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#667 Musings Beyond the Bunker (Tuesday May 23)
When I get up in the morning, one of the first things I do is shave my face. I begin on the right side and work my way to the left. I brush my teeth left side first and then right. When I’m done and start to dress, I begin by putting on the left leg of my pants first, followed by the right.
The other day, I decided to try to switch up these morning rituals. It wasn’t easy.
We are fond of noting that people should “break their bad habits.” Based upon my unscientific experiment on myself, changing the way one does things is no simple matter. More musing on this another day…
IT’S TOUGH AND IT’S MEDICAL
Breaking bad habits is hard. It’s touched upon by Steve Halechman in a publication of Harvard Medical School:
“Good or bad habits are routines, and routines, like showering or driving to work, are automatic and make our lives easier. "The brain doesn’t have to think too much," say Dr. Stephanie Collier, director of education in the division of geriatric psychology at McLean Hospital, and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Bad habits are slightly different, but when we try to break a bad one we create dissonance, and the brain doesn’t like that, says Dr. Luana Marques, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. The limbic system in the brain activates the fight-flight-or-freeze responses, and our reaction is to avoid this "threat" and go back to the old behavior, even though we know it’s not good for us.
Often, habits that don’t benefit us still feel good, since the brain releases dopamine. It does this with anything that helps us as a species to survive, like eating or sex. Avoiding change qualifies as survival, and we get rewarded (albeit temporarily), so we keep reverting every time. "That’s why it’s so hard," Collier says.”
IT’S HARD AND OFTEN SELF-DESTRUCTIVE
All of this is to say that breaking habits is hard. When we look at drug addicts and alcoholics, it is easy to judge. But what we ask them to do is not so simple. Society needs to accommodate for these challenges with better rehabilitation programs.
There are other habits that are hard to break.Some, like stuttering, are difficult for the person to control. Other habits are activities that are within the reasonable control of the individual, and constitute affirmative choices. Many of these activities objectively are destructive to the individual, such as over-eating, eating the wrong foods, smoking, or speeding in a car. It is far easier to do the same thing over and over, and it’s comforting. It’s far easier to eat Big Macs, receiving immediate gratification, than to try a salad instead.
But habits are not only physical. They often are mental. It is easier to hang tough with a preconceived notion than to exhibit mental flexibility and a willingness to change. This can explain much of the tribalism and intransigence that exist today. There is an unwillingness, exhibited by many, to change opinions even when incontrovertible facts are established (such as that an election was not “stolen”), to change a point of view or a feeling. People seem “stuck” in their habits. There is an unwillingness to consider being wrong—an unwillingness to change the habit of clutching onto an idea, even when that idea is patently incorrect.
Medical News Today suggests it takes 66 days to break a bad habit and that a physical habit is easier than a habit of thought. We have a lot of people having a hard time breaking habits of thought.
I received a number of comments about media bias and the assertion that CNN and mainstream journalists have biases. Of course they do. We all do. But I would argue that the journalists who are trained in the craft, mentored by seasoned journalists, and serious in their world view try to be aware of their biases and report fairly.
There are a few instances where mainstream media can be accused of exhibiting its biases most clearly. The first is in the choice of stories. Every journalist must choose—one can’t cover everything. The second is in the incendiary nature of headlines and chasing “clicks” on-line.
David Lash has thoughts on this:
“How [the argument that the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal choose the stories they cover] belongs in the same discussion with outright lying is beyond me. Fox News won’t even cover things like the Jan. 6 hearings. Talk about selective coverage. And incendiary headlines. Sure, that often is very misleading, but it sells papers…And the headlines are not written by the reporters, who, even your conservative friends concede, are reporting truthfully. Grasping at straws, seems to me. And all news outlets, on both sides of the aisle, show their bias in their choice of stories, even when reporting accurately. It really irks me, no matter who does it. Other than the LA Times, which has done a remarkable job, most news outlets on the left and the right and those trying to be neutral, choose to do very little reporting on poverty and homelessness. It doesn’t sell papers or get clicks. Doesn’t mean they are lying!”
That is the essence of course of the argument. Fox knowingly has lied and knowingly has given scant coverage to stories like the January 6th Committee because they perceive (to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men), think their audience can’t handle the truth.
Have a great day,
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