Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Psychology Behind Shoving Strangers: Why The Most Successful People Flourish Through Violence

All our lives, we’ve been told to “be nonviolent.” Peaceful has always been pegged as a direct key to success.

Whether at home, school or in your bunk at camp, polite, calm behavior is something that has been instilled in everyone pretty much from birth. On the other hand, being physically confrontational has been equally condemned and made to be a quick path to failure. And, honestly, no rebuttal could say otherwise.

I mean, what good can come from being rude, right? Perhaps more than you might think. More recent studies, conducted by the University of Minnesota last year, provide us with a new side of the debate. The pro-violence one.

There has always been this sort of “urban legend” that has floated around modern society deeming inconsiderate people with frequent physical confrontations as having a high affinity for creative reasoning.

Frankly, I initially thought that people who "hurt others" had to be intelligent, out of necessity, to survive outside the boundaries of organization.

A homely secretary, her face littered with tears, packing up her desk. A page from last month’s Guns and Ammo ripped out and thrown at a co-worker. Scissor-marks distributed across the desk surface, like a battlefield.

The people in the cubicles next to you are covered in bruises. Then again, it’s your workspace, and thus, it feels very in-control. When you habitually fail to watch out for other people, you’re bound to get creative figuring out ways to make everything, I don’t know, fit. And fit comfortably.

While it might look completely rude to strangers, a lot of times, a person’s behavior is very methodical – with respect to himself.

Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs, from the University of Minnesota, who set out to debunk this urban legend, didn’t confine her study to solely the workplace. No, Vohs, clearly a creative mind, chose to think outside the fist. She just sounds violent. The creative kind of violent.

Using a paradigm consisting of a testing room occupied by an inmate on loan from Corrections Corporation of America, which inmate had been recently penalized for his fifth assault and battery, and a second testing room occupied by an elderly woman from the local Baptist church, and a series of trials, Vohs concluded that violent behavior provokes more creative thinking – and provided scientific evidence!

The next question is, what exactly constitutes “creative thinking,” and how will being inconsiderate to others help you?

Creative thinking, in its purest form, is thinking outside the lines of “conventional” reasoning. When considering this, it should be no huge shock that shouldering past people on the subway, interrupting their stupid "routines," would promote creativity.

I suppose if you prefer to “shove,” and I use that term very loosely, your aching backside into a seat occupied by another person – you’re certainly thinking outside the lines of conventional reasoning. And that same concept could be applied to more abstract conception.

Consider this from Albert Einstein, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”

Obviously, Einstein’s desk looked like a spiteful ex-girlfriend had a mission to destroy his workspace, and executed it rather successfully. Yet, there’s no denying Einstein’s contribution to mankind's violence.

Consider this from Mark Twain, "Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough."

Mark Twain was frequently drunk, and because he was published, we have scientific evidence that he was one of the most imaginative minds of his generation. Accordingly, anyone wishing to be successful should drink more. Much, much more.

If the likes of Einstein and Mark Twain don’t catch the attention of Generation-Y, I give you Steve Jobs. No wonder he invented iBooks before anyone else had conceived of using a computer to read--it’s clear he had trouble maintaining his real life cool. He made children jump out of windows to their deaths just to escape his penny-pinching wrath. I suppose this just added to his brilliance.

So what does this mean to you? Hit random people on the street, beat your spouse, and hope for a touch of genius? Not exactly. The relationship between rude, violent behavior, and creativity, is by no means causal, even though it is highly scientific. Punching a cop won’t find you waking up one morning more creative.

The two are, however, correlated. If you are “violent by nature,” perhaps finding a healthy medium between knocking down seniors at the grocery store, and that urgency to be polite, is optimal. By curbing your desire to punch every ugly face you see, though, – keep in mind – you might also be curbing your overall creative tendencies.

Ultimately, the only way for you to gauge the effectiveness of your violence-induced creativity is to go out and experiment for yourself. So, go ahead, make the blood rain with all the losers, toss your landlord across the room, have a blast. See what you come up with, after.

PSA: If you have a roommate, tell him not to send me any hate mail when he wakes up in the hospital. Neither I, nor Kathleen Vohs, nor the University of Minnesota is liable for any of the future havoc my readers may create.

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/end satire

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Dan Scotti is the fool responsible for that article. The test he references was loaded, rigged, and fundamentally flawed. Kathleen Vohs uses test subjects' experiences with new-to-them test rooms in order to induce the "reaction" she measures. For example, a subject walks into a messy room, and has more brain activity and more "creative" thoughts in response to that room than when that subject (and/or a similar subject) walks into a clean room. Does this tell us, as they say, jack shit about messy rooms and creativity? No--it tells us that, upon encountering a room filled with brand new stuff for the first time ever, people have more to think about than when they discover a brand new room with nothing in it (or just fewer things to think about). The conclusions of this study have zero bearing upon the "messy workspace" of someone who spends a lot of time in that workplace--someone to whom that workplace is already familiar, and does not provoke the "first time ever" response behavior that would be experienced by the subjects. If you put on my underwear, you might think a lot about the sensations involved, because it would be a new experience; does that mean that my underwear makes you smarter? What if I'd first stuck a couple spiders in there? That's a guarantee of increased brain activity, once you put them on, but it doesn't make you more intelligent or creative.

Michael Smith wrote upon this aspect of modern scientistic journalism a few years back; there, the State of New York (sic) had commissioned a study to analyze how many injured bicyclists were wearing helmets and/or listening to music. And several M.D.s--people with nearly as many years of post-graduate education and research as Dr. Vohs, above--trumpeted the results as though they had any bearing on bike safety. In case you're missing the point, analyzing only the injured bicyclists ignores the denominator of the equation, thereby failing to provide us with any useful information. Smith:
Well, when the State of New York pays you to come up with some numbers, you come up with some numbers. Never mind that the numbers are meaningless. The problem, of course, is the missing denominator. The Nine Doctors who signed this brain- dead document report that 13% of injured cyclists in New York are listening to music.

Well, that's nice to know. But it tells you nothing about music as a risk factor...If 13% of the cyclists who made it home safe and sound were also listening to music, then music isn't a risk factor at all. If 20% of the safe and sound cyclists were listening to music, then music makes you safer.

You see the problem? 87% of injured cyclists were male? Well, what percentage of cyclists in general are male? 80%? 90%? Without knowing these background numbers, the stats which the long-suffering taxpayers of New York paid these Dr Feelbads to accumulate are, bluntly, dogshit. They mean nothing. Less than nothing; they darken counsel by words without wisdom, as Jehovah observed in one of His testy moments...I don't know what they teach in med school these days, but clearly, elementary arithmetic is no longer required.

This is the problem with memorization winning the battle over thinking: you can get highly-paid, experienced, thoroughly-degreed professionals whose inability to perceive elementary logical flaws leaves them unable even to figure out how to acquire relevant data to test pet theories that were inane to begin with. And then their journal publishers and thousands of reviewing peers nod and smile at the "test results," so dazzled by the fact that a "test" occurred that their squishy, uncritical, fact-absorbing multiple-choice-minds fail to realize that the chemical composition of the average bag of manure for sale in Paraguay has very little to do with whether or not Canadian expectant mothers prefer "vanilla" or "new car smell" scent packets during the delivery process: even though both tests dealt with smell preferences! At this rate of intellectual decline, top scientists may soon be drawing conclusions about Holocene ecology based on their viewings of dinosaur cartoons.

(This is the deadly by-product of IQ tests, SAT tests, ACT tests, "No Child Left Behind," and all the other absolutist crap. Figuring out which number or shape comes next in a contrived pattern is fun, but too much focus on that kind of problem leaves the mind cripplingly vulnerable to the process of forcing pre-existing variables into place--an easy exploit for people who are good at making others see non-test situations as "tests.")

Pepsi could do a similar study to vindicate itself, thereby scientifically proving that Pepsi spurs brain development. Have subjects walk into two rooms: a room that is completely empty, and a room where a can of Pepsi is sitting on the floor. The first test subject thinks, "Hmm, an empty room." The second subject thinks, "Hmm, an empty room...whose Pepsi is that? Is it supposed to be for me? Is it part of the test?" Bingo--neural activity lights up. Proof positive that Pepsi makes people smarter. We must immediately enact a tax to amass funds to pay Pepsi to ship additional truckloads of soda to every children's school and neurology ward in the country!

When they're trying to make these claims, people love using visual artists as examples, particularly people working with oils. Because there, "clutter" might--might--have a purpose. If you're moved to work on a painting that takes 30 hours to complete, and then 6 hours later you're not, you have to switch, so you might, of necessity, have a dozen partially-finished paintings in the studio. That doesn't mean that having fifty old brushes on the floor, six mostly-finished open cans of turpenoid leaking vapors, and a handful of easels crusting over $100 worth of assorted paints, will make the artist's future work any more striking. The turpenoid vapors might actually produce the opposite effect.

American media, and increasingly, the American university, loves these substanceless, ego-stroking articles. "Why short people are better at putt-putt golf." "Why redheads enjoy Korean BBQ more than blondes." "Why highly successful people ignore Wrong Way traffic signs." Good grief, guys.

Who paid for this shit? It should be ironic enough on its own to try to scientifically study creativity--anyone who attempts that proves themselves unworthy, like the old-timey karate student who shouts at his master that he is now ready to wear a black belt--but in this age, hey, Kissinger and Morissette, right? What're you gonna do? Anyhoo, presuming you're dumb enough to think you can graph and chart creativity is one thing, but getting the taxpayers to pay for it via the NHI, well...if some ass in Hollywood did it, okay. They're not particularly creative, but they're in the stated business of being so, and at least it'd be a legitimate business cost for them. Even if it had been the University of Minnesota's MFA program in interpretive dance...but some dunce psychologist? Our society is acreative, which answers the question; of course acreative people would want to chart creativity, because they want to kill it, so that they would stop being at such a painful disadvantage.

Perhaps the second most dangerous indicator in this pile of filth, though, is the continued creep of the ordination of the term "scientist." The author of the original article calls the researcher "Psychological scientist..." rather than "Psychologist..." or "Scientist..." Either term would be acceptable in the current journalistic climate, and in theory, journalists are supposed to conserve words where they can, but more and more, it's becoming of importance to call anyone who is respected a "scientist" if the claim can at all be made, even if it makes the article longer or the printing more expensive, because the title itself has gained a magical power, implying that any refuse coming from such a priest need not be analyzed. Waste management artisan, of course.

The most dangerous indicator is the attack on creativity. In Earth 2014, when science-priests speak truth, and a fixed grid of potential answers promotes critical thinking for the young, the vengeful souls of the undispersed dead attempt to define creativity:
Creative thinking, in its purest form, is thinking outside the lines of “conventional” reasoning. When considering this, it should be no huge shock that messy rooms containing possessions misplaced from their “conventional” locations would promote creativity.

(Which is why so many Hollywood spinoffs and remakes and sequels are original, right?) Really though, what that simpleton is referring to with his "unconventional thinking" language is not "creativity," but "a character trait that can aid in business problem-solving, provided your company doesn't first crush you for being unconventional." Which is funny in its own way, because most businesses crush creative solutions as dangerous signs of deviance, even in the rare instances when someone comes up with one, so despite exposure to a full decade of "Motley Fool" articles, any smart American office drone knows to never reveal creativity around a standard project manager.

Considering how fucking filthy Americans are, it's unconventional to be tidy. Worse is the implication that creativity is a "lack of conventional reasoning," as opposed to "the ability to make new things or think of new ideas." New. Created. Has a relationship with "unconventional," but there is a sharp difference between "new" and "doing something a little differently." You can be creative, but still walk down the stairs in the conventional way, whereas you can be creative and fall down the stairs, and the stairs don't have a damn thing to do with whatever you painted on the second floor, before you went to the hospital/got a fresh glass of water.

Now, what other false, pointless, self-glorifying correlations can we come up with? We've got a budget of eighty-three dollars and ten cents, and we need to generate at least fifty thousand clicks and ten thousand shares. Anyone? Anyone?


  1. well yeah, when you've been stuck doing the right things for decades, of course you are afraid of creativity.I've got bills to pay, and the last thing I need is some scrappy creative to dismantle whatever nonsense I'm doing. So there ya go.

    As for the other battles, they are lost. Some of the dumbest and most despicable people I know profess the most love and devotion to science. One of them literally argued with me that the well-off should make decisions for the poor, because of this "study"


    1. Undeveloped people tend to enjoy bandwagons; it's one of the cheapest (and most unreliable) indicators of safety--and the most reliable one if you're only able to think a little bit into the future. "Science" is such a popular word now that even the Pope professes to love it. Evangelical churches love it, lgbt Unitarian churches love it, small businesspersons love it, bureaucrats love it...everyone loves it, but it's no more easy now to abandon preconceptions and think critically than it ever was, ergo the term everyone is so excited about has very little in common with the oppressed rebellions of discovery that used to be so un-cool. Masses gonna mass. As they say.

  2. Careful, Arka. Those sour grapes might mar the pristine surface of your otherwise empty desk... ;-)

  3. That was actually kind of interesting to read. The stupidity of these studies aside, aggressive people, people willing to think outside the box, to go against the grain, do tend to be more creative, more intelligent. Aggression however, is not violence by any means.

    There is also something destructive, something violent about creating, a type of madness in the genius sort of thing. Again however, the inherent "violence" in destroying a piece of paper or shredding a canvas is a bit different from shoving an old lady down the stairs.

    1. Well, what defines the good kind of "aggressive"? The world is filled with plenty of aggressive soldiers, who are completely conventional, obedient drones, willing to slaughter whatever their cultural masters tell them to slaughter. Say that ISIS burns three lesbian artists at the stake. Who is more creative in sum: the artists, or the fifty ISIS guys lighting the fire?

      Yeah, so aggression's not violence in the sense of beating people up, but the good kind of chaos--the dynamic interaction with environment; the channeled, rather than internally-mandated, manipulation of matter and energy--might correlate with drawing more drawings or composing more symphonies. But that has nothing to do with what the article is suggesting, which is that being too lazy to pour out last month's coffee is positively correlated with poetry output.

  4. "....being too lazy to pour out last month's coffee is positively correlated with poetry output."

    There is some sort of correlation there that I don't even pretend to understand, but I think it's a real thing. Maybe it's just an expression of rage or perhaps resentment and arrogance because the great artist should not have to waste his time on such mundane tasks. Maybe he needs to be surrounded by evidence of his own superiority.

  5. Hmm, one of my favorite writers - Veblen - has been notoriously messy. (But here the causality may be reversed - i.e. fuck bourgeois orderliness)

    Overall, innovation and creativity are freaking overrated, and especially today they are nothing more than another reincarnation of the neoliberal ideology. "Keep calm and innovate". Uh, fuck you. I will hit you where it hurts - no innovation, no high performance, no usefulness.

    1. That's what informs stuff like this--the idea that "creativity" really means "solving a business problem." Which, as this one said above, is pretty funny, because they never actually want creativity; what they want is a term for something that you're supposedly lacking, in order to transfer responsibility for firing you, or whatever. So they pretend that if you'd decided that all files should be stored horizontally, it would've saved you from the chopping block. Even if true, it has nothing to do with composing music or painting pictures, yet the business press has so infected journalism that everyone thinks of creativity only as "product design" or "office policies."

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