On the rise of mental illness on college campuses

 

It’s not just at Middlebury. As Sailer notes in his review of Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind

A remarkable fraction of current articles in The New York Timesand The New Yorker include testimony that the author feels emotionally traumatized, which is stereotypically attributed to the malevolence of Donald Trump. But the evidence in The Coddling of the American Mind points to the second Obama administration as being the era when the national nervous breakdown began.

The authors cite alarming evidence of a recent increase in emotional problems. For example, the percentage of college students who said they suffered from a “psychological disorder” increased among males from 2.7 percent in 2012 to 6.1 percent by 2016 (a 126 percent increase). Over the same four years, the percentage of coeds who saw themselves as psychologically afflicted rose from 5.8 percent to 14.5 percent (150 percent growth).

Sailer blames the Obama administration, eg, the DOE releasing new definitions of “sexual harassment” that depend more on emotion than reason, but this is only playing kick the can, because why would the Obama DOE want to redefine sexual harassment in the first place? 

So I propose a slightly different origin for the current hysteria: 

If you incentivise lying, you get more lying. If you incentivise social signaling, you get more social signaling. The next thing you know, you get a social signaling spiral.

So people start lying because it gets them status points, but people are kind of bad at lying. Lying is cognitively taxing. The simplest way to make lying less taxing is to believe your own lies.

So the more people get involved in signaling spirals, the more they come to believe their own lies.

Meanwhile, everyone around them is engaged in the same signaling spiral, too. 

People get their view of “Reality” in part by checking it against what everyone else believes. If everyone in your village says the stream is to the east, even if you’ve gotten turned around and feel like it’s to the west, you’ll probably just follow everyone else and hope you get to water. If everyone around you is lying, there’s a good chance you’ll start to believe their lies.

(Let’s face it, most people are not that bright. Maybe a little bright. Not a lot. So they go along with society. Society says eat this, don’t eat that–they trust. Society is usually right about things like that, and the ones that aren’t die out. 

Trust is key. If you trust that someone has your back, you listen to them. You take advice from them. You might even try to make them proud. If you don’t trust someone, even if they’re right, you won’t listen to them. If you don’t trust them, you assume they want you dead and are trying to trick you. 

Since our system is now full of liars, trust is suffering.)

Eventually there’s just one sane person left in the room, wondering who’s gone insane: them, or everyone else.

In the case of the “mental health breakdown” on the left, it’s a combination of the left lying about its mental health and believing its own lies about things that are bothering it.

But what incentivised lying in the first place? 

Sailer dates the emergence of the insanity to 2012-13, but I remember the emergence of the current SJW-orthodoxy and its rabid consumption of what had formerly known as “liberalism” back in the Bush years, back around 2003. I was surprised at the time by the speed with which it went mainstream, spreading from “this thing my friends are arguing about” to “everyone on the internet knows this.” 

Facebook. 

It’s Facebook. 

Zuckerberg launched “TheFacebook”, featuring photos of Harvard students, in 2004. From there it spread to other prestigious schools, and opened fully to the public in 2006. Because of its real name policy, FB has always incentivized people toward holiness spirals, and it began with an infusion of people who already believed the SJW memeplex that was hot at Harvard in 2004. 

At this point, it’s not necessarily Facebook itself that’s spreading things, and it was never just facebook. There are plenty of other social media sites, like MySpace, Reddit, and Twitter, that have also spread ideas. 

The lethality of disease is partially dependent on how difficult it is to spread. If a disease needs you to walk several miles to carry it to its next host, then it can’t go killing you before you get there. By contrast, if the disease only needs you to explode on the spot, it doesn’t need to keep you alive long enough to get anywhere. Where population are dense, sanitation is non-existent, and fleas are rampant, you get frequent plague outbreaks because disease has a trivial time jumping from person to person. Where populations are low and spread out, with good sanitation and few vermin, disease has a much harder time spreading and will tend to evolve to coexist with humans for at least as long as it takes to find a new host. 

For example, chicken pox has been infecting humans for so long that it is adapted to our ancestral tribal size (which is pretty small,) so it has developed the ability to go dormant for 20 or 40 years until a whole new generation of uninfected people is born. 

AIDS kills people, but because its method of transmission (mostly sex) is not as easy as jumping fleas or contaminated water, it takes a long time. People who’ve caught bubonic plague generally die within a week or so; untreated AIDS patients last an average of 11 years. 

The internet has allowed memes that used to stay put in colleges to spread like wildfire to the rest of the population. (Similarly, talk radio allowed conservative memes to spread back in the 80s and 90s, and the adoption of the printing press in Europe probably triggered the witch hunts and Protestantism.) 

Anyway, this whole SJW-system got perfected on social media, and strangely, much of it is dependent on this performative mental illness. Eg, in “Don’t call people with uteruses ‘women’ because that’s triggering to trans people,” the mental illness claim is that the word “women” is “triggering” to someone and therefore ought to be avoided. The word “triggered” means “to trigger a panic attack,” as in someone with PTSD.

The use of “triggered” in most of these cases is absolutely false, but people claim it because it gets them their way. 

And if people are lying a bunch about having mental illness, and surrounded by nasty, toxic people who are also lying about mental illness, and if lying is cognitively taxing, then the end result is a lot of stressed out people with mental issues. 

Cultural Marxists are the Real Capitalists: A Critical Critique of Critical Criminology

Critical Criminology claims that:

  1. The legal system was created by and for the ruling class (cishetero white males) in order to keep the rich rich and the poor and oppressed poor and oppressed.
  2. To this end, crimes the poor commit (such as burglary) are heavily penalized, while crimes the rich commit (such as racism or insider trading) are not.
  3. Many of the “crimes” of the oppressed (like rape, assault, mugging, and mass rioting) shouldn’t be considered crimes at all, but are just desperate attempts at survival
  4. The “real crimes” are things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., which create the oppressive capitalist society that creates common street crime
  5. When racism sexism, homophobia, etc. are outlawed, then we can create the perfect socialist state which will have no crime.

Creationism is more factually solid than Critical Criminology, but Critical Criminology is taught in real universities alongside real theories about how the world works.

But let’s step back a moment. #1 is at least partially true–the rich do have a disproportionate influence on the legal system and the poor are often at its mercy. Corporations and wealthy individuals do use their money and influence to get legislation written and enforced in ways that benefit themselves.

But which crimes, exactly, are the rich interested in prosecuting? Do they care if a drug addict steals wallets down in the ghetto? They don’t live in the ghetto. They use their money to insulate themselves from violent crime by buying houses in nice, gated neighborhoods with private security forces.

It’s the poor who are the primary victims of crime, and it’s the poor who’d like murderers to be arrested. Only someone who is rich enough not to live with the threat of violent crime could possibly say something as stupendously idiotic and  insensitive as “rape and assault aren’t real crimes.”

If critical criminologists are the wealthy, then wouldn’t they, logically, be trying to reshape the legal system to benefit themselves?

Meanwhile, they accuse the wealthy of  racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., but these attitudes are actually associated with the poor. Rich whites absolutely pride themselves on being open-minded, tolerant, anti-racist, feminist, etc, and are horrified at all of the racist, sexist, Islamophobic bigotry embodied in low-class Trump voters.

So the crimes these wealthy critical theorists are trying to get outlawed are not things that the rich are doing, but things the rich want the poor to stop doing.

Here I could cite a dozen examples, from Hate Speech laws in Britain being more strongly enforced than rape laws to Hillary Clinton’s “Would bringing down the banks end racism?” speech to Piers Morgan complaining about Islamophobia.

Why are the capitalists so intent on smashing bigotry in all its forms?

Simple: Capitalism wants to make money. Capitalism doesn’t care about oppressing brown people, or women, or gays, or Muslims, or foreigners, or anyone. Capitalism just wants the best possible ratio of worker quality : worker cost. If Mexicans can do the same job as Americans for half the cost, then capitalists want to hire Mexicans and they want Americans to stop trying to pass laws limiting the number of Mexican immigrants who can come work for the capitalists. If Europe is facing a labor crisis because Europeans haven’t made enough new workers to fill the factories and finance the welfare state, then European capitalists must import new workers and they want European workers to stop complaining about the terrorist attacks. Capitalism just wants to hire “the best person for the job” or at least the cheapest person who’ll do an adequate job.

The only odd part is that capitalists are wrapping themselves in the Communist flag while imprisoning people for objecting to the importation of cheap, union-breaking labor. We could accuse them of lying–or gaslighting–except many of them seem to really believe it. Perhaps socialism provides the necessary tool for lying to themselves. “Oh, I am not actually screwing over the poor by advocating on behalf of my own profits.” Most people don’t like to think of themselves as nasty, evil, and self-serving, but they will often project those qualities onto others. (“I’m a nice person, it’s everyone else who’s backstabbing cheaters!”) By casting their enemies (middle and working class white males who don’t want to lose economic security)’s concerns onto the cartoonish figure of the evil capitalist, they simultaneously dismiss those concerns and recast themselves as heroic defenders of the “oppressed.”

Wikipedia has an interesting theory on self-deception:

Some evolutionary biologists, such as Robert Trivers, have suggested[6][page needed] that deception plays a significant part in human behavior, and in animal behavior, more generally speaking. One deceives oneself to trust something that is not true as to better convince others of that truth. When a person convinces himself of this untrue thing, they better mask the signs of deception.[7]

This notion is based on the following logic: deception is a fundamental aspect of communication in nature, both between and within species. It has evolved so that one can have an advantage over another. From alarm calls to mimicry, animals use deception to further their survival. Those who are better able to perceive deception are more likely to survive. As a result, self-deception evolved to better mask deception from those who perceive it well, as Trivers puts it: “Hiding the truth from yourself to hide it more deeply from others.” In humans, awareness of the fact that one is acting deceptively often leads to tell-tale signs of deception, such as nostrils flaring, clammy skin, quality and tone of voice, eye movement, or excessive blinking. Therefore, if self-deception enables someone to believe her or his own distortions, they will not present such signs of deception and will therefore appear to be telling the truth.

Little White Lies and What They Mean

Back on my post about society lying, I mentioned a category of untruth that we might generally consider “little white lies”.

In our society, these lies are generally feel-good statements, like, “everyone is beautiful,” or “don’t care what others think–be yourself!” If you believe these things too literally, you’ll get in a lot of trouble, because reality doesn’t work that way. But if you try to point out that these are lies, you’ll meet a lot of resistance–people are very committed to their lies. Sometimes large chunks of their identities or interaction with the world rest on these sorts of lies.

So what’s up with that?

I mentioned in the previous post that I was over-simplifying, and I am. You see, I have only explored the situation so far from the POV of someone like me–someone who takes things literally and prefers factual analyses over emotional ones.

Most people aren’t like me.

Most people, (as far as I can tell,) do most of their functional thinking via their emotions, and use words not in precise ways to convey actual facts about the world, but wield them like the blobs of paint in an impressionist painting to convey the emotions they feel on a subject.

Confusing one approach for the other leads to great miscommunication. The facts-and-numbers person misunderstands the feelings-person, and starts rambling off about a bunch of irrelevant fact-things that the feelings-person either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about. The only thing that is clear to the feelings-person is that the facts-person is a humorless jerk who keeps saying their feelings are wrong. The only thing clear to the facts-person is that the feelings-person makes no damn sense because they keep saying stuff that is wrong.

Let’s use the Trolley Problem as an example. Suppose a trolley is about to kill a bunch of children who have accidentally wandered onto a railroad track, but you could save them by pushing another person in front of the trolley. You know the problem.

Present this problem to a feelings-person, and imagining trolleys killing children will make them unhappy and sad and the alternative of murdering someone will also make them unhappy and sad. The feelings-person concludes that you must be a terrible person because you asked them this question that made them feel so terrible. What kind of monstrous person goes around thinking about trolleys murdering children?

The facts-person, meanwhile, has gotten totally annoyed at the feelings-person for not answering the hypothetical and turning this nice, reasonable discussion of utilitarian calculi into a flame war about their totally irrelevant feelings.

So when dealing with feeling-people, the important thing to remember is to try to understand what they mean, rather than what they say. When a feelings-person says, “Be yourself!” what they actually mean is, “I think society should be generally more accepting of certain forms of quirky and essentially harmless variation, and people should be generally less concerned with what others think. I pledge not to be too judgmental of people who are a little different in ways that aren’t too weird or disruptive, and may myself be a little quirky.” This is a fine message; you just have to understand that this is what “be yourself!” actually means, and not mistake it for actually encouraging you to go to work naked (or whatever you would do if there were nothing stopping you.)

(Likewise, feeling-people, when dealing with facts-people, they aren’t trying to be kill-joys. They just require a lot of tolerance and clarity.)

Society is Constantly Lying

There is a story in which a man makes the gaslights in his house flicker, and every time his wife notices this, tells her he hasn’t seen anything. Over time, she starts thinking she’s going crazy.

Society also does this, albeit (probably) less intentionally.

Humans are notoriously bad at judging a source’s reliability–take about 1,600 years of near absolute faith in the literal truthfulness of the Bible, a book that’s obviously nonsense.

Increasing quantities of easily accessed information in the past century have made people much better at discerning bullshit, but we have a new problem: we’re now getting almost all of our information about the world not from direct experience, (Hey, it’s raining on me! I’m wet!) but from reports from other people–books, newspapers, media, the Wikipedia, your best friends, etc. Our general ability to judge the reliability of sources is therefore up against far more potential sources of misinformation and manufactured consent.

Common ways society lies:

1. Discordant Sum: Since your exact experiences are unlikely to be identical to everyone else’s exact experiences, your reality and society will probably be slightly discordant. This is generally innocuous, innocent, and easy to deal with–you just have to realize that you happen to like handbags more than everyone else, or are poorer than the people on TV, or hate chocolate.

Sometimes it’s a bigger deal, like if you are naturally more or less aggressive than the rest of society, have kids who don’t act like other kids, or you have been made one of the secret Presidents of Earth. Sometime society is wrong. Sometimes you’re wrong. It can be very hard to tell the difference.

2. Active lying to sound “nice”: people say a ton of nice-sounding stuff, like, “Appearances don’t matter,” “be yourself,” “don’t care what other people think about you,” “everyone is beautiful,” “school is fun,” “learning is valuable for its own sake,” “You don’t need other people to be happy,” etc. These lies may be valuable to a subset of people, but they are also harmful to another subset. If you take this advice seriously, say, by wearing sweatpants to job interviews and picking your nose on dates, you will discover, very quickly, that society actually cares A LOT about your appearances and behavior. And at least those are things you *can* change. Fat, short, and ugly people can do very little about the fact that society discriminates constantly against them.

Nerds and aspie people seem particularly likely to believe these lies, perhaps because they lack the natural impulse to imitate others that would normally counteract them. Nerds follow these rules, and then are confused when they are treated badly because of their appearances, and may decide that the rest of the world is “bad” for not following the “rules” and valuing dumb things like appearances.

But if you try to point out that these are lies and actually terrible advice, you will get attacked. How dare you say that fat people are more likely to be poor! You’re just fat-shaming! No, fat people are discriminated against in hiring. (I have had this exact conversation with people on multiple occasions.) It’s bad enough to lie, but attacking people for pointing out that these are lies and harmful is just low.

Also forbidden: the suggestion that dumb people might have trouble managing their money and getting high-paying jobs, which could make them disproportionately poor. The suggestion that you should care what other people think because they have actual power to make your life better or worse. That spending increasingly large amounts of money on education is not always increasingly valuable. That society’s behavior standards might actually be good. That most humans do best when in relationships of various sorts with other humans, the desire for which is instinctual. Etc.

The good thing is that once you do realize that this is all BS, you can actually pick the ways you want to comport yourself, dress, spend your time, etc., within your own natural limits and income, to get the results you desire. If you want to get a job, you can dress and comport yourself like a job applicant; if you’re on a date, you can wear clothes appropriate to a date. In personal life, you can pursue relationships that make you happy without feeling guilty about being weak. in more extreme cases, people should not feel bad about using plastic surgery, hormone therapies, liposuction, or other techniques to alter the ways people treat them, or if those are not options, at least they can understand that society shits upon them for reasons that aren’t their fault.

3. The News Agenda: The media (and now, websites and blogs) pick certain news stories to emphasize, often manufacturing completely a-factual scares, eg:
A. European witch-panics
B. Justification for the Mexican-American War
C. Anti-Semitic propaganda circa 1930-1945
D. Satanic Daycare Scare
E. Monica Lewinski Scandal
F. Numerous non-existent crime waves
G. Benghazi
H. “Internet Predators”
I. “Rape culture”

etc.

Some of these panics have been entirely fictional, like the Satanic Daycare Scare. Many involve manipulating story-selection, eg, by suddenly switching to only covering one sub-set of crime so that it sounds like there’s been a huge jump in that kind of crime.

The average person is unlikely to actually know statistics on these issues–do you know the recidivism rates of different kinds of released criminals off the top of your head? How about a breakdown of crime rates for the past three decades? There’s been a lot of talk lately about police shootings and race, most of which focuses around a few well-publicized cases, but how much do you actually know about the subject?

The dangers of making bad decisions based on manufactured moral panics ought to be obvious: you might literally burn innocent people at the stake, pass restrictive laws to stop non-existent problems, waste valuable resources, or completely miss real problems that actually need work.

And once people get deep into these kids of panics, it can be almost impossible to talk them back to reality. People tend to assume the only reason you would question the factual validity of the panic is to stop them from rooting out and destroying the evil. You must be on the side of evil, otherwise you wouldn’t be claiming it doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, a discussion about the difficult task of, say, determining optimum levels of immigration and streamlining the system so it is fair and efficient, just isn’t as much fun as either yelling about how the immigrants are destroying America or yelling about how conservatives are mean to nice, beneficial immigrants.

The media also does a lot of lying about subjects that aren’t scares or panics, like the common claim that more school funding and more college will solve all of our problems.

4. Fiction: Obviously fiction is made-up, but most people don’t have Don-Quixote-style problems with books. Problems araise when book authors purposefully and consistently lie, which, by the way, they do.

They lie for two reasons:
A. To be interesting. If books reflected reality exactly, they’d be a lot more boring.
B. To push agendas or “educate” the reader.

I realized this after spending quite a while on writers’ forums, and reading a thread in which authors were explicitly talking about fudging reality. Sure, they said, the vast majority of time, X is like FOO, but why can’t it be like BAR? Why not portray X as BAR?

For example, sure, most math majors might be male, but why not a female one? And the best students in your class are probably disproportionately Asian, but why not black? Most penniless orphans remain penniless orphans, but why not have the child adopted by a rich, loving, childless couple? Most kids don’t really like school, but why not a book about kids who love school?* And I assume that most people in Pakistan are actually pretty happy with their own society, but why not a book about someone who wants to change things?

*(If school were really so much fun, we wouldn’t need so many books to convince kids that it is. We don’t have to read kids books about how awesome ice cream is, after all.)

Combine “the counter-factual is more fun to read about” and “I would like to encourage the world to think this way,” and books (sitcoms, movies, etc.) can give a distorted view of the world.

As a result, if your experience with X is primarily through literature, you may end up massively overestimating the likelihood of BAR. And if someone else points out that FOO is actually far more common, you may end up accusing them of trying to defame or lie about X, or otherwise acting in bad faith.