Divergent thinking: Pseudo-science edition

Divergent thinking, thinking outside the box – that little piece of creative craziness that’s in all of us – is what made Newton come up with his theories.

It’s also what made this woman think that a mentally induced force field would repel a man lunging at her.

There must be some irony in here somewhere.

Oh, here it is: even if there actually were a force field, and assuming Newton’s third law is still valid, the impact would still transfer through it and knock her out in exactly the same way…

[~06:00]

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American Spornosexual

No buzzy moniker of a male ideal based on narcissism, bodily obsession and self-absorption — that would be the “Spornosexual“, supposedly found either admiring himself at the gym, or surfing porn — can possibly be complete without American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, our favourite Wall Street psychopath.

Granted that online porn didn’t really exist in the 80’s — but Patrick did hire prostitutes to shoot his own porn, starring himself. I’d say that counts.

Jennifer Lawrence nails the histrionic personality in “American Hustle”

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Jennifer Lawrence made an interesting portrayal of borderline personality disorder (BPD) in the 2011 movie Silver Linings Playbook (actually, the whole movie is a bee hive of personality disorders). Her character, Tiffany, exhibits many of the textbook traits, such as lability, mood swings, splitting etc. The only flaw, in terms of BPD interpretation, is the uptone ending of the movie. Here, Tiffany ameliorates and ends up seemingly at peace and happy. This kind of personal development, though predictable from a viewpoint of cinematic drama, is, unfortunately, uncharacteristic for the disorder. BPD, at its core, is a state of chronic sadness and emptiness.

In American Hustle from 2013, Lawrence plays Rosalyn, the over-dramatic stay-at-home wife to the main protagonist. This is another fine cluster B impersonation by Lawrence, albeit with a histrionic flavor (HPD). Rosalyn employs sexuality, guilt, victimization and a range of other of strategies to get her will. “Passive-aggressive karate”, as her frustrated husband denotes it. Rosalyn can go from scolding to seducing him, literally seconds apart (and he can’t resist).

Rosalyn talks to her son and contradicts herself within the same sentence: “I don’t want to talk ill about your father, but he is an asshole”. This a an example of the fragmented self common for cluster B. Both statements are probably individually true for Roslyn, and the reason they don’t ring false put together is that they do not occupy the same cognitive space; they belong to separate fragments of Rosalyn’s personality that alternate as she speaks.

In one scene Rosalyn walks right up to a group of mobsters in a casino and brazenly starts flirting, right in front of her perplexed husband.

She is described as “the light of the party” by people around her, which is actually a common characterization of HPD in literature.

Later in the movie, Rosalyn deliberately leaks sensitive information to a mobster in order to get back at her husband. He subsequently gets kidnapped and almost killed, but escapes thanks to a last minute plan that fools the mobsters. After his return, Rosalyn now claims it’s him owing her gratitude, for making him come up with such a great plan. Voilà, a brand new narrative with her as the star.

Yet through all of this, Rosalyn is never portrayed as evil or even ill-intended. This is very skillful because while people suffering from HPD may and do cause pain and mayhem, they are nevertheless, in general, none of these things. Rosalyn is first and foremost a prisoner of her own anxiety and fears of being unloved and unseen. Like a permanent state of inner emergency. She is, much like a child, incapable of predicting or admitting bad outcomes of her actions, and even less so of taking responsibility for them. But these are issues of dysfunction, not malevolence.

Equally skillful, Rosalyn is never portrayed as someone who at he end of the day ultimately is all right and who can put her act together when it really matters. As if all that theatrics and oversexualization is something voluntary that can switched off at will. It cannot. As with BPD, the ailments of HPD are chronic and all-pervasive. In one of the final scenes, Rosalyn sits in her car next to the mobster-guy she flirted with and is now dating, complaining over a stiff neck she suffered when crashing into another car; seemingly experiencing some of the self-caused consequences she weren’t able to escape or re-narrate. As she drives away, her (now ex-) husband muses: “She will always be interesting”. He’s probably right.

Narcissism and exploitation: how John Travolta was discarded when his movie flopped

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(Update) (Update II)

Former top Scientology executive Marty Rathbun testifies to some remarkable inside information about the makings of the 2000 mega-flop Battlefield Earth in this interview with Mark Bunker [below]. We knew the movie was based on a sci-fi novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, and that it was a pet project by John Travolta – himself a long time Scientologist. We also knew the movie flopped in almost every category and is widely considered to be one of the worst movies of all time (though I’d still say it’s a decent B-movie). We didn’t know, however, about the close involvement of David Miscavige, the current leader of Scientology.

According to Rathbun, Miscavige micro-managed the entire production and provided day-to-day instructions to the production team. More interestingly, Miscavige was so ecstatic about the result after a pre-release screening that he called Travolta up right afterwards and praised him lavishly for making a great deed for Scientology, that “the old man” (Hubbard) would have been be proud etc.

Then within days of its release, the movie flopped. How did Miscavige react to this? By defending its greatness? By admitting to faults in his personal involvement? No, says Rathbun, as soon as the failure was a fact, Miscavige immediately distanced himself from it. As if he’d had nothing to do with it. Instead Miscavige invented a narrative where it was all Travolta’s fault; because what killed the movie was its “cheesy” special effects, and this was due to Travolta taking too much salary. Travolta fell completely out favor and was humiliated and derided behind his back by Miscavige.

Before commenting further on this, it should be noted that the source, Marty Rathbun, has a complex history in- and outside of the church. He himself used to be one of the top, most hardcore executives within Scientology, before defecting and co-founding the “independent” movement of former church members who still practice Scientology.

Rathbun’s interview (he also speaks about it here):

There are several aspects of narcissism going on here. Perhaps the most obvious one is Miscavige’s unscrupulous exploitation of John Travolta. As long as Travolta was seen as an asset – to Scientology and indirectly to Miscavige himself – Miscavige hailed him to the skies (idealization). But then as the movie flopped, Miscavige immediately discarded him (devaluation). Narcissists don’t see other poeple as human beings with real personalities and emotions, but as extensions of themselves – as sources of supply for their narcissism. The moment a person seizes to be an adequate source of narcissistic supply he by all practical means seizes to exist to the narcissist. He is discarded, forgotten and replaced with a new source.

Another aspect is the way Miscavige distances himself from the movie fiasco despite clearly being involved with it (“for months”, according to Rathbun). One would think that a backstop of cognitive dissonance would force most normal people to face internally at least some of the fallout from such a personal failure. But for a narcissist, blame is impossible because he is by design faultless. Narcissists operate through a split persona – a False Self – which is special, perfect and can do no wrong. Blame is therefore either unwarranted, or deflected away – to the accuser or to someone else (Travolta). This is called blameshifting.

Sam Vaknin theorizes that the narcissist’s unwillingness to accept blame goes even further: that whatever he’s blamed for was the making not really by him – but by his False Self. Because even though his False Self dominates him and subjugates his True Self, it is still an alien part of him. And since he is not in control of his own actions, he cannot be blamed and may detach from them at will.

Vaknin puts it this way (emphasis added):

The narcissist just does not know what he’s doing. Divorced from his true self and unable to emphasize and understand what it’s like to be someone else […] the narcissist is in a constant dream-like state. He experiences his life like a movie autonomously unfolding, guided by a sublime or even divine director. The narcissist is a mere spectator. Mildly interested, greatly entertained at times – but a spectator. He does not feel that he owns his life and his actions. The narcissist therefore emotionally cannot understand why he should be punished. And when he is, he feels grossly wronged.

***

There are numerous other instances where people, including high executives (even entire portions of Scientology’s upper management) within Scientology has fallen out of favor and simply disappeared from the public eye – seemingly discarded – at the hands of Miscavige. One destination for these “unpersons” is The Hole, which is a Gulag prison-like facility at a LA-based Scientology base. Here people are put away for years for harsh interrogations and correction under abominable conditions (“handling” in Orwellian Scientology jargon).

Even Miscavige’s own wife Shelly is one of those disappeared persons and hasn’t been seen in public since 2007. Her absence was actually at center in the recent defection by actress Leah Remini, who dared ask questions about her whereabouts. There’s even rumors that the church is about to “trot her out” to kill off speculations about her that started because of this. Just bizarre.

In a comment to yet another, recent story about the passing of a writer for one of Scientology’s propaganda magazines – Freedom Magazine – former church member and outspoken critic Jefferson Hawkins puts it in this dark but precise way:

A sad story. But don’t expect a glowing obituary in Freedom Magazine. Scientology uses and discards people, and when they die, they are ignored and erased. Veteran Sea Org Members, when they get old or ill, are simply shunted off to some low-rent fleabag senior center or offloaded to their families. Sea Org members who die are simply erased from history and forgotten. […]

Update: For a satirical angle on the subject I recommend this “Shelly Miscavige is NOT missing! “ campaign staged on (as it looks) Hollywood Blvd by two “Sea Org” members…

Update II: Mike Rinder (who worked closely with David Miscavige for years) has written a piece about how associates to Miscavige inevitably become cowed and/or ill. He also compiles an eerie list of top Scientology executive who’ve disappeared one way over the other over the years — basically the who’s who of Scientology management for the last 2+ decades:

where-are-they-now

It should be noted also that even though “the Hole” mentioned earlier is a somewhat extreme manifestation (seemingly invented by Miscavige), punishment and abuse is very much a feature of Scientology that Hubbard himself put into place. For instance, there’s the RPFRehabilitation Project Force – a harsh program where underachieving or disobedient Sea Org members are put pseudo-voluntarily to “rehabilitate” through hard manual labor under social isolation. Ordinary practitioners, even celebrities, who question authority or speak critically are interrogated and forced to confessions through “security checking”, which can go on for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s testimony that abuse were common from early on even under Hubbard’s direct supervision.

Overall there’s ample reason to believe that Hubbard were as malignantly narcissistic as Miscavige is. Put another way; Scientology seems to be designed for the likes of Miscavige to thrive and to be able to rise to power. He is a feature of the organization, not a bug. A feature that likely will lead to its collapse.

Topless protests? Helena Bergström did that on the big screen in 1992…

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Activist group FEMEN organized a protest in the Stockholm Mosque a few days back where they flashed their bodies in protest of oppression and bigotry.

This sounds familiar…

bergstrom_helena34 In the 1992 movie Änglagård (House of Angels), charming big-city girl Fanny (Helena Bergström) visits a small village in rural Sweden to attend a relative’s funeral. She ends up staying for the summer and soon finds out that her outward style and personality is not appreciated by the villagers. In one particular scene, when Fanny’s buying her groceries in the village store, she faces some of the envy and prejudice right up front. Frustrated, she rips her shirt off in front of everyone and states darkly that “I believe it’s gotten way too hot in here”, before storming out of the store. Seemingly her way, as a last resort, to liberate herself from the suffocating narrow-mindedness she found herself caught up in.

A “call for freedom” indeed, as one of the FEMEN spokespersons described their action in the mosque.

“Don’t use social media for serious issues” and the rise of self-censorship

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I suppose there are different ways to react when it comes to the newly leaked (though unsurprising) world wide surveillance programs by the NSA. One can, for instance, protest it by asserting fundamental rights to privacy and free speech, or reject the red herring pretexts of “security”, or remind people that indiscriminate, unchecked governmental surveillance is destined for abuse and corruption, etc. Or, as Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder proposes in the DN article “Don’t use social media for serious issues”, we should simply submit to the realities of this Brave New World and limit our online social outings to lightweight subjects like “choice of breakfast” and “pictures of cats” [translated]:

According to Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder one should be self-critical about what stories to share. To say what you’ve had for breakfast, that you’ve taken a walk, or to post pictures of your cat is fairly innocent.
– That’s about the level you should limit yourself to. Social media is not to be used for more serious issues, she says.

And even though what you post might be legal now, who knows what will happen later:

– Today we live in a democratic society, but that can change and what you do might become illegal. […] The point is that everythings that is used can also be abused. The lesser information there is stored about you and what you do, the lesser the risk for abuse.

The logic behind Löwinder’s advice seems to be that in order to avoid repercussions for one’s opinions – or even future hypothetical criminality – we should render ourselves irrelevant by sticking to trivialities. If this self-capitulating mentality doesn’t froth the mouths of the totalitarian surveillance state architects then nothing will. Who needs big, noisy dictatorships when the citizenry is already self-monitoring and self-censoring?

This also illustrates the process by which surveillance becomes self-perpetuating. The NSA could possess all the resources in the world; surveilling everyone all the time still wouldn’t be plausible. The trick instead is to instill in people a fear of being monitored, since this will cause the individual to monitor herself. Hereby surveillance transforms from a technical to an organic modus operandi, from being imposed to being incepted.

Hollywood actor Jason Beghe used the phrase “It’s a put yourself in jail type of thing” in his lengthy 2008 interview about his time in Scientology. In it, he lays out in great detail what lured him to the cult-like organization, the mental breakdown he faced while staying and the hardships of leaving. One of recurrent themes in his testimony is how he made himself stay, despite getting worse and worse by the practices. He ponders:

If I’m trying to enslave somebody, the last thing I want to do is have to worry about fucking keeping the key in the lock, and you know, the best trap is the kind that will keep himself in jail.

In the case of Scientology, part of the reason people stay is its culture where parishioners are constantly indoctrination to believe that they are to blame for any setback, failure or lack of personal or organizational gain. It’s never Scientology’s fault, it’s your own fault. You need to sort your own issues out. You need to change because the technology is perfect. It is an oppressive and subjugating structure by design.

This game of blameshifting ties in to the notion that it’s somehow the surveillance victim who is expected to take measures and impose self-censorship. Though doing so may still be a rational decision, advocating it under any other premise than extreme measures to draconian circumstances is irresponsible and subjugates the victim under the surveillance apparatus.

I do think Löwinder in general makes a correct observation, but is then diametrically wrong in her solution. We as citizens should indeed stay well aware about the implications and dangers of data collection and surveillance, whether by government or by private companies. But the solution certainly isn’t to restrain expression – but to defend our liberties, demand checks and balances and stay vigilant of abuses of power. And, most importantly, to keep mixing up the everyday postings about cats or coffee foam with the hard, important issues.

DN
The Guardian: SA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily
Atlantic: 71% of Facebook Users Engage in ‘Self-Censorship’