Two words: What if? Like every family, mine has legends and folklore that may or may not be true. For the longest time one legend was that my father was recruited coming out of World War II by none other than the FBI. My brothers, sisters and I usually laughed it off. But a few years ago that legend became fact when my older brother uncovered a letter addressed to our father from one J. Edgar Hoover. In it, Hoover told my father that since he did not hear back from him, he was going on the assumption that my father was not interested in joining the FBI. My siblings and I were floored.
What if our father had accepted the offer? It would have meant a move to a smaller town. In the spirit of your story, “Why We Imagine,” by Felipe de Brigard, I got to thinking how different all of our lives would be—if we would even be here in the first place.
THE MIND OF A COP
I am chilled by but greatly appreciative of your in-depth article “When Cops Lose Control,” by Rachel Nuwer. I hear many arguments from people around me who try to downplay the idea that race could be a significant factor in these killings. I now understand that people may say they are not racist, but unconsciously their behavior may still be governed by stereotypes that associate black people with threats. There may be a disconnect between what is understood by the conscious and unconscious mind.
One question that remains with me is whether the officers who have been involved in these shootings can ever participate in future research. They are the ones who have actually been to the emotional place that we all discuss ad nauseam. I wonder if these officers could give us any insight for future training programs and the prevention of these heartbreaking stories.
Thank you for the stimulating articles; I look forward to next month.
Kayla R. Dadgar
As a law-enforcement officer for 41 years, I agree that officers must police fairly and equitably to all, not lose control and only use the necessary and appropriate force to bring a situation under control. As unfortunate as it is, deadly force is at times unavoidable to save the lives of citizens or the officer's own life. Policing is a dangerous profession, and officers want to return home to their families at the end of their shift, so they use their training, experience and instincts to do so.
The fact is, nationwide, police come in contact with citizens thousands of times every day and only a minute percentage of those contacts result in any force being used, and of those only a small fraction result in the use of deadly force. When deadly force is used and justifiable, unlike on television and in the movies, it takes a mental and physical toll on the officer. Some quit the profession. I have never known an officer who wants to take the life of another.
EDITORS' NOTE: We received several letters about our error in listing Trayvon Martin as one of the recent casualties of police conflict. Martin was shot by a neighborhood watchman, not by a police officer. We caught the mistake in time for online publication of the article but not in time to fix the print article. We ran a correction in the January/February 2016 issue. We deeply regret the error.
DON'T CURE MY AUTISM
“What Really Causes Autism,” by Simon Makin, was an excellent read. The author summed up research on the cause of autism well. But the article approached the issue not from the standpoint of an intellectual endeavor but of working toward a cure for a disease. Research such as that featured in the article is funded by organizations run by people without autism, generally with the aim of supporting and listening to the nonautistic parents of autistic children rather than to autistic people themselves.
Autistic people, including me, generally do not want a cure. Autism affects every part of a person and gives us a unique life experience that is sometimes better than that of a nonautistic person, as well as giving us a disability. Autism advocacy groups run by autistic people do not want a cure and instead advocate for better accommodations and acceptance. Finding the cause of autism is a fascinating endeavor, but the knowledge gained should be used to have a better understanding of autism, improve diagnosis and find better ways to make life easier for autistic people, in ways that we ask for.
One more note: Autistic people such as myself do not prefer person-first language (such as “people with autism”), because autism is central to our identity, like race and gender. The attitude behind person-first language, that it stresses the fact that it is in fact a person, implies that it is natural to think of autistic people as something other than people, which autistic people find dehumanizing and undesirable.
The statement in “The Schizophrenia Spectrum,” by Simon Makin [Head Lines], that “most people do not know what it feels like … to have delusions,” though true, is quite misleading. As opposed to anxiety, which is indeed a feeling, and one that most people feel from time to time, delusions are beliefs, and no particular feeling is attached to them. There is nothing that it feels like to have a belief that does not match reality, even though most people have many such beliefs.
We only say that people have delusions when their beliefs are out of line with the dominant beliefs of their society. A very large number of Republicans believe that climate change is not real, which means that their beliefs do not match reality, but those of us who believe that they are deluded don't diagnose them as having schizophrenia, because so many people share this wrong belief.
I don't see the point of a survey where the researchers do not understand the use of the words in their questions.
GET OLD, GET HAPPY
“The Positivity Effect,” by Marta Zaraska, discounted some very important economic reasons that make old people happy. As a child of the Great Depression and now pushing 80, I clearly remember the poverty and deprivation of childhood and my struggle as a single mother working for minimum wage and living in substandard rentals. Life was like trying to run through the La Brea Tar Pits in snowshoes.
There were millions of women like me. But in old age, I have my small pension and Medicare, and my children are grown, so no financial burden. I'm happily remarried, and we built a home, mortgage-free. Of course, we have health issues but so do the young. I had cancer, and he had a heart attack. Considering that most of our relatives and friends are dead, we are delighted to wake up alive each morning. What is there to be unhappy about? Old age is the best time of life in the U.S. I heartily recommend it.
Soap Lake, Wash.
In “Synchronized Pupils,” by Diana Kwon [Head Lines, January/February 2016], we misstated Mariska Kret's affiliation. She is now at Leiden University in the Netherlands.