Newsletter – May 2013






”One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.”



May Greetings, Dear Friends…

On May 6th, Xavier William was born to Drew LaFrenz and Katina Idol, grandchild number five for FW! Zay-V, Kate and Drew are robust and well despite the hordes of loving family and friends who have descended upon their new home in Maynard, MA. That’s right – they had the babe and moved in the same two weeks! Donna and I missed visiting being 10,000 miles away, but Skype is a fine second best. We look forward to our stint as daycare providers for three months when Kate returns to teaching September.

As I’m sure you can understand, such a momentous birth event has disrupted my orderly monastic life and heightened my interest in the evolution of our species. These Musings are going to focus on a new theory for me of how we evolve morally and psychologically.

In his new book, “Righteous Minds: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Jonathan Haidt offers a research-backed perspective on how we human beings work. It’s a new level of understanding how our cognitive processes of moral intuition, moral judgment and moral reasoning function, and I’m finding it very useful.

Haidt divides his book into three parts. In the first, which I’ll focus on in these Musings, he offers convincing evidence that the combined power of our moral intuition and moral judgment overshadows that of our moral reasoning in a ratio of 99% to 1%. To give this ratio an image, he creates a metaphor of a huge elephant and a tiny rider. For Haidt, the elephant represents our hundreds of millions of years of dependence on intuition before the tiny rider’s language and reasoning appeared a scant few million years ago.

Introducing Part I, Haidt writes:

     “PART I is about the first principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.7 Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas–to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to–then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.

     “The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning–the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes–the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.8 I developed this metaphor in my last book, The Happiness Hypothesis, where I described how the rider and elephant work together, sometimes poorly, as we stumble through life in search of meaning and connection. In this book I’ll use the metaphor to solve puzzles such as why it seems like everyone (else) is a hypocrite9 and why political partisans are so willing to believe outrageous lies and conspiracy theories. I’ll also use the metaphor to show you how you can better persuade people who seem unresponsive to reason…

     “I concluded by warning that the worship of reason, which is sometimes found in philosophical and scientific circles, is a delusion. It is an example of faith in something that does not exist…Reasoning matters, particularly because reasons do sometimes influence other people, but most of the action in moral psychology is in the intuitions…”

One of my greatest “Aha’s” from Haidt’s book so far is being able to catch my elephant at work as I was reading. While Haidt acknowledges his elephant’s liberal perspective clearly and frequently, I am just beginning to see how much my moral intuition and moral judgment lean in that direction. This got clear to me just before sending this newsletter when one of my most experienced psychological friends, The Donster, sent this:

     “I am still reading the book and many thoughts are swirling around uncooked yet but I think this guy is missing the forest for the trees.  
    “Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity, the three moral precepts conservatives supposedly support and liberals don’t, are not true morals at all. They are social constructs that evolved to preserve group cohesion. Therefore they have evolutionary value for the group, up and only until they don’t serve the group. Hitler promoted these values to the point that they didn’t serve the group, they led to its destruction. 
    “True morality rests on “do no harm,” as the Buddha and countless others have always said. Compassion. Living at service to others, not following orders. Christ spent all his time inveighing against the strict adherence to Judaic Law by the Pharisees because he saw how in doing so they violated the spirit of the law, the moral foundation that the law sprang from. Liberals are often very loyal to their country, loyal enough to stand up to speak truth to power when it comes to things like going into a senseless, ultimately self-harmful war. Conservatives, or some conservatives, hide behind Patriotism and Sanctity to promote their own self-interest.”

This is exactly how I’ve been thinking for 75 years until reading this book, especially Parts II and III. Since at least the 1960’s my elephant has instantaneously connected “authority, loyalty and sanctity” with the evils of tyranny, oppression and exploitation. This constellation is also deeply connected with my emotional involvement in America’s “sins” of the past 70 years – brutal segregation, dominating patriarchy, destructive consumerism, perpetual wars and capitalistic cannibalism to name a few.

Until now my elephant couldn’t perceive “authority, loyalty and sanctity” as moral foundations for group survival and evolution. This has made it virtually impossible for me to enter into dialogue with the millions of good people whose lives are organized around moralities that differ from my own. As unattractive as this is, it seems to be a pretty good description of my personal bigotry.

It isn’t that I haven’t had glimpses of this liberal bigotry in the past. I remember when I was hanging out with radicals during the Vietnam era that I recognized clearly many of them would shoot me quicker for disagreeing with them than the people who already had the guns. There were very few traces of caring and fairness in their behavior and enormous emphasis on the extremes of “authority, loyalty and sanctity,” but to see this one had to open to defining “authority” as dialectical bullying, “loyalty” as blindly adhering to the party line and “sanctity” as mechanically repeating the party’s slogans over and over.

But my elephant had a much harder time seeing that it’s liberal morality of “do no harm” and “fairness” could also be distorted into extremes beyond recognition. “Do no harm” taken to absurdity leaves us totally immobilized in fear we might step on an ant, and “fairness” on the fringe can mean equality for all no matter how small or destructive their contributions might be. It’s no news that anything, taken to its extreme, can become an evil that repulses an elephant and allows the rider only to invent rationales to justify the repulsion. Not much room for dialogue here.

So I’m just sharing a bit of recent enlightenment about my own blindness with you; may it help you see a bit of your own in ways that make you chuckle – we tend to be a lot less moralistic and dangerous when we have a sense of humor about ourselves.

I recommend “Righteous Minds” very highly, but not for the political pragmatism that can seem its point. Like Lakeoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” some years ago, it does offer very useful advice to liberals on improving their ability to positively connect with others who value different moral foundations. While this can be valuable. I think it’s greatest value lies in helping us see more clearly how we work and that we can reduce our overemphasis on reason that confuses our moral judgments. This book is not about becoming who we think we ought to be – it’s about accepting who we are. As Jung said:

     ”One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.”

PS: As the following parable suggests, it is possible to interrupt our elephants with enough maturity, experience and courage…


A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk.


He barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience.

“Teach me about heaven and hell!”

The monk looked up at the mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain,
“Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dumb. You’re dirty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”

The samurai got furious. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.

Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the monk said softly,

“That’s hell.”

The samurai froze, realizing the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, filled with gratitude.

The monk said softly,

“And that’s heaven.”

Excerpted from “Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values.”  

Next come four more stories that make a different level of sense when viewed through Haidt’s “elephant-rider” perspective:


6.  TOO MANY COLONOSCOPIES IN THE ELDERLY is offered as an answer to question sent me by a friend:


I am aware of a big difference between the US and New Zealand. My US GP, who I’ve known and trusted for 30+ years strongly recommends the procedure as preventive, and my NZ GP does not. Here’s a bit more info, but still nothing too clear before 75. Another comment came from my friend, Mark, who reads the newsletter and helps me with it:

     “I agree with the colonoscopy article. Had my last one at 65 and it was clean. Was told to come back in 10 years. But then saw no need after 75, so I’m done! Even though my primary care doc may still recommend another…”

Much love, FW




 How Coca-Cola’s Ruthless Business Tactics Created a Despicable Global Powerhouse

“For God, Country, and Coca-Cola” by Mark Pendergast is the definitive history of the product so many see as a symbol of America itself. This impressive tome – recently released as a third edition with added new material – is not a critique of Coca-Cola, nor is it a fan’s tribute, as Pendergast reveals things the Coca-Cola Company doesn’t want you to know. (Yes, it used to contain cocaine.) He even reveals the drink’s original secret formula (which is less exciting than you might think).

Coca-Cola is not fascinating for what it is – colored sugar water with bubbles – but for what it represents. And that’s a point long known by the company’s marketers, with the exception of when they forgot it during the New Coke fiasco in the 1980s. Today, marketing students in business schools everywhere study that famous gaff.

Despite the decades-old slogan, “Delicious and Refreshing,” people do not drink Coca-Cola for the taste. They drink it because they associate it with positive things like friendship, fun, patriotism, and athleticism. Careful to market the drink to all people, everywhere, without alienating anyone, the ads are often vague. “Coke is It!” What is “it”? It’s whatever you want it to be, just as long as it makes you want to buy more Coke!

The book guides readers through the decades of marketing campaigns that built this image, most significantly during World War II, when Coca-Cola was made available to U.S. soldiers everywhere in the world, often at the government’s expense. When sales slumped, the answer was never changing the flagship product; it was a new ad campaign. Remind consumers that Coke = fun (or simpler times, or hope, or whatever feeling they crave) and they will drink more of it.

Because constant, never-ending growth is seen as essential, the other necessity is finding new channels to facilitate more Coke-drinking than ever before. Today, you can be 50 miles from nowhere in any country except Cuba and North Korea and if you crave an ice-cold Coca-Cola, you can get one. Even in places where few have clean drinking water or electricity, both needed to produce ice-cold Coke, some enterprising entrepreneur will have electricity and a cooler and plenty of Coke. The same cannot be said of nearly any other product.

The New Coke failure punctuates this strange phenomenon – that the world loves and guzzles an unhealthy beverage, but not for its good taste. Pepsi showed that in blind taste tests, more people prefer Pepsi over Coke. New Coke was tastier than both Coke and Pepsi in blind taste tests. Surely consumers would love it. Except, they didn’t. They wanted fun, hope, patriotism, and everything else they associated with good, old-fashioned Coca-Cola, not some new, better-tasting concoction.

Readers seeking the dirt on Coca-Cola’s sordid past with Columbian paramilitaries and Guatemalan death squads will find these episodes covered briefly in this book. But the completeness of the company’s history in this book paints a bigger picture, and Coca-Cola’s tangles with death squads fit in as just one piece. 

This is a company devoted to, above all else, making as much money as possible and selling as much Coca-Cola as possible. Period. Nazis get thirsty, too, you know. In almost every case, the company tried to please everyone and sell to everyone, without taking sides, unless it had no choice.

It’s no good that Coca-Cola did business with a Guatemalan bottler who allegedly hired death squads to murder employees trying to unionize. But that is all part of a larger pattern, a larger scandal – although there’s no conspiracy at all. The drive to increase profits and sales and market share at all cost is the company’s story, plain and simple. It took us from a 6.5-ounce drink only available at soda fountains to one available everywhere in sizes as large as 64 ounces.

Coca-Cola told us it wanted to teach the world to sing, but it’s far more likely it is giving the world diabetes. Today, a small Coke at McDonalds is 16 ounces. Pendergast, ever the balanced journalist presenting both sides, fails to definitely state that Coca-Cola is unhealthy. He generously points out that Coca-Cola creates jobs and donates to charity, even though he notes the company’s policy of “strategic philanthropy” – i.e. using “charitable” donations to gain access to valuable markets, particularly children.

The book is a long and somewhat exhausting read, but it’s also a captivating history of the development of America’s consumer culture (and terrible dietary habits) and it contains fascinating profiles of the men (yes, mostly men) behind the company, making readers wonder what a psychologist might have to say about these often tyrannical, driven workaholics.

Here are some answers Pendergast gave about his book and the company he wrote about.

Jill Richardson: Why did you choose the title For God, Country, and Coca-Cola? 

Mark Pendergast: Coca-Cola has been a kind of religion to many people, including the inventor, John Pemberton, who died two years after he came up with it, and Asa Candler, who took it over and used to lead the singing of “Onward Christian Soldiers” at his sales meetings. 

These were days when the drink was under attack for having cocaine in it and even afterwards for its caffeine content. So they felt like early Christian martyrs in a way, fighting for a just cause. Candler called Coca-Cola “a boon to mankind.” Coke employees have always joked that they have Coca-Cola syrup flowing in their veins. 

The drink has also become a kind of religion for consumers, a symbol of the American way of life as well. During World War II the drink was deemed an “essential morale booster” for the troops, and it was served in lieu of communion wine during the Battle of the Bulge. When New Coke was introduced in 1985, people wrote anguished letters as if they had killed God. Here is an actual letter I quoted in the book: “There are only two things in my life: God and Coca-Cola. Now you have taken one of those things away from me.” I could go on….

JR: Can you explain Coca-Cola’s relationship with the two ingredients in its name, coca and kola nuts? How much cocaine was initially in the product and when was it removed? 

MP: Coca-Cola was named for its two principal drug ingredients. Coca leaf from Peru contained cocaine. Kola nut from Ghana contained caffeine. Original Coca-Cola had a very small amount of cocaine in a six-ounce drink, about 4.3 milligrams. The company took out all but a minuscule amount of cocaine in 1903 and the final amount in 1928.

JR: You imply in the book that it’s attempted to sugarcoat (no pun intended) this part of its past, saying at some points that the product never contained cocaine. Is that true? Can you elaborate? 

MP: Every time I go to the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, I ask the guides if Coca-Cola ever contained cocaine. They assure me that it did not. The official company line seems to be that Coca-Cola never contained added cocaine — i.e., they didn’t add white powdered cocaine, which is true. But it did contain fluid extract of coca leaf, which contains cocaine. For years, the company line has also been that the name “Coca-Cola” is just a “euphonious combination of words” — i.e., it sounds nice. True, but the drink was also named for its two principal drug sources.

JR: How did Coca-Cola use World War II to establish its dominance abroad? And what impact did its role in the war have for their market at home? 

Robert Woodruff, the head of Coca-Cola, declared shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor that, “We will see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs our company.” Coke was subsequently declared an essential product and Coke men called Technical Observers were sent overseas in army uniforms at government expense to establish 64 bottling plants behind the lines. As a result, Coca-Cola was put in position for global expansion in the postwar world.

American soldiers came home with an overwhelming preference for Coca-Cola. In a 1948 poll of veterans, conducted by American Legion Magazine, 63.67 percent specified Coca-Cola as their preferred soft drink, with Pepsi receiving a lame 7.78 percent of the vote.  In the same year, Coke’s gross profit on sales reached a whopping $126 million, as opposed to Pepsi’s $25 million; the contrast in net after-tax income was even more telling, with Coke’s $35.6 million towering over Pepsi’s pathetic $3.2 million.

Soon after the war, when the Army quizzed 650 recruits, 21 had never drunk milk, but only one soldier had never sampled a Coke. As the company’s unpublished history stated, the wartime program “made friends and custo­mers for home consumption of 11,000,000 GIs [and] did [a] sampling and expansion job abroad which would [otherwise] have taken 25 years and millions of dollars.” The war was over, and it appeared, at least for the moment, that Coca-Cola had won it.

JR: The impact when Coca-Cola entered new markets was increased sales for all beverages, not just Coca-Cola — and less consumption of water and milk. Can you explain that? 

Yes. As Coca-Cola and subsequently other competing soda companies increased marketing and other campaigns to out-do one another, that’s what expanded the total soda market. When the market for soft drinks expanded, it helped competitors such as Pepsi, and when people are paying attention to the cola wars, they are less focused on water or milk.

JR: Coca-Cola’s history practically reads like a marketing textbook. Can you tell us about its revelation of the little girl’s Pooh bear? Why do Coke-drinkers love Coke so much? 

Archie Lee, who was the ad man behind “The Pause That Refreshes” slogan during the Depression, noticed during a beach vacation, that his four-year-old daughter lavished such attention on her Pooh bear that other children fought over it, though other toys appeared more attractive. Lee took the incident as a parable. “It isn’t what a product is,” he wrote to Robert Woodruff, “but what it does that interests us”—and set out to plant the proper thoughts about Coca-Cola, which he wanted to make as popular and well-loved as the Pooh bear. 

Coke lovers care so much about the drink for many reasons — not least the ubiquitous, effective advertising that associates the drink with youth, energy, happiness. But many people also really do associate the drink with some of the best times in their lives.

JR: How has soda consumption changed in the U.S. from the drink’s introduction over a century ago, back when a serving was 6.5 ounces? Was there ever a “turning point” when Americans switched from more modest per capita soda consumption to the amount they drink today, or has it been a gradual change over time? 

MP: Amazingly, Coca-Cola was served in 6.5 ounce bottles for a nickel until 1955, when King-Size Coke was finally introduced. (“King-Size” drinks were 10 and 12 ounces, smaller than a McDonald’s small today.) Since then, the sizes grew steadily larger, and PET bottles meant they wouldn’t break and weren’t too heavy. Super-size me, indeed. But over the last decade, concern over the obesity epidemic has made Coca-Cola back off a bit, and now the company has introduced smaller mini-cans, along with the huge containers. 

JR: Over the years, Coca-Cola has dealt with Nazis, dictators, South Africa’s apartheid government, and even allegedly Guatemalan death squads. Should consumers hold Coke accountable for this dark part of its history, or is it all water under the bridge? Do you agree with Coke’s position that it doesn’t play politics, it just sells soda? 

MP: Of course, the company, like any other business, should be held accountable for its actions, although as you suggest, many of these episodes are safely in the past. The Guatemalan death squads were in the late 1970s. Paramilitaries in Colombia killed union employees in similar fashion in Coke bottling plants in the 1990s. 

Quite recently, human rights violations have once again occurred against Guatemalan bottling employees. The Coca-Cola Company has usually attempted to distance itself from such violence, saying that it doesn’t control its bottlers, but that seems disingenuous, since the bottlers rely on Coca-Cola syrup from Big Coke. 

On the other hand, let me point out that while Coke did business inside South Africa during the apartheid regime, it left the country for a while and then was very instrumental in helping to ease a peaceful transition to black rule under Nelson Mandela.

JR: The past decade has ushered in an enormous change in Coca-Cola’s product portfolio. How has it changed and why? Do you think the day will come when Coca-Cola’s flagship product is no longer its top seller? 

MP: Coca-Cola has diversified in the face of increased competition from other types of beverages and in response to concern over the obesity epidemic. It purchased Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater, for $4.1 billion, for instance, in 2007. Today the Coca-Cola Company sells 3,500 beverages worldwide, and about a quarter of them are low- or no-calorie.

The future is hard to predict, but I don’t think that Coca-Cola will lose its place as the flagship product in the foreseeable future — but I do predict that the combined sales of Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero will eventually surpass sales of regular sugary Coca-Cola.

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A new theory of human origins says cooperation — not competition — is instinctive.

A century ago, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie believed that Darwin’s theories justified an economy of vicious competition and inequality. They left us with an ideological legacy that says the corporate economy, in which wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, produces the best for humanity. This was always a distortion of Darwin’s ideas. His 1871 book The Descent of Man argued that the human species had succeeded because of traits like sharing and compassion. “Those communities,” he wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Darwin was no economist, but wealth-sharing and cooperation have always looked more consistent with his observations about human survival than the elitism and hierarchy that dominates contemporary corporate life.

Nearly 150 years later, modern science has verified Darwin’s early insights with direct implications for how we do business in our society. New peer-reviewed research by Michael Tomasello, an American psychologist and co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has synthesized three decades of research to develop a comprehensive evolutionary theory of human cooperation. What can we learn about sharing as a result?

Tomasello holds that there were two key steps that led to humans’ unique form of interdependence. The first was all about who was coming to dinner. Approximately two million years ago, a fledgling species known as Homo habilis emerged on the great plains of Africa. At the same time that these four-foot-tall, bipedal apes appeared, a period of global cooling produced vast, open environments. This climate change event ultimately forced our hominid ancestors to adapt to a new way of life or perish entirely. Since they lacked the ability to take down large game, like the ferocious carnivores of the early Pleistocene, the solution they hit upon was scavenging the carcasses of recently killed large mammals. The analysis of fossil bones from this period has revealed evidence of stone-tool cut marks overlaid on top of carnivore teeth marks. The precursors of modern humans had a habit of arriving late to the feast.

However, this survival strategy brought an entirely new set of challenges: Individuals now had to coordinate their behaviors, work together, and learn how to share. For apes living in the dense rainforest, the search for ripe fruit and nuts was largely an individual activity. But on the plains, our ancestors needed to travel in groups to survive, and the act of scavenging from a single animal carcass forced proto-humans to learn to tolerate each other and allow each other a fair share. This resulted in a form of social selection that favored cooperation: “Individuals who attempted to hog all of the food at a scavenged carcass would be actively repelled by others,” writes Tomasello, “and perhaps shunned in other ways as well.”

This evolutionary legacy can be seen in our behavior today, particularly among children who are too young to have been taught such notions of fairness. For example, in a 2011 study published in the journal Nature, anthropologist Katharina Hamann and her colleagues found that 3-year-old children share food more equitably if they gain it through cooperative effort rather than via individual labor or no work at all. In contrast, chimpanzees showed no difference in how they shared food under these different scenarios; they wouldn’t necessarily hoard the food individually, but they placed no value on cooperative efforts either. The implication, according to Tomasello, is that human evolution has predisposed us to work collaboratively and given us an intuitive sense that cooperation deserves equal rewards.

The second step in Tomasello’s theory leads directly into what kinds of businesses and economies are more in line with human evolution. Humans have, of course, uniquely large population sizes—much larger than those of other primates. It was the human penchant for cooperation that allowed groups to grow in number and eventually become tribal societies.

Humans, more than any other primate, developed psychological adaptations that allowed them to quickly recognize members of their own group (through unique behaviors, traditions, or forms of language) and develop a shared cultural identity in the pursuit of a common goal.

“The result,” says Tomasello, “was a new kind of interdependence and group-mindedness that went well beyond the joint intentionality of small-scale cooperation to a kind of collective intentionality at the level of the entire society.”

What does this mean for the different forms of business today? Corporate workplaces probably aren’t in sync with our evolutionary roots and may not be good for our long-term success as humans. Corporate culture imposes uniformity, mandated from the top down, throughout the organization. But the cooperative—the financial model in which a group of members owns a business and makes the rules about how to run it—is a modern institution that has much in common with the collective tribal heritage of our species. Worker-owned cooperatives are regionally distinct and organized around their constituent members. As a result, worker co-ops develop unique cultures that, following Tomasello’s theory, would be expected to better promote a shared identity among all members of the group. This shared identity would give rise to greater trust and collaboration without the need for centralized control.

Moreover, the structure of corporations is a recipe for worker alienation and dissatisfaction. Humans have evolved the ability to quickly form collective intentionality that motivates group members to pursue a shared goal. “Once they have formed a joint goal,” Tomasello says, “humans are committed to it.” Corporations, by law, are required to maximize profits for their investors. The shared goal among corporate employees is not to benefit their own community but rather a distant population of financiers who have no personal connection to their lives or labor.

However, because worker-owned cooperatives focus on maximizing value for their members, the cooperative is operated by and for the local community—a goal much more consistent with our evolutionary heritage. As Darwin concluded in The Descent of Man, “The more enduring social instincts conquer the less persistent instincts.” As worker-owned cooperatives continue to gain prominence around the world, we may ultimately witness the downfall of Carnegie’s “law of competition” and a return to the collaborative environments that the human species has long called home.

Eric Michael Johnson wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Eric is a doctoral student in the history of science at the University of British Columbia. His research examines the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics.




If men committed as little crime as women it would help pay for the deficit. They can change: testosterone need not mean violence

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The phrase “violence against women” calls for comment. It names the victims but not the perpetrators. The fact that men are mainly responsible for violent and health-harming behaviours, not only against women and children but also against each other, is so taken for granted that it slips beneath the radar of commentators and policymakers.

Take the riots of August this year. As the suspects were charged, considerable detail was published by the Ministry of Justice. The press focused on the age, ethnicity, neighbourhood and employment status of offenders. Yet by far the most dramatic divergence the statistics revealed was gender: 92% of the first 466 defendants were male. Something yet more significant went unremarked: of the 124 individuals charged with offences involving violence, all were male.

When information on a further 1,715 people charged with rioting offences was issued by the MoJ a month later, the focus was on the fact that 73% of the defendants had a previous caution or conviction. Few noted that the MoJ had chosen to focus only on male rioters; females were absent from these “average” recidivists. What we saw was a palpable concern with the youth, class and race of rioters but a lack of analysis of the key fact the statistics illustrate: the culpability, and cost, of masculinity. As so often, masculine antisocial behaviour was just the wallpaper.

In 1959 the social scientist and policy activist Barbara Wootton looked at the crime statistics and remarked that “if men behaved like women, the courts would be idle and the prisons empty”. Half a century later the British Crime Survey and police crime figures bear her out. In 2009-10, men were perpetrators in 91% of all violent incidents in England and Wales. The figures vary by type of incident: 81% for domestic violence, 86% for assault, 94% for wounding, 96% for mugging, 98% for robbery. MoJ figures for 2009 show men to be responsible for 98%, 92% and 89% of sexual offences, drug offences and criminal damage respectively. Of child sex offenders, 99% are male. The highest percentages of female offences concern fraud and forgery (30%), and theft and handling stolen goods (21% female).

The MoJ publishes an annual report, Women and the Criminal Justice System, whose purpose is to fulfil the “equality” provision in the 1991 Criminal Justice Act. But looking at statistics on women conceals the obvious: a comparable report on men and the criminal justice system would be policy dynamite.

On the road, men commit 87% of all traffic offences and 81% of speeding offences. More people are killed and injured in road accidents than anywhere else, and Home Office data reveal the bearing of masculinity here too: men are responsible for 97% of dangerous driving offences and 94% of motoring offences causing death or bodily harm. A World Health Organisation report in 2002 on gender and road traffic injuries cautiously broke the code of silence by remarking that masculinity “may be” hazardous to health.

Some of the costs of masculinity are paid individually. Boys are “permanently excluded” from school at a rate four times higher than for girls and attain fewer GCSE and A-levels than girls. But what of the overall costs to society?

Take prison costs alone – an estimated £45,000 per prisoner a year, 95% of whom are male. If men committed crimes leading to custodial sentences at the rate women do, the exchequer would save about £3.4bn a year.

Zoom out to the overall cost of crime, calculated by the Home Office at £78bn a year in 2009, including not only criminal justice system costs but lost productivity, service costs, and impact on victims. If men committed as few crimes as women, the overall number of incidents would fall by 54%. This creates an annual saving of £42bn, equivalent to almost a third of last year’s public sector budget deficit. However, the most masculine crimes are the most expensive. A homicide, a sexual offence and a serious wounding cost £1.4m, £31,438, and £21,422 respectively (2003 figures). The most feminine crime, theft, is the cheapest, at £844 per incident. Thus the real saving to the UK of such a change in male behaviour would be vastly greater.

As the British Medical Journal recently pointed out, this life-damaging gender difference must be challenged by addressing the culture of masculinity that sustains them. How men and women behave is socially shaped. Popular understandings of masculine characteristics play up biology. Testosterone, the male hormone, the “metaphor of manhood”, is portrayed as driving men inexorably towards aggressive behaviour. Yet studies show that testosterone is related to status-seeking but not directly to aggression. Many other factors are influential. Testosterone levels are increased or diminished in both males and females by diet, activity and circumstance. The opportunity to interact with guns, for instance, appears to increase testosterone, while men’s testosterone levels fall when they are involved with the care of children.

The case we are making is that certain widespread masculine traits and behaviours are dangerous and costly both to individuals and society. They are amenable to purposeful change. The culture of masculinity can be, and should be, addressed as a policy issue.

• This article was amended on 1 December 2011. The original said an annual saving of £42bn a year would wipe out the current public sector budget deficit three times over. This has been corrected.




Earlier this month, I traveled down to Texas to visit my dad. Twenty years after buying the house that he and my mom lived in after retiring, he’s moving.

The house is much the way it was when my mom died four years ago, except for a few things — for example, Christmas cards still on display in April, including the Obama Christmas card that pictures Bo strutting in the snow in front of the White House.

“I’m glad to see you’re on the president’s Christmas card list,” I told my dad.

“I’m on the president’s dog’s Christmas card list,” he corrected me.

On an earlier visit, I had gone with him to see some of the retirement communities he was looking at. In one of the places, the marketing director showed us a grand dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the hills. “We have a lot of parties here,” she said. “These people know how to get down.”

My dad said: “But once they get down, can they get up?”

He’s a funny guy, but as most people who meet him can tell in five minutes, he can be cranky, too.

One time, I said to him: “Dad, you’re irritable.”

“Tom, the world is irritating,” he answered.

And he doesn’t admire surplus emotion. How much is surplus? Read on.

He was a great dad for little kids. He took me to a Chicago Bears game at Wrigley Field a few days before my seventh birthday. In the second quarter, I had to go to the bathroom. When we were under the stands, I heard a ground-shaking roar and shot a scared look at my dad, who had started running up the stairs to catch a look at the field. Too late. Gale Sayers had fielded a kickoff on the 7-yard line and taken it 93 yards for a touchdown.

Thanks for taking me to the bathroom, Dad.

He forgave me. He did that easily. I remember getting in a spat with him during the family’s drive to church when I was 8. When we arrived, I went off on my own and took a seat in the back pew, pouting. He came and found me and whispered: “We get extra points for sitting together.”

He was not a theologian but a good shepherd.

He was a calm dad during my early years in high school, a span that accounted for most of my criminal activity. He kept communication lines open, hid (most of) his distaste for my stunts, and waited for me to see that I was in trouble. Then he asked me, “Who do you want to be, and how can I help?”

(Send me to a school where they don’t know me, Dad!)

When my brother Matt was dying of AIDS, he was as cool as a dad can get. It was 1986. Fear and ignorance were high. People were getting fired for volunteering for AIDS organizations, because people still weren’t sure how you could get it. Dad welcomed Matt’s partner into our home, and he joined a support group for friends and partners of people with AIDS. Some days, my dad was the only straight man there. Pretty cool for a Catholic boy raised in the Midwest in the 1930s.

He was a brilliant and funny caregiver also when my mom got sick.

One time, the hospice nurse asked my mom whether the pain medication was making her drowsy. As my mom was saying “I’m not sure,” my dad said, “Yes!”

I offered a third opinion. I told the nurse, “If you put both my mom and my dad in comfy chairs at the same time, my dad will fall asleep first.” Then Dad said, “But you don’t know what I’m taking!”

My mother, an optimistic woman, said she wanted “Ode to Joy” performed at her funeral. My dad said, “If you want ‘Ode to Joy’ at your funeral, I want a signed statement from you that it was at your request!”

All these memories come back when I return to the house and see the old furniture, the rugs, the art, the photos, the knickknacks and mementos, the ancient yellowed banner marking the last time Notre Dame won the national championship in football, and my funny, cranky, endearing dad, who is now acknowledging a twinge of age.

My brothers and I are helping to manage the move, and he has allowed us to handle some of the responsibilities — an awkward transition for all of us. He’s slower and older, but he’s still the man whose opinion matters.

A few weeks ago, I told him I was ending my column — that I couldn’t keep putting in the hours it took to write something I liked every week. I thought he might tell me not to quit and urge me to keep it up. Instead, he said: “Well, they were good columns. I enjoyed them.”

Thanks, Dad. Thanks a lot.

Tom Rosshirt was a national security speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and a foreign affairs spokesman for Vice President Al Gore. Email him at To find out more about Tom Rosshirt and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




Bill Fullington doesn’t remember exactly where he read that all adults over age 50 should be screened for colon cancer. A magazine? Maybe the local paper?

In any case, Mr. Fullington, a retired teacher in Birmingham, Ala., takes excellent care of his health; he never smoked, doesn’t drink, hits the gym daily. “Everybody thinks I’m 30 years younger than I am, because of my zip,” Mr. Fullington said in an interview. So he dutifully arranged to have a colonoscopy in 2008, when he was 80.

The doctor removed two small polyps — “the size of BBs,” Mr. Fullington said — and sent him home to recover. The next day, “I woke up screaming in pain.”

At the emergency room at Brookwood Medical Center, tests showed that the procedure had perforated his colon. Mr. Fullington underwent a colostomy and spent a week in intensive care — and that was just the beginning.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so you may be reading and hearing a lot about the importance of screening. You may even get to walk through the eight-foot-high inflatable simulated colon that makes appearances around the country — and see what polyps look like from the inside. But you may not hear much about when colon cancer screening should stop.

Even the Fight Colorectal Cancer Web site, from the major advocacy group working to make Americans aware of the disease and its prevention, says that all adults over age 50 should be screened. “Don’t wait. Talk to your doctor,” it urges.

But in 2008, just a few months after Mr. Fullington’s colonoscopy, the United States Preventive Services Task Force reviewed years of research and recommended against routine screening for colorectal cancer in adults over age 75 and against any screening in those over 85.

Let’s be clear: Screening those over age 50, the group most at risk, makes complete sense. Removing the polyps that may become cancerous years later (but also may not) can prevent the disease. But while colonoscopy is underused by the poor and uninsured, it’s overused by the elderly.

Dr. James Goodwin, a geriatrician at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, has led much of the overtesting research. In 2011, using a 5 percent national sample of Medicare beneficiaries, his team showed that older people underwent colonoscopies too often. Medical guidelines call for a repeat test 10 years after the first negative colonoscopy, but their study found that nearly half of patients with negative colonoscopies had another in less than seven years, often within three or five. About a quarter took place without any clear medical indication.

Now, using Medicare data for every patient over age 70 who had a screening colonoscopy in Texas in 2008 or 2009, Dr. Goodwin and company have found that 23 percent were “potentially inappropriate” because the patients were over age 75 or because they had a repeat screening too soon after the last one for no clear medical reason. The study appeared on Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Gastroenterologists more likely to perform inappropriate colonoscopies were older, male, graduates of United States rather than overseas medical schools, and working in high-volume practices. “There are these factories that do colonoscopies on everyone they see,” Dr. Goodwin said.

Why not screen everyone? Because, he explained, at older ages the benefits diminish. “It’s difficult to have this conversation, to say, ‘You don’t need this because you’re not going to live long enough to benefit,’” he acknowledged. But colon cancer develops slowly, and in the many years it takes for small polyps to evolve into cancer, if they do, most old people will have died of other diseases.

Meanwhile, the risks increase. Mr. Fullington, who’d lost 30 pounds, returned to the hospital two months after his perforation to have his colostomy reversed. Discharged, he developed a painful “crimp” in the stomach. Doctors call it ileus, and it’s not uncommon after bowel surgery at older ages.

He returned to the hospital, where the ileus uncrimped without further surgery. But trying to get to the bathroom, “I sat up and went headfirst onto the floor,” Mr. Fullington said. Bloodied and bruised, he needed head X-rays and stitches.

He’s fine today, happily. And complications like his are very rare.

But, Dr. Goodwin noted, for older patients the prep for the colonoscopy itself can cause weeks of cycling between diarrhea and constipation. “It’s not death, it’s not hospitalization, but it’s feeling sick and humiliated and helpless,” he said. “That is a big price.”

Yet public health campaigns have done such a persuasive job that some people, data to the contrary notwithstanding, believe they need routine mammograms and Pap smears and colonoscopies forever. As another study in this week’s JAMA Internal Medicine shows, older adults may feel “a strong moral obligation” to continue testing and are skeptical of government panels and statistics telling them to stop.

Bill Fullington, however, vows he’ll never have another colonoscopy. And at 85, he’s not a candidate for one. “This whole thing would’ve killed 9 out of 10 80-year-olds,” he said. “I’m one tough nut.”

Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company








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