Dumbing of America – Drink me

Is it only me?  Or is our great nation, the greatest nation on Earth, getting dumber?

What do I mean, this time?

We like to drink our water in a variety of ways.  For thousands of years we were happy with exactly that, plain water.  Then we learned about flavoring the water with leaves, berries, and fruit.  Eventually we added sugar, gas, and started the fizzy-pop-soda industry.

In the few decades that I’ve been alive, I’ve seen the rise of a whole new industry, water.

I never thought it possible, After all, it took mankind thousands of years to figure out how to get a fresh water supply to all of us through a marvelous system of pipes, filters, and pumps.  Now, here we are at the pinnacle of progress, and what do we do?  We turn our noses up at “free” water coming from our taps, and prefer to spend billions on the same water that comes in individual containers.

So, here I am watching a great Korean drama, and what do I see?  An advertisement for drinking water.  Not just any water.  This is water that you flavor, YOURSELF!  Yes, not only are we buying individual bottles of water, but we are also now buying the flavors separately so that you can add them yourself!  It’s almost as if we have stepped back in time.  We are going out to gather our own water.  And then we go out to gather our berries to add for flavor.

What else is wrong with this picture?  You are not only paying for water that you can get from the tap, but you also have to buy the flavoring.  You could have bought some flavored drink earlier, but now you do it yourself.  There’s a good chance that what you are paying for the combined water and flavor is MORE THAN what you would have paid for the flavored drink in the first place.

So, if you know someone who’s paying twice for something they could have only bought once, help them out.  A mind is a terrible thing to waste, no matter what the taste.

Miles high club

Most people don’t think about flying as a behavior, yet it is all about behavior in it most advanced and blatant forms.

First, you walk onto a platform suspended above the ground.  You’ve been on bridges many times, perhaps so many times you’ve forgotten their inherent danger.  YOU ARE SUSPENDED with only tiny sticks holding you up!  True, those sticks may be I-beams, concrete pillars, but they hold you up!

After walking across that bridge, you enter a narrow aluminum can.  If you were the size of a gummy bear the average soda can would be the exact same analogy.  You’re in a can.  A can with wings.  And really strong engines.

You know all these things, yet you still walk into that can.  (Chances are…) You aren’t an engineer.  You aren’t a physicist.  Yet you trust the engines to roar.  You trust the moving air to lift the wings.  You trust the wings to stay attached to your tin can.  And you trust the pilot to take you up and down, safely.  It’s a bridge THAT MOVES!

All of this is behavior.  It took knowledge and lots of work to make those engines, those wings, those connections.  It took courage and confidence for the first aviators to look upward, saying goodbye to the ground.  And it takes your trust in fellow man (along with a dash of courage in yourself) to follow millions of fellow travelers into the air.

It’s also a behavior to allow yourself to be squeezed into 20 inches of knee room.  Or allowing a stranger to sneeze in your lap.  Or allowing the person in front of you to drop their seat into your lap without asking.

You can choose how you wish to behave.  Behavior is everything we do, everything every living thing can do.  But what makes behavior so fascinating is that all of it is under our influence.  You choose to fly.  Not because you have wings, but because you trust others who have made wings for you.

Have a great flight!  Behave yourself!


Invented Money

One of the many hurdles we have to overcome in understanding our own behavior is being able to recognize life-long assumptions about the world.

You, and I, grew up with money.  As children it was given to us as coins: playthings, distractions, allowance, objects of art.  It’s always been a part of our lives, as it was for our grandparents, and their grandparents before them.

It wasn’t always so.  Someone, a long long time ago, invented money.  Money is what psychologists call a secondary reinforcer.  It represents something else.  In our case, money may represent the work you do for your company.  You and the company agreed that for every hour you work, you receive some money.

In the olden times, you received this money in physical form.  Then we invented checks.  Then we invented electronic money.  This electronic money doesn’t even really exist.  We only know that it’s there because of the ones and zeroes a computer spits out when we ask it the question, “how much is in my account.”

As students of behavior we have to always remember that money isn’t real.  We have to understand that it was invented as a convenient mechanism to help relate “value.”  How does the value of my labor compare to the value of that kumquat you have found?  How does the value of my face relate to the value of a video advertisement that can make millions of people want to buy your lipstick?

Value is the real, underlying behavioral quality that money tries to deal with.  Value is what is truly important, and is what we should be discussing.  A life with value has no need of money.

And you can take that to the bank.


Reporting stereotypes

Last week noted how reporting is a relatively new profession within our society.  As a profession, they have come a long way.  Yet there is a long way to go.

When a reporter tells us a story that contains a couple of facts, they can save time by resorting to a stereotype.  The word stereotype comes from the early days of printing.  A metal plate had to be made up of all the letters to be printed on a page of blank paper.  That was the stereotype.  We started using the word later on to mean describing something in very general terms.  “All computers are useless” is a stereotype statement for an old crotchety person, even though the rest of us think that is incorrect.

Reporters like to use stereotypes when they can because it saves them a lot of time.  If they didn’t, the story would take longer, and their mean editor would make them take out something else – like a boring fact or two.

When a reporter describes a particular challenge that a dark-skinned person has encountered, they like to describe it as a problem of “race.”  In our society, we used to like to describe different ethnic groups as different “races.”  The Italian race, the Jewish race, or even as “Red” or “Yellow” depending on their backgrounds.

The deep problem here is that these divisions are wholly contrived, they don’t exist in reality.  We made them up for emotional reasons, and they persist because people like reporters continue to use them.  Biologists, geneticists, and anthropologists have proven over and over again that there is no such thing.  We are all so similar as people that we may as well divide ourselves based on “gap toothed” or “pigeon toed.”

So, if you’re a reporter, please stick to the facts – the real facts.  And if you’re a student of behavior, remember that we are all alike in very deep ways.  You may have even been the victim of prejudice because of your skin color, but take solace in the fact that it wasn’t because of your race.


Science IS fun

Last Funday I pointed out that science, the process of learning, could be fun.  Fisics is a good example of where some famous discoveries were made by thinking of scenarios that push the boundaries of our knowledge.  They address the question, “What if?”

And I asked you, Gentle Reader, what professional (they get paid!) does this today in the area of behavior?  Not an academic, mostly.  Not economists or social workers either.  No, they are writers!  Specifically writers of science fiction.

“Oh no,” you say.  Science fiction writers write about science!  They don’t write about behavior.  And I say, come and take a close look.

First and foremost, none of these writers could sell a book without including a character with human characteristics.  Maybe they are ‘aliens’ or ‘robots,’ but there will be a character.  And because all the known readers for this book ARE human (as far as we know) they must write so that the humans empathize and bond with this character.

The “science” is only a device that allows the writer to expand his universe, to warp and twist the known world into a new shape, hopefully making the characters interact in more interesting ways.  In this way future world can explore what happens when drugs are legal, or when everyone can have their genes altered making them super-powered.  Perhaps the writer will place humanity among the stars, or put our brains into robot bodies.  It doesn’t matter exactly what they do, but that they do it, and explore.

And that’s the most important part.  What does happen to a human when you put their brain into a robot?  What happens to their spouse, their family, and their society?  How do the laws of behavior react?  What interesting affects occur?  And here is the true science of science fiction.

Except that these writers, the academics, and all the other professionals don’t realize that it’s happening.  And that’s a subject for next week.