Why Other People Hurt Us so Damn Much and What to Do About It

I am often asked to provide counsel on the conflicts within families, between friends, and other situations, which are up close and personal, often in the case of families with deep roots in family history. Some seem almost impossible to untangle at which point the old Clash record: “Should I stay or should I go” seems to start playing in peoples’ heads. :)

But there is maybe one approach I have personally found helpful in such situations of inter-personal pain. It is, in a nutshell, to separate out what is driving the other people to behave in ways that cause us so much pain from the question of why their behavior causes us this pain.

There is much to recommend about the process of understanding other people, other people’s demons that drive them to cause us pain. It can allow us to predict their next attack. It can help us realize: hey it’s not about us but about their stuff. It may allow us to develop mental martial arts moves to counter or block their attacks. We can even (as readers of my blog may recall) use my favorite response to any conflict attack: a question like “why do you say that? What is driving your need to attack me? Is it your stuff?” This can stop people in their tracks sometimes. Though it can also make them quite angry as you are forcing them to confront their stuff, their demons. So use with care unless you are a battle hardened labor relations veteran like me with diminished pain sensitivity. :)

Or you can even use my wife’s great tactic when she thinks someone has put her down, she asks “Was that a put down?” If they say no: then she says: “Well it sure sounded like one. Maybe use different words?” and if they say yes it was, she says: “Why would you want to put me down? What’s your beef with me?”

But, while this boxing ring stuff has some place, especially where the person concerned is oblivious to your tactics and continues on their merry way, or where there is a power differential against you, there is another angle. It is to use the pain they cause you to figure out why what they say causes this pain. And I am not talking about physical violence here, where you should call the police. But psychological attacks.

I suggest you notice where it hurts when they attack you, what part of your mind or body feels the pain. And find some quiet time to write about or think through what in your own history makes this so painful. It is a sort of conflict-triggered self therapy. And, of course, you might need professional help for this, or a steady friend, who is not going to judge you. I even jokingly tell people: note where the pain buttons are that those close to you push on a regular basis, mark them with a felt tip pen and run the uninstall program in your brain to get rid of them. This is a metaphor in case you take it literally: do not try this at home. :) (I also note that parents know where their children’s pain buttons are because they installed them; an insight I gave to a friend of mine about her mother’s effect on her, forgetting she had a daughter too and  she asked if I were suggesting she had done that to her daugher?)

So with this approach you now have a twin track method: understand those who inflict psychological pain on you and their reasons, and adopt appropriate measures to defend yourself or cut off from this crap. But use the pain they cause to good end to figure out why it hurts so damn much, so you can use the pain to better sit with and figure out your own demons. With the latter, I advocate inviting them in for tea and listen to them sympathetically….

Hope this helps. It is not easy, but neither is suffering the continuing pain others can inflict on you. And remember mostly: “It’s not about you!”, their actions.

And I have previously posted on Peter Kramer’s fine book “Should You Leave?” which is a good approach to relationship conflict. If you search for his name in the search box for this site you will see a few postings around his work.

Posted in Conflict Processes, Marital and Relationship Conflict, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Philosophy of Conflict, The Conflict Model, Ways to handle conflict | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I/Us/Them and Moral Tribes According to Joshua Greene

Joshua Greene’s fine book “Moral Tribes” that I have just read throws much light on the topic a friend of mine raised: why professors of ethical philosophy test no more moral in psychology experiments on everyday behavior than the rest of us, and sometimes worse.

Greene suggests we evolved in small face to face groups and we are largely on moral auto-pilot driven by the rules of our small group/co-religionists/tribe whatever by the instincts of what feels right, what makes us ashamed if we violate it. Hence attitudes to betrayal, to pork, to gay marriage to whatever: automatic disgust mechanisms as per Jon Haidt’s work I have previously posted on . This moral auto pilot helps “I” work with “Us”, makes us social beings like most primates.

But Greene thinks this is useless when we try to bridge not between “I” and “Us” but between “Us” and “Them”. Why? Because our moral auto pilots are not aligned with those of other groups. They are wired with local moral variants and indeed evolution drove a competitive struggle between groups as to what group binding mechanisms were most effective in competing with other groups. And groups have different moral bindings.

But we now live in a very connected world and in this world. Greene thinks we need to find moral and ethical ways to cooperate and coexist with groups with very different moral auto-pilots. Hence we need to use rational ethical ways to solve the political problems of inter-group conflict. This is where ethics professors come in. They are no different from the rest on day to day moral auto pilot but they can throw a lot of light on what we should do when moral auto pilot doesn’t work: when we are facing groups with different moral auto pilots.

Greene advocates utilitarianism: figuring out what is in our collective interests and this has to be data driven, has to include critical thinking and some override of our moral auto pilot that might say kill those not like us. Given my experience trying to persuade people to use systematic approaches to conflict as per this blog, this is hard. People prefer to deny conflict, to evade conflict, and then if forced to confront it often respond with murderous rage, preferring this to actually stepping back and handling the conflict systematically with some process discipline. 

Joshua Greene Professor of Psychology at Harvard University:

Posted in Academic Conflict, Conflict Book Reviews, Conflict Processes, Marital and Relationship Conflict, Neuro-science of conflict, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Philosophy of Conflict, Religious Conflict, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Economic Theories of Keynes versus Friedman

I was asked in an on line discussion to summarize the different economics approaches of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and Milton Friedman (1912-2006) and I thought the conflict between the two who are so rarely read or understood was an interesting subject for this blog briefly and simplistically: 

Keynes was a strong supporter of capitalist markets and an astute investor in them. And his approach can be seen as an attempt to avoid communist or fascist central planning, non-market authoritarianism. He did, however, think that Classical economics made a fundamental error. Say’s Law suggests supply creates its own demand and he thought this nonsense, not only for reasons of wage and price stickiness, but because aggregate demand could get stuck well below capacity for prolonged periods. In the 1920s he invented a form of monetarism thinking that money supply manipulation and low interest rates were market solutions to the problem.

But by the 1930s he developed an approach around the role of government and fiscal deficits in times of major depression and fiscal surpluses in times of inflation and demand exceeding supply. One of his central insights was that the markets for savings and investment would often not be balanced by the interest rate, because we save for reasons other than interest income, in particular we save for precautionary reasons especially in hard times. So it was likely in depression that savings would greatly exceed investment spending especially as the latter would plummet given low demand for goods and services: why invest on capacity that was under utilized already?

Given this he thought it necessary that the short fall in aggregate demand could be made up by the government running a fiscal deficit: spending exceeding taxes, though this could be achieved by reducing taxes or increasing spending or some combo. (Haavelmo explained how this might work and Kalecki warned about some risks of this in a democracy). This might involved printing money or it might involve borrowing the excess savings and spending them on infrastructure. Keynes hoped that the latter would be productive and have a long term return for the economy in terms of roads, bridges whatever.

Friedman started as a Keynesian and never really disagreed fundamentally with the Keynesian approach but developed his own. He too thought capitalism flawed. He and Anna Schwartz studied the 1930s and thought the problem was the inadequate money supply because the Fed did not print enough money to maintain effective demand. He built on the work of Irving Fisher and Keynes in the 1920s to create modern monetarism as a way to manage capitalism and as an alternative to Keynes’ fiscal deficits. Essentially he thought that price inflation correlated with the money supply because the velocity of circulation and transaction rates were stable. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to measure the money supply and there is no reason to suppose in a depression or boom that velocity of circulation and transaction rates are stable. But his approach of printing money is the core of current QE policy and was central to Alan Greenspan’s free market fundamentalism and the famous Greenspan put.

Keynes approach was not really tried much in the New Deal and deficits were very limited relative to the size of the economy/size of the deficit in aggregate demand. But his approach was a brilliant success in WW2 and when extended via Bretton Woods to the international scene the foundation of post war prosperity, creating the landscape in which capitalism could thrive in a managed way. Unfortunately President Nixon who thought he was a Keynesian (as Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were) but didn’t understand it. He took the US off gold, destroyed Bretton Woods and spent his way to election victory in 1972 and set the scene for stagflation of the 1970s. Keynes approach showed its limitations because he didn’t expect Nixonian insanity.

Friedman’s finest hour was when Paul Volcker appointed by President Carter shut down the money supply expansion and raised interest rates and strangled stagflation. Thereafter, via raising defense spending and cutting taxes producing large deficits. President Reagan became yet another Keynesian to put the economy back on track, though he was sane enough to raise taxes when the deficit got out of hand unlike President Bush 2. President Bush 2 was more like Nixon: a bastard Keynesian who ran deficits in response to 9/11 but then kept them in good times and in all ended in 2008 tears….

Friedman’s approach has never been much good in depressions because merely having money supply available does nothing to make businesses want to invest. As Keynes said it is like pushing string. And in fact the US has since 2008 been running fiscal deficits as per Keynes though in my view they should have been initially larger. QE has helped but has led to asset price inflation in stocks and housing that will come back to bite us.

And if you want to see what happens when you don’t use QE and you try to balance budgets in the face of a depression, look at Europe that is an economic catastrophe, partly because of the Euro but mainly because it has not done QE or the right fiscal stimulus. The UK is like the US but has recovered slower because it tried austerity too but fortunately wasn’t very serious about it.

Hope this helps, though I personally doubt many those who argue from a “markets/capitalism is never wrong” faith based viewpoint can actually take this in, even without agreeing as they tend to disregard any theory or data that contradicts it.  I have not met a conservative, who understood Keynes or Friedman except David Stockman who understands Friedman and hates his theory but has never read or understood Keynes at all. But then I may have met a skewed sample.

Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes:

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Bin Laden’s Successful Asymmetrical Warfare Game Plan

Asymmetrical warfare is a strategic means for a very weak enemy to inflict harm on a very powerful enemy. It uses unconventional means to achieve its objective, and of course these means can be deeply evil, as we have seen. In this context, I was thinking this afternoon that in his wildest dreams Osama Bin Laden, when he spent $600,000 on executing 9/11 and killing around 3000 people (about equal to the monthly gun deaths or road deaths in the US), he would provoke the US, the world’s sole remaining superpower in 2001, into

1) Starting an unrelated war with Iraq that cost it $2 trillion and accelerated the pace at which China would overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, as has just this month happened
2) Disrupted the Atlantic alliance as few of its members supported the Iraq War and many remain suspicious of the US as a result
3) Set the scene for an immensely disruptive Sunni-Shia civil war in the Middle East that has yet to run its course, and may bring stateless anarchy longer term to many areas, while considerably boosting Iran as a regional power and in Iraq
4) So panicked the CIA and Bush Administration that it authorized a totally disproportionate, ineffective, torture program that achieved minimal tactical intelligence at maximum strategic discrediting of the US brand world wide.
5) Set the scene for huge fiscal deficits that made responding to the Financial Crisis of 2008 with counter cyclical spending so much harder.

6) Created a vast security state apparatus in the US, which I am not clear achieves very much beyond intrusion and job creation/defense contracts.

The US was basically gamed by a deeply evil amateur fanatic, who read the way its ‘if it bleeds it leads’ media, government and national psyche would respond to his provocation, but even he grossly under-estimated just how effective he would be and how few grown ups there were to stop the panic.

I don’t post this for partisan reasons, but as a US military style After Action Review comment on the US response to what happened on 9/11 and afterwards, and also as context to the current debate in the US on what might be called ‘torture by any other enhanced interrogation name would still be torture’. It is also a contribution to the study of asymmetrical warfare. I suspect this action will form a case study of this form of warfare at West Point if it doesn’t already do so. And I mean no disrespect to the victims in raising this question about which of course I may be mistaken and am open to correction. I am also interested and will posted separately on what can be learned from this about what to do better in future.

I would summarize the chief lesson, using the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s slogan: “Don’t Panic!” on this dark subject.


Posted in Conflict Processes, Middle East Conflict, Types of conflict, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Jonathan Haidt on the Increasing Polarization of American Politics

Posted by in Civility, Politics, Videos

Here is my most complete talk on the causes of America’s rising political polarization and dysfunction. It’s more pessimistic than my prior talks. I was invited to speak in November at the NYU Law School, at a session hosted by professor Rick Pildes. Pildes wrote a superb law review article in 2011 on the causes of our dysfunction, from an “institutionalist” perspective, looking at Congress and electoral processes: Why the Center Does Not Hold: The Causes of Hyperpolarized Democracy in America

When I first read it, I thought Pildes’s account of the history was enlightening, but I thought he was too negative about the chances for real reform. But I re-read his paper while preparing for this talk, and realized he was right — and prophetic. He predicted that Obama would soon start bypassing congress and implementing policy by regulatory fiat; he predicted that one or both parties would soon start cutting back on the filibuster, unilaterally.

In this talk I integrate moral psychology with recent American history to explain the TEN reasons why America has been getting more polarized — at the elite level AND at the mass (public) level. My talk runs from minute 2 to minute 46, and then there’s commentary from Pildes, then open discussion.

In this talk I integrate moral psychology with recent American history to explain the TEN reasons why America has been getting more polarized — at the elite level AND at the mass (public) level. My talk runs from minute 2 to minute 46, and then there’s commentary from Pildes, then open discussion.

Posted in Conflict Processes, Uncategorized, US Political Conflict | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Duck God or Rabbit God? Good Cause for War?

I liked this cartoon which seems to apply to much religious fundamentalism, especially in the light of religious scholar Karen Armstrong insights, who thinks that at the core of all major religions is the injunction of the Golden Rule to treat others as you would be treated which presumably looks like a rabbit to some and a duck to others? :)



Posted in Conflict Humor, Conflict Processes, Neuro-science of conflict, Philosophy of Conflict, Religious Conflict | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

It’s the Poor Who Get the Blame

I loved this satire from Bill Milner on conservative views of the 2008 Financial Crash: 

Poor people desiring decent housing have such power and influence over the US government, that they were the primary cause of the global economic crash. Housing discrimination is of no concern, and in any case, is not the government’s business. Fostering higher home ownership rates and affordable rental rates, should not be a public objective but subsidizing the ownership of multiple palatial residences for wealthy people is a reasonable function of government.

Our financial system is failing because government and business caters to the poor. The private sector caters to the poor because of a combination of their immense economic and political power and the control lobbyists for the poor have over the US congress. Organizations representing the poor offer lucrative positions to former congressmen in return for supporting their anti-democratic policies. This is causing the failure of the engine of job creation, free enterprise.

We need less regulation of business and more regulation of the poor. We need the poor to tighten their belts, live within their means, and work harder. Free the corporation from being bullied by government and ripped off by selfish powerful poor people!

Will you join me in this difficult but noble cause?”

Posted in Conflict Humor, Economic Conflict, Uncategorized, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict | Tagged , | 2 Comments