, PhD, and his colleagues found that females who base their self worth on their appearance tend to share more photos online and maintain larger networks on online social networking sites.

Stefanone says the results suggest that females identify more strongly with their image and appearance, and use Facebook as a platform to compete for attention. He reports ...

"Although it's stereotypical and might have been predicted, it is disappointing to me that in the year 2011 so many young women continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance -- in this case, by posting photos of themselves on Facebook as a form of advertisement. Perhaps this reflects the distorted value pegged to women's looks throughout the popular culture and in reality programming from 'The Bachelor' to 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians.'"

(Michael A. Stefanone and Derek Lackaff. "Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior." Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. 2011.)

It is evident to me that most young women want both to look sexy and to be respected for their positive, strong personality traits. Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity. Virginia Woolf, , writes "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size."
This subsex image still exists. Perhaps time will lead to its demise.

Amber Pawlik, author of  Objectivist Sexuality: An Outline for Happily Ever After, believes as far as sexuality goes, nothing is more alluring to men than a woman who embraces her femininity, i.e., loves and embraces the fact that she is a woman. Pawlik says a sexual woman is not in denial of her nature as a woman, and she embraces it, plays it up, and accentuates it. Pawlik calls this a heightened sense of her femininity, and she admits even having ideal characteristics is not as powerful in alluring men as embracing femininity.

(Amber Pawlik. Objectivist Sexuality: An Outline for Happily Ever After. 2010.)

So, here I am. Once again, I am in the fog about females -- comfortable territory that I've become extremely familiar with after all of these years. I'm typically lost without even a slippery grip on the nature of the mind of women.

What did I learn about posting sexy photos from this elementary research? Allow me to summarize:

1. Many women post sexy, revealing photos on social media. A number of them feel great pressure to do so in order to attract men.
2. Women who post these photos think this sexualization increases their self-image, which, in actuality, may or may not happen. It may even cause men and other women to view them as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks.
3. Men like sexy women (with much connotation as to the line between "trashy" and "sensual"), and men enjoy looking at online photos of these females.
4. Although men like sexy women, they may also objectify them as pieces of flesh and even disrespect their attempts to be more appealing.
5. Despite all of the potential problems associated with sexy and revealing photos, women continue to post these photos and continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance.

Confused? You bet. Both sexes love sexy, sensual partners. I know that. Still, I have no idea how a woman, especially a young lady, deals with portraying an image that is just right -- not too revealing and cheap but also not too stodgy and prudish. Men, at least those with warm blood, are going to look at all photos of females, no matter the composition of the poses. Will women look too. I imagine they will. And, I guess the viewers' emotions dictate their approval or disapproval of what they think they have seen. I believe it is best for a well-intentioned woman to err on the side of caution and choose not to reveal too much flesh or too much overt and extremely suggestive sexuality.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Infections Causing Mental Illness -- Madness?

Do you have a mental illness? Do you believe you genetically inherited your affliction? What if I told you that something may have infected your body and caused the disease? You would likely be ready to have me committed, right? Before you think I fabricated all of this, you may want to read this entry.

Harriet A. Washington is a Shearing Fellow at the University of Nevada's Black Mountain Institute. She has been a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School and a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University. She also has held fellowships at the Harvard School of Public Health, Stanford University and DePaul University College of Law.

Dr. Washington and a handful of researchers are researching whether mental illnesses are really caused by our immune system’s response to powerful microbial infections. Washington reports in her new book, Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We "Catch" Mental Illness (2015) that some researchers in the field believe microbes may be responsible not only for clear-cut diseases like typhoid and tuberculosis, but also for mental illnesses such as anorexia, obsessive-­compulsive disorder and schizophrenia — but "in a less tidy manner."

(Meghan O'Rourke. "‘Infectious Madness,’ by Harriet A. Washington."
The New York Times. December 31, 2015.)

"Less tidy"? The findings support the germ theory, but, in no way, limit the causes of mental illness to microbes. Still, even if Harriet Washington's analysis accounts for only 10 to 20 percent of mental illnesses that are partly caused by pathogens, she believes it includes major afflictions such as autism. And, that belief represents a monumental paradigm shift that replaces psychosocial factors with biological ones as the cause of mental illness.

In her book, Washington relates research showing "that infections may shape us in utero and in our youth by triggering immune reactions our naïve immune system isn’t properly equipped to manage. This can lead to out-of-control inflammation or autoimmune responses, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue."

We have long accepted that mental illness is caused by infection, as with paresis (in late-stage syphilis) and rabies. Yet, Washington is trying to show that a host of other disorders are caused by it too. This is a radical way of conceptualizing disease.

Among the most persuasive data she summarizes is evidence that obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example, can be triggered by strep throat practically overnight in a percentage of susceptible children.

Consider a study conducted by Susan Swedo, pediatrician at the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.), who says ...

"Strep throat can trigger O.C.D., Tourette’s and anorexia in the genetically predisposed by way of a condition she calls Pandas, or pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders. In other words, the infection triggers an outsize immune response whose consequences manifest as, say, O.C.D.

"They (researchers) found that these children tended to have an antigen — a molecule that causes the body to make immune responses to it — making them vulnerable to rheumatic fever. In another study, when they gave immune-modulating interventions to 18 kids with O.C.D., 16 of the children improved."

(Meghan O'Rourke. "‘Infectious Madness,’ by Harriet A. Washington."
The New York Times. December 31, 2015.)

And, even schizophrenia ... psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey also noticed reports that schizophrenia rates rose in the United States the same year cat ownership became popular, a fact that has led researchers to look into Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that cats transmit to humans. It’s not harmful to ­everyone — though it appears to make those who harbor it more sexually aggressive — but a pregnant woman can pass it to her child in the womb, where it causes damage. Washington quotes from a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry that found that “children of mothers who contracted T. gondii while pregnant did suffer higher rates of schizophrenia than other children.”

In Infectious Madness, Washington posits not only that many instances of Alzheimer's, OCD, and schizophrenia are caused by viruses, prions, and bacteria, but also that with antibiotics, vaccinations, and other strategies, these cases can be easily prevented or treated.

In the Kirkus book review for Infectious Madness, the site concludes ...

"In making the infectious pitch, Washington rightly argues that it strengthens the case for abandoning the Cartesian dualism that separates mind from body and leads to stigma and fear. It’s acceptable to study how infection and immunity affect the brain, but only as part of a larger agenda to understand the brain in all its plasticity and complexity.

"Conclusion: an unproven but undoubtedly provocative case. Expect dissent and discussion."

My Take

With her work, Harriet A. Washington shows that accepting the notion of “catching” mental illness requires blurring the line between afflictions of the mind and body. Before you scoff at her research, it would behoove you to remember that scientists began to accept germ theory only in the 18th century. Before that time, the "scientific community" blamed infections on causes such as sin and demonic influence.

And, think of the absurd beliefs held in past ages that mental illnesses were a mixture of the divine, diabolical, magical and transcendental -- times when belief in the four humors (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) were common, and times when supposed cures like purges, bloodlettings, and whippings were applied to those who suffered mental health problems. 

Even the last fifty years have led to major changes in the understanding of mental illness and
substance abuse – from scientific knowledge about causes, to the shift from treatment in long-term care facilities (or “asylums“) to community-based care with short, periodic hospitalization.

I, like Washington, believe many illnesses are both mental and physical in nature. This is not to deny that more traditional causes of mental illnesses -- stress, trauma, genetics -- still apply. They do. But,
since infections and microbes are already solidly linked to certain mental disorders, I think much more research is needed in germ theory. Much of the public still has a stigma about mental illness that serves to stifle new scientific work in the field.

"Nothing defines the quality of life in a community more clearly than people who regard themselves, or whom the consensus chooses to regard, as mentally unwell."

--Renata Adler, American author and journalist


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Trump Boycotts Debate -- "I'll Take My Ball and Go Home"

I understand the premises. Politicians are largely partisan, and many are corrupt. The government is broken. But, the conclusion that follows -- there must be significant changes in the ruling class -- is not going to happen if Donald Trump is elected. He is not presidential material.

Trump supporters are conservatives and disaffected moderates who no longer strictly identify with either party. They are fed up with political correctness and policies that stifle economic growth. We all want a government that is more representative of the people -- all people. Donald Trump is not a leader who will serve that vision because he is a dealer, not a standup statesman.

In the game of politics, not only does Donald Trump want to control the ball, but also he wants to own it. If things don't go his way, he resorts to name calling, scapegoating, and denouncing whoever challenges his participation. As a last resort to appeasing his own selfish interests, he simply takes his ball and walks off out of the arena.

Trump's actions speak as loud as his reckless, abusive mouth ...

Trump has repeatedly suggested he might skip this week's GOP debate on Fox News unless he is confident Megyn Kelly would treat him fairly. I can hear some already mouthing "poor baby."

And now, the word is that Trump is going to boycott the debate, an event in which candidates have the opportunity to make their closing arguments before voting begins in Monday's Iowa caucuses. His campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said in a pair of television interviews Wednesday, January 27, that Trump, a billionaire businessman, "knows when to walk away from a bad deal."

"They think they can toy with Mr. Trump," Lewandowski said of Fox News on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "Mr. Trump doesn't play games." He said the decision shows Trump is a leader who "understands when a bad deal is in front of him and is ready to walk away from a bad deal, something that this country should be able to do."

Doesn't play games? Walk away from scrutiny as a presidential candidate? Bad deal? How outrageous. In a move that is so politically conceived and stinks of sour gamesmanship, Donald Trump betrays his own self-aggrandizing convictions. What kind of candidate walks away from situations that simply don't appeal to his liking? Call it what it is -- "the same good old boy tactics" -- but with Trump, add the adjectives egomaniacal and spoiled. He talks the talk but where is his presidential "walk"?

This boycott stems from a feud with Fox News host and scheduled debate moderator Megyn Kelly. In the first Republican primary debate, Kelly took Trump to task over derogatory statements he'd made in the past aimed at women. Acting in his usual offensive manner, Trump ridiculed the moderator and called her a "lightweight" and biased. Now, he has decided he simply won't subject himself to scrutiny unless reporters play on his terms.

After the first debate, Trump insinuated that Kelly treated him unfairly because she was menstruating. "She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions," Trump told CNN after the August debate. "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." Of course, Trump predictably denied referring to menstruation.

This is not the first time Trump has threatened to skip debates. He has used this juvenile threat against the media in the past but has yet to follow through until now. In addition to his distaste for Kelly, Trump is apparently angry about statements from Fox saying the leaders of Iran and Russia "both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president" and that "Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings."

(Jill Colvin. "Trump not backing down from Fox debate boycott."
Associated Press. January 27, 2016.)

And this man (and evidently legions of other supporters) wants to be the leader of the free world? What kind of president would act with so much self-centered, bad intent because of inquiry about things he has said and policies he has supported?

Acting this way about the debate may be a major political blunder for Donald Trump. He claims he can face down China, Iran and the Islamic State. Now, he can't "stand up" at a debate? How weak is this? Marc Thiessen, of The New York Times, says Trump often dishes out criticism of weakness in others. Thiessen explains ...

"In October, a few months after Black Lives Matter protesters took the microphone from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a campaign rally, Trump mocked Sanders mercilessly and said it 'showed such weakness.' He even put up a Web ad that asked how Sanders could fight the Islamic State if he could not handle Black Lives Matter protesters."

(Marc A. Thiessen. "Skipping Fox debate is Trump’s first major misstep." 
The New York Times.

Thiessen says by handing the debate stage to Ted Cruz and essentially giving his opponent free airtime in which to attack Trump without opposition, Trump is assuming his boycott will not affect a winning outcome. This is a calculated, but admittedly questionable move. Although Trump’s staunch supporters will likely applaud his decision to skip the debate, undecided voters might not see it that way.

For a candidate so confident in his guts and his glory, Donald Trump is too easily intimidated by scrutiny. This is the statement in response to the boycott released by Fox News:

"As many of our viewers know, FOX News is hosting a sanctioned debate in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday night, three days before the first votes of the 2016 election are cast in the Iowa Caucus. Donald Trump is refusing to debate seven of his fellow presidential candidates on stage that night, which is near unprecedented.

"We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage. Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly.

"In a call on Saturday with a FOX News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees.

"Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions."

("Full statement on Trump declining to participate in Fox News/Google Debate."
Fox News. January 27, 2016.)

To close, the turncoat inclinations of Donald Trump are so very evident. In a 2011 interview about a debate Trump was trying to host with Newsmax, he criticized Republican candidates who refused to attend a forum he tried to put together. He said then ...

"We're not seeing a lot of courage."

Guess who was moderating? Yep, Megyn Kelly. And, in 2011, Trump praised her moderating skills. 

Kelly, at the time, asked him, “Do you really think you’re a better moderator than I am?”

Trump replied, “No. I could never beat you. That wouldn’t even be close. That would be no contest.”
He added, “You have done a great job, by the way. And I mean it.”

("Trump in 2011: Rips candidates skipping debate, praises Megyn Kelly.
Fox News. January 27, 2016.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"You're Gonna Shoot Me Down, Put My Body in the River": The Body Electric


The Body Electric 

Said you're gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
Shoot me down, put my body in the river
While the whole world sings, sing it like a song
The whole world sings like there's nothing going wrong

He shot her down, he put her body in the river
He covered her up, but I went to get her
And I said, "My girl, what happened to you now?"
I said, "My girl, we gotta stop it somehow"

Oh, and tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so sick and sad?
Tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so gone mad?

He's gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
Cover me up with the leaves of September
Like an old sad song, you heard it all before
Well, Delia's gone, but I'm settling the score

Oh, and tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's just dying slow?
Tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for his daughter when it's her turn to go?

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff, an American folk-blues band from New Orleans, wrote the song "The Body Electric" because she was horrified by rapes from India to America's college campuses. She became all too familiar with audiences that would accept songs containing gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition. With her song, she hoped to help change that.

(Ann Powers. "The Political Folk Song Of The Year."
National Public Radio. December 11, 2014.)

Segarra explains ...

"I wanted to let out some of my rage and speak about my desire for the world to change. I had been reading the news a lot, about young girls in American high schools getting gang-raped by their school mates, about a medical student in New Delhi India who was killed and gang-raped on a public bus. I felt so distraught by the state of our world.

"Then, I go out to a bar and watch a honky tonk band and they're singing a murder ballad song they wrote, about shooting a woman down cause she did wrong. I couldn't laugh anymore; I was too emotionally connected. I wanted to write a song a woman could sing along to and feel empowered by.

"It was a feminist statement, but as time goes on I learn more about the song than I knew. It's become about the culture of violence we live in, that accepts the deaths of people of color, queer people and women as commonplace. We are not disposable — we are living our lives as targets and we are tired of that."

(Dan Reilly. "Hurray for the Riff Raff Follow Trayvon Martin Tribute
With Video to Aid Abused Mother." Rolling Stone. October 17, 2014.)

While the group has performed the song live on national television and at radio stations around the world, Segarra also commissioned notable Nashville filmmaker Joshua Shoemaker to craft a video of "The Body Electric" that is deeply thought-provoking. The video is a meditation on the acceptance of violence and discrimination against people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. In it, classic imagery is used to advance the narrative.

The song has drawn high praise from various music publications. "The Body Electric" drew Best Song kudos on many year-end lists, including the No. 1 spot in American Songwriter magazine.

See the video of "The Body Electric" by clicking here:

Another video featuring the song tells the story of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot to get her abusive husband to stop attacking her, just 10 days after she gave birth to her third child. He was unhurt in the altercation. Despite using the Stand Your Ground defense, the one that exonerated Zimmerman in Martin's death, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty, then sentenced her to 20 years under the state's arcane guidelines.

 See the video of "The Body Electric" featuring Marissa Alexander by clicking here:

Segarra says ...

"It will hopefully continue to do its work by encouraging the listener to question the culture of violence we are living in.

"I am mostly familiar with how the song has taught me there is a true connection between gendered violence and racist violence. There is a weaponization of the body happening right now in America. Our bodies are being turned against us. Black and brown bodies are being portrayed as inherently dangerous. A Black person's size and stature are being used as reason for murder against them.

"This is ultimately a deranged fear of the power and capabilities of black people. It is the same evil idea that leads us to blame women for attacks by their abusers. Normalizing rape, domestic abuse and even murder of women of all races is an effort to take the humanity out of our female bodies. To objectify and to ridicule the female body is ultimately a symptom of fear of the power women hold."

(Ann Powers. "The Political Folk Song Of The Year."
National Public Radio. December 11, 2014.)

Through an Indiegogo campaign, Hurray for the Riff Raff also started the Body Electric Fund, which paid for the video premiere while also benefiting community organizations dedicated to working against violence such as Third Wave, a gender-justice activism group for youth, and The Trayvon Martin Foundation, which supports the families of victims of violent crimes while raising awareness about racial and gender profiling.

"The Body Electric" is on Small Town Heroes, the groups sixth album and the first on a major independent label. Alynda Lee Segarra is a Bronx native who immersed herself in the downtown punk scene and started a band. At 17, she ran away from home and spent her late teens hopping trains before settling in New Orleans, where busking became her means of musical self-education.

Of herself, Segarra notes ...

"A Puerto Rican from the Bronx who went to the South, who also feels queer, who also loves classic country and rock 'n' roll. What's interesting about all of those elements together is that it can attract a lot of different people, can relate to it. That's something I've learned over time: learning how to be comfortable with yourself as a complex person, and feeling like you don't need to throw away any part of yourself in order to become an artist, or feel connected to one particular group."

(Ann Powers. "Hurray For The Riff Raff's New Political Folk."
National Public Radio. January 23, 2014.)


Of course, the title of the song alludes to Walt Whitman's free verse poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” which appeared in the 1860 volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of the human body, both male and female, that dwells on its physicality -- in many forms --  its sexuality, and its divinity.

In "Sing the Body Electric," Whitman likens the body to the soul. He makes the point that the body
and the soul are inextricably intertwined and therefore, devaluing or mistreating the body is also a
crime against the soul. He professes that the body does not corrupt the soul, as is a common
Christian belief.

Whitman emphasizes that the human body is sacred because it acts as the linkage between the soul
and the world. He does not pick the body or soul to be more important than one or the other but
suggests that both are "helpers of each other: that enable spirituality and poetry."

I Sing the Body Electric (Excerpt)

By Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.