TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG: RIFFING ON MONTAIGNE

Ubiquitous, like its Latin root ubique, is everywhere. It’s omnipresent, far and wide, here and there. Like blogs and their forebears, diaries, essays, stream-of-consciousness, each and every last one – drum roll please – is ubiquitous.

Why have I joined their fray? It began with the occasional Op Ed in major newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe for example. Then it was LA Weekly. As budgets shrank and readers shifted, priorities hardened. Make it newsworthy became the mantra. Not a bad emphasis, I might add, especially for a newspaper, but I grew tired of waiting for news stories that lent themselves to the opinions I wanted to write. Even successful bloggers eventually told me that I should be writing blogs that are topical, buzzworthy, and capable of being quoted or tweeted by a journalist. Showing up on facebook should be a priority too.

Good advice no doubt, particularly for a person who wants to be read, quoted, and known. I like those things too, but they are a far cry from the reason I write. I write because I enjoy it. I write because I have plenty of things to say. I’ve spent a lifetime as a psychology professor at UCLA, I’ve been an expert witness in decades of extraordinary litigation, and I’ve been a singer and lyricist in an Americana Desolation punk rock band.

My inspiration is the sixteenth-century author Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. His volumes, published under the title Essays, are extended journeys through introspection. Montaigne was a master of his inner world, a superb phenomenologist of himself, a philosopher of internal minutiae. Opining as a laid-back wordsmith, he wrote about countless things, detachment, erectile dysfunctions, war. Montaigne was every person’s every person.

Even if I were capable of writing with understated elegance, Montaigne’s abiding gift was his ability to articulate the incidentals of his inner life. It gave the Essays timeless appeal. I however am a storyteller. I have great source material, but one foot remains in academia. My blogs will be an acquired taste, if at all.

There is something else I found remarkable about Montaigne. His psychological sophistication was often extraordinary. I felt the same about Boswell’s diaries, James Madison’s personal letters, and many other documents of old. Though psychologists are accustomed to believing that psychological interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for example, are contemporary in origin, the fundamental insights are centuries old, approximately 100 AD to be exact. We are what we think.

That advice remains the same. Author credit is another matter entirely.

 

BEYOND COPIOUS DRUGS AND COUNTLESS SEXUAL ADVENTURES: Elvis, Leonard Cohen, and The Smiths

Have you ever stumbled upon an unending soliloquy to sex and drugs, as if Jackass: The Movie had somehow morphed into Jackass: The Rock Bio whereby celebrated musicians vie for salacious notoriety in a pseudo-literary rock memoir?

Dissipation thankfully is not illumination.

Whatever happened to trenchant explorations of a complex life? Visionary musicians are artists who struggle to compose compressed aural narratives that viscerally depict human experience, and by doing so rightly deserve nuanced and multifaceted portrayals, something on the order of: The Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley; I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen; and A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths. Other noteworthy examples include Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain and Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix.

A HIGH AMBITION FOR TRUTH: PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTS FOR PEDOPHILIA REVISITED

The point I wanted to make in the previous post is this. Ignore pedophilia for the moment, and think of high cholesterol instead. Now presume that 50% of men have high cholesterol. A good diagnostic test for high cholesterol would then have to improve upon this base rate. Simply claiming that every man has high cholesterol, would at the very least, be 50% accurate.

The medical field, nevertheless, could still conclude that a good diagnostic test isn’t needed because the cost of misdiagnoses, either a false positive (claiming that a man has high cholesterol when in fact he doesn’t) or a false negative (claiming a man does not have high cholesterol when in fact he does) is trivial because statins do no harm. If a statin is consumed, but not needed, so what; if a statin is consumed, and then lowers cholesterol, great.

The financial and emotional costs of misdiagnoses, let alone the health risks, are another matter entirely. This is why the field of medicine puts a high priority on good diagnostic tests.

Returning again to pedophilia, if only 5% of men are pedophiles, it’s impossible for a psychological test to improve upon this base rate. Because psychology, unlike medicine, often fails to put a premium on good diagnostic tests, sufficing instead with makeshift self-reports, the problems are then compounded. Existing tests for pedophilia, in fact, have atrocious construct validity, relying as they do upon small, truncated samples of convicted pedophiles for validation.

Much worse however is the fact that a poor diagnostic instrument in the field of pedophilia is going to make countless errors (false Positives and false Negatives) that are going to have grave consequences where litigation is concerned. True pedophiles (false negatives) are going to escape conviction and gain custody of their kids.

 

DANCING ON THE HEAD OF PEDOPHILIA: THE FUTILITY OF CHASING PEDOPHILES WITH PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTS

It’s a simple rule of thumb. The efficacy of a diagnostic test is determined largely by the base rate of the phenomena under study. If pedophilia is rare, for example, it’s going to be hard to detect.

Presume that pedophiles comprise 5% of the male population. If one then asserts that pedophilia is baseless, that statement is 95% accurate. Only 5% of the population is misdiagnosed. Psychological tests for pedophilia, despite comforting illusions to the contrary, never approach that level of precision.

Pedophiles are also extremely secretive; they’re devious too, eliminating confidence in self-reports. The bigger concern however is the appalling costs of diagnostic errors. In custody battles, for instance, men who are not pedophiles (false positives) can lose their kids, whereas men who are pedophiles (false negatives) can gain them. Imprudent evaluators and expert witnesses, who then arm themselves with makeshift psychological tests for pedophilia and unabashedly insert themselves into protracted litigation, make mockery of diagnostic decision-making. That such tests, and the testimony surrounding them, have gained admissibility as scientific evidence in the courtroom is regrettable in the extreme.

 

TANGLED UP IN GREEN: TOURETTE FLORET

It was a sympathetic and deeply moving portrayal; repetitive movements, striking gestures, cascading emotions; altogether seemingly unstoppable. My wife and I were transfixed. Alexx Shilling’s solo dance was breathtaking, and Victoria Marks’ choreography was flawless. In a world hooked on psychobabble, Tourette Floret is a thoroughly refreshing example of how psychological phenomena can be effectively depicted without words.

 

A FLY IN THE OINTMENT: MEDICAL DOCTORS WITH SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS

Doctors have heart attacks, get cancers, and feel depressed. They get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) too. His or her tattoos, genital piercings, and pubic hair prunings are no doubt suspect, but more likely it is something else entirely. Being too high, too drunk, or too impassioned to play safely are the more probable culprits. STIs can happen to anyone. It’s an ironic realism of medicine. Nailing down behavioral risk is certainly important, but not to the exclusion of making safe sex fun. Even doctors are more likely to reach for pleasure enhancing safe sex accessories when the going gets hot.

 

TO PRUNE OR NOT TO PRUNE: DUBIOUS CONFESSIONS OF PUBIC HAIR JUNKIES

Sporting a do is better than a don’t, because the do, apparently, reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Using a nationally representative probability sample, doctors at UCSF discovered that extreme grooming of pubic hair may create epidermal microtears that serve as conduits for STIs, or alternatively, extreme groomers have higher incidences of STIs because they engage in more adventurous sex. Curious findings no doubt but in either case the research relied upon a notoriously capricious methodology, the one-shot self- report questionnaire. As noted in the previous post (The Metaphoric Center of Sex) one of the three truisms of sex is that people lie like hell about it. Perhaps folks who are willing to admit extreme grooming are more willing to admit STIs too, which in itself would account for the covariation. The real issue however is not so much the risks of pubic pruning, but the bankruptcy of safe sex. Condoms suck. Putting time and money into developing pleasurable alternatives to condoms safeguards sex for everyone. Lest we forget, we’re all denizens in a tangled world of desire.