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?

Letter to the FDA on Descheduling Cannabis

The FDA is accepting comments on descheduling cannabis until April 23rd.

The United Nations World Health Organization is due to review the current international classification of marijuana, THC, cannabidiol, and other related compounds and preparations this year. In the lead up, the WHO is asking member nations submit feedback, of which no nation is more influential than the United States.

Source: Take Action: FDA Seeking Comment On The International Scheduling Of Cannabis – NORML.org – Working to Reform Marijuana Laws

Here’s my comment.

Cannabis can replace shelves full of physically addictive pharmaceuticals. Benzos, if you get behind on a dose by even a couple hours, gnaw at you body and soul. Not so cannabis. Cannabis is kind and not possessive. A tolerance break requires no slow ramping down of doses, you just stop.

I’ve been in neurological wards where the talk is of cannabis. Every single one of my doctors has said they wish they could prescribe it to me. Parents of autistic kids and kids with seizures are blowing hash oil in their back yards so kids can get relief (or uprooting their families and heading to legal states). Picture this: white, middle-class, suburban families all over the country making hash oil in their backyards so that their kids and neighbors have medicine. Is that your image of cannabis users? Does that fit the biases inculcated in us by decades of racist and immoral messaging?

Cannabis is the least harmful way for we humans to cope with sentience, senescence, and mortality. Cannabis is popular in STEAM cultures, at least the ones I’ve inhabited. It is part of the process of living, creating, and coping. Neurodivergent people have long used it to regulate and cope in a world that does not accommodate. If your neurodivergence is accompanied by tics, seizures, paresthesia, fasciculations, panic, anxiety, sensory processing disorders, or self-harming stimming, as but a handful of examples, then cannabis is a tool and ally. There are as many human operating systems as there are humans. The endocannabinoid system is a useful interface to all of those operating systems, one for which we have a natural, easy-to-grow, non-physically addictive key. All humans and their mammalian kin share this interface and this plant. We plucky Prometheans figured out how to decarboxylate with fire.

The drug war preys on and abuses the different and the powerless. It puts marginalized kids in pipelines to prisons and foster systems where the incentives are to drug minds into compliance so that bodies can be more conveniently warehoused and souls more conveniently iced. It tears apart families so savagely that the effects are felt epigenetically. The great many of us using cannabis to medicate and regulate are under constant threat of violence, humiliation, and confinement in inhumane jails and prisons where we will be denied the medicine that works. The drug war’s perverse notions of addiction, addicts, and coping limit our vocabulary, stifle our empathy, and harm us all. The drug war and the zero tolerance and compliance cultures born of it are enemies of neurodiversity and disability and all marginalized people.

Cannabis is a neuroprotectant and powerful harm reducer that is friendly to neurodivergence and the human condition. It is the safest active ingredient in humanity’s medicine cabinet, yet we shame and punish its use. The reasons cannabis is schedule 1 are racist and without science. “According to a comprehensive review by the United States National Academy of Sciences, cannabis’ dependence liability is similar to that of caffeine (7 percent) or anxiolytics (9 percent), and is far lower than the dependence liability associated with other substances like alcohol (15 percent) and tobacco (32 percent).

We have taken what is arguably one of nature’s (or God’s, if you’re so inclined) greatest gifts to humanity and reduced it to a way to put souls under carceral control.

See also,

Using data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, we found that the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented. National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013. The availability of medical marijuana has a significant effect on prescribing patterns and spending in Medicare Part D.

Source: Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D

The researchers found that in states with medical marijuana laws on the books, the number of prescriptions dropped for drugs to treat anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity. Those are all conditions for which marijuana is sometimes recommended.

If the trend bears out, it could have other public health ramifications. In states that legalized medical uses of marijuana, painkiller prescriptions dropped – on average, the study found, by about 1,800 daily doses filled each year per doctor. That tracks with other research on the subject.

Marijuana is unlike other drugs, such as opioids, overdoses of which can be fatal, said Deepak D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, who has researched marijuana. “That doesn’t happen with marijuana,” he added.

Source: After Medical Marijuana Legalized, Medicare Prescriptions Drop For Many Drugs : Shots – Health News : NPR

A 2002 review of seven separate studies involving 7,934 drivers reported, “Crash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate that drivers with cannabinoids in the blood are significantly more likely than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes.” This result is likely because subject under the influence of marijuana are aware of their impairment and compensate for it accordingly, such as by slowing down and by focusing their attention when they know a response will be required. This reaction is just the opposite of that exhibited by drivers under the influence of alcohol, who tend to drive in a more risky manner proportional to their intoxication.

Today, a large body of research exists exploring the impact of marijuana on psychomotor skills and actual driving performance. This research consists of driving simulator studies, on-road performance studies, crash culpability studies, and summary reviews of the existing evidence. To date, the result of this research is fairly consistent: Marijuana has a measurable yet relatively mild effect on psychomotor skills, yet it does not appear to play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol. Below is a summary of some of the existing data.

The results to date of crash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate that drivers with cannabinoids in the blood are significantly more likely than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes.

“Cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving, but it has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory. However, this in itself does not mean that drivers under the influence of cannabis represent a traffic safety risk. … Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving.”

1. There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.

In contrast to the compensatory behavior exhibited by subjects under marijuana treatment, subjects who have received alcohol tend to drive in a more risky manner. Both substances impair performance; however, the more cautious behavior of subjects who have received marijuana decreases the impact of the drug on performance, whereas the opposite holds true for alcohol.”

Evidence from the present and previous studies strongly suggests that alcohol encourages risky driving whereas THC encourages greater caution, at least in experiments. Another way THC seems to differ qualitatively from many other drugs is that the formers users seem better able to compensate for its adverse effects while driving under the influence.”

Source: Marijuana and Driving: A Review of the Scientific Evidence – NORML.org – Working to Reform Marijuana Laws

The reduced rate of opioid-related fatalities translated into about 1,700 fewer deaths in 2010 alone. The researchers suggest several possible explanations for this effect. “Patients with chronic noncancer pain who would have otherwise initiated opioid analgesics may choose medical cannabis instead,” Bachhuber et al. write. “In addition, patients already receiving opioid analgesics who start medical cannabis treatment may experience improved analgesia and decrease their opioid dose, thus potentially decreasing their dose-dependent risk of overdose. Finally, if medical cannabis laws lead to decreases in polypharmacy-particularly with benzodiazepines-in people taking opioid analgesics, overdose risk would be decreased.”

That last possibility could be more significant than you might think, since opioid-related deaths typically involve mixtures with other drugs, with benzodiazepines playing a substantial and increasing role. Bradford and Bradford found that medical marijuana laws were associated with decreases in prescriptions for drugs used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Benzodiazepines are commonly used for both purposes.

“We find fairly strong evidence…that states providing legal access to marijuana through dispensaries experience lower treatment admissions for addiction to pain medications,” Powell et al. write. “We provide complementary evidence that dispensary provisions also reduced deaths due to opioid overdoses….Our findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers.” Like Bachhuber et al., they found that the longer medical marijuana was legally available, the bigger the apparent benefit.

Source: Medical Marijuana Replaces More Dangerous Drugs – Reason.com

“The Silk Road website was in many respects the most responsible such marketplace in history, and consciously and deliberately included recognized harm reduction measures, including access to physician counseling,” he wrote. “Transactions on the Silk Road website were significantly safer than traditional illegal drug purchases and included quality control and accountability features” that kept purchasers “substantially safer” than regular drug purchases.

Many reformers, myself included, have long been highlighting the forward-thinking benefits of Silk Road and the ways it began to slowly revolutionize drug sales around the world. For instance, it provided a platform that could allow indigenous growers and cultivators around the world to sell directly to the consumer, potentially reducing cartel participation and violence… None of the transactions on Silk Road, for instance, resulted in women drug buyers being sexually assaulted or forced to trade sex for drugs, as is common in street-level drug transactions. Nor did any Silk Road transactions result in anyone having a gun pulled on them at the moment of purchase.

In his declaration, Caudevilla testifies that the site “espoused a harm reduction ethos which was reflected in the individual buyer-seller transactions on the site and in the community created on the site’s forums.” That community “enabled some site participants to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, their drug use.”

Caudevilla participated on the Silk Road forums for seven months and states that he “never came across even a single report of a Silk Road-related drug overdose.” Ulbricht’s lawyers point to the lack of such a “report” as a telling fact, although one wonders which section a user who had overdosed was expected to post in.

Source: Ulbricht’s lawyer: Silk Road was “the most responsible” drug market in history | Ars Technica

Tech Regrets, Structural Ideology, and the Addiction Metaphor

I’ve noticed that the Center for Humane Technology shares some common ground with the worst of ed-tech. First, they frame things in terms of fixing individuals instead of systems.

In this post I want to focus on how the Center has constructed what they perceive as a problem with the digital ecosystem: the attention economy and our addiction to it. I question how they’ve constructed the problem in terms of individual addictive behavior, and design, rather than structural failures and gaps; and the challenges in disconnection from the attention economy.

Source: The Center for Humane Technology Doesn’t Want Your Attention – Cyborgology

Education is awash with efforts to bikeshed the deficit model that ignore structural problems and, instead, tinker with individuals.

The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning dominate ed-tech. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions are quickly productized, jumping straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.

Source: Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology

Instead of adopting a more structural ideology, our reflex is to turn inward toward psychology, blame down, and overlook the privilege, supremacy, and injustice in our systems.

Turning inwards to psychology, rather outwards to the political context, is precisely what gives us ‘lone wolf’ analyses of white supremacy.

Source: No, ‘cognitive strengthening exercises’ aren’t the answer to media literacy – Long View on Education

The meritocracy myth, prevalent in tech and Silicon Valley, makes it all the harder to think structurally. I wonder how much that contributes to framing solutions in terms of individuals rather than systems.

A second area of common ground is the use of pathologizing medical model framing.

The Center for Humane Technology constructs the problem in terms of addiction and therefore as one of individual attention. And while they acknowledge the importance of lobbying Congress and hardware companies (Apple and Microsoft will set us free as if they don’t lock us into digital ecosystems and vie for our attention?), they emphasize a focus on individual action be that of tech workers, or users. By invoking ‘addiction’ as a metaphor, they see the problem as being about individual attention, and eventually, individual salvation. Naming the co-founder of the Center, Harris, as the ‘conscience’ of Silicon Valley evokes a similar emphasis on individual rather than community, political, or structural dimensions to the attention economy and its dismantling, or restructuring. The use of the addiction metaphor has been criticized for at least twenty years and most notably by Sherry Turkle; and mostly because it is neither apt, nor it there enough evidence of how it works as an addiction. ‘Diet’ metaphors and relationships-with-food metaphors may work better, perhaps, to characterize our relationships with technology.

Source: The Center for Humane Technology Doesn’t Want Your Attention – Cyborgology

The addiction metaphor has caused so much harm. Rarely is it accompanied by an understanding of the difference between addiction and dependence, of addiction as a learning disorder, or of harm reduction.

I want people to understand that addiction is a learning disorder. If you don’t learn that a drug helps you cope or make you feel good, you wouldn’t know what to crave. People fall in love with a substance or an activity, like gambling. Falling in love doesn’t harm your brain, but it does produce a unique type of learning that causes craving, alters choices and is really hard to forget.

It’s compulsive behavior that persists despite negative consequences. Once you realize that that’s the definition of addiction, you realize that what’s going on is a failure to respond to punishment. If punishment worked to stop addiction, addiction wouldn’t exist. People use despite their families getting mad at them, despite losing their jobs and being homeless. And yet we think the threat of jail is going to be different? Addiction persists despite negative consequences. That doesn’t mean that people don’t recover through coercive means, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to get there.

My problem with addiction memoirs has always been that this is a deeply political problem and none of them have any political consciousness. They typically tell the story of sin and redemption, an individual story that can stand in for everyone else’s story. That’s just not true.

Source: Why Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

In her book Unbroken Brain, Maia Szalavitz poses addiction as a neuro-developmental learning disorder, one usually developed while trying to cope with trauma, poverty, shame, or an overreactive nervous system.

Source: Harm reduction, addiction, tough love, 12 steps, neurodiversity, and the troubled-teen industry

More people than ever before see themselves as addicted to, or recovering from, addiction, whether it be alcohol or drugs, prescription meds, sex, gambling, porn, or the internet. But despite the unprecedented attention, our understanding of addiction is trapped in unfounded 20th century ideas, addiction as a crime or as brain disease, and in equally outdated treatment.

Challenging both the idea of the addict’s “broken brain” and the notion of a simple “addictive personality,” Unbroken Brain offers a radical and groundbreaking new perspective, arguing that addictions are learning disorders and shows how seeing the condition this way can untangle our current debates over treatment, prevention and policy. Like autistic traits, addictive behaviors fall on a spectrum – and they can be a normal response to an extreme situation. By illustrating what addiction is, and is not, the book illustrates how timing, history, family, peers, culture and chemicals come together to create both illness and recovery- and why there is no “addictive personality” or single treatment that works for all.

Source: Unbroken Brain – Maia Szalavitz

The addiction metaphor is fire. Don’t play with it. You don’t understand its history of oppression. You don’t know what you’re doing. When you invoke this metaphor, communities of neurodivergent, mentally ill, and disabled people—experts in the many forms of ableism—shake their heads at your ignorance.

So, we have a Center for Humane Technology that proposes individual instead of structural changes and uses the addiction metaphor to do so.

Audrey Watters has their number,

And I think there’s something about all these confessional narratives (and their hopes, I think, of becoming redemption narratives) that is also deeply intertwined with individual rather than structural change. These stories rarely situate themselves in history, for example, and as such really cannot offer much insight into how or why or even when things might’ve “gone wrong.” They rarely situate themselves among other thinkers or scholars (or activists or “users”). They are individual realizations, after all.

So then, I have to wonder: why should we trust these revelations (or revelators) to guide us moving forward? Why not trust those of us who knew it was bullshit all along and who can tell you the whole history of a bad idea?

Source: The Tech ‘Regrets’ Industry

Previously,

Tech Regrets and The Ethics of Ed-tech