Monthly Archives: October 2010

Stop being reasonable

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Following up to “Is school bad for kids?“.

According to Roger Schank

Most people can’t think very well. They were taught not to think by religion and by a school system that teaches that knowledge of state capitals and quadratic equations is what education is all about and that well reasoned argument and original ideas will not help on a multiple choice test.

We don’t try to get the average child to think in this society so why, as adults would we expect that they actually would be thinking? […] The fact that we let them vote while failing to encourage them to think for themselves is a real problem for our society.

and

Adult belief systems rest on childhood beliefs instilled by parents mostly and by assorted other authorities.

Republicans do not try to change voter’s beliefs. They go with them. Democrats appeal to reason. Big mistake.

According to Shaw

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

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Scientific morality

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According to Sam Harris

Much of humanity is clearly wrong about morality—just as much of humanity is wrong about physics, biology, history, and everything else worth understanding. If, as I believe, morality is a system of thinking about (and maximizing) the well being of conscious creatures like ourselves, many people’s moral concerns are frankly immoral.

Does forcing women and girls to wear burqas make a positive contribution to human well-being? Does it make happier boys and girls? More compassionate men? More confident and contented women? Does it make for better relationships between men and women, between boys and their mothers, or between girls and their fathers? I would bet my life that the answer to each of these questions is “no.” So, I think, would many scientists. And yet, most scientists have been trained to think that such judgments are mere expressions of cultural bias. Very few of us seem willing to admit that simple, moral truths increasingly fall within the purview of our scientific worldview. I am confident that this period of reticence will soon come to an end.

What motivates red state backwardness?

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Following up to “Where in your solution does your opponent fit?“, “Self-in-control“, and “Popular religion and its roots in misery“.

The red states lag behind the blue states on every quality-of-life statistic. John Kozy asks

So what motivates the conservative nature of the people in the red states?

Kozy’s answer

What motivates these people even today, though most likely they don’t recognize it, is an unwillingness to accept the results of the Civil War and change the attitudes held before it. When a society inculcates beliefs over a long period of time, those beliefs cannot be changed by a forceful imposition of others. The beliefs once practiced overtly continue to be held covertly. Force is never an effective instrument of conversion. […] By the force of arms, you can compel outward conformity to political institutions and their laws, but you cannot change the antagonistic attitudes of people, that can remain unchanged for decades and longer waiting for opportunities to reassert themselves.

I suppose it’s possible that they still cling to their backward attitudes out of resentment for losing the Civil War. But where did they get these attitudes in the first place? And what would have been an effective instrument of conversion for such people? How much of the progress of the blue states can simply be attributed to the benefits of immigration, including the Great Migration of the descendants of Southern slaves?

And how does this theory explain states like Indiana, long a hotbed of KKK activity with lynchings as recently as 1930, that were not part of the Confederacy, but are as red-state as they come?

Profit = partial monopoly power?

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According to Douglas Knight, commenting on this blog entry,

if the mere existence of a barrier to entry means that there is a monopoly then every single business in the U.S. is monopoly.

That’s actually a good way of looking at things. Everything has partial monopoly power. It’s the only way to make money. The interesting question is how the barriers differ from industry to industry. Also, this perspective discourages people from getting hysterical about monopolies.

The “winner takes all” dynamic of compensation

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Commenting on the article “Why do investment bankers get paid so much?“, David Sucher (author of City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village) writes

It seems to me that the best answer to such bizarre disparities of compensation is the “winner takes all” dynamic (you see it with lawyers all the time) is that the marginal cost of going with the “best reputation” is very low. ($150/hr for an attorney versus $500 is trivial when the issue is worth tens of millions) and in CYA terms, well-worth it, especially if one loses…”Well we lost but we hired the very best attorneys.”

Creating social change — lessons from the grime lords

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According to Jane Mayer, regarding the idiot savant Koch brothers who bankroll the fascist Tea Party movement,

That November, the Libertarian ticket received only one per cent of the vote. The brothers realized that their brand of politics didn’t sell at the ballot box. Charles Koch became openly scornful of conventional politics. […] According to Doherty’s book, the Kochs came to regard elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script.” A longtime confidant of the Kochs told Doherty that the brothers wanted to “supply the themes and words for the scripts.” In order to alter the direction of America, they had to “influence the areas where policy ideas percolate from: academia and think tanks.”

and

David Koch has acknowledged that the family exerts tight ideological control. “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” he told Doherty. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.”

and

“To bring about social change,” [Charles Koch] told Doherty, requires “a strategy” that is “vertically and horizontally integrated,” spanning “from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action.” The project, he admitted, was extremely ambitious. “We have a radical philosophy,” he said.

and, regarding a secret memo “Justice” Lewis Powell wrote for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shortly before Nixon nominated him in 1971,

The greatest threat to free enterprise, he warned, was not Communism or the New Left but, rather, “respectable elements of society”—intellectuals, journalists, and scientists. To defeat them, he wrote, business leaders needed to wage a long-term, unified campaign to change public opinion.

According to Aaron Swartz

For the right-wing scholar, even outright fraud is no serious obstacle.

and also according to Aaron Swartz

As Professor Michael Nunley wrote in a special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist on The Bell Curve, after a series of scientific articles debunked all the book’s major claims:

I believe this book is a fraud, that its authors must have known it was a fraud when they were writing it, and that Charles Murray must still know it’s a fraud as he goes around defending it. … After careful reading, I cannot believe its authors were not acutely aware of … how they were distorting the material they did include.

Honeybees and the purpose of business

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According to Richard Hode, commenting on this article,

The way to deal with business is to treat them as we do honeybees. We take the honey (for the public good,) making sure we leave enough for the bees to survive and make more, which we will also take. Business and industry are tools to make a better and fairer society, not something that belongs to pigs to sink their snouts into to get even fatter. American business needs to be kept on a steel chain, to make sure it operates in the public interest and not for the selfish, greedy, and anti-social robbers and thieves.