Category Archives: Psychology

Say ‘NO’ to your child or they’ll struggle in school – Dr Amanda Gummer. 

Child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer says children who are ‘helicoptered’ by their parents tend to play up at school to get attention. 

Working with a group of primary school teachers recently, letting off steam during the first weeks of the summer holidays, I listened, appalled, as they reeled off their latest nightmare classroom dealings.

But it wasn’t horror stories of pupils jumping on desks or hurling things around that shocked me most. Far worse was the attitude – and behaviour – of the parents. And not those at the less privileged end of the spectrum, either.

No, the wild, unruly children are increasingly likely to be the progeny of so-called “helicopter” parents – those who give intensive, one-on-one attention to their child and pander to their every whim, fuelling a “little emperor” syndrome.

They are ruthlessly ambitious for their child’s future – failing to realise how badly their mollycoddling is preparing them for the compromises of real life.

Don’t believe me? Then listen to this: “My child is a genius – his bad behaviour is an outlet because you don’t challenge him intellectually.” That was the astonishing response of more than one mother confronted by exasperated teachers.

While we’ve long known this hovering parenting style can create children unable to make decisions or exhibit independence, what’s less often discussed is how aggressive and difficult the children of helicopter parents – often middle-class, professional and, to their minds, devoted to their darlings – can be at school.

Why? These children struggle in the classroom because they cannot cope with not being number one. So they play up to try to get the attention they have been raised to believe ought to be all theirs.

Worse still, these otherwise respectable parents refuse to take responsibility for the child’s actions. Behavioural problems, no matter how shocking, are down to teachers.

Mum and Dad needn’t get their hands dirty.

As a child psychologist helping professionals better understand the psychology behind how kids learn, I’m no longer surprised to see teachers frustrated to tears by the disgraceful attitudes of some pupils – and their parents.

Thanks to teachers’ diligence, the majority of children eventually settle into a world where they are no longer the star in their own solar system. But a substantial minority struggle terribly, with catastrophic effects on learning and development.

Sound dramatic? Not when you look at the latest statistics from the Department of Education, which tell us that, last year in England alone, an astonishing 35 children a day were permanently excluded from school.

And these aren’t just unruly teens: just under a fifth of those expelled were at primary school; some were as young as four.

To my mind, this startling increase can, at least partly, be put down to the linking of two facts: among these children, a great many can’t even tie their own shoelaces or recognise when they need to put on their coat.

Simultaneously, a large portion – a third of the 1,145 expelled from primary school last year – get their marching orders after physically assaulting a teacher.

Imagine: little ones so helpless they need assistance to go to the loo and put on their shoes, yet who are utterly unafraid to biff their teacher on the nose.

Here we have children who are not being given the basic life skills to look after themselves throwing their weight around in the classroom and causing mayhem. It’s a toxic combination.

As worrying is the fact that these figures are going up. The number of primary school children expelled has more than doubled over a four-year period. Meanwhile, 6,685 children at state schools in England were permanently excluded in 2015/16, up from 5,795 the year before. It’s all too easy to hide lazy parenting behind claims that your child is a genius, or has unchannelled exuberance. Regardless, one fact remains: no matter how gifted your child, if they can’t concentrate and work alongside their peers, they aren’t going to get very far in the classroom, let alone in life.

Too many of these children have never heard the word ‘no’ levelled at them at home.

Their parents may well be time-poor – perhaps feeling guilty for working long hours – so are loath to play the bad guy. Maybe they’ve bought in a little too enthusiastically to increasingly child-centric attitudes. But the reality is many youngsters misbehaving in class are being brought up with little discipline or boundaries by doting parents. Small wonder they think nothing of defying the authority of other adults.

You might think such children are just plain naughty. But I don’t believe any child is born naughty. In my opinion, bad behaviour, such as the sort I’m talking about, comes from parents.

(To be clear, I’m not talking about children with diagnosable medical conditions that have a direct impact on behaviour and/or learning styles. Schools and parents need additional support to help these children thrive.)

But I often wonder whether helicopter parents realise how damaging their attentions are.

Yes, they may believe they are providing their child with the best start in life – but such an approach can cause a wealth of behaviour problems.

For example, when a child refuses to put on their coat, if their mum or dad carries it round all afternoon ‘just in case’, rather than letting their son or daughter get cold, the child never learns to take responsibility for their bad decision. The idea that someone else will always put things right takes hold in their mind.

And how can a child be expected to behave in the dinner hall when, at home, they’re allowed to get up and down from the table as they please, never finishing a meal? The only difference is, at school, their teacher won’t be there with a chocolate bar when they’re hungry mid-afternoon.

And if a child has always had a parent clearing dangers from their path, instead of letting them take the odd tumble, of course they’ll think it’s OK to run around a classroom. Yet when they trip over a chair, they’ll blame everyone but themselves for the fact they got hurt – because no one thought to move the chair in the first place.

When it’s all spelt out like this, we can start to see why so many employers are complaining that today’s young people – the so-called millennial generation, the first to emerge from an upbringing by helicopter parents – are more unemployable than ever.

Some over-indulged children display their struggle to cope without the attention they’re used to in a different way. They can become withdrawn when they start school, which negatively impacts on their learning and relationships with classmates – and this can be as damaging in the long-term as aggression and misbehaving.

Of course, everything these parents do comes from a place of love. As a mother of two teenagers, I know how tough being a modern parent is. Most of us really are simply doing our best.

But sometimes, a parent’s best efforts are just too much. However honourable their intentions, these overly devoted parents do their offspring no favours, depriving them of the chance to learn the kind of life skills their teachers aren’t paid to impart.

Children need rules, boundaries and opportunities to feel the cold, go hungry and fall down and hurt themselves, so they can learn from their mistakes. If they are deprived of those basic life experiences at home, it makes educating them a far greater challenge for their teachers than it ever need be.

NZ Herald

Pretty much just common sense really. 

Science Explains How The Beach Can Change Our Brains And Mental Health – Elizabeth. 

We are all too well acquainted with the sense of calmness and relaxation that proceeds after spending a day at the beach.

Taking time off to be near water, regardless whether it is a lake, the sea or an ocean, makes people blissful and tranquil. Doctors have noticed this sensation as early as the 18th century, and have started prescribing a visit to the beach as a cure for many illnesses.

The proximity of water, or more precisely the smell, the sound and the vast view influence our brain and make us feel restored and full of energy.

To really paint the picture, we can say that it actually brings the whole organism in a state of peace and harmony.

Curious Magazine

How To Hack Your Brain And Learn EVERYTHING You Want! – Curious Mind Magazine. 

Many people have a hard time remembering things. Students want to boost their memory to learn faster, adults want the same to be able to finish everything they need for the day. In short, we all want a better-working memory that will help us excel in life.

Before you go to the ways you can hack your brain to remember better, you first need to know what exactly memory is and how it is created.

There are two types of memory: short-term and long-term memory. The first is temporary and it usually serves to remember things you need to do in a particular moment, such as remembering a number you need to dial. However, the moment you dial the number, you kind of forget it (in most cases).

For this information to go into the long-term memory, it needs to be repeated, worked on, or put into the brain by using some tricks.

So, how can you hack into your brain to remember stuff more easily?

Curiousmindmagazine.com

Why Empaths Act Strange Around Inauthentic People

Empathetic people are those with a heightened level of sensitivity and have a radar like no one else.They can absorb others’ feelings like a sponge as if they were their own. This is not something they choose, they are born with it.

However, although this may seem like a wonderful trait to have, it is also strenuous. Envision being able to put yourself in people’s shoes all the time. All.The.Time!

When empaths are around people who are fake, or inauthentic, they can feel it. Although the person may seem quite flattering on the outside, they are hiding something on the inside and empaths can feel it.

It is not that empaths are special people, or smarter than everyone else. However, they do have the outstanding ability to read body language better than anyone else does and this makes them understand the world and people around them a lot better.

Curious Magazine

Scientists Are Attempting to Unlock the Secret Potential of the Human Brain – Philip Perry. 

Sometimes, it occurs when a person suffers a nearly fatal accident or life-threatening situation. In others, they are born with a developmental disorder, such as autism. But a slim margin of each group develop remarkable capabilities, such as being able to picture advanced mathematical figures in one’s head, have perfect recall, or to draw whole cityscapes from memory alone. This is known as savant syndrome. Of course, it’s exceedingly rare. But how does it work? And do we all hide spectacular capabilities deep within our brain?

“I noticed the light bouncing off a car window in the form of an arc, and the concept came to life. It clicked for me-­because the circle I saw was subdivided by light rays, and I realized each ray was really a representation of pi.”

He’d acquired an exceedingly rare condition. Only about 70 people in the world so far have been identified with savant syndrome. There are two ways for it to occur, either through an injury that causes brain damage or through a disorder, such as autism.

… Bigthink.com

Undoing poverty’s negative effect on brain development with cash transfers – Cameron McLeod. 

An upcoming experiment into brain development and poverty by Kimberly G Noble, associate professor of neuroscience and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, asks whether poverty may affect the development, “the size, shape, and functioning,” of a child’s brain, and whether “a cash stipend to parents” would prevent this kind of damage.

Noble writes that “poverty places the young child’s brain at much greater risk of not going through the paces of normal development.” Children raised in poverty perform less well in school, are less likely to graduate from high school, and are less likely to continue on to college. Children raised in poverty are also more likely to be underemployed when adults. Sociological research and research done in the area of neuroscience has shown that a childhood spent in poverty can result in “significant differences in the size, shape and functioning” of the  brain. Can the damage done to children’s brains  be negated  by the intervention of a subsidy for brain health?

This most recent study’s fundamental difference from past efforts is that it explores what kind of effect “directly supplementing” the incomes of families will have on brain development. “Cash transfers, as opposed to counseling, child care and other services, have the potential to empower families to make the financial decisions they deem best for themselves and their children.” Noble’s hypothesis is that a “cascade of positive effects” will follow from the cash transfers, and that if proved correct, this has implications for public policy and “the potential to…affect the lives of millions of disadvantaged families with young children.”

Brain Trust, Kimberly G. Noble

  • Children who live in poverty tend to perform worse than peers in school on a bevy of different tests. They are less likely to graduate from high school and then continue on to college and are more apt to be underemployed once they enter the workforce.
  • Research that crosses neuroscience with sociology has begun to show that educational and occupational disadvantages that result from growing up poor can lead to significant differences in the size, shape and functioning of children’s brains.
  • Poverty’s potential to hijack normal brain development has led to plans for studying whether a simple intervention might reverse these injurious effects. A study now in the planning stages will explore if a modest subsidy can enhance brain health.

BasicIncome.org

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The goal of Dr. Noble’s research is to better characterize socioeconomic disparities in children’s cognitive and brain development. Ongoing studies in her lab address the timing of neurocognitive disparities in infancy and early childhood, as well as the particular exposures and experiences that account for these disparities, including access to material resources, richness of language exposure, parenting style and exposure to stress. Finally, she is interested in applying this work to the design of interventions that aim to target gaps in school readiness, including early literacy, math, and self-regulation skills. She is honored to be part of a national team of social scientists and neuroscientists planning the first clinical trial of poverty reduction, which aims to estimate the causal impact of income supplementation on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development in the first three years of life.

Columbia University

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A short review on the link between poverty, children’s cognition and brain development, 13th March 2017

In the latest issue of the Scientific American, Kimberly Noble, associate professor in neuroscience and education, reviews her work and introduces an ambitious research project that may help understand the cause-and-effect connection between poverty and children’s brain development.

For the past 15 years, Noble and her colleagues have gathered evidence to explain how socioeconomic disparities may underlie differences in children’s cognition and brain development. In the course of their research they have found for example that children living in poverty tend to have reduced cognitive skills – including language, memory skills and cognitive control (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Wealth effect

More recently, they published evidence showing that the socio-economic status of parents (as assessed using parental education, income and occupation) can also predict children’s brain structure.

By measuring the cortical surface area of children’s brains (ie the area of the surface of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain which contains all the neurons), they found that lower family income was linked to smaller cortical surface area, especially in brain regions involved in language and cognitive control abilities (Figure 2 – in magenta).

Figure 2. A Brain on Poverty

In the same research, they also found that longer parental education was linked to increased hippocampus volume in children, a brain structure essential for memory processes.

Overall, Noble’s work adds to a growing body of research showing the negative relation between poverty and brain development and these findings may explain (at least in part) why children from poor families are less likely to obtain good grades at school, graduate from high-school or attend college.

What is less known however, is the causal mechanism underlying this relationship. As Noble describes, differences in school and neighbourhood quality, chronic stress in the family home, less nurturing parenting styles or a combination of all these factors might explain the impact of poverty on brain development and cognition.

To better understand the causal effect of poverty, Noble has teamed up with economists and developmental psychologists and together, they will soon launch a large-scale experiment or “randomised control trial”. As part of this experiment, 1000 US women from low-income backgrounds will be recruited soon after giving birth and will be followed over a three-year period. Half of the women will receive $333 per month (if they are part of the “experimental” group) and the other half will receive $20 per month (if they are part of the “control” group). Mothers and children will be monitored throughout the study, and mothers will be able to spend the money as they wish, without any constrains.

By comparing children belonging to the experimental group to those in the control group, researchers will be able to observe how increases in family income may directly benefit cognition and brain development. They will also be able to test whether the way mothers use the extra income is a relevant factor to explain these benefits.

Noble concludes that “although income may not be the only factor that determines a child’s developmental trajectory, it may be the easiest one to alter” through social policy. And given that 25% of American children and 12% of British children are affected by poverty (as reported by UNICEF in 2012), policies designed to alleviate poverty may have the capacity to reach and improve the life chances of millions of children.

NGN is looking forward to see the results of this large-scale experiment. We expect that this project, in association with other research studies, will improve our understanding of the link between poverty and child development, and will help design better interventions to support disadvantaged children.

Nature Groups

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Socioeconomic inequality and children’s brain development. 

Research addresses issues at the intersection of psychology, neuroscience and public policy.

By Kimberly G. Noble, MD, PhD

Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, is an associate professor of neuroscience and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She received her undergraduate, graduate and medical degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. As a neuroscientist and board-certified pediatrician, she studies how inequality relates to children’s cognitive and brain development. Noble’s work has been supported by several federal and foundation grants, and she was named a “Rising Star” by the Association for Psychological Science. Together with a team of social scientists and neuroscientists from around the United States, she is planning the first clinical trial of poverty reduction to assess the causal impact of income on cognitive and brain development in early childhood.

Kimberley Noble website.

What can neuroscience tell us about why disadvantaged children are at risk for low achievement and poor mental health? How early in infancy does socioeconomic disadvantage leave an imprint on the developing brain, and what factors explain these links? How can we best apply this work to inform interventions? These and other questions are the focus of the research my colleagues and I have been addressing for the last several years.

What is socioeconomic status and why is it of interest to neuroscientists?

The developing human brain is remarkably malleable to experience. Of course, a child’s experience varies tremendously based on his or her family’s circumstances (McLoyd, 1998). And so, as neuroscientists, we can use family circumstance as a lens through which to better understand how experience relates to brain development.

Family socioeconomic status, or SES, is typically considered to include parental educational attainment, occupational prestige and income (McLoyd, 1998); subjective social status, or where one sees oneself on the social hierarchy, may also be taken into account (Adler, Epel, Castellazzo & Ickovics, 2000). A large literature has established that disparities in income and human capital are associated with substantial differences in children’s learning and school performance. For example, socioeconomic differences are observed across a range of important cognitive and achievement measures for children and adolescents, including IQ, literacy, achievement test scores and high school graduation rates (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997). These differences in achievement in turn result in dramatic differences in adult economic well-being and labor market success.

However, although outcomes such as school success are clearly critical for understanding disparities in development and cognition, they tell us little about the underlying neural mechanisms that lead to these differences. Distinct brain circuits support discrete cognitive skills, and differentiating between underlying neural substrates may point to different causal pathways and approaches for intervention (Farah et al., 2006; Hackman & Farah, 2009; Noble, McCandliss, & Farah, 2007; Raizada & Kishiyama, 2010). Studies that have used a neurocognitive framework to investigate disparities have documented that children and adolescents from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to perform worse than their more advantaged peers on several domains, most notably in language, memory, self-regulation and socio-emotional processing (Hackman & Farah, 2009; Hackman, Farah, & Meaney, 2010; Noble et al., 2007; Noble, Norman, & Farah, 2005; Raizada & Kishiyama, 2010).

Family socioeconomic circumstance and children’s brain structure

More recently, we and other neuroscientists have extended this line of research to examine how family socioeconomic circumstances relate to differences in the structure of the brain itself. For example, in the largest study of its kind to date, we analyzed the brain structure of 1099 children and adolescents recruited from socioeconomically diverse homes from ten sites across the United States (Noble, Houston et al., 2015). We were specifically interested in the structure of the cerebral cortex, or the outer layer of brain cells that does most of the cognitive “heavy lifting.” We found that both parental educational attainment and family income accounted for differences in the surface area, or size of the “nooks and crannies” of the cerebral cortex. These associations were found across much of the brain, but were particularly pronounced in areas that support language and self-regulation — two of the very skills that have been repeatedly documented to show large differences along socioeconomic lines.

Several points about these findings are worth noting. First, genetic ancestry, or the proportion of ancestral descent for each of six major continental populations, was held constant in the analyses. Thus, although race and SES tend to be confounded in the U.S., we can say that the socioeconomic disparities in brain structure that we observed were independent of genetically-defined race. Second, we observed dramatic individual differences, or variation from person to person. That is, there were many children and adolescents from disadvantaged homes who had larger cortical surface areas, and many children from more advantaged homes who had smaller surface areas. This means that our research team could in no way accurately predict a child’s brain size simply by knowing his or her family income alone. Finally, the relationship between family income and surface area was nonlinear, such that the steepest gradient was seen at the lowest end of the income spectrum. That is, dollar for dollar, differences in family income were associated with proportionately greater differences in brain structure among the most disadvantaged families.

More recently, we also examined the thickness of the cerebral cortex in the same sample (Piccolo, et al., 2016). In general, as we get older, our cortices tend to get thinner. Specifically, cortical thickness decreases rapidly in childhood and early adolescence, followed by a more gradual thinning, and ultimately plateauing in early- to mid-adulthood (Raznahan et al., 2011; Schnack et al., 2014; Sowell et al., 2003). Our work suggests that family socioeconomic circumstance may moderate this trajectory. 

Specifically, at lower levels of family SES, we observed relatively steep age-related decreases in cortical thickness earlier in childhood, and subsequent leveling off during adolescence. In contrast, at higher levels of family SES, we observed more gradual age-related reductions in cortical thickness through at least late adolescence. We speculated that these findings may reflect an abbreviated period of cortical thinning in lower SES environments, relative to a more prolonged period of cortical thinning in higher SES environments. It is possible that socioeconomic disadvantage is a proxy for experiences that narrow the sensitive period, or time window for certain aspects of brain development that are malleable to environmental influences, thereby accelerating maturation (Tottenham, 2015).

Are these socioeconomic differences in brain structure clinically meaningful? Early work would suggest so. In our work, we have found that differences in cortical surface area partially accounted for links between family income and children’s executive function skills (Noble, Houston et al., 2015). Independent work in other labs has suggested that differences in brain structure may account for between 15 and 44 percent of the family income-related achievement gap in adolescence (Hair, Hanson, Wolfe & Pollak, 2015; Mackey et al., 2015). This line of research is still in its infancy, however, and several outstanding questions remain to be addressed.

How early are socioeconomic disparities in brain development detectable?

By the start of school, it is apparent that dramatic socioeconomic disparities in children’s cognitive functioning are already evident, and indeed, several studies have found that socioeconomic disparities in language (Fernald, Marchman & Weisleder, 2013; Noble, Engelhardt et al., 2015; Rowe & Goldin-Meadow, 2009) and memory (Noble, Engelhardt et al., 2015) are already present by the second year of life. But methodologies that assess brain function or structure may be more sensitive to differences than are tests of behavior. This raises the question of just how early we can detect socioeconomic disparities in the structure or function of children’s brains.

 One group reported socioeconomic differences in resting electroencephalogram (EEG) activity — which indexes electrical activity of the brain as measured at the scalp — as early as 6–9 months of age (Tomalski et al., 2013). Recent work by our group, however, found no correlation between SES and the same EEG measures within the first four days following birth (Brito, Fifer, Myers, Elliott & Noble, 2016), raising the possibility that some of these differences in brain function may emerge in part as a result of early differences in postnatal experience. Of course, a longitudinal study assessing both the prenatal and postnatal environments would be necessary to formally test this hypothesis. Furthermore, another group recently reported that, among a group of African-American, female infants imaged at 5 weeks of age, socioeconomic disadvantage was associated with smaller cortical and deep gray matter volumes (Betancourt et al., 2015). It is thus also likely that at least some socioeconomic differences in brain development are the result of socioeconomic differences in the prenatal environment (e.g., maternal diet, stress) and/or genetic differences.

Disentangling links among socioeconomic disparities, modifiable experiences and brain development represents a clear priority for future research. Are the associations between SES and brain development the result of differences in experiences that can serve as the targets of intervention, such as differences in nutrition, housing and neighborhood quality, parenting style, family stress and/or education? Certainly, the preponderance of social science evidence would suggest that such differences in experience are likely to account at least in part for differences in child and adolescent development (Duncan & Magnuson, 2012). However, few studies have directly examined links among SES, experience and the brain (Luby et al., 2013). In my lab, we are actively focusing on these issues, with specific interest in how chronic stress and the home language environment may, in part, explain our findings.

How can this work inform interventions?

Quite a few interventions aim to reduce socioeconomic disparities in children’s achievement. Whether school-based or home-based, many are quite effective, though frequently face challenges: High-quality interventions are expensive, difficult to scale up and often suffer from “fadeout,” or the phenomenon whereby the positive effects of the intervention dwindle with time once children are no longer receiving services.

What about the effects of directly supplementing family income? Rather than providing services, such “cash transfer“ interventions have the potential to empower families to make the financial decisions they deem best for themselves and their children. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies in the social sciences, both domestically and in the developing world, have suggested the promise of direct income supplementation (Duncan & Magnuson, 2012).

To date, linkages between poverty and brain development have been entirely correlational in nature; the field of neuroscience is silent on the causal connections between poverty and brain development. As such, I am pleased to be part of a team of social scientists and neuroscientists who are currently planning and raising funds to launch the first-ever randomized experiment testing the causal connections between poverty reduction and brain development.

The ambition of this study is large, though the premise is simple. We plan to recruit 1,000 low-income U.S. mothers at the time of their child’s birth. Mothers will be randomized to receive a large monthly income supplement or a nominal monthly income supplement. Families will be tracked longitudinally to definitively assess the causal impact of this unconditional cash transfer on cognitive and brain development in the first three years following birth, when we believe the developing brain is most malleable to experience.

We hypothesize that increased family income will trigger a cascade of positive effects throughout the family system. As a result, across development, children will be better positioned to learn foundational skills. If our hypotheses are borne out, this proposed randomized trial has the potential to inform social policies that affect the lives of millions of disadvantaged families with young children. While income may not be the only or even the most important factor in determining children’s developmental trajectories, it may be the most manipulable from a policy perspective.

American Psychological Association

Why It’s So Hard to Understand That the Violence Your Country Exports Is Terrorism – Vijay Prashad. 

In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors. People constantly make attributions regarding the cause of their own and others’ behaviors; however, attributions do not always accurately mirror reality. Rather than operating as objective perceivers, people are prone to perceptual errors that lead to biased interpretations of their social world.

– – –

On 23 March 2017, Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, stabbed a police officer with a knife, and then was shot dead. He killed four people in the rampage, which injured an additional forty people and disturbed the equanimity of a major Western city. Masood, who was born in Dartford (Kent, United Kingdom), had run afoul of the law for many years—mainly because of acts of violence and possession of weapons. The gap between the act of Masood and a common criminal is narrow.

Two months ago, the head of the Metropolitan Police said that “warning lights are flashing” over the rise of violent crime across England and Wales. The preferred weapon, said Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was the common knife. Violent crime had risen by twenty-two percent, with the last quarter of 2016 registering 30,838 crimes committed with knives. Masood’s crime could well have been read alongside this data, as a serious problem of an increase in violence with knives as the weapon of choice.

Instead, the media and the British political class offered a sanctimonious lesson in civics. This was, said UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, “an attack on our democracy, the heart of our democracy.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that despite this attack, “we will move forward together, never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.” One newspaper suggested that Boris Johnson’s statement was “Churchillian.”

ISIS, which has been under serious threat in Iraq and Syria, has called upon people around the world to conduct acts of criminal violence in its name. There is no evidence yet that Masood acted on the instructions of ISIS or that he was following the ISIS edict to attack people in public areas in the West. What is known is that right after the attack, ISIS took credit for it, calling Masood its “soldier.” ISIS social media celebrated the attack. There is a form of delirium at work here—a group weakened now seeks to glorify itself by a pathetic attack by a man with a criminal record, using an old car and a knife.

Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology. It refers to the problem that occurs when people evaluate the actions of themselves or others based not on the facts but on attributions transferred from inherent biases. Fritz Heider, who first developed this theory in The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (1958), suggested that attributions are made mostly to preserve one’s self-concept—namely one’s sense of self. Rather than evaluate one’s own behavior in a bad situation, one tends to blame others and to disregard the constraints that others operate under. This is typically considered to be a “self-serving bias”—the winner of an election says, “I won because the people voted for me,” whereas the loser says, “I lost because of voter fraud.”

Masood’s act has already been pinned on ISIS, and ISIS has already adopted him as one of its combatants. Both decisions are self-serving—the one to deny any native role for the production of Masood and the other to uplift a flagging insurgency. Masood’s own convulsions with racism, his own desire to seek glory above his miserable situation: these are not taken seriously. “Home-grown” terrorists have ‘home-grown’ problems. But the term ‘terrorist’ allows the “home-grown” person to be exported—as it were—to other countries, to defer blame to them—to ISIS, in this case.

Al-Mansoura

Three thousand miles southeast of London sits the town of al-Mansoura, near the city of Raqqa (Syria). Aerial bombardment by the United States in the area around Raqqa had pushed about fifty families to take shelter in the al-Badia school in the town. The US bombings had come to soften up ISIS positions in the towns around Raqqa as hundreds of US forces take their positions in its periphery. The US forces—and their allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces—have sought to seize a major dam on the Euphrates River at the town of Tabqah. This dam is essential to the water supply for Raqqa. The battle over Tabqah, one of the last remaining conduits into and out of Raqqa, will be essential before the US and its allies turns its firepower against ISIS’s “capital.”

On 22 March 2017, hours before Khalid Masood conducted his terror attack in London, US aircraft bombed the school. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, says that thirty-three civilians died in this bombing run. Hamoud Almousa of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently says that the number might be as high as 101 civilians. The day before, on 21 March, US aircraft bombed the town of Tabqah, hitting the Maysaloon school, a field hospital and homes on al-Synaa street—killing twenty civilians. A week before, US aircraft bombed the town of al-Jineh (near Aleppo), hitting a mosque and killing forty-six civilians. Col. John Thomas of the US Central Command said that the US aircraft did not hit a mosque. “We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he said. This statement always suggests that the Central Command knows that it hit civilians, but does not want to make a direct statement one way or another.

AirWars, a non-profit group that maintains a record of casualties from aerial bombardment, says that in March alone there have been over a thousand civilian non-combatant deaths in Iraq and Syria as a result of what it calls “Coalition actions”—with the US aircraft inflicting the bulk of the casualties. This considerable spike has led AirWars to suspend its investigation of Russian-inflicted casualties (fifty in March) and to divert its staff to look at those inflicted by the Coalition aircraft alone.

The Western media focused on the actions of Khalid Masood and remained silent on these deaths. Brief notes of this or that massacre appeared, but without the focus and intensity of the kind of coverage given to the attack by Masood. No front page story with a large picture, no “Breaking News” coverage on television with correspondents insisting that spokesperson for US Central Command give them more than pabulum. It is as if we live in two alternative universes—one, where terror confounds the population with moral indignation and two, where large deaths from jet fighters are treated as the necessary side-effects of war. One is terrorism; the other is an accident.

It does not feel accidental to the people of al-Mansoura or al-Jineh.

Binaries

I have spent decades thinking about the asymmetry of reactions to these sorts of incidents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I have written about them, indignation as the mood of these essays. But this is spitting into the wind. It is futile on Facebook, for instance, to make the suggestion that the 2016 Karrada bombings in Baghdad (Iraq), which killed over 300 people, should have driven people to turn their profile pictures into Iraqi flags (as the world had done after the 2015 Paris attacks, when 137 people were killed). “Je Suis Charlie” is easy to write, but not #AmiAvijit. Eyes roll when these gestures are urged, whether through bewilderment at their meaning or exhaustion at their sanctimoniousness. After all, the eye-roll suggests, how could one compare a satirical French magazine with obscure Bangladeshi bloggers who have been hacked to death? It takes an immense act of will to push editors to run stories on tragedies that seem distant even from the places where they occur. All eyes focus on the latest attack in Molenbeek, but few turn with the same intensity to look at the tragedies in Beirut or in Cairo.

Over the years I have settled on some binaries that operate to blind thinking about violence in the world. Our days have become hallucinations, with violence always at the edge of consciousness. But violence is understood through these binaries in ways that befuddle those who believe in a universal humanity, those who believe—in concrete terms—that people in Kabul deserve empathy and sympathy as much as people in Berlin. In fact, the scale of the violence in Kabul is so much greater than in Berlin that you would imagine greater sympathy for those in far more distress. But actually the logic of these binaries moves consciousness in the opposite direction.

Eastern Malevolence / Western Benevolence

There is standard belief amongst reporters—for example—that Western actions are motivated by the highest values and are therefore benevolent. The loftiest values of our time—democracy and human rights—are sequestered inside the concept of the West. The East—bedraggled—is treated as a place without these values. It is bereft, a bad student. There is what Aimé Césaire calls “shy racism,” for it suggests that Easterners cannot be given the benefit of doubt when they act, or that Westerners could not also be malevolent in their objectives. The way this logic runs it is the Eastern bombing of Syria’s Aleppo, conducted by the Oriental despot Bashar al-Asad, that is inhumane, while it is the Western bombing of Iraq’s Mosul (250 to 370 civilians killed in the first week of March) that is humane. It would pierce the armor of Western self-regard to admit that its armed forces could—without sentiment of care—bomb mosques and schoolhouses.

What about Hitler? Is he not the epitome of Western malevolence? Hitler is the madman, much as white terrorists in the West are madmen. They do not define the society or the culture. No one asks after their attacks for Christianity to answer for their crimes or for Western Civilization to stand condemned. They are not compared to Hitler. The modern analogues of Hitler are always to be found in the East—Saddam, Bashar, Kim Jong-un—but not in the West.

It took some guts for the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor to remark that “Churchill was no better than Hitler” —a statement that has led to the routine objections from the British political class. US President Donald Trump insisted on returning his bust to the Oval Office, where he showed it with great aplomb to the UK Prime Minister Theresa May (she gave him a copy of a Churchill speech during her visit). It does not bother either Trump or May that Churchill was a racist, who believed that the “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” Cliches are mobilized to defend him: he was a man of his time, when such ideas were commonplace. But such ideas were being vigorously challenged from the colonies and from within Britain. Hitler’s Endlösung was not of a different quality from Churchill’s Bengal Famine of 1943. Tharoor’s comparison of Churchill to Hitler will not stick. It will eventually be swept away. Far easier to see Hitler in Bashar al-Assad or in Kim Jong-un than in Churchill or George W. Bush. Hitler was Europe’s aberration, not—as Césaire pointed out—the logical culmination of colonial brutality.

State Legality / Non-State Illegality

States do not normally act outside the confines of international law. If they do, then it is in error. Or there are some states that are not proper states, but “rogue states” that do not behave according to the principles of civilization. Normal states, not rogue states, the logic of shy racism goes, never intentionally violate the laws of war and behave in a barbaric way. Their acts of murder are always unintentional because it would be too costly for them to intentionally murder civilians.

When the United Nations Human Rights Council wanted to investigate NATO’s 2011 bombing of Libya, based on UN Security Council resolution 1973, its Brussels headquarters stalled. NATO’s legal adviser, Peter Olson, wrote to the United Nations saying that NATO deserved immunity. “We would be concerned if NATO incidents were included in the commission’s report as on par with those which the commission may ultimately conclude did violate law or constitute crimes,” Olson wrote. What NATO would like, he concluded, was for the UN commission to “clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.” In other words, without any investigation, the UN Human Rights Council should give NATO a certificate of high moral character.

If civilians are killed, then it is either entirely accidental or it is because the enemy has used them as human shields. Strange illogical statements emerge from the power centers of the West to befuddle criticism. US President Obama’s drone strike policy allowed his operators to strike at crowds of people who looked like enemies (the “signature strike”). If, later, the intelligence services determined that some of them were not indeed enemies then those civilians would be ‘posthumously exonerated’. But they would—of course—be dead, murdered by a state actor that is not seen to be rogue and that sees itself as abiding by international law.

Rogue states and rogue non-state actors do not abide by the protocols of the laws of war, and therefore they are the only ones who violate them intentionally. The violence of the rogue state and the rogue non-state actor is always worse than that of those who are deemed to be legitimate states and legitimate non-state actors. The nuclear weapons of India, Israel and Pakistan are acceptable, but Iran’s nuclear energy program is a grave threat to humanity. A ‘knife attack’ by a Palestinian child is horrendous and it is taken to define not only the Palestinian liberation movement, but Palestinian culture in general. The bombing of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach is accidental and not definitive of either Israeli state action or of Israeli culture. This asymmetry of evaluation is fundamental to the ruling ideas of our time.

Violence to Heal / Violence to Hurt

When the US military conducted its massive bombing run against Iraq in March 2003 under the name “Shock and Awe,” it was considered to be in the service of human rights and security. But the language used by its architects was genocidal. Harlan K. Uliman, who developed the theory of “Shock and Awe,” said in 2003, “You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.” A Pentagon official said of the actual bombing runs, “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” Hundreds of cruise missiles rained on Baghdad. Eventually, after a decade of war and occupation, the violence of the war would claim at least a million Iraqi lives.

But yet, the language to define the war is muted. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the war that “from the [UN] charter point of view, it was illegal.” This should mean that US President George W. Bush and his coterie are war criminals. But his successor, US President Barack Obama refused to open an investigation and the world followed suit. Bush’s language about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq became the anthem. If a million people died, so be it. It was all to heal Iraq, to free Iraq.

The violence of the Iraqi insurgency, on the other hand, was immediately considered to be violence intended to hurt, to create problems not only for the United States, but for Iraq itself. The violence of the West is prophylactic, while the violence of the East is destructive.

Precious Life / Disposable Life

When news broke of the failed US raid on the village of al-Jineh (Yemen), the Western media concentrated on the death of Ryan Owens who was a Seal Team 6 member. There was a great deal of discussion on his death and little mention of the civilians who were killed by Owens’ comrades in that raid. If they were mentioned it was as a number: twenty-eight or thirty. There were no names in the stories, no way to make these people into human beings. Nothing about Mohammad Khaled Orabi (age 14), Hasan Omar Orabi (age 10), Ahmad Nouri Issa (age 23), Mustapha Nashat Said al-Sheikh (age 23), Ali Mustapha (age 17), Abd al Rahman Hasim (age 17), and not even Nawar al-Awlaki (age 8) whose father and brother had been killed in earlier raids. No mention of the names of the forty-two Somali refugees gunned down by a Saudi helicopter gunship, a weapons system provided by the United States. To offer these names would be to give these people humanity.

When twenty thousand or more people died because an US-owned factory exploded in Bhopal, Michael Utidjian, medical director of American Cyanamid said in 1984, it is sad but needs to be seen in context. What is that context? Indians do not have the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.” They do not mind when people die, it seems. They have a different standard of humanity. Their lives are disposable. They are not precious. Thirty-three dead here, forty-two dead there. Sad yes, but not tragic. Tragedy is only possible if one has the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.”

Legible Narrative / Illegible Narrative

It would be an illogical narrative to suggest that Western generals want to raze cities. That is not their motivation. When the US flattened Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004, under the command of then Major General James Mattis of the 1st Marine Division, this was not the intent. That the use of Depleted Uranium led to cancer rates fourteen times higher than in Hiroshima (Japan) after the atom bomb was dropped there was incidental, not deliberative. It is impossible to imagine an American, for instance, being cruel in military strategy. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine a Syrian general, such as General Issam Zahreddine, being systematically vicious. It is not possible to see both as ferocious. It would be an illegible narrative if these two stories were set side by side. One is so obviously a better man (Mattis) than the other (Zahreddine). The character of the man of the West always surmounts the character of the man of the East.

Violent Shock

Who needs censorship when you have ideology? When anything outside the governing ideology tries to make an appearance it is dismissed as the rants of a conspiracy theorist or as “alt-facts.” Terrorism is terrorism and counter-terrorism is counter-terrorism. To break down the distinctions between them is a scandal against civilization itself. Of course al-Qa‘ida is bad and the US military is good! That is ipso facto, the essence of reality.

None of this is the blame of individual reporters or editors or indeed of individual readers of the press reportage. It is not something restricted to the West, for these attitudes are shared widely around the world. This is not a consequence of the impact of CNN or of BBC, but of much earlier, much deeper attitudes with deep roots from colonial times. It was an old colonial view that the violence of the imperial armies must have some Enlightenment logic behind them, whereas those of the darker world came motivated by messianism, tribalism, millenarianism or other illogical views of older times.

When in the 1950s the British violently crushed the aspirations of the Kenyans, sending thousands to concentration camps and killing—as the historian Caroline Elkins argues – a hundred thousand people, this was done for rational reasons. The Empire had to be protected. The uprising of the Mau Mau, which they were countering in Kenya, could not be allowed to succeed. Indeed, it could not succeed—the British suggested—because it was merely the eruption of older African instincts. Even the name of the group powerfully allowed the British to paint their insurgency in diabolical colors. The rebels called their outfit the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The use of the words ‘land’ and ‘freedom’ suggested a link to the national liberation movements of that decolonization era. They also suggested a rational political platform, to distribute land to the colonized population in a free Kenya. The British insisted on calling them the Mau Mau—the name carrying for a British audience the full flavor of traditional Africa in its sound, the rhythm of a drum, the call from deep in the forest, the sly racism of the denial of the more traditional national liberation force. In the name Mau Mau appeared the forest and in it would dissolve the accusations of concentration camps and mass killings. It was not the British that did those killings, but the Mau Mau. Always the Mau Mau, never Lord Evelyn Baring who wrote that the British had to inflict “violent shock” against the Kenyans or else the British Empire would be defeated in Kenya.

From Lord Baring’s Violent Shock to George W. Bush’s Shock and Awe: this cannot be terrorism. It is the business of rational states. Terrorism is what the others do. Always.

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Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

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