Sunday, December 28, 2008
I've inserted this cartoon without permission of its author. It has copyright protection. If I were to publish it in an anthology of cartoons about the internet, it would be illegal. However, it is legal for me to use it under the "fair use doctrine" in order to illustrate a larger point. If one of the dogs looked like Elvis, I might be sued by the Presley estate (which was sold some years ago by Prisilla and AnnMarie). This is covered under laws pertaining to "privacy and publicity" rather than copyright. The situation concerning "intellectual property" is a mess and hardly conforms to the Founders' notions in the Constitution. In Thomas Jefferson's view, ideas themselves are not patentable. They must be reduced to practice. Jefferson did not see individuals as having an unalienable creator-given right to the fruits of their minds. That could only be granted by the State. Similarly, other property like land is not owned by an individual according to Jefferson. The sovereign or state grants property rights. Note the constitution:
"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
This is unusual for the Constitution in that the Congress is told what it must do and the REASON behind that obligation. We don't give a person exclusivity, because it's the RIGHT thing to do. We give it, because it is the PRACTICAL thing to do. It's good for progress. Currently, we are way beyond that principle in that we grant exclusivity to estates of creative people and thereby inhibit creative use of a product for additional generations. We often inhibit progress. Philosophically, it all hinges on what we think of, as a right to our ideas. Note that Jefferson and Franklin never patented their important inventions despite the fact that they would be granted exclusivity under today's standards. Many of today's patents would fail the test by being an obvious extension of a previous work. Unfortunately, in academia having a patent has become a badge of honor like publishing lots of papers. Since the cost of the patent is most often born by the institution, the "progress of science and the useful arts" is not necessarily a consideration. The morass is made worse by the fact that licenses and permissions are often difficult to obtain, because one cannot find the current owner of a copyright. With respect -Joel
Please try it and perhaps we can discuss the philosophical aspects and figure out why the "shoot 'em up" types of video games are so much more popular.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
My Chanukah lights, in the photo above, are a small minority among the Christmas lights that dominate the streets here in The Villages, Florida. A couple evenings ago our bicycle club staged our annual Christmas decoration night ride. Our headlights and taillights twinkled among the holiday lights as we "ooed" and "ahed" at some of the most extensive and colorful and artistic displays. Last evening a bunch of us from the neighborhood did a similar tour in our golf carts. Each event was followed by a party with food and drink and merry music.
Tonight many of us Jewish residents assembled at one of our town centers to light our Chanukah menorah that happily sits among the Christmas decorations. Then we went to TooJays Deli for a traditional Chanukah dinner.
When we first moved down here it was a bit jarring to see Christmas lights without any snow or even the possibility of snow. It just did not seem right. However, after five years, and while reading reports of blizzards of snow being endured by our relatives up north, it seems just right.
What Happened to the CHRIST in Christmas?
Some of the decorations feature a Christmas Cresh (Nativity Scene), a cross, and/or a notice that "Christ is the reason for the season". Many are tasteful riots of twinkling lights with no obvious religious connotation. A few are garish wastes of electricity, jammed with blow-up cartoon characters and large gift boxes.
Of course I know we are actually celebrating the ancient, pre-Christian "rebirth of the Sun" - the time in the northern hemisphere when the Sun reverses the gradual lengthening of the night and starts the gradual lengthening of the day. The pagans lighted fires to encourage the Sun to begin to rise higher in the sky, and reverse its descent into the coldest depths of winter. They celebrated their joy when, in response to their prayers they thought, the Sun rose higher.
The date we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Savior is probably not the actual date of His birth. It was moved to this season to co-opt the Roman holiday of the "rebirth of the Sun".
Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday now celebrated all out of proportion to its importance due to its proximity to Christmas. Another case of co-opting an existing holiday!
What Happened to the "CH" in Chanukah?
The word "Chanukah" means "dedication". I take care to pronounce the "CH" with the gutteral sound like the "ch" in the Scottish "loch" or in the German "achtung".
You have seen it spelled "Hanukkah" by (nearly) all the major media and pronouced Hon-uh-kuh (with the "Hon" as on "honk").
So, why do I and many Jewish websites spell it "Chanukah" while others spell it "Hanukkah"?
Because we are right and they are wrong! Here is the proof!
In Hebrew characters it is spelled: חֲנֻכָּה and, reading from right to left, the first letter חֲ is a "Chet" which has a gutteral, back of the throat, rumbling sound not represented by any single English character. As noted above, this has been represented in English as "Ch", based on the Scottish "loch". Unfortuantely, in English, "ch" is also sounded like the first syllable of "chime" or Christmas". In a misplaced effort to resolve the issue, some Jewish scholars spelled it "Kh" a combination not usually found in English. Others spelled it as a "Ḥ" (an "H" with a dot under it).
The "Kh" was not widely accepted and the "Ḥ" was often simplified to a plain "H", which is why you often see "Hanukkah" and hear it pronounced "Hon-uh-kuh".
Hebrew is normally written without vowels, but when vowels are provided, they take the form of marks under the letters. The line below the letter חֲ is pronounced "ah". That is represented as "a" in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".
The next Hebrew letter is נֻ pronounced like "n" with a "oo" or "u" vowel under it. This is represented as "nu" in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".
The letter that follows is כָּ pronounced like "k" with an "ah"vowel under it. Notice there is only a single כָּ in the Hebrew word, so there is absolutely no valid justification for the double "kk" in "Hanukkah". It is properly represented in "Chanukah". So, why do they put the extra "k" in the word? The only possible explanation is to get a total of exactly eight letters in the word so you can put one letter on each of the eight candles representing the eight days of the "miracle" in the story of this holiday. Note that "Chanukah" already has eight letters and does not "need" the extra, extraneous and disturbing "k".
The final letter is ה pronounced like "h" and properly represented in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".
In any case, Chanukah celebrates a great victory for religious freedom that was achieved ca. 165 BCE.
Considering the long history of the Jewish people as an often-persecuted minority religion, I think it is remarkable that I feel perfectly comfortable hanging Chanukah decorations in front of our house. We have received nothing but complements from our Christian neighbors.
The top photo, from left to right, shows:
1) A Chanukah menorah. On the first night of Chanukah, the high central candle is lighted, along with the candle on the far right. On the second night, the central candle plus two on the right are lighted, and so on until all are lighted on the last evening.
2) A lighted Jewish star.
3) A second Chanukah Menorah consisting of lighted snowflakes supported by lighted candy canes. The candy canes represent the candles and the snowflakes (with six points like a Jewish star) represent the flames. The candy canes are always lighted. On the first night of Chanukah, the high central snowflake is lighted, along with the snowflake on the far right. On the second night, the central snowflake plus two on the right are lighted, and so on until all are lighted on the last evening.
I also have a lighted poster hanging outside the garage with the word "שׁלּוּﬦ" in Hebrew along with the translation "PEACE" and transliteration "Shalom".
Have a wonderful holiday season!
Monday, December 8, 2008
"Are we able to think clearly when surrounded by mess because chaos is inherent in all our minds, even those of the great writers and thinkers", by Clive James.
< http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7768021.stm >
I think that there's an interesting philosophical point buried in the piece:
Perhaps it's trying to remind me that the best equipped pontificator is the one who is aware of his own propensities towards chaos. Unable to organise his own breakfast, he will be less ready to condemn officials who can't organise an efficient system for sending out student grants, or collecting private information onto a CD-ROM that won't be left on a train. But, even the most self-aware pontificator is still likely to expect too much of the world. Rarely will he be sufficiently amazed that society functions at all, considering some of the human material it has to work with.My philosophical point is this. Plato wrote about an idealized state in The Republic and a more practical one in The Laws. Aristotle analyzed various constitutions. And so the trend continued through Cicero, Aurelius, Augustine, Locke, Marx, Hayek, etc. In the end, every proposal is drowned in the chaos of real world events. Nothing works out the way the philosophers suppose. Should we take our cue from Voltaire's Candide and simply cultivate our small garden while surrounded by chaos and forces beyond our control? Is stoicism the path for a philosopher of the real world?
With respect -Joel
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Nevertheless he is right on this one!
My support for a punitive Carbon Tax goes back many years and is well documented on this Blog: (July 2007, May, October, and November 2008).
An Opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal brought Hansen's statement to my attention. (The chart above is from Hansen's June 2008 presentation.)
With gasoline at $2 or less, and the memory of $4 and more clearly in mind, NOW is the right time to impose a $1/gallon carbon tax.
Hansen calls his proposal "Tax and 100% dividend" because it will apply equally to all forms of sequestered carbon (coal, oil, natural gas) and all of it will be returned, equally per-capita, to everyone with a Social Security number.
Other than collecting and distributing the carbon tax dividend, the government will have no role in using these revenues to select the specific alternative energy solution that will arise. By making carbon-based energy relatively more expensive, the carbon tax will spur consumers to conserve energy and also to select products that utilize alternative, non-taxed, energy. The tax will thus put an umbrella over researchers and corporations working on all sorts of alternative energy without imposing the heavy (and politicaly motivated) hand of government "experts" to tip the balance in favor of any one.
The proposed carbon tax will be revenue-neutral, returning money to the people. The tax will also be ultra-progressive since it returns the money equally per-capita while the rich will be paying most of the tax because they use more energy and products that require energy to produce and transport.
Here are some direct quotes from Hansen's remarks:
Tax and 100% dividend can drive innovation and economic growth with a snowballing effect. Carbon emissions will plummet far faster than in top-down or Manhattan projects. A clean environment that supports all life on the planet can be restored.
... Principles must be crystal clear and adhered to rigorously. A tax on coal, oil and gas is simple. It can be collected at the first point of sale within the country or at the last (e.g., at the gas pump), but it can be collected easily and reliably. You cannot hide coal in your purse; it travels in railroad cars that are easy to spot.
“Cap” [and trade of carbon credits] ... may do as much harm as good. ...
The entire carbon tax should be returned to the public, with a monthly deposit ...
A carbon tax will raise energy prices, but lower and middle income people, especially, will find ways to reduce carbon emissions so as to come out ahead. Product demand will spur economic activity and innovation. The rate of infrastructure replacement, thus economic activity, can be modulated by how fast the carbon tax rate increases. Effects will permeate society. Food requiring lots of carbon emissions to produce and transport will become more expensive and vice versa – it is likely, e.g., that the UK will stop importing and exporting 15,000 tons of waffles each year. There will be a
growing price incentive for life style changes needed for sustainable living.
The present political approach is to set carbon emission reduction goals for 2025 or 2050. The politicians do not expect the goals to be reached, and they define escape hatches that guarantee they will not. They expect to be retired or become lobbyists before the day of reckoning. The goals are mainly for bragging rights: “mine is bigger than yours!”
The worst thing about the present inadequate political approach is that it will generate public backlash. Taxes will increase, with no apparent benefit. The reaction would likely delay effective emission reductions, so as to practically guarantee that climate would pass tipping points with devastating consequences for nature and humanity.
Carbon tax and 100% dividend, on the contrary, will be a breath of fresh air, a boon and boom for the economy. The tax is progressive, the poorest benefitting most, with profligate energy users forced to pay for their excesses. Incidentally, it will yield strong incentive for aliens to become legal; otherwise they receive no dividend while paying the same carbon tax rate as everyone.
Special interests and their lobbyists in alligator shoes will fight carbon tax and 100% dividend tooth and nail. They want to determine who gets your tax money in the usual Washington way, Congress allocating money program-by-program, substituting their judgment for that of the market place. The lobbyists can afford the shoes. Helping Washington figure out how to spend your money is a very lucrative business.
But we can save the planet and alligators by making sure that not one thin dime of the carbon tax is siphoned off by lobbyists for their clients – 100% must be returned to citizens as dividend. Make this your motto: “100% or fight! No alligator shoes!”
Check the position of your congresspersons. If they spout things like “global warming is the greatest hoax in the history of the universe”, check the shoes of the people who visit them or have dinner with them. Changes in Congress are needed if we want our children and grandchildren to win this one.
Because of great benefits to the nation, humanity and nature, this approach soon would be adopted by other nations, providing an obvious path toward international agreements. (Jim Hansen)
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Furthermore, a major data-reporting error occured early this month. According to http://wattsupwiththat.com/ as well as http://www.realclimate.org/ the official NASA GISS (Goddard Institute of Space Studies) worldwide surface temperature readings for October 2008 contained 90 sites (all or mostly in Russia) where September data was reported instead of October data, ressulting in errors of several degrees.
This data error affected a small percentage of worldwide sites. Due to this error, the average worldwide surface temperature for October was interpreted to be the warmest October on record. The worldwide surface data set goes back to 1880. GISS has corrected the error, see http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/.
There are a number of responsible and reasonable internet sites that report on climate change, some of which generally support the consensus that human activity is responsible for most global warming (particularly the http://www.realclimate.org/) and others that are skeptical (such as http://wattsupwiththat.com/). It is the skeptical sites that first noticed the error in the October data from Russia as well as the inappropriate locations of some official climate-monitoring stations.
It seems NASA simply took the reported October data without sufficient examination. How could they overlook such a drastic increase in temperatures from Russia when other sites in Europe and Asia reported little change? How could they miss 90 sites that had the exact, digit-for-digit data as in the previous month? Perhaps they were so pleased to have their theory of global warming confirmed that they failed to investigate further?
What if the faulty dataset had been of the previous January rather than September? I'll bet that if the dataset showed significant cooling rather than warming someone at NASA would have noticed the error!
It seems to me there should be standards for placement of official NOAA Climate Monitoring stations. For example, they should be at least 100 meters from a direct source of heat. Government employees regularly visit these stations for maintenance and they should notice if someone has placed a barbeque right underneath one! Of course, sometimes civilization may encroach on an existing site with a new house or a new factory or power plant or road. They should notice and move the site! According to http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/19/how-not-to-measure-temperature-part-74/#more-4209 there are dozens of official sites that are located in highly questionable places, many put there within the past decades.
By the way, the site in the second photo was placed in 1998, obviously after that old house was already there. The site in the top photo was placed in 1985, most likely also after the wastewater treatment plant, with its methane burnoff torch, was already in place!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Please take the online test at http://www.yourmorals.org/ and report your scores in a Comment to this Topic. The above graph compares the moral profiles of the average L-MIND and C-MIND with the profiles of members of this Blog.
- The L-MIND profile starts off high for the first two channels and then trails sharply downward for the final three.
- The C-MIND profile is pretty level all across the channels.
- Ira starts off moderately low at Harm and slowly increases over the remaining channels.
- Steve Ruberg has a "u" profile that is higher at either end, for Harm and Purity.
- Stu starts off extremely high at Harm and then steadily goes downhill to very low at Purity.
- Howard is all over the place like a "sawtooth wave", relatively high on Fairness and Ingroup and low on Authority and Purity.
- Joel is relatively low on most channels and pretty level across the board.
- The BLOG AVERAGE is pretty level, starting a bit high and ending a bit low.
4.5 3.8 3.0 2.5 1.2
2.2 4.2 1.3 3.2 1.2
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Jonathan Haidt's views on the five channels of morality were previously posted by Stu. Howard also posted a previous link to a TED talk on memes. If Howard, Joel, Stu, and Ira agree on the importance of a concept, and the value of TED talks, we can't all be wrong, can we? ("Great minds think alike" but "fools seldom differ" or something like that :^)
Please view the 19-minute TED video because it is definitely worth your time.
Here is my short version, using screen captures from the video with some annotation I added.
The image above shows what Haidt posits are the five channels or tools or foundations of traditional morality: 1) Harm-Care, 2) Fairness-Reciprocity, 3) Authority-Respect, 4) Ingroup Loyalty, and 5) Purity-Sanctity.
The graph shows the result of over 23,000 US respondants who took the online test at http://www.yourmorals.org/
You may want to take the test and report your personal results here as a Comment.
Haidt points out that self-described liberals rate Harm and Fairness very high.
They rate Authority, Ingroup, and Purity very low.
Conservatives rate all nearly equally, with Harm at the top and Fairness at the bottom, but all in a tight range.
Moderates score between the extremes.
The final image indicates why liberals reject three of the five tools of traditional morality, in Haidt's view:
LIBERALS REJECT> Ingroup Loyalty (they CELEBRATE DIVERSITY)
LIBERALS REJECT> Authority-Respect (they QUESTION AUTHORITY)
LIBERALS REJECT> Purity-Sanctity (they say KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF MY BODY)
Ira exhibits another C- vs. L-mind difference that...
November 12, 2008, 9:46:00 PM(Howard Pattee)
Ira exhibits another C- vs. L-mind difference that I think makes sense. C-minds make judgments based on the past performance over a lifetime.
L-minds make judgments based on the potential of youth for the future. If I judged my students on C-mind criteria, I would fail as a teacher.
Here is a TED talk about C- and L-minds that I think pretty much covers the conclusions of our own discussions, except that it does appear liberally biased to some conservatives. Remember, he is speaking to an audience that is mostly liberal. The comments are also interesting.
In this post-US-election week, TED is passionately discussing Jonathan Haidt's talk on the difference between liberals and conservatives.
Howard said:If I judged my students on C-mind crit...
November 13, 2008 (joel)
Howard said: If I judged my students on C-mind criteria, I would fail as a teacher. Here is a TED talk about C- and L-minds that I think pretty much covers the conclusions of our own discussions, except that it does appear liberally biased to some conservatives. Remember, he is speaking to an audience that is mostly liberal. The comments are also interesting.
Joel responds: Thanks for the citation. I think it was an excellent presentation. I especially liked the fact that he tied the prewired part of morality to evolution. Although he and the audience (or his expectation of the audience) appear to be L-minds, the theory itself seems pretty free of bias to me.As for judging students, it seems to me that you aren't making allowances for ALL of Haidt's five criteria.
A C-mind would also be concerned with fairness and therefore judge based upon the current course only.
I've seen teachers (both L-minds and C-minds) make allowances, based upon excellent performance in previous courses. I condemn such a practice (although frankly I've occasionally been a beneficiary as a student).
On the other hand, the grade point average is cumulative. It's the appropriate measure for recruiters and graduate school admission. I must say that I've seen recruiters give somewhat more weight to the last year. I've also seen a recruiter overlook lackluster academic achievement based upon a candidate's impressive performance at the interview. Is the latter situation comparable to the selection of Obama over McCain?
With respect -Joel
NOTE: See the : Morality profiles of the participants in this cross-discussion.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Please click on this video link and hold tight for the unavoidable commercial that comes before our grand debut on national TV.
The photo above is one of those taken by the AP photographer.
IN THE LIMELIGHT
We spent part of Monday and most of Tuesday morning with an AP videographer and a photographer. The story line was that we were on opposite sides in the recent Presidential election.
How did the press find us? Well, about a month ago, Vi's name was given to a Miami AP reporter (by a friend at The Villages Democratic Party) as a former Republican now supporting Sen. Obama. Vi was interviewed by phone and her name appeared in one paragraph of a story that ran in the Miami Herald and many other newspapers (To get links please Google: "Violet Glickstein" Obama).
About a week and a half ago we were asked if we'd like to be interviewed prior to the election for a more detailed version of her story. We agreed enthusiastically.
Lynne, from AP Miami, came to our home Monday afternoon. She wired us up and video-interviewed us in a very professional manner. The last scene of the AP video shows us behind our house, arm-in-arm, gazing at the pond, as I wonder where I'll sleep if the McCain-Palin ticket wins :^)
Lynne came back early Tuesday morning, along with John, an AP Orlando photographer. We had our morning coffee and some discussions as he and she took some more video and photos.
We then headed, by golf cart, to vote at the Mulberry Recreation Center. Lynne took more video at Mulberry and then departed because she had to compose her video report by a 2PM deadline. John stayed with us and composed captions and uploaded his photos from his laptop to the AP from our living room.
Both Lynne and John were delightful to have in our home and very professional. We are very pleased with the results of our experience with a national press organization.
THIS ELECTION AS CULMINATION OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE
Of course, Vi is more pleased with our new President-Elect Obama than I am :^) In the photo above she is wearing a button with "Barack Obama" in Hebrew letters.
She remembers the civil rights struggle with great emotion, as do I. It was a heroic effort by many people, black and white - not a few Jewish - to achieve racial equality.
In Martin Luther King's stirring words from 1963, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
As a young child I had an aunt who lived in Washington DC. I remember taking the Greyhound bus from New York City to DC with my parents to visit her. When the bus was about to cross the state border into Maryland it pulled over and the driver announced that "negroes" had to move to the rear because the State Troopers would stop the bus otherwise. They all complied without any fuss. I remember being angry but powerless to do anything about it. In DC we took public transportation and observed as blacks moved obediently to the rear. At that time, blacks could buy food at the snack bar at Peoples Drug Stores and most other restaurants in our Nation's Capitol, but they were not allowed to sit at the tables to eat it.
How far we've come in our lifetimes!
Although I was on the other political side in this election - hoping to elect our first female VP - I am very happy we have finally elected a black man to the highest office in the land. It is an historic event to have witnessed. President-Elect Obama is a wonderful speaker and writer and clearly a very smart guy who ran a brilliant campaign. I wish him the best and hope he has a very successful Presidency.
On the other hand, if you look closely at the photo above, I am wearing a "Sarah Palin 2012" button! I can hardly wait for the elections four years from now. We saw the appointment of a Republican as the first female Supreme Court Justice and as the first black Secretay of State. How historic it will be to see a female President, and I hope she will be a Republican!
PS: In a previous posting to this Blog, I complained that the major media often show their bias by doing extreme close-ups of conservatives, making them look bald and more angry than necessary, while they generally show liberals full-face. Well, if you look at the AP video, sure enough, Vi is always shown full-face while the close-ups of me are extreme.
Here is part of what I wrote: "... have you noticed how conservatives are often shown on TV with tight focus on their eyes, mouths, and chins, making them look mean and even bald? Liberals seem to get a much kinder camera." [Guardians at the Gates are Gone See my Comment posted 14 Aug 2008]
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Here are some changes I'd like to see over the coming four years:
I am not one to favor government limits on private sector salaries, but I am appalled by the millions earned by executives while the corporations they directed lost gobs of money. Even more eggregious are the "golden parachutes" some executives got when they were forced to leave their posts. We need to put some accountability into the executive suites and some lead into those "golden parachutes"!
If any of these executives acted illegally, such as falsifying acounts or knowingly releasing false information I hope they are sued by shareholders and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, most of them have excellent legal advisors and, while what they did was immoral, it was probably legal.
CHANGE ITEM #1: Any salary or bonus or "golden parachute" in excess of 40 times the lowest pay of any employee in the corporation shall be paid in STOCK OF THE COMPANY that cannot be sold for FIVE YEARS. That will prevent executives from profiting from flim-flams that yield quick returns but are losers in the long run.
I listened to the Congressional hearings on Standard & Poors, Moody's, and Fitch, the agencies that do some 90% of the ratings on financial instruments. One of them rated AIG as AA two days before it imploded!
It turns out these agencies are paid for their ratings by the very corporations that issue the financial instruments. The corporations shop around for the agency that will give them the best ratings and, naturally, the agencies adjust their rating formulas to gain the most business. How can we make the rating agencies more accountable without imposing some unwieldy bureaucracy on them?
CHANGE ITEM #2: Fifty percent of the fee to a rating agency for rating any financial instrument (stock, bond, derivative, etc.) shall be paid in the FINANCIAL INSTRUMENT THAT HAS BEEN RATED that cannot be sold for FIVE YEARS.
It used to be that the bank that accepted your home mortgage would hold it themselves. No more.
To encourage home ownership, Congress created Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as quasi-government agencies to buy mortgages. Congress passed laws and government departments made rules that encouraged banks to give loans to people who had poor credit and employment histories.
That was good for the constituencies of both political parties: developers and the building materials industry loved it, as well as workers in the building trades and unions and the people who were enabled to buy homes beyond their creditworthiness. Freddie and Fannie executives made generous political contributions to both parties as did the building industry and unions and politicians got lots of votes from happy beneficiaries.
The banks had nothing to lose - they processed mortgages and sold them off to Freddie and Fannie and others. The more mortgages they processed the more money they made. If the mortgages paid off - great, if not, not to worry, the government would take the loss.
CHANGE ITEM #3: Require banks and other mortgage-issuing entities to retain at least 25% of the mortgages they issue on their books. That way, when a mortgage is not paid off the banks have their own skin in the game.
CHANGE ITEM #4: When the current financial crisis settles out, bust Fannie and Freddie up into a half dozen or a dozen separate private corporations and make it clear that they are to compete with each other in the marketplace and that, after a grace period of five years, they will no longer be regarded as quasi-government agencies.
Alternative Carbon-Neutral Energy
Previous Blog entries cover the reasons. We must reduce our dependence on burning sequestered carbon (oil, gas, coal) and instead conserve energy and obtain a greater percentage from carbon-neutral nuclear and renewable sources such as wind, water, direct solar and biofuels. During the primaries, when Sen. McCain suggested temporary elimination of the federal gasoline tax (18 cents/gallon), and Sen. Clinton went along, I expressed my agreement with Sen. Obama who wisely objected to the plan.
However, I went further, calling for a punitive "carbon tax", increasing yearly until our dependence on sequestered carbon is significantly reduced and conservation and alternate energy is allowed to grow and mature under the economic "umbrella" of increased costs for coal, oil and natural gas. Although I oppose excessive taxation, in this one case, it is important to do what is possible and practical to reduce global warming, and a "carbon tax" is a lot easier to implement and administer than directed subsidies to specific forms of alternative energy.
CHANGE ITEM #5: Impose a "carbon tax" of $1/gallon of gasoline (and proportionately on coal and natural gas) and increase it yearly by an additional $1/gallon until sequestered carbon usage is halved and carbon-neutral alternative energy usage doubles.
The above items cut across party lines and gore everybody's goat about equally. None of them require significant increase in government or bureaucracy. All are easy to compute and hard to cheat on.
Of course, that is the problem! Politicians on both sides gain power by imposing complex laws that virtually require corporations and unions and other interest groups to continue giving political contributions to assure they are treated better than other interest groups.
The laws are administered and interpreted by government "civil servants" :^) who benefit from complexity and ambiguity to make themselves important and keep their jobs and expand the bureaucracy further.
Everyone argues for exceptions to the rules! "Oh, you've got to exempt milk as a taxible item because babies need milk to live! Who could deny that?" "Yes, and bread as well." "Well, ice cream is made from milk and jelly is put on bread, so exempt them too." ... "Right, and ketchup is made from a vegetable, so exempt it ..." (Technically, tomatoes are fruits and bananas are vegetables but why let a technicality interfere with the growth of government? :^)
We need more laws and rules that apply across the board and are easy to interpret and enforce and hard to avoid or exploit. We need government regulations that reduce the influence of well-connected industries and unions. Sadly, that kind of CHANGE goes against the interests of most influential people and politicians of all stripes.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The logic behind the L/C method of analysis is based upon the following principles.
1. Fallibility is common.
2. Roughly half the population have L-minds. Roughly half have C-minds.
3. Each half thinks that the other is irrational with respect to the issues that divide them.
4. Both halves are wrong about the other's rationality.
5. Analysis of the situation requires the participation of both C-minds and L-minds and must be non-partisan and non-confrontational.
6. Any consensus concerning the nature of L-minds and C-minds requires symmetrical dichotomy and neutral language.
As a thinking machine, the human brain leaves a lot to be desired. Living is about making decisions, most of them evolved from binary choices or can be converted to binary choices. Do I go left or right? Do I eat this plant or not? Do I release my arrow now or do I wait for a better shot? We seem to have evolved special mechanisms for making this type of survival related decision. Those mechanisms often get in the way of more complex thinking. In fact, I propose to you that what we call thinking is only an artifact of our primitive decision making skills, thereby creating the illusion that we can reason accurately. Our ability is so faulty that large fractions of the population, given the same facts about a situation will still come to quite different conclusions as to what to decide. That's why in almost every public policy issue which ultimately comes down to voting yea or nay, the population will split very roughly in half, and each half will think the other is mad. The train of decision making starts with faulty perception, proceeds to erroneous communication, a distorted problem statement not to mention bad modeling, optimization and implementation.
L-Minds and C-Minds
Not only does the population split roughly evenly on almost all issues requiring thought, the same people will group together resulting in the establishment of political parties and ideologies. For the most part, we will assume that the L-Minds and C-Minds are hard wired that way. This is not to say that sufficient propaganda, self-interest and concerted effort cannot cause C-minds to behave like L-Minds and vice-versa. Modern L-minds and C-minds can be discerned through the use of a series of questions concerning public policy and personal responsibility issues.
If you grant the above, then our task is to determine a truth using two instruments both of which have a distorted output. In science, the usual way to accomplish this is calibration against a standard for which the ground truth is known. However, in this case the truth is unknown, so what do we do?
An analogy is in the use of thermometers. Temperature is odd in that it isn't a quantity but rather a ranking. It's like the pecking order ranking in a yard full of chickens. We can observe that a chicken is "higher" than another by the fact that it can peck the other chicken on the head, but how much higher is not possible to tell. Physical measurements on a single isolated chicken will not tell us it's rank in the pecking order. We might keep a barnyard full of chickens and see where a new arbitrary bird fits in the pecking order. Similarly, temperature is a rank measurement. To determine an arbitrary body's rank we must bring it in contact with another body in order to see whether or not heat flows to one or the other. Then we can say that one body has a higher "temper" than the other. When no heat flow occurs the two are said to have the same temper. A thermometer is a device we can use for such testing. In the most fundamental sense, we should have a storage place where we keep a large number of standard bodies (or thermometers) maintained at different tempers. Every time we wish to measure the temperature of an arbitrary body, we should take the thermometers out of storage and test which one of them fails to transfer heat to or from the body under investigation. They are then at equilibrium and can be said to have the same temper. The standard thermometers can be assigned any symbol you like so that we can compare temperatures of a body under investigation. Fortunately, in the real world we can save on storage facilities by the use of a single thermometer and secondary measurable properties like expansion, voltage, resistance, etc.) However that doesn't change the arbitrary nature of a temperature scale.
Now let's connect the temperature analogy to L-Minds and C-Minds. Two popular arbitrary temperature scales are the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. When examining the temperature of something each yields a different number. Suppose there are two people who have grown up using these scales. On a balmy spring day one might say that it's 20 degrees while the other says it's 72 degrees. They disagree about the numerical value of the temper, although they're both correct. However, we aren't concerned with the number as such. Rather we are concerned with the subtile influence the numbers may have on their opinions about the weather or room conditions. For instance, the celsius scale has coarser degrees. A child brought up using celsius might have a coarser perception of temperature than a child brought up using Fahrenheit. In other words, the children senses are calibrated against two different scales and learn to express two different verbal reactions to temperature change. The Fahrenheit calibrated child might say the temperature has changed a lot, while the Celsius child says the temperature has changed very little. (In fact, psychologists find this kind of difference occurs when preparing survey questions about estimates of distances.) Each is sure they are right and believes there must be something wrong with the other's perception.
I'm not at all satisfied with this analogy. Can anyone help?
With respect -Joel
Thursday, October 16, 2008
This is a shift for Dion. Previously, only Canada's Green Party supported that type of tax.
Election results indicate the "carbon tax" is a loser. The Conservatives gained 16 seats and the Liberals lost 19. The Conservatives still lack an absolute majority, holding 143 seats to the Liberals 76, with 89 in the hands of three minority parties, the Quebec separatists (50), the New Democrats (37), and the Independents (2). The Greens have zero seats.
As readers of this Blog know I favor a punitive tax on burning of sequestered carbon (oil, gas, coal) as a way to encourage development of nuclear energy and renewable energy (water, wind, biofuels, ...).
All energy used on Earth (with the exception of nuclear) is originally from the Sun.
Some of this energy was delivered to the Earth from the Sun eons ago and was sequestered in the form of carbon and hydrocarbons found in underground deposits of oil, gas, and coal. That carbon was removed from the Earth's atmosphere and, until the industrial age, remained there.
We are now burning increasing amounts of sequestered carbon to energize our mechanized civilization. It is spewing into the atmosphere in the form of man-made carbon dioxide, a "greenhouse gas". Increased levels of carbon dioxide have been detected and are certainly responsible for some percentage of the rise in worldwide temperatures. (The majority of the temperature rise is probably due to Sun and Earth-orbit effects that are beyond our control, but we can control some of the "greenhouse" effects of release of sequestered carbon.)
Nuclear energy is carbon-neutral, and it should be used to reduce cabon emissions, but it is, ultimately, non-renewable.
Until earlier this year, sequestered carbon energy from oil, gas, and coal was considerably less expensive than alternative fuels, which discouraged development of more wind, solar, nuclear, and other sources. The recent spike in oil prices altered that equation, and, as energy prices skyrocketed, many people changed their driving habits and gasoline usage dropped a bit. Interest in alternative energy sources increased.
However, the recent worldwide economic downturn has driven oil prices from about $140/barrel back down to about $70/barrel, half their peak levels. If they remain at these low levels, development of alternate energy will be endangered.
We need to reduce our dependence on sequestered carbon, a non-renewable resource. We must instead power our civilization with the renewable energy that arrives daily from the Sun. As you know, hydroelectric energy is driven by the Sun, which evaporates water from the sea and delivers it as rain that drives our rivers. The Sun also powers the weather, which causes winds that we can capture with wind turbines. Biofuels (including corn and sugarcane-based ethanol) are also powered by the Sun. When we burn biofuels we do release carbon into the atmosphere, but it is carbon that was recently removed from the atmosphere when the crops were grown. As a long-term goal, we may be able to grow crops and then bury them as a way to re-sequester carbon out of the atmosphere.
There are two ways the government can encourage alternative energy. The first is to subsidize it and the second is to punitively tax sequestered carbon as a way to make alternative energy relatively less expensive and allow market forces to do their magic. I favor the second approach. An added benefit of a punitive tax on sequestered carbon is that it will increase the rewards for energy conservation.
According to Wikipedia
The intention of a carbon tax is environmental: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and thereby slow climate change. It can be implemented by taxing the burning of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum products such as gasoline and aviation fuel, and natural gas — in proportion to their carbon content. Unlike other approaches such as carbon cap-and-trade systems, direct taxation has the benefit of being easily understood and can be popular with the public if the revenue from the tax is returned by reducing other taxes.As a C-mind, I find it somewhat distressing that my support of a punitive "carbon tax" puts me with the Green Party and Liberal Party of Canada, and other L-minds like President Bill Clinton, and Senators Al Gore and John Kerry. However, Wikipedia notes:
A carbon tax is an indirect tax — a tax on a transaction — as opposed to a direct tax, which taxes income. As a result, some American conservatives have supported such a carbon tax because it taxes at a fixed rate, independent of income, which complements their support of a flat tax.
Prices of carbon (fossil) fuels are expected to continue increasing as more countries industrialize and add to the demand on fuel supplies. In addition to creating incentives for energy conservation, a carbon tax would put renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal on a more competitive footing, stimulating their growth. Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker suggested (February 6, 2007) that "it would be wiser to impose a tax on oil, for example, than to wait for the market to drive up oil prices."
Monday, September 29, 2008
Well, it is the "Goldilocks Market" at the heart of the present financial mess.
As you'll recall, in the famous Goldilocks and the Three Bears fable the young home intruder finds three bowls of porridge, one too hot, the other too cold and the third "just right". Similarly, beds were too hard, too soft and "just right".
It seems we've slipped from too much regulation to too little and are now searching for what is "just right". How to navigate the narrow "just right" line between the "bulls" and the "bears"?
In the era of too much regulation, the economy was mired in the doldrums with a slow growth rate. Then, with less regulation, things picked up, competition increased, consumers found a wide variety of excellent products and services available at great prices, and house values continued to increase. Things were "just right".
LIKE A SURFER ON THE "EDGE OF CHAOS"
However, the situation of a business in a competitive market may be thought of as like a surfer "catching a wave" and staying "on the edge of chaos". I watched some surfers at Daytona Beach. If they were not aggressive enough, they would slip behind the wave and end up in the doldrums of the flat ocean, waiting for the next wave. If they were too aggressive, they would fall off the sweet spot at the head of the wave and into the chaos of the churning waters. The waves at Daytona on Saturday were not big enough for most of the surfers and very few managed to catch the wave. (Too much "regulation"?)
Was it the lack of sufficient regulation that led many financial services executives to become too aggressive and ignore the risks, taking their companies into the abyss of failure? Or, was it the knowledge that their firms were "too big to fail" and that we US Government Taxpayers were bound to come to their rescue? I think it was a combination of both.
Over the past few decades, we taxpayers have bailed out: 1970-Penn Central RR $3.2B, 1971-Lockheed $1.4B, 1974-Franklin Natl. Bank $7.7B, 1975-New York City $9.4B, 1980-Chrysler $3.9B, 1984-Continental Illinois Bank & Trust $9.5B, 1989-Savings and Loans $294B, 2001-Airline Industry $18.6B, 2008-Bear Stearns $30B -Fannie/Freddie $200B -AIG $85B -Auto Industry $25B -Financial Industry $700B (proposed).
It seems to me we have established a pattern here of "Main Street" bailing out "Wall Street". Is it fair to force ordinary taxpayers, working hard for a living and making due in small homes and cars to "pay the piper" for the excessive parties of the rich and infamous business and financial elite?
I'd like to see them "stew in their own juices" - but we've been warned that if we don't agree to yet another bailout, there could be another depression and we could all lose our jobs and homes and savings and retirement incomes and so on.
I'm not sure what the correct answer is, but I think CONgress (the opposite of PROgress) needs to spend at least as much time coming up with the correct solution as they did, for example, considering the issue of drugs in professional sports.
ABOUT THE PHOTO
But, back to something I do know, the photo above. Automobiles are allowed to drive on Daytona Beach. They pack the sand down along a couple of lanes extending from about twenty feet from the top of the beach to about fifty feet. On Saturday, as the tide went down, I was able to bicycle along the auto lanes from our beachfront hotel north for four miles, almost to Ormand Beach. The sand was "just right" - not too dry or wet and solidly packed down.
I had to stop when I came to an area of dryish sand that was marked "4-wheel drive vehicles only". Apparently that area, while wet from the tides, is not packed down enough to support a car or, as I found out, a bicycle.
Packed wet sand poses an interesting physics problem. When it gets too dry it is too fluffy to support a car or bicycle. On the other hand, when totally under water at high tide, even the packed down auto lanes are too unstable to drive on. Conditions need to be "just right".
Well, the above photo was taken early Sunday morning, just an hour or so after the highest of high tide. The auto lanes were intermittently under water. The tide had receded a bit and the sand near the top of the beach was dryish but not packed down and the packed down sand in the auto lanes was too wet. However, after experimenting a bit, I found a narrow "Goldilocks zone" where the tide was receding and conditions were "just right".
I hope Congress and the President and the Treasury Secretary and all can do the same.
Friday, September 19, 2008
By Jonathan Haidt
What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany's best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer "moral clarity"—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.
Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the "war on terror" and repeal of the "death tax") that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.
But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.
I began to study morality and culture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. A then-prevalent definition of the moral domain, from the Berkeley psychologist Elliot Turiel, said that morality refers to "prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other." But if morality is about how we treat each other, then why did so many ancient texts devote so much space to rules about menstruation, who can eat what, and who can have sex with whom? There is no rational or health-related way to explain these laws. (Why are grasshoppers kosher but most locusts are not?) The emotion of disgust seemed to me like a more promising explanatory principle. The book of Leviticus makes a lot more sense when you think of ancient lawgivers first sorting everything into two categories: "disgusts me" (gay male sex, menstruation, pigs, swarming insects) and "disgusts me less" (gay female sex, urination, cows, grasshoppers ).
For my dissertation research, I made up stories about people who did things that were disgusting or disrespectful yet perfectly harmless. For example, what do you think about a woman who can't find any rags in her house so she cuts up an old American flag and uses the pieces to clean her toilet, in private? Or how about a family whose dog is killed by a car, so they dismember the body and cook it for dinner? I read these stories to 180 young adults and 180 eleven-year-old children, half from higher social classes and half from lower, in the USA and in Brazil. I found that most of the people I interviewed said that the actions in these stories were morally wrong, even when nobody was harmed. Only one group—college students at Penn—consistently exemplified Turiel's definition of morality and overrode their own feelings of disgust to say that harmless acts were not wrong. (A few even praised the efficiency of recycling the flag and the dog).
This research led me to two conclusions. First, when gut feelings are present, dispassionate reasoning is rare. In fact, many people struggled to fabricate harmful consequences that could justify their gut-based condemnation. I often had to correct people when they said things like "it's wrong because… um…eating dog meat would make you sick" or "it's wrong to use the flag because… um… the rags might clog the toilet." These obviously post-hoc rationalizations illustrate the philosopher David Hume's dictum that reason is "the slave of the passions, and can pretend to no other office than to serve and obey them." This is the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion.
The second conclusion was that the moral domain varies across cultures. Turiel's description of morality as being about justice, rights, and human welfare worked perfectly for the college students I interviewed at Penn, but it simply did not capture the moral concerns of the less elite groups—the working-class people in both countries who were more likely to justify their judgments with talk about respect, duty, and family roles. ("Your dog is family, and you just don't eat family.") From this study I concluded that the anthropologist Richard Shweder was probably right in a 1987 critique of Turiel in which he claimed that the moral domain (not just specific rules) varies by culture. Drawing on Shweder's ideas, I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.
When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label "elitist." But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?
After graduate school I moved to the University of Chicago to work with Shweder, and while there I got a fellowship to do research in India. In September 1993 I traveled to Bhubaneswar, an ancient temple town 200 miles southwest of Calcutta. I brought with me two incompatible identities. On the one hand, I was a 29 year old liberal atheist who had spent his politically conscious life despising Republican presidents, and I was charged up by the culture wars that intensified in the 1990s. On the other hand, I wanted to be like those tolerant anthropologists I had read so much about.
My first few weeks in Bhubaneswar were therefore filled with feelings of shock and confusion. I dined with men whose wives silently served us and then retreated to the kitchen. My hosts gave me a servant of my own and told me to stop thanking him when he served me. I watched people bathe in and cook with visibly polluted water that was held to be sacred. In short, I was immersed in a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified, devoutly religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not on mine.
It only took a few weeks for my shock to disappear, not because I was a natural anthropologist but because the normal human capacity for empathy kicked in. I liked these people who were hosting me, helping me, and teaching me. And once I liked them (remember that first principle of moral psychology) it was easy to take their perspective and to consider with an open mind the virtues they thought they were enacting. Rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one's role-based duties, were more important. Looking at America from this vantage point, what I saw now seemed overly individualistic and self-focused. For example, when I boarded the plane to fly back to Chicago I heard a loud voice saying "Look, you tell him that this is the compartment over MY seat, and I have a RIGHT to use it."
Back in the United States the culture war was going strong, but I had lost my righteous passion. I could never have empathized with the Christian Right directly, but once I had stood outside of my home morality, once I had tried on the moral lenses of my Indian friends and interview subjects, I was able to think about conservative ideas with a newfound clinical detachment. They want more prayer and spanking in schools, and less sex education and access to abortion? I didn't think those steps would reduce AIDS and teen pregnancy, but I could see why the religious right wanted to "thicken up" the moral climate of schools and discourage the view that children should be as free as possible to act on their desires. Conservatives think that welfare programs and feminism increase rates of single motherhood and weaken the traditional social structures that compel men to support their own children? Hmm, that may be true, even if there are also many good effects of liberating women from dependence on men. I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later), and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.
On Turiel's definition of morality ("justice, rights, and welfare"), Christian and Hindu communities don't look good. They restrict people's rights (especially sexual rights), encourage hierarchy and conformity to gender roles, and make people spend extraordinary amounts of time in prayer and ritual practices that seem to have
nothing to do with "real" morality. But isn't it unfair to impose on all cultures a definition of morality drawn from the European Enlightenment tradition? Might we do better with an approach that defines moral systems by what they do rather than by what they value?
Here's my alternative definition: morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It turns out that human societies have found several radically different approaches to suppressing selfishness, two of which are most relevant for understanding what Democrats don't understand about morality.
First, imagine society as a social contract invented for our mutual benefit. All individuals are equal, and all should be left as free as possible to move, develop talents, and form relationships as they please. The patron saint of a contractual society is John Stuart Mill, who wrote (in On Liberty) that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." Mill's vision appeals to many liberals and libertarians; a Millian society at its best would be a peaceful, open, and creative place where diverse individuals respect each other's rights and band together voluntarily (as in Obama's calls for "unity") to help those in need or to change the laws for the common good.
Psychologists have done extensive research on the moral mechanisms that are presupposed in a Millian society, and there are two that appear to be partly innate. First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice. Philosophical efforts to justify liberal democracies and egalitarian social contracts invariably rely heavily on intuitions about fairness and reciprocity.
But now imagine society not as an agreement among individuals but as something that emerged organically over time as people found ways of living together, binding themselves to each other, suppressing each other's selfishness, and punishing the deviants and free-riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. The basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions. Individuals in such societies are born into strong and constraining relationships that profoundly limit their autonomy. The patron saint of this more binding moral system is the sociologist Emile Durkheim, who warned of the dangers of anomie (normlessness), and wrote, in 1897, that "Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free himself from all social pressure is to abandon himself and demoralize him." A Durkheimian society at its best would be a stable network composed of many nested and overlapping groups that socialize, reshape, and care for individuals who, if left to their own devices, would pursue shallow, carnal, and selfish pleasures. A Durkheimian society would value self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one's groups over concerns for outgroups.
A Durkheimian ethos can't be supported by the two moral foundations that hold up a Millian society (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity). My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever "lost" him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.
In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at http://www.yourmorals.org/.) We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.
In The Political Brain, Drew Westen points out that the Republicans have become the party of the sacred, appropriating not just the issues of God, faith, and religion, but also the sacred symbols of the nation such as the Flag and the military. The Democrats, in the process, have become the party of the profane—of secular life and material interests. Democrats often seem to think of voters as consumers; they rely on polls to choose a set of policy positions that will convince 51% of the electorate to buy. Most Democrats don't understand that politics is more like religion than it is like shopping.
Religion and political leadership are so intertwined across eras and cultures because they are about the same thing: performing the miracle of converting unrelated individuals into a group. Durkheim long ago said that God is really society projected up into the heavens, a collective delusion that enables collectives to exist, suppress selfishness, and endure. The three Durkheimian foundations (ingroup, authority, and purity) play a crucial role in most religions. When they are banished entirely from political life, what remains is a nation of individuals striving to maximize utility while respecting the rules. What remains is a cold but fair social contract, which can easily degenerate into a nation of shoppers.
The Democrats must find a way to close the sacredness gap that goes beyond occasional and strategic uses of the words "God" and "faith." But if Durkheim is right, then sacredness is really about society and its collective concerns. God is useful but not necessary. The Democrats could close much of the gap if they simply learned to see society not just as a collection of individuals—each with a panoply of rights--but as an entity in itself, an entity that needs some tending and caring. Our national motto is e pluribus unum ("from many, one"). Whenever Democrats support policies that weaken the integrity and identity of the collective (such as multiculturalism, bilingualism, and immigration), they show that they care more about pluribus than unum. They widen the sacredness gap.
A useful heuristic would be to think about each issue, and about the Party itself, from the perspective of the three Durkheimian foundations. Might the Democrats expand their moral range without betraying their principles? Might they even find ways to improve their policies by incorporating and publicly praising some conservative insights?
The ingroup/loyalty foundation supports virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice that can lead to dangerous nationalism, but in moderate doses a sense that "we are all one" is a recipe for high social capital and civic well-being. A recent study by Robert Putnam (titled E Pluribus Unum) found that ethnic diversity increases anomie and social isolation by decreasing people's sense of belonging to a shared community. Democrats should think carefully, therefore, about why they celebrate diversity. If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity.
The purity/sanctity foundation is used heavily by the Christian right to condemn hedonism and sexual "deviance," but it can also be harnessed for progressive causes. Sanctity does not have to come from God; the psychology of this system is about overcoming our lower, grasping, carnal selves in order to live in a way that is higher, nobler, and more spiritual. Many liberals criticize the crassness and ugliness that our unrestrained free-market society has created. There is a long tradition of liberal anti-materialism often linked to a reverence for nature. Environmental and animal welfare issues are easily promoted using the language of harm/care, but such appeals might be more effective when supplemented with hints of purity/sanctity.
The authority/respect foundation will be the hardest for Democrats to use. But even as liberal bumper stickers urge us to "question authority" and assert that "dissent is patriotic," Democrats can ask what needs this foundation serves, and then look for other ways to meet them. The authority foundation is all about maintaining social order, so any candidate seen to be "soft on crime" has disqualified himself, for many Americans, from being entrusted with the ultimate authority. Democrats would do well to read Durkheim and think about the quasi-religious importance of the criminal justice system. The miracle of turning individuals into groups can only be performed by groups that impose costs on cheaters and slackers. You can do this the authoritarian way (with strict rules and harsh penalties) or you can do it using the fairness/reciprocity foundation by stressing personal responsibility and the beneficence of the nation towards those who "work hard and play by the rules." But if you don't do it at all—if you seem to tolerate or enable cheaters and slackers -- then you are committing a kind of sacrilege.
If Democrats want to understand what makes people vote Republican, they must first understand the full spectrum of American moral concerns. They should then consider whether they can use more of that spectrum themselves. The Democrats would lose their souls if they ever abandoned their commitment to social justice, but social justice is about getting fair relationships among the parts of the nation. This often divisive struggle among the parts must be balanced by a clear and oft-repeated commitment to guarding the precious coherence of the whole. America lacks the long history, small size, ethnic homogeneity, and soccer mania that holds many other nations together, so our flag, our founding fathers, our military, and our common language take on a moral importance that many liberals find hard to fathom.
Unity is not the great need of the hour, it is the eternal struggle of our immigrant nation. The three Durkheimian foundations of ingroup, authority, and purity are powerful tools in that struggle. Until Democrats understand this point, they will be vulnerable to the seductive but false belief that Americans vote for Republicans primarily because they have been duped into doing so.
I liked this article and generally agreed with most all of Haight's hypotheses.
However, I found this paragraph to be misleading:
In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally.The above paragraph implies that conservatives are not only more complete but more diverse in their ethical positions than liberals. I don't know the reliability and validity of the statistical analysis of the surveys but I find it hard to believe that liberals do not care about "ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity". I think everyone cares about all five of these issues but to varying degrees. I would even go so far as to say that everyone has has the capacity for every belief,emotion and action, good and evil, as everyone else --- but these vary according to the individual which, I guess, is just another way of saying that we're all human.
And to end on a lighter note, here is a "joke" that even a liberal/independent like myself has trouble arguing with...
Amazon.com: HOW AND WHY I BECAME A CONSERVATIVE - nonfiction Discussion Forum
A little pertinent humor:
Right to the point and one of the big differences between Democrat and Republican outlook.
I was talking to a friend of mine's little girl, and she said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, "If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?"
She replied, "I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people."
"Wow - what a worthy goal!" I told her. "You don't have to wait until you're President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50. Then, I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food or a new house."
She thought that over for a few moments because she's only 6 years old. And while her Mom glared at me, the young child looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Why doesn't the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?"
And I said, "Welcome to the Republican Party." Her folks still aren't talking to me.