Fundamental Attribution Error and Harm Reduction Theater

‘The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health’

Source: ClassDojo app takes mindfulness to scale in public education | code acts in education

Mindfulness matters, but make no mistake: Corporations are co-opting the idea to disguise the ways they kill us

Yet, individualized mindfulness programs pay virtually no attention to how stress is shaped by a complex set of interacting power relations, networks of interests, and explanatory narratives. Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer argue in “The Wellness Syndrome” that the mindfulness movement exemplifies an ideological shift, which turns an obsessive focus on wellness and happiness into a moral imperative. This “biomorality” urges the individual to find responsibility via the “right” life choices-whether through exercise, food, or meditation-to optimize the self.

Source: Corporate mindfulness is bullsh*t: Zen or no Zen, you’re working harder and being paid less | Salon.com

Consider “fundamental attribution error” when evaluating mindset marketing like mindfulness, grit, growth mindset, etc.

The notion that each of us isn’t entirely the master of his own fate can be awfully hard to accept. It’s quite common to attribute to an individual’s personality or character what is actually a function of the social environment—so common, in fact, that psychologists have dubbed this the Fundamental Attribution Error. It’s a bias that may be particularly prevalent in our society, where individualism is both a descriptive reality and a cherished ideal. We Americans stubbornly resist the possibility that what we do is profoundly shaped by policies, norms, systems, and other structural realities. We prefer to believe that people who commit crimes are morally deficient, that the have-nots in our midst are lazy (or at least insufficiently resourceful), that overweight people simply lack the willpower to stop eating, and so on.81 If only all those folks would just exercise a little personal responsibility, a bit more self-control!

The Fundamental Attribution Error is painfully pervasive when the conversation turns to academic failure. Driving Duckworth and Seligman’s study of student performance was their belief that underachievement isn’t explained by structural factors—social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted, it should be attributed to the students themselves, and specifically to their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

When students are tripped up by challenges, they may respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out. Often, however, they do so not because of a defect in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because of structural factors.

Source: Kohn, Alfie. The Myth of the Spoiled Child (p. 170). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Lee Ross defined FAE as a tendency for people, when attributing the causes of behavior, “to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behaviour”. That’s very aligned with neurodiversity and the social model of disability. It’s at the heart of what I go on about with equity literacy, structural ideology vs. deficit ideology, designing for the edges, and changing our framing.

American culture and education are vast engines of FAE. Special Education is a gauntlet of FAE attitudes. Our family gets tired of wading through bad framing.

Compulsory, top-down mindfulness (and mindset marketing more generally) is too often used to situate structural problems within individuals while “disguising the ways they kill us.” It contributes to the gauntlet.

This is harm reduction theater. Practicing pluralism, for me, for now, means triage and harm reduction. Harm reduction theater wastes resources and bikesheds deficit ideology instead of embracing equity and structural ideology.

Recognize and prioritize minority stress.

As we come to understand depression in the transgender community more accurately, it’s become clear that the major cause is what’s referred to as “minority stress;” that is, “stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization.”

Source: When Worlds Collide – Mental Illness Within the Trans Community – Lionheart

Why are there greater mental health stresses on autistic people from gender-minority groups? To quote from the research paper,

“The increased rates of mental health problems in these minority populations are often a consequence of the stigma and marginalisation attached to living outside mainstream sociocultural norms (Meyer 2003). This stigma can lead to what Meyer (2003) refers to as ‘minority stress’. This stress could come from external adverse events, which among other forms of victimization could include verbal abuse, acts of violence, sexual assault by a known or unknown person, reduced opportunities for employment and medical care, and harassment from persons in positions of authority (Sandfort et al. 2007).”

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, Transgender and Avoiding Tragedy

We’re awash in behaviorism and mindset marketing that directs thinking away from systems and toward individuals, individuals who are structurally stressed.

Design is tested at the edges, and you need structural ideology to do something about it.

Corporate and ed-tech mindfulness aren’t structural or equity literate. When you aren’t equity literate, you risk engaging in harm reduction theater. When you aren’t equity literate, you fail at triage and harm reduction.

Investment in universal mindfulness training in the schools is unlikely to yield measurable, socially significant results, but will serve to divert resources from schoolchildren more urgently in need of effective intervention and support.

Mindfulness Nation is another example of delivery of low intensity services to mostly low risk persons to the detriment of those in greatest and most urgent need.

Those many fewer students in need more timely, intensive, and tailored services are left underserved. Their presence is ignored or, worse, invoked to justify the delivery of services to the larger group, with the needy students not benefiting.

Source: Unintended effects of mindfulness for children | Mind the Brain

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

There is no path to inclusive design that does not involve direct confrontation with injustice. “If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.Structural ideology-an ideology shared by intersectionality, the social mode of disability, and design for real life-is necessary to good design.

Source: Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life – Ryan Boren

Education workers, healthcare workers, coworkers, everyone: We need you to check your FAE. We need you to confront injustice. Are you practicing harm reduction theater? Are you contributing to the gauntlet while telling us it’s good for us?

This Chronic Bodymind: Separate, Isolate, Bolster, and Squeeze with Pregnancy Pillows and Body Pillows

I thought about calling this series “This Old Bodymind” to evoke “This Old House”, but I don’t want to reinforce the notion that you have to be old to be disabled. So, I’m trying on “This Chronic Bodymind”.

This first installment of “This Chronic Bodymind” is about an essential part of my coping system: pillows. I don’t know how I endured before assembling my trio of body pillow, pregnancy pillow, and head pillow.

Contents:

  • Separate, Isolate, Bolster, Squeeze
  • My Current Coping Trio
  • Body Pillows
  • Head Pillows
  • Pregnancy Pillows
  • Conclusion

Separate, Isolate, Bolster, Squeeze

I’m a side-sleeper with chronic pain and chronic muscle spasms who prefers fetal most of the time but also likes yearner. Some pillow rules-of-thumb I’ve developed in my quest for relief and sleep are:

  • Separate
  • Isolate
  • Bolster
  • Squeeze

It starts with the tuck. I tuck one arm of a U-shaped pregnancy pillow in along my back. I tuck the other arm in along my front. No matter which side of my body I’m currently sleeping on, I have a pillow arm tucked front and back. I’m pressure spooned both ways.

With the pregnancy pillow in a bolstering squeeze, I wrap my top arm and leg around a body pillow in a fetal hug that separates my knees and ankles and bolsters my top arm and leg. The top of the body pillow tucks below my chin, bolstering my head and separating it from my easily cramped and locked jaw. My down arm, when lying in yearner, is between the arm of the pregnancy pillow and the body pillow: separated, isolated, bolstered, and squeezed.

The pregnancy pillow has a built-in head pillow. On the downward slope of that pillow I put a thin (for a side-sleeper) standard-sized head pillow. My down arm, when lying in fetal, rests at a 45-ish degree angle on top of the pregnancy pillow and tucks beneath the head pillow. My down arm has to be propped at just the right angle to avoid pain. The total thickness of pregnancy pillow plus head pillow must be within the range my neck can tolerate, so the head pillow has to be somewhat thin while also providing enough loft to separate my jaw from my shoulder and down arm. By using adjustable loft and moldable head pillows and situating them a bit below the built-in head of the pregnancy pillow, I am able to dial in separated, isolated, bolstered, and squeezed relief.

When so ensconced, I come the closest I get to a reprieve from gravity. It’s wonderful. The gravitudinous mass of the earth never stops sucking at my bones, but the delta of relief afforded by my pillows as I sink into bed can nearly par the cool settling of morphine.

My Current Coping Trio

What pillows am I separating, isolating, bolstering, and squeezing with right now? What did I sleep with last night?

Body Pillows

The Snuggle-Pedic body pillow has the perfect fill for me. It’s a satisfying squeeze that isn’t too heavy or hard to bend and mold. Wirecutter recommends the Snuggle-Pedic for those who need more support and The Company Store body pillow for those who need less. The Company Store body pillow is very nice and easy to wrangle, but it was under-filled for my huggy bear needs.

Tuck’s review of best body pillows says this about the Snuggle-Pedic:

Side sleepers who use a body pillow often like to hug or snuggle with it. The Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Body Pillow lends itself well to those sleepers, due to its highly moldable design.

Source: The Best Body Pillows – 2021 Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

If you’re a fetal hugger, the Snuggle-Pedic is satisfying. Our house has five Snuggle-Pedics so that I always have an accommodating squeeze nearby. I take one with me whenever we go on car trips, both to endure the car ride and to endure the hotel. I don’t travel by air for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that I can’t take a big, plush snuggly with me. Without my body pillow, life is pain.

Head Pillows

I’ve tried a lot of head pillows over the years, including several Wirecutter and Tuck recommendations. Now that I’m combining a head pillow with a pregnancy pillow, I go for head pillows that can be adjusted to just the right loft to complement the pregnancy pillow. Having two pillows stacked is not generally necessary or a good idea, but having a channel between the two pillows for my down arm is crucial to avoiding elbow, shoulder, and jaw pain. Adjustable pillows allow me to set the height of the pillow stack to a neck compatible position whole affording sufficient jaw support. Being out of range provokes pain in either.

Most pillows we’ve tried come in soft, medium, or firm densities, but the PlushComfort Ultimate includes all three options in one pillow: It offers three sealed, removable layers of fill to help you get the best fit for your body shape. Most of our testers (even some back- and side-sleepers, who generally prefer shredded foam) found a comfortable height and enjoyed the cushioned support of the PlushComfort Ultimate.

You can also unzip the Easy Breather’s cover and scoop out as much shredded-foam filling as necessary to get your ideal loft; it can be a messy process, but it does let you achieve a precise fit.

Source: The Best Bed Pillows for 2021 | Reviews by Wirecutter

For their adjustability and compatibility with pregnancy pillows, the “Sleep Number PlushComfort Pillow Ultimate” and “Nest Easy Breather” have become my regular rotation.

With the PlushComfort, I remove one of the three inserts to get the loft I need. With the Easy Breather, I scoop out the fill until I get it just right.

I have another Easy Breather left fully filled for use as a bolster when I set up in bed. It’s also quite huggy.

Pregnancy Pillows

The pillow has a versatile U-shape that can be used in a variety of positions. Side sleepers may prefer to tuck themselves in the space between its arms to feel supported on all sides, while those with joint pain can use the arms as added support underneath the knees or lower back.

Source: The Best Body Pillows – 2021 Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

I’ve tried several U-shaped pregnancy pillows and found my style of sleep to be compatible with all of them. Here are three I like at different price points.

Tuck says of the Moonlight Comfort-U:

The Comfort-U from Moonlight Slumber is a polyester microfiber body pillow that measures 60″ in length, making it suitable for sleepers of most heights. It can be curved between the legs and around to the back, which is ideal for pregnant woman and other sleepers who prefer extra pillow support in these areas. The Comfort-U makes a comfy headrest for reading or watching TV in bed, too.

Source: The Best Body Pillows – 2021 Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

When I’m side-sleeping, the pregnancy pillow bolsters and squeezes me on each side and supports my down arm. When I’m resting on my back, the arms of the pregnancy pillow support my arms along my sides and also tuck under my knees. When everything is arranged just right, I almost feel a repeal of gravity. I float.

Conclusion

My body + pregnancy + head pillow trio totals US$240. Some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

Structural Ableism Doesn’t Stop at the Firewall

The “formal requests” at the end about employees with disabilities and the “environmental impact of returning to onsite sic in-person work” are such transparent pandering. (I have never once heard of Apple not doing whatever it takes not only to accommodate employees with any disability, but to make them feel welcome.)

Source: Daring Fireball: Internal Letter Circulates at Apple — and Leaks to The Verge — Pushing Back Against Returning to the Office

Structural ableism doesn’t stop at any company’s firewall, including Apple’s. I agree with Gruber most of the time, but here I depart. “I have never once heard of Apple not doing whatever it takes not only to accommodate employees with any disability, but to make them feel welcome” induces heavy eye roll from my neurodivergent and disabled self.

I can’t help but think that the problem for Apple is that they’ve grown so large that they’ve wound up hiring a lot of people who aren’t a good fit for Apple, and that it was a mistake for Apple to ever hook up a company-wide Slack.

Ah, “fit”. The word used to exclude so many of us. This is an exhibit of why I prefer the rule-of-thumb: culture add > culture fit.

Company-wide Slack allows marginalized people to connect and Employee Resource Groups to form.

ERGs are a culture add. Instead of bemoaning them, we should be nurturing and learning from them. They alert us to friction and bad design. Apple should care about bad design. So should Gruber.

We are formally requesting a transparent, clear plan of action to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work.

Source: Apple employees push back against returning to the office in internal letter – The Verge

Cheers. Thanks for including us. We’ve been warning that the accommodations that suddenly became possible during a pandemic would go away and we’d be back to forced intimacy and the accommodations grind.

We should be foregrounding complexity as the baseline instead of effectively telling marginalized people to shut up and ERGs to go away.

”Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.”