A delusion is an irrational false belief that someone holds so firmly that nobody can talk him or her out of it. Delusions are a feature of some major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Narcissists also often try to make you believe things that are clearly false. This tactic is called gaslighting. Sometimes, narcissists even seem to believe the nonsense that they spout. Yet there is a difference between the delusions of someone with schizophrenia and the foolish nonsense that appears on a narcissist’s Twitter feed. Schizophrenics care about the truth, and narcissists do not.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a story that provides hope for children who are being bullied and otherwise rejected by their society. Rudolph is clearly the hero of the story. The villains are most of the rest of the people in Rudolph’s society, including Santa Claus himself. Some critics have complained that the Rudolph story teaches bullied children that they cannot trust authority figures. But the bullied children already knew that. It’s high time that the adults figured it out as well.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a character created in 1939 in a Christmas story created by Robert L. May, who was working as a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward Company. The story was such a hit that it was reprinted for several years. The story was adapted into a 9-minute cartoon, to be shown in movie theaters. May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, then wrote the lyrics and melody for the popular song. In 1964, the Rankin/Bass company produced a stop-action Christmas special, which has become a modern classic.
Robert May based his Rudolph story on the story of the Ugly Duckling. This duckling was a misfit among its flock of ducklings. Yet to everyone’s surprise, the Ugly Duckling grew up to be a beautiful swan. Likewise, Rudolph is initially rejected because he looks different from the other reindeer. As a result, his childhood is lonely and unhappy. Yet thanks to his natural gift, he becomes a valued member of society as an adult.
The television special introduced some new characters, including Hermey, an elf who ran away from Santa’s workshop because he wanted to become a dentist, instead of a toymaker. The two find their way to the Island of Misfit Toys, whose ruler asks Rudolph to ask Santa to find homes for the misfits. Yet Rudolph cannot live with the misfits because he’s afraid that his shining nose will endanger the others, by attracting the attention of the Abominable Snowman. Despite how horribly Rudolph has been treated by others, Rudolf grows up to be not only brave but selfless. He even has the magnanimity (greatness of soul) to forgive Santa and his father for their cruel rejection of him. Yet thanks to the brilliance that made others reject him, Rudoloph is eventually able to solve a problem that no one else in his society could solve.
Some people have argued that the Rudolph story is a parable about growing up gay. Certainly, gay children have often been targets of bullying, and gay children can draw comfort from the story, with its “It Gets Better” message (https://itgetsbetter.org). Yet Rudolph is not gay. He falls in love with a doe named Clarice. Instead, Rudolph represents another class of bullied children: the gifted. Gifted children are described as “bright” or “brilliant” because of their intelligence, whereas Rudolph is literally bright, because of his shiny nose. Like many gifted children, Rudolph was bullied by other youngsters as well as by adults, who were inexplicably frightened by his nose. (Likewise, many ordinary children and adults feel fear as well as loathing when they encounter brilliant people.) Rudolph’s father Donner had tried to get Rudolph to hide his nose, but the fake nose that Donner made for Rudolph eventually failed. Rudolph’s brilliance was as plain as the nose on his face. The attempt to hide it was stifling and was doomed to failure. The same goes for gifted children.
Like many other gifted children, Rudolph had a strong moral sense. He was kind and brave and selfless. His moral sense put Santa’s to shame, even though Santa is supposedly the one who knows who’s naughty or nice. Similarly, gifted children (and gifted adults) are often shunned, precisely because of their moral integrity, as well as their brilliance.
What about Hermey the elf? Some commentators have suggested that Hermey is gay because he is kind of nerdy. Yet when I was growing up, I knew some children who were not gay but were kind of nerdy, who did not worship Santa or take part in Christmas celebrations, and who went on to become dentists or other professionals. They described themselves as “Jewish.” Like Hermey, Jewish kids seemed to think that it was good to be bright. Although Hermey is not explicitly labeled as Jewish, his role in the Rudolph story is to teach children that anti-Semitism is stupid.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer teaches important moral lessons. Rudolph and Hermey serve as a role models for bright, nonconforming children. Rudolph and Hermey’s story arcs reassure bright children that their childhood misery is not their fault, and that their intelligence, compassion, and moral courage may allow them to become valuable and valued members of society in adult life. In contrast, Donner and Santa’s story arcs serve as cautionary tales for parents and teachers.
Many adults like to think that schoolyard bullying is “kid’s stuff” and therefore none of their concern. Yet the schoolyard bullies are taking their cues from the adults in their societies. Bullies often see themselves as a police force, enforcing the social norms that have been established by the adults. Likewise, Santa and Donner decided that Rudolph’s nose was an embarrassment, and they allowed “all of the other reindeer” to be cruel. The blinding snowstorm serves as a metaphor for Santa and Donner’s moral blindness. Without (moral) guidance from Rudolph, Santa and Donner could not deliver joy to children.
The moral lessons from Rudolph are simple: Be Rudolph. If you can’t be Rudolph, be Hermey. Don’t be bigoted and callous, like Donner and Santa and all of the other reindeer (except Rudolph’s girlfriend Clarice). If you find yourself having to rear or teach a child who is exceptionally bright, contact Serving the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (www.seng.org) for guidance.
Photo by joebeone
Like the protagonist of an ancient Greek tragedy, Harvey Weinstein has fallen from a position of wealth, power, and prestige. Like other tragic figures, Weinstein has only himself to blame. He has been accused of acts of hubris. The Greek word hubris is often translated as foolish pride, but it referred to offenses of a particular kind. In Rhetoric, Aristotle explained that “hubris consists in causing injury or annoyance whereby the sufferer is disgraced, not to obtain any other advantage for oneself besides the performance of the act, but for one’s own pleasure….The cause of the pleasure felt by those who insult is the idea that, in ill-treating others, they are more fully showing superiority.”
There has been yet another mass shooting in the United States. This one is the deadliest in living memory. In the wake of this horror, people are having the usual arguments about whether the shooting was an act of terrorism and whether the shooter was mentally ill. The first is a legal question, and the second is a medical question. To answer the first question, you need to understand how legal terms are defined. To answer the second, you need to understand what mental illness is and how cases of mental illness are classified. These questions are important. Until you answer them, you cannot figure out how to prevent similar offenses from happening in the future.
Narcissists tend to be thin-skinned people who throw tantrums over minor or even imaginary slights. Some psychologists make the absurd argument that the narcissist’s childish behavior is the result of low self-esteem. Yet the word narcissism means that the person’s self-esteem is ridiculously high. You cannot be narcissistic and have low self-esteem at the same time, just as you cannot have a fever (high body temperature) and hypothermia (low body temperature) at the same time. So why might someone with ridiculously high self-esteem be so touchy? As I explain in my book Don’t Feed the Narcissists! The Mythology and Science of Mental Health, narcissists are secure in their self-concept but not in their social rank. Narcissists have ridiculously high self-esteem. For this reason, narcissists feel that they are entitled to a much higher social rank than reasonable people are willing to grant to them. Narcissists often notice that other people do not worship them as much as the narcissists worship themselves. As a result, narcissists feel that they are being unfairly disrespected and unfairly deprived of the things they richly deserve.
William Shakespeare was the greatest English playwright, and one of the greatest English poets. Yet since the 19th century, many people have doubted that William Shakespeare, an actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, could actually have written the plays and poetry attributed to him. How could a man of limited education suddenly drop his Warwickshire accent and start writing highly sophisticated poems and plays, peppered with puns in Hebrew and Italian and references to hundreds of literary works? On the other hand, an educated woman of Italian and Jewish ancestry could have written like that. As it turns out, the man who was in charge of the entertainments in Queen Elizabeth’s court had a mistress who met that description. Her name was Emilia Bassano (later, Emilia Lanier).
Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which the therapist tries to teach the patient to think more rationally. In mild to moderate cases of depression, cognitive therapy seems to work as well as antidepressant medication. Yet like any other form of psychotherapy, cognitive therapy seems to be less effective for people with more serious mental illnesses. These findings would come as no surprise to an ancient Greek or Roman physician. Cognitive therapy is really just coaching in logical thinking. Ancient Greeks and Roman philosophers believed that logical thinking is an art that can be cultivated. However, they also recognized that some people have medical problems that make it difficult or impossible to think logically. In Roman law, a person would not be held legally responsible for an act that was committed when he was not in control of his mind (non compos mentis).
From the Middle Ages up to the 1930s, many Catholics revered a dog named Guinefort as a saint who protected infants. Parents would leave a sickly baby overnight at the shrine of “Saint” Guinefort. As a result, the baby usually died of exposure. Of course, some babies did not die so easily. As a result, many parents believed that evil spirits had stolen their baby, leaving an evil changeling in its place. These parents might then go to the dog’s shrine to perform dangerous rituals on the changeling, to persuade the evil spirits to return their healthy child. As a result, the “changeling” usually died. The purpose of these rituals was for parents to rid themselves of a burdensome child, but in a way that would absolve them of guilt and that would not cause them to lose social standing.
On the surface, Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a satire of horror movies. Vampire movies typically show pretty young women, and especially dumb blondes, as helpless victims who must rely on other people to save them. In contrast, Buffy (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) was a pretty and smart blond teenage girl who saved the world, a lot. Like many other satires, the series was intended as meaningful entertainment. It provides useful lessons in how to grow up, how to manage anger, and how to atone for your sins. In the show, Buffy literally slew demons. Yet those demons were also metaphors for the kinds of problems that each of us must solve as we grow up. Nevertheless, there was one important demon whom Buffy was reluctant to slay: a vengeance demon named Anyanka. (Emma Caulfield did such a brilliant job in her role as Anyanka that she became a series regular.)
The human beings who review articles for scientific journals sometimes reject good articles for stupid reasons. A computer can automatically reject an article for stupid reasons much more quickly and efficiently than a human being can. Thus, artificial intelligence could amplify the natural stupidity that often plagues the review process.
Rather than spending less time on the peer review process, by allowing a machine to do their thinking for them, editors should devote more time and more thought to the review process. In particular, editors should critically review the reviewers’ reviews and should take authors’ rebuttals seriously.