Cultural Bias

Us and Them

Warm versus Competent graph

Of Doctors, Babies, Kings, and Zombies Before starting my journey as science fiction writer, I got a few degrees under my belt — astrophysics, mathematics, cognitive science, education, etc. It took a few decades (I’ve gotten married and had a family in there somewhere), but I got my doctorate and have used and still use it to help people think through complicated problems, mostly in product design. How is this relevant to writing, you might ask? Well, in addition to witnessing and surviving some amazing situations — always a good experience for a writer — I’ve acquired a few tools on how to think about situations and people. I would like to share one such tool with you: Us versus Them, a cognitive perspective. What people (and other animals) are very good at is dividing themselves into Us’es and Them’s. It’s a useful tool when we live in a divided world — how else do we keep clear of our allegiances to countries, sports teams, and political parties? But these divisions have neurological and psychological underpinnings. Consider a four square graph that charts competency versus likability (emotional warmth and approachability): We perceive (our) doctors as warm, personable, and able. We…

There’s a word for that?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel

A Dictionary of Cool Words That Hide True Feelings & Meanings from Parents Many of the strange vocabulary words, that Jude and her friends, from my new novel The Far Side, use, arise from their need to create a sense of linguistic privacy from the grownups. These are real and come from hard-to-translate words from other languages, professions, or sub-cultures. Age-otori — a feeling that you look worse after the haircut. (Based on a Japanese word.) Ataraxia — a sense of stoic calm. (Based on an ancient Greek word.) Backpfeifengesicht — a face in need of a fist. (Based on a German word.) Chingada — a hellish place where all that annoy you go. (Based on a Spanish word.) Desenrascanço — to find a creative way out of a bad situation. (Based on a Portuguese word.) Dépaysement — the sense of displacement one feels when visiting a foreign country and being far from home. (Based on a French word.) Doppelgänger — a duplicate of a person. (Based on a German word.) Dustsceawung — the contemplation of the idea that everything turns to dust eventually. (Based on an Old English word.) Eudaimonia — deep fulfillment and the resulting happiness, even as…

A Short Radio Story

Hitler Baby

Over the weekend, I’ve created two short audio pieces: “Baby Killers” and the first chapter of “The FATOFF Conspiracy.” While you will have to wait until Friday for the Speculative Fiction Cantina hosted by author S. Evan Townsend to hear the beginning of my dystopian novel about fat, “Baby Killers” is now available. Feel free to read the story along with the video. Enjoy!

Alternative Facts in Medicine

Doctors' hygiene

While we are collectively freaking out over the Trump’s White House use of Alternative Facts, these kinds of “facts” have been floating around in medicine (and politics) for a long time. And it is instructive to take a look at how we as a society have been dealing with Alternative Facts in Medicine and what damage these “facts” have wrought on us individually and collectively. I propose the following formula for how Alternative Facts come to be: Desperate Need + Greed = Alternative Fact Medical Myths: Beliefs Based on Outdated Science To start, allow me to refresh your memory, for our history is full of myths when it comes to our heath and our diseases. Let’s begin with a bit of bloodletting. Bloodletting is almost as old as our civilization. Thousands of years ago (that’s thousands, with three zeros!), a healer’s first choice of treatment was to let out the “excess” blood from a patient. Be it a migraine, an infection, or a virus, a person who was probably too sick to object was cut with a lancet or some other easily available tool and weakened even further via blood loss. The Greek physician Erasistratus believed all illnesses were due…

Baby Killer

Baby Killers' Dinner

Baby Killer Brian was running away. He dumped his laundry basket into the trunk of his car, wrapped his computer in a towel and stuffed it underneath the mixture of dirty and clean clothes, and took off North. His college midterms went poorly and the paper he wrote for the world philosophy class was just dreadful. He was tired and haven’t slept in a very long time. Life had gotten to be too much lately and he had enough of it. He drove into the night. He liked staring into the passing lights, it was easy to lose oneself in the monotony of the highway in the dark — nothing to really see, just the passing the headlights, reflectors, and the lit highway signs. He drove most of the night. In the gray pre-dawn, he noticed a small billboard for a rest stop, offering hot coffee. Without making a conscious decision, Brain found himself turning off on a small side road and then into a parking lot of a medium-sized diner. Quite a few cars were already parked in a cluster around the front entrance. Soft yellow light spilled out of the curtained windows. Brian parked his car in the…

100% Life-Light Child

Life-Light

“Order! Order, Honorable Educators!” The lights and devices flashed again, as the power was cut and restored in rapid successions to bring the room back into a productive discussion mode. The screaming and arguing had gone on for at least two minutes now — unacceptable, life-light dimming behavior. “The school haven’t had a perfect child in over two decades,” Educator 1 said. “This is our chance to regain our standing in the World School Rankings.” “Be careful, Educator 1, envy is punishable by bedimming,” said Administrator. This was the second reminder during this session alone. Some teachers were sure to have their life-lights bedimmed before this incident was over. “Twenty three years!” said Educator 2. “I wasn’t even a teacher at the school back then.” “It’s unfortunate that the latest generations are not as bright as they were during our own time,” said Administrator, gently rubbing her own life-light still at nearly 75% after all these years. “But the question stands — do we accept Addam’s account of the incident and allow the dimming of his life-light? Or do we reject it as a bias story, told to save a friend from becoming a darkling?” “I understand Addam’s desire to…

Cultural Differences in Child-rearing or Abuse?

baby and cobra

I’ve written about cultural differences in child-rearing that from our, Western, point of view seem like child abuse. There’s the dunking of babies into freezing ice waters in Russia; and spinning children to improve something; and now I just saw these videos from India. and There is no question that if these were video-documented instances of child abuse in New York or Los Angeles, authorities would be knocking down doors to rescue these children. But in other cultures, is it different? Do we bear responsibility there?