Gender and Personality on the Autism Spectrum

There is ongoing debate about autism, such as how it is defined and what causes it, which in turn leads to how it is and should be diagnosed. Some have speculated that autism in girls and women is underdiagnosed:

However, it’s unclear whether this gender bias is the result of genetics or reflects differences in diagnosis or the way females manifest symptoms of the disorder. Girls with autism tend to actively compensate for their symptoms in ways that boys don’t, which may account for the discrepancy, says Skuse.

As a result, the females enrolled in studies may tend to be severely affected and carry multiple mutations. “There is some suggestion that higher-functioning females are out there in the general population, but they’re not being referred,” he says.

Here is what one could argue. Maybe it is most likely that the bias is not just in diagnosis for there would be a directly related bias in the research itself. After all, it is diagnosis that determines the subjects in the autism studies. So, if diagnosis is biased, there is no reason to assume that the subjects are representative of the full autistic population. Biased input would inevitably lead to biased results and hence biased conclusions. Basically, these studies at present might not be able to tell us anything about possible gender differences.

A reason given for the alleged failure to detect female autism is that “it may be because girls are better at masking the symptoms – better at copying social norms while not necessarily understanding them.” That might be true of many boys and men as well.

I have some Asperger’s-like traits, although I’ve never been diagnosed. Maybe it’s because I learned to fit in. I was socially clueless when younger and social situations stress me out, a set of factors exacerbated by my inner-focused nature. I don’t connect easily with others. But you wouldn’t notice that from casually interacting with me. I know how to pretend to be normal. It’s maybe why therapy has never worked for me, as I’ve developed a habit of effectively hiding my problems. It’s a survival mechanism that I learned young.

What occurs to me is that I’m a Jungian Feeling type. Myers-Briggs testing has found that most Feeling types are female, although about 30% are male. The same pattern in the opposite direction is seen with Thinking types. There is a general pattern that follows along gender lines. Still, that approximate third of the population is a significant number. That might mean that a third of male autistics don’t fit into the male pattern, maybe while a third of female autistics do.

So the seeming gender difference found in autism could be more about personality differences. And those personality differences may or may not be genetic in nature. Much of this could instead be culturally learned behavior. It wouldn’t only be cultural biases in diagnosis of autism for, if that is so, it would also be cultural biases in how autism is expressed. In that case, the question is what might be the relationship between culture, personality, gender, and neurocognitive development. There are obviously many complex factors involved, such as considering how a significant number of people don’t fall into simple gender categories: “It’s far from uncommon for people to carry genetics of both sexes, even multiple DNA.” Since gender isn’t binary, the expressions of autism presumably also wouldn’t be binary.

It would be easy to test my speculation if formulated as a hypothesis. My prediction would be that Thinking type females would be more likely to be diagnosed as autstic. And the opposite prediction would be that Feeling type males would be less likely. That is simply to say that autism would express differently depending on personality traits/functions. Similar research could be done with FFM/Big Five, and maybe such research already has been done. A related issue that would need to be disentangled is whether autism is more common among certain personalities or simply more diagnosed among certain personalities, an issue that could be studied either in relation to or separate from gender.

All of this is particularly complicated for certain Myers-Briggs types. My specific type is INFP. This type is one of the most talented types when it comes to masking behavior, “known as being inscrutable.” As Carl Jung described dominant introverted feeling (what Myers-Briggs divides into two types: INFP and ISFP):

They are mostly silent, inaccessible, hard to understand; often they hide behind a childish or banal mask, and their temperament is inclined to melancholy…Their outward demeanor is harmonious, inconspicuous…with no desire to affect others, to impress, influence or change them in any way. If this is more pronounced, it arouses suspicion of indifference and coldness…Although there is a constant readiness for peaceful and harmonious co-existence, strangers are shown no touch of amiability, no gleam of responsive warmth…It might seem on a superficial view that they have no feelings at all.
(Psych. Types, Para. 640-641)

An INFP aspie would make for a rather confusing specimen. It is the dominant introverted feeling that is so hard to discern. And this introverted feeling is hidden behind the chameleon-like and outward-facing extraverted intuition, what is in the position called the auxiliary function. Extraverted intuition is the ultimate mask to hide behind, as it is highly fluid and adaptable. And as the auxiliary function, extraverted intuition plays the role of mediation with and defense against the outside world.

Maybe a significant number of autistics have hidden introverted feeling. This would fit the autistic pattern of feeling strongly in response to others (high functioning affective empathy) while not easily connecting to others (low functioning cognitive empathy). By its nature, there is no straightforward way for introverted feeling to be expressed in social behavior. Yet an INFP can be talented at learning normal social behavior, as extraverted intuition helps them to be mimics. Or failing that, they could stonewall anyone trying to figure them out. Usually being conflict avoidant, most dominant introverted feeling types will go along to get along, as long as no one treads on their core sense of value.

Here is a more general point:

I think it’s a bit silly to make a distinction between “male” and “female” interests in the first place and realize that it can also be healthy for women to take interest in more traditionally “male” subjects such as science and technology and that doesn’t always mean that they have a disorder. In making a diagnosis they should always be aware of the underlying pattern rather than the actual interest and keep in mind that interests may differ for each individual, so (e.g.) whether a female is obsessively talking about computers or fashion should not matter, because the pattern is the same. Indeed, it probably is more obvious in the first case, especially when society is more geared toward male/female stereotyping [so “masculine” interests for women stand out]. And besides, narrow interests is but 1 clue, it doesn’t count for every individual with an ASD; they may have a range of interests, just as typical people do.

Also, as some typologists argue, the US has been an society dominated by ESTJ types that is becoming dominated by ENTJ types (John Giannini, Compass of the Soul). The commonality then is E_TJ, that is to say dominant extraverted thinking. This typological bias is how American culture defines and enforces the social norms of the male gender. Unsurprisingly, that would also be how autism gets diagnosed, according to extraversion and thinking.

On the other hand, autism that was introverted and/or feeling would express in entirely different ways. In particular, dominant introverted feeling would express as strong affective empathy, rather than the (stereotypically) masculine tendency toward emotional detachment. Also, introversion taken on its own, whether in relation to feeling or thinking, would be more internalized and hence less observable — meaning obsessions that would be unlikely to seen in outward behavior: more subtle and nuanced or else more hidden and masked.

This personality perspective might be immensely more helpful than using a gender lens alone. It’s also a more psychologically complex frame of interpretation, appealing to my personality predilections. Considering that autism and Asperger’s was originally observed and defined by men, one might wonder what kind of personalities they had. Their personalities might have determined which personalities they were drawn to in studying and hence drawn to in using as the standard for their early models of the autism spectrum.


Spiritualism and Bicameralism

In Spirit of Equality, Steve A. Wiggins discusses the recent Ghostbusters movie. His focus is on spiritualism and gender. He writes that,

“A thoughtful piece in by Colin Dickey in New Republic points out some of the unusual dynamics at play here. Looking at the history of Spiritualism as the basis for the modern interest in ghosts, Dickey suggests that women have been involved in the long-term fascination with the dead from the beginning. Their motive, however, was generally communication. Women wanted to relate with ghosts to make a connection. The original Ghostbusters movie represented a male, rationalistic approach to ghosts. As Dickey points out, instead of communicating, the men hunt and trap rather than trance and rap.”

I’m familiar with the spiritualist tradition. It’s part of the milieu that formed the kind of religion I was raised in, Science of Mind and New Thought Christianity.

The main church I grew up in, Unity Church, was heavily influenced by women from when it began in the late 1800s. Its founding was inspired by Myrtle Fillmore’s spiritual healing, women were leaders early on in the church, and ministers officiated same sex marriage ceremonies at least as far back as when I was a kid. It’s not patriarchal religion and emphasizes the idea of having a direct and personal connection to the divine, such that you can manifest it in your life.

The gender differences mentioned by Wiggins are the type of thing that always interest me. There are clear differences, whatever are the causes. Psychological research has found variations in cognition and behavior, on average between the genders. This is seen in personality research. And brain research shows at least some of these differences are based in biology, i.e., women having on average a larger corpus callosum.

I’m not sure how these kinds of differences relate to something like spiritualism and the fictional portrayal of human interaction with ghosts/spirits. The two Ghostbusters movies do offer a fun way to think about it.

Reading Wiggin’s piece, I thought about an essay I just read this past week. It offers a different perspective on a related topic, that of hearing voice commands and the traditions that go along with it. The essay is “Evolution and Inspiration” by Judith Weissman (from Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind ed. Marcel Kuijsten).

She notes, “that all over the world, throughout history, most of the poets who hear voices have been male, and their poems are usually about the laws of the fathers.” She considers this likely relevant, although she doesn’t offer any certain conclusions about what it might mean.

In the context of what Wiggins brings up, it makes one wonder what separates the tradition of voice-hearing poets and spiritualists. I can think of one thing, from that same essay.

Weissman mentioned that command voices often tell people what to do. A famous example was Daniel Paul Schreber who, when hearing a voice telling him to defend his manhood, punched in the face an attendant working at the psychiatric institute. Interestingly, Schreber was a well educated, rationalistic, and non-religious man before he began hearing voices.

Command voices tell people, often men, what to do. It leads to action, sometimes rather masculine action. Few people hear such voices these days and, when they do, they are considered schizophrenic—crazier than even a spiritualist.

From the New Republic article, The Spiritualist Origins of Ghostbusters, Colin Dickey offers an explanation about spiritualism in a gender-biased society.

“Spiritualism also celebrated precisely those aspects of femininity that the rest of culture was busy pathologizing. Nervousness, erratic behavior, uncontrolled outbursts, flagrant sexuality—doctors and psychiatrists saw these all as symptoms of hysteria, that ever-elusive disease that mostly boiled down to women acting out. But these same unruly behaviors were qualities prized in an excellent medium, and women who exhibited these traits were routinely praised for their psychic sensitivity. Women who might have otherwise been institutionalized found celebrity through Spiritualism instead.”

That makes me wonder. Which is cause and which effect? How does spiritualism and other forms of spirituality get expressed in other kinds of societies?

I’m reminded of two other things. First, there was an interesting passage on hysteria from a book on Galen, The Prince of Medicine by Susan P. Mattern. In bicameral fashion, the woman’s uterus (Greek hystera) literally had a mind of its own and was presumed to move around causing problems. The second thing is another part from the the Weissman essay:

“The last priests died shortly after the Ik were forcibly moved, and only one person was left who could still hear commanding voices, Nagoli, the daughter of a priest. Because she was not allowed to become a priest herself, she was called mad.”

Spirituality, when it was part of the social order, was respectable. But when that male-oriented society broke down, the spiritual ability of that woman was then seen as madness. The men (and the other women) couldn’t hear the voices she heard. The voices that once were guidance had become a threat. If that voice-hearing daughter of a priest had lived in 19th century United States, she might have been diagnosed with hysteria or else have become a popular spiritualist. Or if her culture hadn’t fallen into disarray, she would have been no one special at all, perfectly normal.

Republicans, Who They Are and Where They Are Heading

I love looking at demographic and polling data. It can bring up insights that one would otherwise not have considered. Public Policy Polling put out a release that broke down Republican opinion. I highly recommend looking at the data for yourself.

Some reporting on it has focused on the gender divide. Republican men are more motivated by fiscal issues. And Republican women are more motivated by social issues. That leads to the odd results of Republican women being stronger supporters of Christian theocracy in America, despite the obvious fact that would harm women the most. Fortunately, female Republicans are a smaller proportion of the GOP.

One sad part of the data is the age component. Younger Republicans aren’t becoming more liberal. What the data doesn’t show is that the younger cohort in general is becoming more liberal, and they are also less supportive of the Republican Party. What is happening is that the few young folk left remaining in the Republican Party are the most extreme elements. Basically, there are almost no moderate young Republicans left. Moderate Republicans have been disappearing for a long time, but we are about ready to declare them finally extinct.

Considering this, I wonder what the Republican Party will look like 10 to 20 years from now. They are at a crises point. The party has been mostly some combination of older people, whites, and men. Obviously, it can’t stay that way. As the few remaining young reactionaries push the party even further toward radical right-wing politics, a choice will have to be made. If they continue down that path, they will become obsolete.

Young Poor Darker-Skinned Minority Men

The recent incidents of cops killing poor black men puts the issues into context.

Some have pointed out that poor whites and black women also get killed by cops. But the point is that they don’t get killed as often as poor black men. Also, rich black men don’t get killed either very often. Bill Cosby doesn’t have to worry about being shot.

It isn’t just getting disproportionately shot that is the problem. The entire criminal system directs itself most strongly against poor black men. Actually, it is young poor black men. To be yet even more precise, it is young poor darker-skinned minority men, as research shows that darker skin leads to greater racial bias.

Simply being a lighter-skinned young poor black man will likely save you some grief with the police. Or being a woman will make a major difference in how likely you are to be arrested and convicted for the exact same crimes committed by a man. Or just aging a bit transforms a dangerous threat to society into a wise old black man.

It isn’t just a race issue. It isn’t just a conflict between whites and blacks. It involves a centuries-old class war and much else besides.

It’s this combination of factors that is so strange to my mind. All of it gets mixed up. Why is the young poor black man the ultimate in bigoted scapegoating and police targeting? What does this stereotype represent in our collective psyche?

Unseen Influences: Race, Gender, and Twins

Steven Fraser, in The Bell Curve Wars, discusses the problems with Hernstein and Murray’s genetic argument for IQ.

He points out that the Flynn effect is particularly devastating. For this reason, he finds it puzzling that they don’t recognize or acknowledge the obvious implications. Black people today are on average smarter, as far as IQ tests go, than white people were a few generations ago. By today’s normed IQ tests, white people of a century ago would now be labeled as “retarded”.

I’ve covered that territory before. What caught my attention the other day was what followed his comments on the Flynn effect. He made a further point about the weakness of the genetics hypothesis. He states that a “remarkable phenomenon commented on in the Moynihan Report of thirty years ago goes unnoticed in The Bell Curve–the prevalence of females among blacks who score high on mental tests” (Kindle Locations 914-925); he continues:

“Others who have done studies of high-IQ blacks have found several times as many females as males above the 120 IQ level. Since black males and black females have the same genetic inheritance, this substantial disparity must have some other roots, especially since it is not found in studies of high-IQ individuals in the general society, such as the famous Terman studies of high-IQ children, which followed these children on into adulthood and later life. If IQ differences of this magnitude can occur with no genetic difference at all, then it is more than mere speculation to say that some unusual environmental effects must be at work among blacks.”

This isn’t limited to any race/ethnicity. It is a gender IQ gap found across diverse other populations.

“However, these environmental effects need not be limited to blacks, for other low-IQ groups of European or other ancestries have likewise tended to have females over-represented among their higher scorers, even though the Terman studies of high-IQ individuals from the general population found no such patterns. One possibility is that females are more resistant to bad environmental conditions, as some other studies suggest. In any event, large sexual disparities in high-IQ individuals where there are no genetic-or socioeconomic-differences present a challenge to both the Herrnstein-Murray thesis and to most of their critics.”

This reminds me of the stereotype threat discussed by Claude M. Steele in Whistling Vivaldi. He shows the research about how much simple changes in environment can cause large changes in results, both for tests of academics and other activities. Women tend to test lower on math, for example. However, neutralize stereotype threat and the disparity disappears.

Environments aren’t just different between populations, but also within populations. The environmental factors that will impact a female are different than for a male, including the stereotypes and expectations placed upon genders just as happens with race. Having much shared genetics doesn’t necessarily mean that all influences are being shared.

To emphasize this point, Fraser extends his argument to an even more stark example. Twins also show great differences, something overlooked by early twin studies.

“Black males and black females are not the only groups with significant IQ differences without any genetic differences. Identical twins with significantly different birth weights also have IQ differences, with the heavier twin averaging nearly nine points higher IQ than the lighter one in some studies.’ This effect is not found where the lighter twin weighs at least six and a half pounds, suggesting that deprivation of nutrition must reach some threshold level before it has a permanent effect on the brain during its crucial early development.”

Slight changes in environment can lead to immense differences over the long term. This is because of the cumulative effect of initial conditions. One thing leads to another. Lowered nutrition or increased toxicity has its impact which gets magnified by such things as school tracking. Each effect becoming a cause and all the causal factors combining to form significant differences in end results.

Single Men and Human Biodiversity Theory

Over at hbdchick’s open thread, a person named ckp left a comment:

There’s the thesis that outbreeding among north-west Europeans contributed to their disavowal of nepotism, clan rivalries, advancement of capitalism, etc. They trusted distantly related people more than did their more inbred cousins in southern and eastern Europe. This brings me to my confusion – in European colonies the attitudes towards the natives seems to be the opposite of what this hypothesis would predict. Northwest Euro colonizers (British, Dutch, later the Germans ..) had very restrictive rules about how different ethnicities interacted with each other – segregation and apartheid. In contrast, the more clannish Euros mixed much more freely with the natives and imported slaves – the Portuguese are canonical examples, but the Spanish did the same. I would have thought that it would be the other way around.

Is this a problem for the hypothesis? Or is it accounted for in a way that I haven’t grasped yet?

Those are the kinds of observations I tend to make. I always have these nagging doubts about HBD theory, a sense that many aspects therein are dependent as much on the data excluded as the data included. There is so much data that it is hard to account for it all. I’ve specifically wondered about demographics like this about gender and marriage rates.

To hbdchick’s credit, she did her best to make sense of this data:

i think the difference probably stems from the differing migration patterns between the nw european colonizers vs. the iberians: the britich, dutch, and germans tended to migrate in whole family units — mom, dad, the kids (see Albion’s Seed on this, for example) — whereas the iberians tended to be mostly males (at least early on — i’m not sure why this was, actually — did they have an excess of second sons or what?). with the mostly male spaniards and portugese in the new world, of couse they were going to “fraternize” with the locals, because they wanted wives (and there were comparatively few iberian girls to choose from)! the nw europeans in north america — they were arriving with whole societies in tow — priests, merchants, farmers — and all with their families. they were really and truly transplanting themselves and their (ideal) societies in the new world.

If she were correct about this difference, the issue may well be fully explained. It is certainly correct that in the northernmost colonies immigrants were more likely to come as family. However, that wasn’t true for the colonies from the Dutch to the Deep South.

“Colonial New Netherland (New York), like Jamestown and other trading post colonies, attracted single men, few women, and even fewer families.
Dutch Americans by Herbert J. Brinks

“In sharp contrast to New England, which was settled mainly by families, most of the settlers of Virginia and neighboring Maryland were single men bound in servitude. Before the colonies turned decisively to slavery in the late seventeenth century, planters relied on white indentured servants from England, Ireland, and Scotland. They wanted men, not women. During the early and mid-seventeenth century, as many as four men arrived for every woman.”
Life in Early Virginia

​”a. Surviving males competed for the affections of the extremely scarce women, whom they outnumbered nearly six to one in 1650
b. Although they were still outnumbered by three to two at the end of the century, eligible women did not remain single for long
c. Families were both few and fragile in this ferocious environment; most men could not find mates and most marriages were destroyed by the death of a partner within seven years”
Chapter 4: American Life in the Seventeenth Century, 1607-1692

“Unlike the New England experience, where young, single men faced a high likelihood of marriage, bachelors in the Chesapeake often remained unmarried into their thirties or beyond.”
Single Men in America by Carl Robert Keyes

Furthermore, this trend of men outnumbering women was true beyond just the beginnings of a few British colonies. In general, “The majority of seventeenth-century English emigrants were poor, young, single men…” The reason for this is, coming “from the bottom rungs of English society”, that “Two-thirds of English settlers came to North America as indentured servants”; single male indentured servants, of course, being more sought after (also, maybe more available along with more willing).

In fact, this trend wasn’t just a general truth in the colonial era. It was also a general truth during the early American period and well into the 20th century. The reason it was so enduring is that America is an immigrant nation and American immigrants for most of our history have been disproportionately single men. This demographic and cultural history is explained well in a passage from David T. Courtwright’s Violent Land (Kindle Locations 69-87):

“Anyone who looks closely at the underside of American history will find mostly young and single men. They have accounted for far and away the largest share of homicides, riots, drug dealing, and the like. This pattern is common to all societies. But the American experience with young, single men has been unusually bad because, until recently, the country has had a higher proportion of them in its population than the European, African, and Asian nations from which its immigrants came. America’s violent history was played out with a bad hand of cards dealt from a stacked demographic deck. As an immigrant society America experienced a more or less continuous influx of youthful male workers, resulting in a population with more men than women for every year prior to 1946. In a monogamous society, many of these surplus young men could not marry. Insofar as young, single men are any society’s most troublesome and unruly citizens, America had a built-in tendency toward violence and disorder.

“The demographic tendency was heightened by cultural and social influences. American men, especially southerners and frontiersmen, were contemptuous of other races and touchy about personal honor, which they were inclined to defend by violent means. American men drank a great deal of hard liquor and grew up in cultures that equated drunkenness with obstreperousness. American men, particularly those of the lower classes, resisted attempts at religious conversion and the feminized style of life associated with it. They often took their recreation with other men in bibulous places of commercialized vice, such as gambling halls and saloons, thereby multiplying the opportunities for violent conflict. The guns and knives they carried increased the likelihood that such conflicts would have fatal results. When killings did occur the police and courts were often unable or indisposed to deal effectively with them.

“This mixture of demographic, cultural, and social characteristics guaranteed that American society would experience unusually high levels of violence and disorder, but not that American society would be uniformly violent and disorderly. These troublesome elements-the surplus of young men, widespread bachelorhood, sensitivity about honor, racial hostility, heavy drinking, religious indifference, group indulgence in vice, ubiquitous armament, and inadequate law enforcement-were concentrated on the frontier. An expanding subnation of immigrants within a larger nation of immigrants, the frontier was, at least as far as white Americans were concerned, the most youthful and masculine region of the country and, consequently, the one most prone to violence and disorder.’

“The frontier was the principal arena of single male brutality in American history. Tens of thousands of drunken and disorderly white frontiersmen perished prematurely, as did countless native and animal inhabitants whose territory they despoiled. Nor is the carnage entirely in the past. Insofar as the frontier experience has become a foundation of the national self-image-that is, insofar as Americans continue to think a manly man is someone with a gun and an attitude-it continues to influence the amount and type of violence in the United States, as well as our collective response to it.”

As Brian Ehresman wrote, along with mentioning of single males: “The South also did not have as good of relationships with the Native Americans as the other regions.” Now that is a major understatement. Even with New England’s rough relationship with the natives, there was a pathway to assimilation and there never was an equivalent to the Trail of Tears. Northern communities with strong foundations of family life, churches and civic-mindedness allowed for assimilation in a way not as possible in the South and it wasn’t for a lack of trying by the natives in the South. Prior to the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee went further than any other tribe to model their entire lifestyle on the example of white people, even owning slaves like their fellow white Southerners.

What made the Iberian and French people so much less clannish than the British? And what is the relationship between clannish cultures in immigrant nations and high rates of single male immigrants? Or is there any direct relation at all? The single male immigrants in the British colonial South had many native women who were theoretically available to marry, but these British men were apparently more resistant to going native than were the Iberian and French men. Why is that? Maybe it is because Iberia and France had long histories of ethnic mixing and so more collective experience with multiculturalism. But if so, how can this cultural element explained by HBD theory?

Here is my personal speculation. Maybe it has more to do with proximity to the Roman Empire and also the nations that maintained longest the political traditions of the Roman Empire. The empires of France, Spain and Portugal followed closest the example of the Romans.

The one thing that the Roman Empire did well that allowed them to survive for so long was multiculturalism. This multiculturalism wasn’t always about inter-marriage/breeding between ethnic groups. Actually, the Roman model purposely allowed for separate ethnic cultures such as the ethnic enclaves and islands of Jews. This model can still be seen in Spain and France to this day. Take for example the Basque who live along the border of these two countries or, as another example, the independent Roma in Spain.

I’ve also speculated that the only reason the United States has lasted as long as it has is because the Northern multiculturalism was able to moderate all of the diversity in this country. It was the South that nearly tore this country apart. The American culture that developed in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern region was in many ways a repeating of the pattern going back to the Romans. I’ve pointed out how William Penn was strongly influenced by French culture and how the French Huguenot immigrants had great influence in shaping important elements of American culture.

Just speculations, of course. Whatever one speculates, it is odd the correlation between single males and the enduring American culture of violence, xenophobia and racism. It is also interesting to note that, as this correlation weakened as the gender ration equalized in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the Southern states lost and the Northern states gained political power. Maybe the Civil War was essential in killing off so many of those single men and so allowing a shift in American culture to happen.

Thinking Outside the Box: Worlds, Gender, & Games

My friend Jude brought up some thought-provoking thoughts (from Facebook):

Think outside the box” – the synonym for this is “lateral thinking”. I understand the latter but I do not understand the former. I remember I used to understand it though. I do think laterally a lot but I really don’t know where that “box” is. Maybe I have thought outside it so long, it no longer exists to me..hehehe..smh.. I want to re-understand it though.

The following are my comments.


Here is how I would think about it.

Essentially, a box is the world or rather a world… or if you prefer a worldvew, what I’d call a reality tunnel. So, it isn’t necessarily the same as lateral for that would imply a relationship, a lateral relationship between the worldview and the thinking. Thinking outside of the box implies relationship to the worldview is being excluded. With no relationahip anchoring your thinking to the worldview, your thinking is unmoored and you can potentially lose your bearings.

Also, this can be analyzed mythologicaly. A box has a feminine gender, in fact is a term for female genitalia. A box has space within in which one can be enclosed, but it also has space without. When you were born, you literally began thinking outside the ‘box’.

In Indo-European mythology, the box and the square are feminine and maternal. They represent what enlcloses, what embraces and protects us, and also what sets the boundaries for relationships and society.

This relates to two things (board games and card games) which relate to a third thing (the Trickster).

The square of a board game sets the boundaries in which play happens. Likewise, the mother creates the space for play and the child plays. The Trickster is the child who plays, but he also tests boundaries and breaks rules.

Playing cards (originating from Tarot) are in the shape of the Golden Rectangle or what is known as the Golden Door. The door is part of what encloses for it can be closed, but it can also be opened.

Walking through an open door, you enter a new space, possibly even stepping outside of the box you were in. You might not even recognize the box you ere in until you are outside it. So, if you don’t see a box, it probably means you haven’t yet stepped outside to gain perspective. When you are in the game of play, still on the board, you’re drawn in for your life is at stake, this life that you know. A world is always real while you’re in it.

Games have always related to luck and divination, doorways from our world to other worlds. To truly think outside of the box is to open yourself to new visions, new realities even. The ancients saw the wold ruled by the Fates and by fickle gods. No player controls the game in which you play. No one knows what is at the end of the game, what is on the other side of the door.

Chutes and Ladders originated as an ancient Hindu game called Snakes and Ladders. The game is a model of reality with levels that the players ascend. The players are at the mercy of luck, but if you play long enough all get to the end. It teaches the patient theology of Hinduism. When you reach the end, you win by escaping the game and hence metaphorically escaping the world.

The feminine and masculine, the mother and child are opposites that create tension. Thinking outside the box necessitates a box outside of which to think.


Let me stick with mythology and extend my thoughts.

The earliest known civilization was in Iraq where comes from the story of Gilgamesh. One thing that always stood out to me is that Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu was originally a wild man. He only became ‘civilized’ through the wiles of a temple prostitute. That gives a new spin to the so-called oldest profession.

The feminine is a civilizing force. This is true in mythology, but some see it as being true in society in general. A book I’ve been perusing is about American violence (Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City by David T. Courtwright). The main reason given for the greater violence in the American South had to do with the cultures created during early immigration.

The Northern colonies (specifically New England and Pennsylvania) attracted whole families and even whole communities to immigrate as a group and settle together. So, they brought community and hence the social structures of civilization with them.

The Southern colonies tended to attract more single men. Also, much of the early Westward expansion into the frontier began in these Southern colonies, especially from Virginia. These settlers developed a very violent society of dueling and vigilante justice. It was a long time for religion to be established on the frontier because single men weren’t drawn to attend church.

A church or temple is a box, with or without temple prostitutes. Any structure of civilization is a box. All of civilization is a box… or else a set of boxes, some overlapping, others exclusive.


The whole world itself is a box or rather a mansion with many rooms.

Any form and this world of form is archetypally feminine. Brahma’s power is infinite potential, but only Saraswati can give birth to form, each and every form, as she takes on that form and gives it substance, gives it life. The Gnostics, of course, would say this is Sophia who fell into the world. But that is the mythologically masculine view to see form as fallen, to see the world as a place of darkness and sin.

A paternalistic God rules from above, above us all, not with us. Was the Goddess fallen or was she cast out? If cast out, who did this? The ancient Israelites, like most ancient people, saw God and Goddess as married. Monotheism originated in Egypt, but the difference was that Egyptian monotheism was a part of a henotheistic tradition where (similar to Hindusim today) all deities weren’t always seen as clearly distinct, sometimes even as expressions of the same divinity.

I became particularly interested in the Egyptian religion when reading Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock. In a large section, she went into great detail about Isis. Isis worship was one of the most popular deities in Rome. Murdock argues that Isis was the precursor of Christian Mother Mary. Egyptian Meri means beloved which at first was an epithet for a God but over time became associated directly with Isis and may have become a name for her. The two words were often seen associated, both as Meri-Isis and Isis-Meri.

It was through Isis that this concept of beloved became widespread. Before that time, deities were worshipped with submission. A new type of love came to the forefront, a love of equals, the divine came down onto the level of humanity, the common folk even. The divine was no longer far away in heaven but here on earth (or, as Philip K. Dick would so charmingly describe it, “God in the garbage”). This was part of a long shift during the Axial Age which ended with religions such as Christianity.


To return to the original topic of thinking outside the box, this brings up a number of thoughts.

First, what does the civilizing process mean on the personal level? As a male of the species, what does this mean in relation to the feminine and the maternal? If you feel like you are in no box, then does that mean you aren’t being contained, encompassed, embraced by the feminine/maternal? If you are or identify as a single male, can you internalize the stereotypical/archetypal feminine mode of social interrelationship without fear of loss of self, without fear of deadening conformity?

Second, what does this all mean in this age of complexity and in this world of multicultural globalism? There is no single society that encompasses any of us or necessarily even a single religion or single ethnicity. We find ourselves in many boxes which can create a possibly deceiving experience of being in no box. How do we recognize the box(es) we may be in? What does the possibility even mean to be in a box in an age of instability and uncertainty? Has the world fundamentally changed since the time the ancient mythologies were written?

I don’t know if this relates to Jude’s experience. But from my perspective, I feel like there are always boxes we are in. I feel very sensitized to that which contains us and structures our lives. I’ve wondered for a long time if it is possible to think outside of the box… or do we just jump out of one box and into another? Boxes are like stories. It seems like there is always a story being told, a story we are playing out in our heads, in our lives, and in our relationships. The box is a stage on which the story plays out.


In his most recent comment, Jude tried to explain his view:

Yes, I also think the feminine is a civilizing force in as much as it is for understanding. The receptacle accepts and from that, “training”.

That’s why it is lateral thinking: the ability to think ACROSS boxes. Like the Ghanaian box, the American box, the science box etc.

For me, as a bona fide liminal, I do not respect boxes. On my own, I’m looking for truth, coherence, correspondence, relevance not social or contextual acceptability. To market to the world is a different thing: I need a box otherwise it makes no sense and it won’t be accepted.

My point is not that there are no boxes. I, me, do not recognize them

I say he tried to explain for I don’t know that I understand. I do at least understand the ability of thinking across boxes. That seems like a fair way of describing lateral thinking.

Even so, it still doesn’t get at my own view. There aren’t just boxes next to boxes. Rather, there are boxes within boxes within boxes, maybe all the way down or all the way up as the case may be.


Here is what I see as the key difference.

Jude sees the boxes (worldviews, reality tunnels, etc) as external things, external to himself, separate from and not essential to his personal reality. But to me the most basic box is humanity collectively and our humanity individually. We can’t escape the box that we are (and, in his own way, Jude would agree with this general notion). More importantly, who we are is tied up with what the world is. We aren’t separate from the world. We can’t step outside of the world.

To be in liminal space says nothing about that space being outside a box. I suspect that misses the point of the liminal which is simply that you can’t be certain about where you are or aren’t, what you may or may not be within. The liminal as related to the Trickster is yet another archetypal/mythological box. It may be a more spacious and flexible box, but still a box. Every archetype is a box, shades and shapes the world accordingly.

What does it even mean to not recognize the ‘world’ you exist within? Does ‘reality’ care if you respect it? Where would the hypothetical non-box position be located that is objectively above all boxes, i.e., all subjective and intersubjective worldviews?

I’m not actually arguing that one can’t hypothetically get outside of all boxes. I’m not arguing for or against that because I’m not sure what it would mean. As a statement, it doesn’t seem to make ‘sense’. I might even argue that to make such a claim is to forfeit making sense… which is fine as far as that goes. Even if you could get outside of all boxes, it’s not clear to me how you would know this was true for you would have no context or persepctive to know anything for certain, much less communicate what you think you know.

When people speak of thinking outside of the box, I never got the sense that they meant thinking outside of all boxes, just thinking outside a specific box. To think outside all boxes would be the mythological correlate to the God of heaven being above and separate from the Goddess of earth. But like yin and yang, how can they be separate?


None of this is intended to discredit Jude’s personal experience. I’m not holding myself above Jude in challenging his claim, but he is holding himself above the boxes of others, the boxes of the world. At times, I can also hold myself above certain other boxes. It just never occurred to me that it could be possible to hold myself above all boxes.

Jude’s perspective isn’t necessarily wrong, refusing to be part of the herd. Maybe it is wise to hold oneself above, at least in attitude. I do think when possible that it good to strive to be above average on the self-awareness scale. The problem is if you’re self-deluded you generally don’t recognize your own self-delusion. That is just human nature, for all of us.

I find myself being more of a Buddhist perspective of “no escape”. For Buddhists, there is no escape for the ego is essentially the one and only box. However, only the ego is likely to make any claims about not being in a box. Ken Wilber has noted that it is easy to fall into the Pre/Trans Fallacy. He emphasizes that the shift in human development is transcend and include, not transcend and exclude.

I’m pretty sure that like me Jude isn’t an Enlightened Master. It is as a normal ego-bound mortal that I wonder about his claim of being in no boxes. Still, I completely support Jude’s desire to not be trapped in any boxes. More power to him.

Boys Adrift

I heard an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax on the radio show Coast to Coast AM. He was discussing his book Boys Adrift. The book focuses on the development of boys, but does so in terms of considering both genders. His basic premise is that for various reasons normal development has been altered in the past generation or so.

The website about this book:

Here is an excerpt from his book Why Gender Matters and an interview with him on the Today show:

The primary problem he sees is the estrogen-like chemicals that leach out of clear plastic bottles. This causes boys to develop slower and not to develop normally, and it causes girls to develop faster. Young men now have majorly decreased levels of testosterone and sperm count than previous generations.

Another major problem is that the school system has tried to treat boys and girls equally in recent decades. Teachers don’t take into account that boys and girls develop differently, and the natural behavior of boys has become unacceptable in schools. To try to calm boys down more like girls, drugs such as ritalin have increasingly been given to boys. This is a twofold problem. Boys are stunted psychologically which is bad enough, but the drugs have long-term consequences on brain development. It causes a part of the brain that relates to motivation to not to fully develop.

So, this means that young men are becoming evermore effeminate and apathetic. Young women are more likely to go to college, get degrees, and get professional careers. Also, with the sexual dynamic messed up, sexual attraction has decreased and along with it so has marriage.

– – –

Dr. Sax talks about many other factors. He does mention porn. Its hard to know what is the cause and what the effect.

Another ‘funny’ thing was that this is affecting wild animals to boot. Large cats have shrinking testicles, and certain male river fish are laying eggs.

As for drug distribution statistics, I don’t know. I haven’t read any of his books. Okay… I just did a search. An article by the National Institute of Health mentioned that boys are 4 times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. I can only assume that this means boys are 4 times as likely to be administered Ritalin.

– – –

I don’t sit around worrying about things like this. Either the human species survives or not, but we’re adaptable. Unfortunately, other species aren’t as adaptable as us. Whatever happens, I’m sure (some) life on this planet will continue.

I’ve read about how pollution can also damage DNA. That is even more interesting to think about. If the DNA could be altered within the egg and sperm, then we could have some major alterations to evolution. What Dr. Sax is talking about only directly affects the individual and the problem would disappear once the cause was removed. But changing DNA would be passed on to to the next generation causing permanent change.

In either case, what you call “population control” would apply. This is a basic idea in evolutionary theory, but we’re attempting a grand experiment of the likes nature/evolution has never seen before. Its Cosmic Chess on the planetary level.

Self-Made Man

Self-Made Man

Posted on Mar 18th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

This book is about a lesbian who dressed up as a man.  Its not my normal kind of reading material.  The premise of it sounds like superficial amusement, a catchy idea in a world glutted with such books.  I was very surprised by how insightful she was, and not a bad writer either.

The subject of this book is sorta in my realm of interests.  Gender roles is a fascinating lense through which to see the world.

I’ve read many of the popular books in this field.  There is the clasic Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.  John Gray’s ideas are mostly stereotypes with some decent observations.  In the integral field, David Deida and Carol Gilligan are often talked about.  Deida’s advice may be good for manly men, but from reading him I came to realize that I must not be a manly man.  He does admit that his advice is for the masculine… which equally applies for women as for men.  Anyways, his ideas didn’t fit my self-understanding.  Carol Gilligan is more interesting to me, but I haven’t studied her too closely.

I wonder to what extent these gender theories are about actual biological differences.  I’m sure genetics play a big part, but so do culturally-learned roles.  Even on the genetic level, there is great variety.  I think about this primarily from a Myers-Briggs perspective.  The gender theories I’ve come across seem to be speaking about the same division as Jung’s Thinking and Feeling.  A majority of men have a Thinking function preference. and a majority of women have a Feeling function preference.  But its not a large majority in either case… approximately around 60-70%.  So, that leaves 30-40% of people who don’t fit the expectation.  That ain’t small potatoes.

To get back to Vincent, she said she was a tomboy growing up and people perceived her as a masculine woman.  And she was surprised that, as a man, she was perceived as effeminate.  This also fits in with function preferences. Women who prefer Thinking still don’t come out as strong on that preference as most Thinking preference men, and ditto for men who prefer Feeling.

In case you’re wondering, I’m one of those Feeling type of guys which would probably explain why Deida didn’t do much for me.

Vincent did come to the conclusion that there are distinct differences between men and women, but she also observed how much gender roles are taught… sometimes to a harsh degree.  She was playing a role and she found dressing the part was important.  Especially for men, clothing such as a suit can act as a uniform and people will treat you accordingly… even when they claim and seem to consciously believe they’re treating you gender-neutrally.

From her experiment, Vincent learned something maybe even more important.  She got into the mindset of her character to the point that she considered it self-hypnosis.  Later on, she became a bit lazy and partially let her disguise down, but people still treated her like a man.  She found that people to an extent believed what she believed.  Even she, after the experiment was over, had difficulty getting back into her normal mindset.  Even though it didn’t feel natural to her, she became used to acting that way, the role became an ingrained habit.  She had only tried this for a year or so, but just imagine about the identity role one pretends to be for years and which is constantly reinforced by everyone around you.

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Interesting Stuff on the Web: 12/14/09

Sex bias probe in colleges’ selections

The gist of the article is that:
(1) feminism succeeded so well that women are applying in higher numbers than ever,
(2) because of the gender divide going to the opposite extreme, colleges are biasing their admissions towards men to create more gender balance,
(3) and some think this is a bad thing because it supposedly undermines all that feminism achieved.

I’m a liberal and I’m all for women’s rights, but actually I’m for everyone’s rights including men.  I don’t have any clear opinion about this precise issue of college admissions because I’ve never looked at the data for myself.  Howevever, one thing jumps out at me.  Why are men applying less to colleges.  This possibly implies that there is a gender bias against males in the public education system.

This relates to a topic I have researched in the past and there does seem to be some very odd shifts in gender itself.

Last year, I heard an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax on the radio show Coast to Coast AM. He was discussing his book Boys Adrift (the official website and an excerpt from his book Why Gender Matters along with an interview of him on the Today Show). The book focuses on the development of boys, but does so in terms of considering both genders. His basic premise is that for various reasons normal development has been altered in the past generation or so.

The primary problem Dr. Sax sees is the estrogen-like chemicals that leach out of clear plastic bottles. This causes boys to develop slower and not to develop normally, and it causes girls to develop faster. Young men now have majorly decreased levels of testosterone and sperm count than previous generations.

Another major problem is that the school system has tried to treat boys and girls equally in recent decades. Teachers don’t take into account that boys and girls develop differently, and the natural behavior of boys has become unacceptable in schools. To try to calm boys down more like girls, drugs such as ritalin have increasingly been given to boys (an article by the National Institute of Health mentioned that boys are 4 times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD). This is a twofold problem. Boys are stunted psychologically which is bad enough, but the drugs have long-term consequences on brain development. It causes a part of the brain that relates to motivation to not to fully develop.

So, this means that young men are becoming evermore effeminate and apathetic. Young women are more likely to go to college, get degrees, and get professional careers. Also, with the sexual dynamic messed up, sexual attraction has decreased and along with it so has marriage.

This problem goes even beyond the human sphere.  Pollution is altering the chemical consistency of the entire environment.  This is causing gender issues even in other species.  For example, large cats have shrinking testicles and certain male river fish are laying eggs.  So, the social issues of gender prejudice might be the least of our worries.

AP INVESTIGATION: Monsanto seed biz role revealed

Giving companies the rights to genetics is asking for trouble.  I’m not sure why the government would want to create a dystopia where private interests control the very basis of life and monopolies like Monsanto rule the world.  I’m not against genetic engineering per se.  As long as there is plenty of oversight, it shouldn’t be any riskier than any other science… but with such powerful companies it’s kind of joke to speak about oversight.  These global mega-corporations become so wealthy and powerful that they rival national governments.

Viruses That Leave Victims Red in the Facebook

The rise of internet crime and identifiy theft is really strange and disturbing.  The government forced social security numbers onto Americans promising that they would never be used as they’re being used today.  Because of the government’s failure, every person now must live in paranoia about their identity being stolen.  Companies sell you services to protect your identitiy, but isn’t that the government’s job?  It’s as if you don’t even own your own identity.  It’s bad enough having to rent a place to live, but I’d rather not be in a position where I have to pay rent for my identity. 

Why does there always seem to be a collusion between government failure and private profiteering?  The government starts the wars, the average citizen pays for it with taxes, the poor fight and die, and the private contractors make massive profits.  The government criminalizes drugs and starts a War on Drugs, the average citizen pays for it with taxes, the poor die and are imprisoned, and the private contractors build privatized prisons making massive proftits.  Am I seeing a pattern here?

Whole Foods Republicans

There are the depressing numbers on young voters (two-thirds of whom voted for Mr. Obama), African-Americans and Latinos (95% and 67% went blue respectively). But these groups have voted Democratic for decades, and their strong turnout in 2008’s historic election wasn’t replicated this fall, nor is it likely to be replicated again.

The voting patterns of the college-educated is another story. This is a group that, slowly but surely, is growing larger every year. About 30% of Americans 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree; in 1988 that number was only 20% and in 1968 it was 10%.

As less-educated seniors pass away and better-educated 20- and 30-somethings take their place in the electorate, this bloc will exert growing influence. And here’s the distressing news for the GOP: According to exit-poll data, a majority of college-educated voters (53%) pulled the lever for Mr. Obama in 2008—the first time a Democratic candidate has won this key segment since the 1970s.

There are two issues here.

1) If I were a Republican, I’d be highly concerned that educated people are attracted to the Democrat party and uneducated people are attracted to the Republican party.  This is especially disturbing considering that there are many conservative colleges, and certain departments within all schools lean towards the conservative (for example, business professors tend toward the conservative and among students business majors are increasingly popular).  I think it might be wise for Republicans to not so strongly support politicians such as Palin who are overtly anti-intellectual.  Just think about it.  Many educated conservatives are going to be repulsed by messages of anti-intellectualism.  Also, anti-intellectualism tends to go along with Christian fundamentalism which probably also isn’t very attractive to many educated conservatives.  The most highly educated sector of potential Republican voters are the libertarians many of whom dislike the Republican party’s emphasis on social conservatism.

2) In line with anti-intellectualism and Chrisian fundamentalism, many of the most vocal conservatives right now are the “white culture” advocates.  Pat Buchanan argues that white people built this country (somehow forgetting about all of the blacks and orientals that provided all of the labor) and argues that the GOP should be the party of “white culture”.  Does anyone actually wonder why those who identify as Republican has decreased to such a small percentage of the population.  Many moons ago, the Republican party supported civil rights, but now they demonize poor minorities focusing on: legal and illegal immigrants stealing “our” jobs, Reagan’s “welfare queens”, the racist use of Willie Horton, the tough on crime policy that was directed at poor minorities, etc.

If the Republicans want to be a respectable party again that actually has the chance of doing anything beyond obstructionism, then they should simply stop doing what they’re doing right now.  Many of the conservatives have been fear-mongering so much that they’re even attacking Republicans for not being conservative enough.

What conservatives are doing right now is just reactionary politicizing using personality politics and wedge issues, and I deem it reactionary becase it has no viable vision of the future.  Social conservatism is a dead end especially when narrowly defined in terms of “white culture” and Christian fundamentalism.  Moral politics will always be important, but moral politics has to appeal to more than the self-interests of a small sector of society.  Looking at the demographic shift, the conservative base of the future won’t be white fundamentalists because that sector of society isn’t growing while other sectors are growing (such as minorities and immigrants).  As for libertarians, the biggest demographic that leans in that direction is Generation X.  The Millennials, on the other hand, are large in number and are in favor of big government especially for social purposes.  Even though Generation X is smaller in comparison, this generation is positioned for great influence as Boomers retire.  But if the GOP wants to attract GenXers, they’re going to have to drastically change their political tactics and their talking points.

Jailing juveniles

Statistics show that juveniles held in adult facilities are more likely to be attacked, more likely to commit crimes once released and more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities that house only minors. […]  The bill rightly encourages states to eliminate the practice of locking up juveniles charged with status offenses, such as truancy or running away from home. Studies have shown that juveniles and communities fare much better when status offenders are redirected to counseling, mentoring or school-based programs. […]  The act also calls on states to be aware of and address the growing evidence that African American and Hispanic youths are frequently dealt with more harshly than their white counterparts. For instance, African American and Hispanic juveniles are much more likely to be detained even for minor crimes than are white juveniles and are much more likely to be tried as adults than white youths who are accused of similar crimes.

There Is No ‘Humane’ Execution

It has also become clear — particularly since DNA evidence has become more common — how unreliable the system is. Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were innocent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

An untold number of innocent people have also, quite likely, been put to death. Earlier this year, a fire expert hired by the state of Texas issued a report that cast tremendous doubt on whether a fatal fire — for which Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 — was arson at all. Until his execution, Mr. Willingham protested his innocence.

Prisons of Our Own Making

This calculus has recent American history as well as crude political logic on its side. Without conservative lawmakers willing to “err on the side of punishing” (as Palin put it after the Clemmons shooting), America might still be swamped by the crime wave that engulfed the country in the 1960s and ’70s.

The surge in crime rates, which lasted until the early 1990s, was driven by a variety of factors — the demographic bulge created by the baby boom, the crisis of authority in the late ’60s, and the heroin and crack epidemics that followed. But it was abetted by a softheaded liberalism that emphasized rehabilitation to the exclusion of retribution and deterrence. (Across the Great Society era, as crime rates started to take off, America’s prison population actually went down.)

[…]  Their approach has worked. The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak. The murder rate is at its lowest point since Lyndon Johnson was president.

Yet the costs of this success have been significant: 2.3 million Americans are behind bars. Our prison system tolerates gross abuses, including rape on a disgraceful scale. Poor communities are warped by the absence of so many fathers and brothers. And every American community is burdened by the expense of building and staffing enough prisons to keep up with our swelling convict population.

This isn’t an absolutely horrible article (meaning I’ve seen worse), but the view presented is severely limited and so the conclusions are simply wrong.  If rehabilitation never works, then any person who has ever committed any crime should be locked away for life.  The idea of ever releasing anyone from prison is that they’re less likely to commit more crimes.  Most prisoners are eventually released, and the hope is that for the vast majority they will have been rehabilitated (even if they were never in any rehabilitation program).  The success of rehabilitation is determined by the rates of recidivism, but that isn’t necessarily a good measure.  Ex-convicts have a difficult time for finding work after they leave prison.  If ex-convicts aren’t helped to assimilate back into health society, then it’s inevitable that recidivism rates will be high.  But that doesn’t directly imply anything about rehabilitation in and of itself.

A little research, however, knocks the legs out from the entire view of rehabilitation presented in this article.

Evidence-Based Treatment Demonstrates Improved Recidivism Rates

The Debate on Rehabilitating Criminals: Is It True that Nothing Works?

The implication was that the criminal justice system, and in particular, corrections, had grown soft by over-relying on such vague concepts as “rehabilitation.” Curiously, if budgets were any measure, rehabilitation was a straw man. There has never been a rehabilitative era in American corrections. Most correctional systems had few, if any trained psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. Virtually all correctional budgets went to staff that operated traditional prisons, jails and reform schools. What looked to outsiders like permissiveness was more often neglect and chaos in a system overcome with an explosion of “baby- boomers.”

[…]  Most rehabilitative programs chalked up as failures, were heavy on rhetoric and slim on services. The classic 30-year “Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study” begun at Harvard in the late 1930s and used ever since by critics of rehabilitation as a premier example of the “nothing works” position, was summarized by Wilson in this way, “The differences in crime between those youth who were given special services (counseling, special educational programs, guidance, health assistance, camping trips) and a matched control group were insignificant: ‘the treatment had little effect’.” But Wilson ignored other realities.

Three hundred and twenty boys were assigned to ten counselors who were told to do ‘whatever they thought best’ for their clients. Counselors had no formal training in the mental health field, much less in psychotherapy. Each youth was seen an average of five times per year during the early years of the project in meetings directed at such things as arranging physical exams or interesting a boy in summer camp. Not surprisingly, the subjects showed no drop in criminal behavior at 10-, 20-, and 30-year follow-ups. It seems bizarre to have expected otherwise.


“Rehabilitation” in institutions is mostly a matter of mitigating the amount of debilitation. In a comprehensive “cohort” study, Ohio State University researchers found that the “velocity of recidivism” among young offenders actually increased with each institutionalization. “Our most important single finding emerges from an analysis of the impact of the court’s disposition on the intervals between future arrests. . .the actual number of months during intervals between arrests when the offender was free to commit an offense, diminished dramatically after each commitment to an institution of the Ohio Youth Commission.”

This experience has been confirmed in recent research by the RAND Corporation on adult inmates of state prisons. The implication is that the prisons are criminogenic – producing the very thing they claim to treat.

Approaches which give the offender a brief “taste” of prison also have a poor record. The much hyped “Scared Straight” model, wherein teenagers area brought to prison to be intimidated by inmates to scare them “straight,” doesn’t lower recidivism. Controlled studies show that teenagers subjected to the frightening experience tended to commit more crimes than a matched sample of non-participants. Likewise, “shock” probation, whereby an offender is incarcerated for a short time, (often led to think it will be for longer), and is then suddenly released back to the community, doesn’t work. “Shock” probationers fared worse than matched samples not sent to prison. The debilitating aspects of prison life apparently outweighed their aversive effect.

There is also the matter of how one assesses “success” or “failure.” Rather than making simple rearrest or reconviction the measure of failure, recent research has taken account of the winding down of an offender’s criminal activity. This is a profoundly important issue.

In most fields, limited progress is seen as productive. A person with viral pneumonia who has been treated in a hospital is not labeled a “failure” and re- hospitalized at the first sign of a cough. But a rehabilitative program which lowers the number or de-escalates the seriousness of repeat crimes is usually seen as unacceptable.

As a result, one can have a “successful” program with high rates of recidivism. In one study of a family therapy program geared to hard-core delinquents, 30 adolescents (each with 20 previous adjudicated offenses), were matched with a control group of 44 delinquents with similar offense histories. At the end of a 15- month follow-up, 60 percent of the family therapy group had committed a new offense. This looked like failure. But then, we see that 93 percent of the control group which didn’t get the therapy had been so charged.

Rebilitation programs, to the degree they’ve actually been used, have showsn signs of success.  Imprisonment, on the other hand, has shown to increase criminal activity.  This is the problem with the newspaper article, ‘Prisons of Our Own Making’.  The author was looking at larger population statistics, but wasn’t looking at the research on the ground.  It’s hard to conclude, as the author does, that high prison rates have even been a good temporary solution. 

Another article (Recidivism: The Effect of Incarceration and Length of Time Served) points out that successful methods depend on individual cases.  Treating even prisoners as individual human beings… oh my! what a libeal attitude… but interesting it’s a liberal attitude based on actual evidence.  The idea is that we should look at the acual data about criminals and what actually works rather than imposing a generalized ideology about being ‘tough on crime’ or whatever.

The backwardness of some people’s thinking always amazes me.  So, we get ‘tough on crime’ which includes vast numbers of victimless crimes such as drugs and which includes vast numbers of poor minorities (statistics showing the legal system is racially biased).  Young minority men go to prison leaving young minority children without fathers.  Young minority mothers have to try to raise kids on their own in poor areas and so are forced into welfare.  Even when the fathers get out of prison, employee prejudice and difficult job markets in poor areas makes it almost impossible for ex-cons to get jobs.  So, ex-cons end up committing crimes such as drug dealing in order to make money.  Their own children see their father’s lifestyle and see they have little opportunity themselves (inferior public schools in poor areas, lack of programs to help poor minority kids, and a bleak future of little job opportunity).  Is it much of a surprise that many of these kids get involved in drugs either in selling them or using them?

If we spent the same amount of money on helping people as we spend on the legal system (courts, prisons, etc.) and on the War on Drugs, we could utterly transform this society.  But those who benefit from the system as it is (the owners of privatized prisons, federal agencies that make money by confiscating property in drug raids, etc.) are obviously not motivated to change it.  Also, there are some people who believe a certain sector of society is just plain evil or somehow culturally maladjusted and so these people deserve all of their misery… and we should punish them to the furthest extent of the law even if it means destroying our whole society in the process.

The ironic thing is that the majority of Americans have used an illegal drug in their lifetime (and so, if we could only catch all of these victimless criminals, most Americans should be in prison).  The sad part, however, is that 70% of those imprisoned for drug charges are minorities (because, in the 1980s, lawmakers created sentencing disparites between drugs used by minorities and drugs used by whites).

Time to stop America’s preposterous war on pot

In his 1995 memoir, the man who had been a cold, calculating secretary of defense for both Kennedy and Johnson belatedly confessed that he and other top officials had long known that the war was an unwinnable, ideologically driven mistake. “We were wrong,” he wrote, almost tearfully begging in print for public forgiveness. “We were terribly wrong.”Yes, they were, and so are today’s leaders (from the White House to nearly all local governments), who are keeping us mired in the longest, most costly, and most futile war in U.S. history: the drug war. As one adamant opponent of this ongoing madness put it, “I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the War on Drugs is a failure. Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing War on Drugs, about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion.”

That was no ex-hippie stoner expressing himself through a haze of herbal smoke. It was America’s “Uncle Walter,” the journalistic icon Walter Cronkite, calling earlier this year for a new truthfulness and sanity in American drug policy.

I just noticed the comments in the comment section of ‘Prisons of Our Own Making’.

4. JG

Sorry to spoil your party, Ross, but you’ve obviously never read the best-selling book, “Freakonomics”, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, who, by chance, also have a column by the same name in The New York Times.

Go to chapter 4, “Where Have All the Criminals Gone”, and you will learn about the direct link between the decline in crime since the 1990s and Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the U.S.

As observed by Levitt and Dubner:

“Perhaps the most dramatic effect of legalized abortion, however, and one that would take years to reveal itself, was its impact on crime. In the early 1990s, just as the first cohort of children born after Roe v. Wade was hitting its late teen years – the years during which young men enter their criminal prime – the rate of crime began to fall. What this cohort was missing, of course, were the children who stood the greatest chance of becoming criminals. . . . Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.”

7. WGM

Here’s some stats you didn’t link to……

While you are right that the violent crime rates are down, and we imprison 2.3 million Americans, we are now spending in some instances over six times as much on corrections, police, and the judicial process to keep people behind bars. I’m sure if we spent six times more on the war in Afghanistan we could eradicate all of our foes, but that still doesn’t make it a wise allocation of money.

I wonder what would happen if six times more money was spent on all those terribly liberal programs that got tossed by the wayside so long ago. Programs for the mentally ill that are now housed in our prisons, and prevention programs that were only ineffective long ago because they went unfunded by politicians looking for short-term political points.

19. schrodinger

This is especially true in California, where we can’t afford to keep these people locked up even if it were a good idea. Far too many in the conservative movement condemn government spending, but fail to look beyond the headlines to see why government spending is soaring and to identify what can be done about it. The huge growth in the prison population is a major reason why California is spending so much more on government than we did.

We can’t afford this. Being tough on crime is all very well, but it contributes to the growth of government spending. The failed war on drugs is a huge contributor to this. We really need to stop prosecuting non-violent drug offenders.

Most conservatives are condemning Huckabee for these pardons. Nobody has pointed out that the pardons saved Arkansas money, and that helped to keep taxes low and government small. Being a small government conservative means making choices. 

21. Jon Jost

Prison are a problem in this country; but they are only symptomatic of far deeper problems, ones with which conservatives would be the last to fathom or attempt to grapple, as Mr Douthout demonstrates: does he speak of racism, an economic (enlarging each day) underclass, the the vast chasm between the 1-5% of the extremely wealthy and the rest of the country; does he address Wall Street led collapse of the economy with outsourcing, etc. Hell no.

22. Brendan

Poverty creates violent crime. If people have economic opportunity, or even a fantasy that economic opportunity is available to them, they won’t turn to drugs, crime, violence.

You’re right in one place, Mr. Douthat. Letting criminals off easy won’t make them stop being criminals. But locking them up in giant prisons doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. It does allow a massive private business interest to rise up in order to run those prisons or provide services. Massive private business interests that are only interested in getting bigger and bigger prisons.

43. ohmygod

As long as folks like this writer think in glorious technicolor Black + White we’ll all be stuck in prisons of our own making. HIs argumentation sounds like it’s coming out fresh from politbureau party school. Isn’t it interesting btw how similar the Republican pundits sound and act like the old Russian politicians. The arguments the same ‘superficiality’, always talking about something but meaning something different. What’s actually the essence of this article? Exactly, there is none! Sentences like: Above all it requires conservatives to take ownership of prison reform and correct the system they helped build’. Correct exactly what, Mister? What about a bit being more specific besides the babble. He says ‘The Democrats still lack credibility on crime’. What does that support to mean? Anything besides politbureau schmuff? WHY write an utterly empty article and WHY print the same old ideological nonsense?

54. Rob P.

ALL western countries experienced declining crime rates starting in the early 1990’s that continues to this day. Aggregate numbers may be higher in some cases in Canada and the US, but that is largely a function of there simply being more people. To attribute declining rates to incarcerating more people is inaccurate.

Furthermore, I find it curious that there seems to be a lot of money to keep an army of people (more than 2 million) locked up for relatively minor crimes for ridiculous periods of time at tragically young ages. There seems to be little money, and in fact more often teacher layoffs and reduced budgets for education whenever the economy sours.

[…]  Given the cost of building and staffing prisons, as well as warehousing people, it seems a more effective approach to making a safer society would be to fully fund education, provide even the most disadvantaged with real world job skills and ongoing support if they require treatment for mental illness. This isn’t politically correct though and is much less exciting than the easy ‘tough on crime’ soundbite that passes for intelligent discourse.

Other, equally diverse countries have a rate of incarceration that is 1/6th that of the US. Criminalizing entire generations of people for minor crimes hasn’t reduced the crime rate in the US. One state, Texas, has increased spending on prisons by 1,600% over the last 25 years, without a matching reduction in crime rates. At that level of spending, Texas should be crime free, and yet the opposite is true.