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About slpresley

  • Birthday March 23

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    Sharon Presley
  • Description
    I have a Ph.D. in social psychology from the City University of New York Graduate Center where I studied with Dr. Stanley Milgram author of the classic "Obedience to Authority." I have two books: "Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre (co-edited with Crispin Sartwell) and "Standing Up to Experts and Authorities." I have been a libertarian activist since 1964: I am the co-founder of Laissez Faire Books, the National Coordinator of the Association of Libertarian Feminists and the founder and Executive Director of Resources for Independent Thinking.
  • Favorite Music, Artworks, Movies, Shows, etc.
    The Prisoner (original), Dr. Who
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    Psychology, feminism, political philosophy, science, critical thinking, science fiction, mysteries

slpresley's Achievements


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  1. To all of you who have commented on Molyneux: I knew it was only a matter of time before one of his fanboys started attacking me and trying to smear me. Below is a link to the opening salvo by Victor Pross. I've only looked at the first video so far. Pretty laughable and tedious. He spends the first 5 minutes basically talking about himself rather than the topic (which he has also done in unrelated videos--very annoying and egotistical). About all he does in this one is complain that I misrepresented Molyneux by--misrepresenting what *I* said! How clever is that? He implied that I said SM's position is that you should drop your friends like a "bag of shit." Well, of course, I said nothing of the kind nor would I ever. I don't have a YouTube account yet but please feel free to express your opinions at this link if you do have an account: I will find the others and post them too.
  2. whYNOT: If you found my comments useful, I'm very glad. Thanks for saying so. Part of the problem in trying to discuss such matters are definitions. When developmental psychologists talk about empathy, they are not talking about social/political agendas, let alone using empathy to assert moral superiority. All they are saying is that if children are to be morally competent, they need to understand how bad actions affect others. This helps them grow in moral sophistication. Children who are taught empathy are more likely to be at more sophisticated levels of moral judgement (ala Kohlberg's stages) that allow them to have more encompassing notions of right and wrong. Not merely what's in it for me (Stage 2), maybe not just Stage 3 (what do my friends and family think is right), maybe even Stage 4 (what do the institutions I value say is right). Some may even make it to Stages 5 (the laws may be wrong) and 6 (accepting the idea of universal human rights that apply to all). Kohlberg's approach to moral judgment is a very cognitive one, similar in some respects to Piaget's theory of cognitive development in children. So when you say "Genuine caring evolves from thought, and value - not unfocused, arbitrary feelings," you are not talking about the kind of moral judgment that Kohlberg is. The moral judgments he talks about, especially at the higher states, are based on cognitive assessment. Perhaps not very sophisticated cognitive assessments but values nonetheless. I think that the ideas of empathy and altruism have gotten a bum rap among libertarians and objectivists because they accept Rand's definitions and assume that other people use the same definitions. This isn't the case. For example, when psychologists use the term "altruism" they simply mean helping another person without expectation of external reward. They DO NOT mean totally sacrificing one's self-interest to help another. Thus from a psychologist's perspective, altruism is not inherently incompatible with philosophical individualism. The whole discussion gets muddled when people talk at cross purposes bu using different definitions. I think that libertarians and objectivists who want to communciate with people of different views than theirs need to understand this or they will continue talking at cross purposes.
  3. Daunce: You say "You are right, Sharon. It isn't the, or even a right word to apply to fictional characters, and especially characters created to exmplify Rand's view of human motivations. Still I think the characteristics of autism, as laymen understand them, cast an intriguing light on the black and white, brilliantly lit world of Rand's fictiverse." Well, maybe, but be careful here. Another group of people who lack empathy are psychopaths/sociopaths and we really don't want to go there. And even if we merely call it "Asperger's syndrome" (technically closer to them than autism per se) I actually don't think that's right either. They understood the motivations of others (which autistic people may not) so in a sense they were empathetic. They just lacked compassion, which is different. But heck, the novels are so black and white and not real-life that, really, what's the point in speculating? As you say, they are fiction and meant to make a point rather than describe real people.
  4. I'm finding the quote system to be very cumbersome so going to use my own way of quoting and discussing this issue. To john42t: You say "The only two cases in which I've come to appreciate insights of psychologists are Nathaniel Branden's self-esteem wave and the ADD wave by Hallowell and Ratey. Both waves have evoked antagonism from a majority of established psychologists, further strengthening my suspicion that there is something terribly wrong with that profession." Actually Branden is quite popular among many psychologists and has been invited to many conferences dealing with self-esteem.Your statement that a majority dislike him is flatly untrue and I challenge to support your statement. Then you say "further strengthening my suspicion that there is something terribly wrong with that profession." And how many psychology courses have you taken; how many books on social and developmental psych have you read? On psych of women or personality? On research methods? Or are you simply wildly generalizing without any substantial support and using merely your own opinion based on a few articles or maybe less than that? john42t: .QuestEon is entirely right in what he says about Molyneux's view of the family. SM really does say that all parents are bad And you say: "Although I don't think nearly all parents are bad, I do believe that a lot are." Well, first of all, there's a big difference between "all" and a lot." As QuestEon points out, what you are saying and SM is saying is not the same thing and to moosh it all together is to fail to make rather important distinctions. Secondly, on what do you base your notions that a lot of parents are bad? Research? Or your own opinion? And how much is "a lot"? I think QuestEon has already covered some of this ground rather well. You say: "When I look at my problems with my own parents, it's rather simply that my parents were not on my side." Well, sure, there are parents who are not good parents. Here's another anecdote: My mother raised me by herself and she was ALWAYS on my side. So what do either of them prove? Nothing. Anecdotes aren't science. I don't think we really know how many parents are "good" and how many are "bad." I do think that parenting is getting better, partly thanks to the psychology you disdain. Developmental classes that suggest to young people that spanking and other physical punishment is bad and reasoning with your child good are making a difference, as are all the popular articles saying the same thing. So you're going to side with Molyneux because you had bad parents? Wow, that sounds rational to me. NOT. Don't you think you might want to be more discriminating and careful about evidence than that? You sound like your opinions are all based merely on your personal beliefs and experiences. Where do we find that method in Atlas Shrugged? QuestEon is a lot nicer and more diplomatic than I am. I tend to have no patience with people who don't know what they are talking about and act as if they do. If I'm being too rude for this forum, my apologies. I'll probably be a lot nicer next time.
  5. Autistic isn't the right word. I'm uncomfortable slinging diagnoses around and even more uncomfortable when non-psychologists do it. Let's just say that Roark and Dagny weren't very compassionate people. I was pretty pissed off even in the 6os about what happened to Willers.
  6. Sharon: FYI: Roark was in the Fountainhead. Eddie Willers in Atlas Shrugged. Your conclusion about empathy for an Eddie Willers, Cheryl Taggart or Tony "the Wet Nurse," are correct. Automatic empathy is not moral in most discriminating persons opinions. For example, there is no empathy in my soul for a Jerry Sandusky, if what is alleged is true. Adam Sorry but I couldn't think of an example from The Fountainhead. I read it back in the 60s. Well, more correctly we probably both should say "compassion." We might want to have compassion for an Eddie Willers type or for other innocent people but not Sandusky.
  7. I've always had this gut feeling about Roark, but then I don't not know enough about autism in its various forms to have been certain about it. The term you're looking for is Asperger's Syndrome, a much milder form of autism. I don't know if I would go quite that far. But since he's not a real person but a Randian archetype, I don't care to analyze him very much. However, I don't really consider the character a model of psychological health to hold up as an example of how to act in the real world.
  8. Thanks, Michael. Yes I am bothered on a common decency level. But it's much more than that, I am quite distressed at the preposterous claims he makes that are not based on actual psychological evidence. Let's look at some of them: He claims all parents are bad, that nearly everyone has been abused, and "everyone" needs therapy. Unlike Molyneux, I actually AM a psychologist. I taught developmental psychology, social psych, psych of women, critical thinkking, and research methods for many years, and have also taught abnormal and many other courses. The actual research shows nothing of the kind. When he does present research (and he doesn't always do so) he is highly selective about what he reports and misrepresents much of it. For example, in talking about how bad physical punishment is for children (true), he neglects to mention that the kind of childrearing that is most likely to result in a psychologically healthy child who is morally mature and nonauthoritarian also includes firm behavioral guidelines that are enforced by nonpunitive consequences. IMO he does this because he wants to savage parents who dare to tell their child what to do. Here's part of my discussion from my Facebook page on another podcast of his: ""What Molyneux says about abused women –that if they have children by an abusive husband, they are “severely disturbed” –is totally without any research foundation whatsoever. They are not psychotic or any other category that constitutes “severely disturbed.” Unlike Molyneux, I am actually a psychologist and taught Psychology of Women for over 20 years. I know the research about domestic violence considerably better than he does... The actual profile of female victims of abuse is likely to include low self-esteem and a belief in the stereotypes about women and their roles—that it is their duty to please the man, be what he wants her to be, etc. This is unfortunate but hardly constitutes “severe” disturbance. Some of them may have mental health issues but “severe” issues like psychosis are rare. Most are just mentally beaten down. What Molyneux is doing here is an example of the “mother blaming” that clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Paula Caplan has analyzed so well in her book “Don’t Blame Mother.” It also shows NO compassion for women who are the victims of abuse. I find this appalling and sickening. What does he advocate? Shunning them too? Oh, like that will really help them or their children. His view of domestic abuse is warped and not supported by research. His bad experience as a child does not qualify him to pontificate on this subject."" From another thread: " the most recent Libertopia, [Molyneux] said (and this is a close paraphrase): "We have discovered the root of all evil and it is child abuse." Fortunately there was an open mike q and a. Here's approximately what I said: "I've taught developmental psychology for many years and I've also taught forensic psychology. This is not what the experts in these fields say. Psychologist Robert Hare, the leading expert on psychopathy, believes there is a genetic component to psychopaths and sociopaths, who are certainly evil people. And not all psychopaths have abusive or dysfunctional families. Psychologists believe that complex behavior has complex origins, not just one factor." His assertion is utter nonsense." Molyneux's claims about psychology are mostly bogus. He makes these wild-eyed claims for a number of reasons IMO. It serves to make him like the great guru and font of wisdom, it enables him to twist things around to suit his ideology and thus to manipulate naive young people (who constitute most of his fans), and to make himself look like a clever and innovative thinker (which he is not). And to those others of you on this thread who disdain "psychology" as you understand it. Maybe you don't understand it at all. I don't really care what a few oddball clinical psychologists may have said somewhere. The information in my developmental, social psych, psych of women and other texts is based on years of empirical evidence done with careful methodology. I thought students of Objectivism were supposed to be in favor of rational evidence. You don't learn about human behavior by sitting in an armchair theorizing, you learn by doing (or reading about) empirical research. The fact that we don't have all the answers and sometimes in the past have made mistakes doesn't invalid the empirical method. It's the best thing we've got. What else would you suggest? Your opinions? And why should we take your opinions seriously unless you have some empirical evidence for them?
  9. Good questions. I don't in fact consider Roark to be a paragon of psychological health. Rand used the sadism scene as a theatrical device but if anyone thinks that is healthy, I'm glad you're not my neighbor or my lover. Rand was trying to make a point (though stretching it a LOT IMO) but people who acted like that in the real world would be considered a bit disturbed. Anyone who mistakes Rand's characters and their behavior for what real people in the real world would do is a bit naive. They may be archetypes and models for some, but they are still archetypes, not real people. As to Roark's attitudes toward others, well, are we talking about his attitude toward the losers and creeps in the story? No one is required to have empathy or sympathy for everyone. Did he have an empathy for people like Eddy Willers? I don't remember actually but if he didn't, then no, I would not consider him psychologically healthy. Is he obligated to do anything about any empathy or sympathy he might feel? That's a different question. Confirm that to be normal is to be good? I was unaware that I said anything of the sort so I can hardly confirm it. No psychologist would say anything of the sort. To be "normal" in clinical psychological terms means to be free of obvious psychopathology. That is not the same as being "good." That's a much more complicated question.
  10. I prefer the convention that most people use of calling the other people on a thread by their first names. If that seems too informal for you, then just call me Dr. Presley. Tony Tony, you are of course free to believe whatever you want. I prefer to base my beliefs about human behavior on actual psychological research. Forty + years of research on childrearing methods support the idea that empathy can in fact be taught. Martin Hoffman, a prominent developmental psychologist, has been studying empathy for many years. In his view (and in the view of many other developmental psychologists), childrearing methods are very much related to the capacity for empathy, which then leads to sympathy and then compassion. Children who are explicitly taught to be more empathic by comparing the other child's feelings to one's own (e.g., Don't hit your younger brother. Remember how you felt when your older sister hit you? it didn't feel good, did it? etc) are far more likely to have high levels of moral reasoning that reflect concern for others than child who are not taught empathy. Here is one brief summary of Hoffmann's research on childrearing and the consequences of teaching empathy: "Does discipline hinder or help moral development? While research has not provided clear-cut answers, it has shown that some approaches to disciplining children are more likely to increase pro-social and altruistic behaviour that other approaches. In 1970, Martin Hoffman reviewed childrearing literature to determine whether discipline techniques used by parents had an effect on moral development. Hoffman tested two types of discipline: - Love-oriented discipline – which involved withdrawing affection or approval - Power-assertive discipline – which involved physical punishment and withholding privileges. He found that neither worked. Parents who used power-assertive discipline were actually found to have children who were morally immature. Hoffman found that the discipline strategy that seemed to foster moral development was inductive discipline. Inductive reasoning is a non-punitive discipline where an adult relies on cognitive reasoning to control or change a child’s behaviour. This includes – · Giving the child explanations of why they need to change their behaviour, eg. showing the harmful consequences of their behaviour · Using conformity-inducing agents that appeal to the child’s pride, wish for mastery, to be grown up and concern for others. · Emphasising the feelings of others and needs of others to make the child more “other-oriented”. · Pointing out the nature of consequences – “If you smack the cat, it will hurt the cat, and that make me sad”. · Pointing out the needs and desires of others – eg. “Take that spider away; it is scaring your sister”. · Explaining the motives of others – “He was only trying to help you.”" That is, TEACHING the child empathy.
  11. But just because he may be good on Autism doesn't mean that he is correct about empathy. I've seen him report some very sloppy research on gender, for example, that has been shot down by other researchers. I can't help but wonder if he just wants to make a name for himself by saying something shocking or different. He won't be the first
  12. How is empathy making any difference to Suzy? I can feel myself into almost anybody, that has nothing to do with being nice to them or not. Surely Suzy's empathy will only lead to a stop on hitting her brother unless she also sympathizes with him. To put it in extremes: The better sadist is the one with empathy. We have here a problem with terminology and assumptions. You are assuming that empathy and sympathy are unrelated. In fact developmental psychologists assert that understanding the emotions of others (empathy) leads to sympathy (caring about others) and the research is on their side. Normal children do learn to sympathize when they are taught to empathize. Very young children are "egocentric," that is, they literally see things only from their literal perspective. Once the parents have them focus on the fact that other children feel the same pain as they do, then the normal tendency in normal children is to also feel sympathy. They are in fact being taught to sympathize. The research is also very clear on the fact that on average those who are not to empathize will be less likely to care what happens to other people. They are more likely to be socially inept and/or bullies. The fact that an abnormal person can to some limited extent also understand what others are feeling (pain) and likes it and doesn't sympathize in no way speaks against what I have just said. Sadists and psychopaths are broken people. Their actions do not speak to the situation of normal people.
  13. Patience, thank you for this link. I just posted all 3 parts on my Facebook wall. The timing was excellent because I have just been posting about Molyneux and his unsubstantiated comments about psychology. He, for example, claims that almost everyone has been abused and that "everyone" needs therapy. I have a PhD. in social psychology and have taught developmental psych as well for many years (and a bit of abnormal). I can assure you that the research literature says nothing of the kind. I responded to several of his videos on my Wall, including one that claimed that women who have children with abusers are "severely disturbed." I presented evidence against that ridiculous conclusion. I also denounced his view that "good" only = agreeing with the NAP and bad only = disagreeing; thus good = being a libertarian and bad = not being a libertarian. He uses this simplistic sophistry to try to convince his followers to drop all their friends who don't want to become libertarians. After all they are "bad" people. I may not be a philosopher but I have taught critical thinking and I know a false dichotomy when I see one. That's just another example of his cult talk. He sounds like a Scientologist. If you are on FB, please send me a private message. I've already had to block one person who was over the top and I'm being very cautious. I am currently not accepting friend invites from people who are FB friends with Molyneux--just in case. But hey, so far only one person has defriended me. I'll just have to try harder. ;) Molyneux also sent me an invitation to be on his show. I declined, saying I was only willing to talk to him on neutral ground. I'm not stupid. When dealing with an opponent, you don't willingly give them the "home court advantage." I said I might be willing to engage him at Libertopia in the fall.
  14. You're welcome. But I can't claim credit for anything but noting it. I read it in an essay by Robert Bierstedt which was recommended by Stanley Milgram. I found it very useful too and I'm glad you did.
  15. It's a pity the parent's don't use this more often. I don't know what I'd do without it in my job as a teacher of 3 to 6 year olds. I'm using it all the time and get the direct feedback how well it works. But sadly, the human capacity to feel empathy can also be crushed by indoctrination. Children who are e. g. raised in an environment where it is constantly hammered into their heads that certain groups of people are "the enemy" who has to be destroyed, are not likely to develop empathy toward these individuals as fellow humans. Especially infamous was the propaganda used by the Hitler regime in labeling those not belonging to the allegedly "superior Arian race" as "sub-human", even as "vermin". The cruel intention was to 'remove' the idea in people's minds that we are all fellow human beings. Yes, unfortunately people are very suggestive in terms of what they are taught. Isn't there a song from "South Pacific" about that? You have to be taught to hate. Most people do go along with their culture, some out of fear, some out of belief. But Nazi Germany and now the Taliban and portions of the Middle East show us that people are capable of monstrous acts if they are taught that certain groups are evil. The huge cultural differences certainly suggest that whatever component of empathy may have genetic influences (and some psychologists think it does) is pretty weak compared to the power of cultural learning.