Thursday, 28 February 2013

"Toughen Up" = Bad Advice.

I read this this morning, after listening to the show on Radio 4.

After listening to the programme I think it's a bit unfair for the headline to focus on the Lib Dem, as they all said that, to one degree or another. But just because they all said it, doesn't make it correct.

But what is worth commenting on, given the general slant of the posts on this blog, around Emotions in Politics, is the advice to "toughen up". It's a rather British response, I would say, but again that doesn't make it right.

This is atrocious advice. 

I've written before about advice to ignore your feelings, and the deadening of feeling experienced by Wellington. I've been reading around, with special reference to Graham Walllas and his exploration of how human nature and politics interact.

I also think the lady goes on to contradict herself, by saying the sisterhood should rise to the occasion and women SHOULD put in formal complaints. So her advice is to toughen up, accept this behaviour goes with the territory and burst into tears and reference an ex-boyfriend to get away from creepy men. And then put in complaints. 

The central advice to "toughen up" I don't get. In fact I think it's misguided and can lead to poor outcomes. When you "toughen up" you ignore your own feelings, which can lead to you not acting on them (i.e. making a complaint, venting to your friends, asking for support or guidance) and you can become dead to yourself. When you are dead to yourself, it's a short step to be dead to others. And thus, if one follows the advice given here, we have this disconnect between the electorate and politicians.

It's pretty obvious to be honest. 

Beliefs drive behaviour, in my view. If one thinks that really, one's own feelings are not that important in the world one is in, then the world will never improve, and worse, your feelings will start to be ignored by yourself, the one person able to do something about them. 

The theory referenced above goes that social (subjective) norms come into this evaluation by the person thinking about whether to report inappropriate touching or not. 

To put this in context, I would surmise if a hypothetical woman who cares a lot about what other people think, thinks they won't be believed, or that other women in politics think they should just "toughen up" then they are correspondingly less likely to report the behaviour and internalise instead.  Which is a poor outcome.

I really don't understand why politics has to be so different, from the standards we have in other areas of life. In part, it's advice like this, to "toughen up" that makes it so. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Human Brain Project or How I Found Out the Internet IS Made of Cats....

Today, I read this on projects announced by the President of the United States, and the European Union - the Human Brain Project, to be based in Switzerland and to cost upwards of 1.2 billion Euros  - aims to map the human brain in a way akin to mapping the human genome.

This has many exciting benefits, but one that caught my eye and hence my clicky-clicky finger is how interested the likes of Google and IBM could be in this development. Leading me onto how Google decided to construct a neural network and feed it "the internet" or data culled from Google itself.

"Control experiments show that this feature detector is robust not only to translation but also to scaling and out-of-plane rotation. We also find that the same network is sensitive to other high-level concepts such as cat faces and human bodies"

Proving that, of course, as we all know, the internet is actually made of cats. Construct a fake human brain - feed it a load of images from the internet and back it comes with : cats.

I could mention that the centralisation of data is, I believe, really only something that can be achieved by governments, and also sharing of data at user level (e.g. between medical professionals) seems relatively difficult and what is the difference between the two? 

Or, now that I think about it, there is legitimate framing for this post about human nature in politics and how this research may inform that in the future. 

But hey, who am I kidding? It was an opportunity to post a cat video, and therefore become part of the problem. 

The Internet is Made of Cats. 


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Action, Acting and Authenticity.

“A record of Action” “Action Days”, “Activists”  Politics, to me, is all about the action. This appeals very much to the part of me that wants to get things done, and improve things for everyone… I like creating new plans, projects and do this almost to a fault – I’ve noticed in the past I have to hold myself back from “something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done”.  This is why I think thoughtful conservatives deserve a place in British politics, even though I self-define as on the progressive side – sometimes you need people to hold back the reforming zeal of people like me.

But, as discussed in earlier posts, I think to a certain degree we all have to act a little, to get onto the next doorstep. Through canvassing and “action” last week, I received the small thrill as the door opens and someone you've never met before appears. They could be anyone, in whatever mood, made up to the nines, or in a dressing gown – and sometimes both!

At this point, you need to have a little chutzpah plus a little seduction if you will – to hold their attention for a few moments to engage in conversation and get across what you have to say. I believe activists are a great part of politics, connecting the electorate to the politicians as not many other methods do in close proximity. For we Lib Dems are notoriously fond of leaflets – but they are one way communication. The mainstream media can be two-way, especially with comments threads and Twitter**, but suffers the problem of being directed by editors and outside interests who wish to manipulate both public opinion and the outcome of politics within the UK. To really get across our message, we need to act a little to gain attention, but then share who we are, be authentic.

So, back to me on the doorstep. In my example, it would be useless to open with my exact feelings - “Hi! I was a bit nervous about you opening the door!” because it wouldn't be appropriate and the other person would be weirded out by this approach. So one acts a little. This makes me think of all the actors who've done well in politics: Ronald Reagan, Glenda Jackson, the Redgrave family, Tony Blair. However, at some point you should get real. Others do as well apparently, I’m very intrigued this week by Douglas Carswell and what he has to say about the vapidness of modern politics. I guess I know what he means.

Tony Blair, consummate actor, was very good at being sincere. But was he authentic? It’s a subtle difference*. Sincerity is about saying what you feel – authenticity is being who you are.  I’m trying to be authentic, I’m trying to be as integrated a person as I can, acting from values through communication to, you've got it, action. I'm also looking for truth.

So, with my Tony Blair example, I believe he was sincere about his reasons for going to war in Iraq - but as the dodgy dossier proved, he wasn't looking for truth. 

I think about what I’m about to do, and relate it back to what I believe in : liberalism, progressive politics, improving things, and why I think the Lib Dems are the best party to do it. Then, if what I'm about to do is in line with those values, I do it.  If I didn't, or I didn't do things in line with my values, I wouldn't be authentic.

So, next Action Day, or when I refer to myself as an activist, I think it might help to at least check how authentic I’m being. I hope you do too.

*For further reading on this, I recommend  Affluenza by Oliver James
**I'm giving up Twitter for Lent. This is proving difficult so far.