Wealth Meets Supposed Legal Might

Zuckerberg shows anger; Bezos shows happiness, anger, fear & sadness; Cook shows surprise, fear and sadness; Pichai shows disgust. All four executives have eyes opened wide, showing anger, fear and surprise.

Yesterday these four tech executives testified via video chat before the antitrust committee of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. If you’re a Christian steeped in the Bible’s book of Revelation, their joint appearance might suggest to you The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: riders symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death. As a consumer or a woebegone business competitor of these four executives, however, you’re more likely to be wondering: who will ever restore our TRUST in antitrust enforcement?

From left to right, you’re viewing three household names and a fourth, Sundar Pichai, who now runs Alphabet (i.e. Google). What do Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Pichai have in common in these four photographs atop Wednesday’s New York Times article about the pending hearing?  The answer is eyes wide open, as if the four men are alert to seizing on new opportunities as they operate de facto monopolies, or at least duopolies, in domains like online search, online marketplaces, app stores, and advertising sales.

Have unfair, even illegal acts been committed by these tech giants? That’s for Congress and federal prosecutors to decide. Much clearer is that the FBI estimates losses from white-collar crime of between $300 to $600 billion annually. In contrast, the total is $4 billion a year for the blue-collar crimes of burglary and robberies. Don’t waste your energy; you needn’t guess which type of crime has the higher conviction rate.

On Economic Mobility & Learning Capacity

This week’s podcast episode concerns the story of a 150-pound, high school viola player jumped by three plain-clothes police officers who found him “suspicious looking.” Yes, an innocent black kid living in Homewood, a downtrodden neighborhood in Pittsburgh founded by Andrew Carnegie long, long ago, is a far cry from the wealth being generated in Silicon Valley. In today’s video, I briefly address why eyes wide open – curiosity – learning capacity – is emerging as the key to success in life.

Released today: episode #12 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast series, featuring David A. Harris, the author of A City Divided: Race, Fear and the Law in Police Confrontations. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode that appears on the world’s largest book podcast with over 1.2 million downloads monthly.

David A. Harris' photo and his book cover "A City Divided Race, fear, and the Law in Police Confrontations" will be on Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast

How do we move police forces from a warrior culture to connecting better with communities they serve? 

Harris is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s law school and is the leading U.S. authority on racial profiling. In addition to also being the author of Profiles in Injustice (2002). Harris hosts the podcast Criminal Injustice.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • Harris’s vantage point on what the Minnesota legislature got right and only half-right in recently approving a police accountability measure in the wake of the George Floyd killing.
  • Why navigating fear and anger is so hard for both black suspects and the police alike.
  • What role a lack of familiarity – and trust – plays for officers and suspects in trying to avoid escalating their encounters.
New Books Network and Dan Hill's EQ  Spotlight podcast logos

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

The Intersection of Ambition, Anger and Fear

In my book Two Cheers for Democracy, the correlation between anger and disgust (versus happiness) and being a totalitarian leader was clear-cut. China’s Xi Jinping fits the mold, leaving Betsy DeVos a wanna-be dictator.
Don’t let Xi Jinping’s smile or Betsy DeVos’s fear fool you; they’re both determined as can be.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing over how anger and fear are often two sides of the very same coin: fight-or-flight responses to danger. I got there, first, due to the three-headed monster of Covid-19, the resulting economic tailspin, and the justified civil unrest ignited by the murder of George Floyd. In every case people feel uncertainty, a sense of circumstances beyond their control. Where things get emotionally complex is that fear can turn into anger. That’s because the anxiety that comes with uncertainty can—in an emotional sleight-of-hand maneuver—be “resolved” by anger that offers relief from danger by compelling us forward to take charge of our destiny. (See my earlier blog, Anger Management: Emojis Cloud the Picture)

So I started my obsession by seeing how fear and anger intertwine around the issue of control. Then I started looking more broadly at another intersection: between ambition and a desire for control. That step brings me today to China’s leader Xi Jinping and to the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. 

I can’t think of anybody more ambitious on the world stage right now than Xi. From the crackdown in Hong Kong, to almost daily military incursions into the waterways and air space of Taiwan, to suppressing the birthrate in the Muslim province of Xinjiang, China is on the march. And that’s just a part of Xi’s goal of overturning the previous century of Western domination. Look at Xi’s facial expressions and the one constant is low-grade smiles tightened by the presence of anger. And yet underlying that anger is concern about whether China’s Communist Party can maintain its control over its vast population. 

Turning to America’s home front, DeVos’s facial expressions on national TV this past weekend were a study in fear. How to justify sending students and teachers back into the classroom this fall with a pandemic raging and no meaningful federal government response? From Fox News to CNN, DeVos dutifully made the media rounds: angerly supporting Donald Trump’s threat to cut off funds to school districts that don’t comply by opening up again soon. At the same time, however, that DeVos’s words ran hot her face betrayed anxiety whenever she was challenged by a news anchor to explain how this will all work. Open-eyed looks and rising eyebrows did nothing to convey assurance that this will all work out as not-planned. What didn’t waver was DeVos’s long-cherished goal of challenging the validity of public schools, given her faith- and class-based preference for “saving America” with more private, parochial schools.

This week’s new podcast is also to no small degree about fear, anger and ambition. My interview of novelist Siri Hustvedt concerns the character of S.H., who moves to New York City to become a writer and must cope with isolation, self-doubt and slights, large and small, from various men –culminating in a guy attempting to rape her. That scene falls at literally the midpoint of the novel, with half its pages still to follow. And there at the heart of the book occurs a change of heart, as S.H.’s greater assertiveness is manifested most clearly in the pocketknife that she begins to carry around with her for self-protection.

Now, not everyone carries a knife (or a gun). But in every case, anger can become a virtual weapon—perpetuating harm—or a benign source of self-empowerment. The choice of how we utilize anger lies at least somewhat within our conscious powers of control. Stay tuned: anger and fear aren’t going anywhere. Those two emotions will undergird almost every major news story you read for the rest of 2020. Of that much, I can assure you.  

Coping with Danger: How to Build Up Your Resiliency

Mysteries of Time & Memory

Released today: episode 10 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast, featuring Siri Hustvedt, the author of the novel Memories of the Future. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Esteemed novelist Siri Hustvedt foreshadowed the #metoo movement with her novel about a young women who fights against male condescension.
The novelist investigates the vagaries of memory as recollection changes every narrative.

How Do We Write Our Personal History at the Same Time That It’s Written for Us?

The Literary Review (UK) has called Hustvedt “a twenty-first-century Virginia Woolf.” She’s the author of seven novels, four collections of essays, and two works of nonfiction. Hustvedt has a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and lectures in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the European Essay Prize.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • What it can mean to be a heroine instead of a hero, including in regards to which emotions might conventionally be considered “off-limits.”
  • The role that the author’s over-a-dozen drawings play in this novel.
  • Musings on what the roots of ambition might be, and how ambition and shame, as well as memory and imagination are often intertwined.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Audrey Hepburn’s Emotional DNA

Audrey Hepburn's emotional DNA

For the next year, I’ll be highlighting the celebrities I covered in my book Famous Faces Decoded. First up is film star Audrey Hepburn, born on this day in 1929 and perhaps most famous for starring in the movies Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Which two emotions most characterize Hepburn? The people I surveyed for my book thought the answers were happiness and joy. How accurate were they? Happiness, yes plenty of low-grade smiles. Joy? No, Hepburn’s second signature emotion is instead fear. People’s accuracy for assessing this movie star’s emotional DNA was 50% correct. Note her raised eyebrows and widened eyes, both signs of her characteristic fear.

Police Shootings: Black and Blue (Yet Again)

Here’s a quick quiz for you to take. On average across three sources (two national polls, and a keyword research tool study of people’s most common online search terms), what are supposedly the biggest fears of your fellow Americans? Put the following list of 10 options into the correct order, ranking them from first to tenth:

  • Rejection
  • Clowns
  • Public Speaking
  • Terrorists
  • Spiders
  • Failure
  • Intimacy
  • Heights
  • Death
  • Flying

Notice anything odd about the list? I do. Among the possible top 10 choices, other people only explicitly appear twice: as terrorists and, improbably enough, as clowns! But how strong is people’s fear of being socially embarrassed? Pretty strong I’d say, considering that everything from rejection to public speaking to intimacy and maybe even (being judged a) failure make the list of possibilities; and clowns could I suppose fit there, too, assuming that what a clown found or made funny might include aspects of one’s own behavior.

Seriously, though, I think the list is crucially devoid of honesty in one key aspect because it doesn’t include people who don’t look like us (skin color) or believe in what we believe in (religion, politics, and social customs). Let’s just call this category: others. The 10 options I gave you appear in inverse order, which means that “flying” is #1 and “rejection” is #10, with “people” and “criminals” being options that might fit “others” but didn’t get strong, consistent enough results across these three particular sources to qualify for the overall, composite top 10 list.

Under “others” could be DWB, the acronym ruefully used by African-Americans to describe the dangers of Driving While Black. And what a huge risk it is. In a suburb of my city, St. Paul, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of the trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez for shooting Philando Castile. In short, what began as a seemingly routine traffic stop because a brake light was out on the car being driven by Mr. Castile quickly turned deadly.

A dashboard camera video from the police car shows the exchange that resulted in Officer Yanez firing seven shots. In less than five seconds from the moment Castile finishes telling Yanez that he’s carrying a registered firearm, the shooting has begun, after a panicked Yanez repeats: “Don’t pull it out.” There’s no doubt that Yanez is scared, even “afraid for his life” as he testified in court. On the cop car video, Yanez’s rigid, frozen stance as he fires his gun, his hoarse voice, his panicked breathing, and his traumatized screams of easily a dozen instances of “fuck” after the shooting are fully evident.

As for the facial expressions of either Yanez or Castile, however, the cop car video is captured from too far away to tell us anything. But the victim’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was livestreaming the aftermath on Facebook, and from that video what’s remarkable is both her presence of mind to be able to record her summation of what she believes actually happened as well as her degree of calm. Yes, her eyes are wide and her mouth initially distorted with fear.  But otherwise she’s remarkably unflappable, reassuring Yanez that she’ll cooperate with his requests (“I will, sir. No worries, I will”), not giving in to anger, not yet experiencing much sadness (her eyes do close momentarily when she says, “Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that”), and only once showing disgust (a raised upper lip when she says, “I’ll keep my hands where they are”). It’s not until she’s handcuffed in the squad car that a whimpering cry from her causes her preschool age daughter to comfort her by saying, “It’s okay, I’m right here with you.”

In Milwaukee, Tulsa, Cincinnati and elsewhere, the police shootings involving DWB go on and the trials that mostly lead to acquittals do, too. I have a brother-in-law who’s now retired from being a traffic cop in Seattle. From hearing him recount his experiences, there’s no doubt that fear exists on both side, for black motorists and blue-uniformed officers. Body cam video rarely if ever reveals people’s facial expressions, but the abruptness of the shootings is unmistakably evident. Two, maybe three seconds and somebody else is suddenly blood-stained and dying or dead.

With fear, it’s a matter of fight, flight or freeze. Sometimes the motorists freeze. Other times, they engage in attempted flight (running off or trying to drive away). For the cops, flight isn’t an option because it means they’re not doing their jobs and to freeze would be a greater risk to themselves than to fight by shooting a gun they’ve been trained to use.

Fear isn’t very conducive to either party hearing—much less understanding—what the other side is saying or intends to do.

The bottom line is that fear isn’t very conducive to either party hearing—much less understanding—what the other side is saying or intends to do. The fear that leads to abrupt shootings results in quick action, but the fear itself is long-standing and deep-rooted of course. The officers are scrambling to help maintain the status quo, the law of the land. They often live in dread while pledging to serve and protect the general public. Meanwhile, for their part it’s doubtful any black motorists would be surprised to know that when black veterans returned from World War One nearly a century ago, their newly acquired marksmanship frightened many whites. The resulting race riots of 1919 earned the nickname Red Summer, given the bloody and wrenchingly unfair outcome.

Trump Is Predominantly Fearful? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Most times, I find plenty of merit in the viewpoints expressed by David Brooks, The New York Times columnist and PBS and NPR contributor. But I found myself less on-board recently when I read his comparison of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump: If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear.  If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in. Then after a few of Trump’s foreign policy positions get mentioned, Brooks adds:  It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

Like Brooks, I’ve been watching Trump closely for a while now, partly as concerned citizen, partly as a pundit for CNN and Thompson-Reuters during the bizarre 2016 presidential race. Moreover, I’m finishing up my most recent book. This one has involved facial coding numerous photographs to arrive at the emotional profiles of over 150 famous people, including Trump. So I have a comparative benchmark.  Emotion by emotion I know when Trump’s amount of emoting is at, above or below the average of my 150+-person sample. In other words, which emotions characterize Trump and which don’t stand out in the mix? To keep it simple, let’s go emotion by emotion through what’s essential to understanding Trump’s personality, starting with where I’m in the most agreement with Brooks.

Anger:  If Trump were an animal, resentful porcupine would fit the bill nicely.  Anger is about wanting control, and hitting out to ensure it happens. Trump’s provocative tweets become Exhibit A here. But compared to other 150+ famous people analyzed for my latest book, Trump’s volume of emoting devoted to anger is actually no more than average. That’s because other negative emotions define Trump’s personality even more so. What’s unique about Trump is instead that, when angry, he’s very angry. Watch the way his lower lip bulges when he fumes or starts ranting.

Happiness: Just before the Reagan/Trump comparison, Brooks writes of Trump that he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Bingo. Our new president is, indeed, notably lacking in happiness. Compared to the other 150+ famous people I studied, including past presidents, Trump barely registers on the scale at all. Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” appears to be in the Donald’s case a matter entirely of “pursuit” – with little in the way of “happiness” other than pleasure apparently taken in groping women.

Fear: While Brooks qualifies his statement that fear is Trump’s dominant emotional note by saying Trump’s fear isn’t of a cowering, timid nature, I still take issue with that premise. And here’s why. For starters, Trump exhibits only a very average amount of fear compared to the other 150+ famous people I studied. Second, fear means you sense a threat, to which most people’s natural reaction is to freeze. In Trump’s case, however, he’s compulsive and hyper-active.  Sweeping executive orders and provocative tweets show Trump so opposite to cowering that the notion of him as predominantly fearful becomes a non-starter, a definite no. Or as they say in Trump’s native New York City, fuhgeddaboudit!

Trump may very well be a fear-mongerer to attract support, but he’s not a fearful guy.  You can mock Trump, but a coward he isn’t.

Trump may very well be a fear-mongerer to attract support, but he’s not a fearful guy.

One striking autobiographical detail about Trump is that, as a boy, he would accompany his dad, Fred Trump, when Fred was making the rounds to connect rent from tenants in Brooklyn and Queens. Fred’s advice to the young Donald: always stand to one side of the door, never squarely in the doorway, just in case a bullet comes whistling by. Somebody with a different temperament (perhaps Donald’s own son, Barron), might have responded to Fred’s advice by becoming fearful. But not Trump, who’s notable for showing larger than usual amounts of two other emotions instead: disgust and sadness.

Disgust: Missing from Brooks’ characterization of Trump is another key, negative emotion that brings America’s 45th president into focus. Neither anger, nor fear but, rather, disgust begins to explain Trump better. Trump is both a germaphobe averse to anything “poisonous” (like booze) and “fed up” with most everything in the world. Disgust explains Brooks’ basic misstep here: Trump’s tendency isn’t to close in (fear style); he’s pulling back (disgust style). Trump scores higher than usual for disgust in comparison to the other 150+ famous people I studied. When disgusted, people’s noses wrinkle because they metaphorically can’t stand the smell of, for example, Washington, D.C., and so they want to “drain the swamp.”

Sadness: Finally, to truly understand Trump and his lack of happiness, we need to go to its opposite. Sadness is about the absence or loss of fulfillment, and a Trump specialty way beyond the average amount the 150+ famous people show. Anger has become so common in politics that it’s a commodity. Disgust combined with sadness is unique, and emotionally the combination helps to explain Trump’s victory. Sadness equates to pain, which many despairing citizens feel but they’re fed up with, disgust style, and don’t want to tolerate anymore. Make America Great Again is a cry for hope.

Time in the White House will tell whether Trump’s brand of sadness delivers on a promise of patriotic empathy by lifting the lives of economically-challenged citizens. If so, that goal will have to share air time with what I suspect really most actively drives Trump’s outsized sadness: thin-skinned narcissism involving the disappointment that others don’t applaud you enough.