June 7, 2011

Mental energy

From The New Republic:
Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?A radical new explanation from psychologists.
Jamie Holmes June 6, 2011 | 12:00 am 
Flannery O’Connor once described the contradictory desires that afflict all of us with characteristic simplicity. “Free will does not mean one will,” she wrote, “but many wills conflicting in one man.” The existence of appealing alternatives, after all, is what makes free will free: What would choice be without inner debate? We’re torn between staying faithful and that alluring man or woman across the room. We can’t resist the red velvet cake despite having sworn to keep our calories down. We buy a leather jacket on impulse, even though we know we’ll need the money for other things. Everyone is aware of such inner conflicts. But how, exactly, do we choose among them? As it turns out, science has recently shed light on the way our minds reconcile these conflicts, and the result has surprising implications for the way we think about one of society’s most intractable problems: poverty. 

By the way, can we try to avoid phrases like "science has recently shed light" -- unless you are Thomas Dolby on a nostalgia tour? The research cited was done by living, breathing researchers, whose hard work deserves at least the recognition that they are human beings, not "science." Moreover, remembering that human beings are making these arguments, not "science," has the salutary effect of keeping in mind that humans aren't infallible.
In the 1990s, social psychologists developed a theory of “depletable” self-control. The idea was that an individual’s capacity for exerting willpower was finite—that exerting willpower in one area makes us less able to exert it in other areas. In 1998, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published some of the young movement’s first returns. Roy Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne Tice set up a simple experiment. They had food-deprived subjects sit at a table with two types of food on it: cookies and chocolates; and radishes. Some of the subjects were instructed to eat radishes and resist the sweets, and afterwards all were put to work on unsolvable geometric puzzles. Resisting the sweets, independent of mood, made participants give up more than twice as quickly on the geometric puzzles. Resisting temptation, the researchers found, seemed to have “produced a ‘psychic cost.’”

This sounds plausible, but the biochemical effect of chocolate versus radishes alone would have an effect on the "food-deprived." Chocolate contains caffeine, sugar, and fat, all of which help previously hungry people concentrate on puzzles. Radishes, not so much.
Over the intervening 13 years, these results have been corroborated in more than 100 experiments. Researchers have found that exerting self-control on an initial task impaired self-control on subsequent tasks: Consumers became more susceptible to tempting products; chronic dieters overate; people were more likely to lie for monetary gain; and so on. As Baumeister told Teaching of Psychology in 2008, “After you exert self-control in any sphere at all, like resisting dessert, you have less self-control at the next task.” 
In addition, researchers have expanded the theory to cover tradeoff decisions, not just self-control decisions. That is, any decision that requires tradeoffs seems to deplete our ability to muster willpower for future decisions. Tradeoff decisions, like choosing between more money and more leisure time, require the same conflict resolution as self-control decisions (although our impulses appear to play a smaller role). In both cases, willpower can be understood as the capacity to resolve conflicts among choices as rationally as possible, and to make the best decision in light of one’s personal goals. And, in both cases, willpower seems to be a depletable resource.

In general, mental energy is limited, and it varies greatly among individuals.
This theory of depletable willpower has its detractors, and, as in most academic topics studied across disciplinary fields, one finds plenty of disputes over the details. But this model of self-control is now one of the most prominent theories of willpower in social psychology, at the core of what E. Tory Higgins of Columbia University described in 2009 as “an explosion of scientific interest” in the topic over the last decade. Some skeptics correctly emphasize the vital role of motivation, and some emphasize instead that “attention” is limited. But the core of the breakthrough is that resolving conflicts among choices is expensive at a cognitive level and can be unpleasant. It causes mental fatigue. 
Nowhere is this revelation more important than in our efforts to understand poverty. Taking this model of willpower into the real world, psychologists and economists have been exploring one particular source of stress on the mind: finances. The level at which the poor have to exert financial self-control, they have suggested, is far lower than the level at which the well-off have to do so. Purchasing decisions that the wealthy can base entirely on preference, like buying dinner, require rigorous tradeoff calculations for the poor. As Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir formulated the point in a recent talk, for the poor, “almost everything they do requires tradeoff thinking. It’s distracting, it’s depleting … and it leads to error.” The poor have to make financial tradeoff decisions, as Shafir put it, “on anything above a muffin.”

And poor people tend to be bad at doing financial tradeoff decisions: It's the Lucky Jim principle: nice things correlate with nice things, nasty things with nasty things.
Last December, Princeton economist Dean Spears published a series of experiments that each revealed how “poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people.” In one experiment, poor participants in India performed far less well on a self-control task after simply having to first decide whether to purchase body soap. As Spears found, “Choosing first was depleting only for the poorer participants.” Again, if you have enough money, deciding whether to buy the soap only requires considering whether you want it, not what you might have to give up to get it. Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost.

In general, this suggests why traditional morality is better for poor people than more modern a la carte morality.

Also, let me put in a word here for an old-fashioned class system. The idea was that there were respectable modes of behavior for whatever class you aspire to, so you don't have to make up your mind a la carte on every damn thing all day long. You just look at what the people in the class of which you wish to be considered a respectable member do, and imitate it.

Retailers often do well for themselves by offering to take over the brain work of choosing products for a particular class. For example, Sears started out as the respectable farmer's mail order catalog company. Then, in 1924, it hired the former Quartermaster General of the army in WWI, Robert E. Wood, who revamped the company to be the store of the home-owning, car-owning middle class suburbanite.

Today, it's interesting to compare the big box stores Target and Costco. Target might carry 100 different varieties of shampoo, while Costco carries about three. Thus, Target has lots of pretty girls shopping there, people to whom choosing the perfect shampoo is an important gambit in the mating game, worth expending scarce mental energy upon.

Costco, in contrast, has very few pretty girls among its customers. Most shoppers look like they have kids and are shopping for 3 to 5 people, and thus they aren't willing to finetune their purchases to meet individual idiosyncracies: just give us something cheap and respectable. Costco makes a big deal out of how they strike vast bulk deals with manufacturers and thus pass on (some) of the savings to the customer.

But a less obvious strategy of Costco is that they won't go terribly low in quality while pursuing bargains. Nor will they go to the gaudy extremes that poorer people like to splurge upon. Their implicit guarantee is that the products they sell will be, while rather dull, considered respectable by middle class to upper middle class family people.

Upper middle class styles in the U.S. have generally evolved away from the formal and fancy toward the casual and utilitarian. Wearing a $20 casual shirt from Costco to a Memorial Day barbecue is highly respectable for, say, a retired McKinsey consultant. (The truly rich tend to wear stuff that looks pretty similar, but costs much more.)

The opposite of the Costco shopping experience is car shopping. Dealers work very hard to make to make buying a car a stressful experience that preys upon your class insecurities. Their ultimate goal is to make you want to impress the salesman by overpaying for the car.

One of the better ways to buy a car these days is through Zag, which partners with companies whose customers are considered by car dealers to be less intimidatable, such as Consumer Reports subscribers and customers of USAA, the insurance company that specializes in selling to military officers. Zag lets you "build and buy" the exact car you want, then offers you "no-haggle" prices at some local dealers.

But that still doesn't get around the enormous mental energy expenditure of deciding what car and what features you want to build and buy. I think there is a real opportunity out there for some firm, such as Costco, to extend its strategy to car sales.

Say that Costco each year offered one SUV, one family sedan, and one compact car, each equipped with the optimal features for the price. Heck, they could offer just one color. They could negotiate a pretty low price from a manufacturer.

This would be particularly appealing to parents buying cars for their kids. For example, that McKinsey consultant is in the market for a car for his daughter graduating from college. He's interested in safety and reliability, and isn't all that interested in indulging her (no doubt strong) feelings about which car most self-actualizes her image of herself. Generally, young women have expensive theories about what kind of car makes them look most cute, but expenditures on cars have relatively low marginal returns for young women in the mating market versus spending money on their personal looks. (The main exception might be the very expensive car that sends the message to guys, "I'm out of your league, so don't waste my time.")

If Costco told him that this year's Costco family sedan was a silver Ford Fusion with lots of airbags and other safety equipment like hands-free dialing for $18,999, he'd go for it in a flash.

But, there's practically no way to cut out car dealers. They have both contracts with manufacturers and state laws on their side protecting them from end arounds like this.

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

By the way, can we try to avoid phrases like "science has recently shed light" -- unless you are Thomas Dolby on a nostalgia tour? The research cited was done by living, breathing researchers, whose hard work deserves at least the recognition that they are human beings, not "science." Moreover, remembering that human beings are making these arguments, not "science," has the salutary effect of keeping in mind that humans aren't infallible.

Whoa.

Holy smokes.

Sailer takes a stand against the pagan religion of "Science".

The Derb will NOT be happy.

Not happy at all.

Anonymous said...

Considering how expensive new cars are, people should put a lot of mental energy into buying one. You shouldn't expect to be able to make a wise deal in the course of a single evening on something that will cost half your annual take-home.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Mental energy

Not to sound like a broken record, but I have long held that things like "attention span" and "stick-to-it-ive-ness" correlate very strongly with IQ.

When it comes to gritting their teeth, sucking it up, tightening their [metaphorical/intellectual] belts a few notches, and seeing a problem through to its conclusion, lesser IQ folks just don't have seem to have "it" - whatever "it" is.

Anonymous said...

It always seemed to me that self-control was like stamina. As you use it, you run out of it, but you train it and then you've got more of it later, up to a point.

Anonymous said...

"But, there's practically no way to cut out car dealers. They have both contracts with manufacturers and state laws on their side protecting them from end arounds like this."

Apparently not in the state of Maine, where you can buy a Subaru from L.L. Bean.

There have been MRI studies showing that fewer parts of the brain are active in smart people performing complex tasks, compared to dummies, who must literally wrack their brains for solutions.

jz said...

This concept of depletable willpower resonates with me. For poor people, wrestling with many financial decisions is exhausting.

Cradle Cat said...

How about cell phones, or computers?

Nathan E said...

The idea of the poor and their mental efforts are largely a chicken and egg question, as to whether they were born poor and they have grown up making tough decisions or whether they simply have less energy. I propose a more important factor is impulsivity, and some are more impulsive than others. My older brother came through basically the same socio-economic environment as me growing up. Yet I was always in the black, even as a child, and he was always in the red. This was true whether we were dealing with the piddling amounts of cash we got as gifts as kids, cash we made at McJobs as teens, or cash we made as adults at careers. Its still the case. He is simply much more impulsive. If he's hungry, he buys food out, when he could wait a half hour and eat at home. He doesn't save for a planned purchase, he buys now with a credit card, then pays for it + interest. Etc. This extends to other things- he has a lower paying job as he didn't go as far in school as me. He was arguably as bright, but has always found other things he'd rather spend his time on, than the long term potential.

Anonymous said...

The 1998 chocolate vs radish study had a no-food control group which performed the same as the chocolate group (the radish group, which had to avoid a fresh-baked-chocolate-chip-cookie temptation, gave up about 40% sooner than both).

Jonathan Silber said...

There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else.——Oscar Wilde

Anonymous said...

Six posts, and nobody has made the Idiocracy "law degree from Costco" reference.

Harry Baldwin said...

British Field Marshall Viscount Slim, who fought in both World Wars and was WIA three times, gave a famous speech titled "Courage" in which he made a similar point: that every man has a certain "capital" of courage to expend, and once it's expended, it's gone; i.e., even the hero has his breaking point. This was Slim's observation based on his wartime experience.

In my own life, I have found that it's easier to subject myself to one discipline, such as a rigorous diet and exercise program, when I'm not stressed by a heavy workload. I can't handle both simultaneously.

More successful people seem to be better at doing both--I've noticed that many of the top executives of companies I've worked for keep very fit in addition to managing a heavy workload.

The losers I know make crazy decisions, like buying a $500 guitar when they don't have the money to cover the next month's rent. It's as if all their available choices are so depressing it short-circuits their judgment.

Truth said...

"I have long held that things like "attention span" and "stick-to-it-ive-ness" correlate very strongly with IQ...lesser IQ folks just don't have seem to have "it" - whatever "it" is."

But they'll pick vegetables in the hot sun 14 hours a day? OK then.

Anonymous said...

"It always seemed to me that self-control was like stamina. As you use it, you run out of it, but you train it and then you've got more of it later, up to a point."

This idea of finite mental energy seems to inform modern elite sports psychology. Demonstrative highs and lows are to be avoided mid-competition, primarily because they disturb the equilibrium; the desired state of being 'in the present' or 'in the zone'. Another way of looking at it may be that 'the zone' is the most energy-efficient mode for sustained high performance. No question that this stamina can be trained for, at the margins.
Gilbert Pinfold.

Anonymous said...

"Purchasing decisions that the wealthy can base entirely on preference, like buying dinner, require rigorous tradeoff calculations for the poor."

WHAT? "The poor" are poor to a large extent because they're unable to do anything rigorously. They do stuff on impulse. If the guy who wrote that dreck honestly wants to study people who are daily overedosing on rigorous tradeoff calculations, he should ask a major Wall St. firm for a permission to study its trading floor personnel.

Lucious said:

"Not to sound like a broken record, but I have long held that things like "attention span" and "stick-to-it-ive-ness" correlate very strongly with IQ."

It seems to me that northeast Asians have more self-control than any other group even if one controls for IQ. Mexicans and US blacks have similar mean IQs, but we all know which group has a lot more mean self-control than the other.

"Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food..."

Or bling or 20-inch rims or drugs.

Anonymous said...

"British Field Marshall Viscount Slim, who fought in both World Wars and was WIA three times, gave a famous speech titled "Courage" in which he made a similar point: that every man has a certain "capital" of courage to expend, and once it's expended, it's gone;"

I have no idea if courage actually works that way, but I do remember that in the second Aubrey-Maturin book Jack Aubrey is described as thinking something very similar to the above.

Anonymous said...

"But they'll pick vegetables in the hot sun 14 hours a day? OK then." - Truth

Clearly, low-IQ people have a lot of stamina for repetitive, and ultimately useless tasks.

Eric said...

The losers I know make crazy decisions, like buying a $500 guitar when they don't have the money to cover the next month's rent. It's as if all their available choices are so depressing it short-circuits their judgment.

I think that's a good point. Some people feel both financially hopeless and starved for luxuries. If they have five hundred bucks in their pocket they spend it, because there doesn't appear to be any link between discipline and financial well-being.

My own theory is people like that just don't have an intuitive grasp of numbers. They may not be technically innumerate, but without sitting down and writing out a budget they just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was rescued from the wreckage of the post-dot-com meltdown by unexpectedly inheriting slightly over a million bucks, I can confirm that having some money lowers your general stress level and enables you to do better long-term planning.

Oh yes, and when you're truly broke, even a muffin has to be a planned expenditure.

Brett Stevens said...

Not to be the usual grump that I am, but it seems to me that most impoverished people are that way from a lack of impulse control.

The idea that we should invent a metric to describe, in non-inculpatory terms, why poor people cannot delay gratification is well, rather PC.

That being said, it works because it describes the situation: the impoverished lack the mental energy and focus to see past the immediate, thus get exhausted by such decisions, thus have difficulty making rational choices in that context.

Anonymous said...

you cannot raise IQ, but you can, to some extent, place people in conditions that promote mental concentration on the work that needs to be done. An extreme case would be the Jesuit Reductions in Paraguay which converted hunter-gatherers into agriculturalists by kibbutz-meets-monastery methods.

Essential point to notice here is that if you only have employees of one type (only whites, or only blacks, or only Guarani hunter-gatherers) your managers are forced to buckle down and figure out how to manage them to get things done. That way both the elite and the people benefit and are happy. But if you have all sorts of potential employees to choose from, the management can just say, screw figuring out, we will hire the hardworking Chinese because everybody else are lazy losers. So the elite benefits, the chosen group benefits, and everybody else is deeply screwed.

mdavid said...

Where I live Costco reminds me of the airport - mostly high-IQ & thus well-off people are there...since it requires forward thinking (bulk shopping) or expensive travel (flying). And so the women are better looking at both locations than the typical grocery store. But this is just where I live; I could see how in big cities this might not hold true, where the (more) wealthy have small families and food isn't worth shopping carefully for.

Harry Baldwin said...

Anonymous said... As someone who was rescued from the wreckage of the post-dot-com meltdown by unexpectedly inheriting slightly over a million bucks. . ."

I hope you kicked in to Steve's fund drive.

Difference Maker said...

Sleep is the only way to recharge this energy.

Save for life and death situations and great victories, always get sleep.

Unless you happen to be a god genius billionaire secret emperor of the world who never needs sleep. Or are otherwise satisfied with your station in life.

Animals and apes can get an infinite amount of sleep and remain as dumb as ever, but to properly use the full power of a great mind, one must sleep.

Nanonymous said...

Nowhere is this revelation more important than in our efforts to understand poverty.

Behold the awesome power of science! Finally, an explosion of scientific data obtained by the well-paid academics continuously confirms what pretty much everyone in 19th century treated as self-evident. Except that today's academics still can't bring themselves to admit that poor are poor because they have limited ability to make good choices.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Where else do you find commentary that raises so many fascinating issues in so few words?

I think the concept that’s missing here is the old-fashioned notion of temperament. Some people, temperamentally, are spendthrifts, and some are cautious, conscious decision-makers who exercise great self control.

Which is better? It seems obvious to say it’s better to be the latter, but there are downsides. Both my wife and I are bright enough (graduate degrees, including an MBA for her), and both of us have cautious/saver temperaments when it comes to money. Whether we are therefore better qualified or capable of spending a lot of mental energy on financial decisions is debatable, but I know we do just that. We find it hard to ‘pull the trigger’ on investment deals (e.g. stock and property purchases), because it’s so easy for us to assemble evidence against a given opportunity. On several occasions we have had to smile sweetly as our much more impulsive friends have told us about their enormous profits buying and selling properties they bought on a whim (we live in Hong Kong, where the property market is currently hot).

Chinese society is particularly complicated on this question. People here in HK are in general great savers, and are generally very conservative and cautious – but this is also the gambling capital of the world, with Macau just around the corner, and people here sure do love to take on risk in the stock and property markets, as I’ve indicated. Do they reach a point at which they’ve expended so much mental energy ‘doing the right thing’ in their education and work and other life decisions that they just have to let it all hang out sometimes? I don’t know.

I even see complexity in my own temperament on this question: in terms of broader life-decisions (like deciding to move overseas) I’m generally very decisive and don’t agonize much at all, but that ability evaporates when I need to think about money. It’s certainly interesting to think about.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone ever believe in INFINITE mental energy?

Anonymous said...

Why is it that blacks often do better in the military where their choices are strictly limited?

Anonymous said...

Maybe many poor people tend to be dumb. So, their minds tire faster even after doing humdrum task.

It's like a weakling will poop out after doing only five pushups whereas a naturally healthy person can do 50 or more.

So, even assuming this theory is valid to some degree, not all brains are the same. Some brains can go a lot longer before tiring.

My mind tires after reading about 20 pgs, but some friends I know can read 200 pgs in one day--and retain a lot more.

Suppose a smart Jew named Isaac Finkelstein and Beavis(Butthead's friend) sat in the same class. Beavis's brain might max out after a few math problems while Finkelstein's mind may still be revved up even after solving a calculus problem.

agnostic said...

What's the recovery time for willpower? Maybe poor people just need to take more and longer breaks during their daily routine, which they almost certainly are already doing. They figured that out without the help of Science.

Their real enemies are those who want to pound a stronger work ethic into them by giving them more and heavier mental burdens -- that way they'll learn how to multi-task and keep at it forever just like successful people.

It's like forcing weaklings to lift 50-pound weights for hours a day. Like you said about California high schools, more hours of algebra II are better for everybody!

Maybe the Gates Foundation can pay the poor to play video games instead of making decisions. Science said it would work.

agnostic said...

Do you think the hyper-customization trend of the past 15 years is more about finding a way to keep the lower classes out of the SWPLs favorite stores? Unintentionally at first, of course, but then really running with it once they discovered that it worked.

"Ugh, Target... too much thinking."

"Ugh, Starbucks... can't keep it all straight."

In contrast, look at how simplified the cheaper fast food joints' menus have become. In McDonalds and Burger King, they only show big pictures of the different value meals. It seems like just 15 or 20 years ago, most of the space was itemized a la carte menus, with a smaller picture of the value meals off to the side.

Starbucks still has the itemized menu that makes your brain hurt. I don't know about other SWPL places, though.

hbd chick said...

"Purchasing decisions that the wealthy can base entirely on preference, like buying dinner, require rigorous tradeoff calculations for the poor...."

like whether to buy a cell phone or a dvd player:

More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World

"In rural Morocco, Oucha Mbarbk and his two neighbors told us they had worked about 70 days in agriculture and about 30 days in construction that year. Otherwise, they took care of their cattle and waited for jobs to materialize. All three men lived in small houses without water or sanitation. They struggled to find enough money to give their children a good education. But they each had a television, a parabolic antenna, a DVD player, and a cell phone."

agnostic said...

Last thing: one reason why poorer people have really awful taste in music these days is the disappearance of albums during the iTunes / illegal downloading era.

Before that, there was a simple choice -- which bundle of 10 good songs do I want?

Now you have to cobble together an ever-bloating mp3 playlist that has no coherence like an album does. Music customers are now doing the job that the band and the studio used to do -- piecing together a sequence of listenable songs.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Jewish immigrants have to make tough choices when they arrived with so little in the US? So, how the hell did they rise out of poverty so dramatically?

This theory just doesn't work to explain poverty in the US, not least because even the poor are provided with basic needs and more. It might have more validity in a Third World country where people are really so starved that they have no energy to do much at all.

This theory is valid in this sense: Suppose there are two exactly same Jews with IQ of 130. One Jew has to work as a peddler all day and comes home without much. He had to make tough decisions, so I doubt he's gonna spend the night studying math or the arts.
But suppose the other Jew is affluent and isn't pressed for money. He has more energy for other stuff than bare survival. I mean DUH.

Even so, while Jew A may have less excess energy than Jew B, he can still make a living and raise his kids to study so that they'll have a better life. TNR seems to ignore the fact that social elevation generally happens intergenerationally. Most people don't go from rags to riches in one life. Through generations, people go from rags to clothes, then clothes to better attire, then better attire to silk dresses, etc. The problem with the chronic poor is not only that they're dumb but they don't live for their kids--who might also be dumb. A poor dumb person, even when they win the lotto, wanna spend it all on 'me'. Rodney King got 3 or 4 million from the lawsuit but look at that punk today.

While poor immigrant Jews may have been sapped of extra energy, they did take care of their kids and push them to do better. So, peddler's kid became a clerk, a clerk's son became an accountant, accountant's son became a doctor, etc. It is this sense of linkage that leads to social elevation.

Another thing. Goldilocksian moderation is best. If a person is easily provided with everything, he or she loses the hunger, the fire, the drive. He or she takes everything for granted. This is why Wasp blueblood declined. They lost the ruthless will.
At the other extreme, if a person is put under severe stress to just barely survive, he won't have extra energy to do much.

The problem among the American underclass is they don't have to work for their basic needs. It's given to them. So, they grow lazy and then serve as awful role models for their kids. It also leads to family breakdown since a mother can provide for her kids through the welfare check.

This theory is just the latest liberal PC bullshit to bait white guilt, and not even very original. The message is, 'you white people succeeded in life because your mental energies were not sapped by having to make tough decisions, but all those poor non-whites in America and the Third World cannot make it cuz they're so poor and stressed out, oh boo hoo'.
In other words, pay more taxes to hand out even more freebies and expand more do-goody bureaucracies!!

Only amnesiac fools would go for this baloney. Historically, 99% of Americans started out poor. Our ancestors were factory workers, dirt farmers, ranchers, blacksmiths, railroad men, dung shovelers, etc. But generation after generation, they moved up one step at a time. If this theory is true, then NO ONE in the past would have been able to move up since they had so much less than we do now and they were pooped out from too much work and tough decisions.

Anonymous said...

"that every man has a certain "capital" of courage to expend, and once it's expended, it's gone"

http://waronterrornews.typepad.com/home/2010/08/on-sheep-wolves.html

The US military has done a lot of research on this and found 98% of men have a maximum number of days of combat they can take before they crack up. I expect the number will vary around an average number of days but it's inevitable.

It's the same with cops. A man can take a knife off x guys but x+1 they just can't do it anymore.

The other 2% of men don't suffer from combat stress at all.

I found the 2% figure interesting because i remember reading an ancient greek writer a long time ago talking about battles in his day and saying 1 in 50 men do all the killing. The rest just defend.

Anonymous said...

The main exception might be the very expensive car that sends the message to guys, "I'm out of your league, so don't waste my time."


Yeah, my family bought me a corvette when I was in high school and it repelled most guys. However, it did not repel older guys, like gainfully employed 20 somethings. I got lots of free food, entertainment and marriage proposals from very nice young professional guys.

Anonymous said...

"But they'll pick vegetables in the hot sun 14 hours a day?"

No place on earth has 14 hours of hot sun a day. And places that are hot for 14 hours a day don't grow much in the way of vegetables.

innumerate fool

Anonymous said...

The reason people are in poverty is that they don't have a skill that will earn more money.

That is it.

They can't trade what they do for what they need.

It is that simple.

What they need to consume exceeds their ability to produce.

Truth said...

"Clearly, low-IQ people have a lot of stamina for repetitive, and ultimately useless tasks."

Is eating a useless task as well? I understand there is a correlative effect between that and harvesting.

FF said...

The money is not great, but the workers I employ as far as I can tell come to work for two main reasons...
personal self respect and the camaraderie offered by their co-workers.
Important factors that make tedious, arduous , low skill jobs bearable.

Veracitor said...

About Viscount Slim's theory of courage, I recall that the late Col. David Hackworth of the US Army had a very similar theory. In his book "About Face" Hackworth wrote that each man has a little bottle inside him which fills up slowly with fear and when it's full, the fear overflows and the man's courage falters. He gives several examples of men whose "bottles have filled" and they can no longer hack it in combat.

Murphy's Life said...

From non sequitur:

"Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost."

The writer's liberal indoctrination is causing a leap to mostly erroneous conclusion instead of a more controlled movement in the direction of a rational explanation or two. For instance, just as most elderly people aren't having to choose between paying the light bill and eating something more appetizing than cat food, most of the basics in life are relatively inexpensive (think comet cleaner, tuna, beans n rice, and beer). A legitimately difficult choice might be between paying the rent and making a car payment on time, however.

To
non
seq
uitur:

"In general, this suggests why traditional morality is better for poor people than more modern a la carte morality.

Also, let me put in a word here for an old-fashioned class system. The idea was that there were respectable modes of behavior for whatever class you aspire to, so you don't have to make up your mind a la carte on every damn thing all day long. You just look at what the people in the class of which you wish to be considered a respectable member do, and imitate it."

I think you're confusing class and culture. BTW, how's your rheumatism, old man. There are cultures of people who may be somewhat religious though, relatively speaking, aren't moral. Traditional morality is more like habitually successful enough behavior. No need to get all moralistic or high falutin' about it. Take lower class Hispanics who do all kinds of things upper middle class whites would be shamed for doing. It's not their "family values" so much as their culture of resource management combined with a reinforcement schedule that is within their means. Costs for culturally acceptable food, clothing and shelter are relatively inexpensive. Then there are the numerous celebrations, bbqs and games in the park, quinceaneras and weddings. Celebrations are frequent and kept within a budget.

As to the rebound effect of disciplined behavior, I would've gone in another direction entirely. I've heard and occasionally observed that highly intelligent people often indulge in behavioral excesses which are incongruous with their necessarily more focussed or disciplined behavior in their careers. There might be some kind of biochemical need to balance out the results heightened mental activity be it the stress of worry or the effort of concentrating.

Your victorian focus on traditional morality is all well and good, Sailer. But more to the point is having a structured life, be that structure designed by you or required by someone else, along with a sufficient amount of rewarding/pleasurable components to balance out stress and the amount of time spent delaying gratification. Knowing what is taboo in the traditional moral code of your neighbors is important but there are limits to the benefits of following the herd. Culturally acceptable indulgences such as overeating or getting drunk can harm health. So, unless what is most rewarding to you is violating local taboos, most people who keep busy enough and balance out work with acceptable and affordable forms of pleasure seeking behavior will do alright.

Anonymous said...

Clearly Truth's only purpose is to make nonsense objections and clutter up threads with useless diversions. Is he playing dumb, or is he just dumb?

Anonymous said...

My theory as to why liberals cannot figure out why poverty exists.

Their minds are so fixated on PC that they're too tired for any other thought.

Vilko said...

I've heard and occasionally observed that highly intelligent people often indulge in behavioral excesses which are incongruous with their necessarily more focussed or disciplined behavior in their careers.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn...

neil craig said...

I doubt they would want to go for just one colour. This is the male equivalent of no woman wanting to turn up at a party wearing the same costco dress as somebody else.

Once Henry Ford could get away with it but that was back when even the most utilitarian car was a status symbol.

On the other hand I doubt if, with today's technology, having more than 1 colour available is a problem.

Mike Kenny said...

apropos focused people indulging--possibly hitler and napoleon were like this. lazy lots of the time, then work like demons (in more ways than one) when they felt like it. maybe this was the military principle of concentration applied to personal energy. you don't have to be superior to the enemy in all ways, just at the important points. this might also be an 80/20 pattern--focus on the 20 percent, slack on the rest. might work.

Wade said...

Great analysis as always Steve. I would just add to your remarks another irritating thing about science journalists besides their always crediting "Science" rather than the actual scientists that do the hard research, and that is the journalists' tendency to let the scientists who are obviously rent-seeking for more grant money to characterize a few new experiments as having hailed in some "radical new scientific theory" which is not really new or radical in the least:

" Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?A radical new explanation from psychologists.
Jamie Holmes June 6, 2011 | 12:00 am

Flannery O’Connor once described the contradictory desires that afflict all of us with characteristic simplicity. ...Everyone is aware of such inner conflicts. But how, exactly, do we choose among them? As it turns out, science has recently shed light on the way our minds reconcile these conflicts, and the result has surprising implications for the way we think about one of society’s most intractable problems: poverty."

This is pure sensationalism. This is not some new theory. This is nothing more than the theory of how the frontal lobe, especially the prefrontal cortex functions. "Science" has known for a very long time that the prefrontal cortex is responsible for choosing among competing alternatives and that it frequently fatigues from its task.
Anything from poor sleep, additional stress, unexpected interruptions at work, being confronted with life decisions (or any decisions) all stretch the limits of this part of the brain increasing the likelihood that a mental slip up will occur, allowing some rogue, ill-conceived impulse to be acted upon. There are dozens of books that describe, or by inference predict, the thesis described in The New Republic:

"ADHD and the Nature of Self-Control" by Russell Barkley

"The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind" by Elkhonon Goldberg

...are 2 good ones. Not to mention Jaoquin Fuster's "The Prefrontal Cortex", which is more like a textbook on the subject.

This concept of limited capacity for free will and decision making, and that it plays a role in explaining poverty and crime are even discussed by Charles Murray in his debate with James Flynn (viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KD6i5TkjSs ...Murray)

I've not read The New Republic piece but I suspect they are just titillating their readers with "new knowledge!" hoping to breath some life into the social justice movement that we may one day be able to "do something" about it all.

Deckin said...

"No place on earth has 14 hours of hot sun a day. And places that are hot for 14 hours a day don't grow much in the way of vegetables."

I'm no fan of Truth's but, have you been to Arizona? Or the Imperial Valley? Or heck, Bakersfield in the late summer?

Anonymous said...

"fewer parts of the brain are active in smart people performing complex tasks"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lcwCpdgkNE

Anonymous said...

The key question is:

(1) does poverty reduce mental energy?

or

(2) does low mental energy lead to poverty?

The quotes in your post suggest number 1. HBD would suggest number 2. The can't budget because they aren't rich, or they're rich because they can budget?

Mental energy sounds a lot like conscientiousness and future time orientation.

Future time orientation is widely considered a heritable trait like IQ. Conscientiousness is often used to explain why a high IQ nerdy guy receives lower grades than a well-adjusted lower IQ girl. She budgets time for studying and turns her work in on time. He doesn't.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Murphy's Life:

"...most people who keep busy enough and balance out work with acceptable and affordable forms of pleasure seeking behavior will do alright."

What is "acceptable and affordable" is generally determined by social mores. And the "structure" you esteem over all that pretentious old morality crap practiced by rheumatoid geezers like Steve is nothing less than moral practicum: get married and stay married, live within your means, take care of your kids, etc.

Sailer is exactly right. Trust fund-baby Kim Kardashian doesn't have much downside risk as the NFL's pass-around girl; Holly from the trailer park, not so much. Holly needs constant drilling in a moral code for her dim head. If she has to think too hard she won't bother. She'll just go with her impulses and ruin her life.

Your sanguine view of lower class Meso-Americans is kind of puzzling too. Sure they have barbecues and coming-out parties for their pregnant teen daughters. They also consume lots of public welfare and behead other Meso-Americans.

Anonymous said...

You can make a better deal haggling than Zag's "no haggle" prices. Of course the time you spend haggling has value, but still...

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that in 45 comments nobody has pointed out that you can already buy cars from Costco:

http://www.costcoauto.com/

Marc B said...

"In general, this suggests why traditional morality is better for poor people than more modern a la carte morality."

Liberalism encourages everybody in the West to become a libertine. When the lower order embarks on this behavior, they end up living lifestyles on par with the guests on Springer. It undermines the social fabric of the very people organized religion was designed to keep in line, those with the least impulse control and worst judgement. It is egalitarianism taken to it's logical conclusion.

Antioco Dascalon said...

No one has yet brought up the mental energy saved by the creation of political parties. It is really, really difficult and time consuming to think through a reasoned stance on every relevant political issue and further to make sure that they all fit into a single coherent world-view. Almost impossible, in fact. It is far, far easier to choose sides: Republican or Democrat and then just agree with whatever that party decides is right. This is the overwhelmingly superior choice to all but the tiny percentile who has the time and resources to wonk their way through everything.
Of course, politicians take advantage of this capitulation in spades. Still, you have to be pretty extreme for the average citizen to choose to think about a political issue rather than outsource it to a political party.
Now, the choice isn't always D or R. For identity groups it is Black or Hispanic and you don't even have to choose. It is a default decision. If you are black, you don't have to even think about what your views should be concerning any political issue. You can use all that time and energy saved to enjoy yourself.

Murphy's life said...

"Sailer is exactly right. Trust fund-baby Kim Kardashian doesn't have much downside risk as the NFL's pass-around girl; Holly from the trailer park, not so much. Holly needs constant drilling in a moral code for her dim head. If she has to think too hard she won't bother. She'll just go with her impulses and ruin her life."

You don't get out much, do you anti-G. Holly is pretty much gonna do what her older female friends do. Short of having parents who persistently enforce the moral code, there's not an adult in the world who's gonna tell such a girl anything. Most adults in such communities give up trying to discipline wayward children early on if they try at all.

The kids raise each other. Only someone sufficiently close in age who is also considered cool will have an impact.

I do envy you your sheltered life in an upper middle class enclave where all the kids are well above average and their friends' influence is mostly as functional as yours.

glib, facile n snarky said...

"It undermines the social fabric of the very people organized religion was designed to keep in line, those with the least impulse control and worst judgement. It is egalitarianism taken to it's logical conclusion."

Here's the thing. The kind of religious attitudes that actually help those with the least impulse control and worst judgement offend non Christians to the point they become hostile to individual Christians and utilize the legal system to eradicate any expression of Christianity in public institutions. Note the recent valedictorian who had to get permission to lead her classmates in a prayer. Having a Christian worldview can also get you labeled a potential terrorist or at least as someone who will threaten the rights of others with their supposed intolerance of the non religious.

Any effective intervention would have to focus on good decision making and adaptive behavior detached from the 10 Commandments lest in the relatively simple person's zeal they say the wrong thing to the wrong atheist. Catholics seem to do a good job of teaching their parishioners how to impose Catholic values on the community while never mentioning God or religion but not everyone is Catholic.

Wandrin said...

Murphy's,
"The kids raise each other. Only someone sufficiently close in age who is also considered cool will have an impact."

This wasn't true in the past. It's slowly become true thanks to the counter-culture of the 60s. A counter-revolution could change it back again.

Truth said...

"A counter-revolution could change it back again."

So what the hell are you waiting for, Joseph McCarthy?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the issue isn't really mental ENERGY but mental FLOW.
I felt this problem tonight while watching BOCCACCIO 70, one of those multiple movie-movies from the 60s(short films by Fellini, Visconti, De Sica, and Monicelli). Fellini's short is silly, Monicelli's nice, De Sica's is wonderful, and Visconti's exceptionally good. But I always felt frustrated watching this kind of movie(SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, NEW YORK STORIES, etc), and it isn't difficult to understand why these movies were never very popular. When we see a movie, we want to invest our emotions in a flow of narrative. We fall in with the story and characters, we bond with them, and we don't wanna let go.
But in multiple-story movies, one narrative ends and another begins, and it feels like cinematus interruptus. It doesn't matter if the next short film is also good or even better. The fact is we have to start up the emotional engine all over again from scratch.
Consider the marathon. It may be hellish but it's doable if the runner is in a constant motion. But if he has to stop every so often just when he's gotten used to the momentum and the flow of the race, he will more frustration than rest. Worse, imagine if an athlete had to run the 5000 m, then fight a boxing match, and then play basketball.

Similarly, a parent wants to invest his/her emotions in one child from babyhood to adulthood. If a parent had to give up one child and then raise another child and then give up that child and then raise another child, there will be interruptions of emotional flow.
Same is true of music. We wanna hear one song from beginning to end. YESTERDAY, SATISFACTION, and BABA O'RILEY are great songs but we don't hear 1/3 Yesterday-1/3 Satisfaction-1/3 Baba O'Riley. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and some parts don't belong together. The flow of energy is crucial.

Take a movie like Altman's NASHVILLE. It has many characters and plotlines, but they are all threaded together in an overarching narrative, and so there is a flow that musically and emotionally ties them altogether. But suppose each of the plot lines had been told as a completely separate short films. The length of the movie may be the same, but it will be emotionally frustrating and tiring.

When it comes to some poor people, it could be they have no overarching narrative in their lives. It could be this lack of connective/fusing narrative that makes them tired and drained by all the petty stresses of life. Everything seems like a big pointless headache since they have no sense of life except what's-on-tv-today.

Anonymous said...

But, consider many 'starving artists'. They don't have much and often live on the economic margins, but they do have a sense of purpose in life because their ambition is to create something. So, Van Gogh and Mozart weren't too rich, but they still had lots of energy for their art. Beatles in Hamburg lived in terrible conditions and were just scraping by, but their morale was still high because they really loved the music and had a sense of destiny. Tennesse Williams had to work all day and write plays at night, but his emotional investment in life made his troubles all seem worthwhile. He felt he was moving toward something.

And among immigrant Jews, despite the poverty and hard choices they had to make on a daily basis, they too possessed a sense of overarching/flowing narrative. They had a sense of culture/community going back 1000s of yrs. So, no matter hard things were, they felt they part of a meaningful historical narrative and had a moral/historical/spiritual purpose in this world. Also, they had great hopes for their children. So, whatever hardships the parents went through, they felt it was all worth it cuz their kids would be able to do better. They weren't just living for the momentary present but for the future of their kids.

But among some black, white, and brown trash, there is no overarching narrative--moral, historical, cultural, etc. There is only 'my big fat ass that wants to eat a big Idiocratic burger but I done used up all my food stamps on a bigass pizza last night, damn!!'
Since they lack a longsighted vision and tend to be emotionally shortsighted, they get stressed by every little hassle and pisser in life as the worst shit that can happen.

glib, facile n snarky said...

"When it comes to some poor people, it could be they have no overarching narrative in their lives. It could be this lack of connective/fusing narrative that makes them tired and drained by all the petty stresses of life. Everything seems like a big pointless headache since they have no sense of life except what's-on-tv-today."

I know you think of this as stream-of-consciousness but the rest of us, not so much.

You are right about some poor people being impoverished culturally, spiritually and economically thus their plight being all the worse for the lack of money. I've noticed this can happen at any socioeconomic level so I don't associated with poverty. Besides day-to-day survival can be an overarching narrative.

And Van Gogh as an example? Bach wasn't rich but wasn't poor either. He had a comfortable enough life considering the living circumstances of even the richest members of society. I'd choose my examples in keeping with an overarching narrative if I were you.

Yours doesn't seem much more held together than that of a poor person doing the things he has to do to get his basic needs met. You just unimaginatively followed the path laid out for you in the middle class. Had you gone to private school, thus indicating greater familial wealth, you'd pick better cultural icons when attempting to make a point.

glib, facile n snarky said...

While a certain number of people are on public assistance of some kind in this country, I'm not certain there are a substantial number of people you could consider poor in the sense that they are having to struggle for food and shelter.

I mean you trot out these studies but like the proverbial horse you aren't thinking scientifically. Plus you're all talking as if you were rich. Chances are I'm richer. And you all are definitely frustrated about something or you wouldn't hang out on Sailer's blog or read Vdare. I'm assuming whatever it is has some impact on your income. Otherwise you'd be spending your rather copious amounts of free time doing something fun or working a 2nd job to reduce your financial stress.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I do envy you your sheltered life in an upper middle class enclave where all the kids are well above average and their friends' influence is mostly as functional as yours.

Heh heh. Yes, my apartment balcony is a fine redoubt from which to savor all the high culture emanating from the cars in the parking lot.

Anyhoo, I'm really not sure what you're arguing against. The structure you talked about is just moral practicum and even conceding the point that children are raised by their peers, it only reinforces that we should be concerned about the moral relativism broadcast by popular culture. Millionaires in the film industry can go on benders, sleep around, and from their monied cocoons lecture the rest of us on how tolerant we need to be. Low IQ teenagers with poor impulse control don't have the escape hatch of money. It is an act of compassion to reinforce them in a stern moral code before they destroy themselves. And if parents won't do it, it behooves the elite to set the tone. Naturally I have no expectation of this happening.

Tony Danton said...

The technology exists to allow everyone to have the exact color car they want without expensive or crappy looking repaints.

The Japanese have devised a four color paint head that works just like an ink jet printer. With CMYK paints they can make any Pantone shade or duplicate any existing car color. They can even do real candies, pearls and metalflakes.

However the Japanese have not chosen to IMPLEMENT this because research has shown that most Japanese want a color that is the same as many others' have, not a unique color. So Japanese makers offer a more limited palette of colors.

Dutch Boy said...

The other thing the poor don't have going for them is their vulnerability to the clever but unscrupulous (like the people who offer low income people mortgages that look good initially but are actually unaffordable for people of modest means).

Kai Carver said...

nick craig: I doubt they would want to go for just one colour. This is the male equivalent of no woman wanting to turn up at a party wearing the same costco dress as somebody else. ... On the other hand I doubt if, with today's technology, having more than 1 colour available is a problem.

Tony Danton: The technology exists to allow everyone to have the exact color car they want ... However ... most Japanese want a color that is the same as many others' have, not a unique color

One company became the world's most valuable and profitable publicly traded company by not letting people choose what they want and yet offering products that are highly desirable status symbols.

Apple has wildly fat profit margins and awesome sales figures with a very small line of products. People* happily give them their money because only losers and techies want to spend hours looking at spec sheets and dealing with obscure technical problems. And only suckers will trust anything telco operators have to offer. So for your money with Apple you save mental energy and get cool points.

*(I personally do not buy Apple products but I'm a techie and waste a lot of mental energy on silly things like posting on uncool blogs days late).