lördag 10 oktober 2015

How to handle a narcissist

I asked Mats Ek today how to handle a megalomaniac psychopath. He concluded that I probably meant narcissist and the advice he gave were so great that I have to share them and expand on them. I also Storified the answer in Swedish.

Take don't take either positive or negative feedback too seriously.

Minimize contact. Do not make yourself dependent on this person.

There is no point in trying to improve their behaviour or in any way change them.

Their actions and relationship to you probably serves a goal of their own (and doesn't concern you as a person). You are seen as an aim to that goal. Therefore, their behaviour towards you may seem erratic and uncomfortable.

In order to understand the narcissist's behaviour towards you, you need to figure out what their goals are, that's the key. For this you probably need outside help.

fredag 9 oktober 2015

On mansplaining

Dear man:
If you disagree with me, I would like to hear why. Not everything around the disagreement, which we agree on, but to the point about what you think I am wrong about and why. If I get the facts wrong you must correct me, I appreciate that. If you are truly an expert in a field, I really would like your opinion.
However; if we are having a discussion and you agree with me and you think I am right, I don’t want you to explain why you think I am right. I already know why I think I am right. I dont want you to describe the general situation for me. I don’t want you to help me making trivial predictions about the future. Unless I got them wrong or unless I asked you; I don’t want you to tell me the facts.
Because if we are in a discussion and you start giving me the basic description of how things (we basically agree on) really are two things happen:

I get bored really quickly

I get offended that you think I didn’t know this

So just don’t. I will be pissed off. I will most likely over-react and tell you to fuck-off, because I get this daily. Then you will have no idea about what is going on (because you tend to do this mansplaining unconsciously and automatically), you will feel hurt and you will utter phrases such as “But I thought we were discussing!”.

Discussing means that we present arguments to eachother. When you start to explain my arguments and their entire CV and future plans to me, we are no longer discussing. You are mansplaining.

lördag 26 september 2015

On the Lacanian concept of Jouissance

I want to talk to you about something which I have struggled with for months to understand, but is really important. What Lacan termed Jouissance cannot be contained within the language, as we know it. Jouissance is the engine and the tension, which drives our relentless, restless and often irrational desires. Jouissance cannot be defined without using words that already have other meanings, which is confusing, so I will stick to calling it Jouissance. It is as if a new way of thinking requires a new language. So let me try to make my language reach beyond its usual uses, to help you recognise something previously un-articulable. And trust me, I am getting somewhere with this.

Jouissance drives desires for pleasures beyond what comes out of just fulfilling our basic needs.
And why is this so important for me to talk about Jouissance? Our Jouissance is a constant tension, a desperate energy; a willingness to act and repeat acts with an effort, which may not stand in a rational proportion to the reward to be expected. Jouissance is the engine behind our ideological fervors, our erotic desires, what drives us to stay up at night to create or seek something or someone. So, the reason I want to talk about Jouissance is that it has implications for how we understand love, sex and politics. Understanding the power that Jouissance has over us is essential for understanding ourselves and how we interpret the actions of people around us, beyond a simple doctrine of utility maximization (or the balancing of pleasures versus pains as in the pleasure principle).

What I will try to convey is obviously none of my own, but has all been conceptualized by Freud, Lacan and the interpreters of Lacan. My need to reformulate my own understanding of Jouissance comes from the struggle I have had to make sense of their language, the language of the psychoanalysts and the philosophers. To me it is impenetrable and instead I have understood Jouissance from a scientific paper written by Ariane Bazan and Sandrine Detandt 2013 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: "On the physiology of jouissance: interpreting the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward functions from a psychoanalytic perspective." Unfortunately this paper, though extremely rich in thoughts and references, was also more or less unreadable (took me weeks). Still I think it is possible to understand the Lacanian concept of Jouissance without understanding neither psychoanalysis nor neuroscience, which is why I try here. Jouissance can be felt from our experience of being humans, with all our memories of our inexplicable desires, urges and obsessions.

So, Jouissance is the restless willingness to act, a tension in the body, an impatience and a longing, which is in itself both pleasurable and painful. Sometimes we are fixed firmly on something or someone that we have identified as the release of this tension, sometimes the longing is for something diffuse, conceptual or religious. Whatever our Jouissance hooks onto it has at some point in the past given an unexpected, surprising pleasure (or sudden release from pain). We are then doomed to repeat the behavior that got us to that initial satisfaction. But whenever we manage to get it again, the reproductions will be compared to an idealized memory of what we had that first time. And the reproductions always turn out to be somewhat disappointing. Instead we find a compulsive pleasure in reproducing the act (or the search) itself, even without the reward. We might even fear the reward or we savor the painful pleasure of an unfulfilled wish.

Thats it. Did you get it? Then we can cut to the chase.

I will follow up this blog-post with one on the importance of Jouissance for sexuality and love, drawing from the thoughts of Bataille. I will also follow up with a blog-post on the implications of Jouissance for politics and ideology, because only then does Slavoj Žižek start to make sense to me (and thats a startling thing in itself). To tap our Jouissance is of utter political importance and companies try all the time in their PR. To fix our Jouissance to an idea of a future (which we then imagine will be satisfying) is the essence of all opinion formation and what ultimately determines citizens willingness to organize and act. The energy released from capturing our Jouissance can recently be exemplified by the mobilization of volunteers in the #refugeeswelcome movement.

onsdag 1 juli 2015

Pain; mode d’emploi

Pain and pain avoidance are some of the fundamental mechanisms shaping us as persons. Pain is a tool in learning and a motivation for acting and reacting.
Pain is often accompanied with discomfort, but not always. Pain may amplify other sensations, give redemption, turn discomfort into pleasure and prime us for reward. Pain is the meter to which we measure our pleasure.

2014, the Norweigian scientist Siri Leknes published the review-article “Benefits of pain” which is an excellent overview over the psychological mechanisms explaining the useful functions of pain. If I don’t give a reference to a statement in this blogpost, it will probably be found there. All of this research is representative for random volunteers.

Pain as an amplifier of sensations

2004 a paper was published showing that a short, painful episode (a painful laser pulse) increased the brains response to “touch” (or actually, a short electric stimulation on the skin, resembling touch). The increased sensitivity, termed “pain-induced facilitation” was shown also apply to touch on completely different places on the body. Pain can be divided into phasic pain (less than 20 s) and tonic pain (more than 20 s). While phasic pain serves to alert the senses, tonic pain will decrease sensation to touch. Pain and pleasure are generally considered as mutually exclusive phenomenon: a sensation of pain prevents subsequent sensations of pleasure, while pleasure of some sort reduces the perception of pain. (Thus people experience intense pleasure may be very tolerant to pain and even injury…)
The pain-induced facilitation has also been shown to enhance taste and the ability to differentiate between different tastes.

Relief from pain is reward

The worse the pain is, the more relief you are going to feel when pain is relieved. This is intuitive. But also, the more scared you are of pain, the worse pain you anticipate, the greater the feelings of reward are when you have avoided the pain. Thus, the greater the contrast between expectation and outcome, the greater the relief. Leknes showed this using fMRI 2011. The feeling of reward (relief) of pessimists when the pain was not delivered was due to signalling in a small spot of the brain called nucleus accumbens (NAc).

How pain will reward us

The NAc is a long known hot-spot for reward-seeking and is essential for learning from painful experience. 2008 Leknes and Irene Tracey wrote a review article “A common neurobiology for pain and pleasure” for Nature. Here the authors describe how tonic pain (longer lasting pain) will trigger dopamine release in NAc, which in turn will stimulate the brain's own reward-system; opioids. Signalling particularly through the m-opioid receptor, MOR, increases the effectiveness of rewards. So, pain will release a burst of motivating dopamine and opioids, which do not only function to decrease pain but will activate us to seek reward and when we get it, feel more satisfied by it. Sustained pain will function pleasure-enhancing.
The ability of pain-induced opioids to enhance pleasurable reward may be a mechanism for why contrasting pain with reward may actually end up with netto increase in pleasure-gain from pain, in some situations. 

The hedonic flip – or the general theory of pain relativity

Siri Leknes and co-workers have also shown that the context of pain will determine if we at all perceive it as pain or pleasure. By contrasting a mild pain (defined as a mild pain on its own) to a stark pain, this made the mild pain be perceived as a pleasure! The very same pain that was uncomfortable when the alternative was absence of pain was suddenly registered as a pleasure when the alternative was a worse pain. This beautifully shows the discrepancy between the concept of pain and discomfort. Though often intermingled, these phenomenon are not synonymous. Pain in its objective sense does not necessarily need to be uncomfortable. Rather the opposite. Leknes is very careful to point out this discrepancy in her reviewarticle form 2014.

The guilt-trip

Scientists have come to realize what the catholic church has known for ages; pain can relieve guilt. By relieving us from an unpleasant feeling, pain allows us to return to a steady-state and this relief equals pleasure. However, the pain that relieves the guilt must stand in relation to the severity of the action that caused the guilt in the first place. Not only does pain relieve guilt in the person that suffers from it; it also provides redemption to the pain-receiver in the eyes of others.

Knowing about these mechanisms provide endless possibilities to extract pleasure from pain, which was the original purpose of this blogpost. However, it turned out to be more of a celebration of the scientist Siri Graff Leknes. She is truly worth that.

söndag 7 juni 2015

Results and conclusion

This blog-post concludes the experiment

Tuesday 2/6 21:30:
Clothes for Monday. Twitter loves clothes and seems to consistently prefer skirts - more elegant than girly. Voting participation reaches an all time high. (about 60 people voted)
I feel relieved to not have to choose my clothes. By choosing clothes is also a manner of choosing which aspects of the personality to display, so it is not as trivial as one might think.

Twitter also decides to not send me out running for the fourth day in a row (8 against 4). Apparently there is a limit to how much you think I should be training. I was a bit worried there for a while.

On the 3 of June, I have an errand to a nearby city. I spontaneously decide to spend the early evening there browsing shops. There was not much point in asking twitter (I was already there). Interestingly I felt guilty. I have at this point internalized an expectation of democratic rule and done it to a duty.

Wednesday 3/6 20:20:
I ask twitter if I should go out to a bar in a nearby city and see a friend or stay at home. I have really no idea what I want. Twitter tells me to stay at home with 13 votes over 8, and I feel a huge relief over not having to decide. I also can blame twitter when I tell my disappointed friend. (Also a relief).

The side-effect of handing over a decision to some other entity is that you never have to doubt if you did the right choice. So many times is our joy of our current situation tainted with the suspicion that it could have been better if we had chosen otherwise. I have a good discussion with one of my followers about how we are ruining the here and now by second-guessing our preferences. In this experiment, regret is not possible anymore. The extent of the relief this absence of self-doubt brought me is surprisingly large.
My conclusion is that unless you can fully accept and embrace your choices, they will not be good, no matter how good your alternatives are. All kind of choices require a degree of submission, and conversely, submission is just the act of removal of doubt.

We also had an interesting question about if the choices build the individual or if choices are just a display of our personalities. For grown-ups I tend to lean towards the latter. The liberal I spoke with rather empathised that our choices continuously build who we are. From that perspective, the experiment that I am doing becomes much more controversial.

Wednesday 3/2 23:00:
A question associated to the use of a drug (a non-addictive, non-neurotoxic drug of which I am not a current user). This was by far the most problematic question during the whole week. Particularly people in law-occupations were very provoked by this question. I had to answer to if this was meant as a pure provocation. Well, the whole experiment is bound to provoke people in one way or another. Though I knew this would be an absolute no-go, I chose to ask anyway, because I was curious about participation and because I honestly considered it. There was a surprising support for the drug (9 votes, 20 votes against)

Thursday 4/2 14:00:
Twitter sends me back out actively dating with 9 votes for and 1 vote against. I remark on that it is very Swedish to combine this very permissive attitude to sex with a restrictive attitude to drugs. We also conclude that this permissiveness for promiscuity is strictly limited to situations out of a relationship and that the strong norms of the monogamous relationship over-rules all of the sexual freedom women otherwise may have.

The remainder of the experiment is not very interested. Twitter sends me out to meet someone in town wearing some skin-tight and violet dress (neither would have happened unless for Twitter), and Twitter told me to work rather than exercise excessively.

A final interesting conclusion of the experiment was how much the voting participants have revealed about themselves in the process. This has been a two way process. I have not done the analysis of individual voting-behaviour, and I will not, but the memories of who voted for what are hard to erase. What is easy to erase is the tweets from the votings this week and that is what I will be doing now.

This experiment has been incredibly productive. The experimental approach has exposed new angles on choice, democracy, power, privacy and submission I don’t think I would ever have seen otherwise.
My conclusion is that I would rather have other people chose between good alternatives than myself be responsible for making choices between bad alternatives. And I like my followers.

tisdag 2 juni 2015

Preliminary results 2

Update in the voting procedure in the experiment

Sunday the 31/5 evening:
Clothes question. Business, causal or dressed up for Monday at work. The more fancy dressed alternative wins with 18 votes over the causal (14), while the business version only gets 5 votes. There is a clear gender bias in the votes – men prefer elegant, feminine clothes (dresses?). I think I need to make a gender analysis later on.

Sunday the 31/5 evening:
Exercise question: Twitter sends me out exercising again Monday morning with 9 votes against 8. (Saturday evening, Sunday morning and Monday morning)

Monday morning 1/6, 09:25 and evening around 17:00:
Weight question. It is time to step this up and give some twitter some real influence. I ask how much weight I should lose.  The turnout is worse than ever before (4, 3, 4 votes for the highest, middle and lowest option). Also, I get several protests. About weight as a measure, about the purpose of losing weight, about the possibility to lose weight. People are not happy and some refuse to answer. Instead of doing a second round straight away, I decided to wait until the evening when more people are online and redo the whole hour.
Now I carefully point out that weightloss is unproblematic for me and that the reason is purely aesthetic.  It doesn’t make people more comfortable. The vote ends with (6, 9, 6 votes for the highest, middle and lowest option). Again there seems to be a gender difference where men prefer the lower weight.
Just how controversial and difficult people think it is to tell a woman what she should weigh became obvious at the next question.

Monday evening 1/6:
Dating question. An overwhelming majority (26 votes) vote for a more free course of action as compared to a more conservative behaviour (8 votes).  It is apparently much less taboo to have public opinions of people’s sex-life than about their weight!

Monday evening 1/6:
Clothes question.  How I dress is apparently something twitter really likes to vote on. This time they went for one of the two causal options (17 votes) while the other casual got 12 votes and the dress got 14 votes.

On Monday I started to feel really self-conscious and uncomfortable. More so about the dating-question than about the weight-question, but the controversy and the low participation in the weight-matter was making me uncertain. I decided to not give any details about my private life other than those absolutely necessary for making the next vote. While this might be a narcissistic project, it certainly doesn’t have to be an exhibitionistic one.

I have also had a lot of thoughts about the power of agenda-holder in democracy. I am determining the questions and the alternative and I feel that I have the power over my life. In order for democracy to be effective, it needs to influence both the questions and the alternative given.  Unless this is taken into account, different forms of direct democracy are doomed to be toothless.