on writing photography life

Climate news

This one is more than worth sharing, it makes me realise just how close we are to the point of no return.


Monochords for the New Year (2018/19)

But the old year, dead at last, gives way to a new day burning children at the beach, in deserts and high rise shade blistering suburban hope where wild life dies each year past.


Mourn the new year past, hanging like fruit with seed we plant in this newest of years.

Morality and research

Recently I had a long and detailed discussion with an academic psychologist about paedophilia, paedophiles, and adult-child sex. As a part of this conversation he questioned why I am researching this area, and commented that he has strong moral beliefs about it. At the time I didn’t question him about this; we moved on to Seto’s [4, 5] research, which he had not read, his work having been focused on adult-child sexual relationships as harmful, rape, and so on. This is the case for all psychologists with whom I have discussed this area, that is, there always is a negative moral evaluation of something which they cannot conceive as anything other than necessarily always already harmful.

Various researchers (e.g., [2, 7, 3, 8]) have discussed the morality of adult-child sex, and Kershnar [7, 3] has explicitly made the claim that adult-child sexual relations can be morally acceptable under specific situational and general moral conditions. The question for me, however, concerns the morality of studying of paedophilia and the manner in which many people react to the study. This question has assumed some importance to me recently as a result of some issues which have arisen due to my research.

The first time this arose as a problem was in relation to a person who seems no longer to be a friend. The particular woman has two sons with schizophrenia, and has written a book detailing her difficulties in the first few years after the diagnosis. After buying the book, I suggested that I review it on my blog, which she was quite happy about to begin with, but within a week she questioned me, and said she didn’t want it associated with paedophilia in any way at all, and that I shouldn’t put it here, on the blog which I actually make some attempt to keep up with. I was a little astounded, but said I would put it on my other blog. Later, I sent her a copy of my proposed review, for comment, but she didn’t reply; so I sent a text message asking her to reply, but she replied to neither. Researching paedophilia, apparently, is entirely too much for this woman. None the less, a limited review of her book can be read here.

The second instance arose at university, where someone read my work (I linked to it on a forum, in answer to my lecturer’s comment about his work in the area), then made a complaint of “general misconduct”. The letter I received in response to this complaint referred to the following:

30 (3) conduct that is contrary to acceptable standards of behaviour;

  • (f) breaches a University statute or University regulation or a published policy or procedure of the University

What was in question, when I referred to the suggested documents, was that I had behaved in a manner contrary to the law, or in a manner that was irresponsible, unethical, and blah blah.

I won’t go into details concerning my reply to this, if only because the responsible person declined to continue to investigate the complaint, partially due to my comments in emails concerning the entire academic process and the law. (This is me guessing, because I have no idea at all why the process did not proceed, but like everyone else, I would like to think that my comments had some effect.)

One thing which particularly interested me about this was that I was not to be told any details about the complaint, nor who had made said complaint. This, as I pointed out, denies natural justice, but it is, apparently, the manner in which universities conduct their affairs. I was given the opportunity to make a statement in my defence, but without relevant information about the complaint, no such statement is possible unless it is very general, addressing nothing much at all, or attempts to deal with every possible version of the complaint that can be imagined. I was promised full details towards the end, but I never did find out, because the investigation was cancelled. And so it should have been. But the point of this has to do with morals. It appears that researching, and linking to one’s work, is likely to be morally condemned, or just telling someone that this is the area of research being pursued, is enough to lose a friend (not a very good friend, apparently).

If we have attained such a high point of morality that researchers can be brought trouble and difficulty merely because of their area of research, and because they say things which the hoi polloi reject, then there seems little left to say. We can make our own complaints, perhaps, but no one really cares if politician’s lie, no one really cares if an academic is punished for his work, as Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman [1, 6] were. What contemporary western people seem to care about is maintaining their prejudices and fears above all else; they certainly do not care about truth or accuracy.


[1] Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, Robert Bauserman: “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples”, Psychlogical Bulletin, pp. 22—53, 1998.

[2] Claudia Card: “What’s Wrong with Adult-Child Sex?”, Journal of Social Philosophy, pp. 170—177, 2002.

[3] Stephen Kershnar: Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex. Lexington Books, 2015. URL

[4] Michael C. Seto: “Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?”, Archives of Sexual Behavior, pp. 231—236, 2012. URL

[5] Michael C. Seto: The Puzzle of Male Chronophilias. Springer Nature, 2016. URL Published online: 22 August 2016.

[6] Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, Robert Bauserman: The Clash of Media, Politics, and Sexual Science: An examination of the controversy surrounding the Psychological Bulletin meta-analysis on the assumed properties of child sexual abuse. 1999. URL Talk presented at the 1999 Joint Annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) and the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) November 6th, 1999 (St. Louis, Missouri). Presenter: Philip Tromovitch.

[7] Stephen Kershnar: “The Moral Status of Harmless Adult-Child Sex”, Public Affairs Quarterly, pp. 111-132, 2001. URL

[8] Laurence Thomas: “Sexual Desire, Moral Choice, and Human Ends”, Journal of Social Philosophy, pp. 178—192, 2002.

Psychology & I

Mathematics is my bane, so statistics and I are having a difficult relationship, not that this is my largest difficulty with my studies in psychology. Rather, my true difficulty is the research methods and the belief that the results actually tell us something about humanity and everyday life. One reason for my difficulty, taken from a post on my student forum, is this:

[…] in order to test, the question must be operationalised, but when discussed in the news, or by non-psychologist readers, how much is lost because most people do not think in operational terms?

In philosophy, as you know, the first thing we do is analyse the concept(s) being discussed, and as fully as possible. Often, a paper may be only a process of conceptual clarification, as in Alan Goldman’s paper Plain Sex, where he was concerned to analyse the concept of sex in the most basic possible manner, leaving out the moral considerations which all too often infect the concept.  His conceptual clarification would be difficult to test in a psychological manner, in as much as he defined sex as the desire to touch and pleasure in the touch of others. (Basic, a little more complicated than that.) But, is we take his clarification of the concept, and apply it to everyday life (as I am in the process of doing), then we end with many everyday matters being considered as sex, e.g., a paedophile who enjoys nothing like what we might ordinarily call sex, would be considered as having sex with a child merely by hugging and stroking a child’s head.

The psychological process of operationalising the idea of sex, if using Goldman’s notion, would entail testing if an adult thought they were having sex, but it would be so if and only if…?


BUT, the point I was going to make is that the process of operationalising and testing necessitates a very clear discussion about how the results relate to everyday life. This very clear discussion is not something I have seen occur in many psychological studies. Rather, what I have seen is an equivocation from operationalised concept to everyday concept in the discussion. This, needless to say, give me a prize case of the shits, because when reported to the lay public, there is much misunderstanding, and not merely because of slack reporting. I, and you, have seen psychologists discussing their work on television, and failing to make clear the equivocation.

I also have difficulty with the notion that scientific methods which have failed to explain the results of the double-slit experiment are capable of explaining or giving insight into humanity.

If, and this is a very big if, I believed materialism was correct, I may have more faith in psychological research, but by and large it is soundly based in materialist philosophy (except when Wittgenstein’s notion of family resemblances suits!).

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I am more a philosopher than I ever will be a psychologist, and that’s ok by me for many reasons, perhaps the most important being that so much discussion in psychology is poor philosophy. Yes, that’s very harsh, because the best psychologists write and think as clearly as any good philosopher, even if they occasionally fail to do adequate conceptual analysis (some do, of course).

The difficulty with making criticisms such as this is living up to them in one’s own writing. All I can do is try to be as good as I want others to be. (Et la!)

Self-efficacy and self-understanding

Reading, learning, and attempting to understand people and the world generally, has been my life since I was 10, when I started reading the same novels as my mother (Jon Cleary, Neville Shute, H E. Bates, and many more), before starting to read Nietzsce, C. Wright Mills, Hemingway, Patrick White, and many more at 12.

At that time I remember wanting to understand the world I was in, I wasn’t seeking knowledge of myself—that came later.

Most recently, having gone back to undergraduate study, in the form of a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, I’ve learnt both about psychology and myself. The subject I’ve just finished has “critical evaluations”, in which students have to write critically about aspects of their lives, or something they have witnessed,in context of the theory being taught at that time.

Below is one such critical evaluation, dealing with aspects of my life. It did not receive a very good mark (65/100), because I did not adequately relate my experiences to the Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. But it taught me a lot about myself, and I see no reason not to publish it here under the autobiographical tag.

In fairness to the person who graded it, I have left it as written, not changing it to deal with any of the—unfortunately accurate—criticisms returned to me.

Learning about myself in this way was the last thing I expected from this course, and perhaps I should re-write it as a more autobiographical piece. But, I think it is more instructive in this form, overly revealing of myself as it is. I also think it is instructive of one manner in which we may all learn about ourselves, not by relating our lives to psychological theory, but by detailing what we remember that has led us to specific situations in our lives.

One point for understanding: the oral presentation I mention was a video of ourselves talking about the work being done, with slides, as though presenting it to an audience or putting it on YouTube. A truly unpleasant experience, as far as I am concerned.

As for Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy (and reciprocal-determinism, which I unfortunately left out of the piece), I have to say that I have admired Bandura’s ideas for a very long time, They are incredibly useful for understanding, and I would recommend them.

Lastly, I have to add that I am having great difficulties with this course. After many years of researching and developing my own ideas, I am being asked to accept take seriously theories which, in some instances, I rejected decades ago. It is very difficult to act as though I believe them, especially the biological theories. It may well be that I will run screaming away from this course. I shall see.


Critical Evaluation

To the extent that self-efficacy is persons belief in their ability to take on and complete projects (Bandura, 1977, 1982; Usher & Pajares, 2008) my self-efficacy is high in some areas, (creative writing, art), but low in others, e.g., I am now having to think and write in a shorter time than I am accustomed to.

I have had high self-efficacy about academic work, but childhood experiences, e.g., being physically punished for work not believed to be mine, provided a negative background. This effects self-efficacy by removing the core of self-efficacy , the sense of control (Maddux & Lewis, 1995), which is comprised of beliefs about competency, not competency itself. (Gosselin & Maddux, 2003)

Whilst employed as a temporary senior lecturer, one student insisted on intrusive questions, not about the subject, which I said we would discuss after class. Without warning he started screaming abuse, clenched his fists and stated he would assault me after class instead, and left. Very shaken, I finished the class none the less.

I was researching a masters at the time (and should not have been acting as a senior lecturer), and several days later, my supervisor, who had arranged the employment, reversed his written opinion on my work, saying that it was barely undergraduate level. This was very confusing, as he had previously stated it was excellent work

After this experiences, it became difficult to use imaginal experience believing I could do it, and imagining doing it (Maddux, 2009) to get myself back into lecturing mode.

Other events also occurred. I enrolled in two different PhDs, only to have the supervisors tell me, within months, that they could not supervise the work.

Whilst the latter events were aversive, I continued researching and writing, publishing on my blog and academic websites. The former, however, acted as negative reinforcement, my metronome being the very physical threat, no doubt because I deeply fear violence, having been told at a young age by my father what he and others did in the Dutch East Indies in the World War II. (Second generation trauma is alive and well!) That it had such strong effect, however, suggests cognitive mediation of the conditioning (Kirsch, Lynn, Vigorito, & Miller, 2004), via repeated imaginal experiences of the event, thus lowering my self-efficacy for lecturing and oral presentations, but not for presenting conference papers. Hence my low self-efficacy refers to marked work at a university, not work done outside a university context.

One way in which I could change this is to achieve mastery by completing the degree successfully, but most important is control of the physiological responses (shaking, sweating, loss of clear thinking) which contributed to my loss of self-efficacy whilst lecturing, and which re-occur whenever I need to perform at a university. (Bandura, 1977, 1982; Usher & Pajares, 2008). Vicarious experience (watching others perform) and verbal persuasion (being encouraged to work, being told my work is good and will get better) (Bandura, 1977, 1982; Usher & Pajares, 2008) is of no use: I know the level I am capable of working at.

Beyond this, the most likely effect is maintenance of my self-efficacy at its current level, though it may improve as I continue working.


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.

Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37(2), 122–147.

Gosselin, J. T., & Maddux, J. E. (2003). Self-Efficacy. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity. New York: The Guilford Press.

Kirsch, I., Lynn, S. J., Vigorito, M., & Miller, R. R. (2004). The role of cognition in classical and operant conditioning. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60(4), 369–392.

Maddux, J. E. (2009). Self-efficacy: The power of believing you can. Oxford University Press.

Maddux, J. E., & Lewis, J. (1995). Self-Efficacy and Adjustment. In Self-efficacy, adaptation, and adjustment (pp. 37–68). Springer US.

Usher, E. L., & Pajares, F. (2008). Sources of self-efficacy in school: Critical review of the literature and future directions. Review of Educational Research, 78(4), 751–796.

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