Newsletter 21/1/2011

Hi, welcome to the second Politics of Well-Being newsletter. Perhaps the most discussed psychology-related story this week was an article by Amy Chua, provocatively titled 'Why Chinese mothers are superior'. Amy, a self-styled 'tiger mum', told readers how Chinese mothers tyrannized over their children, making sure they never stayed out late and never ever acted in a school play, but instead practiced maths and music incessantly until they attained perfection. The article provoked horror among many western readers, but Amy's daughter penned this rather sweet defence of her mum in the New York Post.
Another controversy bubbling along on the Twittersphere is the campaign by former Big Brother contestant Kenneth Tong to champion what he calls 'managed anorexia'. Anything more than a size zero dress means you're fat, said Tong to general opprobrium. Then Tong came out and said the whole thing was a stunt to see what would attract the most publicity. Surely harming yourself to get attention is a form anorexia?

If this all sounds petty and ridiculous, try seeing the bigger picture, by watching this video. The soundtrack is an interview I did with astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, talking about how seeing the bigger picture transformed him spiritually. The amazing images are from Nasa's Astronomical Photo of the Day website. Trippy stuff!
News in the wonderful Freakonomics blog that drinking caffeine makes men more fretful, paranoid and hostile in meetings. A pity, then, that most national and international politics is decided in meetings between caffeine-hyped men.

If caffeine doesn't get your pulse racing, then this might: Camden and Islington Council, which is my local council, has announced it is closing two of our three local mental hospitals, and is setting up 'virtual hospitals' in their place. Virtually useless, one might say...

For Americans - next time your doctor prescribes you a drug, have a look to see if he or she's received payment from the company that makes it, by searching for their name in ProPublica's 'Dollars for Docs' index, here.

For UK residents, do give this radio show a listen: it's an episode of the BBC Radio 4's show, the Moral Maze, about the politics of wellbeing, which includes Lord Layard, Anthony Seldon and Matthew Taylor as guests. Fascinating stuff. And here's a blog with my thoughts on it.

One of the guests on the show, Claire Fox, makes the excellent point that 'bovine contentment' isn't always conducive to social progress, which often comes about because people refuse to be content with the status quo. To underline the point, and to celebrate Martin Luther King day, here's a speech that MLK gave to behavioural psychologists a few months before his death, in which he talked of the importance of 'creative maladjustment'.

The communitarian / Neo-Aristotelian philosopher Michael Sandel has been all over the UK media this week, giving a lecture in London, appearing on Radio 4, and talking to Nigel Warburton of Philosophy Bites here about the return of virtue ethics to contemporary politics.
Finally, remember that scene in Evil Dead II where Bruce Campbell's hand gets possessed and starts attacking him? Turns out the medical term for that is 'alien hand syndrome', which was explored in The Secret History of the Brain on BBC 4. Check out the bizarre footage here.

See you next week,