Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happiness Grows With Wisdom

Jonathan Rauch has a fine article in the Atlantic on the U-shaped curve of happiness.

Not for everyone, and not in every society, but strong enough to be a helpful pattern, we see life satisfaction bottoming out in the late 40s for many people.  And then it gets better.

There is much in here, including a whole section on brain development.

I found this to be the most helpful idea:

“This finding,” [Princeton researcher Hannes] Schwandt writes, “supports the hypothesis that the age U-shape in life satisfaction is driven by unmet aspirations that are painfully felt during midlife but beneficially abandoned and felt with less regret during old age.”
The curve below was compiled by economic Carol Graham and colleagues, looking at averages in many different countries.  The X-axis measures life satisfaction on a ten-point scale; the Y measures age.


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Politics of Male First Names




Verdant Labs has a fascinating blog post on political trends in first names.

One big finding: "Of male names that are at least fairly common, the most Democratic are Jonah and Malik, and the most Republican are Delbert and Duane."

I think I know what is going on here.

The Democratic end is tipped by distinctively black or Jewish names. In addition to Jonah and Malik, we find Ethan, Willie, Saul, Emmanuel, Isaiah, Tyrone, Omar, Irving, and Israel.

On the Republican side, we find country white names. In addition to Delbert and Duane, there are Rex, Dallas, Brent, Troy, Lyle, Darrell, Billy, Ricky, and Randy.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Distribution of Generosity

Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, has been reporting the results of a large Science of Generosity project.  Sociology is particularly useful for giving us a sense of proportion of how phenomena are distributed in a large population.

Americans as a whole are generous people.  We give away huge amounts of money for good causes.

However, nearly half of Americans - 45% - give nothing.

The high standard of tithing (giving at least 10%) is met by only 3%.

Poorer people give away a higher proportion of their income than richer people do.

Looked at another way, 57% of all the charitable dollars in America are contributed by the 5% of Americans who are most generous.

And I should note that the main point of The Paradox of Generosity, by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, is that people who give more away lead happier and healthier lives.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Tea Party Congress is the Least Productive, Ever.

The Tea Party Congress, the one now ending, is officially the least productive Congress ever.

That is what they said they would do if elected - prevent government.

I take them at their word that that is what they will keep doing.

The Republicans are at a crossroads.  They control the legislative branch of government. They will have to decide whether to stick with the Tea Party and prevent government, or cut the Tea Party loose and govern.

This will be a very tough choice.  So far the Republican leadership has talked tough about governing, but they haven't actually taken any concrete steps to break with their dangerous coalition partner.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

World War One Was the Worst War Ever

All wars are bad.  Some are worse than others.  I am imagining a scale based on the foolishness of the causes of a war multiplied by the number of casualties.

On that scale, I believe World War One was the worst war ever.

And that is before we factor in the way the victors made a peace to bad that it produced another, even larger war.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Today's Great Thing: The Silver Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall

And an East German is the head of state of the united Germany.

We may hope for such a happy reunion in Korea soon.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Christian Social Science - How Do I Get at What Students Really Want to Know?

I am giving a talk next week at Hendrix College on "Being a Christian and a Social Scientist".  At the moment it ends this way:


Christianity also makes for a better social science than materialism can, precisely because people do act for reasons.  People act for reasons, they believe they act for reasons, and they believe their existence is meaningful because their reasoned action leads to meaningful ends. I can’t prove that people are right in these beliefs.  But I can prove that most people do have these beliefs (even people who profess materialism).  And I assert that the universal fact that people act as if they act for a meaningful reason is evidence that they are right.  Not proof, but strong evidence.

I think this is true, but doesn't really get to the core of what undergraduates are likely to be concerned about.

I would welcome suggestions for how to bridge this gap.