Thursday, May 08, 2014

Are our politics predestined? Will "progress" reach an end? Plus… More science!

POLITICS-PREDESTINEDCan a machine tell whether you are liberal or conservative? There have been a lot of articles lately, revealing the light that science has shed upon the way personality and even brain architecture correlates with your politics. This article by Chris Mooney is very informative"We know that liberals and conservatives are really deeply different on a variety of things… It runs from their tastes, to their cognitive patterns—how they think about things, what they pay attention to—to their physical reactions. We can measure their sympathetic nervous systems, which is the fight-or-flight system. And liberals and conservatives tend to respond very differently."

These results span a wide variety of technologies from brain scans to chemistry. Especially interesting (to me) is how eye-tracking technologies zero in on levels of aversion and arousal that correlate with this "whig versus tory" or liberal versus conservative personality divide. Do any of you recall my forecasting exactly this use of eye-tracking methods, way back in SUNDIVER (1980)?

Mooney writes: "Hibbing isn't the only one to have found a relationship between conservatism and stronger disgust sensitivity—this result is also a mainstay of the very influential research of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who studies how deep-seated moral emotions divide the left and the right."

righteous-mind-haidtIn contemplating this, one has to wonder why these studies have been glommed-upon by liberal media and evaded or denounced by conservative pundits. After all, the fact that liberals and conservatives think differently is value-neutral, on its own. (Note, for example, that this article I've cited is in Mother Jones. Still, the science is real and unambiguously telling.) Have we stumbled upon one of the underlying reasons for the "war on science" itself? Notably, one of the top researchers in brain-personality-values - Jonathan Haidt - cautions against leaping to premature conclusions.

All of this seems ironic, since liberalism usually pushes against generalizations that portray human behavior as involuntary, resulting from differences of human type. (The great exception heretofore has been Gay-ness, which liberal dogma proclaims to be entirely genetic and compulsory-predestined, by type.) While conservatives tend to accept systematic inner difference as a compelling reason for variation among kinds of people (but vehemently deny it with regard to homosexuality.) One might have expected them to be shouting these results, rather than repressing them.

Yes, the Mother Jones article ends on a hopeful note… that understanding these differences might be one more step toward reciprocal tolerance and returning the the gently positive art of negotiation. But in order to view things that way, using science to help understand each others' differences… well… that goal already shunts you toward one side of the divide.

I will offer you my own model of what I consider to be the deepest difference underlying our modern politics… having almost nothing to do with superficial issues or the silly "left-right axis"... in another posting.

== Or could disease be a major factor? ==

GERM-THEORYThe Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship and all your cherished beliefs, by Ethan Watters. Studies have compared cultural groups on the individualist-collectivist spectrum with data collected from the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network. They confirm that collectivist cultural norms coincide somewhat with in-group paranoia and exclusion of outsiders who might carry pathogens. (So much for the inherent niceness of socialism.)

Further, researchers made a prediction: that regions with a balkanized landscape of localized parasites would in turn display a balkanized landscape of localized customs and conspicuous cultural differences among human populations—dialects, unique religious displays, distinctive art and music, and the like.

Ethan Watters writes: "Thornhill and Fincher, however, didn’t stop for a breath. By the time the two published a major paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2012, they had marshaled evidence that severe pathogen stress leads to high levels of civil and ethnic warfare, increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior. Moreover, these pathogen-avoidant collectivist tendencies, they wrote, coalesce over time into repressive and autocratic governmental systems."

Pathogen-stress-theory Read this fascinating article till you get to this amazing hypothesis: "Conservatives (with their collectivist values emphasizing religion, tradition, and regionalism) and liberals (with their individualist values of openness, anti-authoritarianism, and experimentation) have spent the better part of 10 years now manning their battle lines over the issue of universal access to health insurance coverage. If Thornhill and Fincher are right, conservatives may have had more reason to oppose the Affordable Care Act than they currently understand. Might an effective health intervention such as Obamacare move the country, on some deep psychological level, away from conservative values and toward more liberal ones? Is it possible that there are utterly unacknowledged stakes in this battle?"

On the other hand: "Higher temperatures, elevated sea levels, and increased precipitation in some areas—all predicted to accompany climate change—are expected to bring tropical diseases to higher latitudes and elevations in the coming decades. Pathogens that once perished in cold climates and dry soils may find new congenial zones of heat and moisture, and new host populations."
Wow.

== related bits of news… ==

CULTURE-GENETICS Can we drive our own evolution? Specific examples of human cultural adaptations driving gene changes include lactose tolerance among peoples who raised milking cows and sickle-cell disease as a response to malaria. Not mentioned in this interesting article, but described in Christopher Wills's fascinating Children of Prometheus: The Accelerating Pace of Human Evolution, is the way advanced clothing and shelter methods enabled humans to colonize the Tibetan Plateau, necessitating major changes in blood chemistry that give Tibetans their vaunted tolerance of the thin air at high altitudes. I have my own theory… that the discovery of beer caused huge changes in the human genome, enabling us to be among the few species who can -- (though tragically not always) -- control our appetites for addictive substances.

A suite of health-monitoring apps could make monitoring conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, diabetes, kidney disease, and urinary tract infections. Colorimetric tests are widely used for medical monitoring, drug testing and environmental analysis because of their portability, compact size, and ease of use.

The thymus, which is critical for immune function, becomes smaller and less effective with age, making people more susceptible to infection. A team at the University of Edinburgh managed to rejuvenate the organ in mice by manipulating DNA.

=== The end of science and progress? ==

End-of-Science-MokyrJoel Mokyr is a professor of economics and history at Northwestern University and author, most recently, of The Enlightened Economy: Britain and the Industrial Revolution. I cite him in my article "Singularities and Nightmares," as having been active in scholarly work refuting the "end of progress" meme that has been spread by cynics like his fellow Northwestern professor Robert J. Gordon and by Journalist John Horgan.

In The End of Science, (1996), Horgan declared that “the modern era of rapid scientific and technological progress appears to be not a permanent feature of reality, but an aberration, a fluke. . . . Science is unlikely to make any significant additions to the knowledge it has already generated. There will be no revelations in the future comparable to those bestowed upon us by Darwin or Einstein or Watson and Crick.”

Mokyr's latest salvo, The Next Age of Invention, in City Journal, is well-worth reading: "Technology’s future is brighter than pessimists allow." Mokyr is no unalloyed polyanna. He knows that we face "headwinds" and that there will be many problems. But the answers lie ahead of us, in confident problem solving, not in a romanticized past. One passage I found especially telling:

Tenner-why-things-bite"As Edward Tenner pointed out in his pathbreaking book Why Things Bite Back, the history of technology is permeated with unintended consequences and negative side effects of innovation. How could it not be? After all, if every possible implication of a new technology was known beforehand, it would hardly be an innovation. Some cases of technology creating an unexpected mess are notorious, such as asbestos (originally touted as a fireproof and totally safe new building material) or adding lead to gasoline to prevent engine knock. To deal with such negative effects, we need not less but more innovation—to clean up the mess of earlier technological change where something went awry. Much like medication, technological progress almost always has side effects, but bad side effects are rarely a good reason not to take medication and a very good reason to invest in the search for second-generation drugs. To a large extent, technical innovation is a form of adaptation—not only to externally changing circumstances but also to previous adaptations."

Have a read. Regain your confidence. We'll need it. Every drop of it - any day of pragmatic negotiation and collaborative-competitive problem solving - is more valuable than any cynic's entire year.

49 comments:

Carl M. said...

I don't buy the higher disgust thesis. I've seen WAY to many hardcore liberals go into a disgusted frenzy over miniscule amounts of second hand smoke, radiation, chemicals, etc.

Ditto for the fairness response. Liberals see unfairness with wealth gaps. Conservatives see unfairness with people working the welfare system. Same reflex. Different triggers.

This crap needs to go the way of phrenology.

Alex Tolley said...

Re: technology development.
I recommend "The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves" by W. Brian Arthur (Jan 11, 2011). His thesis is that technologies are synergistic, and as they increase, the opportunities to mix technologies increases. This is a sort of network effect, although I see it as the equivalent of sexual reproduction and associated gene mixing that has helped drive evolution.
While David lamented the loss of a universal computer language to start youngsters and tinkerers coding, computer languages have literally exploded in the last few decades. Even more importantly, rather than being isolated, they are increasingly able to interoperate through various mechanisms, allowing them to be used in the most appropriate niches and creating veritable ecosystems.

As Tenner points out, we learn from the use of technologies and this allows improvements. As we cannot know in advance the nth order uses and effects of technologies, actual use and experience is the best way to find out and then "evolve" new ones.

thrig said...

Miniscule amounts of chemicals? Oh what scant comfort those miniscule amounts must be for the residents of the Dan River in North Carolina who now lack the liberty of clean drinking water, the regulatory watchdog having been defanged to give the polluters liberty to ignore the obvious consequences of their activities. And then there have been other coal spills, ones greater even than the gulf oil disaster, that garner hardly a peep of protest. Why purported conservatives are not busy conserving, well, they've certainly evolved into something over the years.

Concerns over the yawning wealth gap are not just a liberal affair; here is a conservative channeling Thomas Piketty, expressing "concern about falling social mobility and the emergence of entrenched and self-selecting elites, in the growing distrust of political authority, and in suspicion that those in power are distant, unaccountable and incapable of leadership." That would be the conservative Jesse Norman in the excellent "Edmund Burke: The First Conservative" at around page 239.

Larry C. Lyons said...

Stop the Presses! Carl M. who is much more knowledgeable than the entire field of political neuropsychology has spoken. All of the researchers in this field may as well just quit and flip burgers for a living.

Pardon the sarcasm but frankly you do not know what you're talking about. One of the more interesting cognitive differences between conservatives and liberals is how they argue. Liberals typically use numbers, facts figure and statistics. Conservatives are more likely to use stories and cases. All of which have a nice moralist closure.

BTW this entire research area has used thousands of participants in these studies. You are one case. What am I more likely to convince is reality - the results of studies that have used thousands of subjects to determine their conclusions, or one conservative's biases.

It boils down to this Asimov quote:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

And thank you for the demonstration.

Now here's where I start piling on. The following studies were just a few from this scholar.google search
http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=disgust+sensitivity+conservatism&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ei=eOxsU5LCK_W0sASnmYGQBQ&ved=0CCcQgQMwAA

Disgust sensitivity, political conservatism, and voting
http://yoelinbar.net/papers/ds_voting.pdf

Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals
http://yoelinbar.nfshost.com/papers/disgust_conservatism.pdf

Extending the behavioral immune system to political psychology: Are political conservatism and disgust sensitivity really related?
http://dspace.ubvu.vu.nl/bitstream/handle/1871/39617/278971.pdf?sequence=1

Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0025552

Disgust: A predictor of social conservatism and prejudicial attitudes toward homosexuals
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/222219706_Disgust_A_predictor_of_social_conservatism_and_prejudicial_attitudes_toward_homosexuals/file/e0b49519d00dac655e.pdf

Disgust, scrupulosity and conservative attitudes about sex: Evidence for a mediational model of homophobia
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656608000524

I could go on and on and on and on, Scholar.google.com found about 21,300 results with these keywords.

While your moral outrage and disgust is telling, it has much less weight than legitimate research. Instead of a ranting foaming at the mouth screed next time, perhaps you could actually LOOK at the research first.

Larry C. Lyons said...

Here's some more research on the relationship between gaze direction and political leanings:

The politics of attention: gaze-cuing effects are moderated by political temperament
http://www.unl.edu/polphyslab/politics%20of%20attention.pdf

Motivated Selective Attention During Political Ad Processing: The Dynamic Interplay Between Emotional Ad Content and Candidate Evaluation
http://crx.sagepub.com/content/41/1/119.short


thrig said...

From thy "Singularities and Nightmares":

"this will not prevent exploration and exploitation of such technologies by social elites...For years, I have defied renunciators to cite one example, amid all of human history, when the mighty allowed such a thing to happen. Especially when they plausibly stood to benefit from something new."

Those renunciators must not study history, or at least not anything outside the "passionate Faustian tendency towards the infinite" stream. Examples. The Chinese invented gunpowder a year or two before the Europeans, but did not do much of anything with it, the Chinese had quite the naval fleet once, but then scrapped that all for junkers, the Chinese invented the printing press but again nothing really much happened there, and so on and so forth for a host of technologies where the social elites explicity did not explore and did not exploit the wonders of the new technologies. The memoir "Revolution in Geology from Renaissance to Enlightenment" was very educational in this regard, and one article therein points out certain differences in thinking that might help explain the lack of exploration of new technology by the Chinese social elites.

LME said...

David wrote "I will offer you my own model of what I consider to be the deepest difference underlying our modern politics" and I, for one, am quite interested to read it when it is available. I feel the differences keenly, speculate constantly on their origin, and am always interested to hear what people make of the great modern divide.

locumranch said...

Although used interchangeably, 'progress' and 'improvement' are non-homologous terms wherein the former suggests direction and the latter represents a subjective value-judgement.

Literally defined as 'betterment', the term 'improvement' is the attempt to increase relative fortune, value, suitability & desirability and it involves risk in the sense of being a gamble or 'bet'.

In contrast, the term ‘progress (literally defined as 'moving forward’) connotes unidirectional advancement toward a predetermined goal in a manner that forbids retreat.

Yet, we use these terms as synonyms, the implication being that the outcome of attempts at 'betterment' are fated, that we have no choice but to proceed along a predetermined course, and that the increasing risks involved are either necessary or negligible.

This equivocation leads to a number of ironic contradictions, including the assertions that (1) conservatives, by virtue of being 'risk averse', are 'less thoughtful' then progressives and (2) progressives, by virtue of being 'risk takers', are somehow 'more intelligent' than those who refuse to take inappropriate risk.

What a bunch of BS !!

By nature, conservatives are 'risk-averse' and progressives are 'risk-takers'. Neither view is 'better' or 'worse' than the other; neither view is either 'right' or 'wrong'; and neither view provides 'proof' of intelligence.

It all comes down to faith.


Best.

Anonymous said...

LME, perhaps you would be interested in Andrew Bard Schmookler's "Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide". It's about fifteen years old now though. I hear that he is now working on a new book.

-- ToddR

Robert said...

If conservatives are risk-adverse then Republicans are not conservatives as they are pro-business practices that are not risk-adverse.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

There are fiscal conservatives and there are social conservatives. The first group tends to agree with some of the principles of classical liberalism when it comes to the economy. The send does so with respect to the preservation of social traditions. From where I sit, it is the social conservatives that are more correctly described as risk averse.

LarryHart said...

thrig:

Miniscule amounts of chemicals? Oh what scant comfort those miniscule amounts must be for the residents of the Dan River in North Carolina who now lack the liberty of clean drinking water, the regulatory watchdog having been defanged to give the polluters liberty to ignore the obvious consequences of their activities.


Exactly! It is disingenuous to claim one is in favor of liberty. You have to pick a side--are you in favor of liberty from bullies or liberty for bullies. Because you can't have both.

locumranch said...

As sure as the term 'disgust' (noun) signifies 'a profound aversion or repugnance', the term 'conservative' is synonymous with 'risk aversion'.

US Republicans of the GOP are 'adverse to risk' in every sense of the word. They are resistant to any political, social or economic change that may jeopardize their preferred standing as advantaged, mostly white, business-owning males.

As many often do, Rob H confuses 'economic liberalism' (which favors a laissez-faire approach, the free market & an absence of regulation) with 'political liberalism' (which favors progressive attitudes, the redistribution of wealth & humanitarian ideals).

LarryHart makes a similar error by confusing the concept of liberty (aka 'the condition of being free from restriction or control') with the more progressively idiomatic 'liberty from want' must be imposed by external restriction and control, the problem being that 'liberty from bullies' is incompatible with 'liberty for all'.


Best

locumranch said...

... which must be imposed by external restriction and control...

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

By nature, conservatives are 'risk-averse' and progressives are 'risk-takers'. Neither view is 'better' or 'worse' than the other; neither view is either 'right' or 'wrong'; and neither view provides 'proof' of intelligence.

It all comes down to faith


Totally agree except for the "faith" part. It all comes down to what your environment is doing. If it's relatively stable, then conservatism has a point. If circumstances are changing--if what used to work won't work any more--then liberalism is necessary. A healthy society needs a good balance of both.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

If conservatives are risk-adverse then Republicans are not conservatives as they are pro-business practices that are not risk-adverse.


They are not averse to risk to society as they have no real interest in society. They are most certainly averse to risk to business. If anything, they demand taxpayer subsidies to business in order to mitigate risk.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

LarryHart makes a similar error by confusing the concept of liberty (aka 'the condition of being free from restriction or control') with the more progressively idiomatic 'liberty from want' must be imposed by external restriction and control, the problem being that 'liberty from bullies' is incompatible with 'liberty for all'.


I'm not sure you are reading me correctly. There's a difference between advocating "freedom from want" (Society must provide necessities to everyone, if necessary by taking from others) and advocating "freedom from slavery" (A man isn't truly free if all of the means of survival are someone else's private property).

I'm trying to assert the latter, not the former.

LarryHart said...

In a bit more detail...

I am talking about "freedom from control".

If I'm hungry, and that prompts me to do additional work to grow or buy food, that is not the absence of freedom.

If I am hungry, and all of the available food is already someone else's private property, and he will only allow me to have any in exchange for my submission to his will, then I am not free.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that "want" imposed artificailly as a means of domination is "restriction or control".

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

I don't buy the higher disgust thesis. I've seen WAY to many hardcore liberals go into a disgusted frenzy over miniscule amounts of second hand smoke, radiation, chemicals, etc.


That second part is more fear than disgust, isn't it? I also don't think it's so much a characteristic of liberals themselves as one that liberal politics tends to pander to.

I may be splitting hairs, but a liberal cause might be cutting down on second hand smoke in order to save lives. But the tendency to freak out over the slightest hint of smoke? That's something else.


Ditto for the fairness response. Liberals see unfairness with wealth gaps. Conservatives see unfairness with people working the welfare system. Same reflex. Different triggers.


Your second example there has more in common with "freaking out over...second hand smoke" than you may have intended.

I could paraphrase your assertion as "Liberals see unfairness with the powerful using their power to game the system in their favor at everyone else's expense. Conservatives go into a disgusted frenzy over miniscule amounts of gaming that some poor people manage to get away with."

Carl M. said...

If I hook up random people to a neuroanalyzing whatsit and have them listen to the Rush Limbaugh show, I can prove to 15 significant figures that liberals are angrier people than conservatives.

Or I could prove the exact opposite by playing Rachael Maddow.

Conservatives are more grossed out by homosexual acts. Yes. No argument there. Those who tend to be grossed out by eating meat are overwhelmingly liberal -- Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey being a freakish exception.

When I say miniscule amounts, I'm not talking about major spills and whatnot. I'm talking about those who fret about remaining pesticide residues in food, LOW quantities of second hand smoke, etc.

I haven't hooked up a bunch of liberals to a neuro scanner thingy, but I have noticed vocabulary, voice tone, etc. and the emotions are similar to what conservatives emit, albeit with very different triggers.

BTW, I'm not claiming liberals are wrong to be disgusted by low levels of various chemicals. I shop organic myself when I get the chance.

But aversion to certain sexual practices isn't entirely irrational either. They can kill you faster than cigarettes.

Carl M. said...

Some data points for the parasite theory:

The hotbed of religious conservatism a few centuries ago was Massachusetts. Virginia was considered a dangerous tropical area by Europeans (there was still malaria among other things). Yet Virginia gave us Thomas Jefferson and the most secular state constitution I have come across to date. Even Rhode Island has more religious references in its constitution.

During Colonial times the South was much less religious than the North. During the Revolution Anglican churches were being used as stables.

Fast forward a couple of centuries and Virginia is the home of prominent televangelists and Massachusetts has become militantly secular. I would venture that the parasite gap between the states has not widened that much.

History happens.

Desert climate gave us Saudi Arabia, with some of the strictest nudity taboos on earth. Desert climate gave us Los Vegas, where they have free porn dispensers on the sidewalks (at least when I was last there). And have a look at some of the old Egyptian paintings. Egypt's nudity taboos have changed rather more than the climate.

Did the ancient Egyptian priests have better medicine than Egyptians have today?

Haruumph!

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

But aversion to certain sexual practices isn't entirely irrational either.


For most of human history, when humanity or specific tribes were in danger of dying out, it probably made sense as a survival mechanism for societies to be averse to "spilling seed" in non-procreative manners.

In a world of 7 billion humans and counting, the revulsion, no matter how explicable, is misguided. If a certain number of humans slake their sexual urges without making babies, it doesn't hurt anyone, and it could actually be seen as a good thing.

That's exactly what I meant by liberalism being necessary when circumstances change.

Carl M. said...

LarryHart: I have some sympathy for the liberal position that some people are naturally gay. Some of elementary school classmates displayed telltale behavior back in first grade.

Funny thing about those classmates: THEY ARE ALL DEAD. I don't think it was because they didn't have children.

Carl M. said...

Actually read the Mother Jones article, finally. (Had read others along these lines in the past.)

Regarding disgust response: it would be interesting to measure liberals vs. conservatives with pictures of someone dressing a deer carcass.

Regarding fear response: it would be interesting to measure liberals vs. conservatives with pictures of ordinary citizens carrying sidearms. Better yet, use real people wearing sidearms.

Let's see, over at liberal salon.com, we have:

[begin quote]
“Look at my gun!” Why NRA’s scary “open carry” craze is not about freedom

Freedom for a man with a gun trumps freedom for parents of kids who feel endangered by him. Our scary new reality

Imagine you’re sitting in a restaurant and a loud group of armed men come through the door. They are ostentatiously displaying their weapons, making sure that everyone notices them. Would you feel safe or would you feel in danger? Would you feel comfortable confronting them?

[end quote]

I don't have my neuro-analyzer thingy aimed at the author of this article, but my Neanderthal intuition tells me this person is scared silly at the prospect of a bunch of gun toting men walking into a restaurant. Either that, or she is catering to an audience who harbors such fears.

I, on the other hand, have been in one those crowds of gun toting men entering a restaurant. I used to visit the gun range with some of the VCDL folks. (Look them up; they make the NRA look like Salon readers.) AOL had some sysadmins with truly impressive gun collections.

Virginia has had open carry since...probably always. Gun safety was part of the basic junior high curriculum. Back in eighth grade my agriculture teacher invited students to bring guns to school (check them in at the office) for after school target practice.

My initial reaction to the Salon article is to think "What a wimp!"

But this would be a mistake. I'm no tough guy. But I grew up in a rural culture. My grandfather had loaded guns scattered about the house. He would shoot birdseed robbing squirrels while sitting at the kitchen table.

Break out the Beatrix Potter and read about the country mouse vs. the city mouse.

It's about triggers.

Carl M. said...

The Salon article in question is here:

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/07/look_at_my_gun_why_nras_scary_open_carry_craze_is_not_about_freedom/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Jumper said...

We already have a machine that can accurately categorize people into liberal and conservative. It goes by the various names of "Google,"NSA," "Facebook," etc.
I don't buy the disgust theory as written. Doctors tend somewhat conservative; they dissected in college. As Carl's excellent point of deer dressing indicates too. My own pondering is that social conservatives as commonly meant tend to be a bit squeamish about the lady parts, and specifically the reality of common miscarriages.

I read recently about some office complex in which a small refrigerator was accidentally unplugged and opened later. A big stench ensued. What repelled me was that some of the bureaucrats became nauseated to the point of going to the hospital. I propose a special place in hell for those people.

LarryHart said...

@Carl M
First of all, I want to say I'm engaging you in discussion, not picking on you. I have a certain sympathy for the libertarian position and indeed once considered myself a small-l libertarian before the word took on Randian connotations I couldn't condone.

Anyhoo...


[begin quote]
“Look at my gun!” Why NRA’s scary “open carry” craze is not about freedom

Freedom for a man with a gun trumps freedom for parents of kids who feel endangered by him. Our scary new reality

Imagine you’re sitting in a restaurant and a loud group of armed men come through the door. They are ostentatiously displaying their weapons, making sure that everyone notices them. Would you feel safe or would you feel in danger? Would you feel comfortable confronting them?

[end quote]

I don't have my neuro-analyzer thingy aimed at the author of this article, but my Neanderthal intuition tells me this person is scared silly at the prospect of a bunch of gun toting men walking into a restaurant. Either that, or she is catering to an audience who harbors such fears.


Whether or not the group of armed men in question is scary depends somewhat on how beligerent they are. I suspect you are imagining a peaceful gathering of buddies who are so used to the guns they're probably not even thinking about them. I also suspect the article-writer is imagining a group of toughs being deliberatly noisy and rude with an implicit "What 'cha gonna do about it?"

This is an example where the two sides of the aisle have to work very hard at understanding what the other side even means by their words.

Your experimental machine might show interesting results from a diverse group of subjects if half of them were shown a group of armed black men entering the restaurant and half were shown a group of white men.

Larry C. Lyons said...

So Carl,
"a neuro-scanner things"

Its said that a scientist arguing outside of his field is as stupid and ignorant as any other fool.

So you reject the idea that MRI results, Electroencephalogram results, Evoked Potentials, reactivity as measured by skin conductance, heart rate etc., do not measure neural events related to cognition and behavior. Classic conservative oriented ludditism. You claim to be into theoretic physics, but someone so closed to research data its not worth even trying to discuss the issue with you.

I am seriously considering going back to complete my PhD in the area of cognitive and neurological structure and how it applies to political beliefs. For the last while I've been re immersing myself in the technical and theoretical aspects of this area. So I'd like to consider myself having at least a small amount of expertise with the systems and technologies involved. What I can say is that the data is very solid, reliable and easily repeatable. Typically the measures of political beliefs are very robust and valid. They work and are quite predictive. For instance (I'll have to confirm this when I get home from camping), one study used the most commonly used measures of political beliefs and actually matched the subjects responses to party affiliation and voting behavior. The percentage of shared variation (the R squared value) was extremely high (> .75). Same with many of the other measures used.

Then there is the matter of converging lines of study results. Multiple labs have found that for instance Opennness to New Experience is negatively related to endorsing conservative ideology. This would be effectively the same as risk aversion that others have been discussing. It also explains the hostility of many conservatives to the new and their attraction to traditions. This has been show using very different measures, sample population etc. Amadio and Jost give a very good summary of this research in their recent theoretical paper Political ideology as motivated social cognition: Behavioral and neuroscientific evidence published in Motivation and Cognition in 2012. YOu can download it here:

http://amodiolab.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Jost-Amodio-2012.pdf

So the next time you want to go on about something, please educate yourself first. k

LarryHart said...

Larry C Lyons:

So you reject the idea that MRI results, Electroencephalogram results, Evoked Potentials, reactivity as measured by skin conductance, heart rate etc., do not measure neural events related to cognition and behavior. Classic conservative oriented ludditism.


I didn't get the idea that Carl was taking issue with the mechanics of the experiment, but rather suggesting that the test cases might have been biased.

LarryHart said...

Carl M:

LarryHart: I have some sympathy for the liberal position that some people are naturally gay. Some of elementary school classmates displayed telltale behavior back in first grade.

Funny thing about those classmates: THEY ARE ALL DEAD. I don't think it was because they didn't have children.


Ok, I can't give you a snarky answer to that one.

I'm not sure whether your implication is that gays die of AIDs or that gays die of violence inherent in their lifestyle.

If the former, the fact that AIDs was rampant in the North American homosexual community had much to do with one particularly promiscuous carrier who spread it around in multiple cities. In Africa, AIDs is not a gay disease, but more like syphilis before there was a cure for that. The issue there is not homosexuality per se, but promiscuity. Ironically, this is an argument in favor of gay monogaamy and therefore of gay marriage.

If the latter, I can only speculate that the violent part of gay culture (not to mention violence directed from without) is inherent in the fact that it has been forced underground, much as alcohol culture was during Prohibition. This then is an argument against treating gays as second class citizens.

I'm worried that this might be in bad taste, but I had to mention it...your statenemt reminds me of a scene from Neil Gaiman's epic "Sandman" comic, involving an immortal character who has lived for 700+ years. Naturally, he spends much time nostalgic for things and people long gone. At one point during a sort of melancholy rant, his newest girlfriend (who knows nothing of all this) says to him, "I used to think you were gay, you know."

He replies humorously, "Why, because I'm English?"

She says, "No, because you know so many people who are dead."

David Brin said...

I actually agree with CarlM in this case. Genuine leftists -- the real deal -- strike me as just as motivated by purity/disgust and by appeals to authority and yes by ingoup identification as fanatics of the right. This is masked by the fact that the triggers for leftists are generally more personally distant. .

Leftists identify their group association with the forward edge of the tolerance horizon and despise with the "outsider reflex" members of the group they were born into (e.g. America). But that is just a shifting of boundaries for a very forceful reflex.

Likewise, they may be more tolerant who has sex with whom, but their purity reflex is just more abstract -- e.g. pollution -- but just as strong.

Again, I distinguish out the moderate liberals and the few remaining moderate conservatives, who by personality may be more like Jonathan Haidt's "liberal" mindset.

David Brin said...

Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? My Keynote address at the Internet Society’s Cyber Surveillance Conference yesterday in Silicon Valley. Today I speak at TEDx UCSD… then three talks in DC. Phew….

http://new.livestream.com/internetsociety/cybersurveillance

Carl M. said...

LarryHart:

I'm just pointing out that unsanitary acts, be they gay or not, have dangers comparable or exceeding smoking or even hunting. The American conservative disgust trigger set is not entirely irrational.

Larry Lyons: I'm not disputing the power of your test equipment. I'm questioning the trigger set used for the experiment. The country mouse is frightened by a city environment; the city mouse is frightened by a country environment. It is easy to craft a high precision experiment to prove one or the other is more subject to fear.

This can lead to making an inappropriate neener-dance "backed by science!"


LarryHart said...

Carl M:

The American conservative disgust trigger set is not entirely irrational.


Not disagreeing. But in a pluralistic society, we have to decide (case by case) what right you or your municipality or your state has to act on a disgust trigger. Spinach makes me throw up (really), but I don't delude myself that I should press for laws against eating spinach, nor do I even have a desrire to do so. I just don't eat it myself.


I'm not disputing the power of your test equipment. I'm questioning the trigger set used for the experiment. The country mouse is frightened by a city environment; the city mouse is frightened by a country environment. It is easy to craft a high precision experiment to prove one or the other is more subject to fear.


I totally agree. Currently, congressman Daryl Issa is conducting hearings based on the "fact" that the IRS unfairly targeted groups with "Tea Party" in their names for special scruitiny, when what the IRS did was (quite appropriately in my opinion) target groups with political sounding words ("Progressive" included) for scruitiny when these groups claim non-political tax status.

If (as Issa did) one subponeas only the records about the Tea Party, then yes, it looks as if that particular group was unfairly singled out. But it was Issa doing the singling out, not the IRS.

Anyway, I think that's the sort of bias Carl thinks are involved in these tests.

LarryHart said...

Just thought of this now.

Republicans are fond of the argument that our national debt is too high and that we mustn't increase it for any reason because it's alredy unmanageable. Never mind how it got so high (much due to tax breaks and war spending in the Bush years). They don't claim that Democrats can't spend money becuause they (Dems) borrowed so much, but rather that, no matter how it was done, too much has already been borrowed, and we mustn't borrow any more, even if it makes economic sense to do so.

The same logic would dictate that if the earth is dangerously warming, we mustn't exacerbate that problem by burning new sources of fossil fuels (Keystone), whether or not the warming is the result of human interference. By the anti-deficit logic, even if the earth is warming simply because the sun is burning hotter, we are still constrained not to worsen the problem.

Somehow, that argument never gets made. The Koch brothers must not be constrained from making more money despite the harm done getting there, but the country can remain mired in a depression when government spending could raise all boats because...why exactly?

Alfred Differ said...

Larry Lyons:
The issue some of us physics types have is that the trigger set is determined by human judgement, thus it does fit Popper's definition for science. All collected data tends to be subjective, but a community can agree upon a common set of rules used to translate the data into 'objective' information and through those customs be doing science. Carl M fairly points out that there are issues with the triggers that must be discussed if one is to avoid scientism.

Alfred Differ said...

sigh... doesn't fit Popper's definition... 8)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Read this fascinating article till you get to this amazing hypothesis: "Conservatives (with their collectivist values emphasizing religion, tradition, and regionalism) and liberals (with their individualist values of openness, anti-authoritarianism, and experimentation) have spent the better part of 10 years now manning their battle lines over the issue of universal access to health insurance coverage. If Thornhill and Fincher are right, conservatives may have had more reason to oppose the Affordable Care Act than they currently understand. Might an effective health intervention such as Obamacare move the country, on some deep psychological level, away from conservative values and toward more liberal ones? Is it possible that there are utterly unacknowledged stakes in this battle?"


Conservative values are collectivist while liberal values are individualist? That's certainly not the way the sides are being portrayed in the corporate media these days.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

You keep wondering whether anyone has read the second Uplift trilogy. Just letting you know, I've spent the past five summers reading one "Uplift" book per year, and I will finish the second trilogy this summer. And I had read all of the books at least once previously.

If I remember the sense of the conclusion correctly, you're hinting at, but never actually reveal, something very specific about why half the galaxy is bent out of shape, not just because of the Streaker's discovery, but because of exactly where it was found. It's something I never would have noticed but for also reading Dave Sim's "Cerebus" comic book at the same time. I'll mention it again when I've finshed the book.

Randy Winn said...

@CarlM - Don't you think that sex is pretty much always "unsanitary"? Its original functionality is moving bits of one organism into another - EUW!!!

In social species, it has other functions as well, but the point is, sex involves a whole lot of touching that would be considered weird if it wasn't, you know, SEX!!! A lot of wee bugs take advantage of the unsanitary insanity of sex to reproduce themselves and kill us in the process (... which pretty much falsifies the story of Noah's Arc; at least one human would have had to carried all sorts of dread diseases and shared them with his or her progeny ... as the tiny post-Arc population intermarried, the entire human species would be poxy ... but I digress...). Now it sounds like you're hinting at one particular sex act that many of us would feel is kind of gross, but do keep in mind that this is far more common among straight couples than among lesbians ... for whom I would wager it impossible but for the incredible ingenuity of humans ... especially when it involves, you know, SEX!!!.

Also, may I suggest that to say that there is a "... liberal position that some people are naturally gay..." is to say that the conservative position is to reject science, because there is no doubt in the world of science that gayness is natural in humans and many other species. It's not the dominant mode, any more than left-handedness is, but it's just as natural. Pointing this out isn't liberal, it's merely realistic.


@Dr. Brin:
"Genuine leftists -- the real deal ..."
I know what you're getting at, but isn't this formulation close to the "No True Leftist" fallacy?

David Brin said...

Larryhart, conservatives claim they are the champions of AdamSmithian competition in markets, when they are in fact the worst enemies of such flat-open market competition. Ironies abound.

Thanks for the reminder. I intend to follow up the uplift hints, when I write again!

RandyWinn, while I think the liberal position is more correct re gays than the conservative one, neither actually makes sense.

To the right, gayness is an immoral choice that only moral folks deliberately choose to evade… but um… aren't you thereby saying that gayness is inherently so attractive that it takes a strong force of decisive will for a guy to prefer gals over other guys? Um… say what????? Is that not tantamount to declaring that YOU feel that temptation and are a suppressed gay?

Me? I am friendly to gays and on their side, but I cannot comprehend their choices and proclivities. I blink in astonishment that anyone would prefer to touch yucky males… over delightful ladies. Though of course, go ahead, if it knocks you out. And is consensual and safe.

The right is sooooo weird!

But so is the left, kind of, too. By insisting that none of human nature is built-in or hard wired, NOTHING! Except gayness, which is 100% hard wired!

Um… look I am a friend. But I have to point out that that stance is… well… both illogical and kind of weird.

David Brin said...

Larryhart, conservatives claim they are the champions of AdamSmithian competition in markets, when they are in fact the worst enemies of such flat-open market competition. Ironies abound.

Thanks for the reminder. I intend to follow up the uplift hints, when I write again!

RandyWinn, while I think the liberal position is more correct re gays than the conservative one, neither actually makes sense.

To the right, gayness is an immoral choice that only moral folks deliberately choose to evade… but um… aren't you thereby saying that gayness is inherently so attractive that it takes a strong force of decisive will for a guy to prefer gals over other guys? Um… say what????? Is that not tantamount to declaring that YOU feel that temptation and are a suppressed gay?

Me? I am friendly to gays and on their side, but I cannot comprehend their choices and proclivities. I blink in astonishment that anyone would prefer to touch yucky males… over delightful ladies. Though of course, go ahead, if it knocks you out. And is consensual and safe.

The right is sooooo weird!

But so is the left, kind of, too. By insisting that none of human nature is built-in or hard wired, NOTHING! Except gayness, which is 100% hard wired!

Um… look I am a friend. But I have to point out that that stance is… well… both illogical and kind of weird.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

To the right, gayness is an immoral choice that only moral folks deliberately choose to evade… but um… aren't you thereby saying that gayness is inherently so attractive that it takes a strong force of decisive will for a guy to prefer gals over other guys? Um… say what????? Is that not tantamount to declaring that YOU feel that temptation and are a suppressed gay?


When I was a freshman in college, I was first exposed to the phenomenon of "quad preachers" who stood out on campus day after day preaching the Bible and their interpretation thereof.

And they sounded exactly as you describe. One of them "explained" that sex was only for monogamous marriage, because pre-marital sex led to promiscuity which led to (and the "yuck!" look on his face was priceless) homosexuality. As if one followed from the other as naturally as night follows day.

To me, it seems as if sexual repression is what leads to all sorts of "bent out of shape" behavior, from pedophile priests to gay Repulbican congressmen to (in extremes) Islamic terrorism. If these guys could just get laid every few months without making a big deal about it, the world would be a safer place.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The right is sooooo weird!

But so is the left, kind of, too. By insisting that none of human nature is built-in or hard wired, NOTHING! Except gayness, which is 100% hard wired


Yes, well, the left is weird for insisting that rape is strictly about violence and nothing at all to do with sexual attraction.

But how much actual real-world damage has that view done lately?

Meanwhile, the right is wierd for insisting that rape (that is, "legitimate rape") cannot biologically lead to pregnancy. and they pass actual laws based on such premises.

So they may both be weird, but not symmetrically.

Carl M. said...

LarryHart wrote:

[begin quote]
Not disagreeing. But in a pluralistic society, we have to decide (case by case) what right you or your municipality or your state has to act on a disgust trigger. Spinach makes me throw up (really), but I don't delude myself that I should press for laws against eating spinach, nor do I even have a desrire to do so. I just don't eat it myself.
[end quote]

I am not endorsing conservative political positions on this thread. I am ranting in opposition to medicalization of political discourse.

I a disputing the propositions:
1. That conservatives have overall differing levels of fear/disgust, or at least that the differences are far less than advertised.
2. The idea that one side or another is rational in their choice of disgust targets while the other is primitive/irrational/delusional. (Wrong maybe. That's an issue for another day.)

This kind of thinking is about as dangerous as running with racial IQ test differences, and it feeds righteous indignation like crazy. Extreme skepticism is called for.

And by the way, even the social science community is growing worried about preliminary findings getting into the popular discourse too fast:

The Reformation: Can Social Scientists Save Themselves? Pacific Standard is not a right wing trog publication, BTW.

Daniel Duffy said...

Dear Dr. Brin,

This thread seems to be a hodgepodge so I hip I am not off topic with this post. I have read Existence and I was left wondering why none of the extinct alien races represented by avatars tried the following approach to galactic colonization:

A solar sail about the size of Colorado (and being only one carbon atom thick) can use the pressure of sunlight alone to accelerate a payload to between 0.01c to 0.1c. Deceleration can be achieved by the pressure of sunlight from the destination star. No expensive fuel or engines needed for this cheap and slow approach. So it would take decades or centuries to reach a nearby star, what’s the hurry? The payload would consist of millions of frozen embryos that are thawed out and brought to term in a artificial wombs. The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children (“watched over by machines of loving grace”). After establishing a colony, the space ship utilizes local asteroid resources to build more solar sail ships and payloads, sending them off to more stars where the process is repeated over and over again...

... until we are a galactic species immune to extinction.

That’s the wonderful thing about doubling. Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy. Once established, a system of colonies can create a communication network exchanging the only commodities that can be transported economically over interstellar distances: information and knowledge.

We engineers have a saying "Fast, good or cheap - pick any two". So what is wrong with a good, cheap albeit slow approach to the stars?

Robert said...

Did you read the end of "Existence" by chance? Because Tor finds signs of just this sort of colonization effort which failed because of OTHER probes that sought to stop it.

It's difficult sending out your progeny to colonize the stars if other species are sending out probes to vaporize them! ;)

Rob H.

locumranch said...

Both sides are weird, as is the middle, because all fail to question an asinine moral code that (1) forbids practically every natural human action and (2) sets humanity against its natural inclinations. These natural human actions are known in Christian mythology as 'The Seven Deadly Sins'. They include lust, pride, anger, gluttony, envy, greed & sloth. They are opposed (but only partially ameliorated) by 'The Seven Contrary Virtues' of abstinence, chastity, humility, kindness, patience, liberality & diligence.

Knowing this, the Christian Right, the Liberal Left & the Marginal Middle tend to agree that sexual congress (the most natural of human actions) is therefore BAD, disagreeing only on what constitutes an appropriate ameliorating factor. Monogamy tops the list for both factions, followed closely selectivity, kindness, patience, commitment & consent, the difference being that the Christian Right knows that sex of any sort is still an 'original sin' necessitating divine forgiveness despite ameliorating factors, while the Liberal Left pretends to be more accepting and ‘enlightened' when it is not.

Our current society requires this type of Moral Catch 22 to function, leading inevitably to the ‘medicalization of politics’, the legislation of belief and the criminalization of instinct, until either we succumb to terminal meekness & thereby inherit the earth or we find the courage to sweep this moral shite away & thereby gain the stars.


Best

Anonymous said...

Mr Brin. Based on the recent articles on Prof. Jonathan Haidt' website (http://righteousmind.com/), the radical left are likely going to be far more dangerous than the right in the long term.