Monday, March 26, 2012

Last Call

The most interesting part of William Saletan's NY Times book review of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt's dissection of the partisan brain, The Righteous Mind, is that Saletan's snide construction that today's liberals prove Haidt's theories is in and of itself proof of Haidt's theories.

Let's follow this meta rabbit hole, shall we?

To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt’s transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why. 

The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments. 

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends

And since conservatives put a whole lot of stock in those underlying moral institutions and control them, it's why they keep winning.  Home field advantage.  Or as Tommy Lee Jones put it best in Men In Black:

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

Saletan continues with what that means for the mighty backlash against liberalism in 2012:

One of these interests is moral capital — norms, prac­tices and institutions, like religion and family values, that facilitate cooperation by constraining individualism. Toward this end, Haidt applauds the left for regulating corporate greed. But he worries that in other ways, liberals dissolve moral capital too recklessly. Welfare programs that substitute public aid for spousal and parental support undermine the ecology of the family. Education policies that let students sue teachers erode classroom authority. Multicultural education weakens the cultural glue of assimilation. Haidt agrees that old ways must sometimes be re-examined and changed. He just wants liberals to proceed with caution and protect the social pillars sustained by tradition. 

Another aspect of human nature that conservatives understand better than liberals, according to Haidt, is parochial altruism, the inclination to care more about members of your group — particularly those who have made sacrifices for it —than about outsiders. Saving Darfur, submitting to the United Nations and paying taxes to educate children in another state may be noble, but they aren’t natural. What’s natural is giving to your church, helping your P.T.A. and rallying together as Americans against a foreign threat. 

How far should liberals go toward incorporating these principles? Haidt says the shift has to be more than symbolic, but he doesn’t lay out a specific policy agenda. Instead, he highlights broad areas of culture and politics — family and assimilation, for example — on which liberals should consider compromise. He urges conservatives to entertain liberal ideas in the same way. The purpose of such compromises isn’t just to win elections. It’s to make society and government fit human nature
The hardest part, Haidt finds, is getting liberals to open their minds. Anecdotally, he reports that when he talks about authority, loyalty and sanctity, many people in the audience spurn these ideas as the seeds of racism, sexism and homophobia. And in a survey of 2,000 Americans, Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves “very liberal,” were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment

In other words, the point of liberalism is to try to move cultural and moral institutions forward, just not in a way that makes meaningful changes to cultural and moral institutions.  It's almost like change is hard or something, and being stuck in a social rut is a lot easier.  Go figure.  But Saletan lets us know that Haidt is convinced that being stuck in these moral institutions is freedom and open-minded inclusiveness.  Hey, conservatives have been doing that number for years now.

So yes, if you're going to toss logic and reason and argue that changing social institutions is the only way liberals can win, then yes, it's going to be hard.  Only took 232 years to get a black President, after all.  But if human nature is so awful, why should the goal be to make society and government fit it, rather than try to improve human nature through society?

If anything, trying to change society and government to fit human nature is exactly what the problem is with the Republican Party.  It doesn't mean liberals should as a rule give up.

Haidt's theories have some merit, but even Saletan sees where it falls apart:

But to whom is Haidt directing his advice? If intuitions are unreflective, and if reason is self-serving, then what part of us does he expect to regulate and orchestrate these faculties? This is the unspoken tension in Haidt’s book. As a scientist, he takes a passive, empirical view of human nature. He describes us as we have been, expecting no more. Based on evolution, he argues, universal love is implausible: “Parochial love . . . amplified by similarity” and a “sense of shared fate . . . may be the most we can accomplish.” But as an author and advocate, Haidt speaks to us rationally and universally, as though we’re capable of something greater. He seems unable to help himself, as though it’s in his nature to call on our capacity for reason and our sense of common humanity — and in our nature to understand it. 

Haidt is reasonably trying to explain to us how conservatives are unreasonable, so that liberals should just compromise.  It's certainly different to see someone take this approach from a scientific perspective, but it's just the same Sensible Centrist Village nonsense we've been fed since the Clinton era:  you guys will at least compromise, and the conservatives will never do so, so just give in already, will you?

No thanks.

A Little Good News For A Change

An 85-year-old woman with cancer who was robbed in front of her home last month has received free eye surgery from a generous doctor and a $500 check from a one-time thief trying to make amends, Live 5 News reports.

Ida Sue Collins of Charleston, S.C., was returning home from the bank last month when a man stole her purse in broad daylight.

Collins had just cashed in $400 worth of birthday checks which she intended to use for eye surgery.

Desperate to not lose her money, Collins fought off her aggressor as much as she could.

Needless to say, when a criminal and an octogenarian collide, the criminal usually wins.  Collins lost her purse, her money, and her hope for surgery was bleak.  However, Dr. Millin Budev was so touched that the surgery was done for free.  Collins was a nice lady, and people wanted to help.

Then Collins got a check in the mail for $500.  It was from a reformed thief who was trying to make things right for a purse he stole years ago.  He was unable to find the woman he'd stolen from, so he decided to do the next best thing.  Which, as it happens, was a pretty spiffy thing.

Collins says she will use the money for her medical bills.

I Wonder What His Brother Jake Looks Like

Elwood is one of the "ugliest" dogs around, but he's proved -- with his inspiring good works and legions of adoring fans -- that you don't need to be beautiful to change the world.

Winner of the 2007 World's Ugliest Dog Contest and named New Jersey's 'Most Inspirational Dog' by New Jersey Monthly magazine, Elwood and his owner Karen Quigley of Sewell, N.J. have dedicated themselves to helping homeless and abused animals while spreading a message of kindness and tolerance, reports.

And boy, is he ugly. But he is a happy dog having a happy life, and a little tolerance and animal love is a good thing. Elwood was saved from death by euthanasia, and his owner has made him a celebrity.

But boy, is he ugly.

Counselor Videotapes Student Sex In His Office

(Reuters) - A Northern California high school drug counselor has been jailed on charges of molesting one student and secretly videotaping sex acts in his office between various other students, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Gilbert Olivares, 34, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to 19 felony counts of sex crimes in Monterey County Superior Court, according to his attorney Andrew Liu. The next court proceeding in the case was set for April 3.

The investigation of Olivares began after the drug and alcohol abuse counselor was accused of grabbing the buttocks of a 14-year-old boy on two occasions, and sending sexually explicit messages to him and another minor male victim.

Deputy District Attorney Rolando Mazariegos said police searching Olivares' cell phone and his residence in Salinas found 13 videos of students, aged 14 to 18, having sex in his office during school hours.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, including how he introduced the idea or got the kids to participate, who else may have been in on it, and how many kids in total have been affected.

Just another child predator getting away with outrageous crimes.  Carry on, citizen.  There is nothing to see here.

Finally! Facebook Violation Gets Attention

SEATTLE (AP) – Two U.S. senators are asking Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether employers asking for Facebook passwords during job interviews are violating federal law, their offices announced Sunday.

Troubled by reports of the practice, Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said they are calling on the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to launch investigations. The senators are sending letters to the heads of the agencies.

The Associated Press reported last week that some private and public agencies around the country are asking job seekers for their social media credentials. The practice has alarmed privacy advocates, but the legality of it remains murky.

It's this murkiness that will be used against us. Digital privacy must be defined and declared where all parties understand how their information can be used. Otherwise, we are participating in a blind state, where we do not know our own rights.

I think digital correspondence should be treated with the same respect as other correspondence. Employers are not allowed to read your mail or flip through your family photo albums for any reason. Why should online versions be any different? There is no reason. However, if they are going to say it is subject to search, then let the people know so they can conduct their online lives accordingly.

It's almost like they should be less obsessed with our sex lives and pay attention to regulating stuff that legally affects the people who elected them to serve.  Isn't that nice for a change?

Well That's A Relief

If Florida winger Rep. Allen West's argument as to why the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional is the best argument opponents have for striking it down, then the law is perfectly safe.

The 2012 Supreme Court must determine whether the Founders had any intention of mandating the behavior of private enterprises and individuals.
To me, the answer is obvious: absolutely not.

You know, like slaveholders.  Slaves were commerce, you know.  Founders didn't have any real problem with that, either.  Allen West:  legal eagle.  Bonus argument:  "Hey you stupid Supreme Court people, please ignore all the previous legal arguments up until now and go with the intent of the Founders only.  DO YOUR JOB.  Signed, Allen."

I so want to see this argument used.  Really, I do.

And The Redemption Of Trayvon's Killer BeginsIn Earnest

Retuers gives us this story where supports and friends of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin last month, say Zimmerman is now hiding because he's afraid for his life.

George Zimmerman, who has claimed he shot Trayvon Martin on February 26 in self-defense, is staying in an undisclosed location after widely circulated death threats and word of a $10,000 bounty to find him, said legal adviser Craig Sonner, who said he would represent Zimmerman if charges are filed.

Widely circulated death threats? A bounty on his life?  From whom

Members of the New Black Panther Party are offering a $10,000 reward for the "capture" of George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin.

New Black Panther leader Mikhail Muhammad announced the reward during a protest in Sanford Saturday. And when asked whether he was inciting violence, Muhammad replied defiantly: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Oh, of course.  So, we have to worry about all black people now turning into feral killers on short fuses.  How silly of me to miss the obvious.  I forgot the New Black Panther Party represents every black person everywhere under the Transitive Properties Of Blackness.  Just like Stormfront and the militia movement represents all white folks, right?

This is going to get far worse before it gets better.


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