Just because there is sh*t in the world, it doesn’t mean the world is sh*t

“And, God forbid, do not read the Soviet newspapers before lunch.”

“Um … Why, there are no others?”

“Do not read any then. You know, I observed thirty patients in my clinic. And what do you think? Patients who did not read newspapers felt great. Those who I specifically forced to read ‘Pravda’, lost weight.”

“Hmmm,” said the bitten one, ruddy with soup and wine.

“Moreover, reduced knee reflexes, bad appetite, an oppressed state of mind…”

[Translated from Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov]

Whenever current affairs get really divisive, my faith in humanity wanes. Like really, wanes.

I am referring to the combination of the Belfast trial, the upcoming referendum in Ireland, the Skripals, the Russian election and the tragic fire in Siberia…

Feeling overwhelmed by all the recent news coverage and watching friends engage in social media battles, I was walking down the street and I really didn’t know how to handle it… and then I realised I was near a gallery.

I went in to look at The taking of Christ by Caravaggio, the most celebrated painting available in Dublin. I sat beside it for like a half-hour, probably looking like a mad person.

I stared at it just to get my mind off the other stuff.

I vaguely remembered a lecture that discussed how the arms of the different characters are all disproportionate. Look at Judas vs Jesus vs guard in armour:

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And then I thought: Jesus, there are some serious problems with this painting! Yet, this is one of the most celebrated paintings out there. And it is, in my opinion, beautiful.

Just because there is sh*t in the world, it doesn’t mean the world is sh*t.

The gender pay gap 💩

There is a hospital crisis in many places in Europe and it’s quite bad in Ireland. It’s a complicated situation. In the midst of this, one of Dublin’s major hospitals decided they won’t pay interns overtime.

Some background. Interns work anywhere between an average of 45 and 80 hours per week in my experience. I assume the hospital will pay for the on-call time (i.e. scheduled overtime), but not overtime done on regular days.

A lot of people who follow my education platform are interested in medicine. I decided to ask a question:

gender gap medicine ireland

First, it doesn’t help the doctors’ wages that people who want to do medicine are ok with working for free.

More interestingly, I found that there was a big divide between men and women. There is an all out war at the moment on whether this gap is at least in part explained by the choices that women make (e.g. 1 vs 2).

In the sample, there were 241 women and 57 men. The sex of 7 voters was unknown.

Of the men who voted, 82.4% said no. Of the women, 69.7% said no.

Surely this is contributing to the gender pay gap?

Of the yes voters, 12.0% were male. Of the no voters, 21.9% were male.

gender pay gap in irish hospitals
The chi-square statistic is 3.7272. The p-value is .053534. This result is not significant at p < .05.

Why? Some theories. The ones that are highlighted are the ones I feel are more plausible.

  1. Women are more likely to agree to work for free
  2. Women value altruism more than men do (conflicting evidence on this, e.g. 1 vs 2 vs 3)
  3. Women value prestige more than men do (rebuttal: I think men tend to engage in costly signalling more than women)
  4. Women don’t have the foresight to understand what it is like to not get paid for work (rebuttal: I think this is subsumed by reason 6)
  5. Men perceive that they are valued by society based on their ability to earn, not based on their job title (rebuttal: men chase after medals and value the concept of fighting for their country. There is no major monetary reward for that. Similar to number 3)
  6. Women are more optimistic about being able to enact change should they themselves be in an unfavourable situation
  7. Women don’t intend to stay in medicine for the rest of their lives (rebuttal: that’s not impossible, but it doesn’t explain why they would go into at all)
  8. Women don’t see their job as their only income (similar to the above point)

Problems:

  1. Self-selection: people who follow a service that helps to do especially well in school do not necessarily represent the general population
  2. This is a survey, hence the answers are more about one’s projections than actual behaviour
  3. Internalised gender roles: women are supposed to care more about helping others than money, therefore in a survey, they will answer “yes” (this is somewhat subsumed in reason 2)
  4. The sample in mostly women, so men’s answers have less statistical power
  5. The sample is small
  6. The voters lack context
  7. The way I phrased it may have put people off medicine, or indeed made them more righteous in voting yes.

 

Young Irish women in business, where art thou?

There are few things I love more than blogging, but sometimes I leave the den to socialise…

It would be awesome to go to a place where you could mingle with women in business.

Why women? Places that aren’t woman-only, tend to be >80% men, something I learnt from experience. It’s not always conducive to making good connectons.*

So I went for a google for local female entrepreneurial stuff. It spat out a whole list of places. The websites scream empowerment through networking, in bright pink. One even offered good vibes. In bright pink. A bit like Ann Summers.

I also came to learn that women in business more often than not means C-suite employees of large corporations. Fair enough. Even here, with 1-2 exceptions, it is similar.

What I notice is that the average age is ~40. Also fair enough.

What I had been expecting to find was 30 year old entrepreneurs. I think that’s quite different.

But what does it mean?

That it’s virtually impossible to have built something by 30, in this part of the world?

That virtually no women in their 30s take business seriously?

*because it’s downright odd to come to a group of lads and say hello. They look so excited that it doesn’t feel like they have any interest in talking about anything serious.

P.S. Preachin’

Young Irish Entrepreneur women

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Some December highlights:

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Santa’s train in Connolly station
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Peculiar-looking Christmas decorations on Henry Street
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DIY, the festive edition

 

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Trinity looking well at Christmas
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House parties look different when the older generation is involved
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A wrongly attributed statement sold as a Christmas card in a posh garden shop
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Harry Potter-y car with a matching child

 

Notes on The Last Psychiatrist

I love few things more than a great blog. My latest find: The Last Psychiatrist, an archived blog, mostly about narcissism.

I was so excited to learn his insights… I made notes.

What follows are his finest insights about narcissism and my comments.

Imagine a crowded subway, and a beautiful woman gets on. Hyper-beautiful, the kind of woman who can wear no makeup, a parka, earmuffs and a bulky scarf and that somehow makes her look even prettier. A handsome man about her age in an expensive suit gets up and says, “please, take my seat.” She smiles, and hastily sits down.

TLP (The Last Psychiatrist), as the author refers to himself, gives us two options as to how the woman should think about this:

  1. This was a sexually motivated act as far as the man was concerned
  2. He was just being nice

If you think of narcissism as grandiosity you miss the nuances, e.g. in her case the problem is narcissism without any grandiosity:

she is so consumed with her identity (as not pretty) that she is not able to read, to empathise with, other people’s feelings. Source

In another post, TLP explains why narcissism isn’t necessarily about grandiosity. This is a blatantly obvious point that escapes most people, unfortunately.

Being the main character of your own film isn’t necessarily grandiose. It is narcissistic though because all the other characters are only important because they help the viewer to understand the main story line.

Here are some less obvious traits of narcissism TLP outlined:

Shame over guilt (I think this is because shame is an emotion directed at the self, whereas guilt is an emotion directed at your victim)

envy over greed (greed would be a primary reason to look for something, whereas envy is only a desire to catch up because otherwise otherwise it’s a bad reflection on you. I liked how this was called “existential agency” here.)

He [the narcissist] thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X… (and that’s one of the reasons why we love brands)

The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong;  but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.

And this really brings it back to the original myth that TLP broke down beautifully here:

Narcissus mother took him to a clairvoyant who said, “He’ll have a long life as long as he never knows himself.

Narcissus kept rejecting people who fell in love with him because they weren’t good enough.

One rejected lover was furious and begged Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, for retribution.  “If Narcissus ever falls in love, don’t let the love be returned!”

Nemesis  heard the prayer and caused Narcissus to fall in love with himself: he was lead to a  pool of water, and when he looked into it, he fell in love with what he saw.  And what he saw wasn’t real, so of course it couldn’t love him back.  But Narcissus sat patiently, forever, hoping that one day that beautiful person in the bottom of the pool was going to come out and love him.

Because he never loved anyone, he fell in love with himself. That was Narcissus’s punishment.

This brings up an interesting point: how are you meant to feel about yourself?

Let’s first look at what we want. What we pay for. A huge portion of marketing directly helps us to be in love with ourselves, because we’re worth it. They’re not even trying to hide that the feeling of being in love with yourself is what they’re selling. And it’s not punishment as we see it – otherwise we wouldn’t buy it. I suppose it’s a psychic equivalent of putting a person on heroin. You mightn’t feel it’s a punishment, but it is.

Then there are the more subtle “intellectual” publications that help you love yourself (see the distinction from being in love with yourself? Cause that would be shallow.) I wonder how many pages were dedicated to helping people see Narcissus’ infatuation as Buddhist acceptance or some other high and mighty concept.

There isn’t really anywhere that would tell you that you’re meant to not love yourself.

What happened to Narcissus doesn’t really sound so horrible in today’s culture. Maybe he wouldn’t have even retaken a selfie if he lived today and been happy with the first shot? That level of self-acceptance is just enviable! He’s winning at life by millennial standards!… Indeed, TPL calls narcissism “a generational pathology”.

TLP goes on to discuss Narcissus’ parents’ role, which I thought was priceless:

He will have a long life, if he never knows himself.

Forget about whether the prophecy is true.  Ask instead, “what would the parents have done once they heard it?”…

Next time I feel insignificant and weak, maybe I need to hold on to that feeling, because my culture will obviously infuse me with my own grandiosity without me ever trying.

TLP has another explanation for why Narcissus stayed looking at the primordial selfie lake though.

He didn’t stay there for years because the reflection had pretty hair.  He stayed because daydreaming takes a lot of time.

In other words, Narcissus didn’t recognise himself and spent all that time conjuring up images of how wonderful life would be with that person in the reflection…

And the DSM says exactly that, only it adds a grandiose twist: “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”.

I am confused now.

Narcissus fell in love with himself, only he didn’t know if was himself.

So, as far as Narcissus was concerned, he was genuinely in love with another human being – only they were unreachable. Their personality was entirely a figment of his imagination…

Wait, that’s not Narcissus, that’s Gatsby! (Who also dies in a body of water, fair dues to FitzGerald).

Narcissus’ crime wasn’t being in love with himself at all. Phew, it’s ok to let L’Oreal and #positivethinking to get money and likes.

Narcissus’ crime was not knowing himself.

Actually, no, again.

TLP puts it better:

The moral of the story of Narcissus, told as a warning for the very people who refuse to hear it as such, is that how Narcissus came to be is irrelevant.  What was important was what he did, and what he did – was nothing.

And that’s his main crime: he never cared about anyone real. To me that’s all one ever needs to know to understand narcissism.

TLPs advice on how to not be a narcissist is to fake it. I think what TLP’s getting at is that your behaviour is much more important than your identity.

Trying to be old

I loved how the sun lit up the windows of the ostentatiously classy restaurant come wine bar on St. Andrew’s Street in Dublin called Stanley’s. The bleached turquoise exterior with golden letters spelled understated chic.

A few doors down from the expensive Trocadero, the location seemed perfect for such a place.

It opened about 2 years ago. Today I found that it’s been replaced with a place called Kathmandu, a gerrish, bright orange Nepalese eatery. Full of people. 

Stanley’s was never full of people.

Why? Where did they go wrong? Where didn’t they go right, more like? The broadly positive Irish Times review and then another even more positive one? The perfect location? The classy interior in modern blues and grays? What more could people want?

Or is it maybe that classy is old-fashioned. Maybe these things don’t sell anymore.

I love old books, films, chandeliers, even houses. Often these things sell at a perplexing yet welcome discount.  Has it always been this way – that old things are cheap?

Writing up my list of the Christmas gifts I want to give, I realised that I strongly prefer older things. I think it’s from reading too many XIX century novels…

Which would you rather get for Christmas, a new iPhone or an antique chandelier? 

It turns out that the iPhone is about five times the price. This raises another point: did old things always go at a discount?

And finally, maybe that’s why Stanley’s closed down. Perhaps their bet was on people’s vanity, a desire for a classy place to shorten the protracted winters nights. But it never caught on.

Trying to be old without actually being old may be a hard sell. 

Pareto principle as a consequence of positive feedback loops

“Alexander to Aristotle greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.”

And Aristotle, soothing this passion for preeminence, speaks, in his excuse for himself, of these doctrines, as in fact both published and not published: as indeed, to say the truth, his books on metaphysics are written in a style which makes them useless for ordinary teaching, and instructive only, in the way of memoranda, for those who have been already conversant in that sort of learning.

– The Life of Alexander the Great By Plutarch

Besides the fact that Alexander was a paranoid megalomaniac, this occurred to me:

Learning begets more learning.

As well as:

  • Fitness begets more fitness.
  • Money begets more money.
  • Friendship begets more friendship.
  • Even children – traditionally people tended to either have none at all or a good few.

There is positive feedback (all up to a point of course and then returns diminish).

Why are societal things positive feedback loops whereas biological things are generally negative feedback loops? There are exceptions of course, notably the use it or lose it principle in anything neurological/behavioural as well as in exceptional situations like labour.

Can we think of any examples where there is a negative feedback loop in a sociological context?

It doesn’t have to be limited to humans by the way.

I can think of the following examples of negative feedback in society:

  • Election fatigue or the general situation of chasing after someone who isn’t interested be it in marketing or in interpersonal situations (for clarity, we can phrase it as the more attention they receive, the less attention they return).
  • Obviously, there are lots of theories about how markets self-regulate, but they are filled with problems.
  • Prices vs demand and prices vs supply is another tempting one. However, here the relationship is more genuinely between supply and demand rather than between either of those and price – and that’s not a negative loop.

And if there aren’t very many examples of negative feedback, this explains that so many things in society follow the 80/20 rule rather than the normal distribution.

In fact, you can extrapolate the 80/20 rule. Then you get:

64% of outcomes come from 4% of causes,

51.2% of outcomes come from 0.8% of causes.

I have about 20 GB worth of songs on my phone and I listen to the same 10 tracks. In other words, because there is no negative feedback (up to a pretty high threshold), these 10 songs monopolise my listening “choices”.  I have a whole wardrobe of stuff but I wear the same things all the time. Same with pots and pans. Apps on my phone.

Income inequality doesn’t quite as devilish when you think about it this way.

My thinking is that if we find more examples of macro scale negative feedback loops, we may be able to understand whether there is another way.

Or are we just always going to be in a use it or lose it situation? Are we just one giant self-similar network of walking talking neurons?

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By BewareircdOwn work, Public Domain, Link