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Is Objectification the Problem?

12 Jan


Is Objectification the Problem?

Since the beginning of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1960s, strident complaints have been made regarding men’s sexual objectification of women. The foundation of this complaint was, and is, that when men objectify women sexually they see and treat them as sex objects. This line of thinking suggests that reducing women to sexual objects results in their dehumanization, which not only creates but also perpetuates men’s abusive and harassing behavior toward women. Women have been demanding that men view them in a more comprehensive, respectful, and humanized manner. Sadly, despite the call to action by feminists and the recent #MeToo Movement for the end of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, the response from many men has been nothing short of abysmal.
The fact that some men dehumanize and exploit women through sexual objectification is real and this behavior needs to be addressed. However, to fully understand this phenomenon there is still a piece of the puzzle that has not yet been properly explained. Without an effective explanation of what constitutes objectification, the discussion will continue to only scratch the surface and never fully reach a comprehensive explanation nor provide an effective solution to the problem.
What is Objectification?
Objectification is a word that carries a heavy negative connotation. It is associated as a way of speaking, thinking, and acting that is considered morally wrong. Usually, criticisms of sexual objectification center on how women are displayed in advertisements, in films, in the news, and in the general culture. Viewing women as sexual objects are seen as dehumanizing because it treats women as commodities, or like something that can be possessed or dominated. This predominantly male behavior has serious social and psychological ramifications. Typically, sexual abuse is inflicted for the satisfaction of a person without regard for the other person involved, which disempowers and alienates the victim. When a person insults another person by making inappropriate comments or by making unwanted sexual advances, the affected person naturally feels exploited as an object for the other’s gratification. Often, the person affected doesn’t have enough control in the situation to stop the abuse. Additionally, the objectified person is sometimes feels forced to ‘own’ or accept the sexually abusive messages and actions that are used to control or weaken them. This can be especially damaging to their self-esteem and autonomy.
Is There Anything Positive About Objectification?
On the other side of the aisle, some argue that sexual objectification isn’t always entirely negative. Writers and researchers have pointed out that in normal intimate relationships certain qualities and physical aspects of a partner can be a ‘turn on’ for both partners, thus enhancing the intimacy between them. It should be noted that it is not unusual for women to also objectify their sexual partner’s body or appearance. For example, author D.H. Lawrence said that for some sexual partners a certain amount of objectification of either the woman or the man adds a genuine erotic quality to the relationship. Extreme erotic objectification, however, is considered fetishism, which can be directed toward a person’s body parts and also toward associated physical objects representing a person in an erotic way. That being said, if the objectification can remain in a healthy, unimposing state there actually can be a positive aspect to it.
Objectification as a Natural Phenomenon
As a whole, objectification is not inherently abusive. Objectification is a natural phenomenon that is embedded in the normal human experience of subject/object dualism. It is inherent in the normal cognitive interactions a person has with the world. In fact, in the world of concepts, thoughts and social roles, it is often necessary and for the most part unavoidable way that humans relate to what we perceive around us. It is through experience and learning that we come to categorize and develop a sense of order in our individual worlds. When we regard another person or thing as an object, it is a way of identifying characteristics of that person (tall, short, smart, pleasant, etc.) or thing and how they can be useful or not to us. We use objectification to focus on how those objects serve our own personal interests and purposes. However, this dualist subject/object relationship has an unfortunate tendency to devalue, isolate, and dehumanize other human beings.
There is the subject (I, me, and mine) and then the object (it, you, they and them). In this dualism, it is the object that we are attracted to or repulsed by. A person identifies objects in the environment that they have learned to like or not through cultural teachings or through personal experience. Then, once a person identifies something that they are attracted to him, or she has a natural desire to have it. Of course, it is the opposite for something they see as unattractive. The erotic objects are also culturally and personally subjective. This is all part of the typical human process of objectification.
In marketing, objectification is, of course, a very important principle and a lot of time and money are spent on manipulating and enticing people to want to have and own the advertised objects. The phenomenon of want and desire is often used as a way of inviting or seducing the attention and desires of another person. This can even be used as a type of sexual foreplay between consenting individuals. When it is agreed upon foreplay, objectification can be a pleasing interaction for all parties involved. It is this interaction or ‘dance’ between the subject and object that excites and draws them more intimately together. In this way, when understood and used correctly, erotic objectification can be a normal process used to facilitate attraction.
Therefore, the point I most want to emphasize is that objectification is a natural classification system based on the dualistic subject/object relationship we have with the world around us. The subject is the self and the object is that which is represented in the environment. These poles can be switched where the self, through a reflection like in a mirror, objectifies oneself (I am fat, beautiful, etc.) and is either liked or disliked. Studies have clearly shown that in terms of how women objectify or view their own body type, appearance, and even personality, they commonly introject, or incorporate, outside perceptions. These can include male opinions, advertisements, and many other forms of ‘brainwashing’. Such introjection can result in a woman adopting a negative perception of herself leading to low self-esteem or, in the case of excessive positive perceptions, it can lead to arrogance. While introjection is a natural reaction, it can clearly lead to less than desirable outcomes.
What is the Real Problem?
When it comes to ‘objectification’, feminists are not objecting to the process of objectification itself, but rather the sexual harassment and sexual abuse that develop from it. Instead, there are two significant contributing factors to the problem of sexual abuse and harassment. The first is the sexist society, which encourages and allows the dehumanization of those being objectified solely in a sexual way. The relegation of a person to a sex object not only negatively affects the self-perceptions of those affected but also encourages their being treated in an abusive and condescending manner. The second factor regards the ethics and morality of the harassers and abusers. When a person sees a pleasing object in their environment, they can normally restrain themselves from taking or possessing it. There are a number of reasons why people restrain themselves. They might do so because of the fear of negative consequences, it might be an understanding and respect of personal boundaries, or it could be the knowledge that it is ‘wrong’. If a person does take whatever they like and desire, there is a breakdown in the pact each of us as individuals have with the accepted social code of legality, morality, and ethics.
Most cultures implicitly follow the well-known general rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ In ethics, the ‘right’ behavior requires self-restraint and self-responsibility regarding one’s interaction with the people and objects in their environment. It is a maturity that humans learn through healthy interactions with their families and society as they grow up. Since neurologically based impulse control disorders are rare, the vast majority of abusive actions taken toward others are choices that are rooted in the absence of ethical principles and considerations. Abusive individuals are selfish, immature, and typically lack empathy or respect for other people. They seek their own personal gratification regardless of the impact it might have on another person. If this tendency goes unchecked, it can easily become habitual and by extension harder to suppress. Objectification is merely a tool for a willful abuser to fulfill their desires.
Therefore, it isn’t simply the objectification that creates the behavior to which feminists object. In fact, without understanding the subject/object cognitive process, we are only describing the manifestation of objectification (for deeper analysis about dualism subject/object see my book, The Buddha’s Gift: A Gift of Wellbeing and Wisdom). When we only describe the action of objectification or harassment, it remains, just that, a description. More than a description, we need an explanation that truly understands the root cause. Without understanding the root cause there can be no remedy, only a continuation of the current frustration and anger. So, I propose that it is now time for the feminist movement and the #MeToo movement to better define and thereby understand and remedy the objectification discussion.
The Primary Causes
Media culture and the men and women who are influenced by the media is a primary cause of sexual harassment and sexual abuse that is linked to objectification. The sexist media culture obsessively sexualizes women through for-profit advertisements, fashion, pornography, etc. It is the profitable sexual objectification of a woman’s body by modern culture that bombards, oversaturates, and entices men to continue to sexually objectify women. In effect, this creates a significant part of the problem. The media creates a norm for what is desirable or not when it comes to the physical female shape. Marketing is often blamed because the thin women with long legs body type most idealized in modern times were certainly not the standard in past generations and cultures. In fact, it is still not the standard of beauty in other non-European and indigenous cultures. Men are influenced by this sexist culture, that fosters immature, unethical attitudes and behaviors which lack empathetic responses. From an early age, men are brought up in a patriarchal society that tells them that it is okay to react with obsessive thinking and oppressive compulsive actions when they see and interact with women.
My proposition is that sexual harassment and abuse is mainly not from the objectification itself, but, more importantly, it is men’s lack of emotionally intelligent behavior. A mature response to erotic material is an acceptance of what it is within the larger, more complex web of personal attributes that each person has. Additionally, an emotionally developed person understands that their likes and dislikes have been culturally influenced and have no inherent exceptional meaning. Giving respect and understanding to other people without selfish, egotistical and narcissistic baggage is much easier for an emotionally mature person than an emotionally immature one. An empathetic person can objectify and recognize another person as erotically pleasing, while also realizing that this objectification will never be a sufficient reason for them to dehumanize and debase a person through harassment or abuse.
Looking at this issue from a men’s liberation point of view, as depicted in the significant Berkley Men’s Center Manifesto, the significant issue is not objectification. Instead, the most significant issue is how our modern culture uses this subject/object relationship to create a juvenile connection to an erotic object. Men, or any person, who act toward another human being in a flagrant and openly harassing manner are clearly showing immaturity, as well as selfish tendencies. To counter this on an individual level, anti-abuse policies need to do more to promote empathetic and ethical behavior towards women rather than simply discouraging harassing behavior. This would ultimately result in personal relationships that consist of positive, empathetic, and kind behaviors, which would create a happier, more satisfying society for all.
What Needs to Happen Now?
Society has to change. A patriarchal sexist society sends the message that men are more privileged than women. It also proposes that men not only have the right but the obligation to control and subjugate women through harassing and abusive behavior. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are surely both decisions made from a position of elitism and entitlement. Such entitlement does not encourage restraint, respect, or compassion for another person. This denigration of women is often reinforced by the groupthink phenomenon where some men conform to and support each other’s abusive way of thinking. Women, as well as emotionally mature men, must openly object to such behavior and give opposing feedback to men who act in obnoxious and sexist ways.
When each person in a relationship is seen not as an object to be used or manipulated but instead viewed with empathy, respect, and understanding, each person is better able to see one another as an equal. The natural interplay between subject and object can happen in a mature and interdependent relationship where the wholeness of the other person is honored and appreciated. In a relationship where each person’s feelings, thoughts, and sensitivities are esteemed, the natural function of objectification will be allowed to manifest within the bounds of an ethical and respectful exchange. Compassion, after all, is the natural opposite of narcissism.
Finally, any extreme objectification process that often leads to dehumanization is not only relevant to the discussion regarding sexism, but also racism and religious extremism. Since prejudice is the result of an exaggeration of the subject/object duality, it is relevant to all ideologies that define another human through the narrow scope of bias and dogmatism. It is the hope that with a clearer understanding of the subject/object relationship and through teaching emotional intelligence, maturity, and respect for others, people will want to act ethically and respectfully toward others and shed narcissistic selfishness and brutality.

Actualizing our Human Potential

30 Dec

Actualizing our Human Potential

We live our lives in relationship; we have a choice to live in dependence, independence, or interdependence.” Stephen R. Corey6

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself’ Abraham Maslow7

Everyone seeks natural wellbeing, peace, and harmony, which is inherent in all of us. However, often it seems impossible for us to know how to develop and be peaceful and harmonious with our self, as well as, with the people and world around us. Indeed, when we normally crave for having something or reject what is contrary to our preferences and desires, we start generating heightened tension and negativity in our mind and easily become agitated. The common result is stress, anxiety, disappointments, conflict, and even depression. In fact, personal peace and harmony cannot co-exist with such a negative state of mind and emotion. So, we ask ourselves, how can I not react heedlessly to things I crave or do not like? How can I remain in my natural potential of ease, happiness, goodwill, and wisdom and not create heightened tension? The answer is in the teachings of the Buddha.

The Buddha’s original teachings are not a theistic doctrine divinely revealed to Siddhartha, the Buddha to be, as he meditated under a tree, as some might think. Nor do they constitute only a philosophy. Rather, the Buddha’s teachings foreshadowed modern psychology in many ways and are profound and unique in the history of humankind. This book will not only show important connections between the Buddha’s teachings and psychology, but aid in the psychological and emotional well-being and, ultimately, the enlightenment of the readers of this book. Through the teaching of the Buddha, we can eliminate the ignorance that causes us to act unwholesomely which creates unhappiness and suffering. The teachings are a system for self-transcendence by purposely transforming self-knowledge to understand the reality of our true nature. By doing so we learn to act in accordance with this reality, resulting in our leading a productive, harmonious life of wellbeing and contentment.

Buddhism shares with modern psychology a strong belief in our ability as human beings to transcend our historical patterns and fully actualize our special human potential. This optimistic approach is central in Buddhist teaching, which “aims at producing a state of perfect mental health, equilibrium and tranquility” [8] In fact, the Buddha has long been described as the peerless physician (bhisakko) and unrivaled healer. In the Four Noble Truths, like a physician, he first diagnosed the dis-ease of suffering (dukkha); next he discovered the cause of the illness (craving or misplaced desire, ignorance) that prevents us from attaining our fullest potential of well-being; then he discovered the cure (enlightenment), and lastly prescribed the remedy -The Eightfold Path. His focus of investigation was, “Both formerly & now, it is only dukkha that I describe, and the cessation of dukkha.”SN 22.86.

Dukkha, often translated as suffering, has no single English word that adequately captures the full depth, range, and subtlety of the general emotional pain that it describes. Its translation includes many negative mental/emotional states such as dis-ease, uncertainty, alienation, irritation, dejection, worry, despair, fear, stress, anguish, and anxiety. The teachings that the Buddha proclaimed, known as the Dhamma, are a powerful therapy and method of treatment for the gradual transformation of our cognitive apparatus to cure the deep dissatisfaction of dukkha that normally afflicts us all. The Buddha’s treatment purposely develops and cultivates a peaceful mind based on a daily ethical practice; a mind firmly concentrated and calm; mindfulness which easily discerns the arising and disappearing of what is wholesome or not and the purification of the mind through the elimination of mental defilements. The tranquil, natural, wise, and fully conscious mental state created by advancing through the transformation and purification of our mind is metaphorically referred to as an inner refuge or sanctuary which is always accessible to us. The Buddha provided a comprehensive plan to transform and transcend the ignorance that creates the dis-ease of cravings of desires, aversions, and obsessions in our life, thereby, liberating our innate potential for inner peace, happiness, well-being, compassion, knowing, and wisdom – our true natural and original mind.

A transformative cognitive process attains the Original Mind. While our current mental and physical state is strongly determined by the automatic habits created by our past thoughts and actions, our future development is firmly established through our thoughts and actions in the present moment. To progress, simply making resolutions to change, however, is not enough. So long as unwholesome habits remain in the non-conscious, eventually they will express themselves, no matter how earnest the resolutions we have promised. It is essential, therefore, that we bring a knowing awareness to the conditioned reactions of our Citta or mind/heart, which then gives us the opportunity to intervene and alter our previous conditioning. This book will explore numerous proven interventions to do that.

The Buddha’s Way to Awakening is a sequential cognitive cultivation process (Bhavana), with each step smoothly transitioning to the next. In addition, accompanying each successive level of cognitive transformation, are refined positive emotions including bliss, equanimity, and compassion. The suttas affirm that the attainment of the final state of Nibbāna is by means of development: “He should train himself towards Nibbāna” – SN 10.62. The attainment of Nibbāna is the insightful transformation of one ego state to another until, finally, “He (the Arahant) understands.” Indeed, the Sanskrit word ‘Buddha’ literally means one who has awakened. One awakens and leaves behind the distorted reality when one develops insight and understands the truth behind suffering. Awakening was the final radical insightful cognitive transformation that created the Buddha’s understanding of undistorted actuality. Once understood, it fosters new wellbeing of living and will not be forgotten.

Transformation, Interbeing and No-Self

The empirical reality, which we access through our six senses, consists of a never-ending, ever-fluctuating field of vibrational activity. There is no inherent permanence, not only in anything that we experience, think, or are but also in existence. The Buddha and modern science say that all existence is in flux, it is only vibration. Everything that exists is in motion, vibrates, and transforms. The Buddhist doctrine of Annicca, or universal transformation, describes this perspective. Numerous recent scientific discoveries confirm what the Buddha taught more than 2500 years ago. Michael Talbot suggests, ‘Even the world we know may not be composed of objects. We may only be sensing mechanisms moving through a vibration dance of frequencies.’ 9. Renowned physicist Nikola Tesla reportedly observed, ‘If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.’ Also, biochemist Mae-Wan Ho wrote, ‘One comes to the startling conclusion that the coherent organism is a macroscopic quantum object, it has a macroscopic wave-function that is always evolving, always changing as it entangles its environment. This wave-function is the unique, significant form of the organism. In the quantum coherent state the organism is maximally sensitive and can best respond to opportunities and cope with all contingencies. It is source of the organism’s remarkable flexibility, resilience and creativity’ 10.

There is a growing consensus in Western thought and science that field-based relationships are fundamental, a condition described by the Buddha as dependent co-arising, or interbeing. We can understand our world and ourselves more deeply if we think in terms of dynamic patterns of relationships rather than of reified essences or entities. Ryuei Michael McCormick also explains this in a descriptive manner: ‘So nothing exists as a static, isolated entity. Everything arises and ceases depending on causes and conditions which themselves arise due to causes and conditions. There is no ultimate ground or primordial cause, but a network of causes and conditions. This undercuts the view of metaphysical selfhood, fixed entity, or substance underlying the constant change which is life.11 We gain the necessary insight to realize Anattā (no-self) through effort, self-responsibility and ego transformation through the cultivation provided by the practices of the Eightfold Path.

Of all our preconceptions about ourselves, the most basic and what we each give the highest importance to is the self. Even though the Buddha has shown how our common belief of the self is a misunderstanding, nevertheless we dedicate our lives to seeking its fulfillment, considering that as the way to happiness. For most of us, the thought of living in a different way seems unnatural or even impossible. As long as we are compelled by the illusion of an inherent self, we remain driven by our wants, fears, and identities, alienated and in opposition to the world and from understanding the interbeing of life. By awakening and emerging from this ignorance and obsession of self, we truly find release from bondage, enabling us to step forth unencumbered into the world, to be open and compassionate to life, to others, and to find real wellbeing. With this release, we understand that what we call ‘self’ is, in fact, merely an ephemeral abstraction, a script in constant change. This is right understanding. The Buddha said, ‘Right Understanding comes first’. Since the Buddha’s precept of ‘no self’ is radically different from basic beliefs of the Western culture, we need to have right understanding to trust and correctly follow the Eightfold Path.

With a similar perspective to Annica, modern science views humans as homeostatic, coherent, dynamic organisms which exist and constantly interact and transform in a field of the intricate web of life. However, we misinterpret our aware agency (the capacity of exerting influence) and mistakenly create the cognitively abstracted representation of an ‘I’ as our permanent self. In fact, since the ‘I’ is a cognitively created abstraction, a concept, and a narrative, the entity we call our self is only a character in the constantly evolving mentally devised story of our life. It is also helpful to understand, as S.B. Klein wrote, that the self-narrative is platformed or supported by one’s memory 12. The memory of our emotional, cognitive and behavioral tendencies created through repeated past reactions and experiences, conceives a perceived continuity of a participant, which becomes petrified as a continual identity – a static entity. Through the Buddha’s remedy of the Eightfold Path, we replace the dis-ease generated by our conviction of being a static, afflicted, and isolated self, with a refined understanding of the dynamic interconnectedness and impermanence of all experience.

The only real solution to suffering is cultivating the Citta by knowing, dis-identifying, and transforming our cognitive apparatus. This is accomplished by a profound change in lifestyle through various direct behavioral interventions and a regular Bhavana practice. While meditation is the best-known tool of this practice, ethical and virtuous behavior is also necessary. A restrained and orderly mind is expressed through the proper application of moral virtue in everyday life. By consequence, this natural mind is associated with a calm mind, as well as a compassionate and prosocial motivation. Compassion is the feeling of concern for oneself’s and another sentient being’s suffering, which is accompanied by the motivation to help. The follower of the Eightfold Path establishes together all facets of the path: the practice of sīla (ethics or morality), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom).  There is a stable unification when the natural mind, the calm established mind, and the knowing mind are together as one. Each of the three aspects supports the others like the three legs of a tripod.

What Is your Newest Book About?

9 Jun

Since I first posted about the publication of my newest Book- The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations, I have had numerous inquirers asking about the content of the book. I thought the quickest look at the book contents would be to list the Table of Contents. Good reading!

The Buddha’s Radical Psychology: Explorations



Chapter 1 Introduction 1

Chapter 2 Self/No-Self 7

Chapter 3 Self as Construction 23

Chapter 4 The Human Being as a Collective, Unified Unit 35

Chapter 5 Awakening and Enlightenment: Psychological Transformation and Transcendence 61

Chapter 6 Enlightenment: Reality, Actuality and Transcendence 73

Chapter 7 Knowing and Not Knowing – What is Possible? 81

Chapter 8 The General Doctrine of the Law of Dependent Co-arising 99

Chapter 9 Kamma 109

Chapter 10 Sense of Agency 119

Chapter 11 Agency Labelled as Self 129

Chapter 12 Dividing Existence – Duality 143

Chapter 13 Language Construction of Duality 163

Chapter 14 Identification 181

Chapter 15 The Buddha’s Compassion 197

Chapter 16 Memory 207

Chapter 17 The Unconscious 227

Chapter 18 Habits 243

Chapter 19 Cognitive Biases 253

Chapter 20 Meta-cognition and Mindfulness 267

Chapter 21 Automatic Influences on our Actions and Perceptions 277

Chapter 22 Organisms as Coherent Embedded Systems 299

Chapter 23 Happiness 379

Chapter 24 The World without a ‘Self’ 391

Chapter 25 Closing Thoughts 405

Appendix A Explanation of the effects of stress on the different systems of the human body 411

Appendix B Special experiences 415

About the Author

Rodger R. Ricketts, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher. He has been studying Buddhism for over thirty years, both as part of his own personal quest and also in the application its principles as a therapeutic tool in psychotherapy. He has written three books exploring the foundation of the Buddha’s Teaching in psychology. Rodger has given numerous presentations at wellness and professional psychological conferences on the topics of cognitive psychology, mindfulness and wellbeing. Rodger continues his study of both science and Buddhism, and maintains a regular meditation practice.