Tag Archives: psychology

To Be Human in this Lifetime: Top 3 Discoveries in Neuroscience

16 Oct

Oh, to be human in this lifetime.

Our mind is an elegant dance of simultaneous balance with tremendous layers of synchronicity, symmetry and replication. The brain is far more complex than any computer. Scientists have just begun to understand this complexity with the advent of new technologies in brain science. For example, there are more neural synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy – roughly 100 trillion. No computer could possibly match this staggering complexity, and our efforts to understand it or even comprehend the vastness have been elementary at best thus far.

In fact, a single human brain has more “switches” than all of the computers on the Earth (Blow 2007).

brainbow

Example of array tomography imaging.

Consider this image. Known as a “brainbow,” this is a real image of quasi-randomly colored fluorescent proteins in a composite image of a mouse brain that is made from thousands of millions of actively firing synapses. In the human brain, we have more synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and we know less about our own brains than our very own home galaxy system. If Carl Sagan was right that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” we have a long way to go.

  1. The top three scientific developments in the field of psychology and neuroscience begin with the discovery of the “neuronal plasticity” of the brain by the father of neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Fuchs & Flügge 2014). This was a bombshell revelation that carried two equally critical implications. For one, the brain is capable of being internally damaged such that it may affect its functioning and structure. Two, that the brain is capable of healing, which is now understood to occur structurally, functionally, and electro-chemically. This is easily the most important development in the science of psychology because of the relevance of the following discovery.
  2. The second most important discovery in psychology validates the first as the most important. Paul Broca accidentally discovered cortical localization of function in the brain, scientifically proving the theory of cortical localization correct. Combined with Cajal’s discovery of neuroplasticity, behavior could now begin to be explained through neurological explanations, which is now the fundamental basis of psychology. Contemporary brain science and neuroimaging show the causal relationship between nerve specificity and cortical localization, enabling emerging and exciting therapies to be developed based on new understandings of brain damage and dysfunction.

    The indomitable Alex Gray

  3. Finally, perhaps the most inspiring discovery in all of psychology research is as poetically romantic as it is scientifically invigorating. Building on Harlow’s research on physical loving comfort and cognitive-social development in baby monkeys (Harlow 1958) is the advancing theory of interpersonal limbic synchronicity, a label I’ve developed to describe the following three distinct processes: limbic resonance, limbic regulation, and limbic revision (Lewis & Amini 2000). In limbic resonance, research has shown that our nervous systems and brain chemistry can interact without verbal communication, posing exciting possibilities in the future human communication, conflict resolution, deepening intimacy, and empathy studies (Schore 1994).

Ramon y Cajal’s sketch of neurons. In the planetarium show at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, this is precisely how an artist rendered imagined images of dark matter in the universe. 🙂 

One example of this interaction would be eye contact between two people, whether between strangers who have just met and are experiencing chemistry, or twin siblings who merely need a look to “read” one another. This interaction can result in activation of both parties’ nervous systems, particularly the limbic system (Schore 1994), resulting in anything from increased heart rate to a shared spike in dopamine. Limbic regulation refers to a more long-term effect of how these interactions can influence our body systems and brain chemistry (Schore 1994), such as when living with a spouse of many years. Finally, limbic revision refers to how these processes can be influenced with deliberate action in therapeutic contexts (Schore 1994).

I argued in my psychology capstone thesis that such processes are part of a larger complex interplay at work in the resolution of trauma pathways for survivors of developmental trauma in the context of loving relationships. Essentially, that love heals trauma in the brain.

I’d be curious to further study these processes in the context of facilitated ego-death transpersonal experience, such as in psychedelic-assisted altered states of consciousness or meditative yoga nidra. One day I’ll put a couple in love, on lysergic acid diethyl amide or MDMA into an fMRI machine, and have them get it on. You know, for science. Of course, MAPS is already supporting research on MDMA and PTSD as well as couples’ therapy.

These discoveries illuminate the shadows of previous mysteries that have been integral to the human experience, allowing us to better understand our past as a species.

Finally, they provide compelling avenues for further research that will usher in the most exciting chapter in human history. What delight in contemplating our immense potential for healing and shared experience in these perilous and critical times to be human in this lifetime. 

References

Blow, N. (2007). Following the wires. Nature Methods. 4, 975 – 981
doi:10.1038/nmeth1107-975

Fuchs, E., & Flügge, G. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural Plasticity, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2014/541870

Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13(12), 673-685. doi:10.1037/ h0047884

Lewis, T., & Amini, F. (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.

Schore, A. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: the neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

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Construction of a Feminist Sexual Consciousness

15 Aug

Presenting a new theory of feminist sexual consciousness. Drawing on gender studies theory, ancient goddess archetypal literature, artifacts of the divine feminine, theories on the origins of patriarchy, neuroimaging and studies of physiology of women’s orgasm, and an attempt to formulate a radical and cohesive perspective on women’s contemporary sexual agency. Hopefully this presentation can awaken a feminist sexual consciousness in the viewer, regardless of gender.

0:00 – Introductions
0:47 – Oppression of women throughout history & sexual agency
1:35 – Feminist consciousness-raising and sex
2:30 – The origins of patriarchy as a response to the divine feminine
4:25 – Creatrix myths & women’s sexual power
5:00 – Patriarchy & the rise of the state; origin of property following Neolithic revolution
6:40 – Ancient art representing mother-creator/ creatrix cosmic origin myths
6:52 – Minoan snake goddess
8:18 – Mother atop the mountain goddess image from Minoan gold signet ring
10:15 – Sumerian god/ goddess and the Tree of Life; transliteration of divine feminine myths into Biblical stories to justify patriarchy
12:13 – Egyptian goddess Nut, Grandmother Spider (Hopi pottery), gold statue of Hindu goddess Durga, Creatrix of the universe
13:15 – Enheduanna poet & priestess; Sumerian sacred sex rites & fertility; sensual hierophants
14:31 – Female-authored Tantric texts, autonomous definitions of the sexual self
15:01 – Transpersonal sexual experience, core energies & tantric philosophies on liquid substrates of life
16:00 – Sexual & spiritual disconnection in contemporary life, the sexual revolution, casual sexuality vs. meaningful sexual connection & transpersonal sexual experience healing power
17:05 – controversy of sex & spirituality, vulnerability, the ego, human connections & contemporary values vs. ancient traditions
18:04 – depression rates, the death of human intimacy, and digital life; the distraction from the status quo; healing the Judeo-Christian-Islamic patriarchal sexual narrative
19:09 – extrapolating ancient values to awaken a feminist sexual consciousness; the vulnerability in intimacy, radical definition of women’s sexual experience
20:05 – new models of women’s orgasm, neural pathways to orgasmic consciousness, 16,000 ways to stimulate orgasm, ESR orgasms, transcendental orgasmic experiences, status orgasmus, synesthesia, blended orgasms, oxytocin pathway through intercostal nerve, similarities to psychedelic & spiritual experiences; similarities to ancient descriptions of invoking the divine through sacred sex rites
23:37 – therapeutic applications of feminist sexual consciousness theory
25:56 – incongruous social construction of women’s sexuality requires a thorough examination of historical perspectives to inform contemporary sexual agency
26:06 – healing sexuality from a humanistic perspective as a mode of feminist liberation and human sexual awakening; the cheapening of sexuality in the media and pop culture; the subversive power of women’s sexuality
27:25 – recommendations for new paradigms of feminist sexual consciousness as a new theory in sexuality & gender studies; application to clinical practice

iDepression – Is There an App for That?

2 Jul

Increased social media use (specifically Facebook) is positively correlated with depression, stress, and anxiety. One study examined the Facebook behavior of nursing students and their emotional outlooks. According to this study, increased time spent on Facebook was positively correlated to high depression scores (Labrague, 2014).

Still another study found positive correlations between Facebook use and having negative feelings about one’s self-esteem (Lee, 2014). This study in particular show that people tend to compare oneself to others whose posts appear on their Facebook feeds. According to this study, social comparison theory is used to explain the study results; that comparing oneself to others can influence self-perception (Lee, 2014). On the other hand, the study also poses the theory that people with low self-esteem are predisposed to self-compare to others while using Facebook. I imagine that would make for a very frustrating self-fulfilling prophecy!

I think it probably works both ways. I believe that people with low self-esteem are more likely to self-compare, and that being on Facebook a lot leads to self-comparing, which leads to low self-esteem. The question is how much is too much, and with social media becoming so pervasive in our society, what kinds of implications does this carry for people, especially younger generations who have adopted these technologies as a natural aspect of their childhoods and adolescence?

Another of my own interpretations of these studies is the idea that Facebook time is not necessarily an addition to our social time – it’s becoming a substitute for it.

 

With decreased face-to-face time, we may naturally become less socially stimulated and socially content. Couple that with seeing lots of people doing fun stuff on your feed (people doing fun things – together – in person), and the self-comparing cycle that may lead to depression becomes as clear as it is troubling.

 

Works Cited:

Labrague, L. J. (2014). Facebook use and adolescents’ emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Health Science Journal, 8(1), 80-89.

Lee, S. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook. Computers In Human Behavior, 32253-260. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.009

Park, S., Lee, S., Kwak, J., Cha, M., & Jeong, B. (2013). Activities on Facebook reveal the depressive state of users. Journal Of Medical Internet Research, 15(10), e217. doi:10.2196/jmir.2718

White Paper: Our Lady of Narco – Exploring the Fetishization of “Narcocultura,” and the Intersection of Drugs, Politics, Cults, and Pop Culture

26 Jun

At the crossroads of Mexican and American culture, and where drug policy and pop culture meet, Mexico’s identity is evolving into a dark place. Narcocultura eclipses more aspects of daily life, and the United States is ever complacent and responsible in the transformation that has taken root on both sides of the border. The harsh economic realities and failures of authority to protect its people, and prevent and control violence have led to this crisis which is slowly overtaking the literal and figurative Mexican landscape as it spills over into the United States.

6920658716_509c3985ca_z

Two of the most useful theories that relate to this problem are the Social-Conflict Approach and the Symbolic-Interaction Approach. Social-Conflict perceives society as stratified by race, class and gender. Much of the violence and trafficking has resulted from the stark economic reality that if some people in Mexico want to make a living, one of the few options is involvement with drugs. On the other hand, people influence one another’s involvement in the terrifying escalation of violence, as explored by some of the articles explored for this paper. Symbolic-Interactionism suggests that peers play a deeper role in how our society operates and functions. This paper argues that the drug crisis in Mexico, and how it relates to the U.S., is a product of issues that will be analyzed by both of these theoretical frameworks. 

A growing body of research addresses the escalating drug-related violence in Mexico, as well as the social and cultural consequences of this near-decade-long war. Some of the investigations into this crisis make bold and damning critiques of the Mexico and United States governments. Others focus primarily on the increasingly disturbing nature of the violence itself; horror which warrants its very own exploration into the shifting social and cultural paradigms of a country in dire flux. 

First, it’s worthwhile to take a significant step back to evaluate the Mexican drug war as a whole. While conclusive data on who started the war remains elusive, we do know a few things about the escalating violence. For one thing, Mexico’s struggling economy may not provide enough employment and educational opportunities for people. Mexicans may resort to alternative livelihoods in the underground economy to earn an income without other legitimate jobs – but it’s false to assume that the economy is the sole reason for the war. Nonetheless, we do know that the drug and violence situation in Mexico changed dramatically when former president Felipe Calderon took office and declared a war on drugs. It’s also well known that the Mexican cartels exploded onto the scene and grew exponentially in the years after the fall of many Colombian drug organizations that held the vast amount of power in trafficking and production (Campbell, 2014).

More people have died since Calderon’s policies went into effect than the Americans who died during the Vietnam war (Rios, 2013). From 2006 to 2012, violence escalated rapidly. In 2011, 19 out of the world’s 50 most violent cities were in Mexico (Rios, 2013). Appallingly, the violence appears to become increasingly brutal over time. Every cartel seems to attempt to outdo one another in cruelty and vulgarity; and Mexican newspapers and magazines document the public displays of gruesome violence on the front pages of glossy papers, often bought at the grocery store checkout line – one of the most troubling aspects of Mexican drug culture (Campbell, 2014). 

A woman's body was recently found by the side of the road in Michoacan, with her arms and legs tied up.

A woman’s body was recently found by the side of the road in Michoacan, with her arms and legs tied up.

The culture of violence has reached dramatic depths. “The desecration of bodies takes many other forms including inscribing bodies with identifying labels and threats. Specific amputations carry particular meanings. For example, cutting off fingers implies that the dead person was a snitch (dedo, i.e., finger), cutting out the tongue implies that the person was an informant (soplón), cutting off hands signifies that the person stole money or a drug load, etc. Raped, sexually tortured and murdered women are often left in the streets with no clothing or with their undergarments pulled down (this is also done to men). The ritualized presentation or spectacle of dead bodies is such a common and patterned phenomenon that a whole vocabulary has emerged to describe the bodies: enteipados are bodies wrapped in duct tape (to suffocate the victims or prevent them from calling for help or knowing where they are going), descuartizados are bodies that have been quartered, encajuelados are bodies stored in the trunks of cars, entambados are bodies crammed in barrels, while encobijados are bodies wrapped in blankets (to stop blood seepage, to hide cadavers as they are being transported in cars, and for ease in carrying and throwing them)” (Campbell, 2014). Such violence, especially when broadcast in such a public way through mass media, surely has horrifying implications to a traumatized and desensitized society. It is of no wonder that the country has devised its own ways of dealing with it, sometimes as simply as in turn glorifying it. Both the US and Mexico appear to be equally guilty of this. 

The Mexican authorities are not innocent themselves, being highly corrupted in their ranks, and spilling military-style warfare into Mexican streets. In the meantime, the cartels become even more creative and commit worsening acts of violence; kidnapping, extortion, carjacking, and other criminal activities are just a few forms of the crime that threaten to overwhelm Mexico permanently (Campbell, 2014). 

For Mexico, this isn’t just a war between the cops and robbers, or the good guys and bad guys (always subjective in this context). This is a war between good and evil, Heaven and Hell. When headless corpses are routinely shown on evening news during suppertime, and blogs show photos of piles of human body parts that are meant to send a message to a rival cartel, the people of the country reach out to perhaps unlikely heroes. 

Some Mexicans have become so alienated by the corrupt authorities that they prefer the perceived “lesser evil” of the Robin Hood-style cartel leaders (Dotremon & Gonzalez, 2014). In the most lawless places, drug cartel leaders become stand-ins for legal authority and take over the operations of the state. Some take it upon themselves to provide people with protection, employment, education, food, medical care, utilities, as well as the building of infrastructure of roads and buildings (Dotremon & Gonzalez, 2014). Such an arrangement begets a complicated legacy of cultural understanding of drugs in Mexico. These provisions have become so powerful that they have influenced pop culture in a profound way. 

A man walks in front of a store that bears that name of "El Chapo," formerly the world's most wanted drug lord. He invested in local businesses and offered protection and security to his supporters.

A man walks in front of a store that bears that name of “El Chapo,” formerly the world’s most wanted drug lord. He invested in local businesses and offered protection and security to his supporters.

The corrido, a kind of oral history-inspired story-song performed by rural entertainers, has a brand-new sub-genre: the narcocorrido (Loewe, 2010). Some performers are literally cartel employees; that is, they are paid with financial reward and security protection for writing songs about cartel leaders, and often embed critical pan-cartel messages in them. Still others that dare to sing the wrong thing (or who are simply unlucky enough to be spotted in the other cartel’s nightclub turf) are brutally assassinated (Loewe, 2010). 

Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses' girlfriends may develop a crush on you.

Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses’ girlfriends may develop a crush on you. This poses the question: which is more dangerous, singing about romance or revenge?

The narcocorrido has become so popular that they are played on Spanish-language radio in the United States, and the performers come to tour US venues, especially in border states where the cartel presence is higher. The audiences of these concerts are often high school or college students, suggesting a broad listenership and implications for Mexican-American pop culture (Loewe, 2010). Given that the nature of this violence is often paramilitary in style, such as raids, firefights, and assassinations (Campbell, 2014), it isn’t difficult to imagine the low-income, alienated (especially male) youth of Mexico identifying with this display of power and control over the accepted authority. 

Drug cartels are employing other forms of propaganda directly, both to inform the public and government that they assume to have control over the state, and to recruit. Some other types of propaganda include blog posts, web videos displaying executions and beheadings, and control of media outlets (Campbell, 2014). This appears to be morphing into a pop-culture phenomenon of decreased sensitivity to this type of violence, as well as acceptability of the cartel activities. 

The people, overall, have developed their own response to this crisis in Mexico, whether as a coping mechanism or as an indirect result of cultural influence. The institution of Roman Catholicism is experiencing an enormous shift in Mexico, where its practitioners are incorporating non-Vatican-approved activities. For example, while the country worships the Virgin Guadeloupe freely, the Mother of Jesus, there is a growing cult that presents a dark mother figure, as an archetypal other half to Mary: Santa Muerte. Santisima Muerte (Holy Death), is portrayed as a shrouded skeleton, who holds a sickle and often an owl, both symbols of death and the eternal nighttime (Bastante & Dickieson, 2013). 

A shrine to Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

A shrine to Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

She is not simply the cultural representation of the yang to Mary’s yin; she is the embodiment of Mexico’s cult of death. Mexican culture is unafraid of death – rather, Mexican people embrace death as just the culmination of living, and have much less social taboo surrounding the subject of death. To Mexicans, this is just about balance.  To the Vatican, the new worship of Santa Muerte is sacrilege and devil-worship; symptomatic of Hell breaking open in Mexico itself. Indeed, the Catholic Church is performing more exorcisms in Mexico than anywhere else in the world (International Business Times, 2013). 

To make matters worse for the Vatican (but not the cartels), new unordained Saints have been invented by the people of Mexico – the most popular by far is Jesus Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers, criminals, convicts, prostitutes, and assassins. (Campbell, 2014). Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde worship is influencing the spiritual consciousness of Mexico just as much as the Church did post-colonial invasion, and just as much as pre-Colombian culture roots the collective culture. 

A shrine to Jesus Malverde. Notice the ofrendas (offerings) of tequila and a gold-plated revolver.

A shrine to Jesus Malverde. Notice the ofrendas (offerings) of tequila and a gold-plated revolver.

This isn’t merely a question of social attitudes; the normalization of violence is effecting the pushing of the envelope by the cartels. Ironically, a culture that worships two female figures as pseudo-goddesses (Santa Maria and Santa Muerte), such violence is defined by a precedent-setting level of brutality in violence against women. Mass graves of dozens of women and girls are routinely unearthed, and photos of brutalized women corpses with their panties around their ankles are often on the front pages of the violence-glossies at the grocery store (Wright, 2011). The practice of “femicide” has become so widespread that it’s a message from the cartels, “we own everyone, and we especially own the women. We will kill you and your wife, daughter, and grandmother. No one is safe.” It’s how the cartels continue to control the social consciousness of the public, and dominate the political dialogue, though the failing state of Mexico has been entirely deficient in combating femicide (Wright, 2011). Such violence against women has taken on enormous political significance and it continues to dominate as an effective narcopolitical tool.

The femicide machine in Juarez has taken countless womens' lives.

The femicide machine in Juarez has taken countless womens’ lives. This is the site of a mass grave full of womens’ bodies. 

Contemporary sociological research has provided alarming conclusions about the escalating nature of violence in Mexico. One study from the University of Texas at El Paso found a strong correlation between religious imagery and risk-taking behavior (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014). The findings of these researchers suggest that drug war terrorism in Mexico may be exacerbated and validated by their usage of Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde in their propaganda and operations. This demonstration has important implications for modern Mexico. Could it also be interpreted conversely; if exposed to religious imagery in a different, anti-drug context, would people be less likely to engage in drug-related activities? If so, perhaps the Catholic Church could become a powerful advocate in deconstructing these narco-obsessive cultural institutions, should they devise such an effective, evidence-based policy. Perhaps the government could also employ these tactics. This context would be a worthwhile topic for future research. 

Past research has revealed that religious images can be used to produce both positive and negative outcomes, with negative consequences being the case most of the time (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014). Could future research pose new solutions to this paradox? Could future research perhaps address the alternative solution to how drug cartels often use religious imagery to this end within their organizational behaviors and propaganda (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014)? 

Other important research notes the direct connection between the media and normalizing these increasing levels of violence (Mercille, 2014). Academic analysis has shown that as movies, television, and video games present Mexican cartel violence onscreen, US levels of tolerance increase (Mercille, 2014). This also has startling implications for our own culture and representations of violence in the media. 

As individuals, we often like to think of ourselves as our own social agents, who interpret media images and representations as separate from ourselves, our society, and our identities. We may wish it was that simple, and we may often believe it is – but we are products of the society in which we live, both by media portrayals as well as how we influence one another. As one article points out, these glamorized representations are indeed part of the “corporate establishment,” and often reflect the very same viewpoints expressed by top US policymakers, though it may be in stark contrast with reality and empirical data (Mercille, 2014). 

The most important policy recommendations revolve around addressing the  underlying economic issues that may form the fundamental basis of this socio-political dialogue. The US is the single most critical influencing factor in the Mexican drug violence due to demand for Mexico’s drug supply, loose gun control, and political blindness to our complicity in this disaster (Mercille, 2011). The US is also responsible for “implementing neoliberal policies,” as well as encouraging them in Mexico as an interested and invested player, that have increased the illegal drug trade (Mercille, 2011). “The war on drugs has served as a pretext to intervene in Mexican affairs and to protect US hegemonic projects such as NAFTA, rather than as a genuine attack on drug problems. In particular, the drugs war has been used repeatedly to repress dissent and popular opposition to neoliberal policies in Mexico. Finally, US banks have increased their profits by laundering drug money from Mexico and elsewhere; the failure to implement tighter regulations testifies to the power of the financial community in the US,” (Mercille, 2011). These profoundly damning factors reveal the true forces behind US policy and legislative behavior, that without a doubt influence media and public opinion. Without addressing our responsibility as a nation, we cannot expect to escape the consequences or provide a viable solution. Dramatic implications deserve radical solutions.

Social-Conflict theory applies best here, where the perspective clearly rings true; that in a society stratified by class, profit is prioritized over people. However, Symbolic Interactionism suggests that the people of the US and Mexico are ourselves responsible for accepting the growing violence, and normalizing this in our daily lives through our consumption of media. 

Promotional poster for the TV show. Full disclosure: this is one of my favorite shows ever.

While the debates rage on about how to end the violence, TV shows in Mexico and the US glorify the lives of drug traffickers. The most popular of which, “La Reina del Sur,” which portrayed a female drug lord, set US television records, and Telemundo beat out national networks nearly every night it was broadcast (in almost every demographic age group) (Telemundo, 2011). Musical performers tour the US and Mexico, playing narcocorridos and attracting young Mexican Americans to their shows. Families in Mexico eat their dinners while the television news programs and soap operas both consist of drug-related stories and story-lines. Teenagers listen to the narcocorridos on the radio and in nightclubs, and read tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts that hail the latest cartel victory (Campbell, 2014). 

Along the rural roads that stretch from Mexico to the American Southwest, spiritual pilgrims stop by roadside shrines to Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde (Campbell, 2014). Armed with assault rifles, they leave bottles of tequila and boxes of ammunition as prayer offerings (Corchado, 2009), asking their patron saints to watch over them as they ride into the next firefight or raid. 

Roadside shrines to the fallen in Mexico. They are also common in the Southwest US.

Annotated Bibliography:

Bastante, P., & Dickieson, B. (2013). Nuestra Señora de las Sombras: the enigmatic identity of Santa Muerte. Journal Of The Southwest, (4), 435.

This article explores the deeply rooted cult of Santa Muerte, or, “Holy Death.” She is seen as a kind of sister to Maria de Guadeloupe, the Holy Mother. Santa Muerte is a kind of Mother of Death. Possibly a manifestation of yin and yang sensibilities that are nearly universal to all religious movements, the prominence of the figure in pop culture on both sides of the border is on the rise. Her popularity with criminals and those in the black market and Mexican underworld is undeniable, and critical to the cartel institutions. 

Campbell, H. (2014). Narco-Propaganda in the Mexican “Drug War”: An Anthropological Perspective. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 60. doi:10.1177/0094582X12443519

The political entities of drug cartels employ vast amounts of narco-propaganda. This study examines the exhibitive acts of violence, videos released on the internet, public signs and banners, graffiti, blogs, and control of mass media, that are used as tools for the cartels. This expression of ideology threatens to take total control over the culture of Mexico as well as its political processes. 

Corchado, A. (2009). A fighting chance: as Mexico steps up its war against the brutal cartels that supply the United States’ drug habit, leaders on both sides of the border face tough questions about how to combat a problem that threatens the very fabric of Mexico’s democracy. The Wilson Quarterly, (2), 18.

This paper explores how to prevent drug and arms trafficking and violence, and how it relates to the geopolitics of the US and Mexico. 

Dotremon, D., & Gonzalez, R. (2014). Celebrating Robin Hood in Modern Border Ballads. Journal Of Alternative Perspectives In The Social Sciences, 5(4), 683-705.

Analyses the origins and cultural impact of drug-related music in Mexico. 

International Business, T. (2013, November 30). Mexico: Overworked Exorcists Exhausted by Popularity of Skeleton Saint Cult. International Business Times.

Explores the Catholic Church’s response to suspicions of demonic activity in Mexico. 

Loewe, R. B. (2010). El Narcotraficante: Narcocorridos and the Construction of a Cultural Persona on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Journal Of American Folklore, (489), 365. 

A critique of a scholarly book published on the phenomenon of drug-related music in Mexican and Mexican-American culture. 

Maralason, D. (2013). Dia de los Muertos: Celebrating life through Day of the Dead. Las Vegas Business Press (10712186), 6.

Explores the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos,” the Day of the Dead, and its cultural practices, meaning and representations. 

Mercille, J. (2011). Violent Narco-Cartels or US Hegemony? The political economy of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico. Third World Quarterly, 32(9), 1637-1653. doi:10.1080/01436597.2011.619881

Investigates the mainstream perspectives that claim the US is a friendly player in the international drug war, and not a contributor, and that the cartels are the main factor in the drug crisis. 

Mercille, J. (2014). The Media-Entertainment Industry and the “War on Drugs” in Mexico. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 110. doi:10.1177/0094582X13509790

An examination and analysis of media representation of cartel violence, as well as a comparison to popular viewpoints of mainstream policymakers and analysts. 

Rios, V. (2013). Who Started the Mexican Drug War? What Google Taught us about the “Narcos”. Kennedy School Review, 1318-22.

Discusses the start of the drug war and the technological solutions that may assist in significant gains in stopping drug violence. 

Shenberger, J. M., Smith, B. A., & Zárate, M. A. (2014). The effect of religious imagery in a risk-taking paradigm. Peace And Conflict: Journal Of Peace Psychology, 20(2), 150-158. doi:10.1037/pac0000022

This research explores the link between religious imagery and risk-taking behavior. Fascinatingly, the study showed that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior when their peers associate somehow with such religious imagery. This has interesting implications for the drug war and understanding the rise of drug culture in Mexico, where certain sub-Catholic/ pre-Colombian-inspired cults, such as Santisima Muerte and Jesus Malverde are commonly worshipped, though they directly relate to gangs, violence, and drugs. 

Telemundo Communications Group, I. c. (2011, January). Telemundo’s Epic Original Production La Reina Del Sur Delivers Highest Premiere Ratings in Network History. Business Wire (English).

Summarizes the records broken by the hit television series, “La Reina del Sur.”

Wright, M. W. (2011). Necropolitics, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-U.S. Border. Signs: Journal Of Women In Culture & Society, 36(3), 707-731.

The gender-based violence in Mexico, especially in the borderlands, is explored in this article. Specifically, the article also addresses the response of the authorities, who suggest that this kind of violence is a positive force in society because it rids the population of “undesirable” people such as drug dealers and women with “loose morals.” The author argues that such femicide is the result of a failure and breakdown by the state in protecting the people. 

Show Me the Money

23 Jun

congress-money

Personally, I’d like to think that we, as individuals, are independently responsible for our lives, and how we contribute to society. Ultimately, I do believe that – but it is also ultimately naive. I’d like to believe it’s that simple because it allows us to believe we are in control. In control of ourselves, our environment, our consequences, and our futures.

It’s the false belief that we are our own social agents. This is of course, not true, as much as we wish it was. We aren’t our own social agents – we are social agents, but not entirely independent from one another. There is a complex give-and-take; a balancing act, that determines the processes of constructing our society. It’s about us as individuals, yes – but it’s also about institutions. If we believe otherwise, it creates severe cognitive dissonance within us, because it means we don’t enjoy the control that we believe we should. 

One straightforward example of this is the case of social learning theory, pornography and violence against women. Meta-analysis of many different studies concludes that there is a correlation between acceptance of violence against women and pornography consumption (Malamuth, Hald, Koss, 2012). Other reviews of the historical scholarly literature (more meta-analysis of other studies) points to similar conclusions; that “a relationship exists between consuming pornography and attitudes that are supportive of violence against women, men’s dominance over women, and objectification of women,” (Hernandez, 2011). As they say, “you are what you eat.” 

Many people in this case like to argue that, “Hey, you can watch porn, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and rape women.” But these examples challenge the idea that we are our own social agents, and in this specific case, media influences our attitudes and behavior. The conclusion is simple: discrimination and sexism are exacerbated in society by pornography. It’s not as simple as to say that a few people become rapists and sexists because they’re “just a few bad eggs.” If it was, it would be easier for us to mentally process and comprehend. We have trouble accepting the idea that we don’t have 100% autonomy over ourselves and our own perceptions. 

The more power an institution has in money and political influence, the more power it has to shape our society. Karl Marx suggested that poverty exists due to the wealthy trying to get richer and even more powerful – inevitably taking resources away from those who do not have those resources, making the poor even poorer. Social Conflict theory shows that profit is put over people, time and time again. This is the most applicable theory in our post-industrial world.

Take our own country as an example – we have a number of domestic problems that urgently need to be addressed. Problems that include homelessness, obesity, gun violence, failing educational systems, immigration concerns, poverty, and having an increasingly broke government. Each and every single one of these issues could be addressed appropriately if there were not a powerful corporate lobby behind every issue, working to shape policy in favor of themselves making a profit – but not to better our nation. 

Homelessness could be alleviated by a radical housing program, but according to Amnesty International, there are five vacant houses to every one homeless person in the US (TruthDig, 2011). In my hometown of Washington, DC, Bozzuto Properties and other property management companies are literally throwing together expensive apartment buildings everywhere they can – often on top of former affordable housing projects. They could provide some low-income housing as a service to the community in which they operate and benefit – but they don’t. They only provide the bare minimum of MPDUs (Moderately Priced Dwelling Units) required by law, which is usually one or two units per building. It’s a simple matter of profit over people. This is their right in a capitalist society. We live in America – don’t we also all have the right to live a life that’s free, for the pursuit of happiness? Unobstructed by Kings and Lobbyists?

In the case of obesity, we have a number of big agricultural/ corn companies lobbying to keep their high fructose corn syrup in just about everything you eat – because that makes them richer, and it makes us fatter (Merrion, 2004). 

Gun violence is often in the news – there have been approximately one mass school shooting every six weeks since the Sandy Hook massacre, and 64 other school shootings since (Politifact, 2014). Why hasn’t more action been taken to reform our gun laws? It has lot to do with the exhaustive and successful corporate lobbying and propaganda by the NRA (Stone, 2013). 

Still other issues relate the enormous amount of profit at stake, and the companies behind them. In the case of illegal immigration, undocumented workers are being detained at skyrocketing rates, in dangerous conditions, and often held indefinitely and without trial or representation (Abramsky, 2004 & Mejilla-Cuellar, 2014). 

As far as our government is concerned – well, it’s basically been taken over by corporate ownership now. Our entire democracy has been bought (Krumholz, 2013). 

The common denominator of all of these issues is very simple – there’s big business behind them. Profit over people. 

I’d love to believe that we as individuals have power over our reality. But we don’t enjoy the power we like to believe we do – in the world we live in, money is more important than people. If you believe more in the “personal responsibility” perspective more than the “social” one, then it’s worthwhile to evaluate why we have created a world that we can no longer so easily control. Furthermore, if you subscribe to the “personal responsibility” perspective, then it’s time to take some of our own in allowing some institutions to become so out of control. 

Sources:

Abramsky, S. (2004). Incarceration, Inc. Nation, 279(3), 22-25.

Have there been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook? A closer look at a tricky statistic. (2014). PolitiFact. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/jun/13/everytown-gun-safety/have-there-been-74-school-shootings-sandy-hook-clo/

Hernandez, D. (2011). The Effects of Consuming Pornography: Men’s Attitudes toward Violence against Women, Dominance over and Objectification of Women, and Sexual Expectations of Women.Perspectives (University Of New Hampshire), 116-123.

Krumholz, S. (2013). Campaign Cash and Corruption: Honey in Politics, Post-Citizens United. Social Research, 80(4), 1119-1134.

Malamuth, N., Hald, G., & Koss, M. (2012). Pornography, Individual Differences in Risk and Men’s Acceptance of Violence Against Women in a Representative Sample. Sex Roles, 66(7/8), 427-439. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0082-6

Mejilla-Cuellar, G. (2013). Immigrants for Sale: How Private Prisons Exploit Aspiring Americans. Ella Baker Center. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://ellabakercenter.org/blog/2013/05/immigrants-for-sale-how-private-prisons-exploit-aspiring-americans

Merrion, P. (2004). A sticky mess for agribiz. Crain’s Chicago Business, 27(21), 1.

Stone, P. (2013). THIS GUN’S FOR HIRE. Mother Jones, 38(3), 12-14.

Vacant Houses Outnumber Homeless People in U.S.. (2011). Truthdig Main News. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/more_vacant_homes_than_homeless_in_us